By Rafael Dovale

Puerto Jimenez Osa Peninsula

Living in Puerto Jiménez

A little piece of Puerto Jimenez History

“What I don’t understand is, how someone like you, who has been all over the world and comes from sophisticated societies, ends up in this backward and simple place,” said the Ministry of Ecology inspector as we sat on the porch looking out at the Pacific. 

     I gazed from the blue of the sky, to the Pacific’s horizon, to its choppy vastness, to the waves crashing the beach, to the lagoon that surrounded the hill we sat on. “Because it’s beautiful,” was the best answer I could think of at that moment. 

     I had been in the country a few months, having come from Osaka to launch Laguna Vista Villas, now a well-known ecolodge in Carate Beach, Osa Peninsula, 40 kilometers from Puerto Jiménez. It takes time to know a place beyond the apparent. Months are not enough. But beauty is the most obvious attribute of the Osa Peninsula, so palpable that it overwhelms all other perceptions. On that porch that day, I still knew only its beauty.

     That was long ago—2004 to be exact. Past the Ministry of Ecology and municipal permits and the construction of the lodge over the lagoon called Laguna Pejeperrito (Little Dogfish Lagoon) in Playa Carate, the owner took over its operation in 2006 and I went to Puerto Jiménez to stage my exit from the country. I moved to Cabinas Marcelina in the town center. From there I’d work at the Internet Cafe sending out resumes to various universities for a professorship. At night I’d go out to dinner to a Mexican restaurant called Juanita’s or to Carolina’s Restaurant downtown. Sometimes I’d wander over to a big open restaurant-bar on the way out of town called El Mango Real. During the day I’d  go swimming in the Golfo Dulce or drive out to the chocolate farms or take a boat tour of the gulf. I soon made friends and acquaintances throughout the area and, just as soon, almost everywhere I went there was someone who greeted me cheerfully when I entered a place. It was in this simple way that I began to find a sense of belonging that I had never felt before in my former big city life.  

Puerto Jiménez Osa Peninsula Parade
Puerto Jiménez Osa Peninsula Parade

      In the act of living in Jiménez I came to know its humanity. Once I was having lunch at a diner on a corner. The street across descended in a steep hill. At the top of the hill two boys appeared on their bikes. They were carrying a 6 meter PVC pipe, one held the front end, the other the back. I asked myself if they were going to go straight, which would be easy enough, or make a turn right or left, which would be difficult since they’d have to coordinate braking and turning and holding the pipe at the same time. Sure enough, they started to turn as they neared the corner and by then the other diners had caught on to the spectacle. The boys started braking and turning and still held on to the pipe as they rode on to the cross street. The diners applauded the little feat of magic and the boys heard, turned their heads, and smiled back at us. On ferries, buses, or on the sidewalks sitting in front of the supermarkets, women would breastfeed their young and no one would bat an eyelash. People would call each other by their most obvious physical trait. If a man were fat, they’d call him “Gordo” (Fat); if a woman were thin they’d call her “Flaca” (Skinny). People who didn’t know my name would call me “Macho” (White man). The same would happen to black woman or a man—“Negro” or “Negra”. Such usage compelled me to reflect on the sterility, the euphemism with which language has been cloaked in the United States in contrast to its plain and simple humanity here. 

     Also, no one seemed to be in a hurry in Jiménez. People never walked, they sauntered. And if something didn’t get done today, there was always tomorrow. If I had a flat tire or a mechanical problem on the road, within minutes complete strangers would stop and offer to change the tire or help me in some way, as if their time mattered little. Indeed, time in Jiménez did not hound me like elsewhere, it accompanied me. 

     Surprising was how people seemed to be so happy with so little. Instead, they were rich and content with human relations and the extended family. A birthday party here would unite several dozen relatives from three, even four, generations. Everywhere you heard “Pura Vida” (Pure Life), the universal greeting-farewell-gratitude-state of being expression of Costa Rica. It is the national motto, evocative of the simple joy, the élan vital, of living. But nowhere in Costa Rica is it more real than in Puerto Jiménez, where the squawk of the macaw or the singular whistle of the toucan accompany you as you saunter down the street. 

    Without my being aware of it, Jiménez was seducing me. 

     One breezy sunny day I was drinking a beer at Los Delfines, a restaurant situated right on the beach facing the Golfo Dulce. I watched as children played in the shallows and adults sat, ate, and drank at the concrete tables in the sand. The boats undulated as the waves passed under them. Beyond, the mountains on the other side of the gulf towered into the blue, where magnificent frigates soared in the thermals. The palms swayed in the breeze and the waves lapped at the sand on the shore. A thought crossed my mind and I said, “Why not?”.

     The following day I began looking for a house to buy in this curious little refuge from our maddening world.

Osa Peninsula History Puerto Jimenez

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