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(506) 2223-1327       Published Friday, May 1, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 85     E-mail us
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Many older expats have seen a very scary disease
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica staff

While the world waits to see how the swine flu epidemic plays out, some expats are old enough to remember another plague: polio.

That disease is nearly eliminated now, and many youngsters today have never heard the word. But in the 1940s and early 1950s polio or poliomyelitis struck fear in the hearts of parents.

The disease struck with seeming randomness and quickly crippled a child. Sometimes that attack was so bad that the child was put into a ventilator, a so-called iron lung.

Today's swine flu report

Today people wonder if they should go to the mall or a party for fear of contracting flu. Many parents in the 1940s and 1950s simply isolated their children in the summer and early fall, the peak season for transmission in the Northern Hemisphere. No playgrounds. No movies. No gatherings with other children.

Much is known now that polio is an orally transmitted virus and that the bulk of those who are infected never show symptoms. It was the worse cases that scared parents and youngsters old enough to understand.

A healthy individual could be hit overnight with a high fever and quick paralysis. Sometimes he or she would never recover the full use of the limbs. If the

Salk headlines
Wikimedia Commons
Newspaper headlines praise the discoverer of the vaccine.
March of dines
U.S. National Library of Medicine
The March of Dimes was a leading charity in the fight against polio.

paralysis was in the chest and they were lucky, a ventilator would save their life.

Hundreds of polio survivors went on to become leaders in their fields. Franklin D. Roosevelt may have had the disease.

A series of epidemics in the United States in the early 1950s seemed to target children and left thousands dead each year and tens of thousands paralyzed.

Many, like the author, suffered recurring fevers and fatigue for months but no paralysis.

A vaccine that went on the market in 1955 was like a gift from God. Jonas Salk, the vaccine creator was justifiably lionized and even more so after he refused to patent and profit from the discovery.

The original Salk vaccine required three separate shots for full immunity to the three variants of polio.  Eventually Albert Sabin created an oral dose, which is used widely today.

In Costa Rica the Parque de Diversiones, the fun park in west San José, has a history rooted in the 1953 polio epidemic here. Polio that year in Costa Rica caused the highest mortality rate.

More than 2,000 children suffered serious crippling because of the disease. Doctors Carlos Saenz Herrera and Roberto Ortiz Brenes created the Asociación Pro-Hospital Nacional de Niños.

The association generated enough funds to open the now-famous Hospital Nacional de los Niños en 1964. 

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One school suspends classes
over report of possible flu

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

At least one school has suspended classes over a possible case of swine flu, but Costa Rica's public schools and other private institutions are simply stepping up sanitary precautions.

It was Saint Clare that announced at mid afternoon that classes would not be held Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Students already had today off due to the International Day of the Worker, a legal holiday here.

Sonia Pastrana, director of the school in San Juan de la Unión, said that a high school student was reported to have showed symptoms of flu and the closure was a precautionary measure. The school has students from pre-kindergarten to high school.

Elsewhere there is a lot of precautions. Street sweepers in San José donned masks Thursday. Masks were in evidence all over the Central Valley but they were not required. Some businesses sent workers home early.

Health workers are looking at more than 100 cases of flu-like symptoms, but some could be seasonal flu.  The country still only had two confirmed cases.

Worldwide the number of confirmed cases of swine influenza continues to grow. According to the World Health Organization, the list of countries where the virus has been detected now stands at 11 with Switzerland and the Netherlands reporting their first cases of the virus. And for now, the organization is maintaining its pandemic threat warning at Phase 5, the second-highest alert status.

The World Health Organization reports a 75 percent jump in the number of confirmed swine flu cases worldwide since Wednesday. Mexico and the United States account for much of the increase.

A growing number of countries are either discouraging or banning travel to and from Mexico, where the first cases of swine flu were reported and where the virus is suspected in thousands of infections and more than 150 deaths.

The Obama administration says there are no plans to close the 3,000 kilometer U.S.-Mexico border. Rather, the U.S. government is urging common-sense steps to prevent virus transmission and distributing millions of doses of anti-viral treatments to health officials nationwidde.

