The Potting Shed

is how we, in the UK,  would describe a small structure somewhere in the garden. Traditionally the home of the gardening tools, plant pots, seeds being sprouted. Somewhere you’d go to hide from the stresses of the real world maybe.

In plan form it started as a storage space, but as the construction progressed, it has morphed. Included in the design are plans for a mezzanine sleeping platform, a tiny kitchen, and the possibility to add a deck and a second floor. It will be the perfect space to put friends and family in, even ‘workawayers’, and I suspect we’ll be sleeping there at some point in the future. But not this year. The rent for friends and family will be very reasonable. Tetley Tea Bags, Branston Pickle, Marmite, Cadbury’s Twirl or Flakes….. is everyone getting the message here?

The roof should go on this week, it will need secure doors and windows, and then we will fill it to the gunnels with all the ‘stuff’ filling the upper construction site :-). And when that upper house gets more ‘liveable’, space will become available in the Potting Shed, for our less intrepid visitors……

Bala Beach Resort comes to Tesoro Verde

P1090391Yesterday, Tesoro Verde was proud to host a visit from our friends at the Bala Beach Resort. Operations Manager Eric and his assisitant Diadira together with some key members of their staff took a day off work to get a small taste of the range of tours and activities that they will be offering to their guests on our behalf.

Their day started when Austin from Portobelo Tours arrived at the resort with our driver for the day, Kiké from Hostel Puerto Lindo. His busito (mini-van) soon whisked them up the coast to the P1090354little fishing village of José del Mar where a boat was waiting to take them to the pristine waters of Playa Blanca for a couple of hours of relaxation. P1090368Nothing beats a Monday morning snorkeling on a P1090375coral reef or simply bobbing in the clear water with a beer in hand when you know your colleagues back at the resort are hard at work! All too soon it was time to take the boat back to José del Mar for the short drive to Tesoro Verde where the wood burning oven was glowing red waiting to cook P1090377pizza for the hungry trippers. We quickly lost count of the pizzas we made but all were happily consumed. Two of the resort chefs took great delight in showing off their culinary skills and posed P1090384 P1090385for photos with their first (very professional) attempts at jungle pizza. A little break to let lunch settle and then Heather and Austin took the party up the hill by way of the stream bed through the P1090393jungle to look at the view from our lookout platform. It’s a short steep hike but worth it for a terrific vista of the sparkling Caribbean beyond the forest below.P1090388 Back down the hill to the busito pausing briefly to “tidy up” the last few slices of pizza then back to Bala. The work week starts tomorrow!

It was a great day with lots of laughter and we are looking forward to a mutually productive relationship with our new partners in tourism.

Mia Weighs In

Finally the long awaited and much antici……..pated post from Mia. Although we have had it for some time it’s taken this long to get it on the site because we have been computerless for over two months. Here it is then and what a lovely compliment she has paid Heather and me. We don’t have kids ourselves and although we seem to get on pretty well with our friends kids there is always that nagging doubt that the memory of a great relationship some time ago was either a freak event or that in the intervening time said young person will have grown past us. In the event all was just fine and we had a great time with Mia and her sister Frankie but it seems that it’s not just the oldies that were harbouring feelings of angst pre-visit.
Tesoro Verde by Mia
As a teenager I am naturally afraid of leaving the warm and internet-connected confines of my bedroom and therefore, I, as the cool and experienced individual I am – 13 and a half whole years of walking this planet – was reluctant to venture half way across the globe, away from familiarity, friends and my idea of normality.
I was worried about many things: the bathroom (What were the ceiling-less showers going to be like? Would the water be clean to wash in?), the beds (Were they going to be too exposed? Too close to nature for my taste?), the climate(How much was the change from the standard 10° of the daily British overcast sky to the intense Panamanian sun going to affect me?) and the food (Was the food safe? Would I like it? On a similar note – was the water safe?).
However, I needn’t have worried. The bathroom had tall walls ensuring privacy and the water was beautifully clean and clear. Although it’s unlike the generic bathroom I and many others are used to, it’s beautifully built with idyllic feng-shui curves and rustic furnishings, and most certainly no harder to relax in whilst surrounded by the stunning rainforest. The little hut my bed was in is made of bamboo and is on a safety ensuring raised platform. The bed itself is surrounded by a mosquito net, somewhat providing security against the jungle as well as keeping all insects out. I had very good night’s sleep every day, despite being woken by howler monkeys most mornings earlier than one should even contemplate rising.

