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These stories were published Tuesday, June 11, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 114
Jo Stuart
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What's the ailment making our bodies itch?
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A skin irritation is giving people the itch all over the Central Valley. The condition seems to last three or four days and may be accompanied by internal distress.

Reports of the ailment come from all points in the valley, from Guadalupe to Desamparados to Sabana.

In some cases with small children parents have sought professional help. However, most just go to the pharmacy seeking an ointment to ease the itch.

The source of the discomfort is unknown. It could be a virus, or it could be some impurity in the air.  Some victims suspect the tap water.

The Ministerio de Salud and the Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social have not responded to questions about the infirmity. The Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, the water company, says that there is nothing in the tap water that would cause such problems. However, a spokesman noted that heavy rains can flush strange chemicals and animal runoff into the water supply.

Dr. Jorge Cortés Rodríguez, subdirector of general medicine at Hospital Clinic Biblica, said the ailment might be one of those typical allergies that come with the beginning of the rainy season.

Cortés said that allergic reactions and asthma become worse at this time. He also said that diarrhea also is typical of this period. He added that the principal cause is contaminated water, perhaps at a beach. But he did not criticize water provided by Acueductos y Alcantarillados.

Those who contract the illness, whatever it is, feel burning and itching all over their body,  The itch seems to affect parts of the body exposed to the elements, like arms, as well as those parts that are not exposed.

Acueductos y Alcantarillados has been under pressure this week from the Defensoría de los Habitantes, which said the company is not 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Downpours like this one Monday wash foreign substances into sewers, then rivers and then water treatment plants.

making needed investments in the infrastructure.

The company was very open in discussing the possible problem.  A spokesman, Eduardo A. Leiva, said that the runoff at this time of year can cause infiltration of substances into the water. Some problems caused intestinal illnesses in Desamparados de Alajuela a week ago.

Leiva said that although the water is treated with chlorine, septic tank outflows, animal waste runoff and agricultural chemicals can get into the rivers that supply the water.

Water can carry a whole host of illnesses, including Hepatitis A, said the spokesman, particularly if someone were to drink untreated water from a source other than AyA.

The company needs to spend 45 billion colons (some $136 million) just to bring the Central Valley up to 21st century standards, Leiva said. The company has been discussing a possible increase in rates, he added.

The Caribbean coast, a special report: HERE!
A.M. Costa Rica/Christian Burnham

Shellfish high above San José

Patricia Marin, 9, a third grade student at Lincoln School in Moravia, examines a shell fossil at a new tourist attraction just a few miles from San José.

The location, Fossil Land, highlights the geology of Central America, and you have a cave and rock walls to climb down!  See HERE!

Plus there is a great view of the city (below).

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Annelise Sauter, 9,  third grade student at Lincoln in Moravia, examines the wall of Fossil Mountain.

A.M. Costa Rica/Christian Burnham
Fossil Land guide Oscar Arce illustrates the rudiments of plate tectonics while owner Otto von Schroeter watches.
Towering fossil beds just a few miles from the city 
By Christian Burnham
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Picture yourself hiking through a dense rain forest. The calls of tropical birds fill the air. As you reach the top of one of the green hills surrounding a jagged mountain, you stop to take a rest and enjoy the view of . . . San José?

Hard to believe, isnít it?  But that wonít be the only surprising discovery you make at Fossil Land, an eco-friendly attraction in Patarrá de San Antonio de Desamparados. Located less than a half an hour and 12 kms. (about 7 miles) from downtown San José, Fossil Land offers a quick escape from the car alarms and bus fumes of the city. At first glance it appears to be just another nature reserve, but upon closer inspection there are many things to do and much to explore.

Fossil Land opened at the beginning of the year. It is a theme park focusing on its special tropical habitat. Its main attraction is Fossil Mountain, consisting of limestone rock standing tall at 1,400 meters (4,550 feet). Adorning its surface is an assortment of ancient marine fossils captured within the mountain rock. 

