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“Ecouture” – A Sustainable Fashion Fantasy Brought to Life

June 19th, 2019 by

Once upon a time, a little girl had a dream. She dreamed of being an Alice-in-Wonderland-Fairy-Princess, dancing around the fire under the glow of the moon all night long. Also, she wanted the entire dress to be made from unconventional, already existing materials, challenging her creativity and craftiness and leaving no footprint behind.

This year, her dream came true.

Nearly a year ago, the idea started shaping. I began to envision a dress to turn my “princess-for-a-day” dreams into reality at the annual Forest Ball here in PachaMama – a night devoted to embodying your inner essence through the creativity of costumes. Originally inspired by the firm texture of coffee bags and a vision to create the entire dress out of them, I started to discover the beauty in all kinds of discarded items: wrappers, packaging, all sorts of things that show up at the PachaMama Recycling Center. I made a visit and got inspired, and saw how this place was adding so much color to the vision.

To start, I spent hours online trying to choose a hoop-skirt to build the dress upon, until I decided I couldn’t just take a shortcut and order more plastic from China. Eventually the concept crystallized: it had to be made completely, totally, 100% from scratch. And more than that, only from things that are generally regarded as garbage. Beauty from waste. A true effort to Leave No Trace. Spending no money on it, except for a few small craft supplies to fix all of the pieces together (glue, staples, and safety pins). Years of watching Project Runway – especially the unconventional and avant-garde challenge – has clearly left its imprint on me.

The materials began to manifest, starting with a pile of irrigation tube I found next to the road, which was perfect for the hoops. I had a mess of Velcro I salvaged years ago from a big cleanup (clearly waiting for this perfect occasion), and an almost completely buried piece of shadownet in a corner of my garden. The dress was on its way.

I had been scrolling through Pinterest for a while – I couldn’t be bothered with following accurate step-by-step tutorials of how to build your own hoop-skirt, but the seed of inspiration was planted and in one moment it all became clear how to manifest it.

I made 4 hoops of different sizes to create the volume of the skirt that I had pictured. I then connected them with strips of velcro to create the shape. Probably for the first time ever, I actually made use of my dress mannequin… it wouldn’t have been possible without it. Then the shadownet was cut up and sewn into a “skirt” that fit over the hooped structure and secured with safety pins to the Velcro strips to keep everything in place. Then it was time to attach layers over layers of material, starting at the bottom moving up to the waist.

I had been collecting coffee bags from the other residents, to use them as the main “fabric” of the dress. I cut them open and shaped them into rectangles, glued them together to create many meters of material, then folded them into pleats. The inside of the bags is sealed, so I faced it out to add some shine.

To add color and to honor my love for combining different and unusual textures, I also used some pink and transparent bubble-wrap, a bit of semi-metallic mosquito screen, and a heavy duty silver foil bag which was packaging for nuts. All of these were pleated and attached with hundreds of individual safety pins to the shadow-net skirt.

For the top, I used another bag. I turned it inside out and upside down, cut openings for the head and arms, and adorned it with more ruffles.

I didn’t realize until I danced the night away how much of a dream this sustainable fashion fantasy had been that had so perfectly come true. To create beauty out of nothing, and tap into ancient times of womanhood. The best part: once I’m ready to let it go, I can take it completely apart again as it’s all held together by safety pins.

I’m under no illusion that clothes made from paper bags will save the planet or change the world, but I was blessed to see the wonder and awe in the sparkling eyes of the children, not just for the princess-like appearance and the fun they had with the bubble-wrap, but also as they honored the creativity and craftiness of this creation. It felt like planting a seed to nourish inspiration, to rethink, to reuse materials, to challenge creativity, to improvise before automatically just discarding garbage to the waste bin or buying new crafts materials for their next project, but to consider what could be alternatively used. Our children’s starting point regarding waste-management and consumption habits is on a much higher level of consciousness than ours at their age, and nourished with this kind of inspiration, time will tell what they will come up with.

I’m grateful to the community for contributing materials to help birth my dream into a reality. For all of the eyes that could honor and love the spirit that was poured into this project. The joy and fun I had at the Ball like this is beyond words. Golden magical moments, especially when 8 little kids sat around me in a circle, in awe and so excited about popping the pink bubble wrap in my skirt.

See more about PachaMama’s eco and sustainability efforts here.

Howler Monkey Release in PachaMama

April 16th, 2019 by

PachaMama and the Nosara Refuge for Wildlife (in the nearby town of Nosara) were both founded in 1999. Living in harmony with the environment and restoring the native ecosystem is an integral part of the PachaMama Eco Village vision and along with regular encounters with wildlife – specifically with Howler Monkey – a relationship developed with the Nosara RfW. With the rapid development of Nosara came a growing electricity infrastructure, leading to many injuries of local monkeys. PachaMama educated itself and did its best to protect and support these vocal mammals that have become an inseparable part of the experience of living in Guanacaste.

