I woke to the sounds of the jungle in my open-air cabin at Amazonita Lodge in Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre. I felt amazingly refreshed and quite invigorated for another adventurous day ahead in the Osa Peninsula. Our gracious host Zulay made us a wonderful Costa Rican breakfast in her house before we headed out for our next tour. The beauty of rural tourism is that besides the tours and sightseeing, you also receive an intimate experience with the local community. You are welcomed into their homes for conversation, friendship and delightful home-cooked meals. It truly is an incredible experience that you miss when simply staying at a regular hotel or doing mainstream tourism.
It was time for us to say our goodbye to our friends in Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre and head to a new rural community called Rancho Quemado which is the least-visited community in the Osa Peninsula. There we would meet Juan Cubillo and his family to learn about artisanal gold mining, a traditional way of life that is on its way out.
The drive to Rancho Quemado was about an hour and half northeast into the interior of the Osa Peninsula on bumpy roads. It was a beautiful drive through glorious lush countryside and rolling hills. We were surprised to see many dump trucks hauling debris and road work being done to repair the damage from the Hurricane Otto. Normally there are very few cars and rarely a truck on these remote dirt roads. However, two months after the storm hit there is still much clean-up to be done.
We arrived at Rancho Quemado around ten o’clock and of course it was already steaming hot. Juan and his lovely wife Rosa welcomed us into their home and farm at Finca Las Minas de Oro where they have lived for many years with their family of three children. We were one of Juan’s first customers for his newly launched gold mining tour, a way for him to provide income for his family without having to illegally mine for gold.
Rancho Quemado is a small, rural town of about 300 people and has its origin in gold mining. Two gold miners settled on the site of Finca las Minas de Oro in the early 1940s when they discovered gold within the neighboring creek. One day when they were out hunting, their house burned down hence the village was named Rancho Quemado which means “Burning Ranch”. As soon as word got out there was a sizable amount of gold in the area, people came from all over Costa Rica to find their fortune and pan for gold. Juan and Rosa also moved to the community searching for gold and a better life for their growing family. Juan has panned for gold for years however it is difficult, backbreaking work in high heat and humidity for upwards of 8-10 hours a day and it is also technically illegal. But like most people in rural communities throughout the Osa Peninsula, gold mining is their only source of income and until more sustainable jobs are available, mining will continue.