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(506) 223-1327         Published Friday, Jan. 25, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 18             E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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boy on train
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Michael Rivera Guillen with his head stuck out the window
A nostalgic trip back in time happens twice a week
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Michael Rivera Guillen had his head stuck out the window and was moving it back and forth, back and forth, like the pendulum on a grandfather clock. This was the 5-year-old's first time on a train.

“I wanted to share the experience with my grandchildren,” said Rivera's grandmother, Xinia Durán Meza, who said it was her first time on the train as well. “It's enchanting,” she said, “everything is so beautiful.”

The Tren a la Tica is one of the oldest in Central America, opening to the public in 1903. It ran for the first time as an electric train in 1930 and is the second oldest of its kind in Latin America, according to train officials. At the height of the era, the train institute employed over 3,000 people. The train was shut down in 1995 under President Jose María Figures Olsen but finally reopened in 2001 with the help of a tourist organization called American Travel. The project was named “rescue the train and your traditions.”

Now the Tren a la Tica makes the four-hour trek from San José to Puntarenas just on Saturdays and Sundays. Views of lush mountains, roaring rivers, and grazing bulls with geese at their feet pass by as the passengers peer out the windows.

At 6:30 a.m. a crowd gathers at the Pacífico station in San José. Despite the time, kids are playing, people are smiling and there is a feeling of excitement in the air. The large group includes many expectant passengers dressed in shorts and flip flops, something rare for the generally formally-clad Ticos.

Before boarding, a train spokesman yells on a microphone. “Who do we have here from Heredia?!” and “Who here is a fan of Saprissa?!” he asks.  He talks about the train and safety. “We have people here from Canada and North America today,” he yells “and, from Costa Rica!” People cheer. The group bows their heads as he leads a prayer. “Now are you ready!? ” He asks the crowd. Who gleefully shouts and claps. Music starts playing and the crowd files into the 5 train cars.

For many Costa Ricans it is their first time ever on a train. As the cars roll over the first small bridge in Escazú, many scream. The entire ride is filled with an air of anticipation. Passengers wave to onlookers who wave back at the train. From toddlers to elderly men, everyone stands in their yard to watch the train pass by. Cameras flash and people laugh.
The ride includes snacks and entertainment from the energetic tour guides. “I love this job,” said Daniel Sancho Villalobos, who has worked on the train for five years. “I will work here until I die” he said with a smile. Sancho, 26 said the train is almost always full and includes travelers from all over the world.

Throughout the trip the crew entertains the passengers, not only with facts about the scenery, but with games and dances. At one point the whole crew of tour guides bursts into the car beating drums and singing, some in masks, and some of the men dancing in dresses.

“It's fun to participate,” said Ms. Durán, who clapped her hands and danced in the aisle in a game for the women passengers. 

The train passed through towns and pastures. In Orotina, passengers leaned out their windows to 
train show
Alison Cordero Guillen seems unimpressed by a masked tour guide.

train vendor
A young vendor sells coconut milk at the Caldera station.

buy the town's famous roasted-cashews from vendors. Most passengers were headed to Mata Límon beach, and some to downtown Puntarenas.

Rivera's grandma asked the 5-year-old, “What did you like more, Papi, the beach or the train?” Rivera replied, “the beach and the train.”  His
red-headed cousin, Alison Cordero Guillen, was asked her favorite part, to which the 6-year old replied, “everything.”

Reality may have set in for some passengers when they used the toilet, which lacks formal plumbing and empties directly onto the tracks, or perhaps when they were told to shut their windows in la Carpo, to protect from rock throwers.

The train ride provided a striking view of the Caldera bridge. The new San José-Caldera highway to Puntarenas will make the drive only 77 kms. (48 miles). The contractor started the highway roadbed Monday after years of delay.

When asked if the new highway might decrease the number of passengers on the train, Sancho said train workers are hoping for the reverse. “People will drive on the highway, see the train and say, 'Oh it's so beautiful' and will want to ride it,” he said.

On the ride home, young Rivera drifted off to sleep. The sun was going down and his first trip was drawing to an end. “We will definitely come back” said his grandmother “it was worth it.”