Attack on Dutch queen causes
cancellation of celebration here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Dutch residents in Costa Rica reacted with shock at what appeared to be an attempt on their Queen Beatrix and the royal family Thursday.

Matthijs van Bonzel, the Dutch ambassador in Costa Rica immediately canceled a Queen's Day celebration scheduled for Thursday night at the Club Holandés in Santa Ana.

News reports said that a 38-year-old man managed to evade police controls in the city of Apeldoorn and used his car as a weapon. The car never reached the queen and the royal family, who were traveling in a double-decker bus, but the attacker killed five persons and left 13 persons, including three children injured.  He also was injured, news reports said. The entire incident was televised.

arrested pair
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Serguridad Pública.
Robbery suspects are brought to police station

Two held after school kids
robbed of their backpacks

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Fuerza Pública arrested two individuals Thursday seconds after bandits stuck a sharp object against two students and stole backpacks and other items.

Officials said that the arrests were the 16th since the start of the school year in February.

The two men, identified by the last names and ages of Román Gutiérrez, 19, and Sancho, 16.

Police said the robberies involved students from the Liceo Anastasio Alfaro in Guadalupe where there has been a string of such  crimes. Police were called by a citizen who witnessed the robberies.

tanker containing drugs
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Serguridad Pública.
Here is the tanker trailer police searched.

Packages found within tank
filled with liquid ammonium

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug police found 837 kilos (1,841 pounds) of suspected cocaine hidden in the body of a chemical tanker Thursday.
The discovery took place in Peñas Blancas near the border crossing to Nicaragua.

Anti-drug police also intercepted a truck in Tibás Thursday that they said was carrying 1,560 kilos of cocaine, some 3,432 pounds.

The Peñas Blancas case involved a tanker trailer of the type used in agriculture filled ammonium, a caustic liquid. Police said they believed that the driver, identified by the last names of Arce Morales, was nervous, so they gave the vehicle a close inspection.  Using special equipment they managed to locate the packages of drugs inside the tank, they said.

The Tibás seizure came as a call through the 176 anti-drug telephone line, officers said. They detained a man with the last name of Abadía López, 42, and a man with the last names of Gúzman Valencia, 36, they said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 1, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 85

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International fair dancers
Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza photo
These traditional dancers were featured at the 2008 international fair in Turrialba.

Workers' march today kicks off a weekend of activities
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The weekend is shaping up to be one of many activities, ranging from surf, to reggae to an international fair.

Today is a legal holiday in Costa Rica, so some Central Valley residents have gotten an early start for the beach. It is labor day or the International Day of the Worker. Unions and other groups will be gathering downtown about 9 a.m. to begin a march at 10 a.m.

The themes this year are against corruption and to demonstrate what marchers call the crisis of the free market. Just salaries also is a theme. The marchers, many members of the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados, also are against proposed changes in work rules that would allow for flexible work schedules like a 10-hour work day four days a week.

This is a run up to an election year, so many other groups with gripes probably will participate.

Vacationers going to the central Pacific, they can visit the Bulo-Daystar Outrigger Canoe competition Sunday in front of Bahia Encantada, according to the Central Pacific Chamber of Commerce.

The Circuito Nacional de Surf is Saturday and Sunday in Playa Hermosa.  Hotel Terrazas del Pacífico is the site for the Friday activity, the chamber said.

Friday Alpha Blondy is appearing at Picachos in Paraíso de Cartago. Saturday the reggae singer will be in Doce Luna in Jacó and Sunday at a location in San José.
Sunday Rey Ruiz and Tomasito Cruz will be live in concert at Club Congas in Jacó.

Sunday in San José the Museo Nacional will celebrate its 122 years of existence with an orchid fair with an exhibition and sale along with food music and dances. That is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. There also will be workshops on propagating orchids.

Both Saturday and Sunday the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza in Turrialba is hosting its  XXIII Feria Internacional. Dishes from many lands will be featured.

The fair also features tours of the research institution's many aspects, including the botanical garden, adventure activities like canopy rides and rappelling, live music, and another exposition of orchids.

The event is a benefit for the many local schools that will profit from what visitors spend on food.

Saturday the fair is from noon to 8 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

In Palmares the Feria del Mueble is taking place from today through Sunday with at least 15 furniture fabricators participating.

