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"Doing Latin America, Mostly by Luck"

Episode 25 - September 2010

Click here for GGC Archived Episodes
Broken News (El Dia de La Madre, ROMEO on the Move), Sticking With Eve's Fruit, Cell Phone Mania,
What's-in-a-Word Dept. (Top Languages by Population, Santiago & Margarita), Buenos Aires Report,
Miscellany (Joke Corner, Prodigy Dept.), R.O.M.E.O. Corner (Bogart's - Quepos)

Broken News

El Dia de La Madre

Sunday, August 15 was Mother's Day in Costa rica. This date is a national Holiday when banks, schools and many businsses closed. It is no accident that August 15 has been chosen in many Catholic countries for this celebration since this is also the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Celebrations of mother's day here are much like those in the States with family gatherings and gifts to mom.

The ROMEOS (Retired Old Men Eating Out club - see section at the end), the founding fathers of which all live in the same apartment building, one that is owned and operated by a great and caring family (first mentioned in Episode 3). The maternal head of this family has been very good to her adopted gringo hijos ("sons" in Rio Linda). So, it seemed appropriate for us to give her a small token of our appreciation on this special day for ladies and mothers (she has three real sons). Our hero was selected to act as purchasing agent and proceeded forthwith to a local florist shop, where a very nice lady was moving to and fro in a very, very busy manner. There were at least a dozen completed arrangements sitting about on table and floor waiting for pick-up.

The conversation that ensued was half Spanish and half English, neither party willing to yield an opportunity to practice the other's tongue. "¿El dia de madre es el mas presse dia del año, correcto Señora?", says I. "Oh no señor, Valentine's Day is the busiest; it's when everyone is in love". Latin romanticism at its best.

I gave her freedom to select the flowers she thought appropriate and she slanted heavily toward lilies of the variety we gringos commonly call Easter, both white and orange. While she was cutting and arranging and adding a single red rose to the mix, I spied a beautiful heliconia resting in a bucket of water, a common flower here that I've come to love and which often grows wild in the jungle. I suggested including one in the bouquet but got this in return: "Oh no, señor, your lady would not appreciate these, they are so local!". Live and learn. I was struck by the awareness that, when living a long time in a place, we take for granted the beauty that surrounds us. Oh well, I guess we all do it. I did, even in Florida.

Yes, OK
No. Not on El Dia de La Madre!

ROMEO on the Move

FLASH! One of the founding ROMEOS, Brian M., has moved from Hotel Gringos in Quepos where the other two founders live, to a perch in Manuel Antonio. Best of luck in your new digs, amigo! Remember, this doesn't relieve you of your taxing and endless responsibilities as a ROMEO. See the ROMEO section in Episode 24 for a full frontal of Brian engaged in his duties (he continues to swear revenge for this picture).

Sticking With Eve's Fruit

So who was the hijo de perra (Rio Lindans don't need to know what that means) that decided to put those little stickers on apples and other fruit?

It's one thing to place a Chiquita sticker on a banana peel that can be discarded with the peel and another thing to stick one of those small plastic ovals with the super-glue on its back onto the smooth surface of an apple you intend to bite into. I don't have long finger nails, but I do have some nails and yet it's almost impossible to scrape off the sticker without breaking the skin of the apple and digging into or bruising the flesh. (Hold the comments on having too much available time to worry about things like this, I've heard them all)

Do the fruit producers really think we take the time to read these tiny stickers? Do they think we are somehow happy and appreciative of their dubious branding technique when we are committing mayhem to a pear in the name of hunger? These are the things that make old people grumpy. And I'm not even going to start talking about the need to use a Hulk-like torque to open a locally bottled Coca-Cola or jar of salsa. That would just be more salt in the wound. No, I'm not going to go there. Yet!

Our Hero has been a fan of Eve's forbidden fruit for years. What boy grows up without fond memories of the pomaceous fruit of the Apple Tree (Species: Malus domestica and actually more related to the Rose than to other fruits). I remember that the most delicious apples were always those surreptitously acquired from a neighboring farmer.

In the short time I've been in Costa Rica, I have come to develop a near addiction to a particular variety of apple called "Fuji". This is a large, firm, crisp, juicy fruit with just the right amount of sweetness, perfect for the aging, seasoned and sensitive palette of a ROMEO.

The Fuji variety was first produced in Japan in the 1930's at the base of the famous mountain bearing the same name. I'm not convinced that the Japanese war cry "Climb Mount Fuji" was really intended to launch the attack at Pearly Harbor - it's possible Tojo just wanted his boys to go up the hill and get some more Fuji's. The fruit now finds itself being produced in many countries around the world.

