Saturday, April 12, 2014

My Rural Travelogue (Part XVI): "Wild" (and rural?) Costa Rica

View of Pacific Ocean from just north  of San Pedrillo entrance to
Corcovado National Park,
 Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica, April 11, 2014  
I write from the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, featured in what is currently the fourth most emailed story in the New York Times, "In Search of 'Wild' Costa Rica." As Amy Harmon observes in her story, Costa Rica is known for its ecotourism--it's a big reason that several million people a year visit the country.  But even though I have elsewhere on this blog associated ecotourism with rurality, I had not made that leap about Costa Rica until yesterday.  Amy Harmon's feature on the Osa Peninsula was partly the cause of the leap, but so was a brochure I picked up at the resort where we are staying.  The brochure is for a company called Osa Rural Tours, the "first cooperative of rural community tourism in the Osa Peninsula."  Its slogan is "Vivi Otra Costa Rica," which as best I can tell translates to "live the other Costa Rica."  This suggests that "rural" is the other to an urban default.  This is accurate in the sense that about half of the country's population live in greater San Jose, and other large chunks live in the urbanized areas of Alajuela and Cartago--so a majority of the population are urban.  However, it is that "other," that "wild" Costa Rica that tourists flock to the country to experience.  (Our travel agent did not suggest any time in San Jose, and when we passed through, I could see why).

The cooperative bills itself as "a locally owned tour operator, that is working towards contributing to the development of communities in the Osa Peninsula, in the South Pacific of Costa Rica." The brochure continues:
Osa Rural Tours is a gateway into the Osa Peninsula, a place of natural wonders; it has won over thousands of visitors.  A place of adventure where life and culture can be found on every path.
* * * 
Purchasing services from Osa Rural Tours will aid in preserving 2,256 acres of forest in the Osa Conservation Area! 
Our Rural Tours provides 10% of protection of the total forest already protected by Rural Community Tourism in Costa Rica.  Osa Rural Tours has directly and indirectly improved the local economy. 
Creating with fundings from the Costa Rica-United States Debt Swap Fund, Osa Rural Tours aims to assist in the conservation of forests within the Osa Conservation Area.   
Photos on the brochure show wildlife, a woman grinding corn, kayaking, horse-back riding, rappelling up a huge tree, and bike riding.

Rare residence where Sierpe River meets Pacific Ocean.
Coati, Corcovado National Park
I note that the largest city on the Osa Peninsula, Puerto Jimenez, has a population of just 1,780 … which sorta' makes the modifier "rural" redundant when it comes to the entire area.  Indeed, so few people appear to live in this area dominated by the massive Corcovado National Park--especially few who are not engaged in the ecotourism business--that I think of the place more as wilderness than as rural.  One of our guide/wildlife spotters did note, however, that three families live on an island we passed, at the mouth of the Sierpe River as it enters the Pacific (photo above).  He said those families make a living mostly from collecting clams.  Others on the Osa Peninsula but outside the national park presumably also eke out a living through agricultural pursuits.  While our resort was not accessible by road (we reached it by boat from Sierpe, down the river and then along the Pacific coast), I see that a road does stretch across the Osa Peninsula to Drake Bay, just north of where we stayed, and there are some villages in that area.

Elsewhere in Costa Rica, on the Caribbean coast, in Tortuguero, one of our guides touted the advent of ecotourism in the area, suggesting that people there are much better off than when most of them relied on agriculture or the timber industry.  Tortuguera village is home to between 1200 and 1500 residents, and wikipedia indicates the most are involved in ecotourism.
Tortuguero village, Caribbean coast, Costa Rica, features small shops and eateries targeting tourists.

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