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"Doing Latin America, Mostly by Luck"

Episode 27 - November 2010

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Probably Costa Rica's Most Famous (and Active) Volcano - Arenal

In this picture a rather severe electrical storm is passing over the crater as it slowly erupts.

Kool show, eh dude?

IN THIS ISSUE: Broken News (A Budget in the Trillions, How to Change a Very Big Llanta), Arroz es Arroz es Arroz, What's-in-a-Name (Yo Quepo en Quepos, Jugo or Juego, Bailey Bridge), When There is No Name, Joke Corner - Management Pointers, ROMEO Corner (Si Como No - Manuel Antonio)


Broken News

A Budget in the Trillions

A legislative committee recently sent to the full Asamblea Legislativa, Costa Rica's 2011 budget of 5.5 trillion colons. (In Rio Linda, this is about $11 billion) The budget is 16 percent higher than the current one with the bulk of the added expenses going to finance social programs. In a related story, the national regulatory agency for labor and wages has approved a 2.63 per cent increase in minimum salaries when the government adjusts the numbers January 1. In yet another related article, a government agency reported that over 5,000 jobs had been lost in Costa Rica since the first of the year, On a per capita basis, that would be about 370,000 jobs in the U.S. Can you spell recession? A spokesman for the agency responsible for the minimum wage rates said the working people should not have to suffer the brunt of the recession. He evidently did not read the article on job losses.

I knew some doctors took their training in the U.S. but I didn't understand until now that Costa Rican politicians also trained under their U.S. counterparts.

Changing a Big Llanta

GG was required to be in San José at mid-month to deliver yet one more document to the attorney on the road to getting a residency permit. So half way to the capitol, the bus was climbing the mountain road towards Atenas and I was once more enjoying the beautiful Switzerland-like green mountains that dominate that region. Our hero was sitting about two-thirds of the way back on the left side of the bus when there occurred a large "pop" followed by a giant "whoooosh". I looked at the young man sitting next to me and we both muttered, almost in unison: "llanta". In Rio Linda, that's a tire.

Passengers Comforting Themselves at the Side of the Road While the Guys Worked on Changing the Tire


There was no visible or sensible sign of instability with the bus (they have four wheel axles in the rear) but the driver slowly pulled off to the side of the (narrow) road, completely blocking the lane we were in. He got on his cell phone and engaged in a rapid exchange of undecipherable Spanish with someone (at least it was Greek to me).

I'm thinking the driver is ordering up an alternative bus and we'll have a significant delay, maybe two hours (we were a good hour out of San José). Al contrario, mis amigos, señor capitano del bus just decided to change the darn thing; he was not to be intimidated by a little event like this.

So we were asked to leave the bus while they began lifting up the left rear side with what looked like an oversized hydraulic jack. I say "they" because three or four of the more muscular passengers jumped right in to assist the driver in getting the blown tire off. They worked within inches of the opposing lane of traffic as other vehicles continued to pass by, some with no regard to reducing their speed.

One of the lugs proved immovable with the oversized lug wrench that was brought into play until another bus driver (from Jaco) stopped and pulled out a meter-long piece of pipe to put additional leverage on the wrench. That's him in green in the picture to the right pulling up on the pipe.

Mucho Musculos, a Little WD-40 (or was it Coke), and with the Aid of Another Bus Driver from Jaco, the Last Lug was Finally Unstuck and Permitted the Change to a Spare.

I couldn't help but compare the Tico approach in this incident with what probably would have occurred in the U.S. No doubt the Tico transportation company would not have won an international award for safety because of the way it allowed passengers to mingle about the bus and to help with the effort to change the tire. And, my oh my, if a passenger had been hit by a passing vehicle or even injured by tripping in the drainage ditch on the side of the road, how many millions in liability lawsuits would have sprung up in the U.S. Here, they just changed the tire with no one worrying about the potential liability.

Arroz es Arroz es Arroz

Rice Field Near Quepos

Well, I think I've finally done it. It's probably a result of consuming too much Gallo Pinto (to read more on Gallo Pinto or "spotted rooster" go here).

I say this because the other day the old line "A rose is a rose is a rose" came to me, for no particular reason. At the time I wasn't able to remember that the quote should be attributed to Gertrude Stein's 1913 poem "Sacred Emily".

Yet after living here for two years and having become a Pinto junkie, the line came back to me as "arroz es arroz es arroz". (This kind of foggy thinking happens more frequently to an aging ROMEO than to the general population at large)

So I got to thinking, surely Costa Rica must be high on the list of rice growers and consumers. There I go again, thinking too much.

