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These stories were published Friday, Jan. 14, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 10
Jo Stuart
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Key Arenal tourism route cut by massive slide
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A landslide that will block the main road north of Lake Arenal for four or five days took place Thursday.

Residents say this is the last straw on what they consider to be one of the nation’s neglected highways, even if it is a key tourism route.

The highway, Route 142, runs from La Fortuna near Arenal Volcano northwest to Tilarán. What road officials called a slide of a great magnitude took place between the Arenal dam near La Fortuna and La Unión. Even before the giant slide, the highway has been a disaster of crumbling hard surface and potholes every few feet. 

The north shore of the lake contains a number of hotels and the community of Nuevo Arenal, as well as La Unión.

Dave Warner and his wife own Toad Hall Gallery and Restaurant in La Unión. 

"I have a vested interest in this situation since my business is suffering from the reduced traffic," said Warner. ". . . regardless of that the road really is in shameful condition and can be very dangerous especially after dark and when it is raining."

For those in La Fortuna and along the north shore of the lake, the road represents a route to the Guanacaste beaches. When the road is open motorists can eventually reach the Interamerican highway traveling around the northwest tip of the lake.

Ileana Aguilar, who is in charge of highway cleanup for the Consejo National de Vialidad, said the slide was caused by the heavy rains. She recommended an alternate, Route 4, for those who wish to reach Tilarán.

Gallo pinto revisited: Some things never change
From the number of letters about gallo pinto that have come in, it is obvious that my experience struck a nostalgic chord with many gallo pinto lovers. 

Rigo informed me that this dish of rice and beans actually originated in Nicaragua, where it is just as popular as it is here. That is interesting because another favorite Tico dish — Tres Leches, a cake made with three kinds of milk — also originated in Nicaragua. James, whose family is from Cuba, sent me what looks like a great recipe for Cuban black beans. Even my son Justin wrote to tell me he loved gallo pinto when he was here and would like the recipe.

Paul, an egg lover, lamented the "lacy edged" eggs he always gets at the bed and breakfast where he stays when he is here. He’d like to introduce Tico cooks to American fried eggs. But my friend Sandy says that she didn’t know anything but fast-fried lacy edged eggs when she was growing up in Texas. 

She also said, "there is gallo pinto and gallo pinto. "Unlike most of the other people of Central America, Costa Ricans, as a rule, do not like hot (picante) food, so some gallo pinto is pretty bland. When it is prepared with enough onion, garlic and Tabasco sauce, then it can be delicious for those with heat-seeking taste buds. 

Pearl wondered if things have changed much in Costa Rica since 2002. Funny she should ask about that. I haven’t been downtown much during the past months. I often am not ready to leave my apartment until the afternoon and by then, in the rainy season, the rains have started. 

Theoretically the rainy season is over, and I was downtown the other day walking along Avenida Central. In some places where stores had once been were tall metal fences, behind which, obviously new stores or businesses are being built. 

In other locations, where once there were narrow dimly lit stores selling stockings or T-shirts, or baked goods, now I saw large brightly lit stores with row after row of the latest fashions in clothes or shoes with, I suppose, prices to match.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

This is in the same area where the brand new indoor commercial center PlazAvenida is. And speaking of commercial centers, new huge shopping centers are popping up in many communities around San Jose. 

As I looked at all of these shiny new things, I wondered why I felt sad rather than pleased. Perhaps it was because I was also looking around at the people on the promenade. Nobody (including myself) seemed to be buying or wearing any of the items for sale. Are these stores preparing for the future? Like the upscale luxury hotels, spas and gated communities? 

But there have been some changes that I appreciate. Like the covered benches at the bus stops. It’s really nice to be able to sit while waiting for a bus. But the roofs over them are not very effective in the rain, thanks to the wind that usually accompanies it.  And the once tiny, crowded Chinese pulperias have become supermarkets.

