A.M. Costa Rica

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(506) 223-1327      Published Friday, Dec. 2, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 239          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Some of the 3,500 persons who turned out for the 41st annual lighting of the hospital tree.

Christmas season kicked off with city events
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Thursday evening was a big one for Christmas. The 32,000 lights on the Christmas tree at the Hospital Nacional de Niños was lighted up amid the applause and ahhhhs of about 3,500 persons.

At the Teatro Nacional, the portal or manger

And a jolly visitor
scene was inaugurated, and Mayor Johnny Araya reminded the audience of the Festival de la Luz a week from Saturday. He also said some 50 trees had been decorated with lights on Paseo Colón.

Then the mayor walked a few feet and  threw a switch that lighted holiday panels
 around the theater and the Plaza de la Cultura. The switch also turned on a tree donated by the Gran Hotel Costa Rica in the center of the plaza.

A school choir sung, and a lot of audience members wondered why theater officials had put Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a tent this year.

The theater tries to vary the manger scene. One year it was in a rainforest. Last year, the scene was in a small Costa Rican-style casita. This year statutes are placed amid bales of straw and a tarp is hung up as a roof.

Araya reminded the crowd that music and other events will run every evening on the pedestrian boulevard to Dec. 23. He said the Christmas celebration was a way to help renew the city.

Costa Ricans have a special love of children, and the hospital tree is a live one. This is the 41st year the tree has held lights. Attendants

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Television crewman shoots the portal at the Teatro Nacional.

A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Hospital de Niños tree with 32,000 lights

and some young patients witnessed the event from the hospital balconies.

Meanwhile in other parts of the city there were concerts and fireworks displays.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Electricians put finishing touches on the Plaza de la Cultura Christmas tree.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 2, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 239

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Transit cops to target
holiday foolishness

By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

December is traditionally the time for major festivities in Costa Rica.  This means that there are more people on the roads, which means more accidents and deaths.  The Dirección de Tránsito is hoping to curb this unfortunate holiday trend with an investment of 47 million colons ($95,160) into beefing-up road patrols for the month.

The Festival de La Luz, la Vuelta Ciclística, los Festejos Populares, el Tope, and Carnival are the primary events that have the Dirección de Tránsito's attention.  Officers have two agendas in mind.  First, they would like to limit the number of December accidents and deaths on the nation's highways.  December has had a disproportionate amount of road-related deaths in at least the past eight years.  In that time, anywhere from 14 to 9 percent of the years deaths have taken place during the holiday month.  Secondly, officers hope to reduce traffic congestion.

Officials are hopeful that the number of deaths will be down this December.  So far this year, there have been less deaths – 251 – since 1998.  Officials hope they can maintain that trend. 

To do so, the Dirección de Tránsito has planned to have several extra officers on patrol.  100 extra officers will try to ease congestion, the tránsito office said.  These officers will be cracking down especially hard on illegal parking in the hopes of maintaining traffic flow.  140 officers are slated to work the special holiday events and another 140 will work strictly highway patrols.  In addition, 100 officers more than usual will work routine day and night shifts, the office said.  These patrols will be looking out for drivers who don't have their seatbelts buckled, who use their cell phones unsafely and who are carrying too many passengers, the office said.   

To reduce deaths, Juan Manuel Delgado, director de la Policía de Tránsito, has announced an aggressive program that will crack down on speeding and drunk driving.  Tránsito officers have planned 164 operations to arrest those who drive intoxicated as well as 540 speed traps for the month, he said. 

These operations will be stationed throughout the country but especially in San José and near the beaches where many people go to take advantage of holiday vacations, Delgado  said.

Delgado added that although the patrols will be out in force 24 hours a day, officers will concentrate specifically on the evenings after 7 p.m. and nights, he said.  Traditionally, those are the times of day when people drive under the influence of alcohol he said.

Page readership up
217% over one year

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The number of pages viewed by A.M. Costa Rica readers has increased a staggering 217 percent from November 2004 to last month.

