Honestly, we didn’t plan it this way. Our course, Introduction to Field Ecology, was scheduled to stay at the Sirena field station deep inside Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica. To get to that station, we would have had to have walked 6-8 hours through the rain forest (from Los Patos to Sirena). We then would have camped for 4 nights on a platform in the forest. It’s a fairly primitive site: supplies are all brought in by boat or small plane, there are only a few hours of generator-produced power each day, and even mosquito nets don’t provide enough protection from the biting insects. In short, it’s an intense off-the-grid experience deep in a pristine rainforest (see our post about our 2012 adventure here).
Unfortunately, our plans to stay at Sirena fell through at the last minute. However, we were lucky enough to find space at Luna Lodge, a 4.5-star ecotourism lodge on the border of Corcovado National Park near an outpost called Carate. To get to Luna, we traveled by bus across the Osa to a little town called Porto Jimenez, and then took Land Rovers on a very rough road through haciendas, farms, and secondary forest. Before reaching Luna, we saw several gold miners panning in the stream. It really did feel like we were past the edge of civilization.
And then we arrived. The owner, Lana Wedmore, and some of her staff greeted us with glasses of ice cold water, then escorted us to our bungalows – bamboo and wood structure with balconies overlooking the forest. We sat on the porch watching scarlet macaws and chestnut-billed toucans, we ate three beautiful meals each day, and we relaxed in the pool. We also did good science (post about that coming soon).
We also spent a lot of time trying to reconcile our ideas about sustainability and conservation with the mission of Luna Lodge. Luna is considered sustainable – it’s been given the highest rating (5 leaves) by Costa Rica’s Certification for Sustainable Tourism program. Some of Luna’s initiatives include wildlife protection on the property, complete reliance on hydropower generated on site, on-site production of organic foods for the restaurant, local purchasing, and complete reliance on local people for staffing (click here for more information).
But we wondered if the luxuries of Luna should actually be considered sustainable. We had just experienced two days of simplicity at a high-elevation trout farm in Cerro de la Muerte – that seemed a lot more sustainable than Luna. Luna’s existence depends on financial inputs from very wealthy people – people with lifestyles that create a massive ecological footprint (for information on ecological footprints, see here).
But maybe that analysis misses the point. Wealthy folks could spend their money in lots of ways, and many of them would be far more ecologically destructive than a stay at Luna Lodge. In addition, Luna and similar lodges actually provide an effective mechanism for transferring resources from developed countries to less-developed areas considered to be biological hotspots. After all, even though Corcovado National Park is fairly small (424 km2), it supports an amazing 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity (National Geographic labelled it as “the most biologically intense place on Earth”). The beauty and luxuries of Luna will satisfy a lot of paying customers. When this money is spent to improve the local environment and human communities, it actually does seem sustainable. And that realization makes the pan-fried mahi-mahi and passion fruit pudding taste all the more delicious.
All pictures by our expert photographer, Meg Thompson