Mi amigo, Fujisan

I buy my Fuji's at Super Mas, my favorite market in downtown Quepos. I've even been able to train Luis, the hombre in charge of produce, to let me know when a fresh shipment of Fuji's are about to arrive so I can get the pick of the lot. (Oh the power, the power; it's good to be King)

Almost all of the chicas and chicos working at Super Mas have become friends by now and when gg wanders through the aisles, I'm constantly greeted with "Hola, Bob Esponga!" I have no idea when or why they started calling me SpongeBob SquarePants, but it stuck.

Bob Esponga
Carmen Miranda
Ooops, Forgot to Remove the Sticker Again!

Come on now, do I really look like SpongeBob SquarePants? (Hold the email jokes) I must admit however, that I felt a certain attraction for the Chiquita Banana lady. "Put bananas on your cereal like this everyday."

Or was it Carmen Miranda, the Chica Chica Boom Chic, that turned me on? (Shhh, gg, you're showing your age).

The Fuji's offered at Super Mas over the last few weeks have been exceptionally good; large, crispy and sweet. The current stickers say they're coming from the "Fuji-Chile" orchards, our neighbors to the south (OK, I guess I do read the label sometimes).

As you might expect, there is a plethora of labels out there for many kinds of fruit. A quick search produced a web site listing hundreds of fruit labels. If you're interested in fruit trivia (isn't everyone?) the link is:


My mind still drifts to the small New England town north of Boston where I grew up. The fall was a special time of brilliant colored maple leaves that gave off a distinct, familiar aroma when piles of them were burned along Route 1A (no EPA then, thank you). The smell signaled that fall was upon us and I think it was why I got a liking for cigars later in life - the aroma (lit cigars are burning leaves also, aren't they?).

Another autumn sign that filled the air and and never failed to flood the senses was the scent of fresh apples (usually McIntoshes) being pressed into some of the best ciders in the world. Yummers.

Cell Phone Mania

I was tempted to not get a cell phone when I moved to Costa Rica one and a half years ago (whoa, wait a minute, my two year anniversario is coming September 21 - zowie, time and tide surely didn't wait for this dude). As a trial, I also swore off a car for at least the first three months to see if I could get along without one. At the time I had had a car continuously for 50 years (even Rio Lindans can do that arithmetic to arrive at my present age). To my surprise and to this day I have never wanted another one.

But after a short while, it became apparent that I could get connected buy buying a cheap cell phone (old technology) and registering it under a friend's corporation. Current rules here require someone wanting a telephone account at I.C.E., (our monopoly telephone company and better known as "ee-say") to either have a cédula (residency document) or a corporation, of which I had neither and still don't. This strategy worked well for a number of months but then life got complicated again as ICE began installing new towers and cutting off the old technology (see Episode 21).

Today, with a new third generation cell phone (3G) purchased for nearly $200 (100,000 colones) I'm back in the race. It was a bit disheartening during the 3G activation process to hear on television that the fourth generation phones were being introduced in the States. How long do I get this time ICE?

Sometimes It Seems Like the Whole World
Has a Cell Phone Hanging from Their Ear
I Hope This Guy Isn't Taliban
Staying Connected - Japanese Style
Better to be Connected Here

All this trouble to make sure I stay connected. Sometimes it seems like the addictive urge to stay connected makes us slaves to technology, or at least subservient. I first ranted about cell phones and being controlled by technology in Episode 21. Another advantage of the 3G's is that they work at Manuel Antonio beach whereas the old technology didn't (or was it the new temporary tower they just put in?).

A friend described our modern lifestyle of total connectivity as another episode in human evolution this way: The Stone Age gave way to the Iron Age which gave way to the Bronze Age which eventually gave way to the Industrial Age. The Industrial Age was followed by the Age of Communication.

Now, we've entered the Age of Interruption.

You got it, amigo.