So I decided to make another excursion into that endless repository of all information called Google. The search yielded the following results:

Take the Grain from the Field at Left, Add Black Beans and a Few Secret Ingredients et le voila, You Have Gallo Pinto. Of Course, the Gallo Pinto Aficionado Always Takes His Gallo Pinto with a Little Salsa Lizano on Top and Perhaps a Short Order of Butter Fried Plantains to Perfect a Breakfast Dish Like that Shown Above


Rice Trivia:

  1. Not surprisingly the two world giants China and India, who together are about 37% of total world population, also are the two largest rice producers together accounting for 51% of worldwide production. One hundred and twelve other countries account for the other 49%.
  2. Costa Rica ranks #118 in population but #53 in rice production. Nevertheless, It imports nearly half of it's demand, mostly from the States.
  3. The U.S. of A. is #3 in population and the #11 rice producer, yet exports nearly half its crop, much of it to Costa Rica (the inference here, it seems to me, is that Gringos still have a strong preference for french fries and other taters over rice).
  4. The big rice eaters are not the Chinese as I expected but the Philipinos. In that country of islands, they consume 128 kilos per year per capita which is 45% higher than the Chinese, 133% more than Costa Ricans and 814% more than the gringos! If my arithmetic holds, Philippinos consume on average, and per person, about 0.8 lbs of rice every day; this includes all the babies. Have you ever tried to eat a pound of rice that has been cooked into three pounds by adding twice as much water? - it's like consuming a snow drift of starch.
  5. In my mother's kitchen (there will be a short pause while the wave of nostalgia has its way with me, then passes), the uses of rice were limited to an excellent rice pudding and as a weight on wax paper in the process of pre-baking a tart or pie crust. Mom's rice pudding always had a custard on top and was replete with raisins in the center. It was served with a generous dousing of whole milk or light cream or whipped cream or some combination of the two. Yummers.
  6. Non-food applications for this extremely popular kernel include rice-starch derivatives employed in a wide assortment of industrial uses as binders and coatings. Rice was also used centuries ago in making rice paper parchment on which were recorded many Chinese happenings and works of art. Rice and other starches, are still used in papermaking; copy paper, for example, can contain up to 8% starch.

I thought of one more interesting non-food application, the historical throwing of rice at the bride and groom at weddings. We're talking uncooked stuff here my Tico friends, not arroz con pollo. I remember getting pelted after my first (and only) trip to the matrimonial altar. (I also remember getting pelted 25 years later when that marriage broke up... oh no,GG don't go there)

Yahoo Search had some interesting things to say about this tradition:

" While tossing rice became most popular in America, many countries have their own traditions. In Morocco, figs, dates, and raisins are thrown to encourage a "fruitful" union. Italians traditionally shower the newlyweds with sweets and sugarcoated nuts. (The word "confetti" may derive from the root for the Italian word for "confectionery.") In Korea, the groom's father tosses red dates at his new daughter-in-law to bring fertility (I wonder what the new mother-in-law throws at her new son-in-law?- Ed.). In France, wheat greets the happy couple. Eggs represent new life in some European countries and are thrown at newlyweds (cooked, I hope, otherwise it's like a Tampa Bay Devil Rays Game- Ed.). An old Irish tradition has the couple being pelted with pots and pans (ouch!) in honor of their new domestic life (too much Jameson, methinks- Ed.)."

While I like dates, figs, raisins and nuts I think I'd rather be wacked with small seeds. And hold the eggs dude, they're for scrambling with chopped tomatoes and serving with pinto. To be redundant - yummers


What's in a Name


Yo quepo en Quepos

So , while plodding once more through my semi-weekly Spanish lesson, I discovered another exception to a irregular verb that requires a stem change and a special form in the first person singular. Don't ask the meaning of all this, I'm still confused myself. I love the way Spanish keeps you on your toes. The verb in Spanish that is equivalent to "fit into" is "caber". It conjugates like other irregular e-r verbs (yuk,yuk) except for the first person singular. In that slot, the word is "quepo" (kay-po). I'm not a language technician but the story I get is that this is so because the "c" sound does not work well in the first person present - or was it because of some 14th century Spanish king who couldn't pronounce anything? So now if I want to say "I fit in Quepos" I can say "yo quepo in Quepos". Has a nice ring, don't ya think?

Jugo or juego

My Tico buddies must think I'm fun to listen to. For months I've been going around town and, when meeting a futbol player who might have been playing at the barrio Los Angeles indoor futbol hall the night before, I would say something like "Buen jugo anoche, amigo" thinking I was saying good game (juego) last night when in fact I was saying good juice (jugo) last night. So it is with rich languages that subtle differences come.