The majority of fossils are of the shellfish variety, but the rock also contains preserved crabs, algae, clams, and other long-deceased sea creatures. 

These fossils have a story to tell. Once upon a time, North and South America were separated by a large gap of ocean. Geologists estimate that about 37 million years ago two of the Earthís oceanic plates collided and lifted a mass of earth from the sea to the surface. About three million years later, the land coalesced, forming a land bridge, or isthmus, now known as Central American. 

What once lived on the ocean floor is now preserved in a mountain wall. "Seeing these fossils up-close gives visitors a passage through time," said owner Otto von Schroeter.

Fossil Land is not for couch potatoes. Donít expect to find any well-groomed paths or roped off exhibits. Von Schroeter designed Fossil Land with the adventurer in mind. The "Passage to the Sky" rappelling adventure allows participants to defy gravity by walking backwards down the side of a 75 meter-high (244-foot) cliff with the help of a rope and harness. 

If spelunking is more your style, "The Great Abyss" journey takes you into the depths of a cavern to admire its stalactites, stalagmites and cathedrals. Donít worry, if you canít decide between the two, the "Explorer" combines both adventures in one tour and includes some extra climbing and hiking. Fossil Land also has an expert level mountain bike trail. "Coffin included," joked Otto of Fossil Landís extreme-sport excursions. 

"Each of our tours can be adapted to fulfill anyoneís desire," he said.

Not every attraction at Fossil Land is hazardous to the health. The "Total Perception" tour offers a less-physically demanding, yet fascinating, tour of the premises. The enthusiastic staff gives lessons on limestone refining, plate tectonics and environmental responsibility through team-building "missions." 

"Itís a way to teach people how to cooperate and to co-exist with nature" said Fossil Land guide Oscar 

Workers at a limestone plant.

Arce.  Due to its educational emphasis, the "Perception" tour attracts numerous school groups per week. Ms. Elizabeth Taylor, a third grade teacher at Lincoln School in Moravia, brought her students to experience "a more hands-on way of learning about geology."

The 410,000-square-meter plot (about 100 acres) that houses the theme park has been the source of several rich and diverse resources throughout the past 100 years. Otto von Schroeter inherited the land from his father, a German immigrant, who used its soil to farm coffee beans and exported his harvest to Europe for a hefty profit. After the coffee factory burned down in 1973, the von Schroeter family started extracting the vast amounts of limestone buried beneath the property, exporting it in its raw form. 

Soon after, they started Calera Patarrá, a limestone processing company that now refines 150 cubic meters of limestone per week in one of the three plants located on the property. Two years ago, while giving a tour of the grounds to clients, the idea to build Fossil Land suddenly struck von Schroeter. "I could see the excitement in their eyes and in that moment I decided to make the land accessible to everyone," he said.

Adhering to his mission of protecting Mother Earth, von Schroeter said he feels Fossil Land sends a positive environmental message to Costa Ricans and tourists alike. 

"If we donít work together to save the world, the human race will end up being the next fossils," he said. His vision has not yet been completely realized. Already in the works are plans for future attractions including a canopy adventure, a dinosaur land, a fishing pond, a restaurant and even a car wash 

Von Schroeterís wife, Cait Bell, is a Tica with Gringo parents. She handles the marketing for Fossil Land and raises their two children, Míhael, a 3-year-old boy who already shares his fatherís enthusiasm for Fossil Land, and Nina, a 1-year-old girl. Mrs. Bell described Fossil Land as being "a natural Disney World".

The Fossil Land packages include transportation from San José and lunch, so all a visitor needs is to bring tennis shoes. 

Police say newsman
was executed by gang

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil ó Brazilian police have confirmed the death of a Brazilian journalist who disappeared more than a week ago in a slum while working undercover investigating drug trafficking activities. Journalist Tim Lopes was allegedly executed by drug traffickers.

Police are searching for the remains of Lopes after confirming his death from the accounts of two suspects arrested during the weekend.

The suspects, members of a drug gang, provided police with details of Lopes' capture and execution-style murder by a local drug lord. They told police the body was then burned and the remains buried in a secret gravesite used for victims of the traffickers.