Next week there is the Feria Agroindustrial Coopetarrazú Thursday in Tarrazú, the Feria San Isidro Labrador from Thursday through Sunday in San Isidro de Pérez Zeledón and the Día de las Tradiciones Sancarleñas from Thursday through Saturday in Ciudad Quesada.

These folks have the talent to practice and not quit
In 1964 IBM came out with their IBM/360 System, and computing numbers electronically took a leap. I can’t remember if someone told me, or if I saw it myself, since I was working in New York at the time, but IBM supposedly had an abacus behind glass in the front reception. There was a small hammer hanging alongside it with the sign, "In case of Emergency, break glass."

It made people smile. The abacus is an ancient tool, often a frame with beads that is used to compute numbers. In 1964 with computers well on their way, it seemed as if the abacus would soon only be found in museums.

But it is thriving in Asia. Some young students of the abacus are faster at calculations than computers. These kids are not geniuses, so how do they do it? Practice, practice, practice. Students start as young as 4 working the abacus. And some of them go at it six hours a day. They want to, and in Japan, it is accepted that children should study hard.

Which brings me to a conversation that Fareed Zakaria had with author Malcolm Gladwell on GPS, the Sunday talk show on CNN, of which Zakaria is the host. It is the only grown-up talk show that I know of outside of some on C-Span.

Gladwell maintains that talent is simply "the willingness to practice." It is a point he makes in his latest book, "Outliers." In a way there is an element of talent, because in most cases you are good at whatever it is that you want to spend hours and hours each day doing. That is why I never became a ballerina, as much as I thought it would be nice to be one.

Another point that writer Gladwell makes is that success is usually the result of hard work and an encouraging culture.

I have witnessed this among my friends. Two in particular.

Sometimes I think of them as the Maven and the Miracle Worker (other times I just think they are nuts). James is a maven when it comes to problem solving. If it is fixing things, figuring out how to make things work, whether it is your computer or the system in which we live, James is always ready to help you solve a problem.

Alexis seems to be interested in saving the planet by means of recycling. We met when she was talking earnestly, often and persuasively to Dos Pinos, the biggest dairy
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

product producers in the country, about recycling their boxes. They are now doing so. At least they have made a start. Next she attacked cans, actually the tabs on cans, and started making really lovely jewelry from recycled tabs and recycled fabrics.

Next she taught others — Costa Rican women with little or no means of income, to make the jewelry. With her help they have formed co-ops, are creating new designs and earning money (not to mention gaining pride in themselves). ReciclArte is now a thriving non profit business whose profits go towards schools and educating young people about recycling. You can check out to find out what they are doing.

James has spent hours helping me correct a problem with my my washing machine my telephone or helping me hang pictures in my new apartment. And he's done the same for other friends.

The thing about James is he won’t quit. He won’t let a problem defeat him unless he has exhausted all possibilities.

The thing about Alexis is she doesn’t quit, either. I have never seen her go anywhere when, during a quiet moment she does nothing. She is always weaving (or whatever she does) her necklaces or belts or bracelets. She loves doing it. James loves helping others.

So they are happy to practice, practice, practice, and they are great successes at what they do because the culture in which they live (whether it is their circle of friends or the planet) thinks it is a great idea and encourages them.

And please don’t ask me what all of this has to do with IBM’s 360. I am not sure, but sometimes I have to start somewhere, hoping it will take you to where I want to go. And I am sure the people at IBM loved what they were doing and worked hard.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 1, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 85

More readers voice opinions on and improving Costa Rica
Leave kids in their classes
and not picking up trash

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I read Thursday Dick Burgoon's letter suggesting that children take time from their school day to pick up trash, and I think he is wrong!

In Costa Rica the schools, which have been historically better than the U.S., there is now an ever growing problem of attendance ( or lack thereof ) and early dropouts. My step daughter Sofi who is in fourth grade in La Uruca is actually studying geometry. I think I was in 10th grade before I had that class! Costa Rica has a higher literacy rate than the U.S., and I believe they use the children's' time in the classroom wisely.

