As we pulled out of the gravel driveway to waves of goodbye from our gracious hosts at the Osa Lodge, I realized that the real adventure of my week in the Osa Peninsula was about to begin. I was saying goodbye to air-conditioning, hot showers, wi-fi and all the worries of the modern world and heading off into the rich tropical rainforest jungle that makes this place so special.
I would be visiting places that hardly any tourists have ever seen, and staying in rural communities for the next six days. The tiny town of Dos Brazos de Tigre would be the first community we would explore and my first experience in rural tourism.
We followed the one and only paved road leaving Puerto Jimenez enjoying the beautiful lush countryside. We had the radio on and the windows down, blowing in a fan of thick sticky air that felt liberating to the soul. It was another hot and humid day in the Osa and my northern skin was sweating profusely. It wasn’t long until we turned off our last paved road for the week.
The dirt road was lined with banana trees, sugar cane, small plots of farmland and pastures for grazing cattle. Despite its fertile land, plentiful rain and sunshine, the farming industry in the Osa Peninsula is not very developed. Most produce and meat come in to the Osa via truck from other parts of the country to the main grocery store in Puerto Jimenez and if the truck is late like it was on our way out of town, you are out of luck on certain items. (We were supposed to bring cilantro, broccoli and peppers with us for our dinner but alas the truck hadn’t arrived). Like tourism, developing the farming industry would be a great way to make the Osa more sustainable and provide much needed jobs.
Although the Osa Peninsula was a hot spot for gold and logging opportunists in the 1960s, it remains relatively undeveloped. Many communities like Dos Brazos de Tigre can be hard to reach especially during rainy season when the dirt roads are washed away and the rivers are too high to cross. Some of the most remote areas are only reachable on foot, horse, ATV or boat. There are few stores, restaurants or hotels and internet service is a rare luxury, making most of the Osa Peninsula cut off from modern day life.
When Hurricane Otto struck land in Nicaragua at the end of November, it wreaked havoc on the Osa Peninsula. Locals in rural communities like Dos Brazos de Tigre said there were 17 days of torrential rain, washing away roads and bridges and entire pieces of land as the rivers overflowed and the water had nowhere to go. Many people were trapped for days and separated by family yet thankfully most had enough food to eat. Damage can be seen throughout the Osa Peninsula and clean up work is still going on.
As we approached Dos Brazos de Tigre, we stopped the car to look at the destruction. An entire large swath of rainforest with jungle trees of over 200 feet was washed away. It was astounding to witness the pure magnitude of the storm.
Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre (“Two Arms of the Tiger“) received its name due to its location at the two arms of the river Tigre. It is a small rural community that was founded on gold. People from all over Costa Rica flocked to the rivers and streams to search for their fortunes and work with the gold mining companies.
Despite bringing temporary economic gain, the negative impact of logging and mining on the environment in one of Costa Rica’s most pristine ecosystems did not go without notice by the government. In 1975 the government created the Corcovado National Park to protect and conserve this amazing place which contains over 50% of Costa Rica’s biodiversity and is the last remnant of humid tropical rainforest on the Pacific Coast of Central America. The Osa is the home to over 10,000 identified species of plants, 880 species of birds, 9,000 species of butterflies and moths, and 500 species of mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
Today Dos Brazos de Tigre it is sleepy little town of close to 300 inhabitants that sits adjacent to the border of the Corcovado National Park. Despite gold mining being illegal, almost all of the people rely on gold mining for some or all of their income. Different organizations such as the Caminos de Osa, governmental agencies, and independent companies like Lokal Travel, are trying to change this reality by promoting rural tourism. In fact, a new entrance to the park was recently opened in Dos Brazos de Tigre providing access to the most untouched, least visited parts of Corcovado National Park. The town is sitting on a new gold mine of opportunity if only the word can get out there to intrepid tourists who desire to experience sustainable, rural tourism and do good.
After crossing the Rio Tigre, a wooden, hand-painted sign welcomed us to Dos Brazos de Tigre as well as a small but very knowledgeable tourist office. Inside the tourist office, you can get information on rural lodging and accommodations, book a certified guide to bring you into the Corcovado National Park and learn about the other offerings in the area. I was surprised to see a German family who was staying in the area with their young children. It would be the last tourists we would see for days.
We drove through the tiny scattering of small houses, a mini grocery store and local bar to reach our host, Xiña’s house. Xiña has lived her entire life in Dos Brazos and began mining gold six days a week at the mere three years old. A chance meeting with documentary filmmakers Eytan Elterman and Marco Bollinger at a local gold mining meeting in 2013 changed her life. Xiña became one of the stars of Eytan and Marco’s documentary “2.5% – The Osa Peninsula” the film that inspired them to create Lokal Travel, an online platform for rural tourism.
Today, Xiña has opened up her remote jungle cabin, “Descanso El Pizote” to rural tourism and those adventurous and fortunate enough to spend a night in the heart of the jungle at her cabin are bound to have the experience of a lifetime.
Stay tuned…my next post will be about my magical experience at Xiña’s cabin up high in the jungle! It was the highlight of my trip to the Osa Peninsula!