Off the Grid in the Osa: Exploring Costa Rica's Last Frontier - Page 4

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Mushroom in Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica
Mushroom in Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica  (Kevin Schafer/Photographers Choice/Getty)

The plane lands on a grass airstrip at Sirena, the park service research station where visitors can find meals and basic, dorm-style accommodations. Sirena is also the only place to stay within the park boundaries—no camping allowed because puma and jaguar own the night out here.

Along with a local guide, I hike an easy loop trail to the coast and back, stopping along the way to spot parrots, flowers, and lizards while the bone-shaking grunts of howler monkeys echo from the treetops. We return early to Sirena amid the first salvo of the now-standard midday rainstorm, which has sodden the runway, delaying our flight out until the rains subside.

Eventually the rains pass, the runway dries out, and the plane can take off. From Sirena, it’s another short flight to a beachfront runway near the isolated town of Carate, and then a Land Rover trek up the Carate River valley, splashing up to the doors through multiple river crossings to reach Luna Lodge. Built from the ground up by the holistic-living, yoga-teaching expat Lana Wedmore, it’s the region’s model of sustainability—totally off the grid, boasting its own water catchments, hydropower, and gardens.

Perched high atop a ridge, this secluded hideaway boasts incredible vistas of the mist-shrouded valley, and a network of trails connect it to the virgin lands below. Setting off on one of the trails, Wedmore’s joyful dog Osa takes the lead. She’s one of the best guides around, stopping silently to point her nose upward at birds and monkeys in the trees, and making a beeline for a creek bed terraced by cascading waterfalls, stopping occasionally to make sure I’m still following.

Further down the river, I come across one of a handful of gold miners still toiling away in the wilderness. Government bans on machinery mean that the weather-beaten men who live out here under tarpaulin shelters must make their living with picks, shovels, and pans.

I try it for myself. He scoops a shovelful of gravel from the river bottom and shows me how to swirl it in the flow of the stream. Eventually all but the finest sediments spill over the sides, and I can spot the tiniest flecks of gold settled on the bottom. Through a translator, I ask the man if he collects these small flakes. “No, only bigger pieces,” he says. “We’ll keep trying until we get lucky.”

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