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Jo Stuart
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These stories were published Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2001
The traditional horse parade is today's highlight
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This is holiday week in Costa Rica, and the Zapote Festival is in full swing. Today the traditional horse parade or "tope" in honor of the Day of the Horseman kicks off around 11 a.m. when a contingent of ox carts and handlers sets the pace. The route starts in Sabana, goes east on Paseo Colon to the downtown area and continues east on Avenida 2. The horses are scheduled to start about noon. 

As many as 4,000 horsemen and horsewomen are expected along with floats, the ox carts, carriages and other implements from the horse era.

For those with horses, registration for the event begins in the early morning at a number of locations west of Sabana Park, including Soda

A.M. Costa Rica photo
A scene from last year
A tourist's guide
to the downtown
by Patricia Martin

see below

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Look for this guy, too
Tapia, Universal, the Hotel Torremolinos, Yoahan supermarket and several booths set up in the streets. 

Naturally motor vehicle traffic will be rerouted for the parade, which probably will last until nightfall, about 5:30 p.m.  Avenida 10 will be the principal route downtown from the west. Motorists traveling west to Sabana and Escazú will have to take either the southern bypass through Paso Ancho and Hatillo or Avenida 3 just north of Paseo Colon.

Morning traffic will be heavy also as vehicles carrying horses seek parking spots around Sabana Park to prepare for the parade.

Horse riders will be competing for a number of cash prizes, but the main motivation is to continue a Christmas tradition that has endured since the end of the 19th century.

For those who donít want to attend in person and for those in the rest of the county, the major television stations will be broadcasting the horse parade.

The television cameras will be active on Thursday, too, for the traditional Christmas week carnival, which will begin on Avenida 2 about noon with a parade of antique vehicles.

Groups from all over the country will assemble in the streets off Avenida 2 to prepare for the parade. More than 70 entries have been made by groups or individuals wanting to be in the carnival parade.

The route goes along Avenida 2 south on Paseo de los Estudiantes to the Plaza González Víquez between avenidas 18 and 22 and calles 11 and 13. Again, traffic in that area will be diverted. A special feature this year will be the inclusion of some animals from the King Brothers Circus in the march, said the organizing committee. The circus is giving performances in La Sabana.

The Zapote festival is continuing until after Jan. 1. The popular festival is getting heavy police protection because eating and drinking are among the major activities there. The festival also boosts employment because many temporary workers have been put on to operate the many booths that cater to the crowds.

The ever-popular group bull fights started Tuesday. Young men and some women gathered in the bull ring and tested their courage against a fighting bull that wsas released into the crowd. The idea is to approach the bull, perhaps hit him on the head without getting hit yourself. The bullfights were televised by Teletica, Channel 7. Several participants were injured Tuesday night. Over the next several days more will be hurt if the experience of past years is repeated.

Zapote is a southeastern district of San José, and additional bus transportation has been added to accommodate visitors.

Police anxious to put squeeze on fireworks sales
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If it explodes, itís illegal. Thatís the word from police agencies this holiday season as they try to stem the use of fireworks and the resulting injuries.

The evening hours, punctuated with explosions during late December through New Yearís, are witness to the wide distribution of illegal fireworks.

Some policemen seem a bit frustrated. Juan Luis Jiménez Chávez, a detective with the Judicial Investigating Organization, blamed "parents who turn deaf ears to the constant campaigns of prevention" and do not exercise sufficient watchfulness over their youngsters.

He also said he was disgusted with those who sell the illegal fireworks to get money without regard to the possible misuse. He works in the homicide division that investigates deaths, including those caused by fireworks.

He noted that the Chinese first used fireworks for warfare and suggested that the traditional use of such explosives at the end and beginning of the year should be left to experienced professionals to avoid accidents.

He promised that he and his agents would put into action a measure just passed by the National Assembly that mandates jail for those who sell fireworks. The measure which is an amendment to the arms and explosives law was still awaiting presidential approval late last week.

Jiménez called upon Costa Ricans to report to police those people who sell fireworks.  The network of illegal sales is extensive, and much of the illegal 

bomblets and rockets are imported from other Central American countries.

Jiménez in a report outlined a number of serious accidents with fireworks in past years, including the death of 19-year-old Nehemias Herrera who died when a "double thunder" bomblet exploded in his face at the Los Chiles civic fiesta in April 2000.

Jiménez also mentioned the mutilation of the leg of a 27-year-old man who  had a fireworks device blow up while he was in a car in San Pedro last December and another young man who lost fingers when an explosive variety of fireworks detonated in his left hand last January.

