23/06/2017 08:43 BST | Updated 23/06/2017 08:44 BST

Living As A Digital Nomad - Learning More Than Expected When Taking Spanish Classes In Bocas Del Toro, Panama

I recently tested my ability to work as a "digital nomad", carrying my laptop, and not much else, to the collection of Panamanian Caribbean islands in Bocas Del Toro. I was slightly nervous, to say the least, at the prospect of relying on wifi on a Central American island to login to work. Thankfully, my nerves were calmed as connection was solid, and the gamble certainly paid off. I extended my time in Bocas, from one to two months and was ever so tempted to stay longer. It is an incredible place. This is a taster of what you could expect if you were to pick Bocas Del Toro as your office.

I took Spanish Classes with Habla Ya Spanish School. It had been quite a while since I learnt anything in a classroom, but the conjugation and conversation proved invaluable when building connections with the islanders, especially if you want to be in on the jokes.


Photo by Author.

Habla Ya also had a permaculture volunteer in-house during the four weeks I took classes at the school, and one or another member of the team were always working on transforming the school's garden into a well thought out reality of the vision they had. Curious as to why a young woman was chopping up coconut husks and embedding them into the ground, I stopped Natalie Bankhead, as she wielded a machete to carry out the job. It turns out she was using the resources at hand (there were palm trees baring coconuts on the school grounds) to enrich the soil. Makes sense. I had to admit that I knew very little about permaculture. My mother has been busy on her allotment plot growing her own food over the past 15-plus-years, with my grandmother doing the same for as long as I can remember, but it was not something that I had an interest in, not until a couple of years ago. Here on a Caribbean island, I found myself with the time and desire to find out a little more. Natalie was always happy to passionately chat about her current project and one morning she directed me to Julio, Habla Ya's co-founder to quiz him about his motives and mental imaginings.

Julio was charismatic and extremely joyous about permaculture, questioning me with excitement if I grew food back home. I was disappointed myself, when I answered, "Just a few tomatoes." Julio explained the beauty of permaculture, that through thoughtful planning, a sustainable and self-sufficient agricultural system can be developed which would produce crops all year round and with the minimum labour effort (if planned well). Incorporating his personal passion into his business was something of great importance to Julio. He and a few other members of the Habla Ya team had separately stepped onto their own paths of living a cleaner, greener lifestyle; when it became apparent that they were moving in parallel they decided to join forces and share their gusto at the Spanish School. This involved calling out for permaculture volunteers so that they might continue learning themselves, as well as share with the students, coming from all over the world, that passed through their garden and into the classroom.


Photo by Author.

From individual sparks of enthusiasm, the permaculture project at Habla Ya is seeding into the minds of curious students, like myself. Some of those students will return to their homes, all over the world and have a think about what they can do with their own patch of soil, and they may even do all that thinking in the Spanish that the picked up in that environment of nurturing. The teachers employed by Habla Ya, were also being introduced to greener ways of living; the extent of recycling and composting from the school's kitchen was widened, and homemade cleaning solutions were being whipped up and talked about. The youth, on several occasions I witnessed Julio inspiring young island kids to get their hands into the soil and feel the earth. The neighbours also became interested in the changes made in that garden, and just as I was popping in to say "Adios, y gracias por todo," someone from the Municipal Government was visiting to learn about the permaculture project which had the neighbourhood talking. It was a heart-warming and hope-building experience to watch the progress made by this new project on a small Caribbean island in Panama during the few short weeks of my stay there. I think I'll check in with the team to ask 'how does the garden grow?' and find out if the momentum of the permaculture movement is massing.



Photos by Author.

Are you interested in permaculture? What are your tips for those just starting out with permaculture?