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(506) 223-1327            Published Friday, Jan. 5, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 4             E-mail us    
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Look who's
whale-watching

Actor-director Mel Gibson was in the Osa Peninsula last week with his young son.  They stayed at Marenco Beach and Rainforest Lodge and enjoyed the dolphin and whale research tour of Vida Marina Foundation where he was able to see humpback whales.

Photo by Sierra Goodman



GPS and tourist map finally come to Costa Rica
By Noel Dekking
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Computer and satellite global positioning system technology is now available to help guide automobile travelers through the winding roads of Costa Rica.

Smart Ways, a division of Rutas Satelitales G.P.S. S.A. developed a satellite-guided GPS map that is currently geared towards tourist travelers.  The map has contact points at many of the popular sights, beaches, resorts, hotels, restaurants, shopping centers, and other popular tourist locations, said company representative Rudolpho Vargas-Fournier.

The company's in-car GPS systems provide both voice-prompted directions as well as a  three-dimensional navigation map, depending on traveler preference.  If visitors know their destinations ahead of time, the company will pre-program the system for the customized travel routes, said a company report.  Additional reference points include hospitals, police stations, banks, ATMs, service stations and various landmarks such as schools, museums, churches. 

Such devices are now widely used in North America.

Smart Ways began supplying clients with the
systems Dec. 26, and Vargas-Fournier said that the system has worked reliably.  The company is undergoing a pilot program phase with 125 units available for rent for about $15 a day. 

Vargas-Fournier said that the firm's intention is to have online reservations and fixed pricing available as soon as possible.

The systems are currently available at the company office, which is located near the Juan Santamaría airport in the Hampton car-rental complex, directly
across from the Hotel Hampton Inn & Suites. They are also available at both Economy and Solid car rentals, located in the same area.

Being the first Costa Rican version of the virtual map, the company's Web site indicates that not all locations or routes are currently available.  Smart Ways representative Abbey Vargas-Fournier said that new locations, roads, and details will  be updated regularly.  

Smart Ways' map has been officially licensed by Garmin International Inc. and the firm is using the 2006 Garmin StreetPilot c310 2006 GPS system, which is available in 15 languages, according to the company Web site.  Garmin International Inc. is a member of the Garmin Ltd., a group of companies that designs, manufactures, and markets navigation and communications equipment.



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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 5, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 4  

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The Christmas season
has not ended here yet

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In Costa Rica those who love Christmas can leave their nativity scene up until Feb. 2, according to Christian tradition.

But first, there is the 12th day of Christmas, which is Saturday this year. The day also is the Feast of Epiphany in the Christian calendar. And in the Spanish-speaking world the day is the Día de los Tres Reyes Magos, known in English as the three wise men.

In some countries such as México and Spain, children are expecting gifts on this day. Costa Rica does not observe this custom, but Jan. 6 is observed as the day when the three wise men visited the Baby Jesus in his crib in Bethlehem.

So Catholic Costa Ricans in tune with the tradition will be placing figures of the tres reyes magos in their portal scene. Nearly every home and office has a portal known in English as the nativity scene or manger scene.

Some Costa Ricans who are not addicted to Christmas will be holding prayer services in their homes this weekend as a prelude to taking down the portal and packing it away until next year.

These sessions of rezarle al Niño or praying to the Christ child are social events complete with cake and other goodies. The Rosary may be said. That is why there may be a crowd of cars around a neighbor's home.

Technically, once the wise men are installed in the portal, the scene may remain displayed up until Feb. 2, the Dia de la Candelaria, the day known as Candlemas in English and the feast day of the purification under Jewish law of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of Jesus in the temple.

Traffic cops also injured
in incident where one died


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 26-year-old man with the last name Romero has been accused of killing one person and causing serious injuries of two traffic policemen in a Dec. 31 incident, reported the Poder Judicial. The accident took place on the Autopista General Cañas near the turnoff to the Colegio Castella.
 
The victim, José Luis Pérez Hernández, died Tuesday, two days after the accident.  The Tránsito officers, with the last names Chavarría Soto and Sánchez, reportedly suffered considerable injuries, said a police report.  

