Here’s a nugget of wisdom: When you start to get all warm and fuzzy about the interconnectedness of nature and you’re nodding your head in agreement because, yea, I get it, “every living thing is intertwined by an invisible thread,” don’t forget that fire ants – shockingly – aren’t your friend, twined or un-twined.

Today we gathered in the gazebo for our first lesson on permaculture. Andres, our smiley Colombian gardener who has that cabana boy thing going on, gladly informed us about the central philosophies of permaculture – help people, help the land and share the harvest. Yet despite his overview, a few of us were still left wondering… what exactly is permaculture? Some of us were totally lost once he highlighted the subtle differences between organic agriculture and permaculture. Here’s the gist: Permaculture uses organic methods, companion planting and landscape design to plant a variety of plants, which, if done correctly, will require little intervening. It’s basically trying to recreate how the plants would operate in nature, while at the same time adding in some crops for your own benefit. This idea also extends into other areas of sustainability such as water management and housing.

Fresh from the permaculture pep talk, Andres added fuel to our enthusiasm by saying we were going to take a walk through the hostel’s grounds and check out what practices had already been implemented. Woo hoo! Nothing like a hands-on lab session to really understand science. I was all set to be my own Bill Nye and then Andres added his little playful caveat. “We’re going to go without shoes on,” he added in his thick Colombian accent. Ah. Lovey.


Dave and I warily exchanged glances and slowly made our way to the edge of the gazebo to pull off our shoes and expose our white feet to the sticky Amaga air. Gingerly we ambled down the concrete pavers and prepared ourselves to step onto the grass. My mother, who used to yell at me if I kicked off my shoes in a suburban playground to enjoy a scraggly patch of dried grass, would have had a heart attack today. And in her “I told you so fashion,” after traversing the gardens and traipsing up hills, Dave and I returned to the gazebo with about 20 swollen and burning fire ant bites (me) and two bloody puncture wounds (Dave).

Maybe my permaculture will be “no ants allowed.”

January 13, 2014