Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Costa Rican Christmas in that Special "Tico" Style!!

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 just around the corner!

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 yearly ¨Festival de la Luz¨, were decorated in fluffy white cotton fabrics to give the impression of snow, and many holiday participants threw white confetti at each other, also meant to simulate snow. This year, the municipality put a firm hand down on the throwing of this confetti due to safety factors, as well as the high cost of clean-up afterwards. In years past, there have been many complaints from innocent bypassers walking to work who were suddenly 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 6000 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. I am lucky enough to have many Tico friends that take pity on my lack of knowledge (or motivation!) to make the tamales and each year give me the gift of the famous Tamal!

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, though the “bullfighters” do not always fare so well (see videos below). 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.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

“Mamon Chino” in Costa Rica. Have you tried this exotic fruit yet?

The "Mamon Chino", also known as “Rambutan”, is a colorful and interesting exotic fruit found on medium-sized tropical trees producing one of the most popular convenience snacks found in Costa Rica. Thought to be native to Malaysia, this fruit is also commonly found in Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. The Mamo Chino is closely related to several other edible tropical fruits including the Lychee, Longan, and Mamoncillo. The name rambutan came from the Malay word rambut, whose literal translation means hairy, logical when you see the distinctive “hair” that covers the skin of this small fruit.

A hearty tree growing to an average height of 30-60 feet, the flowers are small and emit a faintly sweet pleasant scent. Mature trees in fruition brim with oval shaped fruit bunches that grow in a loose hanging clusters of around 10-20 specimens. The rather thick and clean peeling skin is generally reddish, orange or yellow in color and is covered with a thick hairy texture, making this fruit easy to identify. The coveted flesh of the fruit is translucent, whitish or a very pale pink, with a sweet, slightly acidic flavor, similar to that of grapes, but with it’s own uniquely tropical flavor. Be careful not to ingest the large single seed found buried within the sweet fleshy part, as it can be mildly poisonous when raw, but can be eaten when cooked properly. (I have personally never tried that, so anyone who has, feel free to chime in on how that works!) The seed is also said to be high in certain fats and oils valuable for industrial uses, as well as the oils are used to manufacture soap products. Beyond that, the roots of the Rambutan tree, as well as the bark and leaves are touted to have various medicinal uses and have been used in the production of certain dyes and coloring compounds.

What to do with the fruit:
A mainstay at Farmer’s Markets countrywide, roadside fruit stands are another great place to find the freshest Mamon Chino. Traditionally eaten by easily peeling the fruit with your fingers (it practically peels itself into two pieces) or you can often see locals open them with a quick flick of their teeth, popping the fruit directly into their mouth. The sweet creamy pulp of the fruit is easily enjoyed by putting the whole fruit inside the mouth and sucking on the pulp, remembering not to swallow the large seed. Disposing of the seed takes a practiced spitting launch, or better educated friends discreetly discard it into their hand or the bag the fruits came in. Despite the light color of the fruit's flesh, remember to be careful, as the juice will stain a dark brown color, the reason indigenous Indians used to use Rambutan to dye cloth. Though most commonly eaten fresh in Costa Rica, you can find Mamon Chino jams and jellies, and it is now even canned in some locations. It would be important for me to mention……when using the common Costa Rican name (Mamon Chino), its important to know that the word “mamón” in some Spanish-speaking countries can be slang for a “person who sucks”, or more commonly it can refer to a “large breast”. Just giving a fair warning to my friends before you go to the Farmers Market yelling “I want Mamones”!

When CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) was in negotiations throughout the region, Costa Rica noted that this new agreement presented an excellent opportunity to expand the production of this little known fruit to International markets. Costa Rica, having little actual data on the production of this fruit within the country had the government entity known as “MAG” (Ministerio de Agricultura), launch a nationwide in-depth study to find out more about the cultivators of this crop, with the hope of bringing them the economic benefits that would result from expansion to an International marketplace. The results of this extensive study, primarily conducted in Costa Rica’s “Brunca and Atlantic Región”, was the first stage of a strategic crop development plan conducted by Ingienero Leonte Llach Cordero for the National Program of Tropical Fruits, a division of MAG. The initial results are listed below:

Results of Study (Dec 2003)
• Total Cultivators 354
• Estimated Hectares in Production-720
• Approximate Total Production per year-5.5 millon kilos
• Number of Adult Trees (over 4 yrs)-46,365
• Number of Trees under 4 yrs-49,839
• Amount of Cultivators with less than 20 Hectars-350
• Amount of Cultivators with more than 20 Hectars-4
• Most productive season-July to September
• Percentage of Local Market Production-+90%
• Estimated number of trees per Hectar-100 trees

The results of this study were extremely helpful in furthering the development of this tropical fruit to be competitive in an international market. As the Ministerio de Agricultura (MAG) began a program to distribute some 40,000 tree starts to farmers, their enthusiasm, pioneer attitude and excellent farming practices, helped to dramatically increase overall production by a whopping 20% in only 6 yrs. This impressive number converted Costa Rica to be the top producer of Mamon Chino in all of Central America. Costa Rica now exports an incredible 1800 tons of this delicious fruit yearly.

So my friends, the next time you see these hairy little fruits at your Costa Rica Hotel, the local Farmer’s Market, local “Pulperia” (market), or a roadside fruit stand…… Stop! Buy!! Eat!! Don’t be afraid of them!!! Not only are these tropical delights delicious and convenient to snack on, but they also have specific nutritional qualities, as well as ancient medicinal uses that might come in handy one day. Just please remember no yelling “I want Mamones!” while in Costa Rica when you go shopping, or you might end up with a black eye!!

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.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Christmas Season Shopping in Costa Rica? Try the Golfito Duty Free Zone!

Don’t let me be the bearer of bad news, but once again, Christmas is just around the corner. For those of you that have been lucky enough to survive another year of this recession, it’s time to start thinking about Christmas shopping. If you are considering some big ticket items, the duty free zone of Golfito might be just the place for you!

A Little History:
Once a bustling banana port, from 1938 to 1985, Golfito served as the headquarters of United Fruit’s banana operations in the southernmost part of Costa Rica. Creating an economy that had previously not existed, unfortunately the mid-1980s brought declining markets, higher export taxes, worker unrest and banana diseases forcing United Fruit’s departure from the area. Though some of the plantations successfully converted to the production of African Palm Oil, this move was not enough to sustain the job loss and economic blow caused when the company departed. Attracted by the World Class fishing within the Golfo Dulce region, Sport Fishermen have helped stimulate the development of new Costa Rica Hotels & Lodges, creating a flourishing tourist industry in the area. Nonetheless, the Golfo Dulce region and more specifically, the town of Golfito, have continued to struggle for survival, even after close to 20 years of economic stimulus in the form of a Duty Free Shopping Zone.

Government Incentives:
In the 1990’s, in an attempt to boost the region’s economy, the Costa Rica government approved a duty-free facility (déposito libre) in the northern part of the Golfo Dulce zone. Just the mention of the town of Golfito, brings the image of thousands of Ticos on any given day bustling around the rows of this fairly run down mega shopping complex, giving life to an otherwise dying town while shoppers hustle and hustlers shop. Keep in mind….the duty-free shopping is for Costa Rican Nationals and legal residents only, with the most popular purchases being the bigger ticket items. Unfortunately, as you will see below, this is not like a Sunday visit to the local mall, many restrictions apply which can complicate the shopping process, so be sure to read the details.

