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The sheltered bay is beautiful, with a lush green island and peninsula across the bay, and the protected mountains behind town are a lovely expanse of uninterrupted green. There are impressive yachts moored in the little marinas, and sportfishing opportunities abound. You can go ziplining, you can kayak across the bay, you can drive up the one-lane road to the top of the mountain for a stunning view of the Golfo Dulce. But Golfito is best known as a jumping-off point to somewhere else, notably the surfing beaches of Zancudo and Pavones.
I took a leisurely walk through Golfito, admiring the yellow, blue and green pastels that hark back to the United Fruit Company days. The town did not look dirty, at least no dirtier than any other town in Costa Rica, and seemed to have a certain civic pride, with builders building and painters painting. No hookers made eyes at me. Unbeknownst to them, it was right across the Golfo Dulce in the Osa Peninsula, where gold was found in abundance centuries later. But a banana blight decimated the Caribbean banana industry, and the United Fruit Company later known as United Brands and finally as Chiquita , moved its headquarters to Golfito in the mids.
Playa Cacao was one of the only communities, but the jungle dropped all the way into the water here in Golfito. Robert Beatham, 77, of Maine is something of a local legend who came here in , when he was 21, and worked for the United Fruit Company until it closed in He pointed out the old locomotive parked behind us, a relic of a former area, and he said it was fenced off because local people were living in it. The powerful United Fruit Company made a sweetheart deal with the Costa Rican government that gave it near-total control of this coast for a period of 50 years, from to , to build a port, a railroad and anything else it wanted, with very low taxes.
It was a company town. The company made it. The banana company built homes, schools, stores, roads, bridges, a hospital, basically everything.
The company brought in water, electricity, telephones. Once in a while a little boat, but not like today. Everything was centered on the bananas. The banana companies took to dumping bananas to keep prices stable. An activist Communist Party riled up the workers to strike for higher wages. The strike lasted months, and now nobody was making any money. Suddenly it became more costly to export bananas than to grow them.