As we began our descent into Puerto Jimenez from San Jose in Costa Rica, slightly nauseous from the turbulence of the 8-seater, dinky plane I’d been sitting in for 45 minutes, I felt as if there was no real landing strip for us. Suddenly a split between the trees appears and we land in the middle of the town on literally a strip as short as my residential street here in Toronto. We come to a stop and the captain opens the side door; a rush of humidity hits me, my hair instantly expands. “Oh yes, that tropical breeze,” my Caribbean side tells itself, yet my pasty, Canadian skin is dressed in overalls and hiking boots.
Puerto Jimenez in one of the main towns in the Osa Peninsula, located in the southwest part of Costa Rica, with the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Golfo Dulce on the east. With Lokal Travel, I experienced both sides of the Osa, indulging in delicious foods, connecting with locals, meditating with the wildlife and dancing up a Salsa storm, with a few local brews in hand (of course!). The Osa Peninsula is home to 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity and 50% of Costa Rica’s biodiversity. It is known for having the largest population of Scarlet Macaws and Squirrel Monkeys in Central America, as well as 3% endemic flora.
My first few days in Puerto Jimenez followed a typical Canadian traveller itinerary: beers, an intense sunburn (like, tomato red all over!), and an overdose of Guanabana juice. I was in awe (and envy) of the community of expats living in the Osa, living the island life away from the hustle of their Western lives. Our Friday night salsa experience was at a German-owned bar in the middle of nowhere: Martina’s. As we drove away from town and down the dark backroads, I stuck my head out the window to gaze up at the blanket of stars overhead, each one as bright as a candle, as we went through tunnels of trees that fanned over the dirt road. When we finally approached the lively bar, filled with new friends, my Caribbean blood started racing. I had to get on the dancefloor, after a plate of delicious gnocchi (of course!).
Because I’m the kind of person who is always on time for a party, I had arrived in Puerto Jimenez two days before the tour with Lokal started, after a full day in San Jose exploring with the Urban Adventures crew. Once the rest of the group arrived, I was well acquainted with Puerto and strategizing how I too could uproot my life and settle it here on the beaches of the Golfo Dulce. When night fell, I was thrilled to meet up with everyone at dinner as we began our 7-day adventure together. Our group was made up of all ages from across North America and the energy between us all couldn’t have been more radiant. We saluted with Imperial bottles and stuffed our faces with fresh eats from a restaurant along the main strip of Puerto Jimenez. I was thankful that everyone was up for an early evening as I was still recovering from the previous night out at Martina’s.
As I waved goodbye to Puerto for a week, I jumped into our Jeep and we zoomed along the main road towards Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre, a small town just outside of Corcovado National Park. This adorable little town has unfortunately struggled for generations to provide economic stability to its residents. With not much opportunity present, besides the few teaching jobs available, the community of Dos Brazos turned to two industries: palm oil farming and gold mining, two very environmentally and economically hazardous operations. The palm industry is one of pure destruction, as it completely sucks the soil dry of nutrients, affecting mass deforestation over time, while gold mining was declared illegal in Corcovado with the declaration of the National Park in 1975, leaving residents with no choice but to perform mining activities illegally. Thankfully tourism came to the community a few years ago when a leader from the Corcovado Foundation paid for courses for Dos Brazos residents to become certified guides through the Ministry of Tourism. Now, you’ll find young, innovative and extremely intelligent young people leading tours through Corcovado National Park, including our beautiful, young guide, Tomas - but we’ll come back to him.
Dos Brazos has been famous in my books since viewing 2.5%, a documentary by Lokal Travel co-founders, Eytan Elterman and Marco Bollinger. The two worked on the film between 2012 and 2013 when they discovered the oasis, its incredible biodiversity, and the beautiful people who have been working tirelessly for years to develop the Osa into a premier community tourism destination. My favourite character from Dos Brazos: Xiña, a small and mighty middle-aged woman with legs of steel and a heart full of passion for creating memorable and intimate experiences for travelers coming to the Osa. Over the past couple of years, Xiña has been developing a tourism project from the old cabin in the rainforest that her mother had grown up in. After a year or so of building the hour-long hike to the cabin with her own hands, hooking up pipes from the nearby waterfall to the cabin for freshwater, installing beds, hammocks and a beautiful kitchen, Xiña was finally ready to welcome groups of tourists and we couldn’t have been more thrilled to be one of the first groups to experience it all.
As we began our hike to the cabin, our ears began to vibrate from the beautiful voices slowing rising out of the village church. As we peaked over, a smile spread across my face watching a room filled with beautifully dressed children and their families praising the Lord through song and dance. The scene was just bursting with love, an energy I needed as we amped ourselves up for the insane incline we were about to take on. Passing the church and starting up the hill was like entering a whole other world. The trees became so thick, my youthful self would have found such joy in an epic game of hide and seek behind them. The sound of millions of Cicadas harmonizing high in the trees vibrated the ground like the subway running under my Toronto apartment. I instantly felt in tune with myself again, away from the concrete jungle and in the midst of a real wildlife sanctuary. Our trail was coming to an end when Xiña stopped to chop into a Arbol de Vaco tree, showing us the earth grown milky liquid, Leche Milagrosa, that the tree produces; a natural cure for gastritis.
