Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Just being a Fool in Costa Rica.....again!!

Are you a fool every day, just on April fool’s Day, or surprise!.... you could be proven a fool while in Costa Rica in late December! December 28th in Costa Rica is “Dia de Los Inocentes” (Day of the Innocents), commonly considered “Fool’s Day”, which to us North Americans is customarily celebrated on April 1st, also commonly known as April Fool’s Day in the United States.

Did you fall for any pranks or jokes on December 28th? Did you get caught off guard?? Costa Rican’s love to pull off large and small pranks on their friends and family on this yearly day of tom-foolery. Everything from the simplest of jokes, to the common gesture of putting a sign on your back that might reads “kick me” or “looking for love”, to more vulgar jokes such as wrapping dog poop in toilet paper, lighting it on fire and waiting for the nearest “Innocent” to stomp out the fire, or another favorite in our humid climate, leaving a melting chocolate candy on someone’s seat so when they sit down, it later looks like they pooped in their pants when they rise. All pretty funny, as long as you are not the innocent fool!!

The history of “Dia de Los Inocentes” dates back some 2000 years. The origin of the “Day of the Innocent Saints” is very different in modern times from it’s previous inception as the day in which there was a slaughter of all male children of 2 years or younger. Ordered by King Herodes, he was voted King of the Jews by the Roman Senate, and was considered the Roman Client King of Israel. Not to be confused with his son, Herod Antipas, also of the Herodian dynasty, the elder Herod is known for his colossal building projects in Jerusalem and other parts of the ancient world, including the rebuilding of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, sometimes referred to as Herod's Temple. He was described as "a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis.” Herod is reported in the Gospel of Matthew as personally ordering the Massacre of the Innocents. Most recent biographers do not actually regard this as an actual historical event, though the legend lives on and scripture has been found that could support the legend.

According to Matthew, shortly after the birth of Jesus, Magi (the three wise men) from the East visiting Herod to inquire as to the whereabouts of "the one having been born king of the Jews", as they had seen his star in the East and therefore wanted to pay him homage. Herod, who himself was considered King of the Jews, was alarmed at the prospect of a newborn king possibly usurping his rule one day. In the story, Herod assembled the chief priests and scribes of the people and asked them where the "Anointed One" was to be born. Their answer, Bethlehem. Herod then sent the Magi to Bethlehem, instructing them to search for the child and after finding him, to "report to me, so that I too may go and worship him". However, after they had found Jesus, the Magi were warned in a dream not to report back to Herod. Upon realizing that they would not communicate the exact location of the birth of Jesus, an infuriated Herodes ordered the massacre of all boys two years and under in Bethlehem and its outlying areas.

In regards to the Massacre of the Innocents, although in reality Herod was certainly guilty of many brutal acts, including the killing of his wife and two of his sons, no other known source from that period makes any references to such a massacre. Since Bethlehem was a small village, the number of male children under the age of 2, would probably not have exceeded 20 or so. This could be one of the reasons for the lack of other sources for this questionable account of history, although Herod's order in Matthew 2-16 includes those children in Bethlehem's vicinity meaning the massacre area could have measured a significantly larger amount numerically and geographically more in the area of some 14,000 children. The infants, known in the Church as the Holy Innocents, have been claimed as the first Christian martyrs.

How this turned into an annual celebration of trickery remains a mystery. It is said that during the Middle Ages, pagan rites were introduced in to the celebration that for some time came to be known as the “Celebration of the Crazy People” (“Dia de Los Locos”). It was celebrated between Christmas and New Year, a direct show of the significance of Jewish and Christian sentiments during the holy season. Out of this shift in sentiment, over time a new tradition began that combined the underlying pagan sentiment with and the light hearted Christian monks teachings, with the main purpose of the day being the moment to pull all types of pranks on unsuspecting family and friends. Pranks are known as “inocentadas” and their victims are called “inocentes”, or alternatively, the pranksters are the "inocentes" and the victims should not be angry at them, since they could not have committed any sin. It is still not understood how such a morbid historical event could be converted over the centuries to celebrate a completely opposite sentiment and will likely remain a mystery to all.

So if you find yourself in most any Latin American country on December 28th, don’t be surprised if you are the butt of someone’s joke. Be warned, the Costa Rican culture has a wonderful sense of humor, meaning no one is safe on this day FOOL!!

Author:: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Traditions for a typical Costa Rican Christmas…..we´re doing what??

