“Mamallena 3 km”, reads the sign at the crossing where we have just been dropped off by the mini-bus close to El Valle, Panama. The hilly road we follow winds along fields, providing us with superb vistas on ancient inactive volcanos. Heavily geared up with our backpacks, it is quite a hike before we see a colourful sign indicating that we must be getting closer. A few dogs come running towards us, wanking their tails: we have just arrived at Mamallena eco-lodge, passionately run by Brandon and Will.
“This all used to be vines”, Brandon says pointing at a well-maintained passion fruit orchard. “We use them to make desserts, teas, or we add them in our cocktails”, he explains. We continue our walk around the lodge while Brandon expands on their ideas of permaculture to make the most of the land in an eco-friendly way.
Permaculture agricultural techniques consist in matching plant species so that they influence each other positively. Pineapples are grown among mint plants as they prevent weeds from growing between them. Papaya trees provide shade to beans. The volcanic land is fertile, and the soil is ideal for plantations: peppers, bananas, coconuts, lemons, oranges, grapefruits, mandarins, limes, mangos, cacao, sugarcane…
Beyond permaculture, Brandon insists on the organic approach of Mamallena, trying to develop a self-sustainable eco-hostel model. Water for the plants comes from a spring, and the land is irrigated by gravity, without any pumps. The natural pools are watered in the same way. Eucalyptus is used to create the organic insect repellent. The cleaning product is made of dehydrated lemon peels. Soon, shampoo and soap will be added to the list. Fruits and vegetables are harvested to make juices, teas, and meals for the guests staying at the lodge. Coffee wastes are used for a homemade syrup for the pancake breakfast. Toilet paper is the base for compost, that is turned by the local chickens. Brandon is waiting for the delivery of a dozen of solar panels that will make Mamallena self-sustainable.
“We run the place thanks to a volunteering program”, Brandon explains. “We are very open and anyone who is ready to commit, share their expertise and some good ideas can apply.” The profiles are very varied from painters, artists, gardeners, plumbers, or yoga class instructors!
Time seems to fade away while we prepare our next adventures by the fireplace. This is one of these places where we could spend weeks seeing the seasons come and go. Unfortunately we don’t have time to wait for the passion fruits to get ripe but know when to come back to taste the maracuja cocktails!
Marcella & Claire
- Mamallena eco-lodge is located about 1.5 hours from Panama city. Make sure you request a pick up!
- Mamallena is located a few kilometres from the popular destination of El Valle. Make sure to hike through the cloud forest of the Gaital National Park when visiting: the summit will provide you with superb vistas.
- If El Valle offers some good hiking opportunities and unique sceneries, we recommend a stay at Santa Fe as well, that is a bit further from Panama City on the way to Boquete or Bocas del Toro.
- Take a visual tour of Panama!
- Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area!