Fifteen years ago, a group of 32 Bribrí women from Watsi, Talamanca, formed one of the first indigenous tourist and agriculture associations in Costa Rica. Since then, Amuprowa has been welcoming tourists, students and volunteer groups from all over the world to this rural corner of southeastern Costa Rica. On Oct. 26, the group opened Kabata U Indigenous Eco-lodge to enable tourists and small vocational or volunteer groups to share in the life of a typical indigenous community.
At 6 a.m. on inauguration day, men from the village were scurrying at an unusually fast pace from one corner of the new lodge to the other, putting the last pieces of tree-bark floor in place. Three Amuprowa women sat in the lodge’s jungle garden, weaving the last palm leaves to the bamboo branches they had harvested the day before. Marvin, a relentless carpenter from the Cabécar indigenous territory, mounted the roof of the newly built kitchen with a troop of young men carrying nothing more than crawler root and machetes. Chattering in Bribrí about la fuerza de la indígena (indigenous strength), they teased the Amuprowa women, whose job was to pass the 25-kilogram palm-leaf roofing elements through the roof structure 5 meters above the jungle floor. “Diego” and “Patri,” our German-speaking volunteers, bravely fought twinges of vertigo as they helped secure the last pieces of kitchen roof, while Marvin demonstrated his previously undiscovered mountain goat abilities.
Our Austrian micro-business team had been working with the Amuprowa women for three weeks. Individual interviews, intensive group sessions, motivational exercises and role-plays had all worked extremely well, with more and more women from the village wanting to join the project every day.
The first guests began to arrive at 10 a.m. Tourism agencies from the Caribbean coast negotiated prices with doña Felipa and doña Marina, the president and secretary of Amuprowa. Some had already visited the lodge with tourist groups wanting to experience different aspects of traditional Bribrí life. They enjoyed the sorbón (an ancient dance form still practiced by the community), traditional cooking classes, medicinal plant tours and visits to Amuprowa members’ organic farms. Hotel owners came to collect ideas and include Amuprowa activities in their daily tours.
And then the first tourists arrived: North Americans, some Europeans and even a few Costa Ricans. They all admired the jungle garden. Some tried the beds for comfort. A few learned how to weave the rest of the palm leaves into the bamboo branches left from the morning. Some made reservations for the coming months, and a couple decided to book a double room package for the night, including a jungle tour, Bribrí history talk, cooking classes and a guided walk through the medicinal plant garden.
Built entirely out of local materials and in traditional Bribrí style, the Kabata U eco-lodge in the heart of the Talamancan Bribrí Indigenous Reserve offers three rooms with space for up to six visitors. Guests can spend anything from half a day to a full week participating in a variety of activities. A spacious patio with hammocks and a meditation corner in the jungle garden make connecting with Mother Nature easy, and the odd modern convenience such as running water, toilet and shower ensure a comfortable stay. The newly opened lodge is already helping the women of Amuprowa and 32 indigenous families live more comfortably and sustainably.
Kabata U is approximately 30 minutes from the southern Caribbean beach towns of Puerto Viejo and Cahuita. Follow the road to Bribrí, then take the dirt road at the end of town, bearing right through Volio to Watsi; park at the sign opposite the soccer field. Pickup at the Bribrí bus station is also possible. Rates are $33 per person, per night, including three full meals. Packages including activities, meals and accommodations are available, and discounts of up to 50 percent apply to groups of three or more people. For information and reservations, call Amuprowa at 8772-6990 or 8688-5063.
Richard Tinkler represents the Uatsi Foundation, based in Austria, England and Talamanca. Future community projects in Talamanca include a rainwater collection and filtration system for a remote community in Meleruk, sanitary facilities for a small mountain school close to San Miguel and another visit to Watsi. For more information on the foundation’s sustainable development projects with indigenous communities in Central America, visit www.support-uatsi.com.