American woman realizes dream of sustainable, comfortable living – and no more snow
(Boquete, Panama) – Curious why nature lovers, yoga fans, honeymooners, couples, families with teenagers, horseback riders, adventure travelers, birdwatchers and slow food gourmets are flocking to a place most of us have never heard of: Boquete in western Panama, near Costa Rica?
Let’s ask an American lady who moved here what the buzz is all about.
Even before sustainability and carbon footprint became household words, Gina Tippit Cronin is among those who feel that one of the greatest strides anyone can make is to move towards greater energy independence.
Today she owns and operates an internationally noted, Green Globe certified eco-travel and hospitality project, Rancho de Caldera, in Boquete, West Panama.
Cronin vividly remembers the long – sometimes rocky – road to get to this point:
“Living in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, on 2 acres with my family, dogs, chickens and cornstalks in the back yard, I dreamed of living a truly self-sustaining lifestyle. And I dreamed of no more snow!
One day I began searching for land and ideas on the Internet, looking for a warm climate with reasonable land prices. My search kept directing me to Panama, an area I certainly would not have thought of on my own – yet, all of the pieces fit:
- Warm climate
- Stable government/economy
- Low crime
- Good infrastructure
- Ease of travel (only a 2 ½ hour flight from Miami)
- Friendly people
- Low cost of living
- Exceptional beauty
On the first visit to Chiriqui in western Panama, the predominant agricultural area of the country, one of the realtors asked: “What climate do you want?” This seemed rather silly at the time as I simply did not want any more snow!
But I soon realized it was a relevant question because, with the elevation changes within the country and the fact that the country, which is only about 50 miles North to South, is sandwiched between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, there are many microclimates.
I opted to narrow my search to a slightly warmer section of Boquete, a small town called Caldera.
On one of the early visits to Caldera, we stopped at a small tienda (shop) for a soft drink. The young woman behind the counter wondered aloud what we were doing there, and the realtor said we were looking for property.
The local woman then called a friend of hers who had property to sell. About 10 minutes later Gaspar, the owner, rode up on his horse (still a common means of transportation here in 2004) and offered to show us the land!
We followed him to his property which was home to a small herd of cattle. The property was lush with mango trees, black boulders, and shrubs scattered about. We’d found our first piece of land…
Since we wanted additional land, we continued our search. Gaspar, who we had purchased the first piece from, kept telling us about a second piece that he wanted to sell – he said it was in town, had no infrastructure and that it was flat.
Well, we weren’t interested because we wanted privacy, to be on a hill with a view, and to have access to infrastructure. Several months passed. Gaspar kept talking about this land and we kept looking at other land.
Finally, in exasperation and because we had been unsuccessful finding another piece of land that we really liked, we agreed to see this other piece of property.
We first noticed that it was a very private piece of property, relatively close to town (and significantly closer than the other property) – a pleasant surprise.
However, as we explored the property we noticed a large hill. We were confused and, through our translator, we reminded Gaspar that he had told us the land was flat. He nodded vigorously. Yes, the land is flat, it has no rocks!
The land did not have boulders on it, like the first property – a very important consideration here because the boulders take away valuable cow pasture.
The price is higher for “flat” land, i.e. land without boulders.
Once we made it to the top of the hill, we took one look at the view and that was it. The beginning of the “Panama” chapter in our lives, of Rancho de Caldera.
We learned a valuable lesson that day: the language and cultural differences would be an ongoing challenge, but an interesting and exciting one at that.”
Despite these and many other challenges, they developed a plan and began construction on a low carbon footprint clean energy resort project to be their new home, a model of sustainable living, a place for reflection and learning all at the same time.
Against all odds, Cronin’s pioneering spirit prevailed: Six years later, her dream has come true.
Rancho de Caldera Resort & Eco-project is open. Close to natural hot springs and a plethora of eco-friendly adventure travel pursuits – her tropical home serenely overlooks the hills of western Panama – often bathed in the golden glow of amazing sunrises.
Thanks to hydro-solar and wind powered generators they installed, this mostly self-sustaining green living and hospitality project is able to operate off-the-grid year round. Besides Madre Tierra gourmet restaurant under the care of slow food Chef Craig Miller and space for workshops, Yoga retreats, meetings and classes the sustainable Rancho features horses, a swimming pool, comfortably furnished and fully equipped guest suites with terraces facing the sunrise.
Owing to clean power and carbon-footprint reducing green policy, Rancho de Caldera was recently awarded a Green Globe Hospitality certification.
Favorable ratings on TripAdvisor – among the world’s most popular hotel review portals – show that travelers appreciate Cronin’s Earth-friendly efforts. A guest from West Palm Beach, FL, sums up her experience at the Rancho like this: “Beautiful, relaxing resort in the mountains with awesome chef!
Part of the relaxing mountain resort: organic green houses built of local bamboo. They supply fresh herbs and many varieties of tasty greens for Chef Craig’s popular organic slow food creations at Madre Tierra, the Rancho’s onsite gourmet restaurant.
Though in the tropics, away from home, Rancho residents, overnight guests and day visitors do not miss out on delicious edibles they have come to love at home. As one guest says: “Far fetched as it may sound – for the best French fries in the world – I go off-the-grid, to Madre Tierra in the green Boquete hills in Panama”.
Eoin, another guest, reports he cycled 4000 miles, all the way from Atlanta, Georgia, to Rancho de Caldera in Boquete, Panama, in his Rancho’s guest book entry at guest comments
While he does speak highly of Rancho’s food, it remains unclear if he was inspired to cycle the 4000 miles specifically to try Chef Craig’s famous French fries at Madre Tierra…
Asked about her vision for the future of her eco-project, founder Cronin says:
“I envision a world where people live in harmony with nature. I hope to further increase self-sustainability at Rancho de Caldera while constantly improving the quality of the amenities currently offered.
In that spirit, I also envision producing an ever greater percentage of our restaurant food needs here on site, through our 4 greenhouses, our fruit orchard and our livestock; I hope to be able to produce all of our own electricity, without the use of diesel fuel for our back-up generator, and plan to do this by producing our own bio-diesel fuel.
My purpose for the Rancho’s green hospitality and retreat aspect is to provide guests with a healthy, enriching travel experience in an environmentally friendly manner, so that they leave here with a greater appreciation for all that our natural surroundings provide for us.”
Follow Rancho on Twitter @panamatravels
Video updates of Rancho at YouTube http://www.youtube.com/panamatraveltips
To learn more about Rancho Caldera click here