San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

At Cabina Amistad – Leave Luxury for Simplicity

ISLA CHIRA, Puntarenas – CabinaAmistad, well-hidden from the gravel roadby thick woods, is easily accessible by ashort path. The cabin in Isla Chira, a Pacificisland in the Gulf of Nicoya, is not for pamperedtypes. There is no spa, no pool, thereare not even screens on the windows.What makes the cabina unique isn’t thefancy furnishings – it’s the simplicity, tranquilityand privacy of the lodgings thatmakes visiting an adventure.Unlike many homes on the island, thecabina, run by the Association of EcotourismWomen of Isla Chira as a source of income inthe impoverished and underdeveloped area,comes complete with doors and windowsand indoor bathrooms and the necessary ceilingfan. The sole, simple cabin is divided intotwo rooms with an unfurnished upstairs forlarger groups.“I think there’s a real sense of leavingbehind everything that’s modern and loudand irritating and also leaving behind allyour problems,” said Deborah Cleland, anAustralian volunteer working with the organization.The log cabin, painted a rusty red on theoutside, is right on the edge of the dry forest.Although the cabin has window shutters,there are no window screens – making bugspray (as well as sunscreen) a necessity.INSIDE, the wood is untouched, lettingits natural color shine. The simple and thickbed frames and the night table are made fromthe same wood.“We decided to build something veryrustic,” said Teodora Medina, a member ofthe women’s group. “It couldn’t be any otherway because that would have been a contrastwith its environment.”Woods surround the cabin and the noiseof the occasional passing truck or group ofchildren is muffled by the trees. The onlyconstant source of noise comes from the constantchirping of cicadas.The kitchen and attached eating area is afew steps in front of the cabin. The eatingarea, like the rest of the surroundings, is notformal and is equipped with several tablescovered by colorful fruit-theme tableclothsand even a hammock in the corner for readingor relaxing.The only way to reach the secludedisland is by a motorboat run by Coleche (residentof Isla Chira). The ride, which takesabout an hour from Puerto de Mercado inPuntarenas to Puerto Bocana on Isla Chira,offers a panoramic view of only mountainsand forest – there is no development, justnature in its element.ONCE Coleche docks his boat in PuertoBocana, he fills the wooden bed of his oldblack truck with anyone who needs a ride tothe various towns on the island – dodginggiant potholes and puddles along the way.Area residents knock on the truck’s roof witha “Coleche! Aqui!” to let him know when tostop. Coleche knows where to let off theguests of Cabina Amistad.The cabins are a half-hour walk down adirt road to the port of Palito, passing by thegrade school, various farms and the island’sbakery.Being that the only way for people to getto and from the island is by boat, the same canbe said for the building materials to make thecabin, eating area and extra bedroom.“I think coming to this island is a veryromantic idea,” Cleland said. “These womenare working against all odds to support theirfamilies.”THE women’s association traveled bynight in boat to the other side of PeninsulaNicoya to gather the necessary wood on theirown since they fished during the daytime.They used their own fishing boats to transportlogs back to the island.“Once we were coming back with 80logs and in the middle of the ocean, our boatbegan to sink,” said Liliana Martínez, amember of the group. “We had to throwmaterial overboard.”Not only did the women build the cabins,they also run the show. They take turns stayingat the cabin’s log kitchen each day tocook for the guests.Breakfast costs ¢1,500 ($3.50) and lunchand dinner costs ¢1,800 ($4.15) per meal.“The food costs may be more expensivethan what people are used to,” Cleland said,“but food here is expensive because everythinghas to be imported.”THE group of women is also eager and helpful with advice or directions.The women have cleared a scenic path, about a 45-minute hike, through the woods to a lookout over theocean. They also have tours of the mangroves; to IslaPaloma, a small island inhabited by thousands of GreatEgrets; to the beach; fishing tours; trips to an estuary withcrocodiles and roseate spoonbills, herons and black-belliedwhistling ducks and to see the Association of WomenArtisans in San Antonio. Each of the tours operated by thewomen costs ¢1,000 ($2.30) per hour, per person.This month, bikes donated by the United Nations arescheduled to arrive, which will make traveling around theisland more accessible to tourists. When the bikes arrive,they will cost ¢2,000 ($4.60) for the entire day. In the meantime,friendly neighbors are happy to rent bikes to tourists.CLELAND helps cook and clean up after meals, butshe also teaches English to the women, their children andother people in the community, although they are shy aboutpracticing the new language.She also is helping the women learn how to use a computer– the end-goal being to have a basic Web site promotingthe cabin and an e-mail account so that tourists canmake reservations with them directly, instead of goingthrough other groups.“Being here makes you appreciate people more thanthings,” Cleland said, pushing her chin-length bright blondhair behind an ear.For one night at the cabinas, one person costs ¢5,000($11.60), two people cost ¢3,500 ($8.20) each and for threepeople or more, each person costs ¢2,500 ($5.80). Specialarrangements may be made for groups. For more info or tomake reservations, call Cabinas Amistad at 661-3261.GETTING THERE: The bus from San José toPuntarenas costs ¢1,025 ($2.35). The Puntarenas bus stationis about four blocks from the Puerto de Mercado (marketport). At Puntarenas’ Puerto de Mercado ask for’Coleche’, an Isla Chira resident, who makes the trip to theisland at noon for ¢2,500 ($5.80) per person.

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