Statistics from the server company that hosts the newspaper domain also show that unique visitors to the site have increased 46.1 percent from November 2004 to November 2005.

Total readers were 106,622 in November, an increase of 64.2 percent over the same month in 2004, according to the server statistics which do not include automatic spiders and other non-human devices that access the site.

October and November also were the first months that total hits exceeded 3.1 million.

The newspaper chalked up the increases at a time when traditional print newspapers are suffering the loss of readership and advertising because of high production, print and distribution costs. For example, a full-page color advertisement in a local English-language weekly costs in excess of $1,000. For about the same amount of money, an advertiser can run an advertising campaign in A.M. Costa Rica every day for six months and achieve instant responses. The newspaper is read each day in about 89 countries, although the most readers are from Costa Rica, the United States and Canada.

Online readership figures also do not include the so-called phantom readers, people who purchase the newspaper but never open it. Online statistics only count those who actually open at least one page on their computer.

A.M. Costa Rica makes its readership statistics public each month. They are HERE!. The newspaper management believes that potential advertisers should have complete information in order to make promotions decisions.

Readers viewed 710,474 pages in November, and there were 47,432 unique visitors, or readers who were only counted once a day no matter how many times they entered the site of the 4-year-old online newspaper.

Readership continues an upward trend although November 2005 statistics were slightly less than October 2005 results because November only has 30 days.

Agents confirm name
of second gun victim

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The shootout on Calle 20 across the street from the Junta de Protección Social de San José Wednesday now has officially claimed two lives.  Wednesday, Juan Pablo Cortés Ureña was confirmed killed but the Cruz Roja said that an unidentified victim had died as well.  Speculation was that 24-year-old Luís Gilberto Monge Guerrero had died from a gunshot wound to the neck.  Thursday, agents with the Judicial Investigating Organization confirmed Gilberto's death.

Late Wednesday morning, a young man with a revolver fired into a group of lottery vendors, fatally injuring two and wounding two others.  Officers of the Policía Municipal captured a 17-year-old suspect approximately two blocks away.  He was a relative of two of those shot. 

The other two gunshot victims were identified as 49-year-old Gilberto Chacón Agüero, and 61-year-old Carlos Luís Monge Salas.  He was believed to be the father of the gunman. 
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Third news page

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 2, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 239

Holiday season brings a bulging social calendar
The holiday season began for me with Thanksgiving.  Without Halloween and Thanksgiving as buffers, Costa Ricans have been into the season for a couple of months already. And now it has reached a crescendo in downtown San José. The sidewalks are jammed with people. The streets are at a standstill with cars. The stores, hundreds of them, are packed with goods, literally reaching to the rafters. (They hang stuff up the walls and from the ceilings,) And they all look like they are selling the same stuff. 

After a while it all does look like just stuff.  The most interesting stores are the variety stores that sell everything from espresso coffee makers to shower curtains to those little ceramic figurines so popular as gifts – except for someone like me who has learned not to collect anything.

You end up with more owls or frogs or salt and peppershakers than you ever wanted. Or have room for.  The whole scene is mind boggling.  Then I saw a store, a boutique, stuffed like all the rest, with the name Excess.  That said it.

This Thanksgiving – my 14th in Costa Rica – was again spent with a Costa Rican-North American extended family reunion in a luxurious cabin in the mountains of San José de la Montana.  The meal was sumptuous with turkey and ham and all the trimmings.  But this city girl did wonder, on the way back home, why anyone would build a retreat at the end of so many tortuous kilometers from San José. 

To add to my own sense of the holidays, my friends, Bonnie and Arnold Hano have come for a short visit.  They were Peace Corps volunteers working in Acosta and continued to live here for some years before returning to California. They are dividing their time in Costa Rica between me and the friends they made in the little community where they served.

Sunday we attended the last concert of the season – a program of Mozart and Mahler with a remarkable 
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

pianist playing Mozart.  Getting there was via another different tortuous route because of the parade of the oxen going down Paseo Colon and the many one-way streets in San José. 

