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Costa Rica’s answer to Brown Sugar…..Tapa de Dulce!!

May 17, 2014

Most people would think that the popular Costa Rican coffee would be the obvious morning drink, but actually, the traditional breakfast drink is known as Agua Dulce (“sweet water”). Made from the “typical” local ingredient “Tapa de Dulce”, these familiar (or not so familiar) molded small cakes of firm compacted brown sugar product are very similar to the North American “brown sugar” we buy in a bag.

Also known in many Costa Rican homes simply as “Bebida”, this sugary cane liquid is extracted, boiled, evaporated and eventually poured into conical molds, which are cooled, at which time the tops are cut off making them tapas (“lids”). The traditional drink of “Agua Dulce” is made by cutting or breaking off a bit of the tapa and gently dissolving it in boiling water or hot milk. Delicious!

Known by many names throughout the world, Tapa de Dulce can also be called “Panela”, “AtadoDulce”, “Raspadura”, “Rapadura”, “Chancaca”, “Papelon”, “Piloncillo”, “Panocha”, “Empanizao”, “Melaza y Cuyo” and many many other varying names depending on the region and/or country you are in at any given moment.

Consisting completely of Sugar Cane juice, to make the ubiquitous molded Tapa disks old traditions held to using oxen or sometimes donkeys or mules to run the small rural processing “plants” better known as “Trapiches”. Not being easy to extract the sugary juice from the cane stalks, the animals were much more efficient back in those days, but alas…today it is almost completely a mechanized process being much more efficient and sanitary then using the animals. Back in the early 1900’s, Costa Rica had more than 1600 Trapiches, but today they have almost completely dissappeared, and a national cry has gone out to not let this tradition completely disappear. Costa Rica Hotels and Tour Operators have projects in the works to incorporate the Trapiche Farms in to rural tourism centers, directly sharing the experience with visitors from around the world. Unfortunately, this idea is far from fruition at this point.

Not a completely empty calorie sugar product, Panela or Tapa de Dulce differenciates itself from ordinary white sugar with measurable amounts of glucose, fructose, proteins, as well as minerals such as calcium, iron, phosphorous, and trace vitamins such as absorbic acid. It’s said to have “medicinal” properties as well, but more on that below!

When preparing a cup of delicious Agua Dulce, add a small chunk shaved off the molded Tapa de Dulce sugar block and mix with a small amount of hot water, working it until it’s the consistency of honey. Then either add hot water (“Agua Dulce”), or hot milk (“Bebida”) and enjoy! In the Atlantic region of Limón, the Agua Dulce is served cold and mixed with lemon juice and a hint of ginger. This is known as “Agua de Sapo” (Toad Water) or “Hiel” and is another refreshing way to enjoy sugar cane juice. But why stop there? Do you have a cold? Mix the Agua Dulce with lemon juice and an ounce of “Guaro” (Cane Liquor), which is said to be the best remedy in Costa Rica and sure to make your pains go away!

The country of Colombia is the leader in the Panela industry, providing an important source of employment for that country with around 350,000 people working in approximately 20,000 Trapiches or Panela Farms.

In fact, the city of Palmira, Colombia broke the world record in 2009 for the largest and heaviest Panela, with a molded sugar cake that measured 10 feet and 20 inches and weighing some 715 kilos! This required more than 70 tons of sugar cane, and 90 people working for 28 hours consecutively to complete.

So are you ready to try this tasty little treat? To buy your own Tapa de Dulce, make your way to your nearest typical “soda”, Costa Rican supermarket or the Pulpería (corner store). If you aren’t lucky enough to be in Costa Rica, you can buy Tapa de Dulce online at:
http://costaricasuperstore.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=1087
http://www.ticoshopping.com/Crude-Sugar-Tapa-de-dulce-21-2-oz

VIDEO FOR GRIPE (a cold):

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 owns and manages her own Luxury Vacation Rental BusinessManuel Antonio Rental Homes.

SOURCES:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Costa_Rican_cuisine
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panela
http://recetasdecostarica.blogspot.com/2009/05/agua-dulce.html

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Costa Rica’s Juan Santamaria Day! Brave Martyr or Brazen Myth?