And there is a change that takes place every year, usually at the change of seasons, and that is the trees that come into bloom. There is the pink roble, the brilliant orange llama de bosque, and the yellow malinche. Drive anywhere and you will see these gorgeous trees in their full glory. And not to be undone, the ever present bougainvillea seems to be wearing its most brilliant colors. 

Mother Nature has been pretty cruel in many parts of the world, including the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, but right now, in the Meseta, she is dressed in her glorious best.

Pearl says that she misses the "pace and peace" she found here, even in 2002. You can still find it here in 2005. Peace is a tradition here, along with gallo pinto. 

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Jacó billfish tournament
will begin March 16

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The first Jacó Billfish Classic will take place off of Playa Herradura. The tournament, scheduled to take place annually, will be fished out of the Los Sueños Marina and will begin on March 16.

The catch-and-release tournament targets marlin of all species and all Pacific sailfish. Entry into the tournament is charged by boat, at $4,000 apiece. The fee includes six social tickets for all tournament events, four angler bags, and T-shirts and caps for anglers and crew.

The tournament will run until March 20, and all entrants will be eligible for cash and trophy prizes. Individual prizes will be handed out for first catch each day and best male and female anglers. Group prizes will be given out to the top three boats. First place will receive 50 percent of the overall purse, with 30 percent to second place, and 20 percent to third place. The number of entrants will determine the overall purse. 

San Ramón teacher
now has own art show

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Centro Cultural y Histórico José Figueres Ferrer in San Ramón, Alajuela, will open its newest exhibit Saturday. The exhibit features paintings by a local artist, Francisca Cross, who was born in San Ramón in 1938.

The opening ceremony will take place at 4 p.m. The exhibit will be open to the public until Jan. 31. Some 20 pieces will be on display at the center, reflecting diversity as an artist as the paintings are done in several different media including oil, watercolor, and acrylic. 

Mrs. Cross originally worked as a teacher in San Ramón and did not start painting until six years ago. She originally began painting as a hobby, but soon she had a formidable collection of art in her home. Mrs. Cross never intended to publicize her work, but her granddaughter Priscilla insisted and took over planning the publication of her grandmothers work. 

Mrs. Cross is married to Sergio Vázquez. The couple has four children and six grandchildren. 

Famed educator Gámez
died at 95 in Heredia

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Educators and politicians are mourning the death of Uladislao Gámez Solano, 95, who was the minister of education three times, the first in 1948 under José Figueres Ferrer.

Gámez died Wednesday. He lived his entire life in Heredia. He is being lauded for his work in setting up a number of educational institutions, including Universidad Nacional, the Instituto Tecnológico and the Universidad Estatal a Distancia, as well as secondary schools.

He also was a founding member of the Partido Liberación Nacional.

The funeral will be today at 11 a.m. at the Church of the Inmaculada Concepción in Heredia.

Most flooded locations
reached, officials say

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Disaster officials say they have reached nearly all the communities that were cut off by flooding and landslides spawned by record weekend rain.

Only 11 communities remained isolated Thursday, and officials were trying to reach them with air and vehicles. Six of the communities were in the Valle de Talamanca and Alta Talamaca in extreme southeast Costa Rica. One community near Sixaola also was still cut off, as was one community near Matina and two near Sarapiquí.

Rescue officials said there has been a rapid decrease in the number of persons in shelters. About 4,000 persons still were in shelters Thursday morning when the last count was made. That is down from the 8,500 who were housed in 80 shelters at the peak of the flooding.

Official said that more than 200 communities have been given some form of aid. Local emergency committees have been set up all over Costa Rica for such disasters.

Request for U.S. visa
puts Bulgarian in jail

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A tip from the U.S. Embassy allowed investigators here to locate and jail a fugitive from Bulgaria. The man, using the name Jack Hassell Bosman Petrova, had been living in Costa Rica since 1998 and had married a Costa Rican, officials said. He lived in Cariari.