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The lovely bamboo huts for sleeping, surrounded by jungle and a protective mosquito net.

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The Howler Monkeys we were often woken by
The climate for my coldly accustomed body was hot at times, but was mainly manageable. We never did too much in the middle of the day and I always had the hammock, which I claimed on the very first day as a comfortable retreat, improved by my book and the beautiful view (obviously).

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MY hammock (with my sister in for some reason)
The food was absolutely delicious, with Heather and Jim both proving to be EXCELLENT cooks. One of my particular favourite meals was “Full Moon Pizza”. This is an event held at Tesoro Verde every full moon in Jim’s home built pizza oven, where Heather and Jim slave over preparing dough and toppings all day and invite friends along to share pizza with them. In the course of 2 hours, I believe I roughly had a slice of (at least) 12 pizzas, each one delicious and prepared and cooked unbelievably fast in the super-efficient oven.
Water was not an issue, as big 5 gallon bottles were provided and sufficiently quenched my thirst all holiday.
I had many crazy and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities whilst staying at Tesoro Verde. One of my favourite experiences was horse riding and snorkeling at Playa Blanca, a breathtaking secluded beach with excellent snorkeling and right next to the raw jungle. The horse ride was the right length and temperature and great fun – at one point we came almost face-to-face with a wild capuchin.
The snorkeling was great not only at Playa Blanca, but the Kuna island of Banedup in the San Blas.

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The stunning island of Banedup
During the course of just an hour in the water, roughly 100 meters off the shores of Banedup, we saw more fish than I could have ever imagined, and an abundance of beautifully coloured and vibrant fish that made the manky seaweed and grey fish of the UK look even more manky and grey. Some of my favourite sights under-water whilst snorkeling of Playa Blanca and Banedup were the Porcupine Fish, a Green Moray Eel and more starfish than I even knew existed.
Another great experience was our trip to Jungle Land, a floating hotel in the Panama Canal. The hotel was great to swim off and they had a platform especially to jump off which was hilarious. They offered many experiences as part of the stay. One of which was a “Night Safari” where we went hunting for crocs and caimans. As part of the trip we stopped at a little island where we had a bonfire and, after many minutes of looking we at last found and caught a baby crocodile to hold.

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The Floating Hotel that is Jungle Land

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The crocodile we caught on the “Night Safari”
On the next day of our stay at Jungle Land, my family went off fishing and caught numerous Perch whilst I stayed at the hotel and swam. Later that day, we went kayaking along the river to a waterfall that we could jump off and swim in the pool at the bottom – another hilarious and brilliant experience.
One of my favourite parts of the holiday was waking up to see a sloth up a tree right beside the hut. Throughout the stay we saw numerous sloths and after a few minutes of deliberation we have decided that they are the most chilled out animals, with their “whatever” persona and incredibly slow actions. Another highlight of the trip was meeting Dooger, a local tame sloth who was sadly being moved away the day after we went see him. Dooger was very cuddly and adorable and one animal I will never forget stroking.

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Dooger the Sloth
By the end of the holiday, my opinion on Panama had completely changed. It is one of the most exciting places I have ever been and certainly housed the most exuberant wildlife. The experiences I have listed, alongside many others (like zip lining 80 ft up through the jungle canopy and trekking through the rainforest) ultimately equated to a stunning and unforgettable holiday. Heather and Jim were excellent hosts and always ensured we had what we needed and looked after us brilliantly, as well as showing us the hotspots of the local area and showing us all the coolest stuff. Tesoro Verde was a beautiful place and truly was, a slice of green treasure.

Frankie’s “Panama Best Bits”

P1070648Good friends Sally and Mark Fulford visited recently from Devon in England and brought with them their daughters Mia and Frankie. We had a great time with them all and thoroughly enjoyed taking them to our favourite places. Frankie was a great hit with us since it became apparent after only a couple of days she was what we call a “nature magnet”. Seldom seen animals and birds presented themselves on a regular basis when she was around and although she was seeing many species for the first time she frequently spotted the wildlife before we did! After the family returned to the UK Frankie was kind enough to send us a post about her stay at Tesoro Verde for the web site. She called it Panama Best Bits, here it is. Thank you Frankie!

“Writing about my best bits at Tesoro Verde, Panama is very hard because it was all so brilliant, from waking up and seeing the beautiful sunrise in the jungle to jumping off the top of waterfalls. It was AMAZING! Though somehow I have managed to shortlist it down to the top three.