Rules and Regulations:
The Duty Free Zone was created to help stimulate visits to the region by giving Costa Rican residents a tax free zone to shop for their purchases. To get the most out of these visitors, specific rules were established in order to legally make these tax free purchases. First, exemption from sales taxes is only valid twice a year, with a total purchase amount that cannot exceed $1000 per buyer, per trip. Second, you must stay overnight in Golfito before taking advantage of the tax-free shopping, a requirement enacted to support the area’s family owned “cabinas” and boutique hotels. Third, as a guarantee of your overnight stay, a shopping authorization card (TAC) must be requested at the Customs Offices the day prior to shopping. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday from 8am-8pm, Mondays from 1pm-8pm and shoppers are required to present their valid Costa Rican “cedula” (identification card) when applying.

Hours and Shopping Limits:
When you begin your shopping at Golfito, its recommended to get an early start. Stores open from 8am-4:30pm Tuesday-Saturday and 7am- 2pm on Sundays. Stores are closed on Mondays. When checking out, you will be required to show the store personnel your shopping authorization card, so keep that handy. Remember, one card gives you the right to make a purchase for up to $1,000, though you can combine two cards (no more) for a total of $2,000. The other card can only belong to first-degree relatives such as parents, children, siblings or spouses. Naturally, there are “gavilones” or “tipos” that hang around the area that can arrange that you have sufficient “TAC” cards from “family” to make as many purchases as you need while in the area. Of course, I don’t condone or recommend these services, though they are amazingly efficient and quite convenient:-).

Why go Duty Free?
Though Golfito is no short drive, and the entire process is not exactly convenient, keep in mind that products are not subject to most import taxes, nor the normal 13% Costa Rica sales tax, as well as most products are highly discounted, so thrifty shoppers from around the country can save up to 50% on certain items throughout the year. For those looking for smaller ticket items such as perfumes, cosmetics, liquor, cigarettes, small appliances, tires, computer items, and an assortment of household goods, you might want to save going thru some of these inconvenient restrictions and drive a little further South to the Costa Rica-Panama border. At the border crossing, shoppers can purchase duty-free goods on a mystery strip of shops located between the two borders in the town of Paso Canoas. (You enter one door on the Costa Rica side, and exit the other side of the store on the Panamanian side!) No restrictions apply in this area, and both duty free zones can provide affordable delivery of your purchases throughout the country, but be sure to negotiate the price first!

So if you are planning a shopping jaunt to the port town of Golfito, consider making a short relaxing getaway out of the trip. (You’ll need it after the Golfito zoo.) With the new Costanera Sur highway, the drive is only around three hours from Manuel Antonio/Quepos Area Hotels, and the entire area offers small marinas, yachting and boating services, excellent sport fishing,
as well as easy access to some of Costa Rica’s most beautiful National Parks and protected areas. Although much of the tourism in the Golfito area focuses on the sport fishing industry, other water sports and beach activities are also popular pastimes, with incredible surfing beaches to the south of Golfito such as Playa Pavones; best known as home to one of Zancudo, Pilon and the famous the longest left hand breaking waves in the world. The friendly people of the area, and the fabulous natural wonders that abound make Golfito and the Golfo Dulce more than just a shopping excursion, the area is truly a
beautiful and relaxing place to stop and see more of fabulous Costa Rica! Happy Shopping!

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.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Halloween….in Costa Rica. A Happy Holiday? or Pagan Capitalist Celebration?

Well, it’s almost that time of year again, October 31st, when countries like the USA, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, France and many other countries around the world celebrate Halloween. A mostly unfamiliar tradition in Costa Rica, it’s hard to explain to another culture why we would want to teach our children to dress up in costumes, go to strangers houses demanding candy, and if they don’t give it to you you should play a trick on them. Isn’t that pretty much against everything we teach our children these days?

Nonetheless, if you grew up in my day (many moons ago, trust me) when it was much safer to walk the streets at night, when knocking on strangers doors didn’t get you kidnapped, raped or killed, when we weren’t so concerned with childhood obesity, etc, we used to count down the days until our favorite holiday arrived…….Halloween! Decked out in our costumes and carrying our largest pillow case to hold our loot, as soon as the sun set, we literally ran from house to house yelling “trick or treat” and filling that pillow case (bags weren’t big enough!) with as much candy as we could possibly collect over the next few hours. When we arrived home, we spent hours, even days, carefully sorting through our treasure trove and stuffing the sweet stuff in our mouths….our sugar high lasted for months!!

In Costa Rica, Halloween will usually be celebrated with small private parties or used as a marketing opportunity by Costa Rica Hotels, as well as local Restaurants and Bars looking to attract customers during their notoriously low tourism season. Most Costa Ricans know little of Halloween and those that do often consider the holiday a celebration of satanic beliefs and definitely find little logic in encouraging their kids to beg for candy from strangers.

What to expect on Halloween
Halloween is celebrated yearly on October 31. Its roots date back to the Celtic Harvest Festival of “Samhain”, and it is often related with the Christian celebrations of “All Saints Day” and “All Souls Day”, though today Halloween is considered more of a secular celebration with less religious connotations involved. Some of the more common Halloween activities include “Trick or Treating” dressed up
in costumes, attending costume parties (mostly adults), playing tricks on people, bobbing for apples, carving pumpkins, visiting haunted houses (usually decked out for the occasion, not just naturally haunted houses), telling ghost stories and watching scary horror movies, as well as decorating your home or office with Halloween inspired decorations for the holiday (usually scary, bloody and gory stuff).

Happy Halloween or Pagan Holiday?
Halloween is believed to have originated with the Celtic festival of Samhain, roughly meaning "summer's end" and considered part of the celebration of the Celtic New Year. The Celtic culture at the time was ruled by a government that consisted of pagan priests, called Druids. The Druids were considered to be Satanists who controlled the lives of their followers through fear and intimidation, developing a culture wrought in death, sickness, and widespread destruction. The ancient Celts believed that the line between this world and the “other side” became thin on Samhain, allowing spirits (both good and bad) to pass from one world to the other. Developing yearly rituals around this belief, family's deceased ancestors were to be honored during this time, while harmful spirits were to be warded off. It is believed that the need to ward off those harmful spirits led to the wearing of costumes and masks to scare the bad spirits away, as well as the carved and lit “pumpkins” that were placed in front of houses for this same purpose.
As the Druids made their way from house to house on the night of October 31st demanding strange foods to not only eat themselves, but to also offer later at the “festival of death” (or the house would receive a “trick”). They would carry with them a large turnip type tuber, carved hollow inside with a candle that lit the carved face found on the front of the tuber. This was meant to give the Druids more power, scare away other bad spirits, as well as it served as a lantern to light their way as they frightened villagers with their demands for “treats”. When this practice arrived to the United States in the mid 19th century, pumpkins were more readily available, not to mention easier to carve and they quickly became the recognized symbol of Halloween. “Jock” was the name the Druids had given the demonic spirit that inhabited the tuber/pumpkin warding off all other evil spirits, which in America soon took on the more common name of “Jack”, or as some folks refer to it to this day, “Jack ‘O Lantern”. The actual name of Halloween, morphed from the original Christian feast known as “All Hallowmas” which over the years came to be known as “All Hallows Eve”, then “All Hallowed Eve”, and finally known today as….. “Halloween”.
Samhain was also a time to take stock of food supplies and slaughter livestock in preparation for winter. Bonfires were a common part of the festivities, as there were many customs that went with the large fires. For example, all other village fires were doused and each family lit their home hearth from the communal bonfire, bonding the families of the village together until the next year. The bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into its flames and generally there were two bonfires built side-by-side so the town folk and their livestock (the ones not slaughtered!) could walk between the fires serving as a cleansing ritual. Obviously the focus for ancient Halloween was not on how much candy a kid could collect in a few hours!

Is Halloween Celebrated in Costa Rica?
The more popular day of celebration that time of year in Costa Rica is November 2nd. Known as “Dia de Los Muertos” (Day of the Dead) throughout most Latin American countries, this day is more of a show of respect when family members visit cemeteries to leave flowers and other offerings for their deceased loved ones. This annual celebration is generally connected with the Catholic holidays of “All Saint’s Day” (November 1) and "All Souls Day" (November 2), though it is still felt by many to hold certain pagan connotations, so many Catholics and Christians prefer to commemorate the faithful departed by celebrating in the name of “All Souls Day”.