Officials said the man really is Kitov Ivan Velinov, who is wanted on a charge of fraud in his homeland. The U.S. Embassy told police here that the man sought a visa to enter the United States Tuesday, but that there were irregularities in his papers, officials said.

U.S. Embassy closed Monday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy will be closed Monday to mark the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968. King actually was born on Jan. 15, 1929, but the holiday will be celebrated Monday in the United States.

Astronomy day at museum

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Museo Nacional will be celebrating the Día Nacional de la Astronomía with a 2 p.m. discussion of the expected April 8 solar eclipse today. At 8 p.m. visitors will get a chance to look at the stars via the museum’s telescopes.

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A four-star French restaurant with no surprises
The charming Hotel Bergerac in Los Yoses is home to the classical French restaurant Ile de France. The restaurant, a bastion of traditional haute cuisine, reserved charm, elegant accoutrements, consistency, formality and a very good wine list, performs admirably under the auspices of long-time chef Jeane Claude Fromont. 

He also performs well. His trips from the kitchen into the dining room to greet regulars or revered guests fill the room with smiles, hugs, cheek kisses, animation and an aura of so-happy-to-see-you pleasure. His starched, spotless white jacket assuredly hangs on a hook by the kitchen door to be donned only on the way out.

The hotel is on a quiet side street in the embassy neighborhood of Los Yoses. To enter the restaurant, you walk through the gate and small garden, up a few stairs to the right of the lobby entrance. Considering the proximity of table to table, the tastefully appointed room is remarkable serene. Little conversation rises above the mellow soft music, a mixture of old French ballads and lyrical classical, except when the chef is holding court. Then, a cacophony of delighted French voices compete with Ravel and Debussy.

The candle-lit tables were full on both weekday visits, yet there seemed to be no pressure to move people along to make space for a second sitting. The waiters moved effortlessly in narrow spaces through and among the diners, causing minimal distraction. Old hands, I presume. They were unruffled and helpful even with the most trying patrons, exhibiting considerable knowledge of ingredients to help with course and wine selections.

During two visits with a different couple each time, I was fortunate enough to taste six different appetizers, seven entrees and five desserts. The positive side: all the presentations were flawless, the flavors well prepared in traditional manner and the ingredients exceptional, including salad greens and baby vegetables. 

What was lacking? In all honesty, nothing. What I missed was a little flair, some risky combinations, integration of tropical produce or even a hint of Mesoamerica in the excellent, but very predictable cuisine. My guess is that if we had the patrons vote, I would be in a very small minority seeking a telltale sign that we weren’t dining in France — possibly a minority of one.

The blanquette de veaux was tender in a proper mushroom cream. The daily special of duckling in orange sauce was moist, and the sauce delicately balanced between mild citrus acidity and sweet. Steak in a green peppercorn sauce arrived to the exact doneness ordered. It was tender and flavorful. Large prawns dressed in garlic and tomato were done expertly so as to avoid overwhelming the delicate prawn flavor. Nor were they overcooked.  Similar adeptness was evident when neither salmon nor prawns stewed in a basil sauce were overdone.

There are about a dozen different ways to prepare Coquilles Saint-Jacques. Most often, scallops in a creamy white wine and mushroom sauce are served in scallop shells with a hint of brown crust atop the dish from a brief final trip under the broiler. Alternately, many  restaurants serve the dish in a ramekin or puff pastry shell. Since coquille means shell, I am always a little surprised when a ramekin is used. There is nothing wrong with the choice. 

Dr. Lenny Karpman

we eat


Similarly, the absence of a trip under the broiler is not wrong. One subtle difference for which I praise chef Fromont is the choice of tarragon as opposed to thyme as the dominant herb in the wine sauce. The barely perceptible licorice flavor works very well with the sweetness of the scallops. 

The homemade rabbit pate, with a hint of cognac flavor, was yet another success. The escargot was classic. We devoured an entire basket of good French bread salvaging every last drop of garlic butter. 

