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These stories were published Friday, Dec. 10, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 245
Jo Stuart
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City's Park Hotel and bar move off into history after 60 years 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Park Hotel was not exactly a national monument, but three generations of expats called it home from time to time.

The hotel at one time was THE place for North Americans and other foreigners to gather for drinks and business meetings. In the 1940s and 1950s, some say it was the ONLY place.

The hotel and bar drifted to the notorious lately, although a number of expats in Costa Rica and many frequent tourists to the rougher side of San José will mourn its passing.

The last operator, Bill Bullock, closed the place down and went west last month after an extended disagreement with the owners.

Owners are trying to sell the property for a use other than as a hotel and bar. The last guests treated the structure harshly, and there is a lot of damage, according to those present at the closing. The building is on Avenida 4 a half block west of Parque Central.

In recent years, the Park Hotel was known for the raunchy Friday evening girlie shows that filled up the narrow bar with expats. 

If one were to make a list of spots the tourism institute did not want anyone to see, the Park Hotel would be a sure bet. Still the bar was a magnet for visiting North Americans who were interested in seeing and experiencing the less delicate side of Costa Rican life.

"It is a one of a kind place," said one fan.

A Christmas checklist of things you can do
Although the Magi did not arrive bearing gifts for the Christ Child until Jan. 6, December has been established as the month to give and receive presents.  In many countries, and certainly in Costa Rica, this translates into shopping. 

I was downtown the other day and if you can use waves to describe crowds of people, it looked like tsunamis of people in the streets going from store to store.  I must say it was all very peaceful and pretty quiet. When I first moved to San Jose I was impressed by the mass of people in the streets, yet no hostile energy seemed to emanate from anyone. I am told by everyone at this time of year to be very careful of pickpockets and muggers.  Sometimes people who look like pickpockets warn me.

All of this made me smile remembering my experience when I left my apartment. As I closed the porton of my apartment building and began walking up the street, coming down the street was a young man who looked as if he had on a ski mask — the kind terrorists wear.  He also looked like he was carrying a rifle. 

For a fleeting moment I panicked.  Then, as he approached, I realized that his baseball cap was casting a shadow over his face and the "rifle" was his umbrella, which he carried over his shoulder via a strap.  We smiled and greeted each other as we passed.  I am sure he didn’t catch the relief in my "Hola."  A sign of the times, even in Costa Rica, I thought. 

On a different note, The Little Theatre Group is starting the month with a play, "An O’Henry Christmas," which is all about giving, but not about gifts like the ribbon-wrapped Jaguars we see on TV. The play runs through next weekend and is a nice way to get in the true mood of Christmas.   (for reservations: 355-1623).

Later this month The Little Theatre is also having a Christmas Concert by El Grupo Ebano, four musical women lending their stringed instruments to benefit the Tom & Norman Home, a project of the Angel of Love Foundation. This is the home for abandoned 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

old folks that I have mentioned before.  The concert is at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 19.  Here you can indulge your gift-giving urge without even shopping because what they need are things you already have and can probably spare — old bed linen, cleaning supplies, non-perishable foods, and Christmas treats. They can use them.  (Call 282-7794 for more information).

At this point I want to thank that kind and generous person in Colorado who responded to the Tom & Norman Home with a very nice gift, even when it wasn’t December.

I’m not a Christmas person but some responses to the holiday really warm my heart.  A group of women in Atenas who belong to one of my book clubs, decided to forego their exchange of presents this year and instead pool their money to buy clothing and gifts for the children in the local orphanage — the "Hogar de Vida."  (Yes, they still have orphanages in Costa Rica. It seems that the old and young are most often abandoned, doesn’t it?) 

With Leah spearheading it, more than 260,000 colons (about $570) was collected from friends and neighbors.  They plan to buy outfits and a gift for each of the dozen or so children These are not rich women.  One of them wrote her children in the States to say she was giving to the orphaned children instead of to her grandchildren this year.  Her own children applauded this. 

Although I am not a Christmas person (I guess we are now calling it by the generic term, "holiday"), I do like to hear about and pass along things that recall the real spirit of Christmas.  Oh dear, does that mean I am going to watch "It’s a Wonderful Life," yet again this year? 

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A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
It’s not exactly a blue spruce, but you can purchase locally grown Christmas trees here. José Luis Fernández gets some help from grandson Sebastián in picking one out in Escazú. The tree is from Cartago Province.