Romero is currently at the Hospital San Vicente de Paúl in Heredia.  The Juzgado Penal de Heredia ordered a three-month preventative detention while officials investigate the incident, said a judicial report.

Our reader's opinion

Did she turn paranoid
or is the threat real?


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Today, a husband and wife were here in Costa Rica on vacation from the country of Germany.  Except for their two backpacks, their baggage never got here, but they rented a car and continued on their vacation. 

They got a flat tire and so they stopped at the first safe spot to change the tire.  It was a small piece of land at the entrance of a cemetery on the way to the popular tourist area of La Fortuna/Volcan Arenal, (where, by-the-way, I hear there has been a major increase in camera and laptop robberies). 

Two local teenagers happened to be walking by and offered to help them change the tire.  Next thing they know, the two locals were gone, along with their two backpacks, (which they were sure were in the car before the two teenagers showed up), and in which was everything they had: $1,000.00 in cash, $300 in Travelers Checks, a Sony camera, credit cards, drivers licenses, etc. 

They knew no Spanish, and only knew enough English to say it was a young boy and girl wearing a white T-shirt and a green T-shirt, who offered to help them change the tire, but somehow walked away before they knew their backpacks were gone. 

The police showed up within about 10 minutes of being called, walked and drove around the area, and took a report.  The phone number the tourists needed to call the bank to cancel the cards, etc., was inside the backpacks.  Nobody could communicate with them about much of anything.  All I can imagine they could do was to drive back to the airport or maybe their embassy. 

I was myself, robbed by a known criminal a few months ago in front of hundreds of people in the central market of downtown Ciudad Quesada.  I got my same overwhelming feelings back of that experience, and I was so overwhelmed with frustration for these people,  I could only lay down and cry for an hour, until I finally decided to try to help myself by passing this information on to the world, whoever might read this. 

If you are robbed in Costa Rica, know that there is probably zero chance you will ever see what was stolen again.  There is no "victim's fund," the language is Spanish, likely NO local person witnessing the robbery at that moment. If there is a witness, the laws are weighted in favor of the criminal and/or the criminal simply goes to jail, (if even that, and even then it will take a couple of years wait due to a large court backlog), then the criminal gets back out, and then robs again. 

Tourists need a back-up plan for any given moment of any possible contingency while on vacation.  Perhaps take their first day of vacation to go straight to a local bank and open an account and safe deposit box in which they would put a copy of all necessary documents in case of a major problem. 

Figure out a way to have at least emergency money always somewhere on your person.  Unfortunately, this would make their vacation more inconvenient, but at least they may have their vacation with some amount of more security.  Or maybe I'm now paranoid. I don't know, am I?    
Donna Norton
Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 5, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 4      






On the way to the surf here, they will help build houses
By Noel Dekking
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff


Four new graduates of the University of Colorado leave today to embark on a journey through Mexico and Central America on their way to Costa Rica, and they have made plans to volunteer during much of their trip at affiliates of Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat for Humanity Web builds affordable housing and promotes homeownership as a means of alleviating poverty.  The most identifiable volunteers are former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and his wife.

The graduates are Alan Goodrich, David Behm, John Bostrom, and Miles Winder. They met while studying at the university in Boulder, Colorado, and have budgeted $6,000 of their own money in order to travel to approximately 10 different locations and help out with housing projects on their way south.

The group of four have packed their surfboards, Spanish dictionaries, and a spare tire into their 1992 Subaru Legacy that already has gone 200,000 miles.  Goodrich, a 23-year-old political science graduate from Alta, Wyoming, said that the four needed a car within their very limited budget that could accommodate all of their surfing gear because they plan to catch some waves during their free time.

Goodrich came up with the idea during an internship with Habitat for Humanity, and the others were easily convinced, he said. 

Not only are the surfers volunteering their time throughout the next two months, but they are also trying to raise $75,000 to sponsor a new home for the Flatirons

University of Colorado News Service photo
CU-Boulder graduates David Behm, Miles Winder, Alan Goodrich and John Bostrom start today to travel through Mexico and Central America to help build homes for Habitat for Humanity and also plan to surf.

