Santa Fe Orchid Fair

Santa Fe Orchid FairBit of a last minute announcement, but the 2014 Santa Fe Orchid Fair is held coming weekend 15, 16 and 17th of August. The location is Restaurante Los Hermanos Pineda, right in the centre of town. Santa Fe is famous for its orchids, with as many as 300+ species. Most orchids bloom in August when both rain and sunshine are regular. Locals will bring their orchids for display and for sale in a pleasant garden setting. Do not hesitate to book a room, hotels are already filling up!

Fundraising for Cambodia

Coming May Sineth and I are going to Cambodia; for Sineth it will be for the first time in 6 years she reunites with her family. For me, well I never met my parents-in-law, nor any of her siblings with the funny nick-names. Her fat sister (who according to Sineth is a better cook than her), her black sister, her skinny sister, midget sister, and all the brothers who all have names starting with Bun- so it took me many years figuring out who is who.

Most of her family has moved out to the city, but her parents still reside in the village a days’ travel from Siem Reap. The village is located in Kra Lanh district in an area rarely travelled by foreigners except for aid workers. In fact they are so rare children will flock the streets if they see one to examine their strange features. It’s poor, ravaged by war that only ended in 1997. No paved roads save for the semi-paved highway, no electricity accept for the district capital of Kralanh itself. Subsistence farming is the main source of income.

From Kralanh we will travel south to the village situated on the edge of the jungle. Apart from meeting family and old friends, we intend to do charity work for the villagers and relief extreme poverty especially for the elderly. We will buy solar lights, writing materials, medicines, little donations for the elderly, and if we raise enough money, get building materials for a potable water supply and sanitation.

Afterwards, we’ll publish the results on our web page. With your help we can make a difference for many people who’s lives were tattered by war and political force beyond their control. Thank you.

Competition in a small town

competition?Oftentimes my guests ask me: how are your relationships with other businesses? When the question is asked by (former) business owners my reply usually sounds familiar and they will nod sympathetically. But the majority of people never owned a business in their life, and to them my answers usually sounds surprising.

The cliche image that most people have of competition in general, and especially of competition in a small town, is that of two cartoon characters who happen to start the same business and then resort to all kind of ludicrous means of sabotage. They expect there to be some kind of animosity between me and my competitors. They have mostly been taught at public schools (by people who never owned a business and enjoy the highest possible job security) that competition is a dog-eat-dog, evil system that hurts people. The reality is very different.

Competition at large is a system of coöperation: very few businesses compete directly. Think of whom a business relies on: consumers and suppliers of products and services; other businesses. Like a growing forest, everybody reaches for the sky, and sometimes people loose, but the end result is magnificent. Compare the beauty of the competing forest with the desolation of a planned golf course. In which one of them the players have a higher chance of success?

So we work together with some of the other hotels/hostels in town. When we are full, we send guests and vice versa. When guests are looking for something cheaper or something more luxurious, we tell them where to go. Because we’re not just renting out beds, we are selling Santa Fe as a tourist destination. Our real competition lies in Costa Rica and the other mountain towns in Panama: Boquete and El Valle.
Tourist demand more business here in Santa Fe, not less. If we run each other down, the guide books would write about Santa Fe: “beautiful town for nature lovers, but nothing to do”, like they did when we came here almost five years ago. Thanks to our efforts and that of our ‘competitors’, Santa Fe is now included in the latest Lonely Planet as a ‘Must see destination’.

But this is only the beginning. Last year I made the effort of launching a website to promote the whole town: I have yet to gather enough material and funds to make a real marketing impact, but the foundation is there.

Hopefully we ‘competing’ businesses can get together soon to bring this project to bear fruit.


Panama birdwatching – A toucan in town

First things first: anybody who’s interested in birdwatching in Panama should check out the Panama Birdwatching facebook page. I had no idea it existed until a guest pointed me out, but apparently it is very well visited by birdwatching experts, so if you have any questions, or would like to identify an unknown bird, this is the place to go.

This morning I had a surprise visitor. A toucan, but in town! Plenty of toucans if you go up into the mountains, but this is the first time in four years that I saw and heard one in town. It was hanging out right beside the hotel, where there is a creek with several mature trees. Before we got this property I was hoping that this strip of jungle would attract special birds, and it does.

No pictures unfortunately; reminder: buy a new camera.

A gardeners dream

Having a garden to grow at least some of our own fruits and vegetables was one of the reasons to come to Panama. Land is affordable compared to many other places in the world, and a climate without frost, with regular rainfall and abundant sun results in a maximum yield. The challenge is not whether you get something to grow, but if you can prevent it from growing too much. Other challenges lie in battling leaf-cutter ants, keeping your lawn short to minimise no-see-ums and snakes (if it wasn’t for our cat Conan), landscaping/terracing/minimising erosion and soil improvement.

Our land has been used as cattle pasture perhaps for over a century, there is zero top soil left. Yet contradictory to all the environmental nonsense I was told in high school, restoring poor soils can be done in no time. Of course it would take 50 years to get fully mature trees or a rainforest, but just getting things green again, stop erosion and start gardening only takes a year.

When we just opened last year, Jim, a friend of ours and annual guest came by for his summer holidays. Our building was barely finished and the place looked like a construction site. He returned again for this years’ summer holiday. To give you an idea of what can be achieved in only a year, let’s compare some shots he took:

Amazing isn’t it? Of course we used (organic) fertilizer for all our vegetable and flowerbeds, but other than that it was simply mother nature doing what she does best.

Another guest of ours and a professional photographer was kind enough to take some wonderful shots of our place as well as writing some really nice blog entries on his experience here in Santa Fe. Thanks again Luis!

Here is a list of what fruits, vegetables, roots and herbs we are growing:

pineapple (2 species)
soursop (guanabana)
orange (2 species)
lime (2 species)
noni (Indian mulberry)
naranjilla (lulo)
chinese cherry
milk fruit (2 species)
pashion fruit (maracuya)
banana (2 species)
rose apple

basil (5 species)
mint (3 species)
oregano (2 species)
lemongrass (2 species)
coriander (cilantro)

thai ginger (galangal)
chili peppers (3 species)
bell peppers
tomato (2 species)
lettuce (3 species)
sweet pea
green beans