By Jani Schulz
As we walked through the virgin jungle our guide pointed out two troops of monkeys, each with little babies hanging tightly to their moms as they swung wildly through the tall canopy of the rainforest. Fascinating artifacts seemed to materialize along the trail, most of them fashioned in shapes of animals indigenous to the area. We made a small cut in a turpentine tree, lit it on fire and watched the flames shoot out high and wide. Up in the sky scarlet macaws and a white whiskered puff bird flew overhead, and beneath our feet hopped poisonous dart frogs. After finally arriving at a huge waterfall with rocks curving up high over a creek, we relaxed for a while before heading back to the ranch, where we enjoyed typical Tico hospitality and a delicious meal cooked over a wood-burning stove.
This isolated region is situated above Corcovado National Park in the Osa Peninsula near the Los Patos ranger station. According to local guide Carlos Eduardo Castro Rojas, a long-time resident, La Tarde is a crucial part of the Osa province not only for its extravagant beauty and biodiversity, but also for its intense history. Born in San Isidro, Rojas grew up in La Tarde carving a living out of the farmland. He and his family have done everything from raising cattle, sheep, goats and chickens to farming rice and beans – they’ve even panned for gold.
When the government moved to protect the land that is now Corcovado National Park, it changed the lives of La Tarde residents forever. Although increasing populations of endangered wildlife was crucial to environmental conservation efforts, it came at a price for the farming people of the region. Ocelots mauled chickens, pumas devoured sheep and wild pigs destroyed his crops. The La Tarde community fell apart, and before long only four families remained of the original 18 in the area.
To support his family Rojas took a job as a tour guide in the nearby town of Drake Bay
, a position that inspired him to develop his La Tarde property into a tourism destination. His neighbors laughed at his plans. “They thought I was crazy,” Rojas said. Crazy – until he succeeded. Since 2009, The University of Costa Rica has used his land to document ancient gold spheres found in the local creek, along with other indigenous artifacts dating back 2,700. Penn State University has also conducted studies there on multiple occasions.
“Tourism is the only way we are able to afford to stay on the land that we love,” said Rojas. Making rural tourism work is the key to survival on Costa Rica‘s Osa Peninsula. While it is crucial to protect the local habitat and the wildlife within, it is equally important not to destroy the livelihoods of local residents in the process. After all, what would the crowned jewel of Costa Rica be without its culture?