More than 13 years ago Nathan Gray, founder of the ground-breaking Earth Train peer-to-peer student activism movement in the US, was looking for a new home base. A friend told him that Panama was a country with lots of land in need of protection and lots of young people in need of empowerment. So Nathan got on a plane, then he got on a bus, then he got on a truck taxi and soon he found himself in Mamoní Valley.
From ranch land to reforestation
When Nathan arrived in the valley a Panamanian woman mentioned that her family was selling a chunk of property nearby. Nathan toured the property later that day and soon he was the owner of 198 acres (80 hectares) and Earth Train’s Mamoní Valley Preserve was born. It’s part nature reserve, part environmental education center, and part eco adventure travel destination.
Like so much of the land in the area, the property had been cleared for cattle pasture so Nathan, a growing Panamanian Earth Train team, and a crew of volunteers began reforesting the 198 acres (80 hectares) with indigenous plants and trees. Soon the streams cleared up and wild animals returned.
Bamboo was planted and it quickly began providing building materials for a true environmental retreat and education center where Nathan’s dreams of educating and empowering young people to lead other young people into a better environmental future could be realized.
Now Centro Mamoní has four two-level, mostly open-air wood and bamboo sleeping structures with room to pitch tents on the upper floor and bathrooms with showers and composting toilets on the ground floor. There’s also a large kitchen and a dining/meeting area with satellite internet all powered by a hydroelectric generator on the grounds.
Hiking at Mamoní
We visited Centro Spanish-fortress-Portabello-Panamawith Nathan and hiked a loop trail that took us up and down through the lush jungle and across creeks. We dove into swimming holes and stopped at lofty viewpoints where we could see the Caribbean Coast and the famed Kuna Yala, homeland of the Kuna (sometimes called Guna) people or Panama.
Along the way we saw a dart frog (not a poison dart frog – this one is named for the shape of its head), red spider monkeys, helicopter dragonflies, tiny black frogs, a centipede that smelled like almonds because it protects itself by secreting cyanide (cyanide smells like almonds), and a rare caecilan which is an amphibian that looks like a worm or snake. It amazed us all, even Nathan. Cougars and harpy eagles have also been spotted at Mamoní since reforestation started taking hold.
You can also go kayaking within the Mamoní Valley Preserve and even hike from ocean to ocean through the preserve since it exists in the narrowest part of the Panamanian Peninsula.
Mamoní now protects more than 12,000 acres (4,856 hectares) including most of the vital Mamoní watershed, six of its tributaries, and more than 50 miles (80 km) of streams. The legendary Dr. Jane Goodall has visited Mamoní and the center has hosted her Roots & Shoots environmental program for 70 students.
Mamoní abuts the Chagres National Park and an area inhabited by the Kuna (also called Guna) people, Panama’s largest indigenous group, and Earth Train works closely with the Kuna Congress (the indigenous group’s autonomous government) to promote environmental protection.
Junglewood, a program run by Grammy award-winning producer Rob Griffin, brings musicians to an outdoor amphitheater on the Mamoní property for outdoor concerts that are truly in tune with nature. Earth Train has also opened a campus, designed by a protégé of architect Frank Gehry, near Panama City in order to offer even more environmental education to even more people.
Pre-arrange your visit to Mamoní Valley Preserve and Centro Mamoní, located about two hours from Panama City, by contacting Earth Train by email at info AT earthtrain DOT org. The cost of your visit will help fund the purchase and protection of more land and the creation of more environmental education programs.
Here’s more about travel in Panama