In case you haven´t noticed, Costa Rica Christmas decorations and discount sales began long before Halloween dates passed. This brings to mind some of our own special ¨Tico¨ Christmas traditions found in our beautiful tropical locale. Be it the kids that start their ¨summer¨ vacations in December, workers that receive their yearly ¨aguinaldo¨ (an automatic one month salary Christmas Bonus from their boss), or the massive preparations of the traditional Christmas Tamales……whichever it may be, ¨La Navidad¨ is in the air!

Tonight, December 7th, in the capital city of San José, the Central Bank will inaugurate it´s yearly Christmas Tree located in the popular ¨Plaza de la Cultura¨ starting at 7 p.m.. There will also be Christmas Carol concerts by local choir groups both this night and throughout the weeks of the holiday celebrations. Further down the pedestrian boardwalk at Calle Central, the local municipality will be celebrating it´s ¨Avenidazo¨, a series of different cultural events held for several weeks along the boulevard during both the days and the nights.

These celebrations and activities will be held for the next few weeks in conjunction with the ¨Festival de la Luz¨ (Festival of Lights), one of the most popular Christmas parades in all of Costa Rica. Starting on Paseo Colon Blvd and continuing to Avenida Segunda, it will be held this year on Sat. Dec. 13th at 6 p.m., and is always a people´s favorite.

Will there be snow? Well that is highly unlikely since Costa Rica is located only 11° off the Equator, but Costa Ricans are fascinated by snow, since few have ever seen the real thing. Many of the floats in the ¨Festival de la Luz¨, are decorated in fluffy white cotton fabrics and in the past, many holiday participants threw white confetti at each other all meant to simulate snow. This year, the municipality is strongly trying to discourage this confetti throwing practice due to safety factors, as well as the high cost of clean-up afterwards. This will especially be enforced in the locations of the ¨Avenidazo¨ where there have been many complaints in past years by innocent passerbys walking to work who were blanketed from head to toe in the white confetti.

Costa Rica´s animal lovers wait anxiously each year for ¨El Tope Nacional¨ usually held the day after Christmas on December 26th. This parade includes marching bands, clowns and other strange characters, but is most popular for featuring some of Costa Rica´s most beautiful high stepping horses, as well as the famous colorful hand painted oxcarts. These fabulous detailed oxcarts were originally pulled by people, then by oxen, and now are rarely used in day to day work, but are considered historical works of art cherished by the Costa Rican people.

The traditional Christmas tree, more often decorated in hues of blue, gold, silver, white and maybe a little red, is accompanied by another important decoration, the ¨Portal¨. The Portal is the representation of the birth of Jesus, with the figures of Mary, Joseph, the three wise men, the ox and the mule. The most important figure in Costa Rica is the Baby Jesus. In Costa Rica, Santa Claus doesn't bring the Christmas gifts, those are brought by Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve. Called ¨La Nochebuena", it is said that while the family is sleeping, the Baby Jesus appears at the portal and the gifts magically appear under the tree for the morning of the 25th. That is when all family members typically gather around the tree and pray, thanking Baby Jesus for all the good that has passed that year, followed by the opening of the gifts Baby Jesus has bestowed upon them.

The Christmas menu is extensive, but the focus is around the preparing and eating of typical Costa Rican "tamales". The true "tamal" base is of ground corn, which is made into a thick dough that is later filled with small amounts of rice, small slices of potatoes, vegetables, green olives, pork or chicken, and finally wrapped in fresh plantain leaves. They are then tied with string in pairs (known as ¨Piñas¨) and boiled until cooked through and through. Making "tamales" is a cherished tradition that involves the participation of many family members and friends, as this is a slow and laborious process taught by Grandmothers from one generation to another.

Easily, the most chaotic and perhaps crazy activity of the holiday season is the "Zapote Bullfights", held in the town of Zapote, just outside of downtown San Jose. It is there that they build a special ¨Redondel¨ or Bull Ring, as well as erect a yearly improvised amusement park complete with carnival rides, amusement park games and a selection of "chinamos", or improvised food stands. It´s important to note that in the Costa Rican bullfights, the bulls are never harmed, or killed. The most prestigious cattle ranches provide the bulls for free and it is considered an honor to have their bulls included in this event. Beyond the actual riding of the large bulls (generally done in Costa Rica with NO hands), much more frightening are the bullfighters in the ring. These consist of ¨normal¨ people dressed in all kinds of crazy outfits, that willingly get into the arena in mass without any professional preparation to ¨fight¨ or spook the bulls, encouraging them to chase them around the arena. Incredibly, very few people get hurt or gored during this event, though the activity is definitely entertaining and a big headache for the local Red Cross which voluntarily provides it's emergency services during this yearly event. It´s interesting to note that this festival year after year draws Costa Ricans from all parts of the country and crosses all social classes.

