Blog : travel

The boy is back in town

The boy is back in town

Contemplating my journey back to London tomorrow – I have been in Panama now for just over two months – I am not looking forward to the change in temperature! I do love the fact that I can live here (Panama) and just wear shorts and flip flops all year long come rain or shine (except on a bus journey from the City to Bocas (del Toro)).

A tourist in my home

I must say, even though I was born here and lived here until I was 18 years old, I do feel like a tourist at times. If I really think about it I have pretty much lived most of my adult life out of Panama, which to me sounds (and feels) a bit weird. A lot has changed since I last spent a significant amount of time in my home country.

The heat. The heat is something you have to adapt to. It can get crazy hot in the City. Once you get to Bocas you can feel the cool breeze coming from the sea. I love Panama but I love being in Bocas. I guess it’s where I find my peace and also being there with the people, the local community and family, reminds me of why we are doing this.

Cherish moments

It’s true what they say and it might sound cliché but you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. And it has taken me over 20 years to realize this, but it also made realize that you must cherish moments, life, family, friends, and make the most of any situation. Life is too damn short – you’re here today, gone tomorrow.

Being in Panama these past months, I’ve also seen how politics is involved in most things here, well, I guess that’s the same everywhere, but it feels very heavy here. It’s truly ‘who you know’ and not ‘what you know’. You have to combine the ‘know-who’ with the ‘know-how’. And because of this, a lot that should get done doesn’t get done – a tale that’s true in a number of places around the world. Sometimes it frustrates me as you can see what needs to be done, but that doesn’t always take priority on the political agenda. This makes me feel even more strongly that if we want change, a lot of that has to come from us, and the business community can play a big part in this – especially a social business.

But for all these things, there is no other place like Panama on the planet. The place, the people, the culture is unique. You have to truly immerse yourself in it and you will then fall in love with what I believe to be a little piece of paradise on Earth.

Until the next time, #liveslow! And I guess we all will, with Christmas and the holiday season coming up!

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Beauty in the city

Beauty in the city

Panama visit – day 2. We’ll be trying to blog daily during our two-week recce to Panama. This is our last trip over here before our project crowdfunding in late September. We have meetings set up with conservationists, potential investors, collaborators, videographers, lawyers, builders and architects – so it will be a busy couple of weeks.

We saw this beautiful butterfly yesterday, just sunning itself against a sweet shop window. We’re not sure if this little fella is 100% ok – and looks like something might have taken a slice out of his wings. We hope he was ok – a beauty in the city.

They say it’s all about the journey …

… and not the final destination. Well, we’re not so sure on this occasion! Our door-to-door journey from London to Panama City was nearly a full 24 hours. We left our London flat at around 5.30am and arrived at Ariel’s sister’s place close to 11pm local time (4am the following morning, UK time). Wow! The journey isn’t normally this long – so you future b í k u treehouse ‘holidayers’ don’t have to worry. Also – there are direct flights from continental Europe to Panama, it’s just the UK that takes longer and hasn’t caught up with the direct flights yet.

We had a four-hour wait in Newark airport for our transfer to Panama. However, our flight was further delayed with air space being cleared for President Trump’s arrival at the airport … Thanks Donald!

But, it’s definitely worth it. One day down and we have already had an amazing meeting with a great contact of Ariel’s. We can’t divulge too much yet, but suffice to say that b í k u is much closer to becoming a reality than 48 hours ago.

Stick with us over the next two weeks to stay up to date with our project news.

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Until next time, #liveslow.

What makes a treehouse a treehouse?

What makes a treehouse a treehouse?

Our quest to create unique and magical treehouses for our b í k u retreat has led us to ask the question, ‘What makes a treehouse a treehouse?’ Before we began our journey, we didn’t think there was much debate around what constitutes a treehouse – but, along the way we have found treehouses of all shapes and sizes, including some that are not even built in trees! We were shocked too!

For us, there are three essentials of a treehouse, as well some added bonuses which make a treehouse stay truly unbeatable. At b í k u – we’re aiming for the fundamentals as well as that icing on the cake!

