One afternoon in March of 1995, I was on a family vacation in Costa Rica and witnessed something that changed my life forever. As I drove through the Southern Caribbean coast I witnessed a playground full of indigenous children getting sprayed by a Chiquita Banana crop duster. I couldn't believe my eyes. In these days where we can zip across the world in jets and video chat to Australia on our iPhone, atrocities like this are going on all over the world. It was a serious wake up call and one that I am still trying to figure out how I can do my part to change things. I began by starting a student travel company in 1996 that would not only show students that beauty of the land and people of Costa Rica but would also bring awareness to the rainforest destruction, cultural decimation and the reality of the multinational agricultural business that is reeking havoc around the world. I didn't want to end these trips depressing so I also wanted to try and demonstrate solutions and that's where Punta Mona comes into the picture. I bought 30 beachfront acres off the grid and have been working for the past 15 years in creating an example of sustainability and a place where students from all over could live together practicing these principles. As much of a dream as it may seem, it has been extremely difficult and I have been faced with many obstacles and challenges. The goal of this bi-monthly is to transparently share my experiences here and bring you up to date what were up to in the jungle.
The program here in Punta Mona has varied over the years but for the most part we have received high school student groups and summer programs that stay from 1 -3 nights and we have interns that come from a week to several months. It is the epitome of stepping out of your comfort zone as the weather is harsh. The air is dank and humid and the bugs sometimes make you want to climb out of your skin, yet the incredible organic food that pours out of the kitchen, the beach all to yourself and the friendships make it hard to leave this remote paradise.
Right now we have 13 interns here for the month. They are mostly from the states and Canada and we have one from London and another from Italy. For some reason, this place attracts mostly women. Why is that? Do women love the Earth and work harder to find solutions? For the past two days, we have 15 high school students from all over the US on a summer program called Deer Hill. They are an incredible group who have been traveling around Costa Rica doing service projects and home stays. As I sit here typing, my wife Sarah is down stairs with them making chocolate w/ most ingredients coming from right here on the farm including cacao, coconut, bananas and cinnamon.
It's an exciting time here as the Pejibaye trees are dripping fruit. Pejibaye is a native palm that has traditionally been the main food of the indigenous people here in Costa Rica.
It comes from the same tree as most heart of palm that you buy in cans in the US. That means two of my very favorite foods from the same tree. The fruits are boiled in sea water and taste like an oily, creamy potato-avocado mix. We make pejibaye ceviche (soaked in calamandine lime juice w/ onion and cilantro), coconut creamed pejibaye soup and also we just eat them with a bit of salt. They are a super high calorie food and it blows my mind that most Costa Ricans then add a dollop of mayonnaise. They would definitely not be allowed on weight watchers.
The other fruit I want to tell you about is ackee. Ackee is the national dish of Jamaica where it is traditionally stewed with salted cod (bacalao).
In Spanish they are called ceso vegetal (vegetable brain) and taste like scrambled eggs w/ cheese. They have some kind of mushroomy meaty thing going on that I just cant get enough of. The fruit is deadly poisonous if it is eaten before it opens on its own.
August is typically an extremely rainy month with rough seas, yet right now its super sunny and the sea is flat. There is a crew out fishing from kayaks and will hopefully bring back fish for dinner. This is our busiest time of the year as far as groups and number of interns so everyone is super busy keeping everyone fed and continually stocking the shelves with jungle goodies. Until next time...
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