One of my favorite parts about traveling is soaking in the art and design of the different places I am visiting. Perhaps it's being away from the rushed routine of normal life, or perhaps it’s simply seeing things for the first time, but whatever it is, my mind always seems particularly open – and keen – to take in my surroundings.
In the archipelago islands of Bocas del Toro, Panama, I was particularly impressed by the dedication to not just environmentally friendly and sustainable design, but also to environmentally friendly and sustainable life. The area includes a large, protected national park and the folks I met there make a point of reducing their use of resources and operating in a low-impact manner. I hope that as Bocas del Toro becomes a more popular tourist destination (as it is destined to do), this dedication remains.
On our first full day in the islands, the hubby and I had one of my favorite meals of our trip. Yes, the food was delicious. But what really made the experience memorable was that we ate at a restaurant collective run by women from one of the indigenous tribes in the area, Ngöbe. The restaurant began with a microloan and now also serves as a community and education center for the Ngöbe families in the area. Immediately behind the restaurant is an elementary school and playground, and One Library At a Time (see here for more details) is currently creating a children’s library. Clearly, this is a special place.
When it comes to design the of the restaurant, it should come as no surprise that the tables, chairs, and restaurant itself are constructed from a durable and long-lasting wood that grows throughout the forests in Bocas. I absolutely loved the sustainable and rustic furnishings, such as these inventive chairs cut from a single piece of wood.
The Ngöbe women also sell their labor-intensive crafts at the restaurant, and I picked up this beautiful chacara, a woven bag made from the leaves of a tree that are rolled and rolled until a fiber is formed. I’m told the fibers are incredibly sturdy – to the point where babies are confidentially carried in the chacaras – but I’m using mine to keep our root vegetables at home.
I was also astonished by the “cut flowers” placed in our room at Garden of Eden and also at La Loma Jungle Lodge. These are plants ubiquitous in the area (seriously, they seem to be everyone), and insanely beautiful when placed in a simple vase (see above for the picture).
And another fantastic idea from La Loma: using shells picked up from the beaches as planters for air plants.
Finally, I fell in love with the colorful, hand woven baskets made by the Emberá and Wounaan tribes that live in another, eastern area of Panama called the Darien. These baskets take weeks, if not months, to make, and I heard they are so tightly woven that, if poured into the basket, water would not leak out. This is not an experiment I plan to try.