There is a peace in the Osa that rejuvenated me in a time of desperate need of new energy. Preparing for another move to the other side of the world, I remember almost regretting making such a decision to hop on a flight in crunch time to relax within the oasis of Costa Rica. Looking back, it’s exactly what I needed. The trip led to so much inspiration, surrounded by determined and influential leaders, such as Carlos and Juan, two Osa residents that made a beautiful impact on our trip in Rancho Quemado. Rancho is about an hour from Dos Brazos down a winding road combining unpaved and modern paths that meet downhill slopes drowning in river runoff, a drive really only doable by large SUVs. As we passed local buses slowly creeping their way around large pools of water, we zoomed by like a transformer, ready to swim across any water logged path.
Our accommodation is Rancho Quemado was an adorable set of cabins at Rancho Verde run by a local family who built the property from reforested wood. Onsite sits three cabins, each hosting around 6 - 10 people (you could literally jump from bed to bed for hours), and a heart of palm farm, which the family used in all their meals. I couldn't even believe the multiple ways they used the nutritious and versatile vegetable. From heart of palm salads to hearty dishes, accompanied by unique recipes of mashed yucca with cheese, resembling a macaroni and cheese dish, and a dessert of diced, fresh pineapple in a homemade caramel sauce. Each plate filled with flavour and love. I couldn't help but take a second helping every time.
Carlos (pictured below) is Rancho’s local visionary with a wealth of knowledge. At a young age, Carlos saw the rainforest as a tool for tourism and a need to learn how to monetize what nature had to offer without destroying it. He attended school in San Jose on a full scholarship to pursue his dream of conservation and community tourism, and brought his skills back to his hometown as well as a chunk of funds to purchase over 1000 acres of conserved rainforest. Although it took years for the community to understand the importance of his initiative, being such an integral approach to cultivating the tourism industry of Rancho and its long term effects on the environmental sustainability of the town, they eventually came around. His actions resulted in the formation of a tourism cooperative helping promote the town’s various types of eco-lodging and locally run tours.
On Carlos’ conserved property you’ll find his log cabin equipped with a kitchen and hang out zone. Down the road, a beautiful lagoon home to endemic and rare bird species. Laguna Chocuaco sits in the middle of his property, where the town ends and the forest begins to take over up into the horizon, where the roar of howler monkeys and wail of cicadas are amplified at sunset. As we canoed the calm waters of the lagoon, which Carlos and his team regularly manage as it can become quite chaotic and jungle like without the help of a machete, we watched as the quiet wildlife of the area came out to play. It's incredible to think that less than maybe 100 people have had the pleasure of experiencing this luscious lagoon. We were the only boats out on the water.
As we careful climbed out of the canoes as the mosquitos came out to feast, we quickened our step back to Carlos', fireflies lighting our way. I was in awe of the snacks and dishes he had prepared for us, especially the deep fried cheese fingers - we all know how bad I am with my lactose intolerance. My favourite: an incredibly creamy and spiced hot cocoa beverage made with fresh cocoa grown onsite. I was so excited and in love with the beverage, I indulged in a purchase of fresh cocoa butter, perfect for my lobster skin that was slowly starting to peel off like a Band-Aid. As I reflected on the peaceful day, hopping back in the SUV, I asked for us to pull over to stare up at the beautiful night sky. Each star sparkling like a diamond in the light. I was once again jumping around like a child, in love with each constellation that twinkled hello at my presence.
I awake with a bolt of electric energy, eager to meet Juan, another character infamous in my heart after capturing me in 2.5%. Juan is an artisanal gold miner who has been mining since he was a young boy, skills he obtained from his father that had been passed down generations. Although one of the only options for economic opportunity in the Osa, Juan leads with a passionate and genuine heart and knew there was more he could bring to the world. By developing a tourism project onsite at his property that could bring more opportunity to his family; new hope to the future of his children, away from the harsh lifestyle of gold mining. Juan is now the proud leader of the Rancho Quemado Artisanal Gold Mining Tour, a member of Rancho Quemado's tourism cooperative. It has officially been over a year now that Juan hasn't had to mine gold to put food on the table, instead bringing in income through leading his gold mining tour that educates travellers on the gold mining process, as well as the heritage of the Osa.