Another concern I have is exposure to disease. Picking up trash will have the kids exposed to all sorts of toxins, bugs, and who knows what. I do not want that to happen to my children. School is not detention, which brings to mind a better solution to the problem: Community service for criminals or those awaiting there day in court, which in Costa Rica could be months. Have these people, particularly the petty repeat offenders, assigned to pick up the filth alongside the highways, but PLEASE leave the children be students!

Patrick Mach
St Augustine Florida
La Uruca

Reflection on drug laws
needed here and in U.S.

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I love Costa Rica and hate reading of the rampant criminality that has resulted from the invasion of Colombian drug gangs and the collusion of dirty politicians and police.

Carjackings,strong-arm robberies, and home invasion murders stain the honor and culture of Costa Rica. Absurd drug laws and unrealistic prohibitions create golden arenas for criminal mafias to thrive. Antiquated laws, irresponsible judges, and ill-trained and poorly armed police make for a gangster's paradise, pura vida style.

The U.S. has its peculiar problems that parallel Costa Rica's, and the U.S. needs to abolish its prohibitionist's approach to drugs, money and violence. One needs only to look at The Volstead Act. Congress passed the Volstead Act in 1919. It provided the legislation to enforce the 18th Amendment that ultimately provided the medium for murderous gangsters and elites with massive fortunes. What a wonderful method to fund latter drug ventures like heroin and cocaine! And the band plays on . . . .

The people of Costa Rica need to wake up and take back their country from politicians and murders who only want to amass fortunes at the expense of Costa Rica's children. My family (half-Costa Rican, half North American) will always stand by your beautiful republic. Please read and reflect on what needs to be done.

Peter Robert Monck
Miami Dade College

Crime in Nicoya vindicates
the Caribbean coastal area

Dear A.M. Costa Rica

It saddened me to read the account on April, 30, in A.M. Costa Rica of yet another violent assault on an expat living on the Nicoya Peninsula.
The violent home invasion and shooting of Mr. White should be yet another wake up call to the Costa Rican government that, unless something is done, Costa Rica's long standing reputation as a safe and eco-friendly tourist/retirement destination could soon be damaged beyond repair.
For me, as a long time, half year resident of the Caribbean, the story about Mr. White's trauma on the Pacific coast is yet one more reason to end the long held mythology that it is only Costa Rica's Caribbean coast that is dangerous.
The crime in Costa Rica is a national problem and should be treated as such.
Michael Cook
North Truro, Massachusetts
and Puerto Viejo de Limón
He delivers wakeup call
to slumbering Costa Rica

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have lived in San José, Costa Rica, for 11 years, and visited the country as a tourist off and on for eight years.  I have recently noticed more and more Costa Ricans, making little effort to respond to, “Good Morning, Good Afternoon, nor Good Evening,” spoken in Spanish.  It is hard to get many to return a smile these days.  They need to be reminded that tourist dollars are the foundation of their economy. Tourists want to see polite, happy people.

I have also noticed that when a 20 percent cash tip or more is handed to waiters and waitresses in Costa Rica, most of the time the employees will not even say, “Thank you.”  Certainly being polite, a nice big smile and a, “Thank you” will increase their income.

My biggest turnoff in Costa Rica are vendors coming into restaurants while I’m eating, attempting to sell me something and will not take, “no” for an answer.  I ask them for their home address and the time they have dinner.  They ask why?  My response is, “So I can interrupt your dinner, try to sell you something and harass you until you lose your appetite!” That is so rude, and many businesses here allow it.

I have also noticed over the last year that the working women in Gringo Gulch and elsewhere have a bit of an attitude now and are developing similar traits of Gringas.  Those are the same traits that drove and continue to drive most Gringos into Costa Rica.  If this continues, they will no doubt be forced to accept less and change their line of work.  It is this repulsive attitude that polarizes relationships between men and women. 

Sex tourism is a multibillion dollar business that few talk about and many critics don’t understand.  The money earned supports single mothers, their children, their younger brothers and sisters, their mothers and fathers and their grandparents.  It allows the worker to own their own home, develop independence, pay for education and establish themselves for the future so they do not have to depend on the government, nor others.  It is the oldest profession and should be understood, respected and not harassed occasionally by the government.