Most Costa Ricans wisely do not choose to celebrate Halloween at all due to its history of satanic beliefs and relation with bad spirits, as well as this holiday’s promotion of unnecessary consumerism wrapped around strange values of begging and threatening strangers. It does seem quite strange when you stop and think about it!

For those of you that still enjoy the dressing up, the practical jokes, the CANDY, there are still many opportunities for festivities. Check out the link below, or your nearest Expat community where there’s sure to be some bar full of costumed partiers, or just head to your nearest market and you can just buy a sack of candy and satisfy all those sugar urges in the safety of your home!

For Halloween Celebration Information within Costa Rica, click here!

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.

Sources: (photo credit)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

“Ronny’s Place”; a Popular Person, a Popular Eatery in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica!

I am continually asked for advice on good places to eat when visiting Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. Easily one of my favorites is the popular “Ronny’s Place”, also know as “Mi Lugar”. The food is affordable and delicious, the views, especially for sunset, are breathtaking, but the real draw to this restaurant is the owner, Ronny Alpizar.

"Mi Casa es su Casa" means "My House is your House" in Spanish and that is the slogan and warm feeling you will receive when dining at Ronny’s Place. The friendly staff and Ronny himself make it a point to personally attend you during your visit. Offering a true Costa Rican dining experience, the menu features specialties in both international and local cuisine. No dining experience at “Mi Lugar” is complete without trying one of their specialty drinks. Their in-house bartender boasts more than 10 years experience mastering his own custom drink mixes with
beautifully inventive presentations (see pictures), delicious and innovative combinations such as their famous “Coco Loco”, and earning a special recognition from Lonely Planet Guidebook for having the “Best in the Country” Sangria.

Background on Mi Lugar:
Boasting an enviable mountaintop location, Ronny’s Place is the only restaurant in the area where you can enjoy the fabulous Pacific Coast sunsets 365 days a year.
Weather permitting.) Inaugurated in 2003, the original name was "Mi Lugar" (My Place). A popular local Costa Rican, owner Ronny Alpizar decided after working many years at some of the area’s best hotels it was time to branch out on his own. A friendly and sociable man, Ronny is very popular among all that live in the Manuel Antonio & Quepos areas, both Ticos and Expats alike. Ronny, feeling that having his own restaurant would allow him to offer the quality and personalized level of service he felt was missing in many other local businesses, he launched his successful endeavor some 7 years ago and has never looked back. Although the plan was to always call it “My Place”, as is typical in Costa Rica, it just simply became "Ronny’s Place". This also saved a lot of misunderstandings when friends were invited to meet and have dinner at “My Place”; they no longer mistakenly showed up at the inviting party’s house ready to eat!

It’s All About Location:
Located at the top of a mountain, overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the midst of a 90 acre farm, Ronny’s Place is the only building you will find in the immediate area. Accessible by a bumpy dirt road, the short drive is worth the visit to this “typical” rancho style restaurant offering breathtaking ocean views of two magnificent private beach coves and the expansive horizon allowing you to see as far as Puntarenas on a clear day. To arrive there, take the main road towards Manuel Antonio National Park, and about 2K at the Amigos del Rio offices (Rafting and Kayaking Adventure Company with large sign), you will see the signs on the right side of the road for the entrance to the farm where Ronny’s place is located.
You will continue some 800 meters climbing the dirt road (you do not need 4wd), but don’t forget to watch for the cows, horses, chickens, pigs, sheep, goats and other farm animals that may be wandering about as you head up the road. Upon arrival, you will find the perfect place for rehearsal dinner parties, birthday celebrations, office parties, casual wedding receptions, or just the ideal spot for a casually romantic sunset dinner. Opening daily at 12pm, it’s a great place to enjoy a casual lunch as well. Keep your eye out for Ronny, I have never eaten there without his friendly greeting. Not only does he remember my name, but he knows I love his banana cake and usually sends a piece over to our table on the house. That’s our Ronny!!

Some Favorite Recommended Dishes:
Easily one of the most popular dishes at Ronny’s Place is the fresh whole Snapper. Caught right off the shores that you can see while seated at Mi Lugar, this dish could not possibly be more fresh unless you caught the fish yourself! Other popular dishes are the fresh Lobster (in season), grilled Brochettes of Beef, Chicken and Seafood, Filet Mignon with Mushroom Sauce, Nachos, Ceviche, Shrimp Cocktail, as well as a vast selection of Pasta Dishes meant to satisfy vegetarian diners, and a wonderful selection of appetizers (known as “bocas” in Costa Rica). Once again, I feel a deep obligation to remind potential diners to not forget to try Ronny’s specialty drinks served in all their elegance, such as the Pina Colada, Coco Loco and their famous Sangria. Everyone in this area has their favorite, so feel free to ask the concierge at your Vacation Rental Home, or Costa Rican Hotel in the area to find out what theirs is. I’m sure they would be happy to share their positive dining experience at Ronny’s Place, as well as direct you on how to get there!!

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, September 28, 2010

“Carnavales” de Limon: An Annual Costa Rican Tradition!

When: October 7-17, 2010 (annual event)
Where: Limón
Cost: Free
Hours: All hours!!

If you are presently on vacation in Costa Rica, or planning to make your getaway soon, Costa Rica's port town of Limón on the Caribbean side of the country, converts to an all out party every October to celebrate “Carnaval”! Vaguely disguised around celebrating Columbus Day (October 12th) or “Dia de Las Culturas” (as we know it in Costa Rica), locals as well as every strange character you can think of join together in the overconsumption of alcohol, while dancing and parading the streets of Limon to the popular Latin beats of blaring Calypso, Reggae, Samba, Salsa and many other tropical rhythms! A good time is generally guaranteed, all in the name of history, culture and a legitimately good reason to Party!

Background of Limon:
Limon (Spanish for Lemon) is the largest “city” on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, as well as the center for Costa Rica’s largest commercial shipping port in nearby Moin. Serving as the capital city of the Limon Province, Christopher Columbus set anchor in 1502. It is said that Limon was named after the large lemon tree that used to grow where the City Hall is now located, but that rumor has not substantiated over the years.
Also known at the Pearl of the Caribbean, Limon is an exotic province characterized by the friendly openness of its culturally diverse population, as well as the richness of its Afro-Caribbean customs.
Limon’s economy is based primarily on banana, cacao and pineapple production and exportation, as well as the raising of cattle, though the yearly cruise ship season brings a large influx of tourism to the area. Considered to have the largest population of black people in all of Costa Rica, the Afro-Caribbean culture derives from mostly Jamaican descent. Originally brought to this area as slaves to build the railway connecting the Atlantic coastline with the Central Plateau (San Jose) for the shipping of goods by land, a large Chinese immigrant population also remains from this same ambitious project.

Highlights of “Carnaval”:
The first Carnaval (that is the correct spelling for Costa Rica), was held in 1949 and was the brainchild of the late Alfred Henry King and friends, who felt it was a good opportunity to unite the Costa Rican culture (originally descendents from Spain) together with the primarily black Caribbean Culture (mostly African, Caribbean and Chinese descendents), which had suffered strained relationships throughout Costa Rican history. In just over 60 years, the Carnavales de Limon is now considered the most popular Festival in the entire country. It’s interesting that Costa Rica does not celebrate Columbus arriving to “America”; it celebrates the uniting of cultures. Pretty forward thinking!
During Carnaval, throngs of people line the streets to watch and cheer on the “beauty queens”, loud marching bands, and to see the brightly colored costumes of the “Comparsas”. Colorfully dressed and adorned coordinated dance troupes, the Comparsas wildly and skillfully shake their booties (booties of ALL ages and ALL sizes!!) to the loud tropical beats of mostly Brazilian Samba & Latin Salsa for miles and miles. It is quite a loud drum banging, hip swinging, cuchi cuchi type show, worth the 2.5 hour drive from San Jose!