We arrived on site just in time for the sun's harshest rays. We pulled up next to the main cabin, which houses a massive kitchen area with group, bar styled seating around its perimeter. As we entered, we were greeted with refreshing hibiscus juice and baked arepas with strawberry jam. I suddenly had no self control as I continued to top off my glass with the tart and sweet refreshing pink liquid. The arepas they served us were the traditional bread gold miners would take into the wilderness with them when off for days, weeks or even months of mining. This style of making arepas don't contain any dairy or egg product, therefore making them a simple and filling snack with a long shelf life. They are meant to be consumed as fillers while miners look for other sources of food within the dense rainforest. But they are actually delicious! The sweetness of the arepas and hibiscus juice gave me the strength I had suddenly lost since waking up, refuelling me for the heat of midday. It's amazing - no matter how much energy you wake up with, once that sun hits you, you drain like a AA battery.
The trails on Juan's property are covered in runoffs from the waterfalls that have formed within Corcovado, which has created the perfect gold mining environment. We stopped in two different areas on the property, both on opposite sides of where the cabin was located to learn the lengthy process of artisanal gold mining, solely equipped with a shovel, a large metal tray with a removable grate placed overtop, and a large silver dish used for removing sediment left at the end of the process while containing any gold found (equipment pictured below). Juan began with a demonstration, showcasing how to place the tray within the stream of water, covering it with rocks and shaking the gold dust off them. You could literally do this for hours. Once you're finished with this step, you remove the grate from the large metal tray and empty the sediment into the silver dish. Gently swirling the water and sediment, the gold sinks to the bottom while the remaining pebbles and dirt slowly rise up or hang around the edge of the dish. The process results in tiny specks of gold sitting in the middle of the dish, some so small you can hardly see them. The first time Juan demonstrated, he didn’t find any. But with the area covered in quartz, a sure sign that gold is present, we went at it again, this time with me as his assistant. You can imagine my excitement when we found gold. Experiencing the lengthy and backbreaking work, even for just 15 minutes, made me so grateful that Juan had been able to support his family through tourism since opening his property up for tours. Juan is a middle aged man with a young girl. It would break my heart to see him have to do such gruelling work at his age. The cutest part of the afternoon: watching his beautiful little girl try her hand at gold mining. Like father, like daughter.
The end of our trip was near but with still so much more adventure to come. Our next stop was in Drake Bay, a picturesque beach town and home to the second airport within the Osa Peninsula. The airport is currently under construction to be reopened in the near future as an international airport, a project that has been a controversial topic in the Osa since Marco and Eytan started working on their documentary 2.5%. The road to Drake was filled with trucks overloaded with materials to build the runway. We were shocked by how many trucks we passed, especially while staying at Rancho Verde, where trucks zoomed by and dusted everything and everyone in the way. It'll be interesting to see what happens when the airport reopens as a international landing strip. The community tourism of the Osa is just so beautiful, I hope the big guys won't swoop in and take advantage of it.
We approached Drake Bay just in time for sunset. The boys parked the cars at the beach while I ran out to grab beers for the gang. Walking the beach with our toes in the sand, it almost seemed like we were on a whole other trip. The week had been so filled with rainforest adventures and wild animals, now we watched as kids played in the ocean, picking up beautifully formed shells as the sun turned the sky all shades of orange, pink and yellow.
Our evening was spent at Naguala, a family-owned ranch up the hill from the beach and down a treacherous path that only a souped up SUV could power through. As we ascended the trail, only wide enough for one car at a time, we held on to the car doors (and each other) in hopes no one would go flying as we giggled our way towards the ranch.
Arriving at Naguala was like entering another world once again. A peaceful ranch with four cabins spread across the property. The only audible nearby sound: a cascading waterfall down the hill, amplified through the meditation and yoga platform built onsite with a spectacular view of the falls. Dinner was served to our barefoot hang out on the porch next to the kitchen, followed by a bottle of rum and a competitive round of President (a card game that got more intense as the trip went on).
