Backpacking with a Purpose with Operation Groundswell

For the past two years, I’ve been a proud member of Impact Travel Alliance, a global community of change makers, passionate about transforming the travel industry into a force for good. Through this amazing network of sustainable travel organizations, writers and travel enthusiasts around the globe, I’ve learned a lot about how we can use travel to make the world a better place.

For the next several months, I am working on putting together a searchable database of the best ethical impact-focused and sustainable travel organizations on the planet. While I’m researching these different organizations, I will be sharing guest posts to uncover each organization’s unique mission and how you can travel for good. This guest post is written by fellow Impact Travel Alliance Media Network member Marissa Sutera (creator of Little Things Travel Blog) who introduces us to Operation Groundswell a Toronto-based organization whose mission is to create a more equitable, just, and sustainable world through travel and backpacking with a purpose.

Operation Groundswell

Operation Groundswell Ecuador trip

Backpacking with a Purpose

When seeking out more purposeful work to do while traveling, it can be challenging to dig deep enough to find the best route to take and the organizations that are truly carrying out positive work. In this interview you’ll hear from Justine Abigail Yu, Communications and Marketing Director at Operation Groundswell, who will be sharing her insight into what questions to ask when volunteering abroad, where to begin, and how to know what sort of impact you will make.

Operation Groundswell is a non-profit organization that facilitates experiential education programs on a host of social justice issues around the world. With ethical travel at the crux of their philosophy, they always work in partnership with local non-profits and charities on community-requested projects to ensure true sustainability. Their aim is to build a community of “backpacktivists” that are socially, environmentally, and politically aware of their impact in the communities they travel to and live in. Their programs are intentionally designed to uncover the intricacies and on-the-ground realities of each region they go to. With ethical travel at the crux of their philosophy, they always work in partnership with local non-profits and charities on community-requested projects to ensure true sustainability.

Their aim is to build a community of “backpacktivists” that are socially, environmentally, and politically aware of their impact in the communities they travel to and live in.

Operation Groundswell

Meeting with our partners at De La Gente, a coffee cooperative in San Miguel Escobar in Guatemala

How can someone seeking a volunteer program abroad determine if they will actually be making a difference?

First and foremost, whatever volunteer project you work on abroad should be done in partnership with the local community. If you want to make even the slightest difference, be sure to find an organization that puts the needs of the local community first. Contributing to a project that your host community actually wants and needs is the first step towards responsible international volunteering.

But it’s also important to set realistic expectations of what exactly “making a difference” means. For many people, this requires a bit of a rethink. You’d be surprised (or maybe not) how many volunteers going abroad expect to “save Africa”, or Asia, or Latin America. And that’s just not the reality.

The majority of volunteer programs are often short-term projects that range from one week to a few months. So when you’re seeking a volunteer program abroad, consider the time you’ll be spending abroad and align that with your expectations. Because real talk – if you’re only going to be spending one or two-weeks in any given country or community, you may not actually make that much of a difference.

You’ll accomplish some things, of course: you’ll likely gain a deeper understanding of the complexity of development and what it takes to actually achieve social change, you’ll make a strong connection with a handful of people who you will hopefully stay in touch with, and you’ll contribute in some small way to a project.

But honestly, you’ll likely leave with more questions than answers. And that’s ok. This is a process.

“Change doesn’t happen overnight or even in a couple of weeks or months. Often, the work that you do when you return home, as a result of what you learned abroad, will be where you make the most difference.”

Just remember to have humility when taking part in work like this!

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CasaSur Charming Hotel, Santiago

Staying at the CasaSur Charming Hotel in Barrio Italia, Santiago

One of the best ways to ensure a fantastic trip is to do your homework before traveling especially when it comes to finding the perfect place to stay. Thanks to TripAdvisor (and my dad is does all the research on it), we found the intimate CasaSur Charming Hotel – a boutique hotel with only six rooms in the lovely tranquil Barrio Italia. It was truly a treasure of a find!

The CasaSur has only been open for a little over two years but in that short amount of time, it is already ranked #1 on TripAdvisor of all 200+ hotels in Santiago. An impressive feat for this tiny little hotel. As soon as we arrived and met our hosts, the owner Eduardo and his delightful, charming staff, we realized what a special place it was.  Eduardo was awaiting and welcomed us by name. His charismatic personality made us instantly feel at home and that is how he intends his hotel to be: Something a little bit different and unique.

After traveling the globe as a Civil Engineer, Eduardo decided to change his career path and open up his own boutique hotel running it the way he thought travelers would like best. A place that surrounds and welcomes guests with harmony, serenity and peace. A home away from home with inspirational quotes written by hand on the chalkboard each day and where each guest is treated as a part of the family.