The Holiday Season then officially ends on January 6th, the day the three wise men arrived and saw Baby Jesus for the first time. That day all the neighbors gather and say a special prayer for the Baby Jesus. This prayer is based on the rosary and traditional Christmas carols. Of course after the prayer, there's the indulging in the famous Costa Rica coffee, along with more "Tamales", "Rompope" (Costa Rican Egg Nog), "Aguadulce" (a Sweet Water like juice) and all kinds of typical baked goods and other traditional beverages. Don´t forget the grapes (no seedless ones here) and the apples, which are considered very special treats here, as they are not readily available or very affordable and kids love them!

Lastly, Costa Rican Hotels and tourism operations around the country eagerly await the arrival of December to usher in their peak tourist season when winter weary snowbirds look to bask in the warm tropical weather and waters of Costa Rica, as well as enjoy the bounty of adventure tours and the beauty of Costa Rica´s incredible natural resources. I hope if you are reading this you are lucky enough to share in our bounty this Holiday Season!

Author: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent another 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Shoe Tossing, Shoefiti....Why do those shoes hang from Power Lines?

Next time you are traveling in Latin America, or practically any country nowadays for that matter, as you pass through some of the small towns or find yourself in the inner cities, take a good look up. Chances are you will see a pair or pairs of the famous “hanging shoes” drapped over the power lines high above you.

What do they mean? How do they get up there? Good questions that curious people have been asking for many years. Let’s explore some of the history and folklore behind the obiquitous “hanging shoes” and we’ll let you draw your own conclusions in the end.

Shoe tossing or "shoefiti" as it has come to be known in many International circles, is the worldwide phenomenon of throwing shoes whose laces have been tied together so that they hang from overhead power lines or telephone cables.

In some neighborhoods, shoes tied together and hanging from these power lines signify that someone has passed on and the shoes belong to the dead person. Legend has it that the reason they are hanging is so that when the dead person's spirit returns, it will walk high above the ground, meaning they will be that much closer to heaven. Another superstition holds that the tossing of shoes over the power lines outside of a person’s house is a way to keep the home safe from ghosts. Some countries also believe that it signals someone is leaving the neighborhood and moving on to better opportunities.

There are a number of more sinister explanations for this shoe tossing practice. Some claim that shoes hanging from the wires advertise a locale where drugs are sold, while others claim that the shoes mark gang turf. These explanations may have developed over the years as inner city crime increased, but fail to explain why the practice occurs more often along relatively remote stretches of rural highways or throughout most Third World countries that are for the most part unlikely scenes for gang murders and drug dens.

Other random shoe tossing explanations include shoes that are flung to commemorate the end of a school year, or an upcoming marriage, or some claim it even signifies the loss of one’s virginity. It has also been suggested that the shoe tossing custom may have originated with members of the military who are said to have thrown military boots over wires as a rite of passage upon completing basic training or upon leaving the service.

Perhaps the most likely reason for the practice of shoe tossing, at least in most rural areas, is simply the act of bullying, or as a practical joke played on your “amigos”. Lastly, others simply say that shoe tossing is a fun way to get rid of shoes that are no longer wanted and pose great challenge and fun while attempting to get them in place on the high wires.

Naturally, only each individual “shoe-tosser” knows why his/her pair of shoes are hanging from the wires, but the practice has become a common one throughout Costa Rica and now just serves as another display of modern art or to many a form of environmental pollution, all depending on your own perspective or sense of humor!

Author: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Squirrel Monkey or Mono Titi (in Spanish)… We´re too damn cute, don´t let us dissappear!

