People think I’m a super-green, eco-crazy person because I have chosen a car-free lifestyle (in a city where that is quite rare).
While I certainly care about the environment and do the simple, convenient things to try to lessen my impact and reduce my consumption, Martijn has taken things to a level I didn’t even realize was possible with Totoco Eco-Lodge.
My first day at Totoco after recovering from climbing a volcano with all of my travel gear (that may be a slight exaggeration), I went on the Totoco Tour to learn about how they put the “eco” in eco-lodge.
The property consists of the lodge, the forest, and the farm. As we walked from the lodge at the top of the property down to the farm at the bottom of the property, I discovered that the success of this project is in Martijn’s commitment to continuous learning and sustainable improvements.
Martijn and his business partners started small and slow, choosing low-tech and affordable options for everything from the re-forestation to building the lodge to starting the farm.
Martijn explained to me that they have three eco-priorities at the lodge.
Totoco is totally off the grid with solar power. Detailed instructions are provided in each room, so you know to not leave electronics plugged in and turn off the lights and fan when you don’t need them.
Residents who live on or at the base of Volcán Maderas can take advantage of a cheap water system built by by an NGO. It collects natural spring water in a retention wall about 3,000 feet up the volcano and sends it down through a series of pipes.
At the lodge, all grey water is recycled and used for irrigation. As Martijn explained their water cleansing/ collection system, I realized that what sounds so difficult on the surface, is really not. Everything he has built has been done with simple materials and simple tools.
Totoco collects every bit of trash, recycles what they can, and responsibly stores everything else until better options are available. They even used plastics in the base structure of their recently built cabanas.
How do you deal with human waste when you’re on the side of a volcano and have no sewage system?
I have to admit I was a little nervous the first time I used one, but it’s really easy and not nearly as strange as it sounds.
As we left the lodge area and got into the denser part of the forest, Martijn explained how they approach the re-forestation of their land. This was previously a corn field, and they have planted 2,000 trees.
Erosion and lack of fertile soil are the biggest challenges. I learned about techniques for creating erosion barriers, how pioneer trees are the first to colonize a previously damaged ecosystem, and how to use grafting to create sturdier, pest resistant trees.
I have read about these things before, but actually seeing it in the world made such an impact on me.
Martijn picked up the lemongrass and had me smell its sweet fragrance while he explained that it works as a natural erosion barrier. Martijn showed me the fire ants living inside the thorns of an acacia tree while he explained what a pioneer tree is.
Everything seems so complicated. But it is really not when you see that someone with no formal training has actual done these things.
We made our way down to the farm, and I saw many of the ingredients for the delicious meals served at the Eco-Lodge.
Martijn isn’t just focused on Totoco having a profitable farm.
The long-term goal is a profitable, sustainable model of organic agriculture.
This is not just about Totoco. It is about the communities on this island and being able to give families the knowledge and means to do this too. While Martijn knows they are still years away from achieving this, they continue to make progress.
The bigger picture: permaculture
According to wikipedia, permaculture is a branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, and environmental design that develops sustainable architecture and self-maintained agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems.
That sentence makes my brain hurt, but I realized that this is what Martijn had been showing me and explaining to me in a simple, understandable way.
The big picture is not just about being able to live off the grid on the side of a volcano.
This is about a sustainable future for the world.
Do you know what aquaponics is?
It is a combination of hydroponics and aquaculture.
Still confused? Yeah, I was too. Martijn explained that they are building a fish farm that is a closed system with the only input being fish food. There is no soil, only gravel. This is perfect for city rooftops (the first rootop aquaponics system is in Montreal) , and Martijn believes this is the only real solution for our cities to produce organic, local food sources on a large scale.
Can a small eco-lodge really change the world?
I think so.
Achieving a large vision can only happen if we take the first step and execute on a small scale.