Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre, Osa Península, Costa Rica

A Stay in the Jungle at Amazonita Lodge: An Ecolodge in the Heart of Costa Rica

“There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more”. –  Lord Byron

By four o’clock, I was hot, dirty and exhausted after such a thrilling day that begin with watching the sun rise over the Osa Peninsula and ended with a six-hour remote trek through the thick jungle of the Corcovado National Park. I can’t quite remember ever having a past twenty-four hours so incredibly invigorating and succinct to Mother Nature. I’d seen sloths, a troupe of collared peccary, pizotes, a mating pair of scarlet macaws, monkeys and more. Yet best of all, it was only us and the wildlife. Not another soul had ventured into this part of the park and for that I was truly blessed.

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Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre, Osa Península, Costa Rica

We left Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre saying goodbye to our newly made friends and traveled the short distance down gravel roads to a locally-owned eco lodge located on the outskirts of town, surrounded by tropical rainforest jungle. I would soon discover that the Amazonita Lodge was the ultimate nature lover’s paradise.

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Scarlet Macaw

The Osa Peninsula’s Crown Jewel: Corcovado National Park

After watching the spectacular sunrise over the Osa Peninsula, we returned back down to Xiña’s cabin and ate a delicious breakfast of homemade pintos, eggs, tortilla and fresh fruit. I lavishly drank several cups of freshly roasted Costa Rican coffee and prepared for our day of adventure at Costa Rica’s crown jewel, the Corcovado National Park.

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The Corcovado National Park was created in 1975 by the government 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 Corcovado National Park is enormous. It is the largest national park in all of Costa Rica and covers one-third of the Osa Peninsula. It is home to over 750 species of trees (1/4 of tree species in Costa Rica), 390 species of birds, 6,000 species of insects, and 140 species of mammals, and 116 species of reptiles and amphibians. It also is one of the only places in Costa Rica that has all four species of monkeys – howler, white-face, squirrel and spider, and has the largest concentration of scarlet macaws in the country.  All in all, the Corcovado National Park is a pretty magnificent place and a natural treasure that is well worth protecting.

Our guide Rolando (who goes by the nickname “Toti”) was there waiting for us. Toti is from Dos Brazos de Tigre and lives just a few houses down from Xiña. He grew up in a mining family with the surrounding Corcovado National Park as his playground. After he finished school, he trained to be a certified guide for the park and began working with tourists once the new park entrance at Dos Brazos de Tigre opened a couple of years ago.

A farewell shot of Nuria, me, Xiña and our guide Toti outside of Xiña's cabin.

A farewell shot of Nuria, me, Xiña and our guide Toti outside of Xiña’s cabin.

Josue (the carpenter working on updating the cabin), me, Eytan and Xina.

Josue (the carpenter working on updating the cabin), me, Eytan and Xiña (still in her pajamas that she wore on our morning sunrise hike).

After breakfast, we packed our daypack of belongings, took a few last minute photos and said our goodbye to Xiña and her sister Nuria. We loaded up on bug spray, sunscreen and water for our six hour hike. The air was thick with humidity and I was already sweating profusely at nine am when we left Xiña’s cabin and headed back up the trail to the entrance of the park. It was going to be another adventure-packed day and I could hardly wait.

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Watching the Sunrise over the Osa Peninsula

After my invigorating bath in a nearby jungle waterfall, it was time to go back to Xiña’s’ cabin and relax a little before dinner. We were going to have an early night as our alarm clock would go off at 3:30 am for a pre-dawn hike up to the top of the jungle to watch the sunrise over the Osa Peninsula.

Xiña’s’ sister Nuria prepared our meal in the rustic cabin kitchen over a wood-burning fire and served us pasta with the vegetables we brought from Puerto Jimenez. We ate by candlelight since her cabin has no electricity and then spent the rest of the evening on our own. I sat on a hammock under the canopy of darkening trees and closed my eyes and listened. I was amazed by all the changing sounds of the jungle. From the continual buzz of the cicadas to the rustling of leaves and branches somewhere high above in the trees, it was a riotous symphony of sounds.

At first it was difficult for me to just sit there because as an active person it is always hard for me to be still. My body and mind seem to crave movement.  Yet once the lights were out for the night, it forced me to embrace the peace and tranquility of the jungle and fully, slowly unwind and relax. It was absolutely mesmerizing.

After a little while, I decided to change positions and left my hammock to move to a new place. Josue placed one of his handmade wooden chairs onto a platform that launches out into the jungle. He laid the chair back for me and told me to just listen. And I did. It was a surprisingly delightful experience somewhat like a deep meditation that made every inch of my body soft and warm. I closed my eyes and let the sounds of the jungle penetrate my soul.

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An Overnight Stay in the Heart of the Jungle: Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre

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.

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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!

