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These stories were published Monday, Nov. 8, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 221
Jo Stuart
About us
You mean they play GOLF here?
Just 30 years ago, Costa Rica was a barren landscape for golfers. But now there are enough links to write about.

A.M. Costa Rica reporter Joe Medici has compiled a rough outline of the courses in 

Costa Rica. We also would be interested in reports from individual golfers. 

Plus, we think we may have missed a course or two. If you know of a hidden golf course, please let us know. Write Mr. Medici.

Will there be coal in their stockings?
Public employees run risk of a chilly Christmas
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The calendar may say only Monday, Nov. 8, but it is nearly Christmas in Costa Rica.

Stores are not trapped here by Thanksgiving, and Christmas displays have been up for at least three weeks in most major shops.

But all is not well this year. Traditionally and by law employers have to award workers a Christmas bonus equal to about a month’s pay for those who have worked the entire year. The bonus is one reason Yuletide is so merry here.

But the Ministerio de Hacienda, the budget agency, is making noises suggesting the government cannot afford to pay public employees their 13th month of pay, called the aguinaldo. That would not be a surprise for a government that can barely afford to make the most necessary highway repairs.

At least 170,000 persons are employed in public jobs in Costa Rica, and many are unhappy already by what they see as officially mandated wage hikes that have failed to keep pace with an inflation rate of about 11 per cent and rising costs of basic foodstuffs.

The strikes that blocked the nation’s roads in 

late August were, in part, the work of the public employees unions. Only about 60 percent of the country’s public workforce are union members, but probably all are depending on the aguinaldo to pay off credit cards, make Christmas purchases and perhaps pay for a trip to the beach.

Aguinaldos usually are paid during the second and third weeks of December, so the government has about a month to put together the funds for most public employee aguinaldos. Because some public employees work for independent institutes, like the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad and the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, they stand a better chance of collecting the money due them.

Others work for municipalities or separate agencies that may not have the cash crisis facing the central government.

Nothing has been said officially, and public employee unions have not yet raised the issue. Any job action might be defused by the two- to three-week vacations typical for public employees at Christmas. However, key employees, such as air traffic controllers at the nation’s airports could have a disproportionate effect if the government does not come through with the cash.

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Pacheco to attend
Plan Puebla session

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco will travel to Chiapas State, México, for a meeting Thursday and Friday of the heads of state of countries involved in the Plan Puebla Panamá.

The controversial plan, one of regional integration, was proposed by Vincente Fox, Mexico’s president, Nov. 30, 2000.

The plan envisions linking the southern Mexico states with all of Central America by merging electrical, pipeline and highway networks, among other facilities. The plan is a package of 26 giant projects that are designed to attract outside financing. Initial investment is about $10 billion. 

The plan has been declared dead a number of times, but the concept continues to inch forward, being overshadowed in the news by the Central American free trade agreement. The plan gets its name from the city in México, Puebla, and the southernmost country involved in the project, Panamá.

Server woes plague
paper’s web pages

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Arizona-based Internet server that handles the Web pages for A.M. Costa Rica has been experiencing problems.

Server operators reported a hacker attack a week ago, and service has declined since. The Internet service reached a point over the weekend where the newspaper’s Web pages were available to the public only about half of the time.

The company, RegisterFly, is one of the largest in the United State with nearly 400,000 customers. However, only a small percentage depend on the affected server.

The newspaper has prepared another Internet site as a fallback location if server problems continue. That site can be reached by an Internet numerical address.

Picnic will refresh
battered Democrats

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Don’t count the Democrats out. 

Local Democrats may have suffered political whiplash Nov. 2 when their presumed victor in the U.S. presidential race lost by a scant 20 electoral votes.

And Democrats have little to cheer about Republican gains in the U.S. Senate and House.

But recovery time is here, said an announcement from the local organization: "Everyone in the community who is in recovery from the elections is invited to a restorative potluck picnic hosted by Democrats Abroad of Costa Rica. . . ."