Lopes, a reporter with the Globo television network, disappeared eight days ago in a Rio de Janeiro slum while working undercover with a small hidden camera. He was investigating reports of drug dealing and the sexual exploitation of minors at parties hosted by local drug traffickers.

An award-winning journalist, Lopes' disappearance sparked an outcry among Brazilian and international press groups. His killing occurs during an upsurge of drug-related violence in Rio in recent weeks, as rival drug gangs battle over turf.

A statement by the Globo television network condemned what it called the "brutal murder" of Tim Lopes, saying his death is troubling to his colleagues, other journalists and to citizens in general. 

TV Globo went on to express confidence there will be no stop to the kind of investigative work done by Lopes to shed light on the darker sides of society.

Gang leader Gotti
dies in federal prison

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Convicted mob boss John Gotti, 61, died in a U.S. federal prison Monday. Gotti was the head of one of the most notorious crime families in the United States. Gotti was serving a life sentence for murder and racketeering when he died of throat cancer. 

The former mob boss was the head of New York's Gambino crime family, one of the city's most powerful mafia rings. Gaining national attention as a "criminal" celebrity, he was seen as one of the most notorious gangsters in the nation. 

Although Gotti tried to pass himself off as a plumbing supply salesman, he was convicted in 1992 of racketeering and six killings. One of his victims included the former mob boss, "Big Paul" Castellano, whom he succeeded as "head of the family." 

When Gotti took over the Gambino crime family in 1986, it had hundreds of members and was involved in loan sharking, extortion and industries, including construction and garbage hauling. 

The conviction of John Gotti followed years of FBI investigations into organized crime. After a series of acquittals, authorities were finally able to build a case against Gotti through electronic surveillance. On tape, Mr. Gotti talked specifically about his role in the killings. 

Team USA and Korea tie
in World Cup soccer play

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States and South Korea have played to 1-1 tie in their World Cup Group D match. 

Nearly 61,000 fans packed the stadium, and the stands were filled almost entirely with Koreans wearing red in support of their team.

They were loud throughout the game, and the volume increased every time their team advanced toward the U.S. goal. And they did that frequently throughout the match, possessing the ball 57 percent of the time. The Koreans also had far more good scoring chances than the USA.

But it was the Americans who scored first, with Clint Mathis controlling a high pass into the middle of the box and firing a left-footer inside the right post. Mathis, who had been the team's top scorer in recent games before the World Cup, did not play in the opening 3-2 win against Portugal, so he was pleased with his contribution. "It was just a great feeling, to first of all be in my first World Cup match and to be able to score my first World Cup goal,"he said. "You know, it is hard to even explain it in words. But anytime I can go out there on such a world stage, it is a great feeling."

The Koreans had a 40th minute penalty kick blocked by Brad Friedel. But after constant pressure they finally got the equalizer in the 78th minute on a header by Ahn Jung Hwan. The 1-1 draw leaves South Korea and the USA tied with four points to share first place in Group D with one round-robin match to play.

Fox signs Mexican law
to make info public

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, Mexico óPresident Vicente Fox has signed into law the country's first freedom of information bill, which will allow government documents to come under public scrutiny. 

At the signing ceremony Monday, President Fox said the public will be able to verify salaries of public servants as well as monitor government budgets and expenditures for the first time. 

Fox, however, said information that could compromise national security, public safety or Mexico's relations with other countries will be classified. He said such information will be made public only after a 12-year waiting period. 

The Mexican leader also said the government will not be able to use this section of the law to withhold information about human rights abuses or other crimes. 

All three of the nation's major political parties supported the measure, known as "The Federal Law of Transparency and Access to Public Government Information." 

The law calls for all federal agencies, the Congress, the Bank of Mexico and the courts to post their public information on the Internet within one year. 

Government officials who refuse to provide information or who try to hide or destroy documents face dismissal, fines or criminal charges. President Fox has campaigned for a more open government since winning election in July 2000. 

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