A couple months ago a friend told me, that he is part of a group of friends, who are building ships on top of a mountain and reforesting the lands of former coca farms. So, 3 weeks ago I started walking up an incredibly steep mountain in the North Coast of Colombia on the way to Puerto Papaya with almost no idea of what to expect.
There are 6 people owning and investing in the land together. 4 of them are from Berlin and travel to Colombia for around 3 to 4 months a year: Max, whose a new dad and the Zirkusmond, my friend Max, who is remodeling the ‘8. Mai’, a boat to live on and host events, Flo, who is the Co-Founder of Black Chili Knives and Pina, who works in Female Empowerment.
The other two, Jose and Alcidez, are Colombians, have always lived in the area and stay in Puerto Papaya all year long. They call everyone Primo (cousin), which has become the nickname of all the Colombians, that live or work on the mountain. Also it is so welcoming.
Additionally there is a bunch of friends, family and volunteers around, so I was cooking for 20 people, when I was on kitchen duty.
Consensus & Structures
Currently there is no specific Consensus process for the core group. The basis is trust, that everybody can decide, if their are willing to put in the work for it. However for bigger e.g. financial decisions there is up to 3 rounds to find a consensus and after there is a decision based on money and time invested.
Off the Grid?
Puerto Papaya is self sufficient with drinking water from a spring and solar power. Next to the trees planted for reforestation, they produce some vegetables and fruits (so much Papaya) themselves, while buying rice, flour and other staples. The Primos and their families live on the land all year around eat or sell the produce, when the core group and their visitors aren’t there.
For the past 5 years starting with building a road up the mountain the project is mainly financed by the individual incomes from Berlin. Now that main parts of the buildings are (almost) finished, the goal is to make the project financially sustainable for next year. Using their shared background in Event management, Puerto Papaya will host a variety of workshops like a Spanish Intensive, Yoga and a Kung Fu Programm.
Art over Politics
Local Power structures in very, very short: The area around Puerto Papaya is controlled by the Paramilitary, an armed right conservative organisation, that has structures similar to the Mafia and control the large parts of the illegal drug traffic. An estimation says that they are responsible for 70 -80 % of the murders in Colombia. The opposition of the Paramilitary are the (far) left wing ‘Guerilla’ groups. Because of the Guerilla – Paramilitary wars free speech and a moderate opinion is almost impossible, as you either support one or the other.
In Puerto Papaya there is no set political flag, but freedom of speech and a critical, political discourse is invited. The core group of people in Puerto Papaya is humanistic to left.
Local Cooperations from Puerto Papaya
Next to offering fairly paid job, one of the project goals is to empower the Primos in the after matches of Cocaine plantations and the repressive Paramilitary, while Tourism and Globalization arrive to the area. Some of the resulting projects are: a library in the village, free English classes by the volunteers and a 3 day hiking tour, that offers visitors an insight to the way of life and plants on the mountain with transparent payment. Max told me that in the beginning the Primos were surprised and now proud, that people from the other side of the world are interested an admire in their way of life in nature.
One of the visions is to reverse the ‘Primotour’ and invite them to Europe to visit all the friends that have come to Puerto Papaya.
Another idea is to create festival to connect different directions of Art and Activism. It should work as a platform to connect and create a space for discussion. However depending on the mood of the day this might take another 2 and 5 years.
I arrived to Puerto Papaya after 2 months of travelling Latin America and it felt a little bit like coming home to Berlin. But the Berlin I knew in my childhood, when everybody just DID stuff, instead of talking about it or being unable to do so for lack of space or money. When it was sassy, political and free. This is how Puerto Papaya feels. A place to be free and do whatever, even though the area around it and the stories, that you can only hear, but not tell, are so rough.
I worked as a volunteer for 5 hours a day for 5 days a week, to have food and accommodation in the kitchen and stayed a couple days as a guest. To stay as a guest including a bed and three meals a day is 50’000 COP.
Would I want to live there?
I’m really interested in more tightly webbed communities and their communication methods, it was really fun to go about things light-heatedly, have no commitments and call the self-proclaimed non-hippies hippies 😉
If you’re interested in visiting or volunteering at this community, please get in touch with me.