Bonnie asked me to translate the cost of the tickets for them ($14. each for excellent seats in the butaca – the raised section right behind the orchestra section).  “For $14 back home we would be at the back of the highest balcony, wouldn’t we Arnold?”  she said. 

“No,” he replied.  “We would still be outside.”

Our concerts are so reasonable you almost can’t afford to miss them.

After the concert, we joined Anabel and her brother, Jorge, who has recently resettled in Costa Rica, for lunch.  We decided upon the Casa España, a restaurant in my neighborhood.  I can recommend the service and ambiance there, but the quality of the dishes we were served was pretty uneven.  However, between the sangria and the good company, we enjoyed ourselves immensely.  Lunch out in Costa Rica always seems to be a happy occasion.

Still coming up for this expat is the gala dinner (at noon) of Democrats Abroad on Dec. 10 at the Hotel Tournon.  And there is the Little Theatre Christmas play, “Jacob Marley’s Christmas” for the next couple of weekends.  The Computer Club is also having a special Christmas dinner.  I would venture that most clubs will be celebrating the holidays with special dinners and parties.  The secret to enjoying them all is to avoid going through downtown San José to get to them.

If you wondered where all the pigs go at Christmas . . .
Every December the aroma and squeals from rural Alajuela pig farms desist.

The winds of Christmas arrive as if to freshen the air, and a local flock of guinea fowl vanishes about a week before Christmas. All over South America, but especially in Columbia, a 10- to 15- pound whole roast suckling pig is the centerpiece of the Christmas dinner table. Glazed hams are also becoming more popular south of the Rio Grande.

There is no doubt in my mind that more pork goes for tamale filling in Costa Rica in December than for anything else. In my pueblo, as in the rest of the country, two or even three generations form a family assembly line to mass produce the plantain leaf-wrapped packets of pork filled corn meal cakes. Neighbors give each other boxes of Christmas tamales and add a critique of preparation skills to the usual front gate gossip:

“Cecelia’s spices are amazing . . . Martha left out the raisins this year . . .  Sandra ties the most perfect twine patterns . . . Josefina doesn’t use fresh corn, does she?”
What happens to the rest of the pig? The belly goes for bacon. The skin crisps in chicharrone caldrons. The ribs are roasted and barbecued, often along with chickens over coffee-wood fires, a la leña.

In the 60s, I lived in a Chinese neighborhood in San Francisco and bore witness to the adage that Cantonese people eat every part of the pig except the squeal. Cheeks, snouts, ears, tails, kidneys, livers, hearts, spleens, stomachs, skin, feet and intestines appeared in thick rice soups, clay pot stews, on dim sum platters, at banquet tables, in braised sauces over rice and on buffets of cold hors d’oevres. Dozens of puns emerged from that neighborhood playing on the words “offal” and “awful.”
What happens to those nether parts here? In Brazil, feijoada, the national dish, is a black bean stew containing at least five different pig parts to gain respectability and authenticity. They include combinations of feet, necks, snouts, ears, tails, jowls, blood sausage and, rarely, intestines.

Here in Costa Rica, I haven’t seen stomach or intestine used. I assume they make their way into sausage, hot dogs and cold cuts. The tripe used in mondongo and menudo is from cows. A Brasilera friend bought frozen “cleaned” pig intestines for her feijoada, but still boiled and recleaned them before using them in the stew-pot.
In the southern U.S., chitterlings, or chitlins, are made from pig intestines. They were part of the slave culture in which the masters gave their slaves only those pig parts they wouldn’t eat. Pig intestines have a vile smell and require hours to clean and prepare. Now, they survive nearly exclusively as nostalgia food.

In Salley, South Carolina, the annual Chitlin’ Strut is a festival that attracts about 75,000 people.  In Guatemala, I had a bowl of revolcaldo, pig offal stew including intestines and brain. It wasn’t bad, but one of my sons noted that caldo meant soup-pot and revol was short for revolting.

