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These stories were published Thursday, Feb. 21, 2002
Jo Stuart
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High season big on people, but money's tighter
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The high tourist season this year will go down in history as the one when Costa Rica dodged the bullet. Despite predictions of disaster, the number of tourists seem to be holding steady.

Although the number of tourists visiting the country appears to be about the same as last year, the general sense of tourist operators is that visitors this year are less likely to spend money.

Meanwhile, an advertising campaign set up by the Instituto Costariccense de Turismo appears to be paying off, if activity on the official Web site is any indication. 

Some tourist industry leaders in the Nicoya Peninsula have expressed some concern because charter flights at the international airport in Liberia have not been arriving this year crammed with tourists as they have in the past. Observers said they saw numbers of unsold seats on such flights.

Others in the tourism industry note a change in tourist patterns. Many tourists had sidestepped San José in favor of traveling directly to their final Costa Rica destination.  One hotel operator said that Costa Rica is getting more repeat tourists who already have toured the capital city and who are interested returning rapidly to the beach or the mountains where they spend nearly all their time while here.

Another said that the perception that there is more crime in San José has caused tourists to avoid the capital. Nevertheless, a walk through the center of the downtown at midday shows legions of backpackers and others who are obvious tourists.

Melchor Marcos Hurtado, the tourism institute’s Web page expert, said that the number of unique visitors to the Internet page has tripled. Last year, the Web page averaged about 25,000 to 30,000 unique individual visitors each month. This year in January the pages registered 108,828 unique visitors. So far in February some 66,797 visitors had been counted.

He said three developments contributed to the growth:  First, the tourism institute is spending about $9 million with its advertising agency Porter-Novelli of Barrio Escalante to target U.S. and national markets. Second, the country is benefiting from a link the institute negotiated on the official Web page of Temptation Island II, a Fox network reality show set near Tambor.

Third, said Marcos, success breeds success as Internet search engines are influenced by the number of computer visits to individual Web pages and have a tendency to display often-visited pages higher in its list of search options.

Tourism officials launched an emergency advertising campaign immediately after events of Sept. 11 grounded international airliners. The campaign this year builds on the earlier one. The campaign also contains the internet address of the institute Web page.

Tourism operators also were anxious this year because of the economic recession in the United States and Europe, principal markets for the 1 million-plus tourists who come here each year.

There are no solid statistics on tourism for the current high season, but discussions with those in the business suggest that this year will generate about the same number of tourists as last year with perhaps a slightly smaller amount of spending for each individual.

Several said that it would be the optional tourism activities that would suffer the most. The transportation costs are fixed, as are hotels and other living expenses. But side trips, excursions and other enrichment activities are feeling the bulk of the more conservative spending. Fine dining is among these.

The National Museum said that its attendance was up over last year some weeks and down a little bit in other weeks. But with the walk-in ticket price of 200 colons (60 cents), marketers there did not think attendance would suffer. Plus the museum is a feature of every commercial city tour.

The country got a lift Sunday when The New York Times Travel Section published an article on Costa Rica. The tourism institute had The Times on its advertising placement list at $70,000 a page. The travel section usually tries to accompany its advertising with travel articles from the same region, unlike the news pages that are not influenced by advertising sales.
For a tourism treat, 
check out Patricia Martin's report on Playa Flamingo
Click HERE

No mice
right now,
thank you

A lazy afternoon at the workshop just drains the energy from this black cat who finds a resful place under a small table constructed of bamboo, a material that is being used in creative ways by an artisan near Guápiles.

See story below

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Erickson and bamboo

the other

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Visitors are thrilled by tallest bamboo plant
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A lamp, produced in the workshop becomes some object more than just a device to thrown light. The creativity and bamboo meld into a work of art.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The material is not exactly towering sequoias or some of the exotic woods found in the tropics. But the fast-growing bamboo is what Brian Erickson uses to make furniture at his workshop near Guápiles.

The bearded Erickson has been involved in bamboo development projects here in Costa Rica in conjuction with the government. Now he buys his bamboo from the government and produces what could be be described as individual works of art.

The mature bamboo shoots are sliced and diced until Erickson and his single employee have fairly straight slats that they attach in creative ways. 

Bamboo is common in the tropics, but Erickson has turned his home on the banks of the Río Blanco just west of Guápiles into a bamboo paradise. Varieties from all over the world grow there, being cultivated and evaluated by Erickson. Little of his home-grown material goes into furniture.