What's-in-a-Word Department

Top Languages by Population

I came across the table to the right because I had started mentally counting the population of the Central and South America countries and I wondered if there were as many Spanish speakers in the world as English. Low and behold "they" (those mysterious people of unlimited knowledge and unspecified origin) claim that there are a few million more Spanish than English speakers on the globe. The table seems to be a little loose though, as Spain is hardly the "Primary Country" for Spanish anymore. Ditto for the U.K. being "primary" for English. I guess they mean country of origin.
Rank Language Primary Country Population
United Kingdom
I Continue to be Amazed at the Amount of Information Available Via the Wide, Wide World of Google

& Margarita

Am I the only dude in the barrio that didn't know that the moniker Santiago refers to St. James the Apostle? Guess so. Not only is it a saint's name but it's also used for cities in many countries around the globe including Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Chile and the Philippines. In addition, it's the name of the highest peak in the Santa Ana mountains east of Los Angeles. Sorry, St. Jimmy, I had no idea of the connection. You know my friend, it's a case of so many facts to master, but so little time.

Along the same theme, my Spanish teacher Jorge enlightened me that Margarita = Daisy. Duh, I just thought it was a drink. I hope no-one was thinking I was implying by the title Santiago & Margarita that St James had a girlfriend named Daisy. Well maybe he did... no, don't go there gg.

Buenos Aires Report

My friend Mike F. just moved permanently to a town below the equator, Buenos Aires (for the Rio Lindans that's in Argentina, not south of Fresno) where he already had a residency permit. He filed this on-assignment report (of course, I had to add editorial comments here and there):

"Heeey Bob... (gg's nickname)

Still winter down here
(it's real winter down there not just rainy like here, for example, the forecast for the day of this writing was High - 17ºC (62ºF), Low 10ºC (50ºF) - brrrr). Spring starts officially around the 20th of September but winter is so mild that by the end of August the weather should begin to turn. Don't really remember how it works even though I did spend a complete year here at the beginning. It's been a colder than normal winter and lots of people complain, but for me it's a nice change and a great opportunity to dress in cool winter clothes.... Because I'm superficial that way. (para mi, long pants,t-shirts and socks no mas, amigo)

Have two weeks in my new apartment and I'm still getting settled in. It's my first two year lease unfurnished place and I'm enjoying getting everything set up. Still sleeping on a cheap little mattress til the new (expensive) one is delivered on Friday. Had to buy a fridge and got one with a separate freezer on top so I can go back to my ways of eating healthy and stockpiling every weekend. All filled up with fist sized baggies of frozen fruits, whole grain rice, pasta, chicken breasts. Lentils and split peas to follow. (my God, the cold has made him loco!)

Downtown Buenos Aires - Just Like Quepos

The stress and lack of sleep led to me getting sick as a dog, so today is the first day in two weeks when I'm actually putzing and cleaning and enjoying it. Before I had to shop for everything in a state of stress and physical misery, sucking all the fun out of it all.

I'm in the Palermo neighborhood one block from the Alto Palermo Shopping (we don't say "mall" here), so one block from the puppy palace. But since I've been either sick or moving or both, I haven't been to either gym in two weeks. Will probably start back to the gym tomorrow. (
go slow amigo, this gym stuff can be harmful to your health)

The project for the week is- are you sitting down?- start my citizenship tramites (process to get papers). Will see how it goes. My resident ID is damaged and they may make me wait till the new one comes in October. Won't know till I try and I don't know anyone who's applied for citizenship here, so I don't know how hard it will actually be. Should take two years, similar to what it took in Costa Rica (bureaucracy is a universal truth), but there are no exams to take and as far as I know I've met all the requirements: Two years permanent residency, completed a couple of days ago, proof of income which usually means a record of work income but should be met with the usual Social Security benefit statement. Legal copy of the notarized birth certificate from my residency file took over two months to get, but I asked for it a long time ago and have it ready to go. So we'll see...."

Go for it Miguel. If I've got your history right, this will now make you a citizen of four countries; born dual citizenship U.S./Canada, Costa Rica and now Argentina. Dude. A true world citizen (eat your heart out Obama).


Joke Corner (Southern Fishing Story): 

"I went fishing this morning but after a short time I ran out of worms. Then I saw a cottonmouth with a frog in his mouth. Frogs are good bass bait.  Knowing the snake couldn't bite me with the frog in his mouth I grabbed him right behind the head, took the frog, andput it in my bait bucket.  Now the dilemma was how to release the snake without getting bit. So, I grabbed my bottle of Jack Daniels and poured a little whiskey in its mouth. His eyes rolled back, he went limp. I released him into the lake without incident and carried on fishing using the frog. 

A little later, I felt a nudge on my foot.

There was that same snake with two frogs in his mouth. 

Life is good in the South." 

(Submitted by friend Randy M.)


