Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Lulled by the sound of calypso and reggae drifting through the heat of eternal summer, Cahuita lies in tranquility between Limon, the most important port of the South Caribbean; and Puerto Viejo, a haven for nonconformist renegades, surfers, tourists and backpackers. It is is escorted by an uninhibited, paradisaical black sand beach to the northwest and the monumental jungle of the Cahuita National Park to the southeast. This minuscule town is, metaphorically and geographically, wedged between two worlds.

Originally, the animals that are currently found in the National Park roamed freely, exempt from hunters. Visitors are easily delighted by the sloths, caymans, monkeys, snakes and several species of colorful birds that approach the jungle path conquered by ants and mosquitoes.

However, the green and hawksbill turtles that once chose the secluded shore to lay their eggs have long been absent from this breathtaking ecosystem.
In the 1750s, when only the most fearsome pirates dared navigate through the sheltering reef outlining the coast, the Miskito Indians of Nicaragua traveled south following the migration patterns of sea turtles in search of food. By 1828 they had permanently settled in the prominent tip, naming it “kawe” “ta”, or “point where the Sangrillo trees grow.” The sangrillo trees were of special significance to the new dwellers, for they used the red sap emanating from the trunks to dye their fishing nets, thus avoiding the reflection of the sun on the nets through the pristine waters.

In the 19th century, the slave ships traveling near the coast often collided with the treacherous reef. The natives, attentive and considerate, rescued the auspicious survivors who had just evaded a life of forced labor in the cocoa plantations. This altruistic practice gave birth to the current community of Afro-Caribbeans that give Cahuita its soul and essence. Today, the exotic cuisine, the long dreaded surfers, and the centenary, colorful wooden houses built on pillars serve as reminders of the town’s heritage. 
However, the traditional carefree demeanor of the Afro-Caribbean population has transformed into a lazy and detached attitude which has paved the roads of the picturesque town for foreigners trying to escape from their stressed and burdened lives. 

Increasingly, local businesses and jobs are seized by Europeans and North Americans, who arrive with more capital and proficiency. While the locals complain about the lack of job opportunities, the new residents blame them for their lack of interest and organization.
Nonetheless, there is one local whose interest in the progress of the community is unquestionable and whose struggle and determination are exemplary despite his years. His name is Winston Brooks. In an ironic parallel to his restaurant, whose superb quality is not demonstrated by its usually void tables, Winston is a man who projects intelligence and vigor beyond his humble and rusty appearance. "A duck wishing to be a chicken," he prefers the life of a farmer despite his private education and versed dialect. Thus, he hermits away in his farm, choosing the other Cahuita. The one that smells of sugarcane, labor and tar.

Although there is much to reveal about Winston and Cahuita's internal issues, we must first explain how we arrived at his doorstep.

On the morning of November 29th, we found ourselves wistfully but eagerly descending the mountain in pursue of our next adventure; leaving behind not just a remarkable family, but friends that would live in our hearts forever. Before exiting the Indigenous Territory, we picked up Irene, the campestral and buoyant Spanish teacher at the local high school. We had helped Irene with personal and professional matters during our time there, and in return, she put us in contact with Winston, who gladly invited us to stay at his Posada. As the usual route was obstructed by the flooded river, we were 

forced to deviate and hike for three hours through an infamous location known for armed robberies which ended with a hanging bridge much more frightening than any delinquent.
For this reason, we accompanied Irene on the way out, as Leo guided us through the dodgy, yet scenic trail.

After a hasty goodbye with Irene, one of many in our incipient journey, we arrived safely in Limon, following a quiet bus ride with Leo, as the three of us certainly contemplated our imminent farewell. Although we had lunch with Leo in Limon, the lingering feeling of separation made the meal a delay of events rather than an enjoyable final feast. Happily, before we realized, we were stepping off a bus in an intriguing new destination with an incurable air of summer bliss; Cahuita.

In Cahuita, we were met by Sonia, a spiritual nomad with a distinct Spanish guise. As she would likely say, life had taken her there, where she lived in Winston’s ancestral home with her boyfriend and Winston’s ex-wife, Lucy.

The home, worthy of a museum, is a 150 year old wooden structure which appears to stand on wishful thinking and temperament, rather than firm foundations. Adjacent to it is the Posada; erected but unpainted, and the restaurant; full with potential rather than clients.
During our time there, we walked through the streets, spent hours in the idyllic white beach of the national park and befriended a few charming locals, who were pleased to converse with visitors concerned with local events. Apart from being devoured by mosquitoes and marveling at the devastating force of the laboring ants, we spotted a baby sloth, iguanas, a basilisk, troops of howler monkeys and white-faced capuchins, caymans and a friendly talking parrot.
Whenever Winston was able, we would sit down with him and enjoy a captivating conversation about local politics, imperialism, or any relevant topic about which he could offer an opinionated view. During the day, he would work in his organic plantation, where he took us once so we could learn about the difference between bananas and plantains and how to plant them.

Our experience in Cahuita was brief yet unforgettable. There, we met all kinds of interesting characters with incredible backgrounds and stories. Its rich diversity – despite its minute size – is both an obstacle towards communal understanding and progress and an attraction for tourists of any kind. Its cultural and natural wealth is an ocean of fascinating creatures and tales, where one can spend days upon days wading through stories and adventures before realizing that time has swiftly gone by.


  1. Winston sounds like an amazing character!! Love the blog and hearing about your adventures :))) big hugs to you both! Kathy xxx

  2. He is an amazing character!! Thanks Kathy, we miss you a lot!