Costa Rica/Panama Projects

Our current Costa Rica/Panama projects are centered around the Rio Teribe at the Costa Rica/Panama border, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and eco-tourism development with indigenous Tjër Di Naso and Ngöbe-Buglé peoples:

  1. Watershed Watch Expeditions
  2. Documentary Film Project 

Summaries of these programs follow...

Watershed Watch Expeditions

Experience sustainable living with a culture that has done it for countless generations.

We have developed curricula with ODESEN, the Organization for the Development of Ecotourism for the Naso. The Naso Kingdom is located in an International Park and Biosphere Reserve, "La Amistad" where one million acres of rainforest are shared by Costa Rica and Panama.

We have both short and long Watershed Expedition Programs.

Supplies and kayaks are delivered to Palenque
by Indigenous Naso long boats

The short program (10 days) involves three days hiking into the watershed, three days paddling the Rio Teribe, three days of structured explorations focused on watershed ecology and environmental issues, and one day sailing out of the watershed to a Caribbean island. On the island, graduation includes a visit to two tropical research stations to understand how everything that happens upriver affects the marine environment. In all, 10 intensive, educational and fun-filled days focused on watershed ecology and environmental education... in paradise.

Your guides were river men from birth

For more info about Watershed Watch Expeditions, visit our blog. (March 2011 Watershed Expedition School).

For schedules, pricing, and information, contact

ODESEN leader Edwin Sanchez

The conservation of rivers and watersheds is the predominate issue facing humanity as mankind struggles to develop a culture which might enable, rather than extinguish, future generations.

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Documentary Film Project
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Tjër Di, What Price Paradise? Theme/Synopsis 

There are societies living in relative harmony with their ecology while growing mainstream cultures participate in unsustainable consumerism. Modern technology can enlighten the former, but over development is pushing unsustainable practices into every corner of the world with false promises. The practice of conspicuous consumption is out-of-sync with the future of our species. Societies living in harmony with their ecology are under pressure to conform … to a death sentence.

Naso deliver produce to market
with zero carbon footprint.

We visit two cultures unknown to the world, societies who exist sustainably in Central America on vast tracts of undeveloped rain forest and cloud forest. Through their lives, the issue of “How much is enough?” is explored.

“Only when the last tree has died, the last river has been poisoned, and the last fish has been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.”

—Cree proverb

Tjër Di Naso King Valentin Santana

Is this a good time for consumer cultures to
step back from their thirst for more? Is more hydroelectric energy worth destroying the Tjër Di Naso culture and damaging the ecology of an important international biosphere reserve? Is more copper worth forcing an open pit mine on the Ngöbe-Buglé and their neighbors? The benefits, problems, costs and definitions of “progress” are debated in the context of the ongoing struggle between ecological conservation and economic development.

These struggles are introduced through the voices of indigenous leaders who have been resisting, with road blocks and violence when necessary, encroachment and exploitation by corporations. The backdrop is rural tribal communities situated amidst virgin forests, rivers, waterfalls, and wildlife contrasted with the congestion and pollution of nearby urban areas whose ecology has been thoroughly exploited, such as Panama City. Does the mainstream culture sincerely intend to spoil not only their backyards, but those of their indigenous neighbors as well?

This documentary, Tjër Di, What Price Paradise?, introduces the Tjër Di Naso and Ngöbe-Buglé, their customs and culture, and their importance to the region and the world—via the increasingly ubiquitous morning cup of coffee. Viewers will be enthralled by the indigenous women’s colorful dresses, the fact that they still live on foot, and travel by raft, reside purposefully apart from mainstream culture, and practice sustainable living. These people have been pushed further and further into the rainforest over the years. It’s imperative to put a human face on those in jeopardy because they have decided they will be pushed no more. The film will capture the views of the indigenous who ask important questions, such as, “Where would we go next? Blocking the river will flood vast areas where we live; we would have to move our homes, families, crops, animals and our lives. Who will care for Grandmother River?”