Bailey Bridge

There has been extensive damage across Costa Rica this rainy season as a result of above average rainfall and flash flooding that has knocked out bridges in many places. (I know, I promised not to get into this rainy season thing again but it's hard to avoid these days) One way that the government is fighting back is by using bailey bridges to quickly replace the lost spans or traverse a new gully gouged out by the downpours. Our hero became curious as to where the term "bailey" bridge came from although the very look of these things brings to mind images like crossing the Rhine during WW II.

Strong Enough to Handle a Fully Loaded Mack Truck

gg had guessed not far from the truth; here's what Wikipedia had to say on the subject:

"Donald Bailey was a civil servant in the British War Office who tinkered with model bridges as a hobby. He presented one such model to his chiefs, who saw some merit in the design. A team of Royal Engineer officers was assembled at the Military Engineering Experimental Establishment (MEXE), in Barrack Road Christchurch, Dorset, in 1941 and 1942; among them were Robin Foulkes, Darrell Herbert, John de Waele and Bill Buckle, all R.E. subalterns at the time. (not sure what or how these other dudes contributed to the project or if they were just the evaluation team - sombody's always got to second-guess the inventor, don't they- Ed.)

Bailey Bridge in Esparza (West of San Jose)

In the course of development, the bridge was tested in several formats, e.g, as a suspension bridge, and as a "stepped arch" bridge, as well as the flat truss bridge which became the standard. The prototype of this was used to span Mother Siller's Channel which cuts through the nearby Stanpit Marshes, an area of marshland at the confluence of the River Avon, Hampshire (where hurricanes hardly ever happen) and the River Stour, Dorset. It still remains there as a functioning bridge. Bridges in the other formats were built, temporarily, to cross the Avon and Stour in the meadows nearby.

After successful development and testing, the bridge was taken into service by the Corps of Royal Engineers and first used in North Africa in 1942. A number of bridges of this type were available by 1944 for D-Day, when production was accelerated. The US also licensed the design and started rapid construction for their own use. Bailey was later knighted for his invention, which continues to be widely produced and used today. Good show, Sir Donald.

It is confirmed once more that the simplest engineering ideas are always the best. Sir Donald had no way of knowing that 65 years after the war had passed into history, his handy-dandy truss bridge would still be in use solving emergency problems in Costa Rica.


When There is No Name

It has been said more than once in these meanderings we call the Chronicles that streets in Quepos (indeed, in much of Costa Rica) go un-named. Un-named streets do not make it easy to use address numbers, in fact it kinda makes it impossible. For example, one can say 125 Main Street easily but not 125 the-street-on-which-you-find-the-bus-station. My official address, as it appears on the electric bill is "50 meters east of Dr. Mojaro's Clinic, on the corner". As Quepos/Manuel Antonio grows, the need for better identification grows with it (or so a typical gringo might think).

Never let it be said, when a true need arises, that gg was found wanting. Our hero pulled off a Google Earth picture of the Quepos street layout and went to work naming some of the more well known streets. Here's a copy of the result to date (needs more work, of course):

Some Possible Names for Key Streets in Quepos - The Chronicles Welcomes and Solicits Suggestions for Alternative Names for Those Shown as Well as For the Un-Named Streets
Possible Street Name
Points of Interest
Avenida de las Turistas - Runs from the Bailey Bridge entrance to Quepos near Arco Iris Club to the marina. A - Arco Iris Disco Club and meat market
Tsunami Way - Runs parallel to Av. de Las Turistas but on top of the dyke which is Quepos' only defense against the waves. Note how generous is Google's estimate above of 24 feet elevation for Quepos. B - La Puente Monge Homonaje (Monge Memorial Bridge - for more on this bridge go HERE). This is not a Bailey Bridge - will it Last?
Avenida de Las Palmas - Runs from the palm-lined El Parque de Los Derelictos near the bay to the outdoor futbol field and then continues up Manuel Antonio road. C - Quepos "Futsal" - The indoor futbol arena in Barrio Los Angeles - vamos amigos!
Avenida Central - This is the defacto Main Street of Quepos running only three blocks from the bay front to the outdoor futbol field. It contains numerous shops, restaurants and the bus station. D - Our hero's digs in Quepos - Barrio Los Angeles
Paseo Colon de Quepos - In Rio Linda this would be "Columbus Parkway". Actually this is the busiest traffic street in Quepos. It runs as a continuation of airport road from Inmaculada and ends at the bay. E - Quepos central bus station - used for all points north, south and east (for west, you need a boat which is not available at this station)
Now I Understand What Another Frenchman (Pierre L'Enfant) Was Up Against When He Laid Out Washington, D.C.
F - Quepos outdoor futbol field - bordering streets are impassible when Saprissa plays here
G - Quepos Catholic Church - Dios te bendiga, amigo.
H - Pali Supermarket - a Wal-Mart Property (Sam's Club it ain't)

Come on readers, let's get creative, give me your names!