At number one is horse riding, snorkeling and a boat ride all in the same trip! We started by driving a short distance to a little village where we got our beautiful horses and began the ride to Playa Blanca. On the hack we went through different terrains and saw many interesting and fantastic sights. When we reached the beach, Playa Blanca, we tied off the horses and went snorkeling. When we were snorkeling I saw a golden spotted eel. Cool! After that we had some delicious food and started to play a little game of piggy in the middle, after about ten minutes it had somehow turned into an intense game with 3 teams of 2. As the day started to come to an end we got a lancha back to the village and then headed back to Tesoro Verde for another amazing night in the rain forsest.

At number two is zip lining! The zip course had 9 different lines weaving through the forest canopy. The veiws you got when in the air were beautiful, it felt very special interacting with the jungle in this way. On one of the lines you had the option of going upside down, all of us wanted to try it but when it came to it we all whimped out! When we finished the course we went for a little walk in the forest and discovered an ant motorway -there were several different little roads leading on to one big road, there were a few tunnels and seperate lanes. Proof that ants go to school!

At three is fishing! When were staying at Jungle Land (on the beautiful Lake Gatun) we had the option of lounging about and swimming in the lake or fishing, I quite obviously chose fishing. We rode in a lancha for about ten minutes before settling down and casting out our lines. It wasn’t long until I got my first bite and then 11 more, it was like the fish were queuing up to be caught! My Mum got 3, Dad 2 and Jim 3. When we stopped getting so many fish we packed up and went to a different spot, unfortunately we had no success so we called it a day and went back to the floating hotel. When we came back we gave the kitchen the fish and had them served up for lunch.

All in all I had a great time in Panama and was really sad when it all came to an end. Thank you Jim and Heather for making my time in Panama truly special, I really loved it!”

What we did with TEA

STRI guests travel in style

STRI guests travel in style

We survived! What’s more we enjoyed it and would even do it again!!!!

As always we were running around like headless chickens prior to their arrival and continued in the same mode more or less the whole time they were here but although it was fairly tiring it was also rewarding and we had a good time. Now we have to get back into work mode and it’s proving difficult. Just a little decompression time is needed I feel.

So to the trip..The first half of the group arrived at Tesoro Verde (we used the name for them to see how it felt) early afternoon Thurs the 8th. Steve had taken Heather’s advice and they all stayed in the city the night before since their flight landed after 9 o’clock and would have had only a few hours sleep before half of them needed to be roused for their visit to Barro Colorado. As it was, it was apparently still a struggle to make it to the dock at Gamboa for the 8 am pickup even though they only had to travel from the Radisson. Since Barro Colorado could not handle them all the same day, half of the group was able to sleep a little longer and they were the ones that arrived first on the Thursday. Poor Steve, who drove them through, then had to retrace his steps with the mini van to pick up the other half and bring them through some hours later. We arranged a BBQ that night and they went to bed sweaty and tired but at least well fed! Following day the group who made it through first, headed back to Barro Colorado and Heather went with them to help Steve with shopping. Meantime the first class was taking place underneath a tarp (for shade). Poetry!

And so it continued, visits to Portobelo and the Miraflores locks, the International School, interspersed with lessons amongst the palm trees and jungle scenery. As we were to learn, this was the school’s first international trip and given that they were coming from high country in May the heat was a major hurdle. The kids coped very well and there was very little moaning. We found out later that counter to our guesses their usual fare on field trips was rather basic so our (in our opinion) modest menu planning met with approval. “wow, no-one ever warmed the tortilla’s for burritos before!” With this discovery Heather and I could relax a bit. The only problem diet issue  was a very bright boy called Florian who was unable to eat gluten.  I felt sorry for him when the others where enjoying some freshly-baked bread but he appeared to be resigned to his fate and had fun making “pizzas” by loading a corn tortilla with sauce etc and popping them in the oven the night we ate Italian-style down by the wood-fired mud oven. Everyone else was happy with our arrangements and didn’t even complain when faced with the schools regularly occurring lunch plan of crackers with peanut butter and jelly. Good grief, we ate better over open fires at Scout Camp!!

Our fears over our water supply on the hill sadly turned out to be justified. It took only two days to run our tank dry, so science teacher Nate not wishing to miss a lesson opportunity took the whole group to the tank where they proceeded to work out what the meagre flow rate related to in terms of gallons per day. Or showers per day if you prefer. Thus was born the one minute shower rule! It stood us in good stead for the trip to San Blas.