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Our reader's opinions
Banco de Costa Rica held
his American Express checks

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The article on charging $60 for processing checks over $1,000 is absurd. A few years ago I came to Costa Rica with $3,000 in American Express travelers checks to buy furniture.

Assuming this was a safer way than carrying cash, I proceeded to deposit the checks in Banco de Costa Rica in Desamparados. A few days later I went to the bank to withdraw some money for the furniture I wanted to buy and was told by the teller I could not withdraw the money for 30 days after it was deposited.

I was furious. I always thought American Express checks was the same as cash. The moral of this story: do not deposit checks at BCR if you want immediate cash. Now I only carry cash when I come to Costa Rica.
David Galloway
Cocoa Beach, Florida

News developments make him
rethink retirement plans

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

My wife and I visited Costa Rica briefly a couple of years ago when our cruise ship dropped us off on the way to the Panama Canal.  We loved it!  We were so impressed that we began talking about moving there when we both retired.

Since that time, we have kept an eye on things.  A.M. Costa Rica has probably been our main source for information, and a starting point for navigating to other sources.  Sad to say, our interest in actually living there has waned considerably.

Two stories in Wednesday morning's edition sum up our most serious apprehensions:

1.) French couple are theft victims in north San José

 2.) Banco Nacional says it levies a fee on U.S. checks

In other words, foreigners get hit from the legal and the illegal side.  Crooks and robber banks are not what we need in our retirement years.  And, although the press coverage may be magnifying the problems, what we are reading and hearing about your beautiful country gives us serious misgivings about even visiting there again.  Originally, we had been thinking about flying down to "test-drive" a potential permanent move by spending an extended vacation.

Our memories of our visit will remain good ones.  It appears that it would be best to preserve the memories by looking elsewhere for retirement and vacationing.  But we shall keep an eye on you, as we hope and pray for signs of improvement in the way outsiders are treated.
Joseph Sexton
Amherst, New York

Where did Banco Nacional
get money for TV show?

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Speaking of the Banco Nacional de Costa Rica, I was totally amazed to see that in the recent Channel 7 special, “El Chinamo de Teletica,“ the bank gave away millions of colons and new cars right and left, and I wondered how it is possible that a public, supposedly not-for-profit government bank could have so much money to give away, plus paying the luxuriant costs of sponsoring the program in the first place, and doing so, trying to compete with the private banks.

It seems to me a public bank should not be in direct competition with private banks because it theoretically offers a government-sponsored service to the citizens and others.  

Whose money was that, anyway? The millions of dollars the bank is not returning to the account holders who had their money stolen? All the extra surcharges the bank has for anything and everything? The money it makes in manipulating the dollar exchange rate? The money it saves by not providing each client with a bank statement each month? The money it saves by not training and supervising employees to provide competent and efficient customer service?

For me, the program did not result in warmer feelings for the BNCR, but in much hotter ones, particularly under the collar.

James Marshall,
Santa Ana

Santa Ana fire station to be official

By A.M. Costa Rica staff

The new Santa Ana fire station will be given an official welcome by President Óscar Arias Sánchez today.
Although the small station is only temporary, it will be the first official fire station ever in Santa Ana, said Luis Salas, chief of operations in Costa Rica. The small station has been operating unofficially since October, said Salas. Before this small station was built, other units from the area attended to fires in Santa Ana.

The bigger station will be done in two or three years, he said.  “The new development is in the same zone as the current station, which is helpful,” said Salas. This first station has one fire truck, four official firefighters, and 15 volunteer firefighters, said Salas.

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Relatively new mini-mall is dominated by a wide selection of reasonable eating places.
food court downtown
A.M. Costa Rica/Anne Clark

Mini-mall comes to the rescue of not-rich-but-hungry people
By Anne Clark
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For those in the know, there is a clean, affordable, relatively quiet gastronomic surprise off the pedestrian mall in downtown San Jose.  Between Arenas clothing store and the Patio Restaurant, behind a perfume counter and a Pops Ice Cream sits a food court without a McDonald's, Wendy's, Subway or Church's Chicken in sight. 