Citizens here should take responsibility to clean up trash on their property and in the street in front of their property.  If everyone got in the habit of showing pride of ownership, fewer people would litter and with a decrease in crime, tourism would flourish.  With the threat of viruses these days, tourist will not visit countries where they have to step over and smell garbage in the streets.

The Costa Rica government should make it easier to purchase cell phone SIM cards and to do business.  In Thailand, the U.S. and in many countries, it only takes an individual 10 minutes to purchase a cell phone and a rechargeable SIM card.

The government should also protect investor’s money and do the honorable thing and return money to investors who lost money in the Costa Rican corporations that were shut down by the government.

Crime is everywhere today, however, the criminals in tourist areas have to understand how crime can destroy tourist dollars and affect them personally in years to come.  The current murder rate in Costa Rica is unacceptable.  I’m at a loss to understand why many criminals don’t ask for the money or property first, before shooting someone. 

If the current murder rate increases, no one will want to visit Costa Rica and crime will accelerate.  Whenever I speak of Costa Rica while traveling outside of the country, everyone comments about the crime they recently read about in Costa Rica.  Criminals need to stop what they are doing now!

Most of my friends who have lived in Costa Rica for years have been leaving for over a year and will not return for the above reasons.  Many were high end investors and generous.  The countries that my friends went to and are currently living in, are now benefiting financially from Costa Rica’s mistakes.

I was the publisher of the, “Costa Rica Information Center — The Peck Report” for several years.  I closed the Web site down over two years ago as over time there was more negative news than positive.  Most services that I recommended became unreliable and many tourist complained.

Hopefully, this content and these articles will be a, “WAKEUP CALL” for Costa Rica before it is too late.

Jim Peck
Worldwide Traveler

Casa Alfi Hotel
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 1, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 85

A.M. Costa Rica

users guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.


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Policeman in Santa Ana
died in vehicle chase

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Fuerza Pública officer died Wednesday night when he
Policeman who died in chase
Rafael Vargas López
chased a vehicle that somehow ran his police car off the road near The Forum in Santa Ana. Another officer was injured.

He was identified as Rafael Alberto Vargas López, a nine-year veteran of the police force, according to the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. He was 32.

The ministry said that a citizen came to the police station and complained that someone in a Suzuki Sidekick had uttered death threats. Vargas
went to find the individual, said the ministry.

When the other driver collided with the patrol car it sent the vehicle into a utility pole.

Injured was Greivin Arrieta Hidalgo, who suffered injuries to the knees and hip. He underwent surgery at Hospital San Juan de Dios Thursday.

Police later found the suspect car hidden at Río Oro, Santa Ana. The Judicial Investigating Organization is handling the case.

The ministry also announced the death Wednesday of Yessenia Chavarría Mora, 37, who was stationed with the Fuerza Pública in Nandayure. She had worked as an officer there for more than 10 years. Death was natural and believed caused by a heart attack, said officials.

Suspects in casino murder
get three more months

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men suspected of being involved in the cold-blooded murder of 24-year-old casino worker Yerlyn Marín Salazar will spend another three months in preventative detention.

A criminal judge decided that Thursday afternoon. The two men, identified by their last names of Mora Cantillano and Mena Jiménez also are charged with two counts of attempted murder, two counts of rape, abduction and aggravated robbery.

This is the case in which Oct. 28 three female employees at the White House Casino were intercepted shortly after leaving work in San Antonio de Escazú. Ms. Marín died from two bullets to the head.  The abductors took the women to separate places and tried to kill the two remaining victims. Both survived two bullet wounds each.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 1, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 85

Latin American news digest
First section of new highway
opened with a ceremony

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Now the tie ups between Ciudad Colón and San José are supposed to be at an end on the Autopista Próspero Fernández. That section, the most eastern of the highway that eventually will go to Caldera, is officially open. There was a ceremony on the highway in Escazú Thursday.

This is a 14-kilometer stretch, some 8.5 miles, that was in pretty good shape to begin with. It runs from the Gimnasio Nacional in Parque la Sabana to Ciudad Colón. The concession holder is Autopistas del Sol. 

Drivers were going crazy with the continual delays as the concession holder for the route widened the highway from four lanes to six between Escazú and the Circunvalación and also widened bridges on the route. The two-lane stretch east of Ciudad Colón was widened from two lanes to four.