My own Adventures at Carnaval:
Having lived on the Caribbean coast for 10 years, I have had the pleasure to personally attend Carnaval. Beyond the great live music throughout the 10 days of the event, one of my favorite parts (and there are many) is the Carnaval Infantil (Children’s Parade). Large macho men run around wearing large “muumuu” style dresses with HUGE handcrafted masks on their heads (see picture).
The “Mascaradas” as they are known, consist of men who play a game known as “Rass’em”. The lucky guy wearing the large mask (check out the peep hole in the picture, so they can see where they are going) chases the other men in the group, and when he is caught, the next guy has to put on the mask and dress and start parading around. A pretty amazing sight for this “macho” society, and really quite entertaining, if not a little creepy!
At night, the Limón Carnaval really comes to life! It’s like an enormous block party with everything located outside in the warm tropical air, just like a county fair, only A LOT crazier!! Rows and rows of booths (or “chinamos” as they are called here) of food, drink, handicrafts, local delicacies (more on those later), and dance floors dot the area and there are always people dancing in the streets (literally)! I personally love the Reggae music coming out of houses, offices and every corner of the city, that is my kind of music “mon”. My biggest challenge is trying to understand the Jamaican Creole dialect. I speak English and am fluent in Spanish, fortunately so are most of the inhabitants of Limon, as otherwise, I would be at a loss for much of what they are saying in their unique dialect. Whoppin? (What’s happening?) Watcha got? (What time is it?) Just a few examples that caused initial confusion on my part, but now seem a natural part of conversation!

The Food of Limon:
Visitors have not had the full Limon experience and definitely not the Carnaval experience without trying some true, authentic Caribbean style food. First and foremost, you must try the “Rice and Beans”. This is not your everyday “gallo pinto”, though it does look the part. This “rice and beans” is made with coconut milk, and if you are really lucky, has a touch of the super hot Panamanian Chilies thrown in for a surprise kick. Some other favorites of the area are the ubiquitous “Pan Bon”, similar to Christmas Fruitcake in the USA and just as nasty to me, as well as “Pati”, a wannabe tasty empanada and Patacones (double fried Plantains), everything’s better fried!! Am I right? My very favorite has to be…… (drum roll please)…..”cajeta”. A delicious coconut candy with the texture of very firm fudge, this candy can be found sold on almost every street corner, store, bus stop or “chinamo” throughout the City. (I have some stashed in my refrigerator right now.)

In Summary:
If you haven’t had the good fortune to visit the Province of Limon during your Costa Rica vacation, it’s not just about the beaches to the South, or the endangered Marine Turtles to the North! The actual City of Limon is worth a visit, and I can’t think of a better or more exciting time to visit the area then during the yearly celebration of Carnaval!

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.

Sources: (Photo & Audio credits, please support their cause!)

Friday, September 17, 2010

World Tourism Day: “Tourism & Biodiversity” the Costa Rica Way!

“ Safeguarding biodiversity is an urgent challenge that concerns us all – the international community, governments, companies and travellers – but it is not too late to act. ”
Taleb Rifai, UNWTO Secretary-General

About World Tourism Day
World Tourism Day (WTD) is celebrated each year on September 27th. This annual event has been held since 1980, with its primary purpose to increase awareness of the social, cultural, political and economical values of tourism. This worldwide event directly addresses the more pressing global challenges, with an emphasis on the contributions the tourism industry makes in meeting these goals.

Theme for World Tourism Day 2010
Costa Rica had the honor of hosting World Tourism Day in 2002, with its theme of: Ecotourism, the key to sustainable development
The theme for 2010 will celebrate “Tourism and Biodiversity”. The official celebration will be held in Guangzhou, Guandong Province, China, with many other special events taking place around the World.

Coinciding with the United Nations “International Year of Biodiversity”, this year’s World Tourism Day is meant to raise awareness of the vital relationship that exists between tourism development, biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction. The hope is to draw more attention to two of the most pressing global challenges: the sustainable use of the world’s limited resources and the eradication of extreme poverty.

Both of these are prominent issues in Costa Rica, which has been in a continued battle to lower it’s 16.9% poverty rate (latest data from 2006), as well as continuing to struggle with regulating sustainable development and eco-friendly tourism goals.

Biodiversity – Tourism’s Natural Asset
A direct link can be found between tourism and biodiverse areas of unique natural beauty that attract large numbers of visitors. Biodiversity is one of tourism’s greatest assets and the most fundamental reason to commit to long-term sustainable growth. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), uncontrolled development, climate change, pollution and other reckless human activities are causing biodiversity loss at an “unsustainable” rate; one far beyond the rate of natural extinction. The importance of protecting the world’s biodiversity is more obvious when we realize that our ecosystems work to sustain us, providing food, energy & health, as well as 40 percent of the global economy. Unfortunately, the ever increasing pressure on these fragile areas create complex challenges which the tourism sector must seriously address.

The question is therefore, how can tourism contribute positively to biodiversity conservation and improving the quality of life for local populations, while minimizing negative environmental and social impact?

Sustainable Tourism – Local, National, Global
By working to establish a suitable balance between environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development, sustainability is key to maximizing tourism’s positive contribution to biodiversity at the local, national and global level.

A key source of economic income & employment for local communities, sustainable tourism is a strong incentive to protect biodiversity. Maintaining a healthy balance with the environment, means the ability to properly handle more tourists, in turn, generating more funds for conservation and the economic health of surrounding communities. Many areas of natural beauty and diversity are preserved thanks to the funds generated from the tourism industry, so this should be embraced and carefully expanded upon.

Punta Islita, a Costa Rica model in Local Sustainable Tourism:

National and regional development strategies that recognize the contribution of tourism, are instrumental in protecting and maintaining these important ecologically endangered areas. The increase in environmentally-aware travel or “green travel”, has served to improve the competitiveness and marketing opportunities of national tourism destinations. This added incentive to promote eco-friendly tourism, has in turn increased investment in infrastructure (not completely happening in Costa Rica!), clean technologies, renewable energy, water management, as well as a host of other added benefits sustainable tourism can create.

Example of National Sustainability Conscience:

Finally, with millions of people travelling the globe each year, tourism is an ideal vehicle to further spread environmental awareness. The emergence of new consumption patterns is already evident in the world of tourism, with the emergence of marketing terms such as ‘responsible tourism’, ‘ecotourism’ ‘green travel’ and other marketing strategies that encourage and embrace sustainability. It has already been proven that sustainable tourism can encourage a worldwide change in travel consumption patterns.

Global Initiatives for Sustainability:

Other Important Information:

Text of the Convention on Biological Diversity:

More Information on the Sustainable Development of Tourism:

More Information on the International Year of Biodiversity:

Tourism Fighting Poverty
Lastly, one has to wonder, “How does tourism fight poverty?” The Convention of Biological Diversity noted how the world’s poor, particularly in rural areas, depend on biological resources for as much as 90% of their needs. Given this dependence on biodiversity for food, fuel, medicine, shelter and transportation, strategies that prioritize biodiversity are crucial for development and poverty alleviation. That is a primary reason the United Nations has chosen to focus on these important issues in its goal to alleviate extreme poverty through economically sound methods such as sustainable tourism.

Next Years Event
Official celebrations for 2011 World Tourism Day will be celebrated September 27th in Yemen in compliance with the UNWTO policy of rotating hemispheres each year.

