Saturday, June 26, 2010

Machismo!....Tales of a Female Turtle Guide in Costa Rica!

The Latin culture has always been known for its “machismo”, and Costa Rica is certainly no exception. Though admittedly society is slowly changing this male chauvinistic attitude, upon my arrival to Costa Rica, machismo and I had many head-on collisions. Here are some tales of my adventures as one of the first Female Sea Turtle Guides in Costa Rica…

Perhaps it would help if I set the background a bit. My husband and I fortuitously landed on the Caribbean shores of Costa Rica in the early 90’s. Fresh off the turnip truck, we were “newbies” in the worse sense of the word, speaking little Spanish and lacking any understanding of the cultural differences. We lived on a small island across the river from a sleepy little 200 person fishing village known as Barra de Parismina. Located on the Caribbean coast halfway between the Port City of Limon, and the next village to the North called Tortuguero, access to most of this coastline is by boat only via natural rivers and artificial canals (read the fine print people… roads!).

My Mission:
Looking to start a new life adventure, I had been told the fastest way to learn Spanish was to get a job. I immersed myself in Spanish books and applied to become a certified Nature and Turtle Guide. Trained to promote and protect the natural resources of Costa Rica, with focus on the endangered sea turtles that arrive on this Caribbean coastline, the guides would serve as “ambassadors” of not only the turtles, but the entire concept of Costa Rica as an emerging Eco-Tourism destination.

My progress was swift on the language, but sadly……sorely lacking in cultural understanding. Oblivious to the whole “machismo” concept, I would buzz around alone in our small motorboat, not realizing that it was “scandalous” behavior for a woman to be driving a boat and driving it alone no less! The village men would confront my husband in the local Cantina, asking him “How can you let your wife drive a boat? You need to stop her! Women don’t drive boats around here!” At which point my hen-picked husband would respond, “YOU’LL have to tell her, cause I’m not gunna tell her!”, neither of us truly understanding what the big deal was.

Cultural Differences Continue:
The cultural differences escalated as confrontations with local poachers who had previously hunted our large 60 acre jungle “farm” freely now found themselves in the cross hairs of an irate gringa determined to protect God’s creatures. Word quickly spread that the “crazy gringa” across the river had a gun and was rather passionate about protecting the animals on her property. This unique phenomenon caused an almost collective gasp from the female population and a form of sympathy from the male population toward my husband who obviously couldn’t control the fruitcake “gringa” he was married to. On a happy note, in a short time the illegal hunting was reduced considerably in the immediate area.

Turtle Season Arrives:
With my Spanish studies going at full speed and my coveted Nature Guide Certification almost in hand, I was excited as turtle season arrived. Taking my guide certification test in record time, I didn’t realize that I would then have to sit there waiting 40 long uncomfortable minutes, while the rest of the MEN finished the test. Does it seem naïve now to realize that I was the only woman in the group? I honestly didn’t take much notice at the time, but looking back I can recognize how strange this must have seemed to them. Mid-February arrived, and with it, the enormous Leatherback Turtles. Weighing up to 1500 pounds, with flipper spans of up to 7 feet, the Leatherbacks were more commonly found to the North on the Tortuguero beaches and only arrived sporadically thru May to our beaches. As Green Turtle season arrived in July, nightly guided tours to see these majestic creatures lay their eggs began, lasting thru the end of October. Guides would be responsible to carry small groups of no more than 10 tourists by boat through the dark canals to isolated beach locations where lengthy walks began to find and witness this incredible egg laying process.

