by Kate Cone

After a bittersweet goodbye to the all you can eat pancakes at Hostel Oasis and all of Granada’s luxuries like real flush toilets, smoothies at The Garden Cafe, reliable electricity and free internet, we strapped all 14 packs to the van, ready to face a week getting in touch with nature and all it had to offer on the island of Ometepe.

With all of our Spanish classes complete, it was now time to learn the language of the land. Two car rides, a ferry, and a walk later, we finally made it to La Finca Bona Fide.

We were greeted by Farah, Bona Fide’s coordinator and a delicious lunch- the first of many meals cooked by Marina and Paula. After being contently stuffed with rice, beans, and plantains, we moved into our cabins, the Hilton and the Parthenon, ready for another week of bunk beds and bug nets.

At first glance, Bona Fide is an overgrown jungle teaming with wildlife and a maze of foot paths hidden in the mess of it all, but when given a closer look, we could see how each tree, herb and flower was thoughtfully placed and planted in relation to each other with intention across the farm- a concept called permaculture we’ve become quite familiar with over our time in Central America.

As you would expect, it takes a lot of work to keep all 26 acres of the farm running smoothly, so we had our work cut out for us. The opportunities to learn were endless. The different areas of work ranged from spending the day cooking in the kitchen, or working in the field, nursery or garden. Each one a piece of the puzzle that holds the farm together.

Days in the kitchen started at 6:45, cutting bananas and pineapples and making beans and rice with Paula for an 8:00 a.m. breakfast, followed by making lunch with Marina, grinding coconuts, chopping an array of veggies, and most importantly, preparing the plantains for the fan favorite- plantain chips…or occasionally plantain fries. Cooking for 14+ people is no easy feat, but with the guidance of Marina and Paula it was always a good time filled with joy and laughter. The majority of the food that kept us going every day was grown and harvested on the farm, thanks to the hard work put into the field and the garden. After chopping down plantains, bananas, and coconuts, and carrying them up the trek to the kitchen, along with harvesting coffee and cinnamon, we gained an appreciation for each meal we shared at the farm and the process that goes into all the food we eat on a daily basis.

Every day when our morning work was over and our energy restored, we had a different activity, by the end of the week we had a newfound knowledge on natural medicine, agroforestry and permaculture, and most importantly, chocolate making. Not only does cacao have endless health benefits, but it always seems to bring the group together. We roasted the beans, peeled them, ground them up, and added ingredients like raw sugar, peanut butter, coconut and ginger to our liking, all while singing and dancing around the kitchen, sneaking bites of our creations between each step.

At every stop along our journey we have been lucky enough to make new friends and build relationships with the people who we’ve come in contact with. Bona Fide has been no exception. Upon arrival we met Phil, a fellow volunteer, and Sam and Sara, Bona Fide’s current interns, all of whom have been great additions to the team for our time at the farm. But along with these friends, we’ve gotten to know many new members of the animal kingdom as well. Tarantulas and scorpions are no longer distant fears only to be seen on the discovery channel, but casual acquaintances waiting for us on the bamboo walls of the compost toilets, in the piles of compost we shovel in the garden, or maybe on the sink, making sure we wash our hands.

Luckily, more members of the animal kingdom await us across the border in Costa Rica, making the goodbye to our newfound friends a little less bittersweet.