April 10, 2014

Juan Santamaría, an impoverished drummer boy, born of a single mother from the town of Alajuela, is easily the most famous martyr in Costa Rican history, and the only individual to have a National Holiday (April 11) declared in his honor. But was it really Juan Santamaria that saved the day at the Battle of Rivas, or was it more to do with Costa Rica’s need to have a national hero? Read on….

If legend is to be believed, as a result of the Battle of Rivas on April 11th, 1856, Juan Santamaria’s selfless act as his country’s impromptu savior brought his eventual rise to glory, fame and martyrdom as he succeeded in saving Costa Rica against the infamous US sponsored invasion of the soldier of fortune style militia of William Walker.

William Walker, a lawyer, doctor and soldier of fortune from Tennessee, hoping to not only exploit the commercial trade route between New York and the Southern tip of Nicaragua, Walker also hoped to conquer the five Central American States with the intention to annex them, extending the new Federation of Southern States, part of the US. Walker and his “filibusteros” (soldiers of fortune) with his new post as a shaky provisional President of Nicaragua planned to instill his political and financial power over the Central American territories, with the next logical step being the invasion of nearby Costa Rica.

Fearing Walker’s growing force in Nicaragua, Costa Rican President Juan Rafael Mora supported by the backing of wealthy American businessmen who wanted their important trading routes reopened, was urged to declare war not on Nicaragua, but on Walker and his filibusters. Furious, Walker ordered the immediate invasion of Costa Rica, crossing the border into the province of Guanacaste, while the Costa Rican army mobilized full speed ahead Northward from the Central Valley. This rag tag army, led by the President’s brother Jose Joaquin Mora and brother-in-law General Jose Cañas, with their contingent of three thousand men marched towards the Walker encampment said to be assembled near the now famous Hacienda Santa Rosa, south of Nicaragua. Upon learning of their imminent arrival, Walkers men made a hasty retreat, taking the battle to Meson de Guerra in Rivas.

That is where Juan Santamaría prominently steps into the picture.

Walker’s men, under the command of Colonel Louis Schlessinger, had no sentries posted in the Rivas fort, allowing Mora’s Costa Rican troops to surprise the small American militia, as Schlessinger himself retreated, leaving his troops in complete disarray. When a bloody battle ensued, the commanding Costa Rican officer asked for a volunteer to set fire to thatch roof of the El Mesón de Guerra; the filibusters’ stronghold. Surely a suicide mission at best, it is said that Juan Santamaría, an impoverished mulatto drummer boy from the town of Alajuela, stepped up and with torch in hand, approached the hostel and through a hail of bullets, tossed his torch of fire onto the vulnerable thatched roof. This selfless patriotic act caused the enemy to flee, resulting in Juan Santamaria’s death, but leaving him a genuine National Hero.

The deaths of Juan Santamaría and more than a thousand other men saved Costa Ricaand Central America from a complete collapse. The Battle of Rivas put great confidence to the Costa Rican Army in the fight against Walker, who before this battle believed himself undefeatable and unstoppable, and lead to his later assassination in Honduras, during his next attempt at staging a Central American coup.

Although Costa Rica was victorious in the Battle of Rivas, the country did not return back to normal by any means. The numerous dead bodies were not buried in Rivas but were simply thrown into the wells, causing the city a huge outbreak of cholera from the contamination. The troops then carried the disease home with them to Costa Rica where it ravaged the country, killing as much as one tenth of the population. Mora was eventually blamed for the outbreak, as well as other economic problems, and was taken out of power a few years later in 1859.

This is where the dispute of the true legend of Juan Santamaria begins. Heated arguments and several investigations suggest that the well repeated history of Juan Santamaria may not be all it’s cracked up to. According to Steven Palmer, a Canadian researcher, Juan Santamaria was possibly invented by the Liberalist Costa Rican government. Palmer’s study suggests that the government in the late nineteenth
century was seeking to create a national identity in order to unify the disorganized country. Legends, heroes and battles, all helpful ingredients in the creation of a sense of national patriotism, the government set out to find something or someone that would serve its motivating purpose. Since Costa Rica lacks a history of warfare, the Liberalist government chose one of the few significant battles, the 1856 Battle of Rivas fought against William Walker. After choosing the famous battle, a brave hero was to be chosen as their new “symbol” for National unity. With this, Palmer says, Juan Santamaria was “born” or reborn after being dead and forgotten for many decades. That Juan Santamaria was a member of the lower classes, only served to inspire an even stronger sense of belonging to a nation that was coming of its own in world recognition, as Juan Santamaria showed anyone could become a National idol.

