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.

http://www.insiderslimon.com/CH1Page.html (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.