After a bit of searching, Eduardo found the perfect place for his hotel: The lovely, tree-lined neighborhood of Barrio Italia located only a short walk from the trendy, more rowdy Barrio Bellavista. In 2013, he purchased the old run-down house on Eduardo Hyatt street and put his skills as an engineer to use fixing it up. In 2015, the doors to CasaSur Charming Hotel opened for the first time and his gorgeously-appointed, intimate hotel has been open ever since.

CasaSur Charming Hotel, Santiago

The immaculate white CasaSur Charming Hotel with sits at the end of a quiet street outside and is walking distance to several amazing restaurants and shops.

Eduardo, the owner of CasaSur Charming Hotel doing what he loves best…talking to his guests

Eduardo put his engineering skills to work to create a lovely hotel with beautifully -appointed rooms, a stunning open air terrace and a delightful reception area. A freshly-made breakfast is served every morning on the outdoor terrace or inside if it is cool out. There is even a self-serve bar where you can purchase a bottle of Chilean wine or a beer without having to leave the comforts of the hotel.

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Every morning the quotes are changed on the chalkboard and the new guests are added to the list. It is a very welcoming place!

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The location of CasaSur couldn’t be more perfect. Located in the Barrio Italia (formally known as the Barrio Santa Isabel), this historic neighborhood has been up and coming for the past decade with dozens of fabulous restaurants to choose from, gorgeous boutiques and lots of interesting shops such as antiques and even furniture restoration. What I loved best is that I didn’t feel at all like a tourist in Barrio Italia. We walked, talked and ate with the locals. It was the perfect way to experience local culture and practice sustainable travel. After staying at locally-owned and run boutique hotels, I’d have a very difficult time ever staying at a big American hotel chain again. You miss half the experience of truly traveling and engaging with the country you are visiting.

Barrio Italia, Santiago

The tree-lined streets of Barrio Italia are loaded with open-air restaurants, boutiques and bars.

Barrio Italia, Santiago, Chile

View of the Andes from a rooftop restaurant and bar in Barrio Italia.

Barrio Italia, Santiago, Chile

And the jacaranda’s were all in full bloom and gorgeous!

Barrio Italia, Santiago, ChileBarrio Italia, Santiago, ChileWe had an endless amount of delicious restaurants to choose from for dinner. Every meal was fantastic and there is food from all around the world just within a few tiny blocks. Best of all, we ate dinner with all the locals and even at local time (normally 10 pm). It took some getting used to the late dining hour yet once we did, we loved it.

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Towards the end of the stay Eduardo and his staff felt like family. My only regret is that I didn’t have more time at the CasaSur. I would have loved to have learned more about Eduardo’s fascinating family history. Both his grandparents had escaped WWII and the Nazis, fleeing Berlin and Hungary before the mass extermination of the Jewish population. They met in Chile and were so afraid of being persecuted that they baptized their children and raised them Christian. I had no idea until that moment that Chile even had a Jewish population. These are the tiny pieces of cultural knowledge that I’d never have learned without staying at a small, locally-run boutique hotel, and these are the stories I will always remember from my trip.

If you go:

CasaSur Charming Hotel is very small and fills up fast. Book well in advance! Eduardo and his staff can also provide you will tons of fantastic day-trips and excursions. You will love it there!

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Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Lokal Travel Launches the Ultimate Sustainable Travel Sale

Exciting news! I’ve teamed up with Lokal Travel to share their Ultimate Sustainable Travel Sale. For the next month Lokal is offering discounted gift cards and deals on unique bucketlist adventures, so you can give (or receive) the gift of meaningful travel. From expeditions in the Amazon with indigenous guides to stays in family-run guesthouses in the Himalayas, Lokal makes it easy to book hundreds of incredible trips that support local communities, protect nature and preserve cultural traditions. Through Third Eye Mom you’re getting early access and month long deals to Lokal’s launch specials. Deals include:

  • $100 Gift Card for $50
  • $1,000 Gift Card and custom trip plan for $750
  • Over 30% off a Costa Rica Jungle and Community Adventure (which I did this past January and it was amazing!).
  • Lots more!

Lokal Travel, a platform that allows intrepid travelers to book immersive local experiences and adventures around the world has launched an incredible Indiegogo campaign. From November 12-December 12, 2017, the campaign is offering extraordinary travel adventures that will help Lokal launch in ten new countries and support 1,000 inspiring local business. It is a brilliant concept and as a traveler who has experienced one of Lokal’s life-changing trips this past January to the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, I am getting itchy feet just sitting here reading about the amazing deals!

