The cab driver clearly knew everybody on the island. Trying to hit the gas whenever he had a five meter opportunity in the middle of a busy village, it must have been annoying to him he could only drive on such a small island. Every now and then he opened the window to joke with friends on the streets and when people asked him where he was going he shouted; "To plastic bottle." "What?!" "El castillooo!!" (the castle)
There has been one thing we knew from the beginning we set foot on Panamanian grounds. One way or the other we would make our way up to Bocas del Torro to visit the plastic bottles village. The taxi driver dropped us off on a quiet road, next to a castle that was completely made out of bottles. After six weeks of travelling, we were finally there. 40.000 bottles trapped into a frame of steal made a pretty neat disney like castle with three floors. We walked around it and admired the structure and paintings of fish with plastics in their bellies and signs writing things like; "Live in what you drink" "More humans is more plastic." "More plastic is less fish." "Less fish is less humans" "Drink it and build it."
A man on a squat approached us and the energetic seventy year old Canadian introduced himself as Robert. Before we got any change to introduce ourselves or ask a question, he told us the time and light of the day were just right to take a picture. He also told us exactly at which point we should stand to take it and there was no point telling him we had already done that. While offering us a can of cold beer, he told us how the PET was made in 73 to be strong enough for the carbongasses of coca cola and how long it lasted. "Water and other drinks, do not need such strong bottles but unfortunately they now use it for everything," he said.
Then he asked us; "Do you have four wheel drive legs to get up to the hill?" Proud of his big amount of energy he went ahead and showed us his new project. A prison where families could stay for the night to repent for what they had done in the past (using plastic bottles). They would have to wear striped pyjamas like in prison and stay there for three nights and then sleep the last night as a king in the castle. Back in the castle, he invited us to put our head on a block for the photo and confess guilt.
His project begun when he started an investigation with a couple of friends to figure out where the huge piles of trash came from. What they found was that more than half of every bag they opened consisted of empty bottles. Bocas has a serious challenge there. The country does not have a plastic recycling system and the drinking water is not safe, so no wonder he found a massive amount of bottles. Now Robert has been building houses in his life, but more than that he is an incredibly creative and visual thinker. And so he decided to use it as building materials. "It is ridiculous that a strong material like this is used to throw away instead of building houses that last forever," he explained. The decision to build a castle and leave the bottles visibly intact in the building frame was to create more awareness. Also he wondered what it would look like if the bottles were square instead of round and got adjustments so you could build with them like legos. He also made a nice presentation on how these lego bottles could be used. For example,different companies could have different building blocks so people go gather certain types of blocks and if a refugee camp would get water bottles they could straight away start to build shelter and furniture with it. So after making sure the bottles will no longer end up in nature and doing something with it, his idea for gathering everything that is already in nature was also quite original. "We need to have as many plastic collection points as there are Mac Donalds and everybody who brings in the bottles gets cellphone time!" He took out his cellphone and said; "I do not know how they do it but go to the poorest areas in the world and still everybody has a cellphone!" At the moment he is selling plots near the castle for people to build their own plastic bottles house. I have to say, Robert is one of the most passionate and original trashless earth hero's we have met so far. It was a very fun and special experience to stay in his castle for two nights. We even got to feed his crocodiles. So if you ever come to Bocas del Torro in Panama, he is definitely worth the visit.