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Friday, 22 January 2010

Wings, Wheels and Waves: An Exploration of Costa Rica's South - Page 4

Written by Stephanie Hartka
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The flaps go down, the wheels descend out of the body of the aircraft and suddenly the tiny plane shudders to a halt. The light is golden and I am surrounded by palm trees as far as the eye can see.

“Welcome to Quepos Manuel Antonio!” exclaims the handsome young pilot over his shoulder. It’s the first leg of my five-day excursion into Costa Rica’s southern and less-explored villages and jungles; a vagabond’s dream come true. I arrive in Quepos Manuel Antonio not as a tourist, but as a chronic itinerant. I’ve come to look at this place as bit of an obsession; it is as if some vortex constantly pulls me back.



When I converse with other guests over dinner, most of them have been coming to La Paloma Lodge for years. I meet a Swiss couple, who first arrived in Costa Rica in the 1960’s to start a coffee roasting company, who claim that these days they eschew the rest of the country, returning only to the remote Osa peninsula as if it’s “their little secret.”


Wings, Wheels and Waves: An Exploration of Costa Rica’s South, Quepos Manuel Antonio, the Costanera, Dominical, Costa Rica’s surfing meccas, Palmar Sur, Sierpe launching dock, the Osa peninsula, Sierpe Mangroves, travel Central America, Drake Bay, La Paloma Lodge, Corcovado National Park, Puerto Jimenez, Golfito, Bosque del Cabo, backpacking Costa Rica, travel Costa Rica, Stephanie HartkaFalling asleep in my Tempur-pedic bed, I drift off conjuring images of Sir Francis Drake, a British sea captain who first explored the bay’s whale thronged waters and fabled treasure-filled coves in the 16th century. I wonder how it must have felt to have “discovered” such lush coastline and abundant waters, and for how long he kept Drake Bay, “his little secret”.


In the morning I fly from Drake Bay to Puerto Jimenez, eager to see the very tip of the Osa. The short flight provides an absolutely stunning view of the peninsula over teeming, green misted mountains. On either side of the Gulfo Dulce’s water, sit Puerto Jimenez and Golfito, two distinctive port towns.  Located 193 miles southwest of San Jose and 20 miles north of Panama, these twin hubs were once laden with gold, poachers, loggers, and banana plantations. Only recently have these illegal activities been somewhat monitored and a sudden influx of explorers looking for unspoiled and biologically diverse rainforest, have given the local residents a more positive alternative.


In the 1930s, Golfito was the official headquarters for the United Fruit Company and nearly all exports were sent off through this practically located port. This flurry of trade provided numerous jobs, education and medical facilities for Golfito’s residents for it’s nearly fifty years of operation. The remains of this booming banana era are not only apparent in the crippled economy of the south, but also in the authentic plantation-style wooden houses, which once housed affluent members of the banana business.


In attempt to give Golfito’s economy a good strong boost, the government christened this floundering town as the official free trade zone.  While no longer the center of the fruit trade, Golfito continues to yield a great deal of commerce, as Ticos come from all over the country to load up on discounted appliances and electronics in this duty free zone.  While general tourism is still in it’s infancy in this deep southern region, serious sport-fishers looking for trophies have discovered Golfito’s “Sweet Gulf” as the best place to drop bait in the entire country.


Sharing this gulf with Golfito, is the neighboring town Puerto Jiminez, which appears to have a better grip on tourism. Colorful and quaint, it is located about an hour and a half south of Corcovado National park — Costa Rica’s largest stretch of virgin rainforest. A good handful of surfers can also be spotted transitioning through Puerto Jiminez, heading towards Pavones, another nearly deserted yet famous surfing haven.


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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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