Essentials of a treehouse

A treehouse must be:

  1. Off the ground
  2. In a tree (number 2 normally helps with number 1!)
  3. Magical!

Added bonuses for treetop living

For an amazing treetop stay, your treehouse should have:

  1. A unique design
  2. A swing bridge (of course – and perhaps a spiral staircase)
  3. An amazing view

When is a treehouse not a treehouse?

Most common definitions of a treehouse mention a structure that is built in a tree. The Treehouse Guide further defines a treehouse as, ‘A structure built in or around a tree which interacts with, and relies upon, the tree for its support. A treehouse consists of a roofed platform defining a sheltered space which may be fully enclosed for protection from the elements’.

I love the question that the Guide then asks, ‘Is it acceptable to use ground supports for a treehouse?’ And the answer is, it depends! This is clearly a hot topic of debate within the treehouse community.

The Guide also sets out three scenarios when a structure is not a treehouse, including when the house is fully ground supported and when the tree support is not structurally critical.

We have to say that on our journey, we’ve come across a large number of places misdefined as treehouses. And, it can be hugely disappointing when you’re looking forward to all the magic, nostalgia and quirkiness of a treehouse stay and, instead, find yourself in a building on stilts. Don’t get us wrong, there are some truly amazing and unique retreats and structures built in tree canopies that are magical – which we would love to stay at. But, please, just don’t call them a treehouse.

Living-room treehouses

living-room, in Powys, Wales, does everything you’d expect and want from a treehouse, and more! Phenomenally designed, the treehouses almost disappear into the woodland. Nature and sustainability have been taken deeply into consideration. The treehouses are a piece of hobbit-like magic in a hidden valley that take you away from the daily grind to chance encounters with fairy tale creatures and …. Welsh sheep! It’s a beautiful place to be.

Photos from our visit to living-room, back in 2015.

 

 

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Luxury vs. sustainability: bedfellows or paradox?

Luxury vs. sustainability: bedfellows or paradox?

In developing our b í k u treehouse retreat project we are often asked what we will offer, ‘Are you going for the eco and sustainable ‘thing’, or are you going for a high-end luxury, boutique retreat?’. We’ve always challenged this by asking why we have to choose one over the other. Can’t we offer luxury and sustainability? The question for us is, can luxury and sustainability go hand-in-hand or are they confined to being contradictory ideas?

Ethical ‘bling’?

Traditional notions of luxury might have us imagining sliding off silk sheets into a pool of pearls, and a quick spin in our sports car. It’s all glam, glitz and glorious. While eco and sustainability are associated with images of a vegan lifestyle, perhaps commune living, and wearing hessian fabrics. Now, I know these are extremes – but hopefully, point made. In their traditional guises luxury and sustainability are not symbiotic.

So what has changed? Is there a new way?

Where luxury and sustainability collide

In his 2016 article, ‘Luxury Brands Can No longer Ignore Sustainability’, published in the Harvard Business Review, Andrew Winston analyses the report, 2016 Predictions for the Luxury Industry: Sustainability and Innovation. The report identifies key pressures that are bringing luxury and sustainability closer together:

  • changing regulations
  • social pressures: from celebrity endorsements of sustainable living to the heightened expectations of companies, especially from Millennials
  • investor pressure – from those who are seeing the value in sustainable products
  • serious limitations on the earth’s natural resources

Although targeting the luxury retail industry, these pressures are equally applicable to the travel industry.

Luxury redefined

Looking at luxury defined as ‘very great comfort, especially among beautiful and expensive surroundings’, I find it easy to connect this to eco / sustainable travel. Great comfort is provided in a simple and innovative way that offers guests an intimate connection with nature and the place. There’s no doubt that the surroundings of most – if not all – eco lodges throughout the world are beautiful. And, speaking of ‘expensive’, well – nature is truly priceless. In my eyes, that’s all boxes ticked.

In my last blog I singled out a few of the retreats that are getting responsible travel ‘right’. Those same lodges – and more – are combining responsible travel with a new luxury, a natural luxury. In addition to the retreats themselves, a more recent trend, perhaps, has been the emergence of eco tour companies, booking agencies, travel agencies and hotelier ‘groups’. I recently stumbled upon a great company called Eco Companion, which is a booking engine for sustainable tours, projects and accommodation all around the world. If you get a chance, do check them out.