The highway will continue to be a toll road, but the concession holder will not start collecting money for another week or two.

Panama journalist convicted

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The two-year prison sentence has been handed down to a Panamanian journalist for his 2001 exposure of corruption involving a supreme court justice in that country.
The journalist involved, Jean Marcel Chéry, currently editor of the Panama City newspaper El Siglo, was ordered to serve the prison term and pay a fine on a charge of illegal entry into the ranch home of supreme court Justice Winston Spadafora in 2001. At the time Spadafora was interior and justice minister in the government of President Mireya Moscoso.
In his Feb. 18 ruling Judge Ricardo Mazza Moreno said that in addition to Chéry another journalist, Gustavo Aparicio, and photographer John Watson, both working for the Panamá América newspaper, secretly entered the Spadafora ranch and took photographs. The photos were published March 8, 2001, with a report saying that public money had been used to construct a highway that led directly to the Spadafora property.
In his defense Chéry testified that he had been given permission to enter the private property by security guards.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 1, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 85

green mangos
A.M. Costa Rica photo     
A quick snack of green mango

Time for a sour green fruit
that's loaded with vitamin C

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Among the more underrated offerings of the Costa Rican produce markets is the green mango. Most expats know about ripe mangos and have enjoyed the drippy, juicy fruit with its unique flavor. They may also have used it in blended drinks or as a flavor for ice cream or soda.

Less respected is the green mango. This can be found prepared in the little baggies offered by street vendors. Included in the bag with the strips of mango is a bit of lemon and salt. Nice vendors also will add special ingredients, like chili, upon request.

This is street finger food. The long mango strips are bitter and an acquired taste. And that's about all the average Tico sees of green mangos.

The inhabitants of India and some Asian countries have a 4,000 to 5,000 year head start on using the fruit. Chutney,  the condiment identified with the British Empire and India, has a mango base.

Green mangos can hold their own in any taste test, and the addition of sea salt, chili, chilero or black pepper can cater to the desires of the consumer.

A real treat is a green mango salad. There are an infinite number of recipes. The basic salad contains either grated or strips of mango. From there on in, the choices are many. One version uses baked coconut and various nuts, bean sprouts and basil.

Those who want to add fire to the sour treat can create a mango-jalapeño salad, heavy on lime or lemon and pepper.

The fruit is so accommodating that a chef can hardly go wrong. The salad can become a main course with the addition of chicken or shrimp.

The mango also contains all sorts of healthful compounds, including vitamin C and fiber.

The only downside is the large seed in the middle that sometimes can be a challenge. Freestone versions of the fruit exist, but they are foreign to Costa Rica.

Chinese bottles
A.M. Costa Rica/Arron O'Dell
There's no need to read the bottle. In fact, most of us cannot, despite loosely enforced Costa Rican laws to the contrary that call for labels in Spanish. It's just time for experimentation!

Take the Chinese liquor plunge
and drink that mystery elixir

By Arron O'Dell
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

China is a country known for the Great Wall, temples, big cities, big culture, a billion people and their seeming love to eat anything.  If it grows out of the ground, walks, crawls, slithers, swims, flies or does any combination, the people of China have found a way to kill it, cook it, eat it and enjoy it.  However, the liquor traditions of China seldom come up in conversation.

There are more Chinese than you can shake a stick at around the globe and not one beer that is popular around the world.  This is the sort of thing not to be taken lightly. There must be a good reason for it.   Most Chinese joints here don't even sell an Asian beer and, if they do, it's almost always Thai or Japanese.  You will never here a Chinese expat say something like "Yeah, this Pilsen  is okay but you should try this beer I use to drink back home." 

What the Chinese did bring with them was liquor, high octane, burn-on-the-way-down, glorious liquor.  You haven't seen the stuff at Hipermás, any of the big mercados or your local super, because it is not there.  You cannot find it in any of the places you frequent for your standard shopping needs. 

