A.M. Costa Rica

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(506) 223-1327            Published Friday, Jan. 27, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 20              E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
The pass is in the air at the Thursday flag football game
They may not tackle, but they are no weenies
By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

I'm getting old.  Granted, my first Social Security check isn't even a glimmer in the government's eye, but I learned the hard way Thursday that I'm not indestructible anymore. 

And here's the most embarrassing part: the realization came while playing football.  That might sound tough if we were talking about the mighty gridiron-type that sports writers liken to battle and that half of the United States will watch the Seahawks and Steelers play in Detroit Feb. 5. But we're not.  I'm talking about flag-football: the weenie type where you get in trouble if you run someone over. 

There's a flag-football league that meets every Thursday in Parque La Sabana.  I had been a bit reluctant to go since the popularity of football – not fútbol – ranks somewhere between ice-hockey and dog-sledding in Costa Rica.  However, a healthy group of young expats and a curious group of Ticos had begun playing regularly. So after a month or so of my editor's badgering, I agreed to show up. 

I played the sport in high school and rabid sports fans may visit Costa Rica, but they don't move here before the age of about 73, I reasoned, so these guys should be a bunch of pushovers, right?
Wrong.  First of all, I was the only guy on the field that didn't have shoes with cleats.  Second, they had plays.  I figured the game would be one of those go-out-and-I'll-hit-you types, but it wasn't.  They played hard.  The league even has its own Web site, flagmag.com, and organization, The International Flag Football Federation, both of which Jim Zimolka is president.  Saturday, in Santa Ana, the league is holding a championship of which the winners get invited to the Flag Football World Cup in Florida.  Teams from Boston, Honduras and elsewhere are scheduled to show up, Zimolka said.  This is serious.

The group seemed to have regular teams and after Zimolka had to quell a disagreement that threatened to flare into blows, I got a spot on one.  An hour and several bumps, bruises and bloodstains later, I was pooped, but the team that had just beat us was anxious to play some more. 

My 20-ish body already hurt too much so I stuck my tail between my legs, waved goodbye, shook some hands and went home.  By the time I showed up to work a couple of hours later, I couldn't walk without a limp and by this morning, I'm sure I'll be bedridden.

Getting old is not good, but my new-found respect for flag football guarantees that I'll be back next Thursday – hopefully with a set of cleats.  I'll need them.  These guys can play.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 27, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 20

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Restaurant demolition
certain, top lawyer says

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The demolition of the Manuel Antonio restaurant Mar y Sombra will probably take place next week, and other structures in the area will face the same fate.

That was the word Thursday from the government's lawyer in charge of criminal cases. He is José Enrique Marín Castro of the Procuradurí­a General de La República.

The famous restaurant became a rallying point Monday when tourists and residents blocked a frontend loader from destroying the structure. The structure encroaches on the 50-meter area of the nation's maritime zone.

Marín said that the destruction of the restaurant has been ordered by a judge. However, he said, demolition was stopped Monday because lawyers for the owner requested another court hearing. That hearing will be this week, he said.

Residents and some tourists also took the credit for stopping the demolition.

In addition to the demolition order, Federico Ramírez, operator of the 39-year-old restaurant, faces a criminal charge relating to the restaurant's invasion of the 50-meter zone. If Ramírez is convicted, he will not be compensated for the destruction of the restaurant, the lawyer for the country said.

The criminal case revolves around whether Ramírez built the structure and encroached upon the maritime zone, whether he purchased the structure and whether he occupied the restaurant before the law creating the zone was passed in the mid-1970s, said Marín.

If the restaurant owner is acquitted, he will be compensated for the destruction of the restaurant, said Marín.

The lawyer supervises the distribution of such cases to the estimated 100 lawyers who work on maritime land invasion for the country. The Procuradurí­a is similar to the Attorney General's office in the United States.

Marín said that mismanagement at the municipal level and corruption are reasons there are so many structures in the maritime zone. Building is prohibited in the first 50 meters. The next 150 meters from mean high tide is the area in which the various municipalities can grant concessions for hotels and other structures.

The central government has been cracking down on the municipalities and forcing them to destroy structures that are encroaching on the 50-meter zone. Demolitions have taken place in Tamarindo, Golfito and elsewhere after usually lengthy legal processes.

