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(506) 223-1327         Published Friday, Feb. 22, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 38            E-mail us
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Parque Nacional Corcovado
corcovado montage
Photos by Martin Laube
A flight of white butterflies greets a tourist
while a crocodile basks in the sun. Where else could it be but the unspoiled Parque Nacional

Corcovado on the Osa Peninsula. And the base there is the Sirena ranger station. See our detailed look at hiking and camping there.



Prolific author and observer of Tico life, Mavis Biesanz, dies at 88
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Mavis Hiltunen Biesanz, 88, a keen observer of the Costa Rican scene, died Thursday after being hospitalized with a lung infection for four days.

She is known as one of the authors of the definitive popular books on Costa Rican culture and traditions.

Her husband, John, held a doctorate in sociology and accompanied her to Costa Rica in the early 1940s. They collaborated on "The People of Panamá," published in 1977, and "Costa Rican Life," published in 1979. He died in 1995.

Mrs. Biesanz authored "The Costa Ricans," published in 1988 and "The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica"  published in 1998, both with her son Richard and his wife, Karen Zubris Biesanz.

The family plans a memorial service Saturday at 3 p.m. at Mrs. Biesanz's home in San Antonio de Escazú. Those who wish to attend can call
289-4337 for directions, said the family. Condolences may be sent to this e-mail address.

Mrs. Biesanz never stopped writing, and a family member joked last night that she said she even had written her husband's dissertation. Her latest work, “Un año con Carmen. A Year with Carmen,” is a series of stories in Spanish and English.

It came out last year and is based on work she did with Carmen Naranjo, a well-known Costa Rican author. This was her 12th book.

Others included an autobiography of her childhood in Minnesota, “Helmi Mavis: A Finnish-American Childhood,” and several academic books on sociology that still are used at U.S. universities.

Mr. and Mrs. Biesanz moved here for good in 1971.

In addition to Richard, she is survived by a son, Barry, and a daughter, Katja. There also are grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The family also is known by its woodworking business of the same name.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 22, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 38

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wine bottles in use
Drink'em if you have'em

Saturday is a special day
for that special bottle

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Everyone has that distinctive bottle, perhaps received as a gift, that is far too good for even the average special occasion.  And so it remains on the wine rack collecting dust. 

Saturday, the last Saturday in February, is the ninth annual Open That Bottle Night.  Devised by the Wall Street Journal's wine columnists in 2000, the drinking holiday invites participants to gather their friends, muster their courage and pop the corks on bottles of wine, champagne or other alcohols that they have been saving.

Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, the columnist masterminds behind the innovative holiday, are careful to emphasize that the lucky chosen bottle doesn't have to be expensive, rare or otherwise exceptional of its own accord.  It's the story behind the bottle that makes it special, they said.  Gaiter and Brecher hope this makes the drinking event itself the special occasion, and encourage participants to share memories with friends during the potent potable popping.

What will the day's founders be drinking this ninth time around?  In light of the election season, they designated an extra-dry champagne, prepared especially for the White House's Clinton Administration of the 1990s.



Boy kept in cage  draws
raid from agents and arrests


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officials have detained two women, including a mother, on the allegation that they kept a boy in a cage, they said.

The women were throwing food into the boy's cage in the same area he had defecated, said officials. Officials estimated that the boy was 10 years old. The cage was inside of a house located in Pacto del Jocote in Alajuela, said officials. 

A Judicial Investigation Organization spokesperson said the agency received confidential information about the child Tuesday. Agents from the organization observed the caged boy from outside of the house, said officials. When they raided the house, the women hid the boy inside of a closet, according to the Judicial Investigation Organization.

Officials arrested Raquel Meza, who was the boy's mother, according to officials. They also arrested Gloria Corrales, although they did not say how the two women were related.

Officials did not say how long the boy had been locked in the cage. There were also conflicting reports that said the child may have been disabled. The boy is now in the care of the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, said officials. The women were given two months of preventative detention, said officials.

Obama won vote majority
in international contest


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois begins to pull ahead of Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York in the U.S. Democratic primaries, Democrats Abroad announced that Obama has won the organization's international primary election. 

Worldwide, Obama garnered over 65 per cent of the Democrat's votes, with Hillary Clinton collecting nearly 33 per cent.  John Edwards did not get even 1 per cent, according to totals released Thursday.. 