The wine choices both times were fine: a white Cote de Rhone and a red Carmen Reservado 2000.

No let down with the desserts. Profiteroles, fruit tart and crepes in orange sauce drew murmurs of satisfaction.

The question of value always arises when the price is in our maximum $$$$ range. The answer is dependant on so many variables. 

Were the stars also in the maximum range? Yes, ´´´´

Is it a worthy destination for special occasions? Again, yes, depending on the occasion. It may be a little formal to be romantic and a little staid for frivolity. 

Congratulations to chef Fromont and his staff. I suspect that they have mastered exactly what they want their restaurant to be, a flawless, seamless traditional French culinary experience rather than an adventure. 

Sample prices in colons: rabbit pate 4,000, country salad 3,700, escargot 4,600, Coquilles Saint-Jacques 5,200, traditional onion soup gratinee 4,000, chicken breast sauté 6,100, duckling in orange sauce 9,900, duck confit 9,300, veal stew in mushroom sauce 7,300, steaks 8,200-8,700, lamb chops 12,500, fish dishes 6,700-7,100, salmon and shrimp 9,600, shrimp alone 11,200 and mid range wine 10,000 to 18,000 per bottle. Thus, an appetizer, main course, a bottle of wine, dessert and coffee will cost about 25,000 per person.

Reservations are recommended.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Karpman is a food critic in the newspaper’s editorial department. As such, he alone is responsible for selecting the restaurants he reviews subject to general approval by the editor.

Newspaper policy forbids a writer or other employee from accepting complimentary tickets, food, rooms or other items of more than a nominal value.

U.N. brokers a deal between Ortega and Bolaños
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Factions feuding for power here have signed an agreement to end the simmering constitutional conflict.

Wednesday Casa Presidencial announced the signing of the agreement.

Signatories are President Enrique Bolaños, former president Daniel Ortega of the Frente Sandinista, Cardinal Miguel Obando, representing the Catholic Church, as well as the entire United Nations delegation led by Jorge Chediek, who is one of the principal architects of the deal. 

The seven-point plan includes the passage of the constitutional reforms only after a period of national discussion, a greater protection for freedom of expression of media outlets and an agreed delay of any enforcement of the reforms until after the completion of the Bolaños government. 

The parties at the negotiating table will be representatives of the Bolaños government, the Arnoldo Alemán dominated Partido Liberal Constitutionalista and the Frente Sandinista del Liberación Nacional. No other parties will be represented. The Catholic church will monitor the discussions with representatives of the U.N.

The United Nations will take a large role in the management and enforcement of the agreement for a national dialogue as opposed to the Organization of American States. This gives a greater flexibility to the discussions, as the OAS issued a communiqué Wednesday morning supporting Bolaños, and leaving open all options including armed intervention in the event the crisis deepened. Although Bolaños is highly respected in the U.N., there is some support for Ortega. 

The entire accredited diplomatic corps was invited and present for the conference and signing ceremony. Yet the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua, Barbara Moore, was 

notable by her absence. This is consistent with U.S. policy with regard to contacts with the Frente Sandinista. The absence could also be interpreted as a defeat for the Bush administration as there is considerable belief that the U.S. was urging an OAS-brokered deal.

The highest ranking staff of the national police and Nicaraguan Army were also present at the signing ceremony. They  were visibly relieved by the agreement since they had been placed on alert since Saturday. Business leaders, including Mario Alonso, director of the national financial system and president of the Central Bank, expressed similar sentiments stating that the agreement would be a positive step toward the development of the Nicaraguan economy. 

In the days before the agreement there was volatility in the market for government securities on the Managua exchange.

Immediately after the signing ceremony Ortega left by car to meet with Alemán for three hours to discuss the deal. 

Although Alemán had previously agreed to the terms of the deal he could not be present for the signing ceremony due to his house arrest and criminal conviction for money laundering. It is widely believed that either amnesty or an appellate court resolution favorable to Alemán and overturning his conviction is the next step in the Alemán-Ortega alliance. 