He also wanted to remind residents here of a fire in Curridabat at the beginning of this year, caused when youngsters accidentally set off several kilos of fireworks at once.  The blaze reached temperatures of 1,000 degrees, he said.

The legal fireworks in Costa Rica are sparklers and those fireworks fountains that produce a cascade of bright sparkles. Anything that explodes is illegal, said a spokesman for the Judicial Investigating Organization.

A tourist guide to the downtown and a successful visit

To enjoy city requires understanding and insight

by Patricia Martin
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

It´s a blazing-blue noon at the downtown Gran Hotel Costa Rica where locals and tourists converge. On the outdoor patio with umbrella tables, people watch people watching them, as luncheon conversations compete with the music of marimbas and flutes. Two American men in their 30´s, engaged in loud debate over the merits of San José, almost resort to a duel with their salad forks. 

"One dayís enough for me!" proclaims the man wearing a green t-shirt and a scowl. "I´m outta here." 

"But itís got some grand old architecture," counters his friend clad in Hawaiian florals. "Look at the colonial theater right in front of us. And how about the miles of cobblestone boulevards for pedestrians and the . . . ." 

"How about the rest of the city? Tumble-down and seedy . . . craters for streets . . . garbage strewn around. What a dump!" he concludes with a Bette Davis flourish. 

At the next table, I smile to myself, thinking that both men have a point. After living on the outskirts of the capital for five years, Iím well acquainted with San José, and would love to add my two cents worth 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Former President José Figueres Ferrer on his perch in the Plaza of Democracy stands guard before the National Museum. 
(make that two colons) to their conversation. Alas, my opinions and guidance go unasked, but I conjure up the following account for them just in case: 

Anyone expecting another Paris has been reading the wrong guide books, I would begin. Take the city as it is, though ó a cross between urban sophistication and a banana republic ó and you´re bound to appreciate its varied aspects and have a rewarding visit. 

All the negatives apply, from congested, smoggy ó and yes, seedy in parts ó but then San José redeems itself with impressive areas historic or modern, expanses of parkland, plus a wealth of entertainment in casinos, restaurants, bars and dance spots. In accordance with a joint business/city plan, new sidewalk cafés are destined to appear along the store-lined pedestrian boulevards. Malls and specialty shops already abound, along with Internet cafés and sports bars. Swollen with humanity, the heart of the city pumps sluggishly but cheerfully along. There is no urgency in mañana land, I would remind the pair of travelers. 

Their dialogue projects like a stage performance, absolving me of any guilt over eavesdropping. 

"Are you crazy? You´re hardly off the plane and you want to leave." 

"Yeah, if the rest of Costa Rica´s like San José, I want off this island." 

Island?? His companion doesn´t correct him, so it seems that neither of them consulted a map before leaving home. Gentlemen, it´s time for us to get our bearings: The country itself, a sliver of land with a prominent spine of mountains, joins Nicaragua on the north and Panama to the south. Washing the length of its shores are the Pacific and Caribbean seas. Once part of Spain´s Central American colonies, Costa Rica was granted independence in 1821 without armed conflict. Most of the 4 million population centers in the Central Valley plateau, where San José, the largest city, is situated. Founded in 1735, the capital and its environs hold ample points of interest for visitors. 

Well, not all visitors, I correct myself with a glance at the new critic in town. Undaunted, I imagine what might capture his fancy. High on the sightseeing list are the National Museum of pre-Colombian artifacts housed in an ancient fortress; the Gold Museum burrowed beneath the plaza in front of us, and the Jade Museum offering a city view along with its treasure trove. 

Edificio Metálico, pre-fabricated of metal in Brussels and imported here as one of the first schools draws appreciative crowds, as does the penitentiary transformed into a Children´s Museum, and the quaint wooden airport resurrected as an art gallery. In Plaza de la Democracia stands the statue of President José "Pepe" Figueres Ferrer, who guided the nation to democracy and disbanded the army in favor of peacekeeping by negotiation. 

"Then, do what you want, but I´m going to see a few things," I hear next. 

"There´s nothing to see, Iím telling you," retorts his feisty companion. 

"You´ve got some attitude, man.You need to browse around town and loosen up." A good idea. 

The San Pedro/Los Yoses neighborhood minutes from downtown buzzes with youthful nightlife, thanks to the location of the University of Costa Rica. Not far from the campus is a joint U.S./C.R. Cultural Center open to all, offering an English library, language courses, and a theater for arts performances. A popular meeting place for people from every nation, the center combines social and learning opportunities for all ages. Inexpensive bars and restaurants, discos, a bowling alley and a roller skating rink round out the areaís attractions. 

