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(506) 2223-1327               Published Monday, Nov. 16, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 226        E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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Some downtown noises approach danger level
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Noise is one of the issues likely to provoke conflict between expats wishing for a little peace and quiet and their neighbors who might not be so sensitive. Conventional wisdom has it that Costa Ricans who grew up with larger families in smaller spaces with the television blaring all day are less perceptive of noise, but a wide range exists within both populations.

Foreigners who come from the countryside are unsurprisingly more sensitive to noise. Many others seem oblivious, however, to the nighttime hissing noise often referred to as “urban surf” that the Greater Metropolitan Area produces with only a short respite in the small hours of the morning. During the daytime this of course increases, exponentially.

Away from the cities, barking dogs are much the greatest threat to neighborhood peace.

Aside from a few centers of industrial noise, almost all ambient sound pollution in the Central Valley is produced by transportation. Since trains and aircraft are a local issue, the main culprits are loud trucks and buses, poorly-mufflered motorcycles and the extra noise older cars make on rough pavement. 

With the exception of parts of Heredia immediately east of the international airport’s runway, aircraft do not have a strong impact. TACA and COPA, which have the majority of departures between them, now have relatively quiet, modern fleets. There are only a few cargo flights at night. Approach to the airport is mostly over sparsely-populated areas.

Ambient noise in downtown San José on a Wednesday morning proved consistent under all basic measuring situations, at 72 dBC during rush hour at 7:15 to 7:45 a.m. The same readings at about 9 a.m. were slightly lower, about 68 dBC. Around the Tibás and San Pedro bus stations, readings were higher, about 80 dBC. The Avenida Central pedestrian mall was slightly lower in each case, indeed less different from the surroundings than can be noted in the case of air pollution.

Even away from downtown, noise stays high. Measurements slightly beforehand the same morning in Tibás and slightly after in Los Yoses were similar in the 70 to 80 dBC range, depending on distance from the main thoroughfare in each case.

These readings come from a Scosche SPL 1000 sound meter which cost $31. Professional measurement devices start well over $100. The meter used here is not designed for low-level noise, so a measurement on a still night in San Isidro de Heredia with a few crickets gives the same figure as the ambient noise in a single-person office during the day, about 32 dBC. However, close to an annoying computer fan the reading goes to 42 dBC.

Other references for this meter are 72 dBC in downtown San José during morning rush hour, 82 dBC inside a relatively new Brazilian-made bus moving about 40 kph and also the new Heredia train, and 99 dBC for a car alarm at close range.

These values are for constant ambient noise, with sharp spikes ignored.

The decibel is a logarithmic scale of intensity, not necessarily sound. If not written with a modifier, in this case dBC, it can appear to be a unit of measurement which strictly speaking it is not. As a base 10 logarithm, the decibel allows for a range of intensity to be compared from higher to lower points, in this case beginning at the limit of perception at the bottom indefinitely upward past the levels that produce pain and hearing loss. The C scale is one of several in use. It measures a relatively consistent intensity across frequency range. Others scales give emphasis to the frequencies of sound more important to human hearing.

As a base-10 logarithm much like the scale for earthquakes or the mythical warp engines on Star Trek's spaceship Enterprise, magnitude is exaggerated up the scale when measured in
sound meter used in this study
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Readings here were from this Scosche meter

Train horn begins to blare

multiple times at 5 a.m.

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The return of trains to the old tracks to Heredia reminded people living nearby of one thing: train whistles. While the import of some used Spanish trains with relatively modern propulsion was the source of anticipation in the Spanish language press, those that had moved in while the tracks were little used weren’t all so excited.

The Heredia run has about 25 road crossings that merit blowing the horn, about half in urban/industrial areas and half in residential/hospital zones.  The first trip is at 5 a.m. The horn is required because the central government has not installed crossing gates to warn traffic.

The Hotel La Amistad near the San José station resorted to hiring crossing guards to advise the train engineers that there was no traffic and to attempt to keep the horn quiet. Staff there said it helped but that the engineers are capricious and don’t always pay attention. Nonetheless, there have been at least two accidents at that crossing since service resumed in August.

Morning traffic between Heredia and Tibás, as well as Heredia and La Valencia, did improve immediately with the new service. As the novelty has worn off, the bottlenecks on those roads have become evident again.

The horn on the new trains is 97 decibels, about the same as a car alarm. There is limited use of some older freight locomotives as well, and on the Pavas-San Pedro route that was revived in 2006. That run is mostly through residential areas. As one resident just a few meters from the crossing in Santa Rosa put it, “the new ones aren’t too bad. It’s the old machines that are really loud.”

decibels. This means that 72 dB is a thousand times the intensity of 42 dB, and 82 dB is about 10,000 times. Noise at the bus stops is about 10 times that on the pedestrian mall. The human brain compensates for much of this, so the sound does not seem so drastic.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that studies have shown that there are direct links between noise and health. Problems related to noise include stress related illnesses, high blood pressure, speech interference, hearing loss, sleep disruption and lost productivity, the agency reported.