In Jamaica, there is a dish of beans and pickled pig tails. Methinks all food preferences are cultural.
Have you ever eaten frito? It is the same word as “fried” but is a common and much loved fiesta food served in dozens of pueblo festivals across Costa Rica. It is pig part and organ meat stew without intestines – a dice of heart, lung, liver, spleen, kidneys, ears, nose, cheeks, ribs, rind, neck, head and feet. Kidneys need to be pre-boiled and rinsed a few times before dicing.

The dice is marinated in lemon juice, mashed garlic, oregano, thyme, sliced onion, salt and black pepper, for several hours or overnight. Dry and brown the
dice in a skillet, put it in a pot with any unabsorbed
Dr. Lenny Karpman

we eat


 leftover marinade, enough water to cover, optional diced aromatic vegetables – carrot, onion, celery stalks with leaves, sweet pepper, tomato, plantain, zucchini and cubed potato.

It is seasoned with salt and salsa Lizano to taste. I thought the last ingredient was a cut up guinea hen. I didn’t know why, but I guessed that was where the pre-Christmas flock went. My ear for Spanish led me astray.

The cook who shared her recipe for frito with me said guineos – small green bananas, not guineas — guinea hens. The stew-pot is then simmered for about two hours until everything is tender (an extra half hour if you live at an altitude higher than the Central Valley). All the different meats, despite their disparate origin, become tender and tasty. If you are tempted to make it, when it is finished, refrigerate it overnight, remove the top layer of white fat, reheat, garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with white rice.
If you are offal challenged, you can go to the December chicharrone festival in Puriscal, west of Ciudad Colon, for festival food, arts and crafts, music and a horse parade.

More pork? What is a cardiologist doing, writing about pork? What is the skinny about pork?

The truth is that pork is not “the other white meat.” Neither is it poison for your heart.

Pork is a red meat. Redness is defined by the USDA according to the amount of a muscle substance called myoglobin. The US Pork Board began the “other white meat” ad campaign in 1987.  Pork and beef have much more myoglobin than white meats chicken or fish. Veal has less than pork when it is very young. That pork lightens when it is cooked, is irrelevant. All meats carry saturated fats, the unhealthy kind. Poly or mono saturated fats are better for you.

Artificially produced trans-fats are worse. Different cuts of pork can be lean or fatty.

Pork tenderloin has similar fat content as skinless chicken breast. Boneless loin roast and extra lean ham are similar to sirloin chops in fat content, but bacon and sausage are much worse. Nice juicy pork chops are juicy because they have lots of fat, as are marbleized steaks.
What about pork ribs? When I make them at home, I boil off a lot of the fat before they go into the oven. It also makes them “fall off the bone tender.” The largest ribs are Chinese country-style with a generous chunk of meat attached. The red color is due to artificial dye. They are moderately fatty. Next come spareribs from the side of the animal. They are perhaps the tastiest but have more bone and less meat than the others.

Ribs from the back, called baby-backs, have less bone and more meat. The tiniest with only a little piece of bone or cartilage are the Chinese dim sum variety steamed in black bean sauce. I love their flavor but they are about half fat. Fortunately for those with little restraint, the servings are tiny.
Merry Christmas and lean pork in moderation to all carnivores.

A.M. Costa Rica

Fourth news page

Good grief!

Are you still spending 70 percent 
of your advertising budget on paper?

You need to fill this space ASAP!

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 2, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 239

57th anniversary of end of army marked with art
By Silleny Sanabria Soto
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Thursday Costa Ricans celebrated the 57th anniversary of the abolition of the country's military.  The Museo Nacional spearheaded the festivities with cultural activities that included art contests, performances and speeches by some of the persons who were involved in the 1948 civil war.

At 8:30 a.m., people of all ages participated in an art contest that the museum organized.

