Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Panama: Chocolate Farm, Jungle Lodge

      You approach La Loma by boat -- there's literally no other way -- and at first all you can see are mangrove trees.  Then you notice a small dock sticking out beyond the mangroves, and maybe a small boat or two tied up.  Then you see the man on the dock waiting for you.  He's Henry Escudero.  He and his wife, Margaret, own and operate this small lodge.
You follow a wooden walkway, above, through the mangrove swamp and past trees, which you later learn are home to sloths, past a raised hut used to house a community volunteer and a kindergarten, and eventually you reach the main building, another raised structure that serves as the lodge's open-air dining room.  Welcome to La Loma.  Click HERE for its website. 
 So far you've been on flat ground, but there's a steep climb ahead.   Three of the lodge's four open-air huts -- rancheros, they're called -- are up a steep but well designed and well maintained trail.  I thought of it as a tenth-floor walkup, but maybe it wasn't that many steps. Henry and some of his staff members carried up our luggage and the luggage of other guests who had arrived with us on the boat from Bocas del Toro.  Going down (a short section of the path is shown below) was, of course, easier.  But still steep.  And at night, quite dark. Fortunately, Jane and I had brought our own flashlights.  
The room -- think of it as a deck with a thatched roof and some partial walls -- was lovely, with native hardwood floors and locally made furniture and glimpses of the Caribbean through the jungle canopy.  Banana trees were laden with fruit just off our deck.  The room had two double beds with the best and most convenient-to-use mosquito netting we've ever encountered -- bedside tables and both beds were within the curtains. There were two hammocks, a desk and a chair on the deck beyond the netting. Canvas-like curtains could be pulled to enclose the entire space in the event of bad weather, but while we were there what rain there was fell straight down and the curtains weren't needed.  Below, a view from within the netting.

The bathroom was as open-air as the rest of the space.  One amenity that you can't count on at eco-lodges like this is hot water.  La Loma has on-demand or limitless water heaters for each hut, a great luxury. 

At right, two baby hummingbirds and their mother in a next near the dining deck.  By the time we left, the hummingbirds had left, too.

Below, nearly ripe cacao pods still on the tree.

La Loma's jungle produces more than cacao.  There are breadfruit trees, breadnut trees, different kinds of bananas, pineapples and more.   If you have never stayed at an eco-lodge or never stayed in a jungle or never slept in mosquito netting, this is where you should start.  The staff, the international volunteers (who stay here while working in educational or vocational projects with the Ngobe people on Isla Bastimentos), the food and the accommodations could not be more pleasant. Henry and Margaret have created a Shangri-La.

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