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These stories were published Friday, Jan. 21, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 15
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. . . ready for ski slopes
Costa Ricans really do have winter gear. That’s obvious all over town as office workers, street vendors and students adopt heavier clothes to fight the strong winds and temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The overnight low Thursday in San José was 14.9 Celsius (58.8 F.). And the mercury did not move much during the day. The maximum Thursday was  a mere 17.9 Celsius (64 F.) Some city dwellers insist on walking outside in shirtsleeves, but they’ll be nursing a cold next week.

A cold front from the north has lingered for two weeks generating in at least one case a record low. The weather prediction calls for warmer temperatures during the weekend.


 
It's really cold here, but it is worse elsewhere
Monday morning before dawn I was awakened by the wind rattling my windows and knocking things about in great thumps and small crashes. I got up to check if one of those crashes came from my balcony. I was especially worried about my spindly ficus tree. 

I am a great admirer of the ficus plant (I am thinking in terms of the tree, not its extended family of rubber plant and climbing vines.) I like its adaptability. It grows in all sizes from bonsai to giant (like the one in Parque Morazan). It flourishes in all altitudes, climates and places — except my balcony. I call the one on my balcony my minimalist tree. 

When I moved into this apartment I had three plants, They flourished to the point that they were overwhelming my furniture so I moved them out to the balcony, where I could admire them from afar, I thought. Instead, two of them withered away and died. My ficus lives on — in a sulk, I am sure. But there it was, hanging in there, or out there. The rain, which had started the evening before had become a drizzle that was still being blown and reaching me like a wet slap in the face. I am finding that more annoying than rain.

I had a chat the evening before with the doorman/bouncer at the Club Colonial, a casino downtown. He was helping me to hail a taxi. We talked about the weather — a topic on the minds of many lately. We agreed this was the coldest January we could remember in Costa Rica. He was wearing an undershirt under his shirt for the first time in the eight years he has been here. He said that his mother, who lives in Cuba, said it was very cold there, too — a dry cold that chapped her cheeks and lips. Here the cold is damp. The thermometer hit a record low 59 the other morning. Now, not having any way to heat my apartment is not so great. 

Bundled up, I have been watching the confirmation hearings for Condaleeza Rice. I cannot understand how everyone doesn’t find 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

them fascinating. It is like watching a seminar in world affairs with some of the most knowledgeable people of the U.S. involved. But then, I remember when I got married I got a letter from my high school social studies teacher who wrote that I made teaching a pleasure because I was always so interested. There was a bit of sadness in the note because I obviously was a minority. One thing is sure — the next Secretary of State of the U.S. will be an articulate woman with unbelievable stamina. 

During the confirmation the word ‘truth" was used a lot. Each time I asked to no one in particular, "Whose truth?" Anyone who has lived in more than one country or culture knows that the truth can vary with what you believe and how you see the world. How the truth is valued is even different. 

The truth is supposed to correspond with the facts, but anyone who has listened to the reports of witnesses to an accident knows that facts can be as illusive as the truth. I remember my husband saying once (when our marriage was breaking up),"You are so careful with the facts, but I don’t feel you are telling me the truth." That really hurt, and I am still pondering it.

Dr. Rice said the U.S. must tell the world "the truth about the U.S." Frankly, I prefer what the president said in an interview: "We have to get our story out." 

Meanwhile I am freezing in Costa Rica. I am on the verge of chillblains. The fact is that the temperature this morning was 59 degrees F. The truth is that compared to other parts of the world suffering weather way below zero, it is really rather mild here.

 
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Pacheco holds session
to air free trade concerns

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco began a series of meetings Thursday to obtain comments from national leaders on the proposed free trade treaty with the United States.

The session Thursday was labeled a meeting with intellectuals, political scientists and economists from different sectors. 

The president plans to meet with other representatives of the community including those from the Roman Catholic Church at later sessions.

The meetings appear to be designed to rally support for the president when and if he presents the treaty to the Asamblea Legislative for ratification. Pacheco has come in for criticism because he seems to be stalling on presenting the document.

The official report on the meeting said that Manual González, minister of Comercio Exterior, was present. His ministry has been hit with resignations because some policymakers do not believe Pacheco strongly supports the document.