From expeditions in the Amazon with indigenous guides to stays in family-run guesthouses in the Himalayas, Lokal makes it easy to book hundreds of incredible trips that support local livelihoods, protect nature and preserve cultural traditions. Better yet, at Lokal over 80% of every dollar you spend goes directly to independent, locally-run and vetted travel businesses who are creating amazing experiences and real benefits for communities. Pretty fantastic!

Here is more information on this exciting sale and a few of my photos from my past trip to get you wanting to click on over now and book your next adventure.

Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Canoeing down a private lagoon was one of the many highlights I had during my week in the Osa.

Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

TRAVEL
Labadie, Haiti

The Two Contradictory Worlds of Labadie and “Labadee” Haiti

“Sonje lapli ki leve mayo ou”. – Remember the rain that made your corn grow. (Haitian proverb)

After all the stark contradictions I’d witnessed in Haiti, the sharpest contrast of it all was seen during an afternoon spent at the beach in Labadie. Here along the northern coast of Haiti sit two vastly different worlds: Labadie, a small, poor Haitian seaside village and “LABADEE®”, the private trademarked beach leased by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines since 1986.

Labadee is the largest tourist draw in all of Haiti and its beautiful, luxurious compound is a far cry from the poverty and despair witnessed right outside its gates. No Haitians are allowed within the high-wired fences and security of its pristine grounds unless they are work on the property.  Inside the compound lies a fantasy world of crystal white beaches, zip-lines, inflatable rafts, watersports and all the food you can eat with a gigantic cruise ship floating in the background. Outside the compound lies poverty and despair and people living on less than the price of a beer a day.

I had heard that this was one of the most gorgeous beaches in all of Haiti and we were going to try our best to check it out even if it was supposedly private. I was armed with a few facts about the property and Royal Caribbean’s relationship to the community. A history that is shrouded in controversy yet filled with potential. A couple hundred Haitians are employed at the compound and Royal Caribbean has done some things to help the neighboring community. I was curious to see for myself what I discovered.

As we left, Cap-Haïtien I noticed a huge improvement in the roads. The same roads that took us over 8 1/2 hours to travel only 148 miles/239 kilometers from Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haïtien were dramatically better on the way to Labadee. Instead of rugged, washed out potholes some of the road was as smooth as silk and the roads that were in need of repair had an entire team of construction workers on the job with even a Chinese engineer. It was shocking to see that the roads leading to a major tourist draw were better than the roads in the nation’s capital. But it was a sign that the right money talks and perhaps it will enable Royal Caribbean to bring its estimated 600,000 tourists a year (1) who come to Labadee to get out of the private compound on excursions and visit some of Haiti’s fabulous historical and cultural sites.

The views leading up to Labadee were spellbinding. Rocky lush green shoreline and brilliant blue sea for as far as the eye could see. White sandy beaches and luxurious houses and resorts. It felt like we were in another country! This was not the Haiti I’d seen over the past five days.

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Key Tips for Travel Planning with an Eco-Impact

“The declaration by the UN of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development is a unique opportunity to advance the contribution of the tourism sector to the three pillars of sustainability – economic, social and environmental, while raising awareness of the true dimensions of a sector which is often undervalued.” – UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai.

There could be no greater time in history as a traveler to impact our future and the world than now. As the international community embraces the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), approved by the UN General Assembly last September, tourism has a significant opportunity to support three of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) ranging from promoting sustainable, inclusive economic growth to conserving and sustaining the use of the oceans, seas and marine resources.

There has been more talk than ever about sustainable travel but what exactly does sustainable travel mean?

“In its simplest definition, sustainable travel can be defined as travel that positively impacts the community, environment and economy of the destination visited” states Kelley Louise, Executive Director of Travel+SocialGood, a global community of changemakers, passionate about transforming the travel industry into a force for good.

As a member of Travel+SocialGood and a strong supporter of sustainable travel,  I am continually on the search for sustainable travel resources and operators. I have been highlighting sustainable travel opportunities on my blog for quite awhile to help readers discover these experiences in one quick and easy place. (Here is a list of the past 20 posts in case you missed them).  

I hope you enjoy this guest post written by Jonny Bierman, founder of Eco Escape Travel,  a community-based ecotourism content hub with the mission to provide reliable ecotourism and adventure content that aims to grow a community of responsible travelers and inspire ethical travel. A special thanks to Sue of the fabulous travel blog Travel Tales of Life for introducing me to Jonny. Here is the post.

Avatar Grove. Photo credit: Eco Escape Travel

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Observatoire, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Where to Eat and Stay in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

“Anpil men chay pa lou” – Haitan proverb meaning “Many hands make a load lighter”.

