San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Guaymí Look to Share Culture With Visitors

Although only 1 percent of Costa Rica s  population about 35,000 people are considered indigenous, most tribes have sought to invite tourists from Costa Rica and abroad to learn more about them while trying their best to preserve their culture.

For example, in the southern Caribbean region, the indigenous community of Yorkín, inhabited by the Bribrí people, is also making its mark on tourists maps. The village boasts tours of cacao plantations and chocolate production, as well as the opportunity to learn to speak some of the Bribrí language and even hunt with bow and arrows.

Likewise, the Rey Curré Reserve near the Southern Zone town of Palmar Sur, inhabited by members of the Brunca indigenous group, is well known throughout the country for its Devil s Dance Festival, during which many tourists visit the reserve to stay for a weekend or a week and take part in the festivities.

The masks sold by the Rey Curré people are in high demand, and access to the reserve is easy because of its proximity to a major highway.

Unlike most of these groups, the 100 or so Guaymí people living in the Alto Laguna Indigenous Reserve on the Osa Peninsula haven t had much of an opportunity to initiate tourism programs, despite their desire to do so, and despite the many attractions that their reserve, located on the northeast border of Corcovado National Park in the center of the peninsula (see map), could offer to visitors interested in indigenous culture and the natural environment.

The difficulty is that the reserve is all but cut off from the outside world during the rainy season, when the Río Rincón, which must be crossed to reach the reserve, reaches a width of over 100 meters, according to Mariano Martínez, a reserve leader.

We might get about one or two tourists per year, said Felicia Mendoza, who has lived on the reserve her entire life. They usually stay about two hours, walk around and watch our native dance.

Guaymí women wear brightly colored dresses, and their traditional dance has been passed down from generation to generation. She opens the door to a guest room, apparently unused in recent months, where there is a bunk bed made and ready for the next visitor.

I have the feeling most people don t really know we exist, said Mendoza. We d love to have people come and stay for a while, learn about our culture. We re just not sure how to make that happen.

Martínez said the reserve is trying to build up tourism, and have plans to participate in the RainforestAid 09 festival this coming June, where they can sell some of their crafts and perhaps perform their traditional dance in front of hundreds of spectators.

The Guaymí are hoping that by that time they perform at the festival, they will also have activated their Web site that a neighbor is helping them build.

The biggest obstacle for us is access to our reserve, said Martínez. For the majority of the year, (the river) is difficult to cross, and from September through November it s pretty much impossible.

During this time period they also have no access to outside food sources or medical help.

We re pretty much left to fend for ourselves, said Mendoza. If we didn t stock enough food, we d go hungry, and if someone becomes very ill then we either have to try and get them across the river or help as much we can here.

In the rainy season, from mid-April to December, the passage over the river is dangerous, with crossing achieved by holding on to one rope, while walking on another, parallel one. Over the years, the river has claimed several lives.

Cecilia Mendoza, Felicia Mendoza s sister, looks on the river with fear come every September, the height of the Osa s rainy season.

Two years ago my husband was very sick, and we had to try and carry him across, said Cecilia. He was so close to death, I thought I had lost him for sure, all because we have no safe crossing.

According to Martínez, in 1993 a Dutch visitor lived with the Guaymí people for six months, and afterward convinced his countrymen to help build a foot bridge over the Río Rincón in collaboration with the Public Works and Transport Ministry (MOPT).

In the end, a Dutch business financed the project, while MOPT supplied materials.

Juan Carlos González, a MOPT spokesperson, said that type of support is standard.

The municipalities must submit a proposal to MOPT for a new bridge construction. If the proposal is approved, then MOPT will help with the project.

In that case we can provide help with some of the materials needed, said González. But the project isn t financed by us; it s financed by the municipality. They need to provide the machinery and the labor. However, according to González, a bridge of that magnitude wouldn t be a small project.

Given the length of the span and considering the last bridge was washed away by the floods within a year, building a new and improved one would be a significant commitment, and since it was destroyed, no attempts have been made to construct another.

Ronald Picado, an engineer with the local OsaMunicipality, said that they submitted an application to build a bridge to the National Emergency Commission (CNE) over two and a half years ago. The municipality wants help in finding a financial sponsor to help build the new bridge. But since the proposal was submitted, they haven t received much feedback.

Nonetheless, Picado maintains hope. I have faith that something might actually come through, he said.


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