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2020 Retreat Jan 6th-12th

This January 6-12th, 2020

We will be embark on our Second Annual Millennial Future Retreat to Boca Guariviara, Panama. Read about our 2019 retreat here.

We are so excited to be able to visit this wonderful community again this year and could not continue without them. Boca Guariviara provides us with the location and support so that our explorers can have the chance to experience an authentic native lifestyle safely.

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This year we will focus on profiling different community leaders as well as those who keep things running behind the scenes. The theme of this years trip is “How can I be a better member in my community.” There is no better place to learn this than rural Panama as the culture is highly Collectivistic!

country comparison
https://www.hofstede-insights.com/country-comparison/panama,the-usa/

Itinerary

Our retreat will follow last year’s itinerary based on the positive feedback received from the explorers. We will fly into San Jose, Costa Rica ($400 round trip) and stay the night. The next day we will bus into Panama ($21) and spend a few nights exploring Boquete ($10 per night).

After this transitional phase into the Panamanian social sphere, we will travel north to the Ngabe community, Boca Guariviara ($25). We will grab our supplies in the port town and head into this indigenous reservation community for 3 nights.

We will stay with the local Bonilla family who speak only Spanish and a local language called Ngabere. Here, we will eat and sleep just as they do. We will catch fish, visit farms, play soccer, and relax on boat cruises through the mangroves. Here life is slow and steady and has much to teach us. Learn more about the community here.

 

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When our time is up in the community, we will leave Panama through the north border crossing into Costa Rica ($9) where we can land in the beach town of Puerto Viejo ($8 per night). From this last stop we will bus back to San Jose ($15) and catch our flights home!

In total for round trip transportation, housing, and meals our explorers can expect to spend around $500. Not too bad for a week long vacation that could change your life for the better! This journey is best done in 8 days but can be shortened to 5 by eliminating one stop.

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Interested? 

Reach us here at Millennial Future to get more information. 

Interested in supporting the Millennial Future’s goal of cross cultural sharing and communal growth?

Each trip, we bring down supplies to donate to these community members that are giving us this amazing experience.

Clothes (t-shirts, pants, shorts, socks), hats, sunglasses, tooth brushes, and condoms are all great gifts that will be utilized by folks who are happy to have them.

Things like: hygiene products, shoes, and food can all be purchased readily in the community and are not ideal to travel with.

If you are in the Austin, Texas area, we will pick up these donations to be prepared for travel. Or they can be shipped to 3006 Cedarlawn Circle, Austin, Tx 78723.

Please support us by sharing this with your friends and family. Only by learning about other cultures will we ever be able to improve ours. By acknowledging the basic principles that bring all human life together, we can better ourselves and our communities.

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January 2019 Retreat

On January 3rd, 2019, we embarked on our first Millennial Future Retreat. This retreat was a complete success and proved to be a catalyst that will carry us into the Future.

We landed in San Jose, Costa Rica and linked up at a nearby hostel. Myself and guide Zach Wolfe had each extended invitations for the retreat to our friends and family. We found our first pair of explorers faster than we could have imagined! Julian (left) hails from Houston, Texas and Kara (center) from Baltimore, Maryland.

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After a brief night in the capital of Costa Rica, we hopped on a bus and headed for Panama. The boarder crossing involves disembarking the bus, getting passports signed, and a light bag search. Quite painless!

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We arrived in David, Panama in the mid afternoon and opted to stay the night since we have friends who work at a nearby hostel.  A refreshing pool and tropical decor welcomed us as well as our first wildlife sighting. A friendly gato solo.

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The next morning around 10am we packed up and took the short ride to the nearby mountain town of Boquete. These public buses run every thirty minutes and cost just $1.75.

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In Boquete, a sharp climate contrast presents itself as cool, windy, and with light rain showers. Boquete was founded in 1910 and is a popular destination for tourist and Ex-Pats alike. English is present in most restaurants and there is even an American style micro-brewery.

Plenty of great views as well.

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This is a great stop as a stepping stone into Panamanian culture as there is also a large population of the Ngabe Indians there. More to come on them!