Tropical Food is a counter selling relatively healthy food.  While their batidos aren't as delicious as the ones found at FrutiLand in Mall San Pedro, the water-or-milk-
blended-with-fruit drink is a refreshing treat to carry during your walk along Avenida Central.  A batido with the fruit of your choice mixed with water costs 650 colons, with milk, 750 colons.  That's from $1.30 to $1.50.

Adding honey or granola takes you up to a still-reasonable 900 colons ($1.80).  The store also peddles fruit salads, ranging from 700 to 1.600 colons ($1.40 to $3.20).

Marisqueria produces delicious looking and smelling seafood dishes.  A customer-friendly hanging chalkboard lists their menu and respective prices.  A small corvina ceviche will set you back 1,950 colons ($3.90).  Get a small rice with shrimp for 2.150 colons ($4.30), 2,800 ($5.60) for a larger serving.  Or try one of the fish filets prepared several different ways, the cheapest being with oil and garlic for 2,600 ($5.20) colons, the priciest fish filet dish is 3,600 colons ($7.20) for relleno with ham and cheese.

A very busy Burger & Ribs sits at the end of the food court, the daily special billed as 1,200 colons ($2.40) for a hot dog and natural fruit juice.  Eight different combo meals are all priced at 1,950 colons ($3.90).  The combos feature such dishes as a burger with fries, lasagna with salad, fried chicken and barbeque ribs with yellow rice.

The most popular restaurant is La Hacienda, with the line winding around the cafeteria tables.  It has buffet-style service and 16 featured menu items.  They also have breakfast for 1,200 ($2.40) colons.
Next to La Hacienda is Cafeteria Fanny's, a coffee bar.  The pastries look delicious, with the bottom shelf of the display case occupied by homemade Pyrex dishes of lemon meringue pie and tiramisu.  Fanny's also offers cans of soda, bottled water, Red Bull and juice boxes — all items that Starbucks lacks. 

Across from that coffee bar is another: Cookies and Cafe, which focuses on savory pastries in addition to the espresso drinks.  There are several items resembling quiche, with the chicken going for 450 colons (90 cents).  Also offered is an international empanada selection.  Colombian empanadas cost 350 colons (70 cents), Argentine for 600 colons ($1.20).

Perhaps the best offering is hidden on the second floor: Comida Japonesa Sushi.  Several varieties of fish are displayed in the sushi bar and a stack of spiral-bound menus sits on the counter.  Their menu is expansive, listing dozens of sushi rolls, tempuras and other Japanese fare. 

You can start with edamame for 861 colons ($1.72), chase that with some sake for 1,746 colons ($3.49) or 3,480 colons ($6.96) if you prefer dry sake) and then get down to business with entrees. 

Shrimp tempura runs at 4,772 colons ($9.54), mixed vegetable tempura will cost 6,380 colons ($12.76).  As far as sushi goes, all of the Americanized standards are available.  Get a rainbow roll for 3,321 colons ($6.64) or a California roll for 2,607 ($5.21).  If you're really hungry, you could try a 32-piece combo roll platter for 8,106 colons ($16.21).  A 48-piece platter is available for those with padded wallets at 10,565 colons ($21.13).  You can enjoy all of this food on a nice outdoor balcony overlooking the pedestrian boulevard, although maybe you should take it easy on the sake.

While this little food court is not gourmet, it's an affordable find on the relatively expensive Avenida Central.  Each counter has something to offer a hungry palate and the upstairs balcony is perfect for people-watching. 

But you can't do popcorn on the modern fireplace
I came to a somewhat disturbing realization the other day in the process of furnishing my new apartment in San Jose.  My TV has become the equivalent of a fireplace to me.  My apartment still lacks a kitchen stove, a microwave oven, a clothes washer and a TV.  Now most of these items are pretty essential and make life easier. But when I enter the half-furnished apartment or stay there for any length of time, it is the TV that I miss.  The music station on the radio helps, but it is the flickering images and the rise and fall of voices that warm my room the way fireplaces used to.

I have always loved fireplaces, although only a few of the places where I have lived have had one.  I have huddled in front of some of them and watched the progress of the flames for hours — especially in Majorca.  The winter months had some frosty days, and my husband and I spent evening hours close to the fire taking turns reading to one another.  In fact, most fireplaces are pretty inefficient when it comes to either heating or lighting a room.