U.S. voters in Costa Rica were right on target with the international Democratic community, giving Obama 66 per cent and Mrs. Clinton 32 per cent. 

These results determine the allocation of 4.5 delegate votes at the Democratic National Convention.  Obama won 2.5 delegate votes and Mrs. Clinton two delegate votes.  A further 2.5 votes will be determined at the Democrats Abroad Global Convention in April.  In addition, Democrats Abroad holds four superdelegate votes.

The Democrats Abroad Global Primary was conducted February 5-12.  Balloting took place at voting centers in over 30 countries, by mail and fax, and for the first time, on the Internet through a secure online voting system.  Online ballots were cast from 164 countries and territories, from Antarctica to Zambia, the organization said.

Democrats Abroad regional caucuses will take place in Brussels, Belgium, March 15 and 16 for Europe-Middle East-Africa and in Vancouver, British Columbia, April 11  for the Americas and Asia-Pacific.  The Democrats Abroad Global Convention will also take place in Vancouver, April 12 and 13.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 22, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 38


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pont he way to corcovado
Photos by Martin Laube
Hiking on the beach toward the entrance to Parque Nacional Corcovado
To walk to the Sirena station is to see Costa Rica as it was
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It has long been said that you have to suffer for beauty. While counting mosquito bites and pulling ticks out of their toes, hikers who have just walked 50 kilometers (31 miles) in tropical heat through the Osa Peninsula might be inclined to agree.

From volcanoes with drive-up access to luxury beach resorts, Costa Rica makes beauty readily available for the tourist. Parque Nacional Corcovado is, on the contrary, a small pocket of undisturbed wilderness that hides its deserted, undeveloped beaches and rare wildlife away from human eyes.

Corcovado lies on the outside edge of the Osa Peninsula, and protects the only old growth wet forest that still remains on the Pacific coast of Central America. The forest is easily comparable to an Amazon rain forest, the tall trees with their impressive buttress roots outstripping the height of those in the Bolivian Amazon. The lush vegetation and the yearly 6 meters (about 20 feet) of rainfall provide the perfect habitat for some of the continent's rarest creatures.

Puerto Jiménez, the small town that is the gateway to the national park lies a 10-hour bus journey away from San José. From here hikers take a dawn pick-up truck ride for the two-hour drive around the bottom of the peninsula to Carate.

The colectivo heads past eco-lodges hidden in the jungle, stopping only for small ginger-furred anteaters who amble across the dirt road, safe in the knowledge that on the peninsula wildlife is everyone's top priority.

Carate is the end of the road, although it is still 2.5 kilometers of beach walking to the park boundary. José, a worker for Corcovado Lodge Tent Camp, often takes pity on hikers and slings their luggage into a cart for his horse to drag down the beach — a service usually reserved for those who want a more relaxing Osa experience in the beach-side camp.

“From here, there's a long way to go before you hit Sirena,” he says, skeptically eying up the day's quota of would-be hikers. “People come here with packs that are far too heavy for this trek.”Backpacks start out stuffed full of granola bars, trail mix, dried soup, and other preservable foods that represent an entire diet for the next several days. Tents, water filters and camping stoves add several kilograms to the load.

Carrying everything needed for the duration of a stay in the park is essential, unless reservations for accommodation and meals are made months in advance to land a spot in Sirena station's jungle lodge. The rangers cook three times a day for the well-off kids who arrive on boats or fly in on tiny planes to Sirena's grass airstrip, carefully avoiding the sweaty hike.

Walkers make do with the more basic aspects of the park's infrastructure. This consists of a network of relatively well-marked trails and four ranger stations with space for camping. No food can be bought anywhere in the park, and the water filter is essential for topping up drinking supplies from rivers along the way.

La Leona ranger station is the first port of call on the south side of the park. A ranger takes the $10 tourist entrance fee (It's $7 less for Ticos) and sends them on their way with a rudimentary trail map and a warning that planning river crossings to coincide with low tide is essential if one doesn't want to wade in up to the chest.

Although only several dozen tourists enter the park a day, the trail system has been well thought out. The trail that leads north along the coast winds through the trees next to the beach, infinitely preferable to walking 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) on the baking sand. Bursting through the trees to get to the beach for a bit of refreshing breeze is still easy, and well worth it, as the beaches are some of the most untouched imaginable.