Passion turns to Danger:
It never occurred to me that walking the isolated beaches late at night with a red-dimmed flashlight and 10 hapless tourists stumbling over driftwood was dangerous. I really didn’t put any thought into the several large cat species that regularly hunted the turtles, or the handful of ruthless turtle poachers (both egg and meat) that also awaited the yearly arrival of turtle season. I was from Los Angeles after all, and frankly Costa Rica with its passive culture hardly seemed threatening to me. That was until the dreaded “machismo” reared its ugly head again. My clueless husband was once again confronted at the local Cantina with, “How can you let your wife walk the beaches alone at night? You need to stop her! She’s taking our jobs away!” At which time my dear husband again responded, “YOU tell her, I’m not gunna tell her!” The frustration and sympathy for the guy with the “crazy gringa” wife grew larger amongst the locals. Unfortunately, this male sympathy quickly dissipated when I made my largest faux pas to date.

Cultures Clash:
Riding my horses along the beach one morning, I found several turtles on their backs awaiting slaughter. Without thinking, I used a large plank to overturn them and help direct the turtles back to sea, all the while feeling pretty happy with myself. A short time later a major village scandal erupted as it was soon discovered that the turtles had been freed by that “crazy gringa”! (The horse tracks gave me away, I was the only one with horses on our island.) No one had ever dared to interrupt the yearly slaughter of turtles by a handful of organized poachers who profited from the sales of turtle meat and eggs. Once again, my poor husband took the brunt of the punishment, as the the villagers would never directly confront “the crazy woman”. Thank goodness for the passive Tico culture, as machetes and sticks were wielded, but in the end a round of beers quickly settled the angry mob. (It’s a sure fire solution to almost anything in Costa Rica!)

Beer Summit Solution:
It was soon accepted that the “crazy gringa” across the river was not going to give up her fight to protect the turtles and other wildlife and if it meant regular free rounds of beers at the Cantina, then maybe that wasn’t such a bad deal after all. Soon, an unspoken turtle moratorium was established along our beach… more overturned turtles appeared and beer poured freely at the Cantina. Thankfully with time wiser heads realized that the promotion of these beautiful creatures would bring in more tourists, benefiting the entire village and not just a handful of illegal poachers. Attitudes slowly began to change towards the turtles, and now, almost 20 years later the area has many turtle protection projects in place attracting volunteers and tourists in record numbers. The fight to save the Sea Turtles around the World remains constant and with the continued distress on their habitat, the future of this wonderful creature regrettably remains uncertain. PLEASE HELP SAVE OUR SEA TURTLES!!

How you can help:
The following are all recognized organizations with many programs to help conserve the World’s endangered Sea Turtles. If you would like to help, please click thru to these excellent sites to see how you can be a part of saving these beautiful creatures!

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.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Musmanni Bakery…..a Sweet Staple found throughout Costa Rica!

For those that have traveled or lived in Costa Rica, Musmanni Bakery is a common and most welcome sight. Consistently serving a variety of quality breads, pastries, cakes, cookies and other convenience items, Musmanni is easily the best place to find a quick and delicious snack at a reasonable price. Considered the most popular bakery chain in Costa Rica, its welcoming orange lettered chef’s hat logo is immediately identified by “Ticos” wherever they travel throughout Central America.

Musmanni Early History:
The year 1902 brought the arrival of the Musmanni family to Costa Rica. Native to Italy, the original members consisted of Nicolas and Teresa Musmanni (mother & father) and their children Domingo, Carmela and Antonio, quickly followed by the birth of their forth son, Gaetano. The family started their new business in Costa Rica selling pasta, something that was literally in their blood, as they descended from a long line of Italian bakers. By 1929, the once young son, Domingo, built the first Musmanni Bakery on Central Avenue in the heart of San Jose, choosing to focus on fresh tasting, high quality mass production of bread.

Musmanni Family Grows:
In 1960, now some 30 years later, Franco Pacheco Musmanni, grandson of Domingo, returned from his studies in Chicago, Illinois, USA to start his own bakery business to be called Panaderia Pinova, S.A., specializing in sliced breads as to not directly compete with the Musmanni loaf style breads. Learning the business from the ground up and on his own, only 10 short years later, Franco bought the Musmanni Brothers Corporation, changing the official name to Musmanni International Corporation, in which he acted as president until his untimely death another 30 years later in 1999.

