Our recent trip to the south coast was primarily to explore potential places to live and to learn about a few areas I felt I was interested in. I am not a “city” boy so we were looking for the marginal beginnings of reasonably remote. Not much traffic and enough people to still have the sense of community.
I have friends who worked for United Fruit years ago and felt that I knew enough from their experience to save exploring Golfito and the soutrhernmost Osa peninsula for another time. Departing Dominical the hour plus ride is almost a straight run southeast on Hiway #34 to Palma Norte where the hiway changes again to the Pan American #2.
There we turned right and then crossed over the bridge and continued on to Sierpe. the owner of the Domilocos Hotel in Dominical told us about Jorge Uribe who owns the Perla del Mar tour/taxi boats and operates from his restaurant, Las Vegas, overlooking the Sierpe River. Down river and on the beaches of Drake Bay are several resorts. Jorge delivers new arrivals to their respective destinations via his river taxis piloted by bright young men who all speak some English.
The place was a busy hub of activity when we pulled in to park in the late morning of our fourth day in country. I walked in through the small crowd of touristas and at the counter spied a short gentleman in a tan ball cap and plain white guayabera shirt. No time like the present to risk my Spanish.
“Es usted, Jorge?” To which, much to my surprise (that he understood) he replied, “Si”. I then explained; that Michiel the owner of Hotel Domilocos, in Dominical had sent us and wanted to be remembered from his own trip which he enjoyed very much.
“Mucho gusto!” Jorge said and came from behind the counter to shake my hand. At the same moment , a young man approached and after a few words from Jorge, introduced himself, in English, and said that Jorge wanted us to sit at a table. According to David Jacuna we were now Jorge’s guests. And he invited us to have a coffee or a cold cervaza while a boat was readied to take us on a mangrove tour! In fact, David was going too, so he could narrate and show us the wildlife.
In two hours, we saw types of mangroves I’d never seen, Scarlet Macaws, monkeys (howlers, squirrel & white faced), two kinds of bats, small caiman, huge termite nests in towering Balsa trees, a big croc less than six feet from the boat, tree boas, and a number of wading birds plus, a white Cara Cara. It was action packed, much more so than when I used to do the same thing with British tourists on the Silver River in Central Florida.
David had gone to a naturalist course and had salient information on almost every thing we saw. Interestingly, we found out that Jorge has another young man, Oscar, who speaks English well and he and David handle all the gringo conversation from the front counter, mixing with the visitors as they come and go. The guys also do night tours. Our Captain on the tour was Joseph, an engaging and extremely happy man who spoke rapid-fire Spanish and repeated himself for emphasis before I could digest what he had just said. Jorge knew what he was doing when he let David go with us. This was just the beginning of the many generous things our host would do. David, Oscar and Jorge work 12 to 15 hour days and they do it with obvious joy in their hearts.
The following day, we wanted to fish. Jorge put Oscar in charge of that task and first thing the next morning Oscar and Captain Memo, loaded us and a cooler full of snacks, melon and drinks on board and we took off to run 15 miles down river. We trolled, then cast artificials and trolled some more. The river narrowed to less than 25 yards and on the bank farm dogs followed us yapping as chickens and a full grown turkey scratched in the shade of the small house on stilts. Further along the famer was repairing some fence and barely looked up as we quietly trolled by. We had a major strike from a twenty pound black snook but he failed to hook up. Everyone including Donna, fished hard but this day it wasn’t in the cards to take fish - - only to annoy them!
We must have gone down a dozen creeks to no avail. But the scenery was gorgeous and we saw monkeys and birds that we recognized. It began to thunder and gray up in the sky as the summer rains began to build from the mountains just to our East. It started to sprinkle and by the time we got our rain gear on rainwater was coming down in sheets. When we got back to the docks it immediately stopped raining. As we tied up people above us were smiling broadly. Apparently they’d never seen drowned rats disguised as people!
During the fishing, Oscar had revealed that he’d gone to university in San Jose. He got a degree in English. He’d grown up on his grandfather’s farm down river on the northern fork of the Sierpe. After the big city, he said, he realized that he wanted to come home. So, he ditched the idea of teaching and went to work for Jorge on the river. The people visiting the river and its wonders won big, with that decision. Of course, because of the lack of fish and the torrential rain Jorge did not want to charge us the full cost of our charter. I insisted and in turn, he made sure that we understood that dinner that evening was on him.
Before we sat down to eat snapper that night, I asked the waiter for spiced rum. He in turn went to Jorge and Jorge came and got me and showed me a bottle of Havana Club. You can’t buy this in the states. It is rich and smooth as silk and expensive. By the time I got back to the table the Havana Club bottle was already there along with shot glasses, a small bucket of ice, and mixers. Once again our host out did himself.
We stayed in a clean motel, a short walk, to the end of the street. Jorge sent us there, Hotel Oleaje Serano. It was $40 US, a nite. The yard was full of palms and exotics and a prehistoric rhinoceros beetle, bigger than a five year old’s boot! Did I say that we were having fun? As the sun set, a noisy flock of Scarlet Macaws flew over the motel on their way to roost. No doubt the birds we had seen up river the day before. The next morning we went down to the Las Vegas for breakfast. Oscar and David sat with us and came and went. We took pictures and Jorge came out and thanked us for coming. I honestly don’t think that this humble generous person knew how much we appreciated being embraced the way we had been.
I am sorry to say that I made one mistake on this trip. I deleted pictures from my digital camera that I thought I had downloaded. A picture of myself with Senor Jorge Uribe was one of the lost ones. It doesn’t matter, I’ll never forget it. If you go to Sierpe, as soon as you walk in ask the gentleman behind the counter wearing the ball cap, if he is Jorge. . . . . and tell him Steve sent you!
I learned a lot during this trip, as I have in the past . The most important is take off your civilized first world expression of skepticism and put on your smiley face. It’ll stay on naturally, when you see the results. If you’re going to communicate at least learn some basic courtesy i.e. Perdon - perdoname, Senor/Senorita. Entiendes? Por favor, Mucho Gracias, Mucho Gusto, Usted, etc. - - - Es un gusto conacerle (It’s a pleasure to meet you) & El gusto es mio (The pleasure is mine). Even if you speak Espanol slowly and mangle the sentence structure the people appreciate the fact that you try. It is their inherent nature to calmly accept the moment and your sincerity will open the door to their generous spirits. Worked for me! I have made friends that I will keep the rest of my life and it was their choice to allow me in.
As we drove away from the square of Sierpe village I felt as though I had just left visiting with family I’d never met until then. It was hard to go up that road so we stopped before crossing the bridge to Hiway #34 and spent a few quiet moments at the small Catholic Church, which by the way, was standing with its doors wide open, “guarded” only by a few stone saints.