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Xiña standing outside her home in Dos Brazos de Tigre

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Xiña displays her new handmade sign for her mountain cabin open to tourists, “Descanso La Pizota”. “Descanso” means “a place of rest” and “pizota” is the indigenous word for coatimundi.

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.

Xiña and her sister who lives in Puerto Jimenez and will be our cook for the next day.

Xiña and her sister Nuria who lives in Puerto Jimenez and will be our cook for the next day.

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.

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White-faced or Capuchin monkey

Exploring Rural Tourism in Dos Brazos de Tigre, Costa Rica

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.

The Osa Lodge, Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica

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.

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The Osa LoPuerto Jimenez, Costa Rica

Welcome to the Osa!

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open”. – Jawaharlal Nehru

As the 14-seat Sansa plane touched down on the tiny airstrip, my heart raced. After a long day of travel, I was finally there. I’d arrived safe and sound in the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica. I could hardly wait to climb off the plane!

Our plane was met by the fervent waving hands of children who were outside playing in their yards adjacent to the runway. What an odd place to have a home, I mused yet at the same time I was delighted by such a warm and enthusiastic welcome to Puerto Jimenez.  The actual airport was equivalent to the size of the runway. Small, empty and nondescript. What was even more unusual however was the tiny local cemetery right outside the door, alongside the runway. Just like other cemeteries I’ve seen throughout Latin America, this one was filled with ornately decorated white gravestones, all above ground and covered with fresh flowers.

The sun was beginning to set in the horizon radiating a golden hue across the graveyard while a chicken quickly scampered off the runway and over to the makeshift wooden homes of the children who greeted us. Smoke rose from a nearby fire rising a steady stream of mist into the hot and humid air.

“Welcome to the Osa!” Lokal Travel founder Eytan Elterman beamed with a relaxed smile. We grabbed my duffel bag and climbed into a rented Land Cruiser which would be much needed for all the unpaved, bumpy roads and river crossing we would encounter over the upcoming week.

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The Journey Begins: My Adventure to the Osa Peninsula

“May the sun bring you energy by day, may the moon softly restore you at night, may the rain wash away your worries, may the breeze blow new strength onto your being, may you walk gently through the world and know its beauty all the days of your life.” – Apache Blessing

Gently pushing off the southern tip of Costa Rica lies the beautifully pristine Osa Peninsula, a magical paradise of untouched virgin rain forests, deserted beaches and rural communities relatively hidden from mainstream tourism. Named by National Geographic as “the most biologically intense place on earth,” the Osa Peninsula is a treasure trove of land, water, and life hosting 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity within an area of just 700 square miles.

It is here where conservationist and filmmaker Eytan Elterman and his good friend photographer Marco Bollinger lived for five months to produce the award-winning documentary “2.5 %  – The Osa Peninsula”. This experience changed the course of their lives and inspired them to create Lokal, an online booking platform and marketplace for community-based rural tourism in remote places around the world.

It was my interview with Lokal’s co-founder Eytan Elterman that would inspire me to join Lokal on their first ever week-long adventure in the Osa Peninsula, rewarding me with the unique opportunity to immerse myself in local life, culture and nature in one of the most magical places on the planet. I would travel to places few tourists have ever seen, and spend a week bathing in waterfalls, swimming in the sea and hiking in the deepest parts of the rainforest. I confess it would be even an adventure for an adventurous girl. Yet I was ready.

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The Osa Peninsula has the largest population of scarlet macaws in all of Costa Rica.

Osa Peninsula

Swimming in crystal clear waterfalls is a must in the Osa Peninsula.

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Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Finding Serenity in the Jungle of Costa Rica

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees”. – John Muir

Slowly I’ve been trying my best to readjust to being back home to a vastly different life. I spent seven days in the remote jungle of the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, a place that contains 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity and is Mother Nature at her best. I basically lived outside for a week, spending my days immersed in rainforests, waterfalls and the sea, and sleeping almost open-air each night to the music of the jungle. The sounds, smells, and sense of being completely engulfed in nature filled my wary soul with much needed rejuvenation and life. It was a magical trip to a stunning place alive with awe and wonder.

I deeply miss the sounds of the jungle – a symphony of music lulling me to sleep each night and waking me as the jungle came alive each sunrise. I miss the pure simple pleasure of the morning sun touching my face and the sweet fragrance of tropical flowers floating over me as I gingerly woke up each day. Most of all, I miss the sublime peace I felt being away from it all. No internet, no distractions, no worries or concerns except for a few itchy bug bites. A feeling of deep, pure freedom and the utter joy of being alive. The simple act of being, observing, enjoying and embracing.

I can hardly wait to share it all and introduce you to some of the most remote corners of Costa Rica. In the meantime, here are a few photos to inspire you to be patient and wait for the plethora of stories to come and entice you to experience Costa Rica through my eyes.

Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Sunrise 5 am over the Osa Peninsula

We rose at 3:30 am and hiked up to the top of the rainforest to watch the sunrise and the jungle come to life. Slowly everything woke up and we heard the howler monkeys roar, a pair of scarlet macaws flew overhead and the birds sung to greet another day in paradise. 

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Lokal Travel’s Upcoming Epic Trips to the Osa Peninsula

Quietly pushing off the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica lies the beautifully pristine Osa Peninsula, a magical paradise of untouched primitive rain forests, deserted beaches and rural communities relatively hidden to mainstream tourism. Known for its conservation efforts and robust ecotourism industry, the Osa Peninsula is one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet with over 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity in less than one millionth of the Earth’s surface area.

It is here where conservationist and filmmaker Eytan Elterman and his good friend photographer Marco Bollinger lived for five months to produce the award-wining documentary “2.5 %  – The Osa Peninsula” that would change the course of their lives and inspire them to create Lokal, an online booking platform and marketplace for community-based tourism in remote places around the world. Lokal is unique in that it also helps support the local economy and protect the environment by offering ways for locals to embrace sustainable, responsible tourism.

One of the many colors found in Costa Rica's biodiverse rain forests. Photo credit: Lokal Travel

One of the many colors found in Costa Rica’s biodiverse rain forests. Photo credit: Lokal Travel

I wrote about Lokal back in July when I first learned about their amazing, unique platform for local travel opportunities in some of the most remote places in Costa Rica. I have been in love with their work ever since and a colleague of mine, Kelley Louise, the Executive Director of Impact Travel Alliance recently went on a trip with Lokal describing it as one of the best trips she has done in a long time.

Lokal Co-Founder Dave Koken embarking on a traditional 'ox cart' ride through the community of Cedral in the highlands of Southern Costa Rica. Cedral offers hiking, visits to an indigenous cemetery, waterfalls, tours of their coffee plantation and coffee roasting factory, and overnight accommodations in a guesthouse.

Lokal Co-Founder Dave Koken embarking on a traditional ‘ox cart’ ride through the community of Cedral in the highlands of Southern Costa Rica. Cedral offers hiking, visits to an indigenous cemetery, waterfalls, tours of their coffee plantation and coffee roasting factory, and overnight accommodations in a guesthouse.

Lokal represents a unique kind of travel opportunity to experience local life in untouched, remote and rural areas around the world. Places that most travelers would never ever dream of experiencing and a much needed income to preserve a way of life. All trips work to support local communities by putting money directly into the hands of locals and supporting work to preserve natural and cultural heritage. Generally, only 5% of money spent by tourism around the world goes back into local hands however with Lokal Travel 80% of the money is reinvested back into the community. It is a fantastic way to promote sustainable, responsible travel.

Getting to visit the Osa Peninsula Lokal-style is bound to be one of the most unique, inspiring trips ever, and luckily Lokal Travel is offering two one-of-a-kind epic week-long adventures for those conscious, adventurous travelers who want to get a taste for going local.

Lokal Co-Founder Eytan Elterman visting the Seacacar community tourism project in Guatemala. Seacacar offers tubing through the El Boqueron river as well as hiking and overnight accommodations at the local ecolodge.

Lokal Co-Founder Eytan Elterman visting the Seacacar community tourism project in Guatemala. Seacacar offers tubing through the El Boqueron river as well as hiking and overnight accommodations at the local ecolodge.

I wish desperately I could go as I’d be there in a heartbeat. I wanted to let you know about the trips in case you or someone else you know is interested in signing up. There is also a discount offered below. Here are the details. 

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Lokal Travel: Connecting conscious travelers with unique local experiences

“In a remote and lush corner of southern Costa Rica lies a realm of giant trees, potbellied spider monkeys, harpy eagles, prowling jaguars and herds of white-lipped peccary. This is on the last places on Earth where virgin rainforest grows right to the high tide line, and a visitor might walk for hours – or days – along its isolated coast without meeting a single person. This the Osa Peninsula and there is no other place in the world like it.” – Trond Larsen, Osa: Where the Rainforest Meets the Sea

Quietly pushing off the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica lies the beautifully pristine Osa Peninsula, a magical paradise of untouched primitive rain forests, deserted beaches and rural communities relatively hidden to mainstream tourism. Known for its conservation efforts and robust ecotourism industry, the Osa Peninsula is one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet with over 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity in less than one millionth of the Earth’s surface area. However, recent plans to open up an international airport threaten the very beauty, uniqueness and ecological diversity of this place both to its inhabitants and its flora and fauna. Sadly, as little as only 5% of all revenue made on tourism goes back into the local community and the rest goes into other hands.