From Boquete, we chose to take a private shuttle northward over the mountains to a small port town on the Caribbean Sea called Chiriqui Grande. This town is the gateway to a large portion of the Ngabe Indian reservation.. better known as Comarcas in Panama.

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There is a fleet of water taxis that run daily to the villages all over the Comarca. Since there are no roads, the water taxis are the only access into the large swaths of undeveloped lands. The drivers run the boats every day and are skilled at knowing the sea and river conditions.

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The drivers are eager to have us on their boat and jokingly compete among each other over who should take us. They load our gear while we set off to do some shopping in the humble town. The boat leaves the port town, Chiriqui Grande, around 3pm into the Comarca and doesn’t come back out until 7am the following day.

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We plan to spend the next 4 days living in the Ngabe Indian community called Boca Guariviara. This small community is where guide Chandler spent two years living as a Peace Corps Volunteer!

Boca Guariviara is the first community up the Mananti river and is comprised of 45 wooden houses built along the waters edge. Many houses have docks extending into the water that the taxis can tie up to. These houses function as rest stops for the water taxi travelers. Here the family who owns the house typically sell lunch by the plate, cold soda, candy, and gasoline.

The boat riders who will continue traveling up the river are welcome to eat, use the restroom, and converse to spread the latest news from outside the reservation.

But since this is our stop, we unload our gear into the house and sit down to have our first plate of authentic Ngabe cooking. Rice, beans, and chicken are on the menu and we gladly order a plate.

Afterwards we walk over to the home of Johnny and Maria Bonilla. They are two seniors in their 70’s who helped to found Boca Guarivara over 40 years ago! They are welcoming and honest people. Having the opportunity to stay in their home during the retreat is one of the most rewards aspects.

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Like all Millennial Future retreaters, Kara and Julian both receive their own secure room with beds and bug nets to sleep in.

We spend the next few hours talking and getting to know the community members. Julian and Kara are each given names in the Indian language Ngabere to use during their time in the Comarca. Kara is Malu (Ma-lou), and Julian is Joregochi (ho-re-go-chi).

dsc02628Pictured above from right to left are Nacho, Juli, and Cobra (all nicknames). Ngabes are required to have a formal name for identification purposes, but they prefer household names in their natural language.

dsc02624Pictured above is Senor Olmedo Santos and his wife Elsa Bonilla (with permission given to show).

Before long we are invited to play soccer! We pile into the handmade wooden canoes, grab a ball and head down the river to a large tidal sand beach. The boys run circles around us extranjeros (foreigners).

Its dark by the time we get back to the house. After showering in the Bonilla’s private washroom, we eat and promptly head to bed.

Our second day starts slowly with some coffee, conversation, and a light morning rain shower. We have a plan to boat out to the beach and spend part of the day helping a community member work on his property.

Wooden boats like these cost around $700! A small fortune in these parts.

When we got out to the property, Julian didn’t hesitate for a second to jump into action. He swung the machete like a natural and did his best to learn from the locals.

Afterwards, a lunch intermission and rest period followed. We then loaded back into the boat and set off for another location with a special goal. Armed with a powerful green LED light, we knew we had a chance to see nighttime wildlife in all its glory.

 

So with our community guides leading the way, we crept up a small creek as the sun slowly set..

Before nightfall we had already spotted wild turkey, sloths, and parrots.

Armadillos, Cayman crocs, and iguanas soon make their moves as we watched silently from the boat. We didn’t hunt the animals, just enjoyed observing them in their natural habitats.

Our third day we took an invitation from our host, Johnny Bonilla. We joined him in a trip to his farm where he and his family grow their food. This was a very special opportunity as a quality farm is known as a sign of wealth and Johnny was eager to show us his.

The view from Johnny’s farm along the river.

Johnny led us into his farm and showed us where he had worked hard to drain standing water and keep all his trees well kept. He has several different sections of the farm that each produce a food product. Banana, Plantain, coffee, coconut, limes, yucca, and several relatives of the potato all are grown on the farm. Johnny even has an older cacao farm (this is what chocolate comes from).

