Osa, Costa Rica: A Gardener’s Paradise

The very first day of my three weeks in Costa Rica was spent at Osa Mountain Village, high above the Osa Peninsula. Untouched jungle for miles and miles, sweeping views of the Pacific, monkeys and rare exotic birds – this was truly the most spectacular place I could ever hope to see.

Osa Mountain Village is a collection of villas, with residents who share the grounds and the bounty from the onsite organic garden. They share an open-air clubhouse and a pool, and from the village you’ll find a zip line as well as hikes to several hidden, remote waterfalls. Fruit trees are abundant, of course – citrus, mango, papaya, banana – but what comes out of the village garden is a real dream for anyone who loves good food.

Residents enjoy a basket of produce twice weekly. My hosts had a sack of sour citrus on the counter at all times, which they blended into drinks, and into a breakfast smoothie every morning with sweet fruits and fresh greens. The fruits we pay a lot of money for in the States are the fruits they find growing outside their back doors.

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Bananas are cut from the trees and hung in the banana box – to keep the monkeys out. Amusing, but true.

They also had kale and funny-looking starchy potatoes, hot peppers and cabbage. There was spinach, lettuce, bok choy, cauliflower, carrots, green onions, dill, turmeric, ginger, eggs, mint, basil, parsley, cashew fruit and coconuts, and more. This was some of the most stunning produce I’ve ever seen. We even made a delicious red hibiscus tea with citrus, passionfruit and lots of sugar, with hibiscus we harvested ourselves from a neighbor’s sunny hillside.

It’s easy to see why lovers of good food have flocked to Osa Mountain. The techniques of permaculture are achieved rather naturally, with so much of the food system already in place. You find yourself taking for granted the abundance nature provides and can’t imagine going back to eating food from only the grocery store ever again.

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Enthusiastic travelers may find like minds and opportunity to learn at the Osa Volunteer Center. I found the scene to be straight out of an episode of Lost, as if I were going to run into a member of the Dharma Initative at any moment – tropical jungle, lush overgrowth, humble huts and covered tent structures dominate the hillside. If you visit in the off-season, the desolate nature and jungle mist can make you feel as though you stepped several decades back in time.

Visitors can learn the basics of permaculture, organic fertilizers, cooking with whole foods and so much more. If you’re lucky you can go home with a pretty amazing recipe for fire cider, too.

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There’s got to be no better place on Earth to live outdoors, in the open air, protected only from the rain, nothing but jungle in all directions. These simple dwellings, some with thatch roofs, let you experience the rainforest in all its glory. The only way in or out of the volunteer center from the village is to hike, especially when the road is washed out, so you become very aware of what you consume and the trash you create.

The temperate climate is sometime mild, sometime brutal – but the beaches and waterfalls provide plenty of chances to cool off after a hard day’s work in the garden.

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I watch my friend Andy begin build his own little Valle Pina, or Pineapple Valley, after a landslide came to a stop across the road from their villa. They are fortunate to have escaped the deluge, but what remained of the hillside was suddenly a blank slate. He began taking his fruit seeds and tiny plant starts and weaving subtle trails through the debris, in a way that you’d never know a human hand had done it.

I’m sure the next resident of this villa will someday be thanking the food farmer who had a hand in creating this abundant little forest across the road.

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The gardener’s itch never goes away. It stays with you, no matter how far from home you travel. You’re never done learning, and with every new experience you take a little something home with you. And that’s what makes the reward of growing your own good food that much sweeter.

I can’t bring the tropical rainforest back home to Oregon with me, but I can take what I’ve learned and grow from here.

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