Waking up (sans alarm) at Naguala was followed by a peaceful day of yoga, trekking to the waterfall to jump in swimming holes, examining wildlife and insects on our way along the trail, and lounging in the sunshine to read. I choose for an adventurous afternoon of zip lining, an experience I didn’t think I was going to enjoy as much as I did. Zip lining across 500 metre cables overtop primary rainforest leaves you speechless. Why on earth would man ever want to cut down something so incredibly beautiful filled with thousands of ecosystems that are not our place to disturb? Buzzing with adrenaline, three of us zip liners jumped over to a rustic bar in town for a beer (...well, two). The balcony of the bar is a platform at the back basically placed right in the rainforest. You're surrounded by jungle and Reggaeton tunes - my new definition of what makes a good bar.
Our final day in Drake Bay was spent mostly offshore, cruising the ocean by speedboat and snorkelling the crystal blue waters to spot sea turtles, stingrays, vibrant blue fish and puffers. I can still remember the sound of all the ocean activity crackling in my ears, tiny jelly fish popping up out of nowhere leaving little stings against my rosy cheeks. The sun left us all a little red from an hour of skimming the ocean's surface, but helped us work up quite the appetite. We were thrilled to get to land to experience the lunch that awaited us; a homemade meal of coconut rice wrapped in banana leaves, crispy tortilla chips, refried beans, fresh salad with avocado and cilantro dressing, a delicious Costa Rican squash dish, fresh juice to wash it down, and vegan bannock for dessert with a rich cocoa spread made from cocoa in Rancho Quemado. I could see the envy in the eyes of tourists who had come to shore for lunch with their generic tour groups, being served white bread sandwiches on plastic plates. I'm sure they felt odd eating on disposables as they looked around at all the signs bringing awareness to the disposable culture within tourism.
Fun fact: plastic disposables will actually be banned in Costa Rica as of 2021!
We all over ate. There was no way we weren't going to finish every last bite. This led to a quick swim, which was only accomplished if you ran across the sand as fast as you could due to the flaming golden sand resembling hot lava from the sun's harsh afternoon rays. As we dried off, we watched our ride arrive: a beautiful string of horses. As we rode on horseback down the beach and uphill towards Bella Vista, our accommodation for the evening, we indulged in conversation about risk taking and travel at all ages and its effects on our growth. It was beautiful and inspirational, but the hour long ride ended with sore crotches. We alleviated the pain with cold beers (not on our crotches...) while looking out from the restaurant and over the sparkling water of Drake Bay, which led to a sunset swim watching the water meet the sky, cicadas and howler monkeys announcing to the rainforest that night had come once again.
Bella Vista is a beautiful property run by a husband and wife originally from San Jose, serving up seriously incredible culinary experiences. Dinner was completely customized per person, making every dish insanely delicious and filled with love. The first course started off far too strong with one of the most delicious Ceviche's I've ever tasted, white fish cured with lime juice, served with patacones - fried plantains - with main dish choices of fresh fish, steak, or chicken. Dessert included a moist coconut cake that actually made me drool...actually. I couldn't believe each course topped the previous one. As I wished for more, I washed away my sorrows with Pina Coladas and aged rum. As we giggled our night away, it was hard to come to terms with our departure at sunrise.
We all awoke early to say our goodbyes, a few of us staying behind to enjoy a few more days in Puerto Jimenez. Fueled by banana pancakes and fresh coffee, we hit the road for a two hour or so journey back to Puerto. As we lounged away the day, I reminisced on the beach (and in several hammocks) grateful for what an experience the Osa had been, with still three nights ahead of me.
My last few days included a lot of breakfast, where 3 of us would order enough for 6, and throwing our own party at Agua Luna, the town club, on a Monday night. I even threw myself into the DJ mix, which of course always calls for a lively party (duh!). What really brought the whole experience together was our afternoon at my favorite beach, Playa Preciosa, dipping into the water after sunset to experience bioluminescent water under a blanket of stars and moonlight. As I twirled myself around in circles, in love with every touch, sight, and sound, I couldn’t help but feel the magic that truly lies within the Osa. The people, the wildlife, the food, the love and simple way of life...how could you ever go back to a Western world?
As I dragged my feet to the airport, full from another 3 meals, I hopped back on the dinky plane and let the inspiration of the trip take over and ease my nausea.