The land produces so much edible food. Sometimes it even falls off the tree into your hands like this plum.

Kara loved every minute of the farm visit and did her part to harvest some plantain.

This haul represents several days of food for Johnny’s family. They will supplement with rice, beans, chicken and fish.

All this work leaves you tired! Nap time from 3-5pm is highly encouraged and functions as a reflection period for the retreaters. A good time to relax and contemplate the difference in lifestyle you are experiencing.

An evening card game of spoons keeps the tone playful and relaxed. All the folks pictured are related to the Bonilla Family!

The next day we said our goodbyes and caught the water taxi on its way to the port town. It was time to wash some dirty laundry..

We head north from Chiriqui Grande and enter into Costa Rica the same day at the north frontier. Just on the other side is a beautiful beach town called Puerto Viejo. This is a good place to rest up and a time to absorb all that has happened during the trip.

Sometimes returning to your life back home can seem daunting after such an impactfull experience. But remembering to reflect on the comforts and lifestyle we have in the United States will help you always remain grateful. What the Ngabe Indians will teach you is something you can take back to your life in the States.

To find out more information on Millennial Future Retreats, please see our website and use the Contact Us us forum.

Harvesting Coffee

The rains hadn’t stopped for over 2 weeks, as if the water from the sky had no limit. Short 1 hour intervals of cloudy sun were the only breath. But as we stayed warm and dry inside the leaf roofed house, the community members were happy.

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Deep periods of rain signaled a good return on harvest day. And this current seasonal cycle is coffee. From bush to berry to bean to brew, these native farmers have been producing and selling their coffee for several generations.

As the berries turn from green to orange to red, the moment for harvest ripen. With a good season of rain, the mature coffee trees all ripen simultaneously.. Meaning a plentiful return for the investors.

The first day the sky dries, we load the 15 foot weathered wooden boat with baskets and empty rice sacks. We mount the 15 horsepower yamaha motor, pour in two gallons of gasoline and set off for the farm up river.

dsc01909Not having the family farm within walking distance has its pros and cons. The pros include not having to carry laden packs on your back for several miles.. But a con is having your food source a full day trip away by boat.

 

There are four of us sitting low in the hand carved boat heading to harvest coffee. The farm owner and family patriarch Johnny Bonilla, his two teenage granddaughters and myself are present.

The old tree trunk boat cruises upriver under the watchful eye of Senor Bonilla while I gaze up into the trees along side the river. Parrots, sloths, monkeys, and snakes are all visible to the trained eye but I catch only a few.

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When we get to the farm it looks like any other untouched riverbank. But as we unload from the boat and climb up the bank past the first tree line, the jungle opens up. Lines of banana trees as far as the eye can see form a grid sprouting from the orange soil.

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Beside the several species of bananas there are fruit trees bearing lemon, orange, coconut, and palm fruit. In one area are potato like vegetables growing in large patches. All this food serves to nourish the Bonilla family throughout the year.

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Dividing the baskets and bags among ourselves, myself and the young women begin to work. With the basket tied around our waists to catch the berries, we go branch to branch dragging our hands down the slender limbs to knock off all the ripe berries.

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Slowly but surely, the basket fills up. And once full, we dump its contents into the rice sacks. The sacks then grow in size and number as the morning passes into early afternoon. By 3pm we have filled 15 sacks to the seams with ripe coffee berries. Around one thousand pounds of raw coffee berries.

With this harvest the family looks to make around $500..20% of their annual income. They will also have their daily coffee for free for the next 4 months.

Organic and free!

 

Learn more about the processing practices by reading an amazing photo essay by a current Peace Corps Volunteer in the Comarca region.

https://www.peacecorps.gov/stories/photo-essay-journey-coffee-rural-panama/

Palm Leaf Roof

The cold dense jungle rain is melting into a fine mist as the sun begins to pierce through the blanket of clouds over head. The moist air begins to heat and expand into a thick blanket of standing vapor. I follow the sound of a swinging machete to find my companion twelve feet up standing in the heart of a large palm tree. We are harvesting panca, a broad jungle leaf used to make all natural house roofs.

