Travelers: Protectors of Pura Vida
By Erika Hernandez Calvo, Expedition Guide on the Safari Voyager
“Thank you, travelers!”
This phrase is one of my favorites. I like to say it a lot. Because if it weren’t for travelers—not tourists, that's something different—there would be fewer positive things about where I come from. Protected areas, recycling programs, animal rights - the list goes on.
There are many travelers that, when they arrived in Costa Rica, fell in love with the land of Pura Vida, its nature, and its people, and decided to move in. They also realized that, even though this was paradise, ecosystems were being deforested at a pretty alarming rate. And of course, hunting and fishing and practicing activities were harming the environment.
Then, this newcomer took on the task of changing the minds of the community for the benefit of the future. And little by little, people turned from hunters and deforesters, from plain polluters to conservationists, all working together to attract more visitors and make a living that will benefit them, their families, and all living things surrounding them.
This change of mentality has turned Costa Rica in one of the greenest countries on the planet.
We wake up inside the Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica, on a small topographical irregularity known as Golfito (Little Gulf). The glassy ocean and the incredibly green, lush jungle make us question whether it is true that Golfito, the port we do customs and immigration procedures at, was in fact a commercial port used by the United Fruit Company during the “Banana Republic” era.
Behind what it seems like a tiny, dormant town, emerges a forest with some of the tallest trees in Central America. The view is breathtaking. When we are done with the authorities – or, they are done with us – we depart towards the much larger Golfo Dulce and Casa Orquidea. The latter is a beautiful botanical garden that was established many years ago by a lovely young American couple. While traveling through Central America, circumstances led them to Golfito where they found out about a lovely piece of land accessible only by boat. They made a home and nested there. Their offspring now is grown and have offspring of their own, but they never left.
What started as a garden for self-subsistence with medicinal plants, fruit trees, and roots, has turned into a lovely botanical garden known to botanists in Costa Rica and around the world with many different species of plants and trees of the tropics. The list is so extensive that our tour seems to go by fast and only a small percent gets covered.
We thank the McCallisters for this little piece of heaven that receives so many curious eyes in search of new discoveries and for making the local economy work and leaving a kind message of love and conservation.
We then depart to our second destination: The Saladero Ecolodge.
This super cool property is located almost at the river mouth of the Esquinas River, in the armpit of the Golfo Dulce. We are talking 480 acres of protected land that - like Casa Orquidea - is accessible only by boat. It is a buffer zone for the Piedras Blancas National Park, one of the newest and least visited national parks in Costa Rica. Here we find the heart and soul of the project: Harvey and Susan Woodward. Another story of love for each other and for the surrounding nature that led them to stay, work hard and change the life of the locals for the benefit of nature.
A self-sustainable way of living that includes the use of solar energy, having their own organic small crops, and taking only what is necessary and giving it back on the form of protection, is a type of symbiosis with mother nature. Add to that the social responsibility of making the local economy work by bringing in visitors like us to provide means for the locals who give services and sell their handicrafts, all on a very small scale. My favorite product is the coconut oil, extracted by an entrepreneur lady from the area.
It is my favorite thing to receive a warm hug and a smile from the Woodward’s every time we visit, and occasionally a delicious piece of coconut when we finish our walks that I happily eat while listening to all the extraordinary things that happen there.
From the wildcat monitoring programs to the park rangers of Piedras Blancas who come periodically. From the sloths that were seen that day to the discoveries of the many researchers. This remarkable tropical fiord, known as the “Sweet Gulf,” is a treasure to explore.
These two stops that we make along the way are examples of the benefits left by people who, once upon a time, were travelers in this region, fell in love, and stayed. They are the dispersers of a good seed that germinated into positive outcomes and that turned the mentality of hunters into conservationists and entrepreneurs. For protected areas, sustainability and animal rights. And for that, for all the positivity that has been brought, thank you, travelers!