The bad part first: The albergue was rudimentary with no screens or doors, only hard benches for sitting, cracks between the planks, rice and beans with a side dish at every meal, no electricity (hadn’t worked for a couple of months) and no cell phone service.
The sponge mattress was thin on the bunk beds. The toilet was 50 feet away through a muddy area. There was no water the first evening as a new tank was being tested and needed to be filled overnight.
Now the good part: The albergue was rudimentary with no screens or doors, only hard benches for sitting, cracks between the planks, rice and beans with a side dish at every meal, no electricity and no cell phone service…
This more than met our expectations.We wanted a weekend to get to know an indigenous group. My wife Norma and I, both 69 and hiking enthusiasts, and Carlos Solano, our friend and auto air-conditioning repairman, left the central Pacific beach town of Jacó at 4 a.m. on a Friday for the five-hour drive to the Southern Zone village of La Palma, on the Osa Peninsula. Carlos helped interpret some of the Spanish that we could not understand.
Maximilian Quirós, who had lived in Jacó for two years, invited us to visit the simple tourist facility he and his family have built in Alto Laguna, a few kilometers from La Palma. He is a member of the Ngöbe indigenous group, which numbers about 1,800 in Costa Rica and extends into northern Panama. Max’s father, Luis, is the leader of the 135-strong community we were going to visit. The group is trying to encourage tourist activity to earn money.
The area gets about 10 to 20 feet of rain a year. Dry season, January to April, is the best time to visit. There was one short rain shower Friday afternoon. Although we were expecting mosquitoes, we didn’t see any.
There were few flying insects.
Max met us in La Palma and we drove two kilometers on a dirt road through a river.
When the river rises, usually for several months a year, the area is isolated.Max’s sister, Jeni, was waiting with two horses to carry our things while we hiked four kilometers up the mountain on a forested road.
The school we visited in Alto Laguna had 40 children. They were being served a nutritious lunch. We had brought notebooks, pencils and rulers that we left with Max to give to the school.
We met the Quirós family, had lunch in the dining building and settled in. After a siesta, we got directions for the 30-minute walk to the pulpería, where there was a radiophone. We reassured our Jacó host family that we had arrived.
On Saturday, we took two hikes. Max guided the first and don Luis the second. Max took us down a beautiful mountainside with giant trees, several levels of canopies, bromeliads and ferns. A cliff dripped water from a spring. Norma cooled off under it.
The weather was hot but definitely cooler in the rain forest.We played and swam in the river. All the water we could see we could drink – this was amazing to me.
The hike back up the mountain was hard, and we used walking sticks throughout. The trip took three hours.
Don Luis was hesitant to take us to the waterfall because he said the trail was dangerous and difficult. He was right.We might not do it again. We slipped, slid and occasionally fell on the trip. Carlos and don Luis helped us many times to secure footholds or gave us an arm to grasp.
Deep in the forest, don Luis had planted cacao trees. The monkeys had acquired a taste for the seeds, and don Luis reported that 200 monkeys had eaten all the seeds. We heard the roar of howler monkeys and saw red spider monkeys, scarlet macaws and green parrots.
The petite waterfall was picturesque, set deep in a forested glen. One cascade into a pool became three chutes at the next level. For our return, don Luis cut a trail in the mountainside with his machete. The soil was thick and spongy and slid under our feet. He complimented us on our stamina. We were very happy to see the road.
That evening, don Luis told the story of his coming to the Osa from the mountain town of San Vito, to the northeast. He contested the illegal cutting of lumber.He was in conflict with the security guards of a forestry company and said they would burn the huts of indigenous people. We saw the ruins of a burned hut.
I slept nine hours each night, while at home I sleep five to six.We took siestas daily during the heat of the day.
On Sunday morning, don Luis showed us his extensive medicinal herb garden and explained the uses of the various herbs.
The family asked us to take photos and help publicize the tour. This exciting, unique adventure definitely added to our Costa Rican experience.
To contact the Quirós family, call Max at 8376-4806 or the pulpería at 2200-5356.
Alternatively, don Luis has a son, Javier, in San Vito who is frequently in contact with the family. He can be contacted at 8816-5686 or [email protected]. Our visit cost us $30 per day, per person, including full room and board, and $20 per day for use of horses.
Norma and Ken Kahn have lived in Jacó for the past 10 years. Norma, a former childhood education administrator, is an abstract artist and president of the Central Pacific Women’s Group. Ken is a retired neurologist whose hobby is video editing. They are avid hikers, active in the community and enjoy exploring out-of-theway places and sharing them with others.