If you are looking for an alternative to conventional tourism and even backpacking, and want to settle in a remote spot, Punta Mona is worth a visit. The Punta Mona Center for Sustainable Living (wwww.puntamona.org) is an 85-acre organic farm and retreat centre located inside the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge near the Panamanian border. The only way to get there is to take a boat or hike three or four hours from Manzanillo, where the coastal road ends and the rainforest begins. The café and convenience store are the last opportunity to purchase provisions until your return. Ask for Bako, the man with the boat, and if he’s not around someone else will take you for about $20 per person.
If you are feeling adventurous, there is a trail that goes south along the beach, crosses a stream and on toward Punta Mona. Bear in mind this trail is usually very muddy and can be slow going. There are also paths leading off from there that go to distant indigenous villages. One wrong turn and you might find yourself dropping in on the natives, uninvited. If you take the boat, it’s a thirty-minute journey until you round the bend, and lay eyes on the white sands and ears on the howler monkeys who inspired Christopher Columbus to name the place “Monkey Point”.
The guerrilla gardeners who hold down the Punta Mona fort are completely dedicated to teaching environmental awareness, and they welcome everyone for visits of any length. Promoting a sustainable way of living through example, they grow their own food organically, recycle and manage all waste, use eco-technologies such as solar power, and create an amazing sense of community. You learn about the fruit and vegetables trees, gather the food, and participate in the cooking. Their architecturally impressive houses are built from fallen trees, they’ve constructed an incredible irrigation system, solar panels provide the electricity, and they’ve planted a variety of tropical fruits, nuts, spices and medicinals from around the world.
When you’re not doing your share to keep the place running, you can laze on a hammock, take Spanish lessons, snorkel, kayak, hike, look for dolphins or nesting turtles (in season), play dominoes with Paddy, an old fisherman – or even surf the internet care of a satellite broadband connection. There is something very cool about signing on to chat with friends in their cubicles back home while you are tucked away in a remote stretch of Latin American rainforest.