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(506) 223-1327        Published Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 237        E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Almost like
Santa's Workshop

If you cannot find an appropriate gift here, you are not looking. The gifts are there. They are small and can be packaged. And you still have time to send them off to friends and family in the Great White North or Europe. See our story HERE!

A.M. Costa Rica/Noel Dekking

Big holiday events just won't be held this year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Christmas will be dull in San José.

The Sala IV constitutional court has canceled the traditional Zapote fiesta, a week-long carnival with rides, food booths, beer gardens and Costa Rican bull fights.

The tope horse encounter that draws thousands of riders and their mounts to the capital every Dec. 26 is in danger.

And visitors and residents can forget about the Dec. 27 carnival, which lacks a sponsor, a budget and the municipal will to put on the event.

The Sala IV ruled that twin faults under the Zapote festival area represented a danger to the public attending there because there were few provisions for emergencies. The Zapote festival has become a challenge for police, who flood the area to stop fights and petty crime.

The Asamblea Legislativa has had plans to put up an office tower for lawmakers at the Zapote site. The Sala IV decision would seem to rule out that use, too.

A money maker for the Zapote festival was the bull fights where informal bull fighters flood the
ring and confuse a fighting bull. The bull races around the ring while the many human participants distract it by slapping its rump or waving clothing.

Bulls have short attention spans, so most informal bull fighters survive the encounter. However, each year a handful of participants are mauled by bulls and are pushed through a special slot into the medical clinic adjacent to the ring.

The television feed for the bull fighting is sold internationally.

The tope has more political weight than the carnival, although the latter is better attended by spectators. Dec. 26 is the day of the horseman in Costa Rica and even those who may not be able to distinguish a horse from a Zapote bull are in the saddle that day, particularly when presidential and legislative elections are near.

The major event still standing for the Yule season is the Dec. 16 Festival de la Luz, the evening parade of lights. That event is certain under municipal sponsorship and with plenty of commercial sponsors, who also prepare giant floats.

The tope Dec. 26 still is a maybe as organizers attempt to find financial backing. But there is little chance that the Zapote fiesta or the Dec. 27 carnival will be resurrected, said officials.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 237  

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Two new exhibits feature
Amazon Indians and Walker

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Museo Nacional will be opening two more exhibitions Friday.  One is entitled “Convivencias” and the other is  “Noticias del Filibustero.” They will be in the temporary exhibition room until February.  

The “Convivencia” display is a collection of work by the late Chilean artist Juan Downey.  The collection is a series of videos, engravings, paintings and drawings that represent Downey's contact with the indigenous Yanomami tribe of the Venezuelan and Brazilian Amazon.

The Yanomami, also known as the Yanomamö, is one of the last indigenous tribes to have come into contact with the Western world.  The nomadic population numbers somewhere between 23,000 and 27,000 members who live in commons of around 400 people.  The exhibit also features drawings by children, which are considered to be some of the first permanent artistic expressions by the Yanomami people.  The people had always painted their bodies, but these are some of the first drawings on paper and have been preserved within the collection.  The collection has already travelled throughout Europe, Chile, and the United States.

Downey, who is survived by his wife Marilys Downey, obtained more than 30 scholarships throughout his life, including those from Guggenheim, Rockefeller and the Organization of American States.  There are over 100 of his works in museums around the world.

The second new gallery exhibition, “Noticias del Filibustero,” is a compilation of many artists' work, including, Emilia Prieto, Nadia Mendoza, Joaquín Rodríguez, Lucía Madríz of Costa Rica, Tania Bruguera of Cuba, María Eugenia Valle and Eduardo Chang of El Salvador, Enrique Castro and Humberto Vélez of Panamá and more.

The works represent an important chapter in the history of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, between 1854 and 1858, said the museum. This is when William Walker and its army of mercenaries tried to conquer several Latin American countries and, as a result, became intertwined in the history and politics of both Nicaragua and Costa Rica.  After self-proclaiming presidency of the Republic of Nicaragua in 1856, Walker was ousted a year later and executed in Honduras in 1860.  Walker's downfall was the result of Costa Rican military efforts against him.

