We slowly drove down the narrow dirt road through Dos Brazos de Tigre until we reached a grouping of small wooden homes at the edge of the vast rainforest jungle. At the end was a one-bedroom house with green and red flowered curtains. It was Xiña’s house, our host, for the next twenty-four hours in the heart of the Osa Peninsula in rural Costa Rica.
We parked the Land Cruiser, grabbed our day packs and knocked on the door. Xiña greeted us with an enormous smile and welcomed us to her home. Inside an adorable neighbor girl in pigtails was sitting shyly on the couch watching a Chinese soap opera dubbed in Spanish. I couldn’t help but laugh at the hilarity of it all. I smiled even brighter when I asked her name and she replied “Me llamo Nicole“. “Me llamo Nicole tambien” I replied.
Xiña was dressed in shorts, knee-high wool socks, calf-length mud boots and a pink tank top. Her long black hair was pulled tightly back in a braid. Besides a wrist watch, the only piece of jewelry on her was a homemade necklace with a red and black seed found in the jungle. Her warm, charismatic smile made me instantly like her and feel at ease. I had no idea what was in store for me over the next day!
We sat down next to pequeña Nicole and drank a glass of homemade lemonade, its bittersweet tang resting pleasantly on my tongue. Xiña and Eytan conversed in rapid fire Spanish while I desperately tried to follow along. Meanwhile, Xiña’s sister Nuria gathered up our food for the next lunch, dinner and breakfast, and placed it into a rucksack. Despite only being a few years older, Nuria looked much older than her younger sister whose fit shape, sturdy legs and youthful air reflected a certain joie de vivre of life in the jungle.
Shortly after ten, we were out the door and ready to begin our hour and a half hike up through the rainforest to Xiña’s cabin which she proudly named “Descanso El Pizote” after the infamous Coatimundi (indigenous name pizote) a raccoon-like animal that is common in the jungle. If we were lucky, we would possibly see one on our hike today.
As we left Dos Brazos de Tigre, the thick humid air coated my skin like a blanket and within five minutes of walking my hair was already drenched in sweat. As a Minnesota native, I always find high heat and humidity difficult and it would take me two days until I could fully adjust. The hour and a half hike was going to be more challenging than I thought and I was grateful I had packed a quick-dry towel to use to mop off the watery sweat pouring down my face. The mid morning heat of the jungle was angrily intense.
Xiña was born in Dos Brazos de Tigre and began gold mining at the tender age of three. Every Monday morning, her family would pack up a bag of supplies and food for the week, and walk for an entire day into the deepest parts of the jungle where they would spend the next six days mining for gold. The work was treacherous and hard on the body yet the community of Dos Brazos had no choice as it was the only way to make a living. Each Sunday, they returned to Dos Brazos to rest and get supplies again for another week of mining and camping in the jungle.
Xiña met her partner when she was only a child. By 14 she had her first baby, and by 15 years old Xiña and her family were living up in the mountains at the farm and property that would eventually become “Descanso El Pizote” her tiny jungle cabin open to tourists. She mined for gold to feed her growing family and confessed it was a very difficult life that was physically exhausting. Yet it was difficult to imagine her hardship given her continual radiant glow of happiness which she attributes to life in the jungle. Her partner died in 2002 and since then Xiña has continued to mine for gold and maintain the farm and property at Descanso El Pizote.
A chance encounter with 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 and soon after Xiña opened Descanso El Pizote to tourists.
Her dream is to grow Descanso El Pizote into a full-time business sharing her beautiful rainforest property and her passion for the jungle with tourists. Then she can quit gold mining for good and it would be a win-win situation that promotes sustainable rural travel while conserving the environment. All she needs is customers.
Despite only have received a 6th grade education, Xiña has a wealth of knowledge on the flora and fauna of the jungle and was an amazing tour guide. As we trekked through the dense canopy of trees, we frequently stopped while she pointed out the spectacular array of medicinal plants found within the jungle. She showed me plants used to make antibiotics and medicines to treat cancer and other diseases. She also told me tales about indigenous medicines such as the plant that saved her from a poisonous snake bite or the other tree whose sap cured a stomach ailment. I was astounded by the magic and treasures contained in the jungle. It truly is a miraculous place.
The music of the jungle was all around us, coming from a few feet to hundreds of feet up in the trees. We didn’t see any mammals but enjoyed seeing all the amazing trees, plants, flowers, birds and butterflies especially the stunning iridescent blue morpho butterfly which Xiña says brings you good luck.
I also had my first experience with some of the annoyances of the jungle. I astonishingly never once saw a snake thank goodness but I did see lots and lots of huge spiders and unusual bugs. I got devoured by mosquitos and sand flies which found my skin to be rather delightful. I also saw thousands of leaf cutter ants that create miniature highways throughout the rainforest floor, carrying freshly cut leaves on their backs to their enormous underground nests several meters away. Trying to avoid them is a wise move because it you accidentally get them on your legs, they have a fiery mean bite that stings and burns. I realized that investing in a pair of knee-high rubber mud boots (that all the locals wear including Xiña) have more purpose than the mud. They protect you from stinging ants and snakes!
As it approached noon, we reached a fork in the trail that either went to Xiña’s cabin or continued on another thirty minutes to reach the Dos Brazos de Tigre entrance to the Corcovado National Park. We turned left towards Xiña’s, and thankfully it was only another 15 minute walk. I was beginning to feel a bit dizzy from the heat.
We knew we were getting high up in the jungle based on the views of the ocean below through the clearing. It was hard to believe that we had come so far in only a couple of hours.
Xiña explained how the trail we were on was made by hand and took about two years to complete. I couldn’t imagine the work involved in clearing away the thick jungle and rock to make the trail. The sound of chickens and a dog barking welcomed us to her property. Alas, we were there! I could hardly wait to sit down and try to cool off.
Xiña proudly showed us around her small property and farm. I would be getting the room up front, and the others would be sleeping in bunk beds in the other two rooms. Despite its rustic appearance and lack of basic amenities (no electricity or showers), I would be able to truly unwind and relax at Xiña’s magical place.
Nuria cooked up a delicious lunch of arroz y frijoles, and then it was finally time to cool down jungle-style. A few weeks ago, Xiña has found a new waterfall on her property and had Josue, her carpenter, clear a path for us. I was going to take my first plunge and bath in a jungle waterfall!
The water was so incredibly refreshing and felt so darn good after being so hot, I was in heaven. Who needs a shower when you can bathe in a jungle waterfall? We all went in and enjoyed ourselves immensely. It was my first time bathing in a waterfall and I loved it. The rush of cold, powerful water hitting my back was like a much needed massage on my weary back. It was a liberating feeling! Ah, the adventure had certainly begun! I could only imagine what the evening entailed. Sleeping in the heart of the jungle was bound to be quite the experience!
Want to spend a night or two at Descanso El Pizote? You can book it directly here through Lokal Travel.