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These stories were published Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 243
Jo Stuart
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John Erb is framed by the entry to his 3,760-gallon hyperbaric chamber that seats 12. In his hand is an oxygen mask.
A.M. Costa Rica/Joe Medici

His favorite health fix is pressurized oxygen
By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

John Erb has at least one thing in common with superstar Michael Jackson: They both use hyperbaric oxygen chambers. Erb insists, however, that the similarities end there.

Erb lives in  Montelimar on the outskirts of northern San José where he keeps three separate hyperbaric chambers in his garage. Erb and several of his friends spend at least an hour a week in the chambers. He claims that the chambers soothing affects can help to heal many of the health problems that plague men and women around the world.

A hyperbaric chamber works in two ways. First, the chamber is pressurized to around seven or eight pounds per square inch above normal atmospheric pressure, which is around 14 pounds. Second, the people inside breathe in piped-in pure oxygen through a mask. More expensive commercial chambers are pressurized with oxygen and therefore users can breath freely within the tank. Erb’s tanks, however, are pressurized with air and therefore he uses diving tanks and the masks to provide the oxygen.

The combination of the pressurized environment and the pure oxygen results in what is called hyperoxygenation, or the body’s super-absorption of oxygen. The basic idea behind this process is that by flooding body cells with oxygen, they  become stronger and 

more efficient. Erb, and other chamber users, assert that these more efficient cells will help you become a healthier and more physically fit person. 

While many doctors and scientists dispute Erb’s assertions, it’s hard to argue with the results. At the age of 73, Erb seems to be in the peak of physical fitness and doesn’t look a day over 50.

Erb has bankrolled the chambers out of his own pocket and hopes to promote their use throughout the country. "Commercial chambers have always been so expensive" Erb said Tuesday. "By pressurizing the chamber with air, however, we can reap the same benefits at a fraction of the cost."

Erb came to the attention of A.M. Costa Rica when he placed a classified ad for the chambers and said "I am the only man in the world with three oxygen chambers in my garage."

Erb discounts doctors who question the therapeutic value: "There is a lot of money to lose in surgeries and prescriptions if doctors start recommending this type of therapy." 

Erb recently began using a new chamber that can accommodate up to 12 people. "It’s easier with more people. You don’t get as bored," he said as he relaxed against the steel wall of the 3,670-gallon chamber. 

"Plus, this way we can include more people who need this treatment."

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Charges finally filed
in Parmenio Medina case

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Prosecutors in the Parmenio Medina case have presented the long-awaited charges against a Roman Catholic priest and eight others for the hitman-style murder of the popular radio figure.

Those facing the major charges already are in preventative detention. The charges had been expected for nearly a year since agents took the Rev. Minor Calvo Aguilar and businessman Omar Luis Chaves into custody.

Parmenio Medina Pérez died when hitmen in a car fired on him as he drove to his Heredia home July 7, 2001.

The victim was the producer and principal figure in a satirical weekly radio show.

Minor was the leading figure in Radio María, a Catholic-oriented radio station of which Chavez was the financial backer. The charges Tuesday also claim Calvo and Chavez participated in fraud with the radio station as well as money laundering and conspiracy.

Parmenio Medina in his radio show revealed troubling financial information about Radio María, which now is out of business. The Catholic Church also was listed as a victim in the prosecutors’ filing.

The filing by the Ministerio Público officials also cited a reporter for Diario Extra, Adrián Marrero, as a suspect of coercing a witness. The reporter is suspected of smuggling a cell phone into prison for the use of one of the murder suspect. The suspect then used the phone to talk to the witness, according to officials.

The Parmenio Medina case had been the nation’s No. 1 criminal case until former presidents found themselves caught in allegations of corruption.

The nation’s chief prosecutor, Francisco Dall’Anese Ruiz, took personal charge of the case as soon as he was named in late 2003. It was he who triggered the arrests of Calvo and Chavez at Christmastime that year.

The others named either are accused of participating in the murder or helping to arrange it.

Rains cause flooding
in northern zone

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Heavy rains are causing problems in the northern zone of Costa Rica. A handful of communities in the Canton of Upala have reported flooding.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias said that several rivers there are running out of their banks. A shelter has been set up at the Colegio Agropecuario de Upala, where some 41 residents of the Barrio Los Angeles in Upala Centro are staying.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said it expects unsettled skies to continue through Thursday morning and that rain will continue to fall in the northern zone and on the Caribbean slope.

Union predicts hard year
for those living on salary

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The major public employees union is predicting a hard year next year if it cannot negotiate a better cost of living adjustment with the government.

The union, the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados, said that inflation this year was 11.89 percent, the highest in eight years. A release said that the burden falls disproportionately on the working citizen.

Next year will be hard for those on salary because adjustments have not been adequate. The release predicted an irreversible polarization of the social classes.

The union said it would know in the early days of January if something positive would come out of talks with the government.

Twice a year government officials announce higher salary structures to compensate for the programmed devaluation of the colon. The union was not satisfied with the increase this year and participated in an August blockage of the nation’s roads to protest.

Haiti is primary topic
as regional leaders meet

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MIAMI, Fla. — Leaders from Central America and the Caribbean are gathered here for a three-day conference focusing on disaster preparedness and the situation in Haiti.

The conference, which began Monday, brings together government and business leaders to address regional integration efforts in the region.

Officials say participants will be focusing on the Haitian Economic Recovery Opportunity Act. They say an important element of the conference will be on efforts to help Haiti achieve some stability and create positive economic momentum.

Attendees also are expected to address disaster preparedness and the effects of recent natural disasters on the region.

Officials say this 22-member Caribbean Central American Action group is Florida's largest trading partner.

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A baker's dozen of suggestions for new tourists
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With the holiday season near and the annual flood of well-heeled tourists heading for Costa Rica, it’s time to issue reminders about personal and financial security.