Mr. Hawaii glances at his travel brochure and assures Mr. Greenie that navigating San José should be easy, given the grid layout of streets and avenues. I want to interject that it´s not that simple because signs are spotty and building numbers simply don´t exist. To get around by taxi, it´s best to get out the dictionary and give the driver Tico-style directions: "Take me to an office 300 meters south of the park, 150 meters west where the old factory used to be, past some trees and bushes and then turn east 200 metersÖ." 

Try to ignore the fact that a city block is deemed to be 100 meters long, whether it happens to be 50 or 125. Rural addresses likewise use elasticized measurements, adding a folkloric touch such as "at the foot of the street of the stabbing." Surely every tourist knows where a jealous wife did in her husband 20 years ago? 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
The hidden Gold Museum is under the Plaza of Culture and close to the Teatro Nacional and the landmark outdoor café at Gran Hotel Costa Rica.
The green one comments on the profusion of iron window-bars and grill-work gates on the downtown properties. "It gives me the creeps. But I guess you won´t find that outside of town."

(Wrong. Wait until he sees suburbia and many of the homes in the countryside. He´ll wonder if the entire country is under house arrest.) 

"Look, I admit that San José seems to be a funny mixture, but the point of traveling is to see something different. We´re here to discover and enjoy!" 
From time to time A.M. Costa Rica will publish articles such as this aimed at tourists and would-be tourists who need a basic introduction to this exciting country.

(Right. He must have been reading my lips. I wish he could read my mind for the "discover and enjoy" list.) A cultural evening in San José costs as little as $10 at the century-old Teatro Nacional, an architectural gem featuring Costa Rica´s world-class symphony orchestra and performing arts groups from around the world. The imposing Metropolitan Cathedral, and the sprawling central market teeming with foodstuffs, flowers and artifacts should be on the agenda as well. 

For a change of venue, I´d advise, head for the neighboring hills to a 19th century monastery converted to L´Monastre Restaurant, which boasts a smashing view and the novelty of waiters robed as monks. Ringing the city are villages that cling to the past, where ox carts and adobe houses with outdoor ovens create unforgettable sights. 

Other brief day-trips include an unusual tour of Café Britt´s coffee plantation, presented as a pageant by professional actors; the steaming Poás volcano and lake; the picturesque towns of Grecia, Sarchí and Moravia, renowned for arts & crafts as well as their charm. 

While residents appreciate San José´s diversions, they escape the city as often as possible for myriad beauty spots around the country. Follow their lead, I´d advise, and explore a rainforest, then Monteverde´s mountainous Quaker community, and a national park such as Manuel Antonio where wooded trails empty onto white-sand beaches. 

Away from the moderate temperatures of San José, there are 11 climate zones to experience within Costa Rica. The hottest and driest is on the Nicoya Peninsula along the Pacific coast. During the rainy season from May-November when resort rates are dramatically reduced, expect daily sunshine before the late afternoon rain, at least until the wetter months of September and October. 

My lunch at the hotel is finished, but I linger over coffee, thinking of safety advice that would serve the two men: Be watchful at the city´s main bus depot known as The Coca Cola ó tourists are prey to thieving gangs who pose as helpful natives or redcaps. In the blink of an eye the luggage disappears! Take it from one who lost everything when she was boarding the bus for a seaside vacation. A good bet is the Fantasy Tours van, which brings you safely to C.R. destinations in air-conditioned comfort for $19. 

Warnings apply, too, on the streets of San José where your pockets are picked as someone "accidentally" bumps against you. In another variation, someone squirts yellow goo on your back, then an accomplice rushes to "help" you by surreptitiously helping himself to your wallet. It may be cold comfort, but sneak-thievery is more the fashion here, with very low incidence of assault. 

While Ticos are overall a friendly, civilized people, don´t suppose that the entire population qualifies for sainthood. Neither should you trust strangers simply because they´re fellow countrymen, as many scam artists from abroad gravitate to Costa Rica, particularly to the capital. Despite its share of big city crime, San José can be enjoyed without anxiety by taking a few precautions. 

Things quiet down for a moment as my neighbors ferret through a book for information on food and lodging. Just ask me, fellows, I´m on a roll. Accommodations in town range from $15 a night to $170, with B & B´s in the surrounding areas charging $40 to $100. For student homestays ($30 single, $45 double) contact Bell´s Home Hospitality, (506) 225-475.  Restaurant choices vary widely, from the humble "soda" offering typical Tico meals for a few dollars, to the fine establishments with international fare at moderate to fancy prices. Whether you´re in the mood for Italian, Peruvian, Mexican or Chinese food, San José can satisfy your tastes. 

