A True Costa Rican Fable: 

Much has been written about 2020 … the good and the bad memories of a year like no other. From a Costa Rican perspective, no story better depicts the struggles of the people living and working here than the one I’m sharing now. The tale of José Eduardo and the magic goose is best told as a fable. 


Once upon a time, in 2008, José Eduardo started a business. Anyone visiting or living in the Jacó area has most likely seen the signs or booked a trip with Jose’s Crocodile Tours. José Eduardo would take boat passengers down the Rio Tarcoles river, through the wetlands and mangroves, to view nature — notably the famous crocodiles flourishing in the estuary. 


All was well with José Eduardo as tourism in the area grew and his business thrived. The start of 2020 was normal in that sense. It was the peak of high season for tourists, when camera-wielding passengers packed his boats full several times a day for river trips, enthralled by the crocodiles, birds and other wildlife seen along the way. 


Then in March, COVID-19 hit. Tourism fell by 95% almost overnight when Costa Rica’s health ministry shuttered most travel and excursion businesses, especially those catering to groups. José Eduardo and many entrepreneurs like him were quickly shut down.


The outlook became more optimistic in May, when the country started taking tiny steps to reopen. Although Costa Rica’s international borders would stay closed for several more months, there was hope that tourism locally and nationally would at least allow some revenue to start flowing again. Areas such as Jacó, being popular weekend destinations for Central Valley inhabitants, were ripe to start welcoming visitors again. Such was the hope of José Eduardo.


Then, as in all fairy tales, evil emerged. On the evening of June 18, the security guard overseeing José’s property and boats was held at gunpoint as assailants made off with two outboard boat motors. The 200 HP engines can move a large boat easily, and a smaller one quickly, so some believe they were stolen for use by narcotraffic operators, or merely sold for fast money. 


This was a devastating loss for José Eduardo. The motors cost over $15,000 apiece to replace, before import duty and taxes. Having survived since March without business revenue, and having issues with insurance reimbursement, he saw only darkness ahead. Things looked bad for him. 


Magic manifests


But Costa Rica is a magical place, and the following month magic started to happen. A GoFundMe campaign was launched to help José Eduardo, without any clear idea of who might contribute or what kind of amounts. Through mostly Facebook groups, friends tagging friends, and reaching out to former and frequent boat tour clients, almost $10,000 was raised by August. This would help José Eduardo purchase a motor to get at least one boat operating again. The magic of friendship and love went a long way towards overcoming the bad fortune that had befallen him. 


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By October, José Eduardo was able to outfit his boat again and ready to start booking tours. This coincided with Costa Rica’s opening of more borders to international visitors. 


Then, Mother Nature stepped in and delivered more magic of a remarkable kind — a goose! A magic goose! In reality, it was a strange and rare vagrant goose species never before seen in this country. When the Orinoco goose, native to South America — especially Colombia and Venezuela — showed up along the banks of the Tarcoles River, it was the very first sighting of this bird in the history of Costa Rica.


When news of the magic goose was broadcast within bird watching circles, it soon became a draw for birders from all over the country to witness and photograph the epic sight. And José Eduardo up and running again with daily boat tours, what better boost to jump-start his business.


As the December holidays neared, many of the people who know José Eduardo personally, along with frequent clients and fundraising supporters, got together for a special event. The magic Orinoco goose was a fitting centerpiece for the thank-you wine and cheese party and sunset river trip in Jose Eduardo’s honor. 


What a wonderful send-off to the year with a happily-ever-after ending to this tale and toast to a better 2021!  


Tourism has returned to the Tarcoles River, but the goose — like all fabled magic creatures — is now gone, having worked its magic for José Eduardo. 


There could be a sequel to this story, however, with a more recent Orinoco goose sighting in Tortuguero. Whether this is José Eduardo’s goose finding its way back to northern Colombia or Venezuela, or a different bird, remains a mystery.

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