Prodigy Department

OK, enough of these ancient 15-year old Italian boys with the Pavarotti-like voices (Episode 23 and Episode 24). How about a 10-year old lass named Jackie Evancho (ee-van-ko), from Pittsburgh yet? Here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3j_4HkK58ec) she sings Panis Angelicus which, if you grew up in the Roman tradition, and happen to be ancient yourself (like me) you know its an old latin hymn going back to God knows when and commonly sung in the 50's (that's 1950's amigos, you know, Eisenhower, Elvis, the ghost of Christmas past, etc.). I think Jackie was what the renaissance artists had in mind when they were painting and sculpting angels. Thanks once more to our reader Bob Childers for putting us on to another prodigy.

R.O.M.E.O. Corner (Retired Old Men Eating Out)

(Bogart's - Quepos)
(N.B. this restaurant has been CLOSED since this review)

This is a brand new restaurant in Quepos, just just 10 or 20 meters down the block on Main Street (that's the street with the bus station) toward the bay on the same side of the street as Pescadores and Wacky Wanda's.

Ambiance: It's apparent when entering the front door that a good deal of time and investment has been made to make the decor and atmosphere very hip, yet relaxing. Medium and dark blue accents are enhanced by soft lighting from teardrop chandeliers. Large-screen televisions over the bar area attest to the possibility of the place becoming a sports bar when needed. The only incongruity in this ROMEO's mind is the huge, wall to wall projection screen at one end of the dining room (showing a U.S. football game at the time of our visit) which, I suspect, could be used for great business presentations and is impressive for watching football but which seemed a little overwhelming for a quiet dinner.

Service: The wait staff was friendly , attentive and professional, although it wasn't really that hard for them to be attentive as we were the only dining dudes in the restaurant at the time (the two visiting ROMEOS have both been trained in the ways of early-bird specials in Florida and find it hard to break the habit). One of the owners made a courtesy stop at our table, a gesture which is always welcome to a new diner.

Food: The two visiting ROMEOS opted for Lebanese hummus and French onion soup as starters. The former was excellent, the latter tasty but not terribly interesting. Next we chose two different preparations of chicken, one roasted and stuffed with shrimp and the other broiled as kebobs with a yogurt sauce, both plates being quite flavorful. The vegetable accompaniment was an excellent melange and included small potatoes artfully carved into the shape of fat mushrooms. There were only two things that prevented Bogart's from getting the coveted 5-sloth rating for food: (1) the chicken used in the shrimp-stuffed version was a tad tough (the kebobs were tender), and (2) the coke that this reporter ordered was flat (not sure where the fizzle went but it wasn't in the cola).

Price: There is no question that Bogart's is now the most expensive restaurant in Quepos and is exceeded only by two or three in Manuel Antonio. 7,000 colone pizzas and $35 filets are a bit strong for this burg. (Maybe when the new Marina crowd hits...)

Overall: Good to great food, well paid for.

Bogart's; that's Bogie on The Wall - Play It Again Sam

ROMEO Rating System

The original ROMEO rating system was 1 to 5 sloths and encompassed all aspects of a restaurant's offering; ambiance, service, food quality & originality, price. Beginning this month, an indicator of price range has been broken out and displayed as dollar signs so that Chronicle diners may choose the appropriate budget level.

Our subjective rating system (it's good to be King) is based on comparative values of area establishments, not on a New York type standard and can be broken down as follows:

Sloth Rating (Ambiance, Service, Food Quality): A rating of 1 would be roughly equivalent to a vendor at the Mule Festival (see Episode 20); 2-3 - Kinda like a typical Tico Soda; 4 - superior for Quepos/Manuel Antonio; 5 - One of the top restaurants in the area. Bogart's gets a 4.

Dollar Rating (Price Range): A rating of 1 would mean you ain't gonna find a cheaper place in this area; 2 - Tico pricing; 3 - Gringo pricing for Tico stuff; 4 - this is a 3 but now you're in Mauel Antonio; 5 - the percentage of gringos in the restaurant clientele is roughly 3 times that of the general population here and they know it. Bogart's gets a 4.

Of course, we could multiply the two ratings together and get an index (once an engineer, always an engineer). This would put Bogart's at 16 and the the highest possible rating at 25. Hmmm, let us consider this approach further for the future...



This month's Travel Quote: ""The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." ~ St. Augustine

Don Roberto de Quepos,
El Gringo Dorado
Pura Vida!

To Contact GGC Headquarters to request deletion from the Chronicles distribution, make comments, suggest topics or criticize my bad jokes, just send an email to: fiducry@comcast.net. Be pithy, but kind (I'm sensitive).