To say that the bustling, congested and vibrant capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, is a bit chaotic and overstimulating would be an understatement. Monstrous traffic combined with endless honking horns, pedestrians, street vendors, motorbikes and every thing imaginable being sold on the street leaves you with such an immense sensory overload that your head is spinning by the end of the day.

As a newcomer, it is hard to conceive that peaceful, beautiful places coexist with the utter chaos of this hectic city of neglected potholes, broken down cars and uncollected garbage. However if you dig deep within the local culture and outskirts of town, you will be surprised at what true treasures Port-au-Prince has to offer.

Above the urban sprawl rising up the northern hills of the Massif de la Selle lies the affluent suburb of Pétionville which was founded in 1831 and named after Alexandre Sabes Pétion (1770-1818), a Haitian general and president who is recognized as one of the founding fathers of Haiti. Today Pétionville hosts some of the most desired restaurants, shops, hotels and residences in the capital. The views from Pétionville are beautiful and the air is much clearer and calmer than in Port-au-Prince.

However, the growth of Pétionville has not come without a price. A lack of governance in development has led to some serious problems with squatters. On the outskirts of Pétionville, a massive slum of rural migrants have dangerously built homes moving up the slopes of the mountainside, offering little protection against mudslides, heavy rains and earthquakes. The slums are always in view and are a big contradiction to the large mansions and wealth of Pétionville.

Oftentimes it was hard for me to wrap my head around the luxury I was experiencing and the horrible conditions just across the way. Yet, as a conscious traveler to many developing countries, it is something I just have had to accept and hope that at least my voice as a blogger and my tourist dollars will somehow help.

Hotel Montan Pétionville, Haiti

Off in the distance, moving up the hills at the edge of Pétionville lies the slums. These were built illegally by rural migrants who came to the city.

Pétionville, Haiti

Sadly these slums are poorly constructed and prone to washing away during mudslides. A lot of destruction and devastation happened here too from the 2010 earthquake.

From Port-au-Prince, there is one main road that winds up the mountainside to Pétionville. The road is narrow and depending on the time of day, traffic can be horrific especially if there is a stalled car. It is best to plan at least an hour from downtown to Pétionville unless you leave very early in the morning or very late at night.

As you drive up the mountain, the road is filled with art stands selling all kinds of local Haitian art. The views of the city are spectacular but it is hard to stop since there are no shoulders on the road.

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One thing I love to do when I travel is stay and eat local. Being conscious about where my tourist money is spent and how can have a big impact on the local community. Sadly, the majority of revenue earned from tourism often goes into only a few hands (large international corporations or wealthy elite) and very little money goes to support the local community. This is a huge missed opportunity because supporting local businesses creates a ripple effect that benefits entire communities of people. More local jobs means more income enabling more people to send their children to school, buy food and afford homes. In a country of vast unemployment, sustainable local tourism has an enormous potential to help eradicate Haiti’s crippling poverty.

I was pleased that our guide Haitian-American Natalie Tancrede of Explore with Nat selected all locally run and owned venues for our stay in Port-au-Prince. We could have chosen to stay at the beautiful new Marriott Hotel downtown but instead opted to stay at the tranquil, family owned Hotel Montana in Pétionville. It was my second stay at this beautiful hotel and I would go back there in a heartbeat.

Here is my list of the best places to stay and eat in Port-au-Prince.

Where to Stay:

Hotel Montana

The Hotel Montana is a true gem. Located up in the hills of Pétionville high above Port-au-Prince Hotel Montana has been run by a Haitian family since 1947 and is designed in Haitian Art Deco flair. The grounds and 45 rooms are stunning and the staff is delightful. There is a large open-air terrace that has a restaurant, bar and pool affording breathtaking views of the city below. The personalized service is lovely and it feels like a home away from home for many of the guests.

Hotel Montana Pétionville, HaitiHotel Montana Pétionville, Haiti

Pétionville, Haiti

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Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

A Guided Tour of Manuel Antonio National Park with Naturalist Johan Chaves

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks”. –  John Muir

Our villa at Tulemar was like a treehouse, perched high above the jungle and surrounded by nature.  I woke at 5:30 am to the sound of the birds greeting the day and went out to watch the tropical rainforest come to life. Two pairs of scarlet macaws flew poignantly overhead and settled in a neighboring tree where they squawked a bit before taking flight. Kingfishers, warblers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and tiny hummingbirds enjoyed their breakfast in the morning light. I could have laid here all morning but alas I had to get everyone else up for our seven am tour of Manuel Antonio National Park.