I watch him nimbly move about up in the head of the tree expertly avoiding the large thorns and ant piles. With a metallic swing, a thud, and a loud crack comes the 20 foot palm frond falling to the jungle floor. Through the clouds of buzzing mosquitoes I move to collect the downed fronds and cut them to length. Three arm lengths long measured by the length of the machete.

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As a small group we work deep into the green jungle through the late morning in search of the panca tree and its precious fronds. The sun passes directly over head now and the clouds have fully broken to show a rich blue sky leaking through the tree canopy 40 feet above. The standing water vapor begins to heat and expand and each breath is thick and wet.

After several hours cutting fronds we have 250…enough to cover a small house of 12 by 12 feet. With hunger gnawing at our bellies we take a short break to eat a humble lunch of white rice and watered down coffee.

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Now that the fronds are cut and stacked on the jungle floor, we’ll have to haul them back to the river’s edge where we left the boat. My companions stack 16 fronds and lay them over their backs to haul. I can manage only 10 without danger of slipping. In the rain forest, a 500 meter walk feels like 5 miles. My heart is pounding in my chest when I get to the boat and throw down the fronds in exhaustion. Just 10 more trips to go.

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When all the fronds are accounted for we recount to make sure we cut enough. Returning for a few missing fronds is the ultimate punishment for lack of attention to detail. Sure enough, 250. We load the long wooden boat. Stacking fronds 10 at a time in opposite directions in order to balance the boat and count easily.

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We climb in on top and get comfortable as one companion pull starts the 15 horsepower motor. I’m completely drenched with sweat and water and muddy from the face down but couldn’t care less. We just finished some of the toughest labor of the land and we did it for my house.

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My own house in the community.

So I can live as the Ngabe do.  

The Arrival

I arrive in Boca Guariviara on a misty gray day in mid-September.

The weathered fiberglass boat slows to a stop at a long wooden dock against the shore of a wide chocolate painted river. The muck from the shoreline lets off a distinct smell of rotting plant material that forces my nose into a cringe.

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Looking towards my local guide he indicates this is our destination and I begin fumbling to collect my various bags. I am 1 hour from the nearest road, some thousands of miles from home, and into the largest Indian reservation in Panama. The Comarca Ngabe-Bugle.

Once I’d gotten my bags out of the boat and onto the narrow wooden planked walkway of a dock, I turn up to look at the adjacent house. A half dozen round blank faces with deep almond eyes observe my every breath and gesture. Instinctual as the animals of the jungle they gauge my position of body, direction of gaze, and edge of voice. Not a word is spoken while they fluently communicate between themselves.

Unsure of what to do next, I gather my life’s possessions up and into the large palm roofed wooden house following my guide. The house is tall and airy, with only half walls around the outside forming a railing. Inside there are various wooden tables where fellow water taxi riders may sit and refresh themselves with a cold soda and plate of freshly prepared catch-of-the-day.

I take a seat at an empty table and await further instructions. After several minutes the boat taxi pulls off, heading farther upriver to other more remote and unpaved communities. Left alone at the table in silence the time crawls and the loneliness pricks my side. I pull out my phone to check cell coverage..Nothing. The humidity is rising as the clouds desperately wish to bust.

Word of my recent arrival has spread like wildfire but as silently as a candle. Several young boys some 6 years old hanging from the outside of the house eye me suspiciously. They’ve never seen someone with blue eyes before, and much less a fully grown white human in their house. They’re shy to talk aloud and giggle between themselves.

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A young woman walks out from the kitchen area of the house with a plate of food and sets it in front of me. Eat, she instructs me while gesturing at the plate. The fare is simple but filling. A portion of rice, a pair of boiled unripened bananas, and a small hunk of fried fish. I clear the plate and feel better almost immediately.

The grey sky has broken and a fine misting rain falls, cutting the humidity to a bearable level. I start to look around and familiarize myself with the mysterious new place I will call home for the next two years. I don’t yet realize how much the place will reshape my mind and open up my heart, but I feel it coming.

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I feel a great challenge and transformation brushing on the tips of my psyche.

This is real.