The only way to track down Chinese liquor is to search out the small shops around town with the Chinese characters on the front.  These shops are here. You can find them.  When you fall into one of these places you hit gold because of the strange and exotic smells.  A good shop will have two or three shelves of bottles in a variety of shapes sizes with red and gold labels and writing that means nothing unless you read Mandarin.
My friend and I have found the best way to pick the best one is by style.  The first bottle we took home was chosen this way and still remains a favorite.  It was a short and fat bottle shaped like an oversize pineapple hand grenade with a colorful label.  When my friend saw it, he said something like 'I've got to have that bottle. It looks cool!'   He was that excited about this new elixir we had found. 

With bottle in hand we quickly made our way to the closest place to home that sold beer and yanked several six packs off the shelf and darted home at a near run.  With two open cans and empty shot glasses in front of us we stared admiring the bottle for a moment.  Then with stupid giddy expressions on our faces we poured. 

After the straight shot, we felt compelled to try it every way we could come up with until there was no more. We sipped it, drank it on ice, with soda, chased it, used it as a chaser for beer.  This tasting was was done very scientifically. 

It was very similar to Jägermeister without the bite on the front, and for 2,000 colons it was a superb deal.  Somewhere around around the bottom of the bottle it occurred to us it might be nice to have a name to put to this wonderful concoction.   We studied every character that  The People's Republic of China felt necessary to put on the ornate paper label on that fine, cheap bottle, and all of it was in some form of Chinese.  

When we inquired of the proprietor of the local Chinese restaurant, he told us that it was  an “export-only” liquor from mainland China. How fortunate for us that they chose to export this fine elixir!

chile relleno
Chile relleno envuelto en huevo: Pepper stuffed with a mixture of rice and meat rolled up in an egg omelette.
scallon omlette
Torta de Huevo con cebollin:
scallion omelette.
Canelones de carne envueltos en huevo. Cannelloni stuffed with a mixture of rice and meat rolled up in an egg omellete
yucca balls
Enyucada de carne: This is a yucca ball stuffed with meat and then fried until crunchy.
Yes, there is good typical food
on the Costa Rican menu

By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When visitors to Costa Rica turn up their nose at the concept of Tico food, its because they have not looked hard enough.

Those who come to San José can find a wide assortment of great typical food at a place like the Central Market or Mercado Central.

At one time this was where most food transactions took place. The building itself is an historic site. The structure is on the Avenida Central pedestrian mall not far west of the Banco de Costa Rica. Tourists and locals alike will find that gallitos, a typical Tico canape or snack, is available here at the several sodas or inside lunch counters.

Around the eating spots, daily commerce takes place. The smell of leather goods, flowers and all kinds of foods and plants fill the air.

Inside, the gallito you can get a chile relleno (a filled pepper), an almuerzito de repollo (cabbage), tortas de huevo con cebollin (a scallion omelette) a barbudos (string bean omelette), a canellone ticos rellenos de carne (pasta stuffed with meat) or an enyucada with beef as well as cheese. The last is meat or cheese wrapped in yucca and deep fried.

There also are empanadas, pastry stuffed with meat, chicken, beans, potatoes with meat and/or cheese, all good food anytime of the day.

The word soda has a unique Costa Rica usage for a luncheon spot or snack bar.  The stands are small with some inside tables surrounded by a counter with stools. As you eat, you can see the food being prepared. The Mercado Central is operated by the municipality, so proper food preparation can be expected.

One well-known place is the Soda San Bosco at the western part of the Mercado Central. It is run by Luis Garcia Campos and his family. They have had the location for at least 30 years. Even though the place is small, it is very popular with locals. Garcia said the reason for the popularity is the freshness of the food, the friendly and quick service and the prices. 

You can drink the juice of different kinds of fruits for 350 colons (62 U.S. cents),  a coffee for 400 colons (71 cents), a gallito of chile relleno, canelloni or barbudos just for 600 colons ($1.06), the gallo de salchichon (sausage) with salad and tortillas for 500 colons (89 cents) as well the similarly priced empanadas, enyucadas and torta de huevo.

Soda San bosco and Luis Garcia Campos
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas  
Luis Garcia Campos at his Soda San Bosco

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The contents of this page and this Web site are copyrighted by Consultantes Río Colorado 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007  and 2008 and may not be reproduced anywhere without permission. Abstracts and fair use are permitted.  Check HERE for details