You are Cordially Invited:
Hotel Makanda by the Sea invites all interested parties to take part this September 27th in the special celebrations taking place in their respective country, or better yet, why not choose the perfect model destination for this important event, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica! Special Offers are available throughout the country in celebration of World Tourism Day 2010!

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.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

National Park Day in Costa Rica, a cause for Celebration!

Did you know that August 24th is National Park Day in Costa Rica? Just another great reason to celebrate the beauty that surrounds us in this small Central American country, known as the land of Pura Vida! Many Costa Rica hotels hold special tree planting ceremonies, as well as area restaurants often feature special dishes on their menus commemorating this important occasion, by focusing on all that is green and the abundance of natural ingredients that can be found throughout the country. School children take the day from school to learn more about protecting Costa Rica’s natural resources, and national flags, as well as the special Blue Flags representing ecologically awarded beaches and areas, fly proudly. After all, without the parks, where would Costa Rica be on the World’s sustainable tourism totem pole?

A National Park in Costa Rica is defined as a protected area that has been legally declared a National Treasure in order to protect and conserve the biodiversity it contains. These areas generally include diverse eco-systems deemed to be of National significance, generally showing minimal evidence of human impact, while offering important attractions for National and International visitors, as well as learning centers for some of the best scientists in their fields.

In 1888, with the founding of the National Weather Service (now referred to as the National Weather Institute), a century long genesis began of multiple governmental departments culminating in at least a dozen name changes over the years. Duties of protecting the natural resources of Costa Rica gradually expanded to include many diverse functions including specializations in water, hydrocarbons, gender, environmental education, citizen participation, biodiversity, wetlands, climate change, joint implementation, conservation, rational use of energy, environmental quality compliance, as well as the continued control of existing natural resources as previously mentioned. Eventually the morphing entities formed the current government segment referred to as the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Telecommunications, better known in Costa Rica as MINAET.

Costa Rica’s system of Protected Areas consists of an impressive 9 different categories: 1) National Parks 2) Biological Reserves 3) Natural Reserves 4) National Monuments 5) Protected Zones 6) Forest Reserves 7) Wildlife Refuges 8) Wetlands & 9) Indigenous Territories. These wildlife and rainforest areas have been declared as such due to their unique eco-systems, the existence of endangered species and for their significant historical and cultural value as well. The total of these diverse 169 Protected Areas equals approximately 26% of Costa Rica’s territory, protecting an amazing 5% of the World’s biodiversity! This sacrifice of often some of the most valuable land is an incredible example of this country’s dedication to protecting the environment not only within its borders, but the entire continent, since Costa Rica serves as a land bridge between South and North America.

There are an impressive 28 National Parks in Costa Rica, with each park having its own unique features, making every and every one of them worth an in-depth visit. An excellent example is perhaps one of the most famous Costa Rican parks, Isla del Coco, an internationally recognized treasure. Located approximately 340 miles off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica on an uninhabited island (except for the Park Guard Station), this island has been declared a World Heritage Site, included on the List of “Wetlands of International Importance”, as well as nominated for the short list of 7 New Wonders of Nature, by the 7 Wonders of the World organization. Declared a National Park in 1978, Isla del Coco alone has identified some 235 plant species, 400 insect species (65 endemic), 100 bird species (13 resident, 3 endemic and multiple endangered). Its protected marine territory is home to a wide range of species of Shark, parrot fish, manta rays, among numerous other marine species. This particular park is considered one of the richest diving spots in the World, as declared by the famous Jacques Cousteau. Please see the list below, for an extensive list of Costa Rica’s National Parks, as to detail each one would be too long for one blog post.

List of Costa Rica’s National Parks:
1. Santa Rosa National Park
2. Rincón de la Vieja National Park
3. Guanacaste National Park
4. Las Baulas Marine National Park
5. Diriá National Park
6. Barra Honda National Park
7. Braulio Carrillo National Park
8. Turrialba Volcano National Park
9. Poás Volcano National Park
10. Irazú Volcano National Park
11. Tortuguero National Park
12. Cahuita National Park
13. Barbilla National Park
14. Chirripó National Park
15. Tapantí-Macizo de la Muerte National Park
16. Internacional de La Amistad National Park
17. Corcovado National Park
18. Ballena Marine National Park
19. Piedras Blancas National Park
20. Manuel Antonio National Park
21. Tenorio National Park
22. Carara National Park
23. Los Quetzales National Park
24. Palo Verde National Park
25. Arenal National Park
26. Del Agua Juan Castro Blanco National Park
27. La Cangreja National Park
28. Isla del Coco National Park

Map of Costa Rica’s National Park & Protected Areas
Flickr Photo Galleries of Costa Rica & it’s National Parks

The protected areas of Costa Rica generate extensive economic resources to support its dynamic eco-systems, as well as building centers for further ecological studies, stimulating scientific investigation to learn the proper handling of these delicate zones. Over the last 20 plus years, these Protected Areas have brought in some $1.92 billion dollars per year by promoting sustainable tourism to this country, meaning Costa Rica stands as the most visited nation in the Central American. Tourism now earns more foreign exchange than bananas and coffee combined, a previously unthought of statistic from this coffee and banana republic. Commerce, tourism and associated services now contribute some 68% of the country's GDP and represent more than 13.3% of direct and indirect employment. Not only have the National Parks served as a major economic factor for this developing country, but these important areas continue to serve as healthy and natural alternatives of entertainment, bringing a better quality of life to its citizens, as well as everyone that comes in contact with their unparalelled beauty.

Now isn’t that reason enough to raise a cold Imperial Beer and celebrate Costa Rica’s National Parks, as well as the laidback lifestyle we all call “Pura Vida”?

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.

Sources: (Park Map & Photos Courtesy of (Photo Credit) (Photo Credit)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Costa Rica better start prepping for Friday the 13th……2029 that is!

If scientists and astronomers have it calculated correctly, Friday the 13th, 2029 or possibly Easter Sunday, Friday the 13th in 2036, could be a very unlucky days for Costa Rica if the asteroid Apophis continues on its current projected path toward Earth.

“Apophis” was the name of the ancient Egyptian god of darkness and destruction. Therefore, astronomers could not have chosen a more appropriate moniker to assign to a 25 million ton asteroid that is expected to slice across the orbit of the moon, possibly impacting Earth at more than 28,000 miles per hour on April, Friday the 13th, 2029.

Scientists are 99.7% certain that Apophis, a huge pockmarked rock that carries the energy of 65,000 Hiroshima bombs, and measures more than 1000 feet accross, will pass the Earth at a distance of only 18,800 to 20,800 miles in the year 2029, not actually impacting Earth at that time. To put that distance into perspective though, that is actually shorter than a round-trip flight from Melbourne, Australia, to New York City. Either way, just after dusk on April 13th of 2029, people in Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia will be able to see what looks like a star slowly making its way westward through the sky. Apophis will be the first asteroid in human history to be clearly visible to the naked eye.

The asteroid will be packing enough power to wipe out a small country or churn up a devestating 800-ft. high tsunami. Previous projections showed the asteroid’s trajectory to pass somewhere along a 30-mile-wide path stretching from Russia across the Pacific Ocean into Central America and then across the Atlantic. Although San Jose, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Venezuela would all have been potential targets for total destruction, scientists believe the most likely target would have been several thousand miles off the West Coast of the United States, where the impact would create a 5-mile wide crater in the ocean floor. The impact would trigger tsunamis that would pound the coast of California with 50-foot waves, literally wiping out everything in its path.

Updated projections now have scientists believing that if Apophis passes the Earth at a distance of exactly 18,893 miles in 2029, it will pass through a "gravitational keyhole," where the Earth’s gravity could pull Apophis off track just enough to cause it to enter an orbit that is seven-sixths as long as the Earth’s orbit. If that happens, then exactly seven years later in the year 2036, as Apophis comes back around, the planet would be in an even more precarious path of this lethal asteroid. Fortunately, current tracking estimates put the odds of that happening at about 45,000 to 1, though one should keep in mind that that is considerably less than the chance of someone being in a plane crash!