Joke Corner

Management Pointers

Taking Charge.                               

Arcelor-Mittal Steel, feeling it was time for a shakeup, hired a new CEO.  The new boss was determined to rid the company of all slackers. 

On a tour of the facilities, the CEO noticed a guy leaning against a wall. The room was full of workers and he wanted to let them know that he meant business. He asked the guy, "How much money do you make a week?"  

A little surprised, the young man looked at him and said, "I make $400 a week. Why?"                                                                   

The CEO said, "Wait right here." He walked back to his office, came back in two minutes, and handed the guy $1,600 in cash and said, "Here's four 
weeks' pay. Now GET OUT and don't come back."                                 

Feeling pretty good about himself, the CEO looked around the room and asked, "Does anyone want to tell me what that goof-ball did here?"           

From across the room a voice said, "Pizza delivery guy from Domino's."       

(Submitted by reader Barbara L.)



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

Si Como No (Manuel Antonio)

Location: Top of Manuel Antonio, Pacific side of the street across from the Jade development project (would be nice to have an address, wouldn't it?)
Hours: Open for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner from Monday through Sunday.

Si Como No has been a well-known destination in Manuel Antonio for many years. It sits atop the highest point of the mountain road to the beach and provides another typical and spectacular view of the Pacific as well as the jungle leading down to the shore. That is, it does most of the time but, like in all restaurants here, the view disappears for the normal dinner hour (the sun sets here at 5:30 all year long) so if you want dinner at sunset, you'd better plan to sit down by 5:00 to catch the final rays. (Aging ROMEO's from Florida would recognize this practice as taking advantage of the "early-bird special" except there's usually no special here). The two ROMEOS that went forth to evaluate Si Como No elected to dine at 7:00 PM and therefore could not see the view, but of course we have seen it from several restaurant locations on or about Manuel Antonio in the past.

I like it when service above the norm is provided by restaurant staff, even if it's only a little thing. What caught my attention here was the waiter taking our umbrellas as we sat down, shaking them off, rolling them up and standing them near our table behind a plant. We didn't have to worry about what to do with them - nice touch. This waiter provided polite, friendly and attentive service throughout the meal.

The dining room here is kind of modern Tico with smoked glass tables, wrought iron chairs and teak or bamboo overhead beams and railings. The lighting is adequate for dining but gentle and subdued. The only negative that occurred was when all the lights in the restaurant were turned out so that a waiter could demonstrate his flame technique. Made it a little difficult to find the food on the plate in front of me. It was entertaining however, especially when one waiter spilled a little flaming liquid,which I presume was consumable alcohol, and it resulted in a small flaming pool on the table surface for a minute or so before it burned out.

One thing about the room arrangement caught my eye. There is a railing that runs about 5-7 meters through the middle of the dining room. Several tables for two are placed on both sides of this rail directly adjacent to each other and separated only by the five or six inch table-high bamboo rail. This makes it virtually impossible to hold a private conversation for two and, in fact, a young couple asked to be reseated away from the table that adjoined ours (ah, l'amour, toujours, l'amour). Management might want to consider rearranging these tables by staggering them along the rail and overcoming this problem.

We also were entertained by a latin trio consisting of two men on guitars and a bongo player. They were pleasant and not too loud.

So, for the food. For starters, my ROMEO partner chose fried cheese squares accompanied by a black been dip; he reported the dish this way: "the cheese squares were moist and chewy, fried just enough. The black bean dip in a crisp tortilla cup was lightly spiced and not overbearing". I had an olive-oil sauté of sweet green and red peppers, squash and something that resembled a very fine bean sprout. It was rather different and very tasty.

For the main course my partner selected a shrimp pizza and described it as follows: "the shrimp pizza had a generous portion of shrimp scattered on top and the cheese was very rich over a perfectly crisp extremely thin crust". I had a fresh, seared tuna steak with a caper sauce that was excellent. The steak was accompanied by a medley of freshly steamed vegetables ("au point" as the French say) and the inevitable black beans with plain white rice. For desert my partner had a limon-based ice cream with a finely chopped fruit accompaniment and I chose the coconut flan that was bathed in a honey sauce. How sweet it is...

With regard to value, be aware that this is not a budget restaurant. Each of our checks came in just under $40. This was without a beverage of any kind (except water) and, of course no alcohol. This included the mandatory 10% service charge and 13% sales tax but not the extra gringo tip one always feels obligated to leave in a resort area restaurant of this quality.

We doubt that you would ever get a bad meal at the Sid Como No as long as it's being run as it is now. We give the restaurant Four Sloths (out of five) for service, ambiance and food and Four Dollars (out of five) for expense level.


Don Roberto de Quepos,
El Gringo Dorado
Pura Vida!

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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).