Photo by Roy Thompson 
 These biblical figures are among the 30 with 
 roles in "Christmas in Our time," an original 
 family-oriented musical being put on by the 
 International Baptist Church and Escazú 
 Christian Fellowship Saturday at 7 p.m. and 
 Sunday at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. in Guachepelín de
 Escazú. More details were published HERE!

March against violence
in San Isidro de El General

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Residents will march against violence within families Saturday in San Isidro de El General.

The march is being organized by Senderos de Esperanza, paths of hope.

Marchers leave San Isidro’s Parque Central about 9 a.m. Also involved is the Comisión de la Mujer and the Municipalidad de Pérez Zeledón.

The gift that keeps
giving and giving 

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Do you want to give very cheap Christmas presents that last for years?

Well, two animal adoption centers are hoping their temporary boarders will be home for Christmas, their new home. So they are holding an adoption fair Saturday and Sunday at the Outlet Mall in San Pedro.

The event runs both days from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The centers providing the dogs are the Centro de Adopciones de Dulce Nombre de Coronado and Casa de Adopciones in Guadalupe.

The mall is across Avenida Principal from the San Pedro church.

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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


Williams Dental & Associates
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Some feedback and a couple of less pricey charmers
Word of Mouth

Thanks for the feedback. Two turkey stories, both frozen, defrosted, brined and cooked at 300 with the breast side down for the first two hours. One was succulent perfection, "juiciest and best bird ever." The other turkey was begrudgingly called "very good" but it took more than five hours and "some of the guests nearly left before large tom reached the table." I love the communication, so let me apologize if the caller (she actually got my phone number from a friend) takes exception  to these comments: 

My turkey tips advised patience for cooking times up to 5 1/2 hours and earlier starting times. If defrosting a frozen bird is incomplete, more roasting time is needed. Some people have ovens that seem to roast or bake less well despite identical settings. The culprit is often grime on the oven walls that reduces deflection of the heat back toward the bird or pie or casserole.

Juan liked that El Grano de Oro was mentioned so many times by other diners. He loves their camembert with mora (blackberry) sauce. Sounds good. If you crave quality food in a romantic setting for that special occasion, consider the garden at El Grano de Oro.

Henri, a French expat, corrected my misspelling of Tours, agrees that Colbert is marvelous and hopes that chef Suirer prospers because "he deserves to."

Cheap and Charming 

Julie asked if I could review newer cleaner little places with charm that she could afford on a tight budget, not too far from home. She lives in El Roble, Alajuela. Her favorite little Chinese restaurant with fried chicken quarters for 650 colons closed. The other Chinese restaurant in her town is an eyesore. 

Charming sodas spring up like mushrooms after a winter rain and seem to wilt as fast in the subsequent sunlight. Two restaurants touted by readers had closed for good when I visited. There are hundreds that would fit Julie’s bill scattered all over the country. Fortunately, her neighborhood and mine are fairly close, so I can think of two to recommend. 

First, a new place is in La Guacima Arriba. 150 meters east and 50 meters south of Otto’s bar, west of San Rafael. On the opposite (south) side of the street from the bar, a large sign points down a gravel drive to La Cuchara Criolla. Inside the covered entrance, follow the terra cotta corridor to the open air charming restaurant. 

Tile top tables, adobe colored walls with painted  daisies, lush potted plants and flowering vines, black check curtains and hanging onions clad in red check sashes, accent the sparkle. Farther south, a children’s play area plays foreground to the Ciudad Colón mountains. 

Across the gravel road, a handsome rooster and his harem parade and chant. 

The owners are Peruvian and Italian by ancestry, but the cuisine is Tica by design. The food is better than average. The carne en salsa,  pollo a la plancha and olla

Dr. Lenny Karpman

we eat


de carne are particularly tasty. The ambitious menu 
contains about 50 items, not including drinks. They have a large kitchen and pantry with a capacity that exceeds the needs of the restaurant, for very good reason. 

Claudia, who, with her husband, owns La Cuchara Criolla, flashes a radiant smile when she talks about the near and more distant future. They plan to open tiny eateries in commercial neighborhoods in and around Alajuela with all the cooking done on the current site. Food will be distributed to the satellites and heated as needed. The first should be open this month. Only large platters containing multiple items cost more than 1,000 colons and none cost 2,000 ($4.40). 

Picturesque setting, good food, charming dining area, spotless, pleasant service and inexpensive — go for it Julie. 