Former astronaut Rusty Schweickart, now 71, who served on the Apollo 9 mission in 1969, feels that even a tiny risk cannot be ignored. Through his B612 Foundation, which he co-founded in 2001, Schweickart has been urging NASA to start now making preparations to do something about the asteroid. "We need to act," he said. "If we blow this, it’ll be criminal."

Despite Hollywood’s imaginative cinematic escapades, current technology does not provide any way for Apophis to be deflected to miss the Earth in either 2029 or 2036. For that reason, in 2005, Schweickart began urging NASA administrator Michael Griffin to start planning a mission to land a radio transponder on Apophis, in an effort to track the asteroid’s path to confirm that it will not hit the gravitational keyhole. If that data shows that the path will bring it into the keyhole, there would still be time to do something about it and launch a deflection mission. Using current technology, we could attempt to nudge it slightly off course by hitting it with a simple 1-ton "kinetic energy impactor" spacecraft. An alternative solution would be to use a "gravity tractor" spacecraft to hover above the asteroid and gently pull it slightly off course using its own gravity. Both of those corrective methods and their chances of success would be highly speculative.

For now, NASA has decided to wait and see what’s going to happen. According to an analysis by Steven Chesley of the Near Earth Object program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, there is no cause for alarm yet. Apophis will be swinging by the Earth in 2013, when it will be in perfect position to be tracked by the 1000-ft. diameter radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. The data obtained during that pass could rule out the asteroid hitting the keyhole in 2029. But if it isn’t able to rule out the possibility, there will still be enough time to launch a deflection mission. Schweickart estimates that such a mission could take as long as 12 years to complete. But for now, most scientists are content to wait until we get a better idea of exactly what the risks are.

"There’s no rush right now," says Chesley. "But if it’s still serious by 2014, we need to start designing real missions."

Will Costa Rica homes and businesses be ready for this phoenomenon? Will the World be ready for Apophis? Are you ready? Do you believe this could truly happen? I’d love to hear your feedback!

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.

Edited from an original article written by:
Linda Orlando of Buzzle Staff and Agencies
Originally Published: 1/8/2007

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rainmaker Conservation Project…..A Model of Costa Rica Sustainable Tourism

Conveniently located close to Costa Rica Hotels along the Central Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, the Rainmaker Conservation Project covers an ecologically diverse area of approximately 1500 acres. This important nature reserve, of which 80% is primary forest, is less than 30 minutes drive from local Manuel Antonio Lodging and Quepos Hotels, making it a convenient location for visitors to immerse themselves in the wonders of a true rainforest environment. Consisting of a transitional neotropical jungle ranging from humid rainforest to a misty cloud forest at its higher elevations, Rainmaker is completely dedicated to conserving the rainforest, as well as endangered species found within its boundaries. Their mission is to promote highly controlled sustainable development as a means to finance the ongoing protection of this unblemished area, while creating local employment, educational programs and the continued study of flora and fauna for scientific research. Less than 5% of the Rainmaker project is used for tourist activities, making the one-mile trail and bridge system available to a limited number of visitors, guaranteeing minimum impact on the environment. The well-tended trails, hand railings, bridges and lookout points have been designed to assure the safety, comfort and enjoyment of adventurous visitors, while leaving the surrounding jungle terrain as Mother Nature intended.

Rainmaker History:
Previously owned by a local rice farmer, Rainmaker was in danger of being clear-cut and commercially developed. Due to a failing rice crop suffered after a severe drought, the indebted farmer was forced to sell his mountain paradise to support his family. Having struggled for years to preserve his majestic piece of property, rather than accept the highest offer, the farmer contacted a friend with whom he held a similar vision for the protection of this beautiful piece of land. In came Mauricio Gutierrez, who with the help of a business partner began the process of purchasing Rainmaker mountain. Sadly, only a few days before signing the final papers, Mauricio drowned while attempting to save a child who had fallen into one of the waterfalls. This tragic event left the purchase of the property in serious jeopardy. With a logging companies ready to step in, the future of Rainmaker was looking bleak. Arriving in Costa Rica for the funeral of their beloved husband and father, Ann Gutierrez and her two children, Alessandra and Mauricio Jr., all deeply aware of Mauricio’s desire to save this land, worked tirelessly to purchase and preserve the mountain in his honor. On August 13, 1993, thanks to the generous help of “The Body Shop”, the deposit was paid and a new future was set in motion for the beautiful Rainmaker Conservation Project. Since purchasing Rainmaker, the family has stayed true to Mauricio’s dream, though land title disputes, managerial usurpation lawsuits, species theft and other daunting challenges have certainly tested this family along the way. With support from visitors, the family continues to protect the mountain, preserving and maintaining its natural integrity, all in memory of their beloved Mauricio.

Sustainability & Species Protection:
Dedicated to becoming a leading conservation project in the preservation and betterment of local rainforest communities, the Rainmaker project makes every effort to hire local community members as staff. Actively supporting the area teachers and schools, Rainmaker has been directly responsible in providing badly needed school supplies, as well as providing regular outdoor educational classes. The future of the rainforest depends on educating the next generation, so their work is of utmost importance. According to a study published by J. Alan Pounds in 2006, he suggested that many colorful Harlequin Frog Species (Atelopus) across Central and South America have disappeared due to deadly infectious diseases spurred by changing water and air temperatures likely a direct cause of Global Warming. At one time the colorful Harlequin Frog (actually a toad) was thought to be extinct, but much to everyone’s surprise, in 2003 the Harlequin Frog was rediscovered in the primary rain forest of the Rainmaker Reserve, once again emphasizing the importance of this extensive conservation project. To make a donation click here --->

Nature Tours and Excursions:
A well designed system of trails follow the contours of the Río Seco river corridor, intersected by wooden bridges that allow visitors to safely traverse the jungle and enjoy excellent views of the natural scenery, without requiring intense physical effort. Along the trails visitors can generally find a variety of Reptiles, Poison Dart Frogs (dendrobates auratus), colorful Butterflies (morpho amotonte and others), Jesus Christ Lizards with their unique ability to walk on water (baciliscus), as well as colorful Bird Species such as Toucans and Trogons, just to name a few of the natural wonders to be seen. These trails connect to an extensive system of bridges suspended from hefty tree bases and all built to U.S. safety bridge engineering codes. The height of these bridges extend from 30 to 180 feet (some 22 stories high!), with a total expansion of 820 feet, distributed between six bridges; with the longest section stretching over 300 feet. The first platform starts at ground level, and as the slope drops, the bridge becomes higher, giving visitors unobstructed views of an incredible variety of flora and fauna amongst the diverse canopy eco-system. Several waterfalls, one of which is utilized as a natural swimming pool, afford visitors exceptional opportunities to capture breathtaking photographs throughout their hike.

River Walk and Canopy Bridge Tour:
Visitors traverse the trail system, arriving to the Canopy Bridge section of the reserve. Built to U.S. engineering standards, the suspension bridges have six sections, creating one of the most impressive Canopy Walks in Costa Rica. The careful design permits minimal forest impact, while giving participants a unique opportunity to explore the majesty of the forest canopy from a bird's eye view in a safe and controlled environment.
Tour includes: Round trip transportation from Quepos & Manuel Antonio, a variety of typical fruits and juices for breakfast and/or a typical Costa Rican lunch following the tour. All tours are led by an accredited bilingual nature guide. Hiking shoes, bathing suit, binoculars, and water resistant cameras are recommended.