There are times when sparks fly and voices become heated, and a TV can give off quite a bit of heat, both electrically and figuratively, but is often not very enlightening.  I realize that.  But the fact is, a TV gives my home light and sound and company.  I have it on most of the day and find it difficult to work unless it is droning in the background. I am very adept at tuning it out when I am working and still being able to catch something that I think is important.  Mostly I watch news channels and discussion programs, so I don’t have to watch the action.  And, as we all know, news stations on cable are incredibly repetitive.  But then, the flames of a fireplace are somewhat repetitive, too.  Unless you watch them closely, of course, and become fascinated with life and death that takes place and the different patterns of the flames.  
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

I am actually interested in continuing to be without a TV for awhile, at least when I am in the city.  Since the weather has warmed considerably, it should not be too hard.  (Little joke.)

So, I am living part-time in the Residence in La Ribera and part-time in San José.  Going back and forth has added stress to my life.  I don’t know how people with more than one residence manage.  I am sure, though, that they have enough money to have duplicate necessities in all of their residences.  And of course, they don’t run back and forth during the course of one week. 

In one of the chapters of my book, “Butterfly in the City,” I wrote about a study of married couples, their complaints and their satisfactions.  According to the study, when the complaints outnumbered the praises of one another, the chances of a divorce were very high.  I applied this pattern to expats in Costa Rica.  When a person complained about the traffic and the crime more often than he/she praised the weather or the people, or the pace of life, I figured they were not long for this country.  Now I am aware that this also applies to not just the country but the spot in the country one chooses.  My complaints about life in the Residence have been growing, and I may not last here much longer — my heart no longer seems to be here even though my television is.

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Woman who developed Costa Rica's education system wins top culture prize
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A woman who devoted her life to the improvement of Costa Rica's education system was yesterday announced as the winner of 2007's Premio Nacional de Cultura Magón.

María Eugenia Dengo started out by introducing new subjects and professions to the Universidad de Costa Rica in the early 70s, and moved on to such respected positions as minister of Educación Pública and UNESCO regional coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean.

María Elena Carballo, minister of Educacíon Pública, made the announcement that Ms. Dengo, now over 80 years old, has won Costa Rica's most prestigious national award, handed out annually to a distinguished figure in the cultural arena.

 “As a professional and as a citizen, Doña María represents a generation of Costa Rican educators whose effort, dedication and work laid the foundations of a model society, in which this entire country feels satisfaction and pride,” the board of judges commented.

Laureano Albán Rivas, representing the Academia Costarricense de la Lengua on the board of judges, praised her fundamental transformation in the educational system, saying that the education system is incredibly important to Costa Rica's sense of national identity.

During her time as minister of education, between 1978-82, she developed an integral education reform to regionalise the administrative system and better the quality of education across the country.
Universidad de Costa Rica image
Magón winner María Eugenia Dengo accepting the Premio Rodrigo Facio Brenes prize at the Universidad de Costa Rica in 2006

The Premio Magón was first handed out in 1962, when it was awarded to the philosopher and intellectual Moisés Vincenzi.

“Through this award we make the great works of Costa Ricans known to the rest of the country, and provide good examples for other citizens,” said Adríana Collado, Directora de Cultura, at yesterday's announcement in the Centro Nacional de la Cultura.

Five judges made up the board, including representatives of the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud, the Consejo Nacional de Rectores and the Asociación de Autores.

Festival organizers want you to bring your mule to Parrita
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Parrita has kicked off the annual mule festival in the Pacific coast town. It runs for two weekends.

The festival has it all, including Costa Rican bull fights, a horse tope and, of course, mule races.

The festival grows out of a hobby by locals to race their mules. Now the event is a full-fledged national festival, the Festival de las Mulas Parrita 2008, backed by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo and the local Asociación para el Bienestar del Cantón de Parrita.

The festival started Thursday with the first of the bull fights. Today the festival grounds open at 6 p.m., and bull fights resume at 7 p.m.

The event is being held in the center of Parrita with adequate parking and security, said the organization. Parrita
is between Jacó and Quepos on the central Pacific coast.