Another company that is – in their own words – ‘breaking new ground in eco-lux travel’ is The Cayuga Collection. This is a collection of eight sustainable luxury hotels and lodges in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The collection redefines the symbiosis of luxury and sustainability through the concept of ‘Experience, Learn, Connect and Relax.’ We couldn’t agree more. Further support of their model is given by Lynn Cutter, Executive Vice President, National Geographic Travel who says The Cayuga Collection ‘properties are a shining example of how sustainability can be achieved with elegance and authenticity’.

A match made in eco-lux heaven

There’s a new luxury in town. It may not be glitz and it may not be glam – not in the traditional sense – but it offers more than that. The eco- or sustainable luxury of the travel world offers guests unforgettable, authentic experiences in nature and culture, the opportunity to know the true character of a place. Sticking by this traditional definition of luxury, ‘a pleasure which you do not often have the opportunity to enjoy’, eco-tourism and ‘true’ travelling has always been luxurious.

Until the next time – #slothlife

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Responsible travel. Fad, fiction or the future?

Responsible travel. Fad, fiction or the future?

Following my last blog post, Are you a traveller or a tourist? in today’s post, I’m taking a closer look at responsible travel and asking, is it fad, fiction or the future?

This year is the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. So, what better time to discuss the topic. I am often befuddled by the myriad of terminology used to describe what is essentially travel that benefits the destination. The terms range from ecotourism, ethical tourism and geotourism to pro-poor tourism, responsible tourism and sustainable tourism. At b í k u, we’re not so concerned about the definition 😉– as long as we make a change, no matter how small, that benefits the local place, people and nature.

For those of you who do want to know the nuances of the different definitions, you can find them in the Center for Responsible Travel’s (CREST) report, ‘The Case for Responsible Travel: Trends & Statistics 2016.’

Neither fact nor fiction

Eco tourism is increasingly moving in to the mainstream, and has done so more rapidly in the last 2 – 3 years than probably in the past decade as a whole. Eco tourism used to be seen as the preserve of the eco warriors of the world – the stereotypical ‘tree huggers’, as they were deemed by the press. But now, responsible travel (however you want to describe it) is much more accessible to us all and is increasingly important to the traveller – and tourist! I recently read an article by Sarah Reid – an author for Lonely Planet – titled, ‘Sustainable travel: making the right choices.’ In the article Reid gives some tips to help the individual traveller make these ‘right choices’. She also references a number of hotels and tours that are making travellers’ decisions a whole lot easier.

Information in the above image is from CREST’s 2016 report, ‘The Case for Responsible Travel: Trends & Statistics 2016’

Who’s getting it right?

Responsible travel is not only good for the environment and the communities, it’s also good for business. With this in mind, more and more hotels are implementing these ‘good practices’ as part of their business model. A recent BBC documentary that Ariel and I have been watching – ‘Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby’ – showcases two hotels, in particular, that are truly inspiring, Mashpi Lodge in Ecuador and Sasaab Lodge in Kenya.

A former mayor of Quito, Roque Sevilla, is the visionary behind Mashpi Lodge. He epitomises Einstein’s quote that, ‘Only those who can see the invisible can do the impossible’! Sevilla rescued 3,200 acres of cloud forest from a logging company to build this tropical paradise where nature meets luxury. Sevilla works with a resident biologist and a team of naturalists and scientists. In doing so, Mashpi has beome more than a retreat; it’s a true sustainability success story.

Sasaab Lodge breaks new ground in the way it works together with the Samburu people, who own the land on which the lodge sits. Rather than buying the land from the people – although I don’t know if that was ever a possibility / option – the lodge pays the Samburu people (their landlords) a fee for every guest that stays. A large percentage of the employees are also Samburu.

What’s the future?

Responsible tourism is no fad, it is no fiction, but is it the future? The idea of conserving, maintaining and preserving is present in all of the definitions of responsible travel. Can we go beyond that? Last week I read an interesting Instagram post by @onthepurplepath that talked about going beyond sustainable towards regenerative practices. Is it time for regenerative tourism – and what would that look like? Perhaps regenerative travel is the future …

Let us know your thoughts and comments, email us – ariel.stephenson@bikupanama.com or zabrina.shield@bikupanama.com, or post them on Instagram using #bikupanama #bikutreehouse #regenerativetravel

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