Imagine that: a place where nature is the only essential need to thrive? How are we living in a world where we are so far removed from all this? I really had entered a whole new world (I am Princess Jazzmine, after all).
Arriving at Xiña’s cabin was like entering a fairytale. The adorable cabin hosts around 10 guests featuring a beautiful porch with two hand carved, wooden chairs, an outdoor shower overlooking the jungle, hammocks and a picnic table in the back under a wooden awning, and an adorable little kitchen with beautiful big windows to keep conversation flowing. The toilet, a cute little stall just out back, provides enough privacy away from the group. Always an essential for nervous poopers.
Our afternoon was a relaxed one, as we laid around in the hammocks playing President (or Asshole if you are a cheeky card player), until lunch was served. I’ve never experienced such fluffy, perfect tortillas. I’ve also never consumed so much tortilla in one meal. With a full tummy, I let it hang loose as I jumped into my bikini and we marched down to the waterfall; the source of fresh water coming straight to the cabin. As I ducked my head under the falls, I squealed with excitement and shivers as the cold water hit me. With a soaked butt and dripping hair, we watched the sun begin to descend as we head back up for dinner, feeling refreshed and clean enough to avoid a shower. With a 5am wake up to watch the sunrise over the jungle, we laid to rest early, being serenaded by the vibrant, nocturnal wildlife.
I woke up still full from overeating our two massive meals the day before. Unfortunately my eyes are much bigger than my stomach and on the way up hill to sunrise, I grabbed one of Xiña’s fluffy arepas, only half regretting the decision as my indigestion yelled back at me with a grumble. The path from Xiña’s to the lookout was also a handmade trail, and of course, steep as could be. There’s nothing like a quick workout to start the day off right. As we setup the drone and prepared our cameras for sunrise, we realized just how many bugs seemed to be flying around our heads, buzzing up a storm. As we swatted them away, solely focused on the sunrise to come, a loud “ouch!” rang over head. These weren’t just bugs, they were wasps! With no Epipen handy, I quickly made my way down hill, with a secret mission of eating more arepas. At least we caught the sunrise and a decent amount of drone footage where it appears we are bug free.
Although we couldn't wait to get going with the day, our Corcovado hike slowly began after breakfast. Our group was definitely a leisurely one. When beautiful Tomas came up to greet us, I was even more excited for the day to begin. Tomas is a 20-something, handsome and extremely intelligent man with a keen eye for spotting wildlife. Before we even really began our hike, he was able to point out Toucans, Scarlet Macaws, beautiful butterflies and Spider Monkeys, all hiding overhead. The Spider Monkeys were quite loud though, they were clearly not fans of us crossing their path.
Our day in Corcovado lasted around 8 hours, with a stop for lunch by a strangler fig with a few wooden stools for a sitting break. A strangler fig is a vine-like tree that grows over large, healthy trees to suck the nutrients and light, therefore strangling and suffocating the healthy tree until it dies, hollowing out the inside. This is a very natural occurrence within dense rainforest and jungle environments, and results in fantastic climbing trees. Another youthful rush I was able to experience, as I climbed up after Tomas before indulging in my delicious, home cooked meal of gallo pinto and plantains wrapped in banana leaves. These lunches are made by various local families within Dos Brazos providing economic opportunity to many families without. I absolutely love the spread of wealth among the community, it is truly so inspiring to see such a collaborative effort to help alleviate the cycle of poverty many of the residents of Dos Brazos have been experiencing for generations.
The second half of our adventurous day through Corcovado National Park was mostly spent walking the river trail that leads to a great swimming hole just before entering the town of Dos Brazos again. I was so relieved to finally kick off my sneakers, toss my sweaty t-shirt and jump into the cool waters to swim against the insane current rushing towards us from the falls.
Dinner was top of mind after such a physical day. Luckily we were checking into Amazonitas, a beautiful eco-lodge in town. Amazonitas features three cabins run by a local family. Each cabin is spread across the property, behind the family house and restaurant, and sits amongst the trees of the jungle. With only two real walls and a roof, it’s like sleeping with the wildlife in the middle of the jungle. As I lay to rest under my mosquito net, I stared out at the trees, watching the rain quench their thirst, the flicker of the candles lit on our picnic table setting a romantic hue. I closed my eyes and let the sound of the gentle rainfall carry me into a slumber. This whole new world we'd found in the Osa seemed to quickly be finding a beautiful place in my heart.