1. Government officials say it's fine to carry just a photocopy of your passport and a copy of the page showing your entry stamp. Keep the original in a secure place. The U.S. Embassy gets from two to three requests a day for replacement passports.

2. Never ever leave the rental vehicle alone when luggage is inside. This is a pretty obvious rule violated all the time. That also means while watching crocodiles from the River Tarcoles bridge north of Jacó. Entire families make their living from plundering unwary tourists there.

3. Use the credit card as little as possible. Cashiers in girlie clubs are known for adding an extra zero to the tab, but even workers in fine restaurants have been arrested for cloning credit cards. Use the automatic teller machines and pay cash.

4. There is no efficient way to press a civil suit in Costa Rica. So money paid in advance is sent on pure faith. Some conmen are known to make false reservations when lodging is tight.

5. Rental car companies in Costa Rica have been known to add outrageous charges to visitors credit cards after they have left, so read the rental contract completely and be prepared to arbitrate the charges.

6. A tourist visa validates a foreign driver’s license for 90 days. But drivers are on their own in a country with much of the highways crumbling to the touch. Visitors have died in rural areas because they expected a shoulder to the road or guardrail. Defensive driving was never more needed.

7. If you have an accident, wait for the transit policeman no matter how long it takes. And it may take hours.

8. In the cities at night take a licensed taxi everywhere. Better to overtip for a three block ride than walk those three blocks at night.

9. Wearing flashy shirts and shorts in the tourist zones is to make yourself a target.

10. Just because he or she speaks fluent English does not make the stranger your friend.

11. Heed warnings about rip tides, climbing dangers, treetop tours, dirty restaurants and other risky pursuits. Consider buying your own travel insurance policy before you visit.

12. There’s no way of knowing what is in that little baggie the guy on the street sold you, and he might be a cop.

13. Take full advantage of the security and suggestions of tourist operators and their employees. They want you to have a safe, happy trip and come back again.

Tourism minister predicts a bumper year for visitors
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The tourism minister predicts a record year for visitors to Costa Rica. But those coming here looking for sex are not welcome, he said Tuesday.

The minister, Rodrigo Castro Fonseca, was speaking at the weekly press conference following the executive branch Consejo de Gobierno, the presidential cabinet.

Castro was asked by a reporter about the prevalence of Internet Web pages promoting Costa Rica as a sex tourism destination. The Spanish-language daily La Nación reported Sunday that at least 130 such Web pages were easily located on the net.

Castro said that he would encourage Costa Ricans to make complaints about places where such activity takes place, particularly if the activity involves minors.

Castro was more upbeat when he said that tourism officials expect that the 2004 figures will show 1.4 million visitors to the country. That would represent about a 15 percent increase over the 2003 number 1,239,000.

Castro did not give a breakdown for the numbers. Typically about half the tourists are from North 

America, and the numbers also include visitors from Nicaragua and Panamá.  In 2002, just 509,253 tourists came from North America, but the annual total was 1,113,359.

Costa Rican officials have made a big push to get more Europeans to visit the country and have managed to get European airlines to begin or increase flights here.

Officials also promised to do better at the airports where about 80 percent of the tourists enter and leave the country. Officials already had announced the addition of customs and immigration workers at Daniel Oduber Airport in Liberia to help with tourist.

At Juan Santamaría Airport in Alajuela the problems are mechanical and with personnel. Officials said Tuesday that an interinstitutional committee had been formed to help smooth the arrival and exit of tourists during the high season.

More people will be assigned to sell exit stamps and to handle immigration, customs and agricultural matters, officials said Tuesday.

Some tourists have complained that an arrival gate at Juan Santamaría does not work correctly and that planes discharge passengers into buses for a ride to the terminal.

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International Baptist Church plans Christmas musical
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The International Baptist Church, together with Escazú Christian Fellowship, will be presenting another family-oriented musical production in celebration of the Christmas season. 

The production, "Christmas in Our Time," is an original musical play. It is the story of a stressed-out modern family that discovers the true meaning of Christmas. 

The production features a cast of more than 30 people, including singers, actors, dancers, and a chorus, none of whom are confined to the stage but move freely among the audience as well.  All the performers are amateurs who have embraced their new roles with enthusiasm and hard work, to create a truly professional event, said a spokesperson for the church. 

"Christmas In Our Time" is produced and directed by Sharon and Roland Pierrot, and they have adapted music from a variety of sources to fit their original script.  The Pierrots have lived in Costa Rica since 1996 and they have produced similar large-scale amateur musical events here as well as in Canada, the church spokesman said. 

When we think of the meaning of Christmas, for most of us our thoughts usually go back to a manger scene with Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus, more than 

2000 years ago," said church pastor Paul Dreessen. "But how do we transfer what happened so long ago to make it meaningful to our lives today?"

Around this question both this special Christmas musical and the regular Sunday 10 a.m. services during December will be built, said the spokesperson.

The pastor speaks on: "Including Christmas in Your Time," this Sunday, "Christmas Coming at the Proper Time," Dec. 19, and "Christmas All the Time," Dec. 26. 

There will also be a community-wide Christmas Eve service Dec. 24 at 6 p.m. at  International Baptist Church, co-sponsored by Escazú Christian Fellowship.

"Christmas In Our Time," which lasts about 80 minutes, will be presented in English at three times:  Saturday at 7 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 12, at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. 

There is no charge for this play designed for all ages, and everyone is welcome, said the spokesperson. 

All performances will be at the International Baptist Church in Guachepelín de Escazú, west of Multiplaza on the Santa Ana highway. 

For directions or more information call the church office (215-2117) or Pastor Dreessen (821-3594) or send an e-mail to 

Jo Stuart
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