The event Saturday, Dec. 4, will be at Chopo’s picnic grounds in Ciudad Colón. The Democrats will be providing the turkey and cranberry sauce.  More information is available from Ruth Dixon at 494-6260 or e-mail 

Informants help agents
find drug traffickers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Judicial Investigating Organization says it has set up a new program of secret local informers to root out drug dealers.

Local informants are supposed to report alleged illicit activities, said the Judicial Investigating Organization as it reported an arrest in Los Angeles de Nosara. Agents said a man who was a native of the area has been detained for growing marijuana. They credited various residents for providing the information against the man, identified by the last name of Díaz. They said 150 grams of prepared marijuana were found, as were chemicals for the cultivation of the plant.

In the community of Colas de Gallo, three persons, two brothers and an uncle, were detained under similar circumstances. Agents said that in this Nicoya community the trio were maintaining a marijuana plantation among other agricultural projects. Some 122 plants were destroyed and about 500 grams of prepared marijuana were confiscated, investigators said.

Calderón returning
to court hearing

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier will be back in court today as his lawyers try to get a preventative detention ruling reversed. The former president now has an address of La Reforma Prison in Alajuela, although he spent nearly two days at Clinica Católica in Moravia for complaints of high blood pressure.

Calderón was the first ex-president to be jailed in the recent wave of corruption scandals, and he is seeking house arrest instead.

So is Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, Calderón’s neighbor in the Alajuela prison. Both have a series of court hearings scheduled as well as appeals to higher courts to reverse the prison ruling.

Meanwhile, election officials have referred to the Ministerio Público, the prosecutorial agency, its file on its investigation of the past presidential election. Both major parties, Liberación Nacional and Unidad Cristiana, appear to have accepted sums greater than the law allows and from foreign sources, which also is illegal.

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Smiling to yourself can be a possible sign of guilt
El que solo se rie, de sus maldades se acuerda.

"One who smiles to himself is thinking about something wicked he’s done." We also say he has done something he does not want to share. It’s natural to feel suspicious of a person who smiles too much, but doesn’t want to tell us what’s on his mind.

But this dicho also assumes that the person . . . que se rie solo . . . , has done fairly benign maldades. In other words he or she is just a little mischievous. Otherwise they’d be slinking away guiltily, rather than smiling to themselves like a Cheshire cat.

Actually, I used to do this very thing just to annoy my brothers, and, guess what — it worked. They were always blaming me for things I didn’t even know had happened. But because I teased them, they always said I was the one who had made the mischief, no matter how much I denied it.  And believe me, growing up in a house full of brothers and sisters, and my 12 cousins living just round the corner there was plenty of mischief to get into. 

One of my older brothers was not allowed to stay out past midnight. I remember once when he got home around two in the morning and set off the burglar alarm getting into the house. Well, of course, I was the one who got blamed for setting up the alarm, no matter how much I swore I hadn’t done it. That’s when I decided maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to keep on smiling so much to myself,

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

even though I did sometimes rather enjoy the mischief that my siblings got themselves into. 

El que solo se rie de sus maldades se acuerda is an expression that opens up a small debate, not about smiling, of course, but about feeling guilty over taking pleasure in the misfortunes that befall others no matter how trivial. In German this kind of pleasure is called Shadenfreude. But what starts out as a nice, self-satisfied, wicked little smile can sometimes end up calling down a load of guilt on our heads. So, if you find you just can’t seem to give up . . . solo se rie de sus maldades . . . , perhaps its better to find a secret place where you can enjoy your little smile unobserved.

Fighting the language fight no fun for an adult
By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica stafff

Learning the Spanish language can be a difficult and almost hostile event. The brain is bombarded with rolling r’s, irregular verbs and grammar rules that contradict our basic instincts.

Learning it in a city like San José can be particularly difficult. Many Ticos have taken a class in English and, therefore, have a basic understanding of the language. This can be very helpful for weary travelers who do not speak the language, but for those of us who are trying to learn Spanish, their abilities can be quite maddening. 

