San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

A New Haven for Corcovado Backpackers

LA PALMA, Osa Peninsula – Forbudget-minded hikers entering CorcovadoNational Park via the Los Patos Station,there’s good news: A pleasant and affordablenew lodge has opened between LaPalma and Los Patos.Instead of hiring an expensive taxifrom Puerto Jiménez to Los Patos, hikerscan now check into Danta CorcovadoLodge, just 8 km (5 miles) from the park’swestern entrance, and rest up before orafter a grueling Corcovado hike.Danta Corcovado Lodge is the brainchildof Merlyn Oviedo, an enterprisingyoung man born and raised in La Palma.Like most young people in this area,Oviedo had to leave home to attend highschool. Facing a dearth of job opportunitiesat home, he traveled to Oregon,trained as a welder and earned a good livingin the United States – but he missedhis family and his home.With his U.S. savings, Oviedoreturned to La Palma, determined to carveout a living for himself. He did – literally – transforming his father’s wooden farmhouse, built 25 years ago,into a spacious, light-filled, pleasantly rustic eco-lodge, several cutsabove accommodation available in the national park.Oviedo’s return to La Palma happily coincided with a non-profitprogram aimed at generating environmentally sustainable workoptions for young people in the Osa Biological Corridor. He was oneof 25 chosen from 80 applicants to participate in the Osa PeninsulaYouth Business Leadership Program, funded by a Swiss philanthropicgroup called AVINA and administered by the FundaciónNeotrópica (TT, June 18).“The program has really changed my mind,” Oviedo said, “notonly about business but also about our social and environmentalresponsibility. It taught me how to make a business plan, analyzecosts and set prices. But it also made me want to build a lodge withthe least impact possible on my family’s 21-hectare finca.”DRIVING up to the lodge along a wide driveway, you’ll begreeted by Juvenal Oviedo, Merlyn’s dad, who lives in a room in theold part of his original house and tends to the lodge. He is full of storiesand eager to share them, in Spanish, with every guest.The senior Oviedo settled here more than 30 years ago whenthere were no roads. The only access was by boat and then by arough track inland. His farm prospered, so much so that he was ableto donate land to build the local soccer field, the church and mainplaza of the nearby village of Guadalupe de Jiménez, which he hadthe honor of naming after his favorite saint. In the process, he alsoset a good example of community responsibility for his son to follow.Today, the father proudly shows off his son’s handiwork. Thespacious wood porch is furnished with a handsome chair carved outof a tree trunk and hammocks. The entry hall has a soaring, dramaticceiling, supported by a column made of a sinewy cara de tigretree trunk. The airy interior is filled with light, thanks to hugescreened windows and caña brava paneling.THE open, communal kitchen is modern and stylish, with a handsome,granite-like counter that Merlyn pieced together with localriverstone in shades of green and grey. The tables are huge amoebashaped“cookies,” slabs of wood cut crosswise from fallen surá trees,and the chairs are tree stumps. You can cook for yourself or enjoybreakfast ($5), lunch or dinner ($6.50), cooked by Merlyn’s mother.The five good-sized bedrooms have either a double bed or twobunks; one family room has a double bed and a bunk. Merlyn weldedthe metal bed frames and constructed the rustic wood furniturefrom fallen trees, including interesting round mirrors set in framesof teak “cookies.”The bedrooms have brightly colored fresh linens and are wellventilated with huge screened windows and electric fans.(Electricity reached La Palma just eight years ago but there are stillno telephone lines.) Toilets and two separate hot-water showers arefresh and well lit and there’s a supply of fluffy towels. Budget backpackerscan set up their own tents on platforms outside ($5 per person)and use the lodge’s facilities.IF you aren’t heading into the park, you can get a taste of thearea’s wildlife by walking the finca’s 5 kilometers of trails, throughreforested areas, a palmito plantation and some primary forest, to alagoon with caimans.Now that the younger Oviedo has succeeded in building a handsome,comfortable budget lodge, he’s moving on to the next allimportantphase: marketing it. Together with the 12 remaining studentsin the leadership program, he is part of a new Association ofEntrepeneurs for Responsible Development (ASEDER).“We feel that there are big opportunities here in the Osa and wewant to be the people who make the changes here,” Oviedo said.“We want to market the whole Osa Peninsula, not just CorcovadoNational Park, and we want to educate kids in local schools aboutthe environment and work to stop hunters from poaching wildlife.”Like his father before him, Merlyn Oviedo is taking the initiativein contributing to and improving his community, to help makeit a place where his children can grow up – and stay.GETTING THERE: Danta Corcovado Lodge is 3 km southwestof La Palma, and 8 kms northeast of the Los Patos gateway toCorcovado National Park. Lodging is $12 per person, includingtaxes; camping is $5 per person. Call 819-1860 or e-mail the lodgeat

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