This was the part of the trip with we were most apprehensive about. Not only had we never made the trip from Miramar to the lslands before but we had never worked with the lanchero Alexi before either. He had messed us about with the price just before the group arrived so he was not high on our Christmas list when we arrived at the dock to load the gear. However he was there and at least one of the two other lanchas was there also. So while we waited for other boat to arrive we donned life jackets and packed all the backpacks etc into Alexi’s lancha. Then the heavens opened. And stayed open full bore for about an hour and a half. By this time the other lancha had arrived so we squelched aboard, ten to a boat, and set off along the coast in water made dirty from the river’s outflow. The overcast day steadily improved and it was starting to get sunny when we checked into Porvenir and by the time we got to Tortuga Island (BBQ Island as was) it was as  beautiful a day as you could wish for. Principal Taylor was blown away. He really seemed to be struck dumb for a while as the reality of what he had been promised sunk in. The kids were in the water in a flash and the deal was done. San Blas had worked it’s magic. Anyone who has ever been to Kuna Yala  will certainly remember their first sight and watching the smiles we were taken back to our first landfall in ’99.

Of course that heavy rain was the beginning of rainy season on our coast and the following days were a mixture of sun and sullen showers. We got soaked on the Wednesday night and didn’t sleep too well but it made the porridge we ate for breakfast the next morning taste good. The lessons continued and included a raft building morning spent on Bug Island after the entire party swam the channel from Tortuga. The raft then provided wood for the bonfire that night. Heather and I pretty much took over the cooking even though it was supposed to be largely done by the kids. I felt they could do with the extra time to enjoy the island and we enjoy cooking. There was a bit of hunting and gathering with conch being prepared with coconut milk and garlic and lots of snorkeling which for most was their first experience of seeing a coral reef. We played football and volleyball with the Kuna who were kind enough not to try too hard. There was a preformance circle on the Thursday night with poetry, dance, sketches and readings. The standard was extremely impressive.  On Friday morning bang on ten Alexi and the others arrived at the island. I was speechless. To the minute, in Panama,in San Blas. Amazing! However within half an hour the skies opened once more and the islands disappeared. I was glad I had our hand held GPS because the lancheros had no idea of where we were once their landmarks were gone. Through the pouring rain we ploughed, Go Pro’s recording seas flattened by the rain until Porvenir appeared out of the gloom. Once again the weather cleared and we arrived back at Miramar without any problems. Actually we had the waves behind us and occasionally we were surfing down the back of them. Over 20 knots a couple of times!

Back on the land the tents were pitched for the last time and most of us headed for bed after supper. I was tired. Saturday was the last day for us since they had decided to spend the night before their flight in the city at the Riande. I ran the treasure hunt which went down well and then we all went to Don Q’s for an early dinner. A few group photos in the car park, hugs all round and then we went our separate ways. We have heard that they all made it back safely although I don’t know how many turned up to school on Monday morning. Three flights and a bus ride getting home around midnight doesn’t make for very happy kids the next day!

We must have enjoyed the experience since we haven’t stopped talking about what a great bunch of kids they were since they left. Even if it’s not the best paid job in the world working with kids and their teachers is pretty interesting and definitely leaves you feeling like you have done something worthwhile.

 

Peace & quiet returns to Tesoro Verde

 

Rainy season makes itself known

Rainy season makes itself known

Life is returning to normal.It is Sunday lunchtime here on the 18th May, and this is our first morning ‘child-free’. The group from Tahoe flew out from Tocumen early today, and peace and quiet are creeping back to ‘Tesoro Verde’. I have been checking mail etc ( internet was down Friday and Saturday ) and Jim has been trying to tidy, clean, put things away…… on their last day I consciously gave-up trying to maintain a degree of order, I wanted to spend every last second with the Tahoe crew, enjoying their crazy energy and moods up until the last moment. Consequently there’s a mound of dirty laundry staring at the machine (wish it could jump in there all by itself) , coolers and chairs to repatriate to various friends houses, an agenda to check….. I am due to give two Shiatsu massages Wednesday morning, a jungle tour Thursday, organise a pizza night at our mud oven, start designing a custom trip for four people who have two weeks to ‘experience’ Panama, contact two friends due to arrive in July….. just stepping back into my ‘real’ life.Rainy season is here. We had big shortage issues while the school were here, until the kids got the hang of where the water was coming from and that it wasn’t an unlimited supply( our stream or quebrada ) and then got some rain, so muddy, cold, they experienced it all. To see San Blas through fresh eyes reinforces why we go back every year. It is as close to paradise as I am ever likely to get, looking forward to our next trip in August already…… ImageImageImage