English speaking Gringos work up the courage to attempt a new social interaction. Slowly women inch their way toward hair salons and men crawl closer to the alluring meat counters at the grocers. The interactions are all the same, however. Soon the man or women will stumble over a particularly nasty conjugation, and suddenly the butcher or the stylist will apologetically finish their sentence for them in English. It is a harrowing event to be handed a half-pound of chorizo or a bottle of hair gel when you feel utterly defeated.

Thousands of Ticos seem to float through the day on bilingual wings as the rest of us mope around with our monolingual brethren. How do they do it? How do they manage to keep the languages separate, how do they know when to pluralize an adjective or when to apply gender to a direct object?

It truly is one of life’s great questions, but the answer is probably in Spanish, which leads us back to our original problem. How do we attempt to learn a completely new language? This endeavor is also known as teaching an old dog a very difficult trick.

Let us suppose that any language has at a minimum 10,000 words that are frequently used. Even if we take on two words a day that still leaves us with over 13 years to adjust to a new language and that doesn’t even account for different conjugations or verb tenses. These grossly large numbers are enough to intimidate most mammals, but international Gringos are a rare bunch and can withstand serious punishment. With that in mind, here are the best ways to tackle the beast. 

Spanish classes are offered throughout San José. These classes can be very helpful, offering group settings that allow students to converse with one another. The only problem, however, is that these groups are often filled with 18-year-olds who are fresh out of high school. Most of these kids already 

have a year or two of Spanish under their belts and will undoubtedly make an older student feel wholly inadequate.

Perhaps a private tutor is a better route then? The tutors are generally bilingual and their private instruction is very helpful and very intensive. The problem is that intensive normally translates into stressful for most Gringos. After several hours with their tutors, many Gringos find it necessary to head to the nearest bar and drink until they have forgotten everything that was recently crammed into them.

Maybe a book is the best solution then. There are hundreds of them available in stores throughout Costa Rica. Once again, however, a problem arises. Many of these books lack essential vocabulary lessons, such as "Proper Retorts to Cabbies and Bus Drivers", "How to Gracefully Turn Down a Professional Lady" and "Soccer Hooliganism."

So what is the best solution then? Probably to take your proverbial lumps, suffer through a few embarrassing moments and sign up for a class or two. After a few months, who knows? You might even be able to order your own sausage. 

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Signature hole at the Cariari Club is No. 4
A.M. Costa Rica/Joe Medici

Golf courses come on strong after slow start here
By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Golfers throughout the developed world are constantly watching out for a diamond in the rough, a course that has open tee times, low green fees and a genuinely beautiful environment. 

The answer to these prayers may be in Costa Rica, where a recent boom in the golf business has seen the introduction of several new courses that all provide unique challenges and luscious environments for a fraction of the price of courses in North America and Europe. 

Just 30 years ago, Costa Rica was a barren landscape for golfers. The Costa Rican Country Club stood as the only golf course in the country, and its nine holes were only open to friends and family of the owner. In 1974, George Fazio, renowned designer of Augusta National, unveiled the Cariari Club, a beautiful course just west of San José. This private club has gorgeous fairways, and quick greens, earning it the reputation of the best course in Central America. 

For 20 years, however, it stood out as the only 18-hole course available in the country. It wasn’t until the 1990s, when a boom in the industry resulted in the construction of courses throughout the country, that golfers truly had a diverse selection of courses throughout Costa Rica.

By 2000, Costa Rica had witnessed the development of several first-class golf courses that attracted both casual and serious golfers from around the world. 

These courses were designed by legendary golfers and architects such as Arnold Palmer, and used Costa Rica’s natural environment to create courses that are both visually inviting and very playable. Many of the courses are private clubs, but they usually are associated with nearby hotels that are able to reserve tee times for their patrons. 

If you are looking to visit Costa Rica and play a round or two, many agents have packages that allow guests to travel around the country and hone their skills at local courses. These packages normally start at around $900 and include hotel stays, local travel costs and several rounds of golf at two or three different courses.

A.M. Costa Rica has compiled a list of the most popular golf courses in the country. We have listed contact information for each golf course and a brief description of the course itself. 