The Tjër Di Naso are presently negotiating with the government as the last tribe to hopefully receive autonomous territory, like every other tribe in Panama before them. The Tjër Di Naso want a negotiation process in which the government recognizes the land rights of aboriginal people at risk and where Tjër Di Naso communities are consulted in a binding agreement for any external economic project to be developed on their ancestral territory.

Traditional Ngöbe-Buglé dresses

The government readied the Ngöbe-Buglé Comarca while indigenous protestors marched the Pan American Highway toward Panama City in 1997. They are the largest tribe in Panama; however, the Tjër Di Naso are the smallest. The project team will interview attorneys in Washington DC who recently represented the Tjër Di Naso at hearings by the Organization of America States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Important testimony was given, such as, “Failure to recognize the Tjër Di Naso will probably result in cultural genocide, since their culture, spiritual life and existence are threatened by foreign investors motivated only by financial gain.”

Organic coffee farmer and project collaborator Jen Long refers to insights from Lynn Twist, founder of the Pachamama Alliance. “The indigenous and the modern world are colliding and they will continue to collide. Both peoples must move forward together if we are to survive; both worlds learn from each other. Our liberation is bound up in the liberation of the indigenous. We must live in a world of you and me and not a world of you or me.”

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Big River Foundation—a 501c3 educational nonprofit—is fundraising for this project.
All contributions are tax-deductible.
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Naso children

The Naso explain “Grandmother River nurtures Mother Earth, who nurtures all her children”.

How Much is Enough? 

This documentary film investigation, Tjër Di, What Price Paradise?, focuses on struggles within the least-known and most ecologically-sensitive territory in the Americas, the last kingdom in the hemisphere and the world's first international rain forest biosphere reserve. The debate has global implications: the need for development versus the need for conservation of watershed ecology; the priorities of consumer cultures versus the priorities of sustainable cultures.

Here newcomers continue to covet the natural resources of the indigenous as they have for 500 years. Major battles have begun anew, pitting the indigenous way of life with that of new conquistadors flying the flags of corporations; hanging in the balance: the health of pristine rainforest rivers and cloud forest watersheds.

OSDESEN leader Adolfo Villagra with his daughter

A Miami Herald news correspondent filmed a compelling introduction of one of the key issues: Click here and see it.

No professional full-feature documentary film work has been done on the Naso and their International Park La Amistad, nor the Ngöbe-Buglé and their Comarca, which will be the subject of a second film. These peoples and the wilderness they protect are virtually unknown to most of the world.


PRODUCTION TEAM: Jeffrey Porter – filmmaker; Tony Pagano – filmmaker; Stephen Kaczor – writer, co-collaborator on the Panama side of the park; Jennifer Long – project manager, co-collaborator on the Costa Rica side of the park; and Dr. Bruce Lites – senior scientist.

Jeffrey and Tony are award-winning filmmakers who have graciously committed their time to this project for filming in January 2012.

We envisioned these projects as means to raise awareness and funding for projects central to the well-being of the indigenous communities in and around La Amistad, where Jennifer & Bruce own an organic coffee farm, Finca Lilo de Biolley. Stephen has worked with the Naso in La Amistad since 2007. He is Chairman of the Big River Foundation, an experiential education foundation partnered with the indigenous to develop eco-tourism. His farm, Finca Santuario, is between the park and the Ngöbe-Buglé Comarca, at the base of Volcan Baru.

This story is told through the voices of indigenous leaders, local and national government leaders including the presidents of Costa Rica and Panama, scientists from UNESCO, farmers and organizations that partner with the Naso and Ngöbe-Buglé such as Citizens of Chocolate and the Big River Foundation.

Rio Grande Plaza, One South Main Avenue, 14th Floor, Laredo, TX 78040-5935 USA | (956) 209-1879 | Eric Ellman, Executive Director,
Sueños del Río, Cerca del Puente, Boquete, Chiriqui, Panama | (507) 6966-2691 | Stephen Kaczor, Chairman,
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