Habitat for Humanity in Boulder.  While they have raised a few thousand dollars so far, Goodrich said that as people track their travels to various volunteer locations throughout Central America, they are hoping that people take the time to donate to Habitat for Humanity via their Web site.

Their current plan is to arrive in Costa Rica around March 7 and work for two weeks at Habitat for Humanity or an affiliated organization.  Goodrich has had some trouble making a connection with the organization here and hopes to have plans made by the time they arrive, he said.

Updates of their journey as well as information about donating to the housing project can be found on a Web site at www.behmca.com/HabitatTrip/


A firm resolution against making New year's resolutions
The only New Year’s resolution I make anymore is that I will stay home on New Year’s Eve — or at the most, spend it with a couple of friends.  I started doing that when years ago in San Francisco I stayed home because I was avoiding an old boyfriend who might show up at the same party.  During the evening friends kept calling to ask how I was doing (fine) and declaring that they weren’t having such a great time. 

The next day I had no regrets and I felt fine.  This year I was rewarded at midnight with the view from my living room windows that face the mountains to the north. Instead of a display of fireworks, there were pops and it looked as if hundreds of giant fireflies were appearing and disappearing over the towns on the sides of the mountains.  I half expected Tinkerbell to appear.

And the next day I felt so fine that I was able to use my brain to solve a long-standing problem: how to peel mangos more easily.  I love mangos, but they are slippery and messy to peel.  Holding them with a paper towel helps, but with my still weak left wrist, even that is difficult.  Monday I discovered that putting a mango in a cup or (in my case, a left-over plastic glass) with a mouth small enough so that most of the mango is above it and using a peeler with a large head makes it is pretty easy. I love discovering better ways to do things or uses for things that I hang on to for no reason that my friends can figure out.

With the New Year we used to be able to predict the weather for the rest of the year by the first 12 days of the January. Thus, since the first day of Jan. 1 was sunny and warm, January could be expected to continue sunny and
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

warm. If it rained on the fifth day, we could expect a
rainy May. But Mavis tells me that this no longer holds.  When it comes to weather, we are learning that nothing holds true any longer.  It is just as well, because so far the weather has not been the kind that we boast about to friends elsewhere.  The low 60s is cold here.

What does hold true is that the quiet and tranquility in the streets of the city are shattered soon after the New Year.  Vacations are over.  People are returning from the beach and soon it will be business as usual. 

My friend Sandy, who, herself, has just returned from the beach, thinks we should have a people management plan whereby one-fourth of the josefinos are on vacation throughout the course of the year.  Being on vacation most of the time myself – except when I am writing this column or making my chocolate sauce – I feel above criticism in that I have no car to contribute to either the pollution or traffic.

However, I learned long ago that after pride comes the pratfall, so instead I am concentrating on using less water and electricity — like turning off the faucet when I brush my teeth and using the current-saving new light bulbs — even though those are NOT New Year’s resolutions.





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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 5, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 4






Two policemen from Colombia extradited to U.S. over drugs
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Two Colombian police officers have been extradited to the United States on charges of helping to smuggle more than $50 million worth of cocaine on cargo flights.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Thursday announced the extradition of Leonidas Molina Triana, a former major in Colombia's national police, and Humberto Avila, an active patrolman at Bogota's El Dorado airport.

The indictment alleges that Molina Triana was one of a number of corrupt officials who helped Colombia's Norte
del Valle drug cartel recruit workers at Avianca Airlines and police at El Dorado airport to ship cocaine on commercial aircraft.

Authorities say the two men conspired to facilitate cocaine shipments through the airport to Mexico en route to the United States. If convicted, they could face a maximum sentence of life in prison and a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison.

The United States, however, has assured Colombia it will not seek life sentences for defendants extradited from the South American country.


State Department spokesman seems to waffle on Negroponte
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

The U.S. State Department seemed to be backing away from John Negroponte Thursday.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack ducked reporters questions during a Thursday afternoon briefing in Washington and said any nominations would have to be announced by the White House.

Wednesday the appointment of Negroponte to the No. 2 position in the State Department appeared to be a done deal. He was reported to have left his job as national intelligence director.