The festival is an unabashed effort to lure Central Valley residents to Parrita. The organization notes that the area is one of spectacular beauty and there is ample accommodations.

Saturday there is a band parade, the election of the Niña Parrita and fireworks at 9 p.m. Sunday will see a tractor rally and a mountain bike race.

Friday, Feb. 1, the event will resume with a ranchero festival at 7 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 2, is the tope or horse rally at noon with bull riding at 7 p.m. and fireworks at 9 p.m.

Mule races are Sunday, Feb. 3, at 10 a.m. in the fairgrounds own "mulódromo." There is more bull fighting a la Tica and fireworks again at 9 p.m.

More protection urged for coral reefs at the start of an international year
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
As 17 countries and 30 organizations launch the International Year of the Reef Thursday, three major environmental groups, the World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International, urged governments, organizations and citizens to vastly increase actions to protect coral reefs.

The International Year of the Reef 2008, designated by the International Coral Reef Initiative, is a worldwide campaign to raise awareness about the value and importance of coral reefs and to motivate action to protect them.

In 2003, the World Parks Congress urged that at least 20 to 30 percent of each marine habitat should be protected by 2012. At current levels of effort, this goal will not be achieved for coral reefs, said the organizations. The three organizations specifically urge that:
• The area of coral reefs under protection be increased globally from the current level of 15 percent to 30 percent;

• That protected areas be carefully designed as systems that are able to resist or recover rapidly from the multiple stresses they face, including those caused by climate change;

• That within these protected area systems there be significant areas where human uses are significantly limited so that already stressed marine species can recover; and

• That governments and citizens work together to achieve the effective management of all coral reef protected areas.

Unless these actions are taken, there is little likelihood that the world’s coral systems will be there to sustain and protect future generations, said the organizations in a prepared statement.

Police detain rent-a-car robbers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officials arrested two men suspected of using a rental car to rob numerous houses Wednesday night in Alajuelita.

Officials from the Judicial Investigation Organization and the Grupo de Apoya Operacional, a special unit of Fuerza Pública, detained two men by the names of Jimmy
Mata Díaz and Marco Conejo Gomez in Alajuelita. The suspects were driving a gray Peugeot car from Alamo Rent a Car, said officials.

At least 11 house robberies involving a gray Peugeot car have been reported, said officials.  Officials seized two firearms, latex gloves, a screwdriver, pliers, and a radio used for communication inside of the suspects' rental car.

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Puntarenas Carnaval a mix of the traditional and the modern
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If you didn't know otherwise, you could be forgiven for thinking that Puntarenas Carnival is largely about scantily clad ladies fighting it out to be crowned queen of the show.

However, the organisers claim that the carnival tradition that will fill Puntarenas with people dressed in luminous feathers, steel bands, and brightly-coloured dancers, has roots that go back for thousands of years, to pagan celebrations of Baco, the God of wine.

Over time the carnaval has become related to Christian tradition, the date changing with that of the Easter week, and always falling around the time that Lent begins.

Back in Medieval times, games, dances and a lot of banqueting was the indulgence to get people prepared for lent, before it was placed under strict prohibition by King Carlos I of Spain in 1523, and not restored until the reign of Felipe IV who came to the throne in 1605.

The tradition has certainly revived itself effectively, with carnavals now taking place all over the globe, and the Puntarenas Carnaval is Costa Rica's grandest party of the year.

2008's crowned carnival queen, chosen from a line-up of 10 girls in stringy bikinis, will parade through the streets to start off the celebrations on Feb. 14.

Ten days of partying follow in the Pacific port town, with each day boasting sports events, mascaradas, parades and music.

The child queen, a slightly worrying scaled-down version of the competition for grown women, is the highlight of the second day, when a youngster will be picked out from her peers at 5 p.m.

The first weekend brings yet another Costa Rican style horse parade (tope) on the Saturday, following on the heels of all those put on over Christmas, various creole music bands and outdoor concerts.

Sports events fill up the spaces between parades, with boxing, football, dancing, volleyball and cycling all finding a place on the program.

Each day will have a mask parade starting at 2 pm, when both mascaradas and carretas will both be worn by marchers.

