Punta Mona (Monkey Point) was named by Christopher Columbus on his final voyage to the Americas in 1502. A rich coastal area near Bocas del Toro, Panama, the land and sea boasts abundant biodiversity, with primary rainforest right up to the coast and rich aquatic life supported by extensive coral reef.
The original inhabitants of this Talamanca mountain region were the Bribri people. In the late 18th century, African people came up from Bocas del Toro, following the migration of the Green and Hawksbill sea turtles and setting up provision sites along the coast. With the planting of yuca, plantains, papaya, bananas and other staple foods, homesteads were developed. By 1915, a number of established population centers with 30 families each existed in Cahuita, Old Harbor, Punta Uva and Monkey Point.
The first people to settle in Monkey Point were Ezekiel Hudson and Celvinas Caldwell. Throughout the early 20th century, Monkey Point had many families and at one time was on its way to being a larger town than Old Harbor. In 1985, the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge which encompasses Monkey Point was established. At that time, 65 families — almost 200 people — lived at Monkey Point. There was a dance hall and soccer field, and most of the people lived on the beach, which has since been taken by the rising sea.
El Caribe Sur
Roads failed to make it to Monkey Point, however, and the population started moving away to nearby Manzanillo, Cahuita, Old Harbor and Bocas del Toro, Panama. Remaining under the protection of the wildlife refuge, Monkey Point lost all but a few of her inhabitants.
Blastell Martinez, better known as Padi, was the lifelong and final Afro-Caribbean resident of Punta Mona. Born on February 3, 1929, Padi would proudly state that his “cord was burried der in de yard!” Padi worked for the railroad, spent time in Panama during his younger years, and as he aged he returned to Monkey Point where he lived alone in the old ways, fishing and selling coconuts.
Punta Mona Center
Stephen Brooks came to Costa Rica on a family vacation. While indulging in the eclectic life of Puerto Viejo, Stephen — always the explorer — ventured off to the nearby town of Bribri, the municipal center of the region. Driving through the lush rainforest he was awakened to the vast, expansive views of the monocultured banana plantations that dominated the landscape. Startled by an incoming plane looking like it was going to crash, he came to the realization that this was a crop duster, spraying toxic agrochemicals on the bananas. The crop duster did not stop spraying as it flew directly over a playground of local children playing soccer.
Concerned by what he observed, the expressive Stephen called his parents and said, “I have to do something about this!”
In 1995, Stephen founded Costa Rican Adventures (sold in 2009 to C. Hill), one of the original eco-tour companies to bring students from the United States and Canada to Costa Rica. Stephen’s goal was to show them the beauty and the tragedy of the rainforest, as well as expose young people to indigenous cultural heritage and it’s decimation. From there the company started to boom. And, while students and teachers were hungry for the experience, Stephen kept thinking, “What is the next step?”
In 1996, Stephen and his father, Norman, were out fishing off the coast from Monkey Point when a storm rolled in, which brought them up on the beach to the home of Padi. With fish drying on the line and nets hung to be mended, Padi’s first words to Stephen were, “Wappin Soul.” Stephen knew right away that this — a simpler life, living with the land and sea — was the way. He connected immediately with Padi. He started bringing the eco-tour students to camp there at Punta Mona as a part of their Costa Rican adventure. In those days there was a house standing where the Main House is today. You can find images of that house in the book, Shelter.
Stephen found out that the land next to Padi was for sale. The land was acquired by Stephen in 1997, and Punta Mona Center for Sustainable Living and Education was founded.
Punta Mona was run by the staff of Costa Rican Adventures for many years, receiving the students while Stephen guided them around Costa Rica. Volunteers — travelers and students who wanted to live with and from the land — started showing up, and so the center kept growing.
In 1997, Stephen also met Silvio Bonomelli, an eccentric Italian ex-pat living in Puerto Viejo. Silvio gave him chaya, his first edible green that he planted at Punta Mona. Stephen had been eating rice, yuca, fish and plantains prepared every way possible until then. Wiith the introduction to chaya, and its dramatic nutritional and culinary impact, Stephen became obsessed with edible plants.
Since then, Stephen has traveled the world seeking plants that can dramatically better people’s lives, as well as increase biodiversity and abundance! Today, the Punta Mona Center boasts over 300 varieties of tropical fruit and nut trees, abundant root crops, vegetables and annuals, as well as over 150 medicinal plants!
In 1999, Stephen took his Permaculture Design Course on the Big Island in Hawaii with Douglas Bullock & John Venezuela. Finding that he had already been living many of the permaculture principals, he discovered a language and community of people striving toward the same goals: to live more efficiently and gently, while using less energy. In 2001, Stephen hosted the first ever Permaculture Design Course in Costa Rica at Punta Mona, and has been offering them at least bi-annually ever since then.
Since the early years Punta Mona has been a mecca for environmental studies students, for permaculture designers and organic gardeners, for healer and alternative chefs. We have gone through many stages of transformation at Punta Mona, from a regular rotating volunteer farm to the current incarnation of an organized educational retreat center, experiential guest house and thriving permaculture farm.