Second, about the same distance from El Roble in the other direction, Ilean’s Café and Creperie resides on Avenida 9 near Calle 5, across from the eastern end of the gymnasium complex in Alajuela. Small, clean, charming and a perfect spot for tasty homemade pastries, well prepared crepes, salads, pastas, lasagnas or a hot lunchtime daily special for less than 1,500 colons make it another fine option for Julie. 

The young staff is attentive and friendly. The clientele looks like a university campus group. The café is actually seven years old, but a remodel earlier this year opened the front to the street and trees. It is spotless. There are only five tables. With every hot dish, comes a trip to a fresh salad bar with lettuce, tomatoes, cukes, onions, hearts of palm, peppers, garbanzos, cheese, chilis and dressing. Daily specials that we have enjoyed are roast pork, chicken breast and an enchilada. Portions are large. 

Hot dishes are just that, thermally hot. Ice water glasses are replaced frequently. All the home baked pastries taste great, but particularly the Christmas fruit and nut cake. 

La Cuchara Criolla 438-8793, La Guacima Arriba  1&1/2 stars, Inexpensive 

Ilean’s Café and Creperie 440-2222, Alajuela  2 stars, Inexpensive 

 Fire station at Bolaños Airport is now in service
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The new fire station at Tobías Bolaños International Airport is officially in operation. President Abel Pacheco inaugurated the structure at the Pavas airport Thursday.

Casa Presidencial said that the new fire station will provide additional security for the 90,000 persons who fly in and out of the airport each year. Officials are predicting an increase of 15 percent in flights.

The fire station was delayed for several month while contractors repaired what firemen said were glitches.

Nearby also Thursday Pacheco inaugurated a new center for the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias. 

The building was constructed with financial help from the United States, said Casa Presidencial.

The commission is the central disaster relief agency.

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Survey says people believe corruption is a big problem
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A majority of people worldwide say corruption among government and business elites is a grave problem, and about 10 percent say that they or a member of their household paid a bribe in the previous year, according to a new global opinion poll.

The survey by the independent Berlin-based Transparency International found that people were most likely to rate political parties as the institutions most affected by corruption, followed by legislatures, the police and the judiciary.

Released Thursday to coincide with the United Nations' first International Anti-Corruption Day, Transparency’s "Global Corruption Barometer 2004" compiled the responses of more than 50,000 people in 64 countries surveyed between June and September 2004.

In Cameroon, more than 50 percent of respondents said that they or members of their household had paid a bribe in the past 12 months, the organization said. In another four countries — Kenya, Lithuania, Moldova and Nigeria — at least 30 percent reported this experience, according to a news release on the report.

Fewer than 5 percent of respondents reported paying bribes in Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and the United States, Transparency said.

Respondents in 36 countries identified political parties as the most corrupt institutions. Ecuadorians had the most negative perception of their political parties. Respondents also gave poor scores to political parties in Argentina, India and Peru.

The survey found that poor people are generally more affected by corruption than the wealthy. Half of respondents with low incomes saw petty corruption as a problem while 38 percent of high-income people agree with this view. Poorer people also saw corruption as having a strong impact on their personal and family lives, the organization said.

Although 20 percent of the survey respondents believed that corruption will likely increase over the next three years, the news release said that public 

Costa Rican survey out of date

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Ricans were fairly negative on all aspects of society in a corruption survey taken by Transparency International.

However, results are outdated because the survey of some 300 urban Costa Ricans took place from July 4 to July 10, long before scandals that put two ex-presidents in preventative detention made the headlines.

Just 14 percent of the Costa Ricans interviewed said they or a member of their family had paid a bribe in the last year. That compared with other countries where the percentage was much higher. Corruption, poverty and the environment shared top billing on the list of concerns held by Costa Ricans.

The survey is posted HERE!

awareness is a growing part of its campaign to stamp out the practice.

"We still have reason to be encouraged -- the public obviously is aware of the problem and concerned to see a change," Transparency  board member Akere Muna said in the release. "Anti-Corruption Day offers an opportunity and a challenge to those in political power to break corruption's hold."

Anti-Corruption Day marks the anniversary of the signing of the U.N. Convention Against Corruption in Merida, Mexico, in December 2003. As of December 3, 2004, the convention had 113 signatories and 12 ratifications. The treaty will enter into force when 30 countries have ratified it, according to the United Nations.

The convention includes rules for preventing and criminalizing a wide range of corrupt acts and provides for the recovery of illicitly acquired assets. It provides for greater cooperation among countries in areas such as prevention, investigation, asset recovery, and the prosecution of offenders.

Jo Stuart
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