While carretas only cover the face, mascaradas can be costumes that cover the entire body, both ritual items that go back thousands of years to primitive times.

For more information on carnaval events, including firework displays, karaoke competitions and cultural activities, log on to

Art Galleries ....

Imagen V show has a few gems but a pack of clinkers, too

videoartshowNew media art is always a bit hit and miss with the potential to come across as a foundationless piece of pretension if it is not done well.

The Bienal Iberoamericana Inquieta Imagen V, a competition for video artists from across Latin America, is a good example of this, containing a few pieces that engage well with the subject and make the most of their medium, but many that leave the viewer cold.

Most of the works are video projections, some as short as a pistol shot and the flight of birds and some as long as a didactic letter that teaches about identity, isolation and fuschia flowers.

Other media range from photography and animation to Internet blogs and ancient video games.

Out of almost 200 entries from 13 different countries, 37 were chosen to fill the spaces of the Museo de Arte y Diseño, and some of them leave a viewer wondering what was so awful about the rejected works.

The vast majority of entrants were Costa Ricans, and works were chosen for show to create a panorama of Spanish-American works that is accessible to both the public who have engaged with technolgical art before and those who are encountering it for the first time.

Five works won cash prizes, including an undeserving triptec of photographs showing poor Nicaraguans searching through a dump to find articles that give some beauty to their lives.

Not an original idea nor interestingly photographed, the series was praised for using the presence of children to humanize a degrading situation.

One projection's entire focus is a sequence of slightly blurred changing Christmas scenes, seemingly chosen only for its fittingness to the season, and several others that were too bland to make any sort of impression on the memory.

Read more - click here

Mistaken identity? No such thing, says new exhibition

historiaoficialCosta Rica is a land of volatile volcanoes, orchids, coffee fincas, Catholicism and Ticos.

Or you could say it's a country of wide seashores, football stadiums, fast food restaurants and beach towns overtaken by Gringos.

Some are clichéd symbols of a tourist nation, while others are part of the country's changing culture, but all are involved in Museo de Arte Costarricense's new exhibition that challenges viewers to reconsider their own perceptions of the nation.

Read more - click here

Oriental engravings brighten up Semana
in Calderón Guardia

Japanese artOriental engravings that have travelled half way across the world from Japan have ended their journey in Museo Calderón Guardia, where an exhibition of 75 works was inaugurated Thursday.

Subjects from autumn trees to high-rise apartments chart the growing influence of the West and development on post-war Japan.

Read more - click here

Banco Central exhibit brings out the animal
in art

free standing art 200The Museos del Banco Central de Costa Rica is running "La Animalística en el Arte Costarricense" in its temporary 
exhibition space below
the Plaza de la Cultura. The collection presents the varying uses and depictions of animals by Costa Rican artists throughout history.

The exhibition signage placed at the entrance said that the presented works depict animals from two perspectives.

Read more - click here

Festivals ...

Palmares fiestas provide family fun, and plenty of beer

palmaresThe new year arrives, and Palmares gets ready to party.

This year makes no exception, with the official countdown to the start of Fiestas Palmares reaching the 00:00 mark at 1 p.m. Jan. 17.

A line-up of international music acts, traditional spectacles and sports events usually pales into significance behind the main activity of drinking as much as humanly possible, turning the streets of the town into carnage for almost two weeks.

Read more, click here

Welsh festival brings stars of the page to Colombia

There is a town in Wales that is full of books. On every corner of every cobbled street there is a store with second-hand books spilling from its wooden shelves, and often several on the stretch in between.

Each year, this little town in the foothills of the Black Mountains — usually a haven of peace for a quiet cream tea down by the river — becomes a pilgrimage for the literary, intellectuals and people who just love a good read as it holds Britain's greatest festival of books, the Hay Festival.

Read more - click here

Jacó to host international festival in promotion of anti-drugs culture

'Tis the season for grand international music ventures in small beachfront towns, it would seem, as Jacó gets in on the festival action with an event entitled Puntarenas Rock.

Three stages and 30 artists will come to San Jose's closest strip of sand on Feb. 2, brought by Gota Producciones. The music production company claims to use the festival to promote a world without drugs, developing and enforcing an attitude against drug use in young people.