The session was two hours long and involved seven persons outside the government.

One participant, Rodrigo Madrigal Nieto, said that the group was not opposed to the free trade treaty but they simply wanted to point out imperfections in the document for the wellbeing of the Costa Rican people.

Still unclear is how Pacheco would try to make changes in the document. The lengthy agreement already has been signed by representatives of all the countries involved. The U.S. Congress is expected to get the document and pass it this spring.

The treaty here is a take-it-or-leave it agreement. Costa Rica had time to seek changes during the six months that the agreement was being negotiated.

The series of meetings suggest that Pacheco might not send the document to the legislature if visitors alert him to problems and difficulties with the treaty.

These meetings are exactly the type of contact treaty opponents criticized the government for failing to do while treaty negotiations were under way.

If the treaty is presented to the legislature, protests are likely in the country’s streets. Left-wingers see the agreement as another example of U.S. imperialism. Public employees fear they will face privatization of the industries in which they work, such as banks, utility companies and the insurance monopoly.

A number of protests already have been held. The free trade treaty was a flashpoint when truckers and taxi drivers blocked roads and highways for five days last August.

Vortex energy talk
is planned for Tuesday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Escazú will be alive with vortex energy Tuesday. Massimo Novelo has studied the concept for the past few years and will present his views at a public forum at 7 p.m. in the San José suburb.

The forum entitled "Vortex Energy and Higher Dimensions" will be held at Big Mike’s Place. There will be a 1,000-colon entrance fee. The forum is designed for newcomers and people familiar with vortex energy theories, which are scientifically controversial.

Novelo is originally from a small Italian town close to Venice. He now lives in Santa Ana and spends his time investigating energy vortexes and hopes to harness their power.

The forum will feature a speech made by Novelo, followed by time for questions. For more information, contact Karen Butler at 289-6333 or 821-4708.

Rice corporation wants
to improve crop here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff 

The Corporacion Arrocera Nacional will invest $530,000 in investigating and improving Costa Rican rice crops. 

The corporation hopes that the funds will finance research of the acaro plague which affected Costa Rica’s rice crops during 2004. 

"With these projects we want to help the rice farmers to produce rice of high quality for the safety of its Costa Rican consumers," said Oscar Campos the president of the corporation.  Campos said that between February and March of last year over 37,600 tons of rice were imported from the United States. 

Costa Rica consumes 18,293 tons of rice a month. According to figures from the corporation, the increased amount of importation as well as local crops will assure that rice will be available until April 2005.

U.N. team inspecting
Caribbean flood zone

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

NEW YORK, N.Y. — A United Nations team is making a two-day field visit to the area of Costa Rica most affected by the floods earlier this month that killed seven people and displaced 8,000 others, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Thursday.

Representatives of the World Health Organization through its bureau for the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization, the U.N. Development Programme and the U.N. Children's Fund were visiting worst-hit Talamanca, where 1,907 of it 29,300 residents were still living in 19 shelters, the U.N. said.

The national emergency commission said 2,143 displaced persons were still in temporary shelters,  In addition, hospitals and clinics, sewage systems and aqueducts were damaged and wells were contaminated, it said.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization would make an assessment of the damage to agriculture and the country's needs in that sector next month, the U.N. said.
 

Power cuts possible

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad has warned that there may be power cuts during January and February.  The Institute will be installing the new Barranca-Nagatec distribution line.  Esparza, Maranonal, Paraiso and La Angostura de San Ramon may experience power cuts while the works are being carried out, the company said. 
 
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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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The mango can be transformed to international delights
The most common fruit tree in our neighborhood is mango. When the rainy season ends, mangos begin to appear at lower elevations and flowers erupt in the Central Valley. A month or two later we see the beginnings of our crop, two hundred green Christmas ornaments on the tree. By spring, they are the size of oval grapefruit, purple and red, worthy of their title: queen of tropical fruit. 

Folklore contends that Buddha prized mangoes so much, he was given a grove in which to meditate, causing his followers to consider the fruit sacred.

Although we don’t pray to or about our mangos, we do revere their attributes: They are not very fibrous and taste of pineapple, cantaloupe and apricot. Before they ripen, they are firmer, crisper, more fibrous and tart, much like a green apple.