Through PachaMama’s efforts of reforestation, forest management, extensive planting, and the decision not to develop the majority of the land owned by the community, the forest canopy grew to what is now, nearly 20 years later, a very healthy, thriving ecosystem capable of supporting a much more rich and complex variety of animals. The relationship with RfW grew stronger and led to coordinated wildlife release events of rehabilitated animals on PachaMama land down by the river. Then came the idea of placing a specially-designed enclosure at PachaMama, to pilot a release program for Howler Monkeys.

The building of the enclosure was performed by dedicated members of RfW with the help of Tuwa Oyam and friends, who later had the privilege of designing the interior of the enclosure with ropes, bamboos, and various tree trunks and vines for a healthy, complex environment that allowed the monkeys a wide range of movement and skill development to ready them for their return to the wild nature.

Finally, during the last week of December, we were excited and anxious to receive 3 Howlers: 1 male (Jordanny) and 2 females (Sophie and Lela). All three arrived a moment before sexual maturity, for a better chance of troop integration and survival in the wild. They had been nurtured for over 3 years by RfW to great success. We happily received 3 beautiful, healthy, and playful Howlers that had come a long way together and formed their own tight, caring family unit.

During the next 8 weeks, I had (with the help of quite a few hands) the job of feeding the monkeys twice a day, maintaining good enclosure hygiene, and reporting behavior and any other relevant information to RfW monkey experts. Working in close contact with Dr. Francisco Sanchez Murillo, RfW Veterinarian (among others), who came almost every morning with ready-made fruits and leaves for the monkeys was a real treat. I quickly learned how to behave inside the enclosure and perform my duties with the least amount of disturbance to the monkeys. I was taught it was paramount to create no eye contact whatsoever with them and always wore a mask and gloves so the monkeys knew I was a part of the feeding staff and so to make a clear distinction between staff and other humans. In that manner, later on when they would be released, they wouldn’t make the connection that humans lead to food.

Little did i know how interesting, emotional, challenging, and rewarding this experience would be. I quickly fell in love with all three monkeys, observing their unique personalities and human-like interactions which also made my job harder. I would feed them silently and efficiently, later observing them with binoculars from a distance. They would sometimes seek closeness, trying to grab and eat food from my hand but never initiating touch. Some days it was really hard not to talk to them, comfort them, or just stay with them basking in their playful vibrant energy. Other days when they accidentally(?) peed on me or what seemed like intentionally disturbed me, it could get somewhat frustrating. It took some will to maintain professional etiquette.

Everyone involved was very happy when the transition into the enclosure was smooth beyond expectations: the monkeys were eating well, growing, and showcasing very positive behavior within the enclosure and toward the PachaMama forest environment at large. Wild Howler troops would visit the enclosure checking out and communicating with the new “outsiders”. After several weeks, a release date was set and coordinated.

Seeing Jordanny, Lela, and Sophie innocently and cautiously exiting through the specifically-designed release hatch was an unforgettable moment. For the first time in their adult life they were free. Climbing up the trees to new heights, observing the world from new angles, we were left speechless and our hearts melting. A huge effort of love and dedication finally bore fruits. Within half an hour they disappeared into their new forest home. With mixed feelings for I knew I would miss them, I too returned home. I spent the next couple of days maintaining routine in case they chose to return to spend the night in the enclosure, and looking for them all over PachaMama land. They didn’t come back to the enclosure and I haven’t managed to spot them since. My heart tells me they are free and happy.

In the process I realized how many troops of monkeys are thriving in healthy numbers here in the forest of PachaMama, carrying many young ones, safe in their natural environment. A true communal effort, we are all eagerly awaiting the arrival of the next group of 6 Howlers to the enclosure this coming June and the continuation of a beautiful relationship with the inspiring Nosara Refuge for Wildlife.

The RfW also posted about this journey here.

Leave No Trace – Eco Updates

June 29th, 2018 by

PachaMama is currently in the process of radically upgrading its recycling system. At the core of this process is a growing awareness of the impact each and every person has on the environment, and an acceptance of the responsibility we share to our planet’s survival.Although PachaMama has long regarded itself as an eco village, its standards of sustainability were in need of review, and the ensuing process pushed the village well beyond its comfort zone. Welcoming visitors from all over the world with varying levels of environmental awareness can be a challenge, but step by step the eco team is raising awareness and inspiring visitors and residents alike to move from comfort to accountability.While not always easy or pleasant, taking a deep and honest look at the community’s habits of consumption and recycling translates not only to a higher ecological standard but to a deepened and renewed sense of integrity.

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All of the plastic bags brought to PachaMama from outside, collected over the course of a few months.
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Work exchange participants join us at the recycling station to sort and clean items that are dropped off or collected from bins around PachaMama village.
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Even the smallest pieces of recyclable materials need to be sorted, cleaned, and dried to be sent to the recycling facilities for processing.

More updates coming soon!

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