Noise induced hearing loss is the most common and often discussed health effect, but research has shown that exposure to constant or high levels of noise can cause countless adverse health affects, the EPA says.

The American Speech-Language hearing Association, a group of academics, says that sounds louder than 80 decibels are considered potentially dangerous. It says some typical sounds and their levels are: jackhammer: 130 dB; Jet plane at takeoff, 120 dB; and a chain saw, 100 dB. The association confirms the measurements made here and says that typical busy traffic is 70 dB.

Metal school in San José is a special case of sound
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Escuela Metálica is a well-known landmark in San José. It was cast in France, shipped to Costa Rica in pieces and assembled at its present location more than 100 years ago.

What may not be evident from the tourist brochures is that the Escuela Metálica is still a school, amid the noise and fumes of downtown. Students are bused in mostly from the suburb of Guadalupe, about half an hour away in good traffic.  The school day starts at 7 a.m., coinciding with morning rush hour.

Steel not being a good insulator, and with no other significant interior material to dampen the background noise of the city, ambient noise would range from about 68 dBC to 72 dBC during the day.

One standard in the U.S. says ambient noise in schools should not be more than 35 dBA. The A scale for noise gives more emphasis to the frequencies involved in human hearing than the C scale used in most measurements here.

Most research on the effects of noise on human health have looked at aircraft noise, especially at 
Heathrow airport in London where many large planes pass right over residential areas. One study in Austria found that school age children did show higher blood pressure and other signs of stress from traffic noise at 60 dBA than at 50 dBA in their residential area, including at night. Another study found preschoolers improved cognition scores with only a 5 dBA reduction from 72 dBA.

Alexander Zamora was the physical education teacher at the school in 2004. Since there is no outdoor space, students would run around the interior courtyard, he said, contributing further to classroom noise. Due to limited resources (most elementary schools have only one physical education teacher), kids have classes only one day per week. In any case, the smoke and gasses from nearby bus stops made it less healthy than no activity at all.

The massive cost of infrastructure to deal with noise issues means no improvement any time soon. The Costa Rican school system barely manages to maintain classrooms as they are. And the problem extends beyond the extreme case of the Escuela Metálica.  A background reading outside the school in the small town of San Isidro de Heredia was 68 dBC.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Nov. 16, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 226

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Soccer game in Uruguay
is the last chance left

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country's star-crossed soccer team is off to Uruguay for a game Wednesday that is their last chance to get a World Cup berth.

Things have not gone well for the Tico squad, which was riding high half way through the World Cup qualifying rounds. A tying goal in the last seconds by the United States team cost the Ticos the third of three spots for World Cup play from the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football.

The first meeting with Uruguay Saturday was a chance to regain the lost inertia. But the manager, Rene Simoes, was not allowed to participate due to some bad manners in the Oct. 14 game against the United States. Uruguay scored a first-half goal and managed to hold off the Costa Rica offense for the rest of the encounter. To add insult to injury, the Tico Squad played out the game one man short because Randall Azofeifa was ejected after getting a second yellow card.

172 finish La Ruta bike race

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 172 bicyclists were finishers in the Ruta de los Conquistadores four day cross-country race. The overall winner of the 17th edition of the race Saturday was Manuel Prado. Much of the race took place in rainy weather.

In addition the Federación Costarricense de Ciclismo backballed the race because organizers did not adhere to federation rules. La Ruta organizers issued a statement after the race ended saying that the event was independent.
The federation position did not seem to cut in to the participation much. Organizers only had 200 slots to fill.

Dispute over espionage
causes Perú-Chile rift

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Peru has canceled planned talks with Chile at an Asia-Pacific summit over an espionage dispute. Peru's foreign minister, Jose Garcia Belaunde, says President Alan Garcia was leaving the meeting in Singapore, following the recall of Peru's envoy to Chile over charges a Peruvian military officer has been spying for Chile.

Garcia and his Chilean counterpart Michelle Bachelet had been scheduled to meet at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Peruvian officials say they are returning to Lima to investigate the charges against the air force officer who was arrested several days ago.

Our reader's opinion
Realistic toy weapons
make world more difficult

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Toys for Violence! Take a look at the Kapowwe Toy Company's Web page at

This Texas company's line of realistic looking and feeling toy weapons are just the thing for the season of peace and joy, or any other time, to give the kids a true sense of violence, aggression and terror.

