Most hostels in Central America hire people to lure innocent “fresh off the bus” backpackers into their bosses’ hostel, which is either around the corner or a short walk away. So how on earth is a hostel that is located in the middle of the Panamanian jungle, 3 hours away from any civilization, making any profit? Oh, and did I mention the 30 minute uphill hike once you get off the bus? Patrick McGreer, co-founder of the Lost and Found Hostel in Panama, explains.
On what values is the Lost and Found Hostel built?
Originally, the hostel is set up to be an isolated community of foreign visitors of Panama, aiming to be completely economically sustainable. As Patrick doesn’t have a environmental background – in fact, he has a degree in drama and taught English all around the world – there was no real ecologically sustainable side to the concept rather than that the hostel was built on top of an old coffee farm, so no extra trees were cut for the construction.
An important factor in starting the hostel was the nearby Hydrodam. Originally founded by a huge multinational with promises of local labor creation, effectively only 1 local was hired. This fact triggered Patrick to – illegally at first – fire up the hostel, creating actual jobs for locals. It was immediately shut down by the government, stating lack of permits and the impossibility of claiming land in the middle of a rainforest. Several small battles with the government later, the Lost and Found hostel is up and running.
How has running the hostel changed your perspective on sustainability and being ecologically friendly?
Although Patrick doesn’t have an environmental background, running the hostel made him more environmentally conscious, especially with the business aspect in mind. “It’s become more personal”, says Patrick, “I’ve learnt that environmentalism and business don’t need to contradict each other. Ecotourism is a brand new industry which is very profitable”.
The Lost and Found Hostel is built in the middle of a rainforest. How does it give back to the nature?
The first tour that L&F boasted was the “Organic farm” tour, where tourists would visit tour-guide Gabriel’s farm, home and family. More and more similar tours were added, all focusing on creating income for the tour-guides and their business (e.g. the coffee of Gabriel’s farm is sold at the hostel) and help them grow personally and professionally, by teaching them English for instance.
While Patrick now tries to keep the hostel’s focus on sustainability and the local community, it’s sometimes impossible to follow all the best paths due to lack of resources. A good example is compost toilets: there is no processing program for it in Panama, and rules impose the use of regular toilets. The opposite is true as well; the nearby Hydrodam for example generates all the hostel’s water and electricity.
In between the showers and the main lodge a “crazy monkey” and a kinkajou (best compared to a raccoon) guard their territories. Both of the animals were rescued from families who had adopted them as pets. Now they’re being prepared to be let loose in the wilderness as soon as they regain their instincts.
Apart from locals bringing groceries from time to time, luxury shouldn’t be the keyword of your experience here. You’ll have to entertain yourself here with plenty or board games, humming birds that will sit on your finger and happy hour at the bar with friendly, chatty fellow travelers. If only there was a way to create a Wi-Fi signal from recycled bottles…