Tulemar Vacation Rentals, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

My favorite place of all – the hammock

Tulemar Vacation Rentals, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Morning sunrise from the balcony at Tulemar

Visting Manuel Antonio had been a dream of mine ever since I first visited Costa Rica on a volunteer trip in 2011. Today I would finally see one of Costa Rica’s most popular and beloved parks and I could hardly wait.

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Cascada Naguala Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

A Slice of Heaven at the Cascada Naguala Ecolodge

“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love”.-  Marcus Aurelius

After my peaceful canoe ride down the Laguna Chocuaco, it was time to leave Rancho Quemado and head to our next adventure in the community of Los Planes. We loaded up our rented SUV and headed northwest towards Drake Bay, the main tourist town in the Osa Peninsula.

The drive was rough and lovely, affording sweeping views of the stunning Drake Bay and the verdant tropical jungle. I was quite thankful we had our heavy duty SUV as there were several river crossings along the way and I cannot imagine how we ever would have made it in a car. Eytan told me that there had been times when he got stuck for hours waiting for the swollen waters to subside enough for him to safely pass and he had even once seen a small bus floating down the river. I definitely didn’t want that to be me!

As we entered the river I held my breath wondering how I’d break the news to my husband that we may have to do this ourselves during our upcoming family trip to Costa Rica in April. Hopefully the roads in northern Costa Rica are a bit better than in the Osa Peninsula.

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This afternoon we were headed to a remote, sustainable family-owned ecolodge called Cascada Naguala that is in the middle of the jungle and only accessible via foot across acres of beautiful private land. It had opened up to tourists only a few months ago after a series of tragic losses in the family. The first owner died eight years ago by a fallen tree and his brother took it over only to die in an ATV accident six months ago. Despite the tragedy, his son Eric and lovely wife Francesca reopened the lodge and went into business. We would be their first customers.

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Laguna Chocuaco, Rancho Quemado, Osa Península, Costa Rica

Canoeing in Laguna Chocuaco

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order”. – John Burroughs

By my fifth day in the Osa Peninsula, I was finally beginning to fall into a rhythm. My rusty Spanish was improving and I could comprehend more. My body had adjusted to the high humidity and heat of the jungle, and I naturally began rising at dawn with the morning sun and singing of the birds. My soul was relaxed, and I finally felt peaceful and free. Sadly I only had three more days left of my epic adventure yet I was determined to make these three days as fantastic as possible.

There is something about a Costa Rican breakfast that makes me smile. It is almost always the same: Gallo Pinto. Black beans and rice from the meal the evening before, stir-fried with the magic Costa Rican sauce Lizano and then topped with queso crema, a homemade sour cream that has a tangy taste to it and complements the dish well. There may be a slight variation to the morning meal that includes scrambled eggs, freshly made tortillas, fruit or fried plantains. But the gallo pinto are always available and after my week in Costa Rica I grew to love it.

Rancho Quemado, Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

My incredible breakfast

For today’s tour, we would meet Carlos Villalobos at his family property in Rancho Quemado for a birdwatching canoe ride on “Laguna Chocuaco” their private rainforest lagoon. We said our goodbyes to our friends Alice and Enrique at Rancho Verde and were on our way.

Their property includes a farm with livestock (pigs, chickens, cows and horses), a vast pasture and field for growing trees and produce, a dormitory for tourists to stay in, and a large open-air eating area for home-cooked Costa Rican meals.

When we arrived at the ranch, Carlos’ brother was milking the cows and getting ready to lead them out to the pasture. We had a brief tour of the farm and then headed out to the pasture where Carlos showed us some of the trees that they raise at the family farm.

 

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While many farmers cut down all the trees so there is more pasture for the livestock to graze on, Carlos and his family believe it is important to keep the trees for various reasons. The trees provide shade for the animals on the hot, humid days and fruit for the birds and to sell at the market. Lots of birds like toucans rely on the seeds and flowers off the tops of the trees for their diets. The trees also provide a lot of natural beauty to the landscape and a place for birds to nest in. The property has over 40 species of birds in which 20 species live along the low growing trees and bushes along the lagoon.

 

A toucan

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Rancho Quemado Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

An Artisanal Gold Mining Tour in Rancho Quemado

“You’ve got to be patient and have faith”.  – Juan Cubillo on mining for gold 

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.

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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 Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

Juan’s wife Rosa painted this sign advertising their new business, gold mining tours, open to tourists.

 Rancho Quemado Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

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.

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

“Look for the bare necessities. The simple bare necessities. Forget about your worries and your strife”. – Baloo, The Jungle Book

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.

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

“Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination” – . Drake

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.

Adventure Travel Central America Costa Rica Osa Peninsula TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION TRAVEL RESOURCES