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Costa Rica: The Osa Peninsula, 1993

May 12, 2010

I had the great good fortune in 1993 to photograph several areas of Costa Rica for the Costa Rican Tourist Board (ICT).  Among my destinations was Corcovado National Park in the Osa Peninsula, one of the last untouched rain forests in Central America.

I first visited the country in 1978, and when I returned in the early 1990s I have to admit I was taken aback at the amount of forestlands that had been cut around Costa Rica during the intervening time.  Despite the country’s reputation as a conservation-minded nation, about 80 per cent of the original forest cover is now gone, most of it sold to loggers, legal or not, between the early 70s and the 90s.  Even at places like Monteverde National Park the logging trucks roared downhill as fast as they could navigate the hairpin turns, their beds replete with old-growth timber, I noticed on my second trip.  No fighting institutionalized greed.

1) Costa Rican countryside: not much forest

But the Osa at that time remained virgin.  Roads had yet to penetrate the region and the only access was by boat.  A fellow photog and I journeyed by car to the quaint beach town of Dominical and from there we were picked up by an open 8-meter motor boat for the 30 or 40 mile trip south to the peninsula.

3) Estuary at Dominical

We skimmed along the open Pacific in this hazardously-provisioned craft for a couple of hours and encountered a full gale.

4) The boat: plenty of horsepower but not much cover

5) The storm approaches.  Time to put the camera away; it’s a long swim to shore

With waves crashing over the topsides the captain and his mate produced a portable VHF and attempted to raise the lodge that owned the boat.  The idea was to send a bigger boat to rescue us.  A craft was dispatched from the lodge, but they were unable to find us in the thrashing ocean.

But eventually we made landfall on our own, drenched and clenched.  The only casualty was my passport.  In those days the picture on the front page was a black and white print, unlaminated or otherwise protected from the elements.   The soaking from the seawater erased the image completely, leaving my passport otherwise intact but lacking an identifiable photograph.

We stayed at a lodge called Marenco, now out of business.  The place was isolated with bungalows perched on a bluff overlooking the wild Pacific waves.  I’m not sure how expensive the accommodations were since we were comped.

6) Marenco

7) The edge of the world: beach at Corcovado

Just offshore lay Isla del Caño, another treat that I have described elsewhere.  But the jungle here large enough.  We even splashed upstream in rivers, often easier than walking in the bush.

I spent many days exploring Corcovado both alone and with the lodge’s guides.  Nothing like primeval forest to focus one’s concentration.

8) The forest

9) Wading upstream through Corcovado

The rain forest contains a riot of plant and animal life.  In the daytime the critters lay low, but with every step forward a surprise awaits.  The heat draws away from the body as the fecund smells of jungle life and decay hold the senses hostage.

10) Flower

11) Leaf-cutter ants and nest

With lingering sadness we eventually were forced to depart.

12) Headed for civilization

13) The return trip to Dominical on a bigger boat – looking at something with fellow passengers, I don’t remember what – Photo by Bob Marshall

POST SCRIPT:  When I flew back to Miami at the end of the trip, Customs and Immigration wasn’t too happy about my ruined passport pic, but I shrugged and said, “Hey, not my fault I was caught in a storm,” and they let me in the country without comment.  Later, however, I was accused of mutilating the precious document and only my vigorous protests put an end to threats of prosecution from the Feds for the heinous “crime.”

13) A last Osa sunset

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