Read more, click here

First International Blues Festival

Texas blues bands are heading down to Santa Ana for an afternoon of live music. BBQ's and cold beers will accompany artists including Smokin Joe Kubek & Bnois King and Robbie Clarke & the Live Wire Blues Band.

Two stages at Motorpsychos Bar and Grill will host a total of seven bands during the afternoon of Feb. 9. Tickets cost $25 and can be found by contacting

Identidad Art Festival

Fifty artists will have the enviable job of displaying their work on a warm beach in Guanacaste this February, as part of the Identidad Art Festival.

Hosted by Playa Conchal Reserve, the festival aims to revive the cultural values of the area, promoting local art as a tourist attraction.

Painters, sculptors and musicians are all welcome to participate and show off Costa Rican talent to the high season tourists during Feb. 2-4. Interested parties should visit

Festive season proves troublesome even for established restaurant

vealBeing a chef in a busy kitchen must be a pretty stressful job, but around Christmas stress is something any successful restaurant should factor in as inevitable.

On a second visit to well-reputed French restaurant Le Chandelier, it soon became obvious that the staff were poorly equipped for the onslaught of Christmas party diners on a Tuesday night, leaving the usually decent food to deteriorate into a procession of almost inedible starters and bland entrees.

Set in an old San Pedro house with brick ceilings and wooden beams that was converted into a restaurant around 15 years ago by Swiss owner Claude Dubuis, Le Chandelier purports to offer French cuisine that has been developed over generations of experience.

Click here to read the full review


A great meal is not all in the presentation

musslesandfondue120407With a vaulted glass ceiling, palm trees lining the pathway and posh lighting, one would not expect Saga restaurant to be settled behind a dull parking lot in Escazú.

Although this restaurant may look out of place, it doesn't deviate much from the norm in Escazú, an area many would classify as suburban sprawl.

The majority of the cuisine at Saga seems to fit with the setting: classy presentation, yet lacking any profound flavors. Although the restaurant boasts itself as an “international food restaurant” on its Web site, much of the inspired cuisine is lacking the depth which would be found in authentic dishes. There is no direct theme and the menu seems somewhat scattered.

Click here to read the full review

Dramatic Arts...

Sunny days in San José complemented by free concerts

MAFconcert The hot dry days are being put to good cultural use by the Museos del Banco Central with a series of outdoor concerts in the middle of the downtown area.

Hundreds of shoppers stopped to lean over the balcony in Plaza de la Cultura Saturday, when the Costa Rican singer MAF and her band played a sunny set of pop tunes outside the doors of the museum.

Although the series is named 'Conciertos en las gradas', fewer people sat to on the steps outside the Museo de Oro than stood around the edges, looking down at the stage.

Onlookers were enthusiastic about the music, in spite of the singer's annoying lack of the ability to dance. She has recently released her debut album, Viaje Cosmico, for which she was recognised as 2007's revelationary interpretive artist by Costa Rica's music association, Asociacion de Compositores y Autores Musicales de Costa Rica. 

An alternative offering of rock trip-hop is up next on Feb. 9 at 2 p.m., played by group Parque en el espacio. The band recorded a live CD in San Pedro's Jazz Café during 2006, called Hello Hello.

Miriam Jaraquín and Blues Latino will bring piano and accordion, flute and saxophone to the stage at midday on March 2., with an acoustic jazzy sound.

The final concert of the series will be on March 29., with trio Villegas playing some classic Spanish rock from 2 p.m.

Symphonic Conductor is a big supporter of music education

A mugging at gunpoint could have robbed Costa Rica's Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional of its new conductor just as he was beginning the job, but the conductor, Chosei Komatsu,
did not turn his back on San José, and now the next generation of musicians is feeling the benefit.

Eating ice cream in the same hotel outside which he was mugged in 2004, the sweet-toothed conductor recounts how the media assumed that he would flee the country immediately.

"I told them I would fulfill my job," he said. "Musical education conductor Chosei Kamatsu can help to abate the rising violence in this country. I want to put violins instead of guns into the hands of the children."

