Off The Grid Jungle Life in Costa Rica
3 Days at Punta Mona’s Eco Farm Commune
I am getting swallowed with each step into the lush green canopy. Looking behind me, and then forward again, the trail has continued to diminish. I stop in my tracks—not just because the loud growl of a gang of howler monkeys echoes overhead—but I truly cannot decide between continuing inland, or backtrack and find a trail closer to the Caribbean Sea. Yup, I am alone, and lost in the jungles of Costa Rica. I really should have looked at a map.
My objective is to get to an off the grid permaculture farm along the point of Punta Mona. After a 30 minute bus ride south from the funky, Caribbean surf town of Puerto Viejo, I had two options: find a local Manzanillo fisherman to take me by boat, or hike the 8 km along the beach and through the jungle for free. Since I had no one else to split the $40 – $50 boat ride with, and hearing from the locals that the hike is simply todo directo on a beaten trail, I opted for the latter. Why bother with looking at Punta Mona`s directions online? Si, Maps are for silly touristas...
The coastal trail from Manzanillo to Punta Mona.
I catch my breath on the muddy jungle floor wondering why there isn`t a sign guiding the ‘trail’ that has ceased to exist. I hadn’t seen another person walking in the jungle for over an hour until a man approaches with a machete and a propane tank over his shoulder. Now, usually a backpacker lost in the jungle, with a stranger approaching holding a machete, would make for standard horror movie opening (where my chances of living past the opening credits are zero). Living in Central America for over four months, however, I’ve become accustomed to the local marching of a machete and their necessity in the jungle (to cut trail, open coconuts, kill snakes, etc). Counter intuitively, they are also the first people you want to ask to help you due to their likelihood of knowing the lay of the land.
The man’s Spanish was quick and mumbled, but he confirmed that I was going the wrong way. Apparently, I needed to backtrack 30 minutes, get back to the ocean, and go up ‘the hill’ before heading inland again for, maximum, another two hours. Ah, claro amigo!
Lost in the jungle, I got helped out by this machete toting local...plus his shirt said `Cero Accidentes`...how can you not trust that!
After another three hours of jungle hiking, two more wrong turns (following ill advise from a random, shirtless German in full hiking gear), and a quick skinny dip in the ocean (because you’re never really lost in the jungle until someone gets naked), I came across Jeff, one of the volunteers at Punta Mona that came out to find me, spliff at hand. I knew he was Canadian from his first sentence—not from his polite accent or apologizing because I got lost—but his reference to the jungle trail being like finding Fred Penner`s Place. Jeff then informed me that they don`t have signs along the way because it is mainly private property you have to trespass to get to the farm. Jeff also tells me that if you know where you`re going—or actually follow the directions online—the hike can be done in under 90 minutes...but where`s the adventure in that?
Jeff and I soon arrive to the sight of several bamboo rooftops jutting out from the thick green jungle canopy. Smiling faces wave as they tend to the nearby gardens and fruit trees. We pass by the water encatchment system, yoga platform, chicken coupe, several ducks and the composting outhouses before arriving at the colorfully painted and tiled kitchen and communal area. The waves from the beach thunder and crash letting me know that we are back on the coastline. I feel a bit like Leo in The Beach when he finally finds his hidden commune paradise. Another volunteer, Keric, drops what he’s doing in the kitchen to hug me and welcome me in “Lunch is waiting for you, John!” I should have planned to stay longer.
Jeff working his magic on some breadfruit gnocchi in Punta Mona's kitchen and the home to 'Jungle Gourmet'.
Punta Mona is an off the grid, self sustainable farm and eco project that is open to both visitors and longer term volunteers. It consists of 85 acres that has been owned and cultivated by Stephen Brooks for over 20 years. (Stephen is also one of the founders of Envision Festival Costa Rica) In the 1990’s, Stephen was looking for a place to setup a center to teach ways of self sustainability. He was introduced to the last remaining Jamaican fisherman of the area, Padi, who helped mentor Stephen through the years. Punta Mona continues to offer retreats, workshops and permaculture design courses throughout the year.
A night’s accommodation with three vegetarian meals (sourced from the farm) cost $85 USD and includes a two hour permaculture tour of the farm and access to their kayaks and snorkels. Day trips are also welcome for lunch and a tour for $35. If you are lucky enough to get to spend some time on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, make sure to spend a few nights with the smiling faces of Punta Mona!
For more information (or to get proper directions to not get too lost in the jungle) check out Punta Mona online: www.puntamona.org
Check below for a few more pictures from my three days at the jungle sanctuary of Punta Mona.
John Early March 2014 Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
Keric checking the levels of the farm’s water en catchment system. Punta Mona uses both rain water and well water.
A typical jungle gourmet lunch: breadfruit chips, turmeric curry risotto, beans, pico de gallo and a farm fresh garden salad.
The hot and wet climate of the Caribbean Side of Costa Rica means they can grow all types of fruit you’ve never heard of like Biriba (centre) – it blackens right when you pick it so it doesn’t transport well but cut into it and it tastes like a citrus vanilla custard (left)!
Local Tico, Beto and I on the farm tour chowing down on some fresh sugar cane. I also learnt to make warpaint using achiote seeds (commonly used in lipstick) and how to make a bracelet using the ultra strong Golden Orb spider web (the smaller bracelet on my left hand). Pura vida!