As if kids don't get enough violence from television, cartoons, video games and movies they can now upgrade their play by pretending to massacre their playmates, classmates,  teachers and even parents and siblings.  Imagine playing terrorist, narco king or assassin with one of these truly realistic looking toy weapons.  It's no longer a simple game of pointing a finger and yelling “kapow.”  These toys give it the genuine touch.

So real looking and feeling are these firearms that real crooks, criminals and terrorists can use them in their jobs.  So hard to distinguish from the real thing that they will confuse even the most discerning police, FBI agent or Homeland Security rep who then may mistakenly use a real gun in self defense.  (Oooops, sorry, Sonny)

With such realistic looking toy guns, the kids can get right in the mood for mowing down enemies real or imagined that they'll never consider peaceful solutions.  Let them learn that power comes from having a gun, even if it's a toy one.  Just think of what they can all do with one of these toys.  Take candy from babies and money from kids or rob a store or house. Wowwe, kapowwe!

For those of us trying to teach peace, human rights, love your neighbor and thou shall't not kill, the Kapowwe company and others that make and market make believe murder have made our world a more difficult and dangerous place.

Olive Branch
Women's International League
for Peace and Freedom

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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 weekday.

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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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Country gears up for payment of the marchamo road tax
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It's time to dig down for the road tax.

The Instituto Nacional de Seguros has activated its Web page where motorists can find out how much they owe. The amount is based on the fiscal value of the vehicle.

The Web page is HERE.

The insurance institute is involved because 22 percent of the amount is for the obligatory motor vehicle insurance. Starting Jan. 1, the coverage will be 6 million colons, about $10,600. In special grave cases or when the accident victim is under 13 years and has no other medical insurance, the amount can be double.

Most expats also purchase additional insurance either through the institute or agencies around the country.

The biggest chunk of the marchamo, as the road tax is called, goes to the Ministerio de Hacienda. That's about 60 percent of the total. There are additional fees and assessments in the marchamo, including less than 1 percent for the Cuerpo de Bomberos, the firemen. There also is about 5 percent for various stamps and local taxes.

Residents can pay the marchamo at the offices of the institute or at a number of banks, insurance agencies and even supermarkets. The deadline is Dec. 31.
Marchamo lookup is protected by one of those codes.

Typically some of the private downtown banks have no lines, and Promerica even has held raffles for those who pay the marchamo there. Penalties for being late are steep.

The key identifying factor is the vehicle's license plate. The bad news is that unpaid traffic tickets also can be assessed with the marchamo. Frequently mistakes are made and the process to remove erroneous fines can be another nightmare.

Unpaid tickets and other paperwork problems can be seen when the license plate or place is run through the marchamo Web page.

Urban search and rescue members confronted rubble in this simulation in Panamá.

Urban rescue team
Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias photo

Rescue agencies will train for major earthquake all week
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica's rescue agencies will be training from today through Friday in order to handle a major earthquake.

The scenario is that a major quake hits the Cartago area, and a large building collapses with loss of life.

The training comes just three days after a 5.1 quake took place in the hills northeast of Parrita. Some have attributed a landslide in San Vito de Coto Brus about an hour later to effects of the quake. A schoolgirl, Yuliana Sandoval Ramírez, 15, died in the slide.

Any relationship probably will never be known for sure, but local officials noted the area had had heavy rains.
The simulation in Cartago will include victims trapped in the ruins of the collapsed building, said the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias.  The operation is being financed by the Office of Emergency Disaster Assistance of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Participating will be experts from Urban Search and Rescue-CR. Members will have the job of entering the damaged structure, said the commission. The activities will be graded by observers.

Tuesday the exercise will include evacuating various Cartago schools to evaluate the response, said the commission. All of the country's emergency response agencies will be participating.

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Four caught after home invasion and robbery in Sámara

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Four men invaded the home of a woman in Sámara Sunday and held her at gunpoint, said the Fuerza Pública.

The men escaped with $300 and 200,000 in colons, about $354.

Police managed to capture four suspects in Liberia and said that they found credit cards that belonged to the victim within the vehicle. They also said they confiscated a .38-caliber and a 9-mm firearm.

Two of the men appeared to be brothers because they both
had the last names of Álvarez Jiménez. Another man had the last names of Badilla Alvarado, and the fourth had the names of Jiménez Hidalgo.

There was no report if the woman suffered injuries. Samara has seen an increase in such home invasions in the last two years, in part because it is connected with Nicoya and other major communities with a hard-surfaced road. Several robbery gangs are believed working the area.

Bandits murdered a Dutch expat in his home in April. That took place in San Martín de Santa Teresa de Cóbano on the Pacific side of the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. That's further south than Sámara.