Dark sand may not seem as idyllic as the blinding white bays on Caribbean postcards, but the coastline has a natural charm. It looks just as it must have for centuries, since well before the first Europeans landed in the Americas. Massive pieces of driftwood, some the size of entire trees, lie on the sand, and millions of hermit crabs are still the beaches' rightful kings. The palm trees and dense vegetation that line the coast are only interrupted by rocky outcrops and cliffs, against which the bright red and blue wings of scarlet macaws stand out as they fly above the treetops in their lifelong pairs.

Apart from carrying your house on your back, the toughest thing about this trip is the climate. The almost perennial cloud cover does little to relieve the heat, which is oppressive due to the intense humidity. It's not even necessary to start hiking to break a sweat. Minor activities like eating will bring it on too.

It is a relief at the end of the first day's hike to find that Sirena station is in fact perfectly habitable, not overgrown or snake-infested as a jungle station might be expected to be. It is an extensive wooden platform several feet off the floor connecting various different rooms including showers, bathrooms, a camping area, a canteen, and a kitchen where campers can set up their portable stoves and cook themselves a hearty portion of pasta.

Sirena is the perfect spot to spend a day or two immersed in the rain forest that once covered much of Costa Rica's Pacific coast, but has now shrunk to this 100,000-acre space. Rarely-sighted jaguars prowl through the forest, multicolored spiders hang in their massive webs, and hundreds of different types of birds attract avid bird watchers.  

Río Serena, a few hundred meters north of the station, is a prime location for wildlife spotting. Bull shark fins in their dozens dart through the water just a few meters from the river mouth, warning tourists away from spontaneous swimming trips. Six-foot crocodiles bask on the opposite bank, and the long grass by the beach has numerous openings where tapirs have crashed through the undergrowth to reach their hideouts. There is always someone at the ranger station who can point animal lovers in the right direction, and those with sharp eyes can also see three-toed sloths relaxing in the treetops.

Hours can be spent stalking wildlife along the trails marked out around the station, where crossing paths with another person is as unlikely as catching a jaguar unawares. The animals here are entirely wild. Spider monkeys shake the branches and beat their skinny chests, trying to scare humans away from the troop when tourists cross underneath their path, unlike the monkeys that inhabit some of the more accessible parks like Manuel Antonio, who hardly
neighborhood coati
A neighborhood coati with its distinctive long, ringed tail continues to search for food.

ocean view from trail
Beach view along the Sirena trail

corcovado hermit crab
This hermit crab and relatives are kings of the beach


flinch when they see a human. Central American squirrel 
monkeys also live here, the last place in Costa Rica where these endangered primates find a home.

Night strolls along the beach are popular, as tapir and jaguar tracks are often found in the sand at dawn, but boots are essential as various types of lethal snakes hide themselves in the long grass alongside the airstrip.

In the dry season it is possible to continue the hike along the beach, for another 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) north to the San Pedrillo ranger station. But once there, hikers are stranded unless they want to spend another day or two walking to the nearest settlement, or hire a pricey water taxi to Drake Bay. Not eager to do either of these, most tourists turn away towards the east, following the trail into the jungle. The terrain changes entirely; sand gives way to red, clay-filled earth, and the flat path turns into hilly climbs during the last two hours of the 17-kilometer (10.5-miles) trek. The humidity is amplified by the lack of coastal breeze, and frequent rain turns some paths into slippery mud chutes.

Plenty of streams along the way provide handy picnic spots and places to top up drinking water supplies using a water filter. Los Patos, right on the eastern frontier of the park, is  
far more basic than Sirena, with a field cordoned off for campers and basic bathroom facilities. At night, campers get eaten alive by mosquitoes, and there is no wooden platform to save tents from the tropical downpours that hammer the forest every other night.

After a full day's walk, it can be difficult to find motivation to hike further, but the waterfall a couple of kilometers away is well worth it. The fall is small, but it has carved out a blue pool, surrounded by jet-black rock that looks almost hand-carved in its perfection. Swimming in the cold water is refreshing, but ticks are rife in the jungle, and swimmers can sometimes find them hiding in the most unlikely places.

The exit from the park is only 2.5 kilometers from Los Patos, but the nearest town, La Palma, is another 10 kilometers (six miles) further on. Tourists coming the other way often hire jeeps to drive them through the gravelly river bed to avoid this extra hike, and anyone exiting the park should be able to flag a returning jeep down to save their legs.

The aches should disappear after a couple of days, the mosquito bites will take a little bit longer to stop itching, but the images of Costa Rica as it was intended to be, before the boom in tourism, before logging companies and before cattle ranching, will stay for far longer.