Despite the Nicaraguan criminal conviction and forfeiture investigations pending in Panamá and the United States, Alemán has forcefully claimed that his conviction was a political retribution and is known to have ambitions for a run for a second presidential term.

For Bolaños, the deal lets him serve out his term. The national assembly, dominated by Alemán and Ortega followers, is working on a plan to install a parliamentary form of government that would make the presidency a figurehead or worse.

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End-of-life specialists starting to get more respect
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Increased life spans in developed countries are magnifying the need for quality and affordable end-of-life care for people with prolonged illnesses, U.S. medical experts say.

Providing end-of-life, or palliative, care is also being recognized as increasingly important in the developing world, where populations face a prevalence of debilitating diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, they add.

Palliative care providers give pain management and comfort to people with chronic, life-limiting diseases.  An interdisciplinary specialty that received little recognition within the U.S. health care industry 30 years ago, palliative care contradicts the cure-at-all-costs medical approach to treating seriously ill patients, said the Rev Gwen London, an end-of-life care consultant, recently affiliated with Duke University in North Carolina.  Rev. London spoke at a conference sponsored by the Institute for Education and Leadership at Capital Hospice on "The Art and Science of Palliative Care" held outside Washington.

"The concept of providing excellent care at the end of life is a combination of science and art" with the art preventing medical science from being seemingly removed from human emotion part of an illness, London said.

The multidisciplinary approach of palliative care includes the family and makes use of available community resources, and can be successfully implemented even if resources are limited, according to a World Health Organization fact sheet.

"Palliative care affirms life and regards dying as a normal process . . . [it] neither hastens nor postpones death," members of the organizations said.

The palliative care concept grew out of a concern to provide pain relief and comfort for cancer patients, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

The emphasis is on preventing and relieving suffering, not on curing, said conference chairwoman Susan Rogers, director of professional education for the Institute at Capital Hospice, a not-for-profit organization based in Fairfax, Va.

Hospice is the term used for care for a person with a prognosis of less than six months of life remaining, Rogers said.

End-of-life care providers seek a "seamless integration" of disease-specific treatment and treatment of suffering, said Dr. Richard Payne at the meeting.  Payne is director of Duke's Institute on Care at the End of Life.

Care providers offer patients counseling as well as medical services and provide assistance as patients complete the final documents of their lives such as living wills, Payne said.

A living will is a document that states a person's desire about whether to be artificially sustained on life-support machines in the event of a terminal condition due to accident, injury or illness where there is no reasonable medical probability of recovery.

"Palliative care is moving upstream" among health care specialties in the United States, he said.

Palliative's holistic form of treatment is consistent with the patient's and family's wishes and includes recognition of the patient's spirituality, he said. It also recognizes that how people grieve and think about death varies widely from culture to culture, said Dr. Carlos Gómez, associate director of the Capital Hospice Institute for Education and Leadership.

For instance, some immigrants living in the United States fear death and hospitals, fear being cared for by non-family members or friends, and fear the government agencies that regulate health care. These fears add to the challenge of providing care effectively, Gómez said. Therefore, it is important organizations that provide palliative care have cultural and language diversity in their staffs and volunteers, he said.

U.S.-funded helicopter crashes in Colombia, and 20 persons are killed
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Army officials in Colombia say 20 soldiers have died in a helicopter crash during a drug eradication mission.

The officials say the Black Hawk helicopter went down Thursday near the town of Tumaco, in the province Narino. They say there was bad weather during the time of the crash.

The Black Hawk was part of a U.S.-funded anti-drug effort called Plan Colombia. It supported military operations against drug traffickers and leaders of rebel groups.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which has been fighting the Colombian government for 40 years, uses drug trafficking to finance its insurgency. The U.S. finances spraying of herbicides, among other measures.

Jo Stuart
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