Max Contreras, mayor of Aguirre where Manuel Antonio is located, said Wednesday that he did not have any discretion in carrying out the demolition order issued by a criminal judge in Parrita. If he did otherwise, he might go to jail, he said.

Scamsters are lurking
nearby, immigration says

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Shady characters have been lurking around the Dirección General de Migración attempting to take advantage of those waiting to get passports and Johnny Marín, director of the agency would like to make some things clear.

“We don't have officers waiting outside . . . ,” he said.  Marín said that the office has found cases where people have paid as much as 10,000 colons, some $20 dollars, for services that are free.

The scam takes advantage of the migration office's no-appointment rule.  Each day the office sees to some 530 persons.  As a result, people begin lining up in the early hours of the morning to guarantee themselves an interview. 

Tricksters, some of which are dressed like migration officials, have begun approaching those in line with a bogus story that all the spots for the day are filled.  However, the tricksters claim, they know an official which will help the process along for a small – or sometimes large – fee.  If this doesn't separate the vicitms from his or her money, the tricksters sometimes offer to expediate the process claiming they can obtain a passport in the same day. 

For this reason, migration officials are warning the population to only talk with those who are inside the agency, which is located in La Uruca.

“It's important that those who are waiting for passports talk only with people who are obviously migration officials.  We have modified the office hours in the information and security centers so that agents will be available from the early hours of the morning to answer any doubts or questions brought forth by the public,” Marín said. 

Mystery passenger had drugs

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Drug agents with the Fuerza Pública seized six suitcases with 198 kilos of cocaine in Juan Santamaría international airport Wednesday from a flight originating in Caracas, Venezuela, officers said. 

However, no one has been arrested yet.  Officers said they weren't able to determine who checked the bags in Caracas nor were they able to figure out who was supposed to pick up the shipment at its final destination in México because none of the bags had nametags, they said. 
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 27, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 20

A return to an old pastime with a good teacher
Among the various pieces of advice on how to grow old successfully is to learn something new. So I decided to take bridge lessons. Bridge is not exactly new to me, but it has been many years since I have played.

I learned to play during my first marriage. Some years later when I was living in California and working at Carnation Co., I played at lunchtime with three other women. The bridge game I remember most vividly was in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was among women from the university whom I didn't know. I was nervous and managed to foolishly bid five clubs in my first game. My partner was very vocal about the utter stupidity of my bid as she lay down her dummy cards. The other players were so preoccupied with being appalled at her behavior that I made the contract. I never played again with that group.

But my friend Doss has been after me for awhile to join the classes that John MacGregor teaches on Tuesdays. His home is conveniently located in Sabana Sur, so it was not a long trek for me. John is a good teacher. He was soft spoken, nonjudgmental, charming, and clearly explained some of the finer points of bidding. I just wish I had taken notes.

After the lesson, we played bridge. I was assigned to the table with the teacher. Besides playing bridge, there is the protocol of playing the hands that other tables will also play. Instead of bidding out loud, you take cards from a stack to indicate your bid, and you don't gather up tricks. You lay the card you have played in front of you. Sorting my suits, counting my points and properly fingering the bidding cards sometimes was  more than I could manage. Once or twice, after looking at my hand, John gently suggested I keep all the cards of the same suit together -- this, as he moved my King of Diamonds from my row of hearts, thus ruining my bid.

To my surprise, along with lessons in bridge and the
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

 chance to play, during break there were refreshments -- soft drinks, coffee, sandwiches and cookies. It was a nice way to spend an afternoon.

However, another piece of advice for growing old is to get a pet. Many people would not think of coming to Costa Rica without their pet — often they have more than one, and they ask me what they should do. I don't have one. My apartment contract stipulates no pets, so I knew nothing about what was involved in bringing in a pet. Referring to John Howell's book, "Choose Costa Rica for Retirement," I learned that in order to bring in a pet you need a health certificate signed by a registered veterinarian declaring it is free of a whole raft of ailments, and parasites, and then you should consult your nearest Costa Rican consul who will probably tell you that you must write to Jefe del Departamento de Zoonosis, Ministerio de Salud. There are, of course, fees and documents, like an import permit, involved. In order to leave Costa Rica, your pet, like you, will need an exit permit. I am not going into the details of the procedure because tramites (bureaucratic procedures) of any kind give me the mental hives.