Other works from this collection will be on dislay at the Museo Juan Santamaría, Museo de Formas Espacios y Sonidos, and la Plaza de Artes.  For more information, visit, www.museocostarica.go.cr

Our reader's opinion

Government lacks support
for central Pacific area

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

For many years I have been saying to anyone who would listen that we here in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, have been treated like second-class citizens with the government going out of their way to denegrate our area by lumping it in with Jacó as a drug and child prostitution center, and a drug importation area equal to Puntarenas!

We have never had representation in San José speaking out for us, so any pleas for help fall on deaf ears.

Oh sure, whenever they feel like knocking us, they have their press lackies beat us up with some article about the deplorable roads, the sad state of the park, and the out-of-control development.

Why do we think this happens?

It is my opinion, shared by many here that the government of Costa Rica gave up on this area years ago. In their minds it is a black hole of undocumented foreigners and corrupt municipal governments.

If the government could find a way to pick up Manuel Antonio National Park and move it to Guanacaste, they would do it in a minute.

When was the last time you saw anything sponsored by the Government promoting Manuel Antonio? Never is what!
It is clear to all who have eyes and ears that we are considered an area to be lied to, have services substandard to the rest of the country, with water problems, electrical problems, lack of cell phone reception virtually everywhere and the everyday apathy that exists here in Costa Rica.

The latest, and thank you for this Mr. President:
During one of Mr. Arias’s brief stays in the country, which we all know is really run by the defacto president brother Rodrigo, Don Óscar just went to Guanacaste to officially open the latest mega construction project in Papagayo, Regent’s Punta Papagayo, mostly a Government gift of a concession to completely change the face of the area, without taking into account the environmental aspects of that many new rooms right on the gulf. But who cares? It looks good in the press and further confirms the governments desire to have everything important occur in the Guanacaste and is the shiny apple of this Presidentcy, carefully thought through like the 3.000 or so apartments in Desamparados, with no regard to impact on the local environment.

Here in the Friday Nov. 24, 2006 edition of “The Beach Times.” we have our dear president, on one of his brief visits within the country, finally verbalizing what we in Manuel Antonio have felt for years. Don Óscar is quoted as saying under the heading “Arias fires salvo at coastal tourist towns."

“I am glad the development is in Papagayo because it belongs to the state, and we are better able to protect it.” Unlike Manuel or Tamarindo which have gotten out of hand.  "We have already lost them”!!!!!!!

Thank you so much. Mr. President. for denegrating us once again. The reality is that what is out of hand, is Jacó Beach, and it’s because your government lacks the iniative or the desire to do anything but highlight the problems, not insist that your own departments do their jobs. But the will just isn't there.

It is obvious that the government wants all visible development to be in Guanacaste, where in the season the boats leave and come south to Quepos because the winds off the Papagayo Gulf, sand blast everything and every body in sight.

[paragraphs deleted here]

Mr. President and Mister-acting-president-90 percent-of-the-time Don Rodrigo, my statement is this. “You were elected to serve by all Costa Ricans for all Costa Ricans, not to serve the already rich, and certainly not to go out of your way to cut us off from the basic needs of daily life. I say again, it is no accident that the people in Aguirre have been lied to by successive governments over the years, as many as four previous presidents have come to Quepos to make statements about how it will all be made better “I promise you”!!!!! For the 16 years I have lived here I have heard the government's lies year after year, but finally thanks to Don Oscar, we finally get the truth, the government now says out loud that we are “already lost,” which one would think then gives them a reason for letting roads bridges, development etc. go to hell, because we are seen as a lost cause anyway!!

Manuel Antonio is still a beautiful place, Puerto Quepos is a quaint fishing village. Those tourists who come here fall in love with the place. We have done well ourselves, I would say, in spite of concentrated efforts to prevent that, and that anything that is uncontrolled in a Democratic country such as Costa Rica, is the fault of the very government that lies to us on a reguler basis.

[paragraphs deleted here]

Peter Vineberg
Manuel Antonio
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 237  

Yes, Virginia, there ARE unique gifts to send from here!
By Noel Dekking
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

People in Costa Rica during the Christmas season may have a harder time filling the wish lists of friends and family elsewhere.