Central Valley

Cariari Club
Private club
Designed by George Fazio
18 holes
Yardage 6,590
(506) 293-3211
Rental clubs available

This gorgeous course has been enthralling members since the 1970s. Superintendent Mario Zarattini and Jorge Piedrahita, director of golf, work tirelessly to preserve this courses natural beauty and to ensure each guest feels at home. Don’t spend too much time staring at the scenery, however. Cariari’s tight fairways and protected greens will test even the most weathered golfers. If you can keep the ball down the center, however, you should be well on your way to a rewarding day of golf in one of the best courses in all of Central America.

Parque Valle Del Sol
Public course/residential community
Designed by Tracy May
18 Holes
Yardage 6,900
(506) 282-9222

The home of the 2004 Costa Rican Open, Parque Valle Del Sol in Santa Ana is one of the premier courses in Costa Rica. This large course can cause problems for even the best golfers, but its picturesque environment will keep professionals and amateurs coming back for years.

Costa Rica Country Club
Private club in Escazú
9 holes
(506) 228-9333

This nine-hole course is the oldest in Costa Rica. Many of the holes are short, but the fairways are narrow, and rivers and sand traps protect most of the greens. 

Los Reyes Country Club
Private club/residential community
9 holes
(506) 438-0858 

Founded in 1974, Los Reyes west of Santa Ana is surrounded by a residential community. Make sure you have arranged your round ahead of time, however, or you won’t make it past the gate. 

NOTE: Several other courses are believed to exist in Costa Rica, at least in name. At one, play has been suspended for at least a year. We would like to hear details on any courses we overlooked.

A.M. Costa Rica/Joe Medici
Fairway at Cariari

The Pacific Coast

Garra de Leon
Resort course
Playa Conchal, Guanacaste
Designed by Robert Trent Jones II
18 holes
Yardage 7,030
(506) 654-4123

The emerald fairways and greens at Garra de Leon are like a scene out of a movie. Don’t let the beauty fool you though. This track plays tough. Golfers will need to play positional golf in order to work through all 18 holes. Many of Garra de Leon’s golfers will tell you, however, that the difficulty is half of the fun. 

Hacienda Pinilla
Santa Cruz, Guanacaste 
Resort course
Designed by Mike Young
18 holes
Yardage 7,500
(506) 680-3000

Out on the Nicoya Peninsula, Hacienda Pinilla carves its way through the arid land. The track stretches out across over 2,500 acres and is separated into two distinct nine hole sections. The ocean nine, offers sweeping views of the Pacific and unleashes a strong breeze that can affect play. The ranch nine can also be affected by the ocean breeze, but many golfers are too busy watching the local howler monkeys to notice. 

La Iguana
Resort Course
Playa Herradura
Designed by Ted Robinson
18 holes
Yardage 6,700
(506) 630-9000

The Iguana is a unique course that allows golfers the chance to play a round in the rain forest. Golfers will spend a good part of their day relaxing under the beautiful jungle canopy as their golf guides help them identify different types of plant and animal life. This course offers one of the most beautiful environments and one of the best rounds of golf in Central America.

Resort course
Papagayo project, northwestern Guanacaste
Designed by Arnold Palmer
18 holes
Yardage 6,788
(506) 696-0000

Owned by The Four Seasons, Papagayo is a relatively new course and little has been released about it. World-renowned golfer and architect Arnold Palmer designed it. 

Los Delfines
Resort course
Playa Tambor, Costa Rica
9 holes 
(506) 683-0303

This nine-hole course is stretched out over the east shore of the Nicoya Peninsula. Due to its scenic beauty and playability, few golfers will mind playing two or three rounds. 

Tango Mar Country Club
Playa Tambor
Resort course
9 holes
(506) 683-0001

This smaller, private course is positioned near the sea offering golfers wonderful views as they tee off. The course is relatively small, but its distinctive fairways and greens will keep golfers on their toes. 

The Papagayo course overlooks the ocean, as do several other operations on the Nicoya Peninsula and in Guanacaste.

Courtesy of The Four Seasons

Jo Stuart
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