During Christmas and New Year holiday weeks, vendors begin to sell slices of green mangos from lower elevations, bathed only in salt and lime juice, in plastic bags at intersections and along roads. Filipinos also eat tart fresh slices with salt or soy sauce. In Thailand, the same unripe slices are tinted pink with a heavy sprinkling of chili powder and they are dusted with salt and sugar. I like them sweetened, diced and mixed with sour cream. My wife prefers them with yogurt.

In India, Southeast Asia, Australia, sub-Saharan Africa, Nepal’s Terai region and parts of the Caribbean, grated or minced green mango adds a tart or sour element to raw salads and fresh or cooked pickles called achars in India and Nepal and sambals in Indonesia and Malaysia. 

As a vegetable, cubed or slivered, green mangos find their way into curries, stews, stir fries and pasta. Sweetened, seasoned with clove, ginger, cardamom, cumin, fenugreek and other spices, mixed with raisins, dates, garlic, onions or pineapple, mango becomes the base of any of dozens of kinds of chutney.  Some bakers use mango slices in place of apple slices in pies and turnovers. 

For ease of storage and longer shelf life, grated green mango can be dried and ground into a powder or flour. As such, it is usually colored and preserved with golden turmeric. The combination is called amchur in Hindustani and is used as a souring agent and tenderizer. 

Condensed and/or simplified recipes make up the following collection of green mango salads to try in your kitchen: 

Thai. This salad, yum mamuang, is typical of a Thai approach to flavor, texture and appearance. Three parts to the recipe are mango slaw, spicy dressing and final touches. 

For the slaw, two or three unripe mangos are shredded fine, coarsely grated or carefully sliced into matchsticks and mixed with lesser amounts of similarly prepared raw carrot, green onion, jicima and sweet red pepper, in any combination. No need for precision, but two medium carrots, two scallions, a small jicima and one red pepper would be about right. 

For the dressing, heat a few cloves of mashed garlic and a few diced shallots or a small white onion in two tablespoons of oil until they sweat (become 

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translucent). Then add any combination of ground shrimp, pork or chicken, about three ounces total. 

When the meat is cooked and crumbles, add the salt, heat, sour and sweet to taste. A rough guide would be a tablespoon of Thai or Filipino fish sauce or equal amount of soy sauce for salt; about a teaspoon of sriracha sauce, a pinch of dried red pepper flakes, a teaspoon of chili paste, a pinch of cayenne pepper or half a teaspoon of Tabasco for heat; the juice of a lime or lemon for sour; and about three tablespoons of sugar for sweet. Mix well and dress the salad. 

For the final touches, add a liberal handful of fresh mint, purple basil and/or cilantro leaves and sprinkle the top with another handful of ground or diced roasted peanuts. 

Cambodian. This salad is similar to the Thai version. It is also a julienned or coarsely grated slaw of unripe mangos, dressed and topped. The primary differences are four: 1) The slaw omits carrots and jicima and is likely to include wedges of green tomato and/or sliced gherkins together with red peppers and green onions. 2) Instead of meat, chicken or shrimp, Cambodians usually use smoked fish in the dressing. An ounce or two of smoked whitefish or salmon or half a tablespoon of Thai fish powder will work. 3) Garlic may be omitted. 4) Chunky peanut butter in the dressing obviates the need for ground peanut topping and allows for the omission of the sugar. 

Madagascar. This vegetarian salad starts with the same green mango slaw and adds a variety of minced ingredients: an onion, two garlic cloves, two or three hot peppers and a quarter cup of parsley. Salt to taste and mix with enough lime juice and oil to dress. 

Indian. One of several Indian versions seasons the slaw with toasted and ground cumin and mustard seeds, red pepper powder and salt, adds thinly sliced shallots or onion, a diced bunch of fresh mint and a can of garbanzos, well drained and rinsed, and dresses the salad with lime juice. 

Sephardic. According to author Copeland Marks, the Sephardic version contains green mango, cucumber and onion, all chopped, and salt and sugar. No liquid is mentioned. A little lime juice would work if it is dry. 

Fusion. From Allen Susser’s book on Mangos, his green mango slaw is typical of our first Thai version with the new world addition of Serrano chiles.