Of course, it would be nice to be able to combine bridge and pets. Then you wouldn't have to leave your pet at home when you went off to play bridge. I know that dogs can play poker. I've seen pictures of them at a poker game. I have never seen dogs play bridge. They would love the refreshment break, but they probably would have even more trouble than I trying to sort their suits and handle those bidding cards.

It's time for

Not much more is needed with two dozen hot bean and meat empanadas ready to be eaten.

A.M. Costa Rica photos/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Nearly any filling is suitable

Some stuffings require cooking

First a dough ball is formed

Beans can be one type of content

Plastic wrap aids folding

An empanada is formed

It time to toast in the hot olive oil.

Is there anything more typical than an empanada?
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The empanada, the Costa Rican version of a sandwich, is easy to make. That's why they are available all over town.

But to make them you need a little time and patience.

Here the empanada is a breakfast treat but also eaten during afternoon coffee. And you will find it at the oh-so-upscale embassy cocktail party.

The technique is simple, and the types of fillings are as wide as the imagination. Usually those sold commercially contain beef, chicken, cheese or beans. But anyone can vary the theme, perhaps with spinach, gallo pinto, leftovers or even fish.

And then there are hundreds of possibilities for sauces, like chimichurri or other spicy types.

Although the empanadas displayed here are served intact, each can be cut open to allow a dash of guacamole, hot chile sauce and even lettuce and other salad fixings.

The dough

To make the dough is easy.

Measurement is not as important as consistency of the dough. The masa de maiz corn flour found in any supermarket is the base. To that one adds about a teaspoon of salt to each half kilo (1.1 pounds) of the flour. Water is added carefully until the mix can be rolled and worked by hand. The dough has to be soft and throughly mixed.

Some cooks use a bullion or other spicy fluid to add taste to the mix.

A golf-ball-size hunk of dough is dropped on a piece of plastic wrap and worked by hand and palm until it is flat like a tortilla. The amount of dough dictates the size of the finished product. Then the mix is added and the flat piece of dough is doubled over to form the empanada. Some cooks use the edge of a knife or the top of a spoon handle to press together the edges of the empanada and perhaps score a small design around the lip of the dough crescent.

The cooking oil has to be hot — close to boiling.  The type of oil varies depending on the shopping budget of the cook. North Americans probably can use a good quality olive oil.
The empanadas are deep fried both sides until the color turns from pale to a rich yellow. The contents have been cooked ahead of time, so there is no concern about raw  fillings.

The mix

Bean empanada

For this demonstration, both bean and meat fillings were prepared. This is an area open to creativity.

The mix is cooked beforehand. The cooked beans were mashed. No Costa Rican family would be without beans.

In a fry pan, a little garlic, and oil is mixed with chopped onions and a bay leaf. The beans are added and heated. Some cooks add sugar to taste.

Meat empanada

Once again the cooked contents are mixed together and heated in a fry pan with oil. Garlic never hurts. Chopped vegetables and shredded beef or hamburg  can be doctored with any number of sauces. Hard boiled eggs, raisins and some apple slices are personal variations.

If the filling runs out before the dough, there always is something interesting in the refrigerator for the remainder, such as cheese, tomato sauce, potato, tuna or chip dip.


A half kilo of corn flour makes about 24 four-inch empanadas.

They can be served right from the frying pan.

Empanadas, in one form or another, are found all over the world. They are an ancient dish. In Chile and Venezuela the mix usually comes from wheat flour. Colombians use a lot of rice and eggs for filling. It's calzoni in Italy and steak and kidney pie in England.

With a little sugar in the mix and a sweet filling, empanadas are a natural dessert.  Garnish with powdered sugar and perhaps a sweet sauce. Sweet empanadas are sold commercially, but not many are moist and tasty.

Empanadas are available in local sodas and coffee shops from 250 to 500 colons or from 50 U.S. cents to $1.

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Are you still spending 70 percent 
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You need to fill this space ASAP!

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 27, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 20

Under-40 expats planning to organize interest group
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica's younger ex-pats now have a place to gather.  Unlike the pensionados who flock here from the United States, those under 40 are usually still hard at work and as a result, finding time to attend clubs and events can be difficult.  But now there's an answer.

Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey has started an online club for expats under 40 years of age.  The club will help younger foreigners living in Costa Rica to meet others in their age group for friendship, romance, travel and anything else, Ms. Passey wrote.  However, the under-40 age limit is not strictly enforced.   
“If you are on the edge and wondering whether it would be appropriate for you to join, take a good look at yourself and your life and ask yourself whether you'd really fit in with a bunch of teens, 20-somethings, and 30-somethings. If you have kids our age, probably not,” Ms. Passey wrote.

The group Web site is available here.  Currently, the group is trying to decide where members will meet every Friday.   

Ms. Passey hopes that members will use the group to coordinate social activities and to discuss issues of interest to younger expats such as ways to make a living, dating and attending college. 

Playa Ostional woman lured into ambush by fake real estate buyer
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents with the Judicial Investigating Organization are looking into the circumstances surrounding a series of violent acts that led to the deaths of a 27-year-old man,  a 53-year-old man and and the shooting of a 48-year-old woman Wednesday. 

According to agents, the woman, identified by the last name Sevilla was in her home Wednesday afternoon when she received a phone call informing her that a foreigner was waiting for her at a property she was selling near Playa Ostional near Santa Cruz, Guanacaste. 

The woman went to the property with her 27-year-old gardener, identified by the last name Vindas, agents said.  When they arrived a man was waiting for them 
on a motorcycle, agents said.  Another man jumped out of the bushes and began firing, agents said.  Vindas was wounded in the neck and cheek and died soon after, agents said.  Ms. Sevilla was wounded in the arm and cheek and is in the hospital in critical condition, agents said. 

Police chased the gunmen but they were able to get away through Playa Venado, agents said.      

Homicide agents are also investigating the death of a 53-year-old guard identified by the last name Valverde who was shot three times in Barrio México in San José Wednesday night. 

Valverde was talking with two neighbors when a man drove by on a motorcycle and opened fire, agents said.  Valverde died at the scene, agents said.   

California man targeted AOL customers in scam, federal complaint says
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A California man was arrested Thursday on federal charges that allege he sent thousands of e-mails to America Online users that appeared to be from AOL's Billing Department and prompted the subscribers to send personal and credit card information, which was later used by the defendant to make unauthorized credit and debit card purchases.

The arrest was announced by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles.

The man, Jeffrey Brett Goodin, 45, was charged in a criminal complaint filed Wednesday with operating a sophisticated "phishing" scheme — an Internet-based scam designed to obtain personal information by tricking people into believing that they are providing their information to a legitimate business. Goodin, who was expected to make his first court appearance Thursday afternoon in U. S. District Court in Los Angeles, is specifically charged with wire fraud and the unauthorized use of an access device, a credit card.
According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint Goodin used several e-mail accounts to send messages to AOL users. Those e-mails appeared to be from AOL's billing department, urged the subscribers to "update" their AOL billing information or lose service, and referred them to one of several fraudulent Internet websites where they could input personal information, including name, address, AOL account information, and credit or debit card data.

Goodin, who controlled those Web sites, used the fraudulently obtained information to make unauthorized charges on the credit or debit cards belonging to the duped AOL subscribers, said the complaint.

If convicted of the two offenses alleged in the complaint, Goodin faces a maximum possible penalty of 30 years in federal prison. 

This case was investigated by the Electronic Crimes Task Force, which is comprised of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U. S. Secret Service.

Pirate taxi driver narrowly escapes being thrown off bridge in Escazú
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers in Escazú arrested two men who the officers allege kidnapped an pirate taxi driver at gunpoint.  The driver was only able to escape being thrown off a bridge by acting drunk as the officers drew near, they said.

The two suspects, identified by the last names Ortega Sánchez and Pérez Torres hopped in the informal taxi, driven by a man identified by the last name Vargas, near Alajuelita, officers said.  The robbers ordered Vargas to drive to Escazú where they bound and gagged him, officers said. 
But as the car drew near a group of officers, Vargas began acting drunk which aroused the officers suspicion, they said.  As the officers approached, the bandits ordered to Vargas not to speak to police under threat of death, officers said.

The officers didn't speak to the three men, but moved away slowly, they said.  Suddenly, the two robbers jumped out of the cab and tried to escape, officers said.  After an intense hunt, the officers arrested the two suspects.   When officers arrested the two men, they said they found a .380-caliber pistol, as well as the Vargas cellular phone and 3,000 colons in cash, officers said.    

Jo Stuart
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