Costa RicaCosta Rica

Goodbye, Golfo Dulce

Destination: Golfito

This was it. The last 24 hours of my 17-day trip through the Osa Peninsula and Golfo Dulce. Last month, during the planning phase, I was positive that by the sixteenth day I would be exhausted and ready to return home.

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Now that the trip was drawing to a close, I found the exact opposite to be true. This little corner of the world, and all of the amazing people that I had met in it, energized me -- and the idea of heading back to Liberia made me want to cry.

Vincent and I took the public bus from Pavones to Golfito, switching vehicles at a river crossing a little more than half way there. A mechanized dolly towed all passengers, and a maximum of one car, a few hundred feet across the river for about 20 cents per person. The entire road was nothing but a long succession of potholes, and I have no idea how vehicles are able to navigate them during the wet season.

This leg was undoubtedly the bumpiest two hours of my life. I wanted to suggest that the driver post a disclaimer advising women passengers to wear a sports bra -- but it wasn't really my place to say anything, so I kept the tip to myself.

Around 3:00 p.m., we finally arrived at Hotel Sierra in the center of Golfito. While the town may be a bit rugged, it had a great vibe. Buildings are colorful, much like those in Puerto Jimenez, and all the fishing boats in the harbor are a beautiful sight.

Strangely, there isn't much to do but shop here. For the entire second half of the 20th century, this part of the Golfo Dulce thrived as the United Fruit Company headquarters. When the company suddenly pulled out in 1985, nearly everyone became unemployed overnight. The entire area was left in a state of economic turmoil.

As a way to improve this state of affairs, the Costa Rican government instituted a tax-free mall selling electronics, consumable goods, furniture, and more, at a fraction of the normal cost. The only catch is that there are a few unique rules to be followed.

Anyone who wishes to shop at the mall needs a permission slip, which becomes valid the following day. This forces shoppers to spend money sleeping and eating at Golfito's hotels and restaurants for at least one night, which promotes local businesses. This slip can be obtained by anyone with a passport or Costa Rican I.D. card, and expires either June 30 or December 31. Slips themselves are free, and represent a credit for up to $500 which can be spent at the discount shopping center -- but that money must be used in one day or the remaining balance is lost.

For example, if I bought an iPod for $150 on Monday, I could not return on Tuesday to buy something else (even though I only used $150 of the $500 credit). The potential to spend the remaining $350 is lost. Even though my flight would be leaving before the mall opened tomorrow, I got a slip anyway -- mostly to give myself a viable excuse to return to the Golfo Dulce in the near future.

Vincent and I turned back to the hotel and ordered a pizza. Before bed, I reflected on the adventure and excitement of these last three weeks. Despite a few bumps, bites and unsuspected surprises, the trip could not have been better.

Goodbye, Golfo Dulce in Pictures

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