Your Own Special Version. Experiment with local ingredients and let us know what works best. 

 


 
Ginnette Carvajal Chacón has been growing orchids and cactuses for five years. Here she holds a cherry baby of the family of oncedium with purple and white phalaenoses on the table.
A.M. Costa Rica photos/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Grecia women orchid growers seem to have a good idea
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A sale of orchids by women growers in Grecia appears to be a success.

The exhibitor sold nearly everything Thursday, the first day of the two-day sale. However, they will be bringing more products today.

The sale is at the Agencia de Extensión del Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadaría in Grecia. In addition to the ministry, the event is sponsored by the Universidad de Costa Rica and the mission of Taiwan here.

The project started in 2002 when women who were housewives were encouraged to earn money by growing orchids.  The project was designed for the central eastern area of the Central Valley. Another group is in Sarapiquí. They call themselves the Union de Asociaciones de Mujeres Productoras de Orquideas.

There are six groups of 10 women each.  The project has been profitable and has encouraged other members of the families to set up ventures of their own, said the women.

The prices are low for the type of plants, 1,500 colons (about $3.25) for a medium-size orchid. Others are higher.

They will be selling the plants once a month at different areas in the Central Valley. Most of the women selling Thursday were from the Alta Grecia section. They are now working together on a plot of land to increase their yield.

They hope to generate enough products to export to the United States, they said.

The sale runs until 4 p.m., and information is available at 494-7985. Grecia is an hour to 90 minutes west of San José by bus, depending on traffic.


 

Among buyers Thursday was Yolanda Suarez and her cousin, both of Guadelupe. She keeps lots of plants.

Edith Rodrígues Rojas of the Zona Alta of Grecia grows four types of cactuses: mammillarias, golden, barrell and opuntias.

 
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Costa Rica is designated a spring break destination
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica has become a hotspot for spring breakers, according to Need Spring Break.com. The U.S. travel agency specializing in student travel noted in a press release Thursday, that the number of students traveling to Costa Rica has significantly risen over the past two years. 

Spring break has become a $1 billion industry for resorts, hotels and bars. Every year, thousands of college students flock to areas throughout Mexico, Florida and the Bahamas to hit the beaches. 

Recently, however, students have shown an attraction 

towards more exotic destinations, and Costa Rica has been on the top of the list, said the firm. "We will sell out every room we have available for 2005," President Wes Melcher noted in the release. 

Several factors have affected Costa Rica’s rise, including economic factors. Students can travel to Costa Rica and spend a fraction of the cost compared to vacations in the Bahamas. Costa Rica’s lower drinking age has also drawn younger students from destinations in the United States, where the drinking age is 21, the firm said.

Spring break 2005 is likely to be the largest yet, and the business behind it will continue to expand, according to the firm. 


 
Rock legend Alan Parsons plans a Costa Rican concert in San José Feb. 6
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Alan Parsons the English rock legend who worked with Pink Floyd and the Beatles will be holding a concert in Costa Rica next month.  Parsons’ visit to Costa Rica is part of his tour of Latin America titled "Live Project." The concert will be held at the Teatro Melico Salazar in San José. 

Parsons, 65, has been involved in the rock music scene for more than 30 years, his songs being worldwide hits. He is also a producer, sound technician  and musician. This concert will be a mix of both old and new, his most recent production being "A Valid Path." 

"It is going to be two hours of good rock and that means there will be no flying pigs, lasers or theatrical effects. 

It will be a spectacular event with excellent sound. We like to concentrate on the music," said Parsons. 

After Costa Rica, Parsons will travel to Ecuador, Chile, Peru, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Mexico. The concert will be held Sunday, Feb. 6. It will begin at 8 p.m. with ticket prices ranging from $26 for balcony seats and $54 for seats on the floor.

Tickets will go on sale Jan. 28 at Juan Bansbach (Multiplaza Oeste and San José), Sharper Store (Mall San Pedro) and in Servimas counters at Hipermas in Heredia, San Sebastian, Curridabat and Maxibodegas de Desamparados and Alajuela. 

Tickets are also available from the Costa Rica ticket system, which delivers the tickets. 


 
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