Typical meals in a Tico home might be any bland combination of rice and beans, potatoes, tripe soup, empanadas, a little salad and lots of airy bread. Even the more elaborate recipes with meat or poultry tend to go light on the spices. In place of our traditional Christmas turkey, cornmeal tamales wrapped in plantain leaves highlight the Yuletide feast, so if you´re invited for the occasion, don´t look for the drumstick. 

The green and floral voices rise again: "Oh come on man, isn´t there anything in San José that interests you?!" 

"Yeah, sure ? the women! Just look at all these dark-haired, slender beauties." 

"I´ve noticed," grins the other. Well, how about sticking around a few more days to get acquainted with some of them? HmmmÖ..?" 

He seems to have struck a nerve. His buddy smiles for the first time, then lets out a wild whoop of laughter as he stands up to offer a handshake of agreement. They depart in search of national treasures of the fair sex, leaving me to contemplate that whatever its shortcomings, San José holds a certain allure for everyone. 

Trinidadís president picks
Manning to get top post

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT OF SPAIN ó Trinidad and Tobago President Arthur Robinson has sworn in opposition leader Patrick Manning to be the nation's new prime minister. 

Monday's swearing in followed a brief statement by President Robinson to announce the decision. 

The move ends two weeks of political uncertainty triggered when Manning's People's National Movement, and the United National Congress of then-Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, each gained 18 seats in general elections. Panday offered to form a coalition with Manning, but the leaders were unable to decide on a power-sharing plan. Prior to the announcement Monday, the two rivals agreed to respect the president's decision. 

The Dec. 10 elections took place one year after Prime Minister Panday won a second term. He called the election after disputes within his party threatened to end its slim majority in parliament. 

The balloting sharpened tensions between citizens of East Indian and African descent in Trinidad and Tobago.  Panday was the nation's first prime minister of East Indian descent. His United National Congress is generally supported by citizens of Indian descent, while blacks generally back Manning's People's National Movement. Manning previously held the prime minister's post from 1991 until 1995. 

Mudslides kill at least 43
in southeastern Brazil

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Brazilian officials say at least 43 people are dead after torrential rains sparked floods and landslides in the southeastern state of Rio de Janeiro.  Hundreds of people have been driven from their homes. The death toll is expected to rise as rescue teams keep searching for missing people. 

About half the deaths are reported from the city of Petropolis, which has been hardest hit by the severe weather. Some 2,000 people, most city residents, are without shelter.  Officials say some of the victims were slum dwellers buried alive when landslides swept over their hillside shacks. Soldiers and rescue workers have been deployed to areas threatened by the rising waters and landslides. 

Weather forecasters say the rains are diminishing over the state, but they expect light showers to continue in the coming days. 

New Argentine president
acts to stabilize economy

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES ó Argentina's new president is moving to stabilize the economy after last week's uprising over economic austerity measures toppled the previous government. 

Interim President Adolfo Rodriquez Saa announced plans Monday to introduce a new currency to be called the argentino and to create one million jobs. 

The argentino could start to circulate in early January and will be a third currency, alongside the peso and the U.S. dollar. The new currency will be used to pay government obligations, including civil service salaries and pensions. Some economists fear a third currency will quickly lose value and produce more inflation. 

The new government has also formalized its decision to suspend payments on Argentina's $132 billion foreign debt. Government officials say economic recession and lack of access to international markets have damaged public finances and brought hardship on the Argentine population. 

Argentina's economy has been mired in recession nearly four years. The country also is coping with an 18 percent unemployment rate. Rodriguez Saa replaced President Fernando de la Rua, who resigned last week following rioting over unpopular economic austerity measures.

Venezuela to extradict
Colombian hijack suspect

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS ó Venezuela is expected to extradite later today a Colombian guerrilla wanted in his country on hijacking charges.

Authorities here made the announcement Tuesday, two weeks after the Venezuelan Supreme Court approved the extradition of Jose María Ballestas. They also say Ballestas, a self-confessed member of Colombia's National Liberation Army, the ELN, will be accompanied by an Interpol representative. Colombia wants to try Ballestas for allegedly hijacking an Avianca airliner in 1999 and holding 47 crew members and passengers hostage for ransom. He denies the charge.

Venezuela, however, had said it would deport Ballestas on condition Colombia not sentence him to more than 30 years in prison, the maximum sentence he would face under Venezuelan law.

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