Weather experts promise drier air and less precipitation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Despite some heavy rain in the central Pacific, the south Pacific and mountains around the Central Valley, the weather experts have some good news.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that there is an increase in the intensity of the winds with a reduction of the relative humidity over the country. That means a prediction of a significant decrease in rain mainly in the north Pacific, the Central Valley and the Caribbean coast.

However, there is a warning of morning fog and rain of variable intensity in the evenings in the central and south Pacific.

Most Central Valley temperatures continue to be in the teens over night with readings in the low 20s on the coast. That equates to a temperature of 63 on the Fahrenheit scale for the Central Valley from Alajuela to Cartago. Coastal lows were around 72 F early today.
Earlier in the day, the weather institute expressed concern for areas prone to landslides because of the saturated ground. That includes Zurquí, Cinchona and Orosi. Cinchona where the major earthquake left large scars in the hillsides Jan. 8 is particularly prone to slides.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center reported that there were no depressions of note in either the Atlantic or the eastern Pacific.

The tropics are just two weeks away from the end of the 2009 hurricane season, although Mother Nature does not adhere closely to a calendar.

The end of the hurricane season in the Atlantic coincides with the change in the weather in the Central Valley as strong north winds continue to build to drive out the moisture. This is the beginning of the dry season, which is expected to arrive early this year. Guanacaste already is experiencing the change. The transition works its way south over about four weeks.

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Pacific Rim leaders back off
binding rules on emissions

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Leaders of Pacific Rim economies say a legally binding climate change agreement is not likely in Copenhagen next month, but that they should still work for a political deal. Climate change was one of the topics discussed at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Singapore.

Forum leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, lowered expectations for a deal on climate change before December meetings in Copenhagen.

Meeting in Singapore early Sunday, Pacific Rim leaders agreed there is not enough time for a legally binding pact on reducing global emissions of greenhouse gasses.

The Pacific Rim leaders said a political framework that they can build on later is more realistic.

The meeting on climate change was attended by leaders from 19 of the forum's 21 economies, as well as the Danish prime minister, who flew in at the last minute.

Forum leaders had planned to endorse a goal of cutting their greenhouse gas emissions to half of 1990 levels by 2050.

But, the ambitious reduction target was dropped from a draft statement.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke to journalists at the end of the summit and defended the change.

"We didn't drop the emissions," Lee said. "We negotiated a draft. We settled on a text. I do not know the ins and the outs. But, this is not an occasion for negotiating climate change. This is APEC and is a declaration of intent in good faith. And, negotiations and the formal commitments will be done in the U.N. process which is leading to Copenhagen."

Although climate change was discussed at the forum, improving the global economy dominated the agenda.

Forum leaders issued a statement Sunday calling for a new formula for growth in the Asia Pacific that would rely less on Asian exports to U.S. consumers.  The statement also called for the Doha round of world trade talks to be completed in 2010.

Also Sunday, President Obama held the first ever meeting with leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including Burma, also known as Myanmar.

Lee says the fact that the meeting took place at all was significant.

"That ASEAN considers it important to have a summit meeting with a U.S. president and the U.S. president considers it worthwhile to have a summit meeting with all ten ASEAN members, notwithstanding difficulties they have, particularly with Myanmar," Lee said.

At the U.S.-ASEAN summit, Obama repeated calls for Burma's military government to release detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Nobel Prize winner has been held under house arrest for most of the last two decades.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations includes Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.  

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A.M. Costa Rica
sixth news page


San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Nov. 16, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 226

Latin American news
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Zelaya says he's president,
despite absence of accord

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The interim government of Honduras seems to have outwitted the ousted president and provoked him to a political corner.

Saturday the ousted president, José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, said he had sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama. The letter seemed to say that Zelaya did not want to return to the presidency, and that is how some news organizations framed it.

However, Sunday Zelaya told a reporter from Diario la Prensa of San Pedro Sula that he would continue to be president until his term expires Jan. 27. He said he was rejecting any deal with the interim government but not his claim to power.

Zelaya declined to sign on to a U.S. brokered deal that would let him return to the presidency as the figurehead in a coalition government. In his letter, he was critical of the deal and of Thomas Shannon, the U.S. State Department envoy who helped negotiators reach the accord.

The United States has said it would recognize the results of the Nov. 29 elections. Panamá has said it would, too.
Neither Zelaya nor Roberto Micheletti are candidates. After the June 28 coup, the U.S. said that Zelaya would have to be reinstated for the elections to be accepted by other nations.

Zelaya has been a guest in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa since Sept. 21 when he returned secretly to Honduras.

Zelaya has been provoked into inconsistencies before. He showed up at the Honduran border and stepped across it and then stepped back. The meaning of that exercise was not clear.

The U.S. brokered accord also has been fractured because the Honduran congress has declined to vote to accept it.

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