Musmanni Middle Years:
Meanwhile, Santa Cruz, Guanacaste celebrated the inauguration of the second Musmanni Bakery in the year 1973, followed a few years later by a third store. The sons of Franco joined the family business in 1980 as expansion of the chain began to require more and more of the family members efforts. This necessity brought fruition to the concept of franchising, which would enable a spreading out the work as well as the risk, while furthering the brand name, its distribution abilities, all while generating more profits for the growing Musmanni Corporation.

Franchising & Auto Service:
Midway through 1985, the concept of the Musmanni Franchise was officially launched, as it’s forth store opened in front of the popular and busy “Coca Cola” central market in downtown San Jose. This was followed only a few years later by the initiation of a new “auto service” (we make it, you bake it) system to be handled by their new subsidiary corporation, Premezclas Industriales para Panaderia, S.A. (Premixed Industries for Bakeries, S.A.), which manufactured pre-mixed bread dough to be offered at points of sale beyond Musmanni stores on a mass scale, enabling bakers to offer a fresher product without compromising time, quality or taste.

Bread School:
As the Musmanni brand continued to expand across Costa Rica, 1990 brought in a third Production Plant, larger Central Offices and an innovative company idea, the creation of UPAN, the University of Pan (Bread). Located in the San Jose suburb of La Uruca, the “University” and its outlying facilities were built to offer a central location for corporate operation, as well as extensive training to the future bakers of the Musmanni Corporation.

Continued Baking Success:
With the idea of simplifying the production process in their now 24 bakeries, Musmanni began production of frozen baking products in 1995, while the same year procuring the coveted ISO Certification of Quality Standards, one of the first in Costa Rica. This was followed only one short year later by a business alliance with the huge Subway Sandwich chain, as well as inaugurating new modernized production processes allowing the company to produce some 2500 units of product per hour. Other lucrative strategic distribution agreements followed with RICH’s (worldwide distributor of bakery products), as well as giant Pizza Hut Costa Rica & Panama. Lastly, the Musmanni Franchise model expanded to the capital of Panama, bringing the number of Musmanni stores to just under 50 stores, and growing to more than 70 by 1998, winning Mr. Franco Pacheco Musmanni “Businessman of the Year” by the Chamber of Industries.

Expansion Continues:
By 1999, Musmanni Bakeries could be found in Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, as well as Puerto Rico and more exclusive sales deals were closed with several of the largest supermarket chains in Costa Rica. This was also the year Musmanni Corporation celebrated the inauguration of its 100th store! In the next few years, another production plant would go on line, as well as larger offices and storage facilities to facilitate the ever growing business of baking bread, which had showed no signs of stopping as the total number of stores quickly grew to 157!

Musmanni Today:
Today Musmanni International consists of more than 200 outlets in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador and Puerto Rico, as well as being the exclusive provider to such prestigious food chains and supermarkets as Pizza Hut, Subway, Quiznos, Perimercados, Multimercados. Musmanni products are served on the tables of many of the most prestigious Costa Rica hotels and restaurants, as well as throughout Central America. A Musmanni Bakery can be found on the street corner of almost any medium sized town in Costa Rica, and are admired for their dedication to quality bakery products. In 2008 the company launched two European style coffee houses called “Mundo de Café” (coffee world), that although mildly successful, will likely never match the wildly popular business model of their popular simple street front bakeries, which continue to thrive to this day!

So if you have ever had the pleasure of tasting Musmanni products, you surely are hungry by now and ready to head out to the nearest Musmanni bakery to satisfy that old sweet tooth. If you haven’t, you’ll just have to take my word for it, its good! For those of you in Costa Rica, as you bite into that next fresh pastry, or smear rich butter on another loaf of that soft warm bread, think of Nicolas, Domingo, Franco and the other members of the Musmanni family that sacrificed so much to bring from Italy over 100 years of baking pleasure!

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.

Translated from the following Sources: