Artist/adventurer David Kinker just returned from an almost two month sojourn as an artist in residence at the Rios lodge on Costa Rica’s Pacuare River. We asked him to describe his experience…
Costa Rica is a narrow Central American country touching both the Pacific and the Caribbean oceans. The Pacific side a bit dryer, with great surf and lots of tourism.
The Caribbean coast supports large Doles Banana plantations and tropical rainforest and the popular town of Puerto Viejo, a hub of the Caribbean vibe with a culture all its own. It’s different than the rest of the country, and undeveloped by corporate resorts or malls.
The mountains on the east side of the country receive southern wet west winds during the rainy season, supporting one of the most diverse ecologys in the world. Diversity and quantity, each side of the country with different migrators (birds and other animals and insects).
In the vicinity of Turrialba Volcano many rivers flow. Access to amazing sections of river were once provided by a mountain train making it a destination kayaking scene. An earthquake destroyed the train access and today most of the rivers have been dammed.
One of the few free flowing tropical jungle rivers left is the Pacuare river, which is protected by a local rafting company, having a huge beneficial influence on the people while also restoring jungle habitat. Founder of the Rios Lodge, Rafa Gallo, died recently passing the lodge on to his son Roberto who continues his legacy with the non-profit Rivers and Forests Alliance (RAFA—after his dad’s name).
Described by National Geographic as “a lodge in the heart of the rain forest along one of the four most beautiful rivers in the world”, the rustic Rios Lodge is carved out of the forest just before a narrow gorge walled by green and hanging vines and used as a layover for overnight trips down the wild and beautiful Pacuare River. Local kayaking friends, who knew Rafa, had the opportunity to invest in the cultural and environmental project continuing Rafa’s legacy and his son Roberto’s vow to continue the work.
With the financial help of over 20 investors, the project includes the lodge, which is being renovated to accommodate more people, with rooms and dining. Everything has to be rafted in rafted out—all the materials, dishes, food, freezers, garbage, and sewer barrels. Even long steel bars for a new hostel and yoga deck. 30-some workers from nearby towns often stay at the lodge for four days at a time. Some walk upstream 30 minutes, then get onto a motorcycle navigating up 4-wheel drive roads for another 1/2 hour to work and back each day. Gardeners, cabin girls, kitchen staff, and construction workers—Good hardy local people!
My job as the artist in residence was to add artwork for rooms, signage for direction, cocktails, and the dining “hall”. During my stay I made 19 paintings and over 50 signs. One thing I like about river expeditions is that you are completely immersed. Unplugged from my usual world I see the environment and all the adventure it offers with new eyes, outside of the bubble of corporate hotels and other American influences, with just the authentic people of the land. Beyond politics. It’s a place full of proud self-sufficient farmers, shepherds, barbers, cooks, and construction workers.
Living in the extremes of an environment that is foreign to me—humidity, green on green, everything in vertical alignment reaching for the sun, howling monkeys and toucans, snakes, large and often strange insects, and again—the people—was an immersive experience. Like a summer camp, I made so many great friends and heartfelt connections. When it was time to leave my heart was filled with the good will of humanity, and the grief of having to leave.
Returning to Central Oregon, I feel like I’m seeing our landscape with fresh eyes. The story the rocks tell, the habits of a particular lifestyle. I’m realizing the environment has everything to do with so much of how we live. I am filled with more compassion, more personal insight, more creative passion and will continue to look for more experiences like this. It’s the spice to life!