The bamboo is treated with a boron solution to prevent future insect infestations, and then the creativity takes over.
The bamboo shoots pop out of the ground in diameters reflecting the age of the planting. The shoot will not grow wider with age. Here a collection of lengths of bamboo make a candle holder.
A.M. Costa Rica photo

Police evict 24 families
near Playa Herradura

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police forced out 24 families from five hectares (12.4 acres) of land they had settled illegally near Playa Herradura.

The police action involved about 130 officers and took place on Tuesday morning on land owned by two U.S. citizens.

There were about 85 persons who had settled on the land. Social services agency representatives were there to make sure that children and women would receive good treatment.

Also witnessing the eviction was José Miguel Gonzalez, the judge who had signed the order to remove the squatters from land they did not own. He said Wednesday that the people removed did not seem to be squatters but perhaps persons who had been tricked into thinking that they actually owned the land.

Carlos Mora of the Fuerza Publica in Puntarenas said that some of the people had lived on the land for years and some of the houses had been constructed from concrete. He said the entire operation was peaceful.

The land is owned by George Bill Small and Allen Grammer, identified as U.S. citizens.

The actual eviction of persons who have invaded uncultivated land is a difficult legal process in Costa Rica. The land is in the canton of Garabito, which has Puntarenas as its administrative center. 

Land along the beach has increased in value, particularly with the construction of major resorts there. Consequently, organized raids sometimes target private land with the goal of gaining ownership through adverse possession or squatters’ rights.

Several other cases involving U.S. citizen owners and Costa Rican squatters are in the national courts. Frequently, local police are less than anxious to execute a judicial order to remove squatters.

Other U.S. citizens said that the problem is similar in the beach communities on the Nicoya Peninsula. Foreigners who own land in Costa Rica have to check their land regularly or hire someone to do so because the longer squatters stay on the land the more ownership rights they accumulate.

Ambassador reception
to draw more than 100

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than 100 persons have purchased tickets to mingle with U.S. Ambassador John J. Danilovich and his wife Irene, who will be the guests of honor at an American Colony Committee welcome reception  tonight from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. in the Costa Rica Marriott Hotel. 

The turnout is less than the 200 the number for which the committee had planned. The committee faced criticism at similar events that the food was inadequate, so it doubled the admission to 10,000 colons ($29) to buy more food. There is a cash bar.

Body may be missing girl

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police found the body on a farm in Santa Barbara de Heredia, and they think it might be a young woman reported missing in Desamparados de Alajuela Monday. Medical examiners will try to determine if this is the case. 

Zoellick links trade
to freedom, liberty

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — "Free trade is about freedom. It's about economic liberty. It's about political liberty. It's about openness in the economy and helping it change," the United States Trade Representative, Ambassador Robert Zoellick said Tuesday.

Briefing reporters here on his last day in South Africa, Zoellick said the United States does not believe in a mercantilist or colonialist trade policy which seeks to keep other nations weak. "That is not our view," he stressed.

"If southern Africa and South Africa have healthy trading relationships with many other countries, that is great."

The United States strongly feels, he added, that "strong countries throughout the world help us. Trade is not a zero sum endeavor. If countries grow, they are more stable and can deal with the problems of immigration and disease and environment. Also, they buy more from the United States," he said.

Citing an example to illustrate his point, he said, Mexico was a very "closed and autarchic" economy that did not come into the World Trade Organization system, until 1986.

"After the (North American Free Trade) Agreement was completed between the United States and Mexico," he reminded his audience, "Mexico went on to negotiate eight free trade agreements with 32 other countries, and that brought investment from Japan and Europe and elsewhere."

The United States, he noted, now has free trade agreements with Mexico, Canada, Israel and Jordan.

Nation’s agriculturists
gear for new ‘El Niño’

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican agricultural officials are getting ready for the onslaught of the next El Niño by taking a good look at what happened last time the Pacific weather phenomenon took a swipe at the country.

That was in 1997 and 1998 when the weather condition cut rainfall and damaged crops mostly on the Pacific side of the country. "Improvements in the technical capacity to mitigate the effects of Future Variable Climatic Events" is the title of a study just produced by five specialists in the risk assessment section of the Minsisterio de Agricutura y Ganadaría.

Basically they found that the Caribbean coast and the Central valley were the least affected parts of the country. The Pacific Northwest, the country’s northern zone and the central and south Pacific bore the brunt of the weather changes, which involved a reduction in rainfall. The periods from May to September in 1997 and the first five months of 1998 were the worst for lack of rainfall, the study said.

The report is being circulated with the hope that local governments can take steps to mitigate the possible damage to crops and water supplies.

Water cuts planned to save

Acueductos y Alcantarillados, the water company, will cut service from 12 to 15 times from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. over the next four months to save on water because a dry summer is predicted. Most of the cuts will be in the metropitan area.

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