Map of Corcovado shows the key points: Carate where the oceanside hike began and Serina station where facilities await visitors. Then there is the trail to Los Patos through the heart of the park.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 22, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 38

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Living in a 26-year circle that now joins in Guatemala
Tomorrow I will be leaving for Guatemala to attend a writers’ workshop.  It is taking place in Atitlan by the International Women’s Studies Institute.  It has been a while since I have been out of the country.  We will be staying in San Marcos, a charming little town, I am told, on the shores of Lake Atitlan. I am looking forward to the scenery and food of another Central American country,

Although this is just the second institute workshop I have attended in the 26 years it has been operating, I was present at its conception, if you will.

Ellen Boneparth, my dear friend and former boss, decided we should visit Greece together.  This was about 28 years ago.  I had been her secretary when she was the director of the Women’s Studies Program at San Jose State and I a graduate student. 

Any trip with Ellen is an adventure.  (We came together to Costa Rica when I was thinking about living here.  We drove from Tamarindo on the Pacific coast to near Limón on the Caribbean coast in one day during Christmas holiday without a reservation.  There were no vacancies anywhere, but Ellen managed to find a place for us to stay in the conference room of a hotel.) 

We were climbing a hill on the Greek island of Paros.  Ellen had reached the top and was taking in the view of the Mediterranean as I struggled to catch up with her.  “Wouldn’t it be great to start a women’s studies institute and bring women from all over the world to Greece to study and enjoy this?”  She said (or words to that effect). 

“Yeah, great, Ellen,” I gasped.  “Why don’t you do that?” Let me state here that Ellen is considerably younger than I am.

A couple of years later I was a member of the staff of the first Women’s Studies Institute that was held in the town  
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

of Molivos on the Greek island of Lesbos, home of the poet Sappho.  Besides leading a seminar on “Rule of Women” myths. I was supposed to serve as a sort of counselor or solver of problems the women might have.

Mostly they were along the line of (after a few days) "I hate this island, I’m homesick and think I’m coming down with something.  I’m exhausted.”  I usually told them to drink two glasses of water and then come see me again.  It was hot that summer and most of us were dehydrated from time to time. 

Since then the Institute, under Ellen’s directorship, has conducted cross-cultural travel-study programs for women in more than a half dozen countries on five continents.

This year, besides learning something about the life of women in Guatemala, I will be in a memoir writing workshop led by Joyce Maynard.  Joyce is the author of a number of books, including her own memoir, At Home in the World, which, in part is about the time she spent living with the writer, J.D. Salinger while she was still a teenager.  At the age of 18, her essay on the youth of the 70’s was published in The New York Times Magazine — with her picture on the front page.  She was also a newspaper columnist writing on domestic matters. I am looking forward to meeting her and learning from her.

The only difficult part of my upcoming journey has been saying goodbye to my friend Mavis, who died Thursday in Hospital CIMA.




Trouble flares near Peruvian tourism site of Machu Picchu
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Protests against a tourism development plan in the ancient Peruvian city of Cuzco have led to the suspension of public transportation and airport operations.

Local authorities and media say protesters marched through the city and used rocks and sticks to block major roads Thursday.

The trouble forced authorities to temporarily ground flights
at Cuzco's airport and affected train service to the famed ruins of Machu Picchu. Police say they provided escorts to tourists visiting Cuzco's historic sites.  Demonstrators are protesting a new law that promotes the development of tourism services near archaeological sites.

Cuzco is the site of the ancient Incan civilization and is a World Heritage Site.  Thursday's protest is the second to hit Peru this week. Tuesday, three people were killed in a demonstration by farmers in Ayacucho state protesting a free trade deal with the United States.


Two men, including U.S. citizen, detained in San Mateo on drug and gun counts
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police detained two men, one of whom was a United States citizen, to face allegations of drug possession and possession of weapons.

The Fuerza Pública detained a Costa Rican man with the last names of Ureña Murillo, 29, and an American known as “Eddy” Rodríguez in San Mateo, Alajuela, Thursday, 
said officials. Police seized a submachine gun, a .25-caliber pistol, and 15 grams of marijuana, they said.

The men were traveling in a Hyundai which was also seized by officials, they said.

Rodríguez was a Puerto Rican American who had been living in Jacó, said officials. The men are being held by judicial and immigration authorities, said officials.


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