Amphibians and Reptile Night Tour: 7pm- 9pm
After dusk our expert bilingual guide will introduce you to the wonderful world that takes place after dark. You will be able to observe the very active amphibians and reptiles located on the property that prefer to come out at night. Guides will take you along the frog habitat lake, followed by a unique hike into the rainforest.
Tour includes: Transportation from Manuel Antonio & Quepos, bilingual nature guide, headlamps, drinks and snacks. Long pants and hiking boots, and a sense of adventure are recommended.

Birdwatching Morning Tour: 5:30am – 9:30am
This tour begins at dawn when the majority of tropical birds are most active. Walking around the Rainmaker property, visitors will enjoy the in-depth information provided by their trained nature guide as they learn about the abundant splendor of the native birds all in a relaxed and quiet environment.
Tour includes: Round trip transportation from Quepos & Manuel Antonio, trained bilingual nature guide, a variety of typical fruits and juices for breakfast, along with the popular Rainmaker Costa Rica coffee after the tour. Walking shoes, binoculars and cameras are recommended.

Volunteer Service:
Adventurous volunteers have the opportunity to participate for two weeks to one month periods in one of the four departments needed to run and preserve the Rainmaker Conservation Project. Consisting of areas of Maintenance, Landscaping, Food Preparation and Scientific Study, Volunteers will also have the opportunity to work with the local schools as well as various community outreach programs sanctioned by the Rainmaker Foundation. For more information click here.

Arrival from San Jose:
Rainmaker is easily accessed by the main coastal road (the Costanera Hwy) on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica from the capital city of San Jose. Follow the road signs departing San Jose, for Jaco, then on to the Quepos/Manuel Antonio area. Continuing past the town of Parrita, turn left approximately 10 kilometers past that town. A large Rainmaker road sign is visible. Follow the signs through the Village of San Rafael Norte to the entrance, some seven kilometers.

Arrival from Quepos/Manuel Antonio:
Follow the main highway towards San Jose. A large Rainmaker sign is visable just after the town of Paquita/Pocares. Turn right and follow signs to the entrance of Rainmaker through the Village of San Rafael Norte. Rainmaker is approximately 22 kilometers from the center of Quepos town.

For Further Press Stories on Rainmaker Click Here!

For more information:
Call us in the US: (540) 349-9848
Or in Costa Rica: (506) 2777-3565

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.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

“The King of Costa Rican Calypso Music…Walter Ferguson”

The “Festival de la Cultura y el Ambiente Walter Ferguson” will take place from July 5-18, 2010 at various locations around Cahuita and will honor one of the Afro-Costaricans’s favorite sons with music, theater, dance and poetry. Cahuita, a small tourist town located on the Southern Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica is planning to make cultural event a yearly party of dance, music, typical food and a celebration of the Afro-Costarricense culture. Named in honor of Walter Ferguson, known as the “King of Calypso”, he is best known for songs such as Cabin in the Wata and Callaloo. The highlight of the festival is expected to be a Calypso concert at Cahuita’s Central Park, which will feature local Cahuita performers, as well as musicians from Limon and Puerto Viejo.

Background on a Muscial Icon:
Locally known as the “King of Calypso” and for which this festival was named, Walter Ferguson was born in Guabito, Panama. His family quickly settled in Costa Rica where he spent most of his childhood around the community of Jamaica Town, a neighborhood by the Port of Limon. His parents moved to Cahuita, a small village in the South of the Limon Province, where he lives to this day. From an early age, Walter showed considerable interest in music and learned to play the harmonica, guitar and clarinet mostly on his own. As a clarinet player, he started the group “Miserable” in the 1950’s with other Calypsonians from Limon. In the 60s, he began to write calypsos with over a hundred songs of great popularity and cultural relevance for the Limonese people. Mr. Ferguson, also known as Mr. “Gavitt”, attended all the Calypso challenges held around the Caribbean coast for decades. From the town of Bluefields, Nicaragua to Bocas del Toro in Panama, Calypsonians were a dedicated bunch and would move by boat, horse, train or truck to compete at these improvised contests. Ferguson soon found fame while traveling along with other big names such as Panama´s Lord Cobra, and Limonese singers Papa Tun and Shanti.

His Place in Cahuita & History:
For many years, Walter Ferguson would record his own music on to audiocassettes and sell them directly to the tourists in Cahuita. Each tape was an original, unique unto itself, like a personal concert for each person who requested one of his “souvenirs”. Mr. Ferguson has received numerous recognitions, such as the Popular Culture Award, the ACAM Award, and the Ancora Prize, awarded by Costa Rica’s national newspaper, La Nación. His songs clearly reflect the unique culture of the Afro-Costa Rican community, a culture that has mostly been ignored by the Republic of Costa Rica. Mr. Ferguson often jokes about the Calypsonian´s naïve spirit, often misunderstood, sometimes even persecuted, and has even been taken advantage of by glamour girls who call him “sugar candy”. His work has been interpreted by other Costa Rican artists like Manuel Monestel and the band Cantoamérica since the early 1980s, which has brought more prominence to his work both around the country and abroad.

A Caribbean Icon Lives on:
Seated in his customary spot at the entrance to the Sol & Mar Restaurant located in his beloved town of Cahuita, the King of Calypso thrives on the attention he receives from the locals, tourists, expats and whoever else arrives to visit him. Since the beginning of July 2010, Mr. Ferguson has served as a one man marketing machine promoting the first Cahuita Cultural Festival, also dedicated in his name. When asked if he will be attending the Festival, “No!”, answers Don Walter in a strong and certain voice. “Everyone knows me and they already know that I will not go, since I cannot even see, I would not feel very comfortable there.”, explains the 2009 winner of the prestigious Reca Mora Award. It will come as no surprise to those that know him that even for this prestigious award, Don Walter did not make the trip to San Jose to receive his prize. “I don’t like San Jose.”, says Don Walter. “I prefer the country life.”, as he describes it, “I have lived in the same place since I was only 2-3 years old.”, added the outspoken elder.

Interview with An Outspoken Icon:
Please enjoy this translated extract of a July 7th, 2010 interview with the Calypso King…… Walter Ferguson with Viva Magazine (part of La Nacion Newspaper) while visiting the beach town of Cahuita. Mr. Ferguson does not shy away from telling you exactly how he feels:

How was your childhood?
I mostly just remember my music. Ever since I was a very young boy I liked to sing, perhaps just silly diddies, but my Mother always told me that I would be a famous composer one day. When I was around 10 years old, I learned to play the harmonica, then the ukulele, followed by the guitar and the clarinet. Nobody ever showed me, I taught myself.

What role did your Mother play in the development of your musical abilities?
My mother died some 40 years ago now. When she was young, she used to sing in the local Methodist Church. Many women sang at the church and she enjoyed it immensely. Everyday she would sing and I loved to hear her singing, which encouraged me to sing along.

How did you learn to play the different musical instruments?
I first started playing the harmonica that belonged to one of my older brothers. I began to play it, and my Mother scolded me and told me to return it to my brother, but I did not. I hid it so I could continue to practice. When my brother found out, he got mad and threw the harmonica in the backyard in the dark. I looked and looked for that harmonica, it took me so long to find it that in the end my brother showed me how to play it. Nobody could play that harmonica better than me. I also learned to play the guitar and the organ, as my Mother sent me to take lessons with a local man.

And your favorite, the Clarinet. Why do you enjoy this instrument so much?
I don’t have a bad word to say about the Clarinet. I like everything about it. They call these people “clarinetas”. One day there was a man in Hone Creek that asked me why I didn’t buy a Clarinet, and he agreed to sell it to me and allow me to make payments. I received the instrument in October and by December I already knew how to play it. I learned to play it backwards though, playing with the right hand where the left should be, and vice versa.

When did Calypso Music enter your life?
When I was a very young boy, I only sang. When I began to play the ukulele and I’d see Mighty Sparrow (the World Renowned Calypso Musician) playing his own Calypso, I thought…”Why can’t I do that too?” From then on, instead of singing other peoples Calypso I began to only sing my own. I sang Cabin on the Wata, which is one of my own compositions.

