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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Taking a Walk on Corcovado’s Wilder Side

Most visitors hiking in CorcovadoNational Park use Puerto Jiménez as astaging base, staying in town or atlodges close to the park’s southernentrance. Now there are two new, affordablelodging options that give visitorsaccess to the park via less-traveledtrails. Both lodges also give visitors apreview of the park’s natural wonders.PUERTO JIMÉNEZ, Osa Peninsula – A river runsthrough the Río Nuevo Lodge. Well, not quite through it. Butto get to Río Nuevo Lodge, you have to ford five rivers andcross a 20-meter swinging bridge, suspended 11 metersabove the pebble-lined Río Nuevo. Once you’re there, thereward is the complete absence of the sounds of civilization.Set on a hill overlooking a bend in the river, the main lodgeis a thatched-roof rancho surrounded by a spectacular tropicalgarden, with mist-shrouded views of primary forestbeyond.Three years ago, owner Walter Aguirre started plantingthe garden, a year before he laid the first building foundation.Aguirre, born and raised in Puerto Jiménez, set out tobuild a business to help stanch the flow of young peopleleaving the Osa.“I wanted to provide an alternative to farming so thatyoung people here have an economic reason to stay,” he said.TRAINED as an industrial engineer, Aguirre supervisesthe Chacarita regional office of the Costa Rican ElectricityInstitute (ICE) by day, but he is also a nature lover. His wifeDanilla, who manages Río Nuevo’s adventure tours office inPuerto Jiménez, is the daughter of the owner of La Leona Eco-Lodge, a tent camp at the Carate entrance to CorcovadoNational Park. Aguirre had lots of expertise to draw on inbuilding a tent-camp lodge on this 36-hectare (89-acre) property,which borders Piedras Blancas.The garden Aguirre planted three years ago is now a riotof yellow-and-orange curly crotons, flaming coral ixora, redheliconia and gingers, orange parrot flowers and yellow allamanda.From the lodge’s spacious dining room/deck, theriver view is front and center, framed by rosy mussaendashrubs.It’s all eminently civilized, despite being off the grid, inthe middle of nowhere. Electricity is generated by solar panelsand the only sounds you’ll hear are the river gurgling,frogs croaking, birds chattering – and the occasional neighof a horse. Horseback rides are a main attraction here, withday guests coming out for rides along the river and a hotlunch. But the horses also provide the only way out when therivers suddenly rise. Guests – and staff – have had to crossthe rivers on horseback to get to a truck waiting on higher,dry ground.Twisting stone paths bordered by shrubs lead up a hillbehind the rancho to the accommodations: eight two-persontents perched on raised, wooden platforms. The 3×3-metercovered platforms have enough room for two chairs on thefront “porch” and each platform has a privacy screen ofshrubs. The 2×2-meter plastic tents have lots of ventilationwith mesh openings; there’s no trace of a musty odor. Insidethere’s either a double mattress or two singles, covered infresh linens.HOW waterproof are the tents? The night my friend andI spent under canvas here turned out to be the night of thebiggest rainstorm in a decade, with earth-shaking shards oflightning, booming thunder and torrential rain. But not adrop entered the tent. The rain created a lake-size puddlenear our tent and the frogs were in frog heaven, adding theircroaking to the storm’s sound effects.I needed a large umbrella to walk to the shared bathhouse,which has two sparkling, white toilet rooms and twocold-water showers. Two sinks with large mirrors are outsideon opposite sides of the white cane-lined bathhouse, soyou’ll be brushing your teeth in public. In the evening, flickeringtorches light the pathways but it’s a good idea to bringa flashlight for late-night bathroom visits.Meals are served family-style at a long table made of polished guayabo wood. Cook XiniaCalderón, sporting a baseball cap, is cheerfullybusy in the kitchen all day, tending awood-fire stove and gas range where blackpots of rice and stews simmer away. Thefood is típico and plentiful. (Vegetarianswill be happy with the constant supply ofrice, beans and fresh vegetables.)You can work up an appetite for thethree hearty meals included in the price bywalking some of the lodge’s trails, with orwithout a guide. The most exciting – andchallenging walk – is a nine-hour hike westinto Corcovado Park, staying overnight in avery basic gold-miner’s house and endingup in Carate, almost across the peninsula.Freelance guide Mike Boston, the mostfamous hike leader and zoologist in thearea, said the hike follows rarely traveledtrails and the visit with the gold miners is aonce-in-a-lifetime experience.WITH the night before’s heavy rain, itseemed more sensible to let horses get theirfeet muddy, so we opted for a trail rideinstead of a hike. Horse wrangler JerryRapp, a former Sierra Club hike leader fromDurango, Colo., supervises the 10-horsestable, with the assistance of Aguirre’snephew, Bolivar Vega. The horses are wellbehaved and Rapp takes great care in makingsure saddles and stirrups are properlyadjusted for each rider. Trail rides vary from3-9 hours, but my friend and I opted for oneof the shorter rides along the river.We set off with Rapp as our guide andquickly lost ourselves in the sounds andsights of the forest, as the horses carefullypicked their way in and out of the river andalong forest trails. With the rains promotinga tangle of new growth, Rapp rode ahead,wielding a machete to clear branches andvines.About an hour into the ride, we heard adistant shout and stopped to let a breathlessBolivar catch up to us on foot. Heavy rain inPuerto Jiménez had prompted Aguirre tosend his nephew to warn us of the possibilityof rivers rising and trapping us.Reluctantly, we turned tail and rode back tocamp.An hour later, with the car jammed withour gear as well as with Rapp, Calderón andVega, we set out to cross the rivers. Myfriend’s Toyota Land Cruiser sailed throughall the rivers and we made it to drier groundintact, if a little muddy. But the experiencemade us appreciate that Río Nuevo Lodgeincludes transportation – in their own highclearancetruck – in the room rate.GETTING THERE: Río Nuevo Lodgeis 12 km (7.5 miles) west of PuertoJiménez, including 9 km (5.5 miles) along arough road crossing five rivers. The $50 perperson rate ($35 now in green season)includes three meals and transportation toand from Puerto Jiménez. Hiking tours costfrom $35-50 per person (for the Carate hike,including transportation back to P.J.) andhorse rides range from $50-65, includingtransportation and a hot lunch. Book toursthrough the lodge’s office in PuertoJiménez, next door to La CarolinaRestaurant or call 735-5411, fax 735-5407;


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