But McCormack, when pressed, said:

"As I said before, I'm not in a position at this point to confirm any particular names for you. You mentioned John Negroponte has come up. Certainly he is a person who is a diplomat's diplomat. He is somebody of excellent, excellent judgment, long experience both in Washington and abroad, very well respected among members of the international community, he knows the international community, is somebody who really knows how to get things done. So certainly he is quite an accomplished person and currently doing an excellent job working for the President as director of national intelligence."
The White House has no information on any appointment.

 The 67-year-old Negroponte interrupted a long diplomatic career in April of last year to take the top U.S. intelligence post, a job created by Congress to address a lack of coordination among the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Department and other agencies with intelligence functions.

Negroponte, when he was ambassador to Honduras, also was a key player in the Contra war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and at least a willing bystander to the Iran Contra affair.

U.S. officials secretly traded war materiels and aircraft parts to Iran in exchange for funds that could be used to support the Contras without the knowledge of the U.S. Congress.

He also served as U.S. ambassador to Iraq in 2004 and 2005.

Any major appointment must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, now controlled by Democrats. Some delay in the appointment could be caused by concern that Democrats might dig up bad news on Negroponte during any hearing.

There also are questions as to why Negroponte would leave the intelligence post after so short a stay.


Venezuela's Chávez shuffles his team as date for his inauguration nears
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has replaced his vice president and justice minister just days before he is inaugurated for a second term.

Chávez said in a television interview late Wednesday that the decision to replace Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel was not easy because he regards Rangel as a "star pitcher," as in a baseball game, and respects him like a father. In talking about the replacement of Justice Minister Jesse
Chacón, Chávez alluded to a recent rise in crime and prison violence in Venezuela.

Psychiatrist and politician Jorge Rodríguez will become Venezuela's new vice president, and parliamentary deputy Pedro Carreno will be the new justice minister. Chávez will be inaugurated for a second six-year term Wednesday.

Chávez has said he hopes to merge all the political parties supporting him into one party. He also wants to re-write the constitution.



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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 5, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 4


Julia Cohen continues her winning ways at Copa de Cafe
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. tennis star Julia Cohen will be in the semi-finals of the Copa de Cafe tournament at the Costa Rica Country Club today. She defeated Valeriya Solovieva of Russia, 7-5, 6-3 Thursday to earn her berth. Miss Cohen is ranked sixth in the world.

Anastasia Pivovarona, the No. 2 seed from Russia, also defeated her opponent,  Chen Astrugo of Israel, 6-0, 1-6, and 6-3.
Miss Cohen will face Elena Chernyakova of Russia in the semi-finals at 11 a.m. while Miss Pivovarona will face Julia Glushko of Israel.

In the men's division Fernando Romboli of Brazil also advanced to the semi-finals where he will meet Antonio Comporto of Italy. But there was no word on the other male semi-finalists because results of Thursday evening's play were not yet available.

The tournament will conclude Saturday.


Jungleman marathon in Puerto Viejo will be Jan. 13
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Jungleman marathon and half marathon will step off Jan. 13 and take runners from Puerto Viejo to the Parque Nacional Cahuita.

The race is tougher than some because the first 13 kilometers of the 21-kilometer route is along sandy beaches of the Caribbean. Runners also have to cross over Home Creek. Marathon runners will cover the same ground twice.
Organizers say that as of Thursday some 150 persons, many of them from foreign countries, have confirmed.
The race also is run under strict environmental conditions, and runners cannot carry any throw-away items into the protected zones.

Participation fees range from $20 just to run the race to a $299 package that includes hotel stays and transportation from San José to the race location. More information is available on the organizers Web Page.



Sporting Event Needs Assistance
FlagMag.com Flag Football magazine will be hosting an International Flag Football Tournament, Jan. 26-29th in Santa Ana. Men and women teams from Canada, U.S.A., Mexico, Venezuela, Honduras and Panamá will take part. We are seeking host families and volunteers for the event. Anyone interested, please contact
Jim Zimolka at 506-336-3437 or e-mail at JimZimolka@Flagmag.com



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