This shouldn't mean that friends and family are doomed to a lump of coal.  Christmas shopping may mean getting the family some authentic Costa Rican crafts.

A large part of the local economy is driven by tourism, so finding a gift shop with the standard tourist shirts and Tilley hats should not be a problem.  A lot of the gift shops also carry authentic crafts by local artisans, making them convenient for one-stop shopping.  But in general, the gift shops have much higher prices and are less open to bartering. 

One of the local markets may have a greater selection and better prices. There many of the artisans are working on location.  Even the initial high-end offers for crafts and artwork, which the vendors will call “special deal for you” or “discount prices,” are often priced better than the merchandise in the tourist shops.

In San José, for example, there is a market just west of the Plaza de la Democracia. It is reached easily via either Avenida Central or Avenida Segundo at Calle 15.  This market has lots to offer family and friends.  Distinguishing between the crafts made in Costa Rica and those that are imported, however, is not easy.

When looking for something authentically Costa Rican, a little Spanish is helpful.  A simple “¿De donde son?” or “¿Son de Costa Rica?” will at least get you a yes or no answer, be the phrases grammatically correct or not.  One merchant explained that the sure-fire way to guarantee authentic crafts is by going to the booths where the artisans are onsite working on one of their pieces.  This can be a fairly common sight in Costa Rica, especially on Saturday mornings.

Regardless of what is being purchased, a great price is usually possible.  The original offer will, of course, be at the high end, but getting the price down by a bit should not be a problem. 

For a lower offer, a shopper can simply show interest in an item, hear the price and then announce that he or she would like to look around first.  Generally, a lower offer will be made, and the bargaining starts.  While bargaining generally is acceptable, most artisans are far from rich and deserve a fair price.  The difference between buying a pair of earings for 1,500 colons and for 1,000 colons is around a dollar. The same earrings in the Great White North could cost as much as $20 U.S., or 10,000 colons.  It's up to the buyer to determine if saving a dollar is worth the time invested.

Reporters attempted to find some Christmas gifts at fair prices that would bring some "aaahs" from family and friends elsewhere.

For the father figure, to accommodate all the bottles of Christmas cheer he is sure to receive, there are locally decorated flasks and decanters with designs of local animals, tribal faces, and Costa Rican scenery.  The process involves a lot of hands-on work with special papers, dies, and a plasticine or resin-like material. Guillermo Segura Umaña is a local artisan who works at this craft and sells his pieces for 3,000 colons (around $6 U.S.) and up, depending on the size and detail.  This particular craftsman also makes jewelery boxes of the same style that he sells for around 2,500 colons.

For Mom, some handmade sandals are a real deal in the markets, with a starting offer for just 5,000 colons (around

Who gets the bongos and who gets dominoes?

A.M. Costa Rica photos/Noel Dekking
Guillermo Segura Umaña, bottle maker, works on a box.

 $10 U.S.).  They come in all sizes and various colors and tans.  Also a great price are earrings made mostly out of a coconut shell, usually no more than 1,500 colons ($3 U.S.), and they come in many designs, including local animals.

For the kids, this holiday season there are some great options.  A bongo drum goes for around 7,500 colons ($15 U.S.), a frog-shaped noisemaker for 2,000 colons ($4 U.S.), or a wooden rattle with “Costa Rica” inscribed on it for 1,000 colons ($2 U.S.).  Another great gift is a handcrafted dominoes set.  Dominoes is a typical Latin American game, and a handcrafted set with carrying case can be picked up for less than 10,000 colons ($20 U.S.).  An additional present for the little girls would be an original Costa Rican-style dress.  Depending on the size and detail, the dresses could range from as low as 3,500 colons ($7 U.S.) to around 6,000 ($12 U.S.), a great deal either way.

Finally, there are presents that are good for just about anyone.  One of the selections is a hammock.  Varying personal sizes range to one big enough for three persons. They come in many colors, are comfortable and comparatively cheap going for between 9,000 and 14,000 colons ($18 to $28 U.S.). 