Further claims have been discovered that state Juan Santamaria actually died of cholera and not by the bullets of his enemies. Now granted, there are said to be listed four different Juan Santamarias amongst the some 9000 volunteer troops of Costa Rica, so this does open the door for some skepticism and confusion, but it is interesting to consider why Juan Santamaria lay buried for almost four decades, before being remembered and named Costa Rica’s National Hero.

Finally, other historical versions of the Battle of Rivas and the fight at the “Mesón de Guerra”, list the Lieutenant Luis Pacheco Bertora as the first to approach the fort with the idea of flushing out the enemy, but he was gravely injured by gunfire in his attempts. Lying unconscious, a Nicaraguan named Joaquín Rosales made a second attempt to burn the fort, but lost his life in the process. Finally, a third brave soldier stepped forward, the now well-known Costa Rican soldier, Juan Santamaría, who successfully set fire to the “meson” and saved the day for Costa Rica. None of these other brave soldiers have ever received the recognition due them as Juan Santamaria did, much less a National Holiday, statues or International Airports named after them, though the mystery behind the true history of these events lives on!

In the end, there is no attempt to minimize the participation of any of the soldiers involved in this battle, even less so Juan Santamaria. We only hope to give a shout out to all the valiant soldiers who gave their lives to win the liberty and sovereignty of Costa Rica, and to dispel of the rumor that Juan Santamaria was simply approaching the building, tripped and his fire torch accidentally started the fire that ended the battle.

Tell that later version out loud in Costa Rica, and you may be run out of the country even faster than William Walker was!!

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 owns and manages her own Luxury Vacation Rental Home Business, Manuel Antonio Rental Homes.

Sources:
Lisa Tirmenstein tirmenlb@muohio.edu.
http://www.Wikipedia.org
http://afehc-historia-centroamericana.org/index.php?action=fi_aff&id=1947
http://www.latindex.ucr.ac.cr/historia-51/10-Aguilar.pdf
http://wvw.nacion.com/ln_ee/2006/abril/28/opinion8.html

Christmas Season Shopping in Costa Rica? Try the Golfito Duty Free Zone!

December 21, 2013

Don’t blame the messenger, but once again, Christmas is just around the corner. For those of you that have been lucky enough to survive another year of this slow economy and stagnant tourism numbers, it’s time to start thinking about Christmas shopping. If you are considering some big ticket items, the duty free zone of Golfito might be just the place for you!

A Little History:
Once a bustling banana port, from 1938 to 1985, Golfito was the headquarters of the banana operations for United Fruit in the southernmost part of Costa Rica. Creating an economy that had previously not existed, unfortunately the mid-1980s brought declining markets, higher export taxes, worker unrest and banana diseases forcing United Fruit’s departure from the area. Though some of the plantations successfully converted to the production of African Palm Oil, this move was not enough to sustain the job loss and economic blow caused when the company departed. Attracted by the World Class fishing within the Golfo Dulce region, Sport Fishermen have helped stimulate the development of new Costa Rica Hotels & Lodges, creating a flourishing tourist industry in the area. Nonetheless, the Golfo Dulce region and more specifically, the town of Golfito, have continued to struggle for survival, even after close to 20 years of economic stimulus in the form of a Duty Free Shopping Zone.

Government Incentives:
In the 1990’s, in an attempt to boost the region’s economy, the Costa Rica government approved a duty-free facility (déposito libre) in the northern part of the Golfo Dulce zone. Just the mention of the town of Golfito, brings the image of thousands of Ticos on any given day bustling around the rows of this fairly run down mega shopping complex, giving life to an otherwise dying town while shoppers hustle and hustlers shop. Keep in mind….the duty-free shopping is for Costa Rican Nationals and legal residents only, with the most popular purchases being the bigger ticket items. Unfortunately, as you will see below, this is not like a Sunday visit to the local mall, many restrictions apply which can complicate the shopping process, so be sure to read the details.

Rules and Regulations:
The Duty Free Zone was created to stimulate the