How do you define what Calypso is?
Since Calypso is my life, I naturally think that Calypso is the best music, but for other people it is not their favorite. One time I attended a small concert and an older woman there told me she did not care for Calypso music at all, but for me, it is everything.

What does it mean to be a “Calypsonian” like yourself?
It is the same as saying you are a carpenter, construction man, etc, there is no difference. Since I do Calypso, that makes me a “Calypsonian”. In Calypso, there is a certain rhythm, if you don’t have that, you don’t have Calypso. It would not sound right. I was born with that rhythm, even when I was not playing the music, I could make this rhythm with words and whenever I was doing Calypso, I was always doing it with rhythm.

What are the most common themes in the Calypso songs you write?
It depends. One thing I never did was involve myself in things that would get me in trouble. Many times I was teased and encouraged to go outside my comfort limit, but I never involved myself in this style of life. Apart from that, I sing about almost anything. If you are a famous man, I can invent a Calypso song about you right away. If something bad happened, an accident, although I could make a song about that, I never sing Calypso about things that are sad.

Also, there are many times Calypso is from humor….
Yes, like the history of Bato, he called himself Albert. He built a house on the water and was always joking around. The girls would come and tell me they came to see him. The officials told him that he could not build a house inside the National Park (Cahuita National Park), so he took it as he could not have a house on land, so he built it on the water and that is how the song Cabin on the Water was born. That is just one of the many examples of jokes in Calypso. The majority actually are jokes.

You have had competitions to see who is the best. How were these competitions?
There was a man in Limon that was saying he was from Panamá, but he was from here and he sang and had a beautiful voice. When I sang, people would say there was no one better than me, but I did not really believe them, as I am not like that. One time they asked me if I knew this man. I had heard of him, but they were saying that he was better than me. That got me very angry, so when I competed against him in Cahuita and beat him 2 times, I was very happy. He had tried telling me that he was the best Calypsonian in the country, so I told him that I must be the best in the World then, since I had beat him two times.

You were taping your music on cassettes to sell them. Do you still do that?
No, because I have two CD’s, but the people still ask me for cassettes because many don’t have the right equipment sometimes. Now that I have mostly lost my eyesight, I am not able to play as much and it makes it difficult to make cassettes.

What do you think about your music being known Worldwide?
I don’t find it very strange. My Mother always told me I would be a great composer.

How do you see the Calypso of today?
I have noticed that the Calypso is slipping and it isn’t like it used to be. The people these days prefer reggae and other styles of music. It seems to me that there are still musicians around Limon that sing, but I don’t know if its going to continue like this or not.

What do you think will happen to Calypso when you are no longer with us?
There is a young man here and I am always offering him help, as that is the way I am, I like to help the younger crowd. His name is Danny Williams and I think that if he can receive support, he will be an excellent Calypsonian. I have always felt that Calypso can survive; we just have to help the younger musicians to carry on the tradition.

How is your relationship with Cahuita, where you have lived your entire life?
I have so much love for Cahuita. I don’t have any enemies and if someone treats me badly, I stay quiet because there are other younger men that are more capable and will take care of it for me. Mostly, the whole World loves me and I love them.

How have you seen Cahuita change over the years?
There is a huge change in everything. Before we grew a little corn, but now you can’t grown anything, as they will just steal it in the night. Also, the people are so unmotivated. Tourism has been the savior of Cahuita. They aren’t bad people, granted they aren’t exactly saints, but they are always ready to help in Cahuita when really needed.

What is it that you like most about living in Cahuita?
It’s hard to pin it down to one thing or another, I grew up in the same place since I was two years old. I was born in Panama and sometimes I went to work there, but as soon as I left I always wanted to return immediately to Cahuita.

Do you like to go to San José?
No. I go if I have to, but only if I have to. I don’t like San Jose, I prefer Cartago.

Why don’t you like it?
Perhaps because I grew up in the country and I like that lifestyle. I go occasionally with friends, everyone needs time like that, but I would never live there.

Does it surprise you that tourists come here looking just for you?
Thousands of them have come. From Guatemala, England, all over! One time a woman came from Canada to meet me and she said she had one of my cassettes and she wanted to know if I had more. Some time later a group of 27 persons came to see me and I was very happy because I thought I was going to sell lots of cassettes and I could earn some ¢10.000. They asked me a lot of questions, but nobody asked about the cassettes. At the end, one woman asked me if I had any and if I would GIVE her. I felt bad, as I did not have any money, but I told her yes. They continued asking lots of questions and I answered, but I was not very happy about it. The woman said goodbye and she told me she could not wait to return with another group. In my heart, I did not want her to return, but of course I did not tell her that. Before she left she gave me a white envelope and told me that it was a little something for me. Then I felt bad and I was thankful that I had not said anything because there was ¢25.000 in the envelope which made me feel very good for being willing to give her the cassette without expecting anything in return.

You are an Afro-Costarricense icon. What do you think of this distinction?
That means nothing to me. When people tell me that, I thank them, but I don’t feel it is a big deal.

How long ago did you basically stop singing and playing music?
Since 2004 when I made my last CD (Dr. Bombodee) with Jazmín (Ross, of Papaya Music). I don’t know if you have heard of ACAM (Asociación Costarricense de Autores Musicales), these people have treated me well, they are the best, they even give me a pension from my music.

Why don’t you sing or play anymore?
Because I have lost too much of my eyesight, but I can sing because you don’t need to see to do that, but when I sing the notes do not come out as well as before. Since that problem started, I decided to not sing or play anymore.

You seem to be in excellent condition, what is your secret?
Since I have lost my vision and perhaps because I told you I am 91 years old, I’m sure you thought that it was a lie, but before I spent the entire day working on the farm and it was hard.

Beyond your eyesight, how is your general health?
Not very good. I have no appetite and I don’t sleep at night, although last night I slept very well.

But you look to be in really good shape?
Many people say that, but I do not feel well these days.

What do you think of the recognitions you have received such as the festival that now carries your name?

I feel very thankful that they thought of me.

What does it mean to you that you won the Reca Mora award from ACAM in 2009?
I have always spoke well of ACAM as these people have always taken good care of me.

What do you think of Manuel Monestel, who received the award in your name and gave the national radio DJs a bad time for not playing your music more in their programs?
Manuel Monestel is a nugget of gold to me. Whatever I need, he is always there to help me, and besides, he sings a lot of my Calypso songs.

What has been the biggest satisfaction in your life?
The biggest satisfaction? When my father gave me the farm and I no longer had to wander in search of odd jobs. There were times when I had no money, like when the crops did not come out well, but I was always able to come up with a few “centavos” with the farm. If I still had my sight, I could probably still earn something on that farm. I have never been as happy as when I had my sight.

At 91 years, what place does music hold in your life?
The music you never loose. I never consider myself too old to invent a song, I could do it right now if I wanted to.

What message would you like to give the city of Limón?
Whenever I go to Limon I am received with much regard and respect. I hope that the younger musicians will continue to play music, we need to help them keep Calypso alive.

And the rest of Costa Rica?
I was born on the Panamanian border and when they ask me where I was born, I say the truth, but my gratitude is for Costa Rica, because I have been here since I was a young child. I am proud to be from Panama, but when they ask where I come from, I always say I am Costa Rican.

Still the King of Calypso, at 91 years old and now mostly blind, the famous Walter Ferguson lives a simple life on a pension. Nonetheless, the King of Costa Rican Calypso still manages to make his way around Cahuita town alone, and stubbornly refuses help from others. Never at a loss for words, long live the King of Calypso, he will be sorely missed when he is gone!

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.

Gerardo Gonzalez:
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