The last gift idea is a decorative mask.  While there are masks from seemingly all over the world, the Costa Rica masks have a rustic authenticity.  Evelyn Diaz Méndez explained that some of the masks may take up to 48 hours to make, but then are buried beneath the ground for up to four years.

This traditional mask-making method is used to create and preserve a certain standard of color and durability.  There are all different designs, colors, and sizes of the masks which are priced from 8,000 colons ($16 U.S) and up.

The last challenge is getting the gifts to the recipient before Santa Claus comes down the chimney on Dec. 25. 

For mailing the gifts out of the country, the Correo Nacional offers a 15- to 30-day mail service that will accommodate most sizes and weight. 

Under normal conditions, postal employees ask that the package be no more than 1.5 meters by 1.5 meters by 1.5 meters or 59 inches a side.  To send to North America, every 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) will cost around $13 U.S. To send the same weight to Europe will cost around $22 U.S.

For those doing their Christmas shopping in Costa Rica, there are a few sure advantages: It's highly unlikely that anyone else is going to be purchasing the same gifts, so forget about gift receipts and store return policies.  And for the price of one of this year's video-game consoles, friends and family all can get something new.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 237

Controversial figure will handle México's internal security
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexican president-elect Felipe Calderón has named two key members of his new cabinet as he prepares to take office Friday.

The president-elect appointed Patricia Espinosa as his foreign minister and Francisco Ramírez Acuna as his interior minister in charge of domestic security and political affairs.

Ramírez Acuna was criticized in 2004 when he was governor of the state of Jalisco for being too eager to use
 state police to crack down on opponents.

Calderón announced the appointments during a news conference at an upscale hotel in Mexico City Tuesday. Protesters have vowed to block his inauguration Friday. They argue that his rival, leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, was the true winner of the July 2 presidential race.

López Obrador contested his narrow loss, claiming vote fraud and charging that President Vicente Fox used the power of his office to support Calderón. Mexico's electoral tribunal rejected López Obrador's claims.

Castro reported to be too sick to attend his own birthday party in Havana
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuban President Fidel Castro says he is not well enough to attend celebrations in Havana to belatedly mark his 80th birthday.

Castro made the comments late Tuesday in a statement read by a presenter to hundreds of people attending a gala in the Cuban capital.

The Cuban leader turned 80 Aug. 13. Celebrations to mark the occasion were postponed after he underwent intestinal
surgery that forced him to hand over power temporarily to his younger brother, Raul, in late July.

Cuban officials say more than 1,300 people from around the world are expected to attend the five-day celebration. They include Bolivian President Evo Morales, Haitian President Rene Preval and Nicaraguan president-elect Daniel Ortega.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is not expected to attend because he faces a national election Sunday. The festivities in Cuba culminate Saturday with a  parade.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 237

Half-marathon planned to mark Nobel Prize honors
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The La Fundación Arias para la Paz is inviting runners to a half-marathon Dec. 10 to mark the 19th anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Peace to its namesake.

The Carrera Atletica Premio Nobel de la Paz also will have a shorter, 10.5 kilometer course for those who may not want to participate in the half-marathon. The half-marathon will be two trips around the 10.5 kilometer course.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez will be at the starting line, the foundation said in a press release. Arias won the Nobel Prize in 1987 for his efforts in drafting a peace plan for Central America. At that time civil war raged in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.

The race has a 3,000 colons (about $6) entry fee and prizes of up to 250,000 colons ($480) for top male and female
finishers. The race will begin at 8 a.m. at the Museo para la Paz adjacent to the Plaza de la Democracia on Avenida 2 in San José.

Two experts, Victor López and Diego Obrando, have been named to handle the technical details of the event, the foundation said.

The runners will go east from the museum to Los Yoses, the Fuente de la Hispanidad, San Pedro, Plaza del Sol and the Municipalidad de Curridabat and then south past the Registro Nacional, the Iglesia de Zapote, Casa Presidencial, the Corte Suprema de Justicia and back to the museum.

There are classes by gender and age group as well as children's classifications.

Registration is at the foundation or at running shops in the city.

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