Last month Komatsu saw a big step forward, as the government of his home country, Japan, finally agreed to a $500,000 donation to the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional and the Instituto Nacional de Musica.

The money, which Komatsu asked for when he was appointed in 2003, has gone towards replacing 25-year-old tubas and other important instruments for the orchestra, as well as getting better facilities for the educational institute.

Komatsu said he knows that it is important to get children interested from a young age, as he first became determined to follow a career in conducting as a 4-year-old watching Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan in action on television.

Read the rest of our interview with Chosei Komatsu here
Books ...

New book dwells on the social aspects of food

Food is not just a selfish pleasure or a way to stifle hunger, but is central to the evolution of art, according to a new book published by Museos del Banco Central.

Artworks by Costa Rican painters are the main content of the hardback book, “Imagenes para Comer,” which follows the representation of food in art since still life painting became popular in the Renaissance.

Full-color pictures of both traditional and modern works are far more common than recipes, as the author Marjorie Ross only provides seven recipes within the book.

All are traditional Costa Rican dishes showing influences from different sections of the community, such as corn fritters, white beans and chorizo and fruit salad.

The book focuses on the meanings that food has within society, and how these are portrayed by art.

Click here to read more


Front cover of art cook book

Internet vs. live tournament poker

Should you play a live tournament solely by feel, or instead, take a strict mathematical approach and look to play in any +EV (positive expected value) situation?

This discussion recently came up on a radio show called Poker Road between a young, mathematically-oriented internet player and one of the hosts of the show who opts to play by feel.

At one point, the internet player said to the host with much disdain, “You just don’t know how to think about poker properly.”  He then went on to state his case in favor of math-based poker, a philosophy that’s shared by many other internet players.

Though it’s clear that many of today’s internet young guns dissect the game merely from a mathematical perspective, they don’t sufficiently consider the people part of the game when they play in live tournaments. 

Obviously, you can’t see your opponents when playing online.  That makes it difficult to get a read on your competition and to exploit their weaknesses.  So, to be successful, online players tend to rely on their math skills and think about the game in terms of +EV. 
And although +EV is not a terrible way to approach a live poker tournament, it isn’t quite enough.  In a live tourney, there are other considerations in addition to pure mathematics that should be factored into your decisions.

Here’s a list of several important factors that I find essential for live tournament poker success.  Internet players – take note.
Table Composition
Is your table full of weak players or is the competition strong?  Answer that question and you’ll be able to exploit situations where donkeys are present, and to make the proper adjustments necessary to beat tougher opponents.

At an easier table, avoid high risk situations.  It’s much better to wait patiently for lower-risk opportunities that will eventually appear.

At a tougher table, you’ll be forced to take more chances and will need to employ a more mathematical approach.
Where are the big stacks?  Where are the tough players?

If the big-stacked sharks are seated behind you, look to take on thinner +EV situations, and play them aggressively.

Conversely, if you have weak-tight players to your left, take the safer approach and try to win a lot of smaller pots.

Stage of the Tournament 
Your competitors will likely vary their style of play depending on the stage of a tournament.  Adjust your game to those changes.  It’s common, for example, to see players take on a much more conservative approach as the money bubble nears.  That’s a good time to kick up your level of aggression in order to exploit this observed tendency.

Tournament Structure

The rate at which the blinds increase should also influence your play; the faster the blinds escalate the less patient you should be.  Conversely, in a slow-paced tournament structure, pass up marginal situations and look to be more selective about the risks that you take.
Mental State of Opponents
It’s always important to focus on your opponents’ state of mind.  Look for fatigue, desperation, confidence, and patience.  Remember that a player’s mental state will usually be affected after he loses a big pot.  Use that to your advantage.
Your Table Image
Be aware that your opponents are always watching.  What have they seen you do recently?  What do you think that they think it all means?  If you limp into pots, do you think they’re fearful of strength, or do they assume that you’re playing a garbage hand?
You can never discount the value of mathematical analysis in poker.  But to be truly successful in live tournament play, you must start to think about these other considerations even before the first hand is dealt.

Visit for information about Daniel Negreanu’s new book, "Hold’em Wisdom for All Players."
© 2007 Card Shark Media.  All rights reserved.

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