First place in the kids category was 11-year-old Kevin Sequerira Gutierrez from Cartago. He drew a landscape that shows the peace that abounds in Costa Rica since ex-president José Figueres Ferrer abolished the army in 1948.  His mother, Maria Gutierrez, accompanied him.

31-year-old Anne Stikel of Germany won a certificate as well.  Her work centered on the violence people all over the world commit against each other.

According to Marvín Carvajal, adviser at the Ministerio de Educación Pública, 150 students from schools in Bagaces, Liberia, La Cruz and Aguirre came to the event.  Besides the art contest, students saw persons dressed up as wizards and laughed with “Juan Cuentacuentos,” the storyteller.

At the boulevard in front of the Museum, the 46 members of the Banda Nacional de San José, played a concert, and many visitors stopped to listen.  The band often performs at the Parque Central.

The headline event gathered Manuel Antonio Bolanos, education minister, with cultural minister Guido Saenz González to welcome several ex-revolutionaries. 

“For nearly 57 years we were killing each other.  Today we can celebrate because the fight is over,” said Roberto Marin Alvarez, an ex-revolutionary who fought with Figueres. 

Organizers dedicated the activity to all those who fought with  Figueres in the 1948 war in Ochomogo

A.M. Costa Rica/Selleny Sanabria Soto
Hector Miranda is flanked by fellow members of the Figueres revolutionary army.

de Cartago against the Calderon Guardia government.

Hector Miranda said he was dedicated to helping the ailing fighters.

“The war began in the San José streets, because Calderon's people did not want to leave.  Pepe Figueres said that they had to leave, so we fought with whatever we could find . . . machetes, cudgels and hunting rifles,” said Carlos Flores, an ex-revolutionary.     

The activity ended at 12 p.m.  The ex-revolutionaries seemed to get the most satisfaction from the festivities that they can trace back to ex-president Figueres Ferrer.

“Costa Rica now is a free country and though little things happen every day, we do not have an army.  This is the most important. We thank the big thinking man Pepe Figueres,” said Sanchez.

The army of national liberation, led by Figueres, fought a five-week war with the regular Costa Rican army under President Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia.

The war ended in an agreement brokered by foreign diplomats here, Figueres, as part of a three-person junta, send a number of opponents into exile and took their properties, despite agreeing not to do so.

The regular army provided the only possible organized resistance, so it was disbanded.

Surfers just might be better off buying their board in Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The high season is here.  That means tourists will soon be coming in droves to see Costa Rica's nature, wildlife, volcanoes and beaches.  A good portion of those coming to see the beach will be toting surf boards, but some airlines are a bit more finicky about allowing huge boards on planes.

The most economic method to surf here is to buy a board and sell it when you leave.  Delta and American Airlines charge $100 extra each way for boards, bags included.  It's possible to find a board in good shape for much cheaper than the cost of flying one down here.  An added benefit is that boards bought down here don't get beat up on the plane and a surfer can sell the board when they are done with it and get some money back.  But for those who would rather deal with airline restrictions and fees instead of going without their favorite boards, here are the rules:

Delta Airlines doesn't allow any baggage over 80 inches long according to the company's Web site.  Longboarders must find another airline or buy a
board down here.  Unfortunately, long boards at reasonable prices can be difficult to come by.  Delta's policy is that anything over 62 inches costs an extra $100 dollars each way.  This means that all but the youngsters who can still float on a 5-foot board can expect to pay $100 each way.  Boards must be checked in a case designed to protect them or the passenger must sign a limited release tag which says that the company will not be responsible when your board gets trashed – which it will if you don't have the proper packaging. 

American and Continental both have larger bag restrictions – 115 inches.  But American's over-sized package price matches that of Delta.  Continental's is $20 cheaper. 

Sometimes airlines have baggage embargoes during
high seasons.  Continental has an embargo against oversized baggage in much of Latin America but Costa Rica is exempt.  Surfers can still bring their boards here.  However, Continental has a policy that each passenger may only take one board bag with a maximum of two boards.

Jo Stuart
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