It is here where conservationist and filmmaker Eytan Elterman and his good friend photographer Marco Bollinger lived for five months to produce the award-winning documentary “2.5 %  – The Osa Peninsula” that would change the course of their lives and inspire them to create Lokal, an online booking platform and marketplace for community-based tourism in remote places around the world.

It all began in early 2011 when Eytan read an article about the plans to build an international airport in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. Both Eytan and Marco were deeply inspired by their years of traveling and their passion for engaging with diverse cultures and they wanted to combine their vision of responsible, conscious travel with their expertise in powerful visual storytelling. The story about the building of an airport in the Osa Peninsula greatly piqued their interest.

Eytan and Marco had been working together as the founders of iSeeiTravela boutique travel media firm producing brand-building documentary content to showcase local experiences, inspire sustainable travel and highlight unique destinations and conservation. Yet they wanted to do something different and on their own. They moved to the Costa Rica and spent five months living in the Osa Peninsula learning about the unique issues of this area and eventually producing their beautiful documentary film 2.5% – The Osa Peninsula.

Unspoiled coasline in Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula. Photo credit: Lokal Travel

Unspoiled coastline in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. Photo credit: Lokal Travel

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Becoming a global volunteer

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” – Mother Teresa

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Two lovely Garifuna girls in Roatan, Honduras.

Four years ago, I was finally at the point in my life in which I was able to set a new goal for myself. I made the decision that I would spend one week a year abroad as a global volunteer, giving back to a host community. After years of traveling around the world, I realized how incredibly fortunate I am to be able to see places that most people will never see. Furthermore, I understood how much we truly have in the western world compared to to everyone else who are not so fortunate. Spending time in developing countries opened my eyes even more and I became even more thankful for the fact that I had a more than adequate roof over my head, plenty of food on the table, a loving family, the ability to stay at home with my children and pursue my dreams. All in all, I realized that I had a really great life and that millions of people around the world were just struggling to survive.

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The Handprints

One of the first things I noticed when I walked into the CCS Home Base in Cartago was the handprints. They were everywhere. Coated across every wall in every room (including the bathrooms!) and covering every single empty space, making them hard to miss and hard to resist.

Every single volunteer that comes through CCS Cartago’s door is invited to paint their handprint, artwork and a quote on the walls of the inside of the home base before they leave. The handprints represent the mark they made in Cartago and I found it truly inspirational to read them. Not an ounce of wall was free from art, quotes, poetry, songs, handprints and names of past volunteers. I could not believe my eyes and would spend any free moments I had during the week reading the walls and reflecting on what each volunteer had said. I also had to think about what I would want to say before I left and where in the heck I would put it since the free space was very limited.

Reflecting back, of course I was very skeptical about the impact I’d have on others in only a week’s time. However, by the end of my week volunteering I was pleasantly surprised to see that all my doubts were proven wrong. I knew I had made a difference in the smiles and hugs I received by not only the friendships I made at the Hogar Jesus de los Manus Nursing Home and Dona Melba’s foster children, but also in the cultural exchange and friendship I shared with the staff at all places including the CCS Home Base (Santi, Jose, Lucy, the cooks and the security guards) and the volunteers as well. However, by far the most surprising thing of all, was that I realized that I received a gift as well. The gift of an overwhelming sense of satisfaction, contentment and joy by the power of giving back. That is a gift that will forever change me and continue me on my path to somehow, if even small, make a difference in this world.

I thought about the quotes and what my week long volunteer stint had meant to me. It meant many different things. Beautiful, compassionate things about how one can truly make a difference, even if it is small, by just giving someone in need a smile or a shoulder to cry on. The fulfillment and joy received by helping people who can’t help themselves due to poverty, abandonment, disability, drug or alcohol abuse or simply old age. In our busy lives back at home in the States, yes of course we have problems, yet it is easy to loose sight of the bigger picture in the world and all those people who are suffering and could use our help. That is what my week volunteering in Costa Rica taught me. That anything is possible and that anything can help. I feel I can no longer travel without giving back, whether it be volunteering, making a new friend abroad or raising money at home to donate to a local NGO in the country I’m visiting. This is my new mantra and raison d’être. I can no longer be just someone passing through. When a place shares their country and all its wonders with me, I am obligated to give back something in return. That is the promise I made myself after Costa Rica. Now it’s time to start fulfilling my dreams!

Here are some of my favorite quotes that touched me deeply:




Handprints at the front entrance:

Handprints leading into my bunk room:

This is a photo of Cassiano and Lindsey, two fellow volunteers, painting their quotes on our last night in Cartago:

Their quotes:

Here is my quote:

Here is a picture of the entire volunteer group in Cartago:

More pictures of the volunteers:


CARPE DIEM!

P.S. For those who are wondering….where is she off to next? I am heading out April 15th to Rabat, Morocco to complete another international volunteer program with Cross-Cultural Solutions. I will be working with Moroccans and African Refuges on learning English. Stay tuned!

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