Literally everyday I have the pleasure of being visited by one of the cutest little jungle creatures you will ever encounter……the friendly Titi or Squirrel Monkeys of Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. The particular species that swings through our trees, climbs on our roofs, and even occasionally gets in our houses are found ONLY in the Manuel Antonio area. Our blessing, is this little monkeys curse though, as with continued development in the surrounding areas of Manuel Antonio & Quepos, these beautiful little animals have slowly been completely cutoff from their natural wildlife corredor, meaning the Titis of Manuel Antonio no longer have anywhere else to go! This not only limits their ability to naturally flourish, but results in an elevated level of inbreeding, more sickness, and a weakening of the species over time, putting in danger this species´ long term existence.
Easily recognized by their soft light brown body furr, adorable little white with black facial bigotes, long brown with bushy black tipped tails, and friendly incesant chatter, their tiny size and endearing faces draw oohs and ahhs from all that encounter them, making them clearly one of the main attractions in and around Manuel Antonio National Park, located on the Central Pacific Coast of tropical Costa Rica.
In search of a way to minimize the negative impact that this situation has caused, several local community organizations have emerged to help in the protection of this special little monkey. One of the most prominent in our area is www.kidssavingtherainforest.org. Some of their many objectives, has been the creation of ¨monkey bridges¨ throughout the area. These thick ropes are strategically placed where the monkeys naturally arrive to cross roads, highways or locations that have a large amount of electrical, phone, or other types of cables, or where the vegetation is not sufficient for monkeys to safely traverse. This helps the monkeys avoid electrocution, or from the creatures having to come down from the trees to continue their journey, a move that would make them terribly susceptible to predators, as well as other modern environmental hazards. This organization has also published an excellent list of 10 reasons why you should NOT feed the monkeys, which most hotels, restaurants and other businesses post in their establishments to help educate the community and the visiting tourists about the negative impact feeding the monkeys has.
Another excellent organization developed specifically for the protection of the Titi Monkey is www.titiconservationalliance.org. Their mission is to work to protect Costa Rica’s Central Pacific region through Sustainable Development, Habitat Reforestation, and Environmental Education. Started by local business owners and environmental and animal enthusiasts, this important group tirelessly fights for the protection of the Titi Monkeys and their habitat.
For those of you coming to Costa Rica, or if you have been trying to decide where to go on your next vacation, consider the Manuel Antonio area of this beautiful country, where not only will you have the opportunity to see these endangered little Squirrel Monkeys, but where many businesses will donate a portion of what you spend in our area directly for the Squirrel Monkey´s protection, so future generations will be able to enjoy the ¨Mono Titi¨ too!

Author: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Getting ¨Casado¨ in Costa Rica. No, not married….read on!

If you are looking for one of the best and tasty deals to be found in Costa Rica, think about getting ¨married¨. Wait, wait, wait, no need to run screaming, ¨married¨ is the English translation for the most popular dish in all of Costa Rica…..the ¨Casado¨, where rice and beans are ¨married¨, and served with other common local ingredients.
To be perfectly honest, Costa Rican cuisine is not a show stopper, in fact it can be downright plain for those that prefer to challenge their palate, but that doesn’t mean it is not good or that you will not enjoy eating like the locals do. In Costa Rica, rice and beans are the standard ¨Tico¨ fare, and they are generally consumed in some form or another in all three daily meals, and it is a great nutritious option.
Starting with the ubiquitous ¨Gallo Pinto¨ (painted rooster) served for breakfast, this delicious and filling mix of rice and beans, chopped cilantro, sweet chili, and onion is served almost every morning with sour cream and/or the famous ¨Lizano Salsa¨, along side eggs, tortillas, and perhaps a slice of cheese, and followed later in the day by the ¨Casado¨.
Served at almost any ¨Soda¨ be it the Pacific Coast, the Caribbean Coast or everywhere in between, the ¨Casado¨ is always your best bet while visiting Costa Rica. Most commonly this popular ¨typical¨ dish consists of a chopped cabbage and tomato salad, fried sweet plantains, picadillo (a mix of chopped potatoes, carrots, green beans in a light tomato sauce), a choice of chicken, fish, or meat, often times a hard-boiled egg and/or a slice of fresh salty, slightly smelly white cheese, and of course…..don’t forget the rice and beans!
For anyone thinking this does not sound particularly appetizing, you will be pleasantly surprised, as the ¨Casado¨ is not only delicious, but it is a plate load of food worthy of two appetites. There are economic reasons for the creation of this ¨tipico¨ dish. Though richer than some of its neighbors, Costa Rica is nonetheless still considered a poor country, and its native residents never had the money to develop a sophisticated cuisine or palate as their culinary tradition evolved over the decades. Thus this cheap and nutritious marriage of rice and beans caught on as the typical ¨workman´s lunch¨.
For those of you who are worried about the safety of food in Costa Rica or their ¨Sodas¨, you needn’t be overly concerned. Costa Rica doesn’t have the risks that many other Central American countries are known for, but there are a couple of things that you should keep in mind while visiting. Pesticide control is not as strict as the USA, so wash fruit and vegetables before eating them and if you’re eating something that’s peeled, it’s best if it was you that peeled it. Also, when deciding to eat out, the fancier restaurants are not always the cleanest, so in fact, eating where the locals eat is often the safest way to go.
So the next time you find yourself driving the back roads of Costa Rica (they all feel like back roads in Costa Rica), we highly recommend you try the ¨Casado¨ to not only fill your hungry belly, but to avoid putting a dent in your wallet, leaving more money to take home that famous Costa Rica coffee!
The other ¨married¨ you were thinking of?.......Well we’ll just leave that decision up to you!

Author: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.