Corruption can be defined as the abuse of power for private benefit. This is one of the biggest challenges in Latin America and a pressing problem in Panamá. When I think about some of the economic and social repercussions of corrupt government officials, images of families living under the poverty line in zinc sheet houses come to mind, contrasting with sky-high towers and luxury sports cars racing the streets of Panama City. Inequality, injustice, poverty.
Corruption has negative repercussions not only on society and the economy but also the environment. The issue of deforestation is another important environmental challenge that is affected by government corruption, specifically by resource exploitation and a lack of protection for tropical forests. Panama is home to an abundance of flora, fauna, and natural resources. Protecting the environment ensures clean air and water for humans; it also benefits the country’s ecotourism, which in turn helps boost the economy.
This is where Ecovenao comes in.
Located about 220 miles from our capital Panama City is Playa Venao, a popular surf spot in the Azuero Peninsula. This Peninsula is the largest one in the country and the southernmost in Central America. Ecovenao is a reforestation project in Playa Venao that offers different types of lodging, a variety of activities from water sports to yoga retreats, a sustainable restaurant, and all of this under the same mission of protecting and restoring this ecosystem that was one harshly degraded.
Just a few months ago my family spent a lovely weekend in Pedasi, a charming town in Azuero and probably one of the most picturesque in the country. While there, we were told that a must was a visit to nearby Playa Venao. We thought a day would be enough, but after a morning of paddle boarding and kayaking, we realize we just had to go back to Venao to explore it’s thick jungles. And this is what I keep telling myself and everyone I sell Panama to: we’re not just crystalline beaches, the dense, tropical forests are just as captivating if not more.
It was pretty early when we left our hotel in Pedasi and drove the half hour to Venao. We had agreed the night before to go on a horseback riding tour up the mountains, stop for lunch near a river, and then ride down the hills. Ecovenao had set everything up for us and found us a pretty awesome guide. Not that there was a lot of talking; each of us was kind of going at our own pace, taking in the scenery and feeling the breeze. If this isn’t freedom, I don’t know what is. We were greeted by at least a dozen howler monkeys on the way up the trail – I had never been so close to them and of course it was such a memorable experience.
It was a quiet, cool morning and the scenery up the hills was stunning. Timeless beauty and perpetual bliss away from chaos and madness. I now understand my parents’ insistence of taking us away from the city in the weekends and summers when we were children, to show us the truly beautiful parts of our country. Of course you realize these things when it’s too late, but hey, some people never really leave their bubble and I can’t imagine something worse than that. As developers continue to exploit every corner of our densely populated and loud city, I stress to my close ones the critical importance of protecting the environment in order to truly progress! How lovely it was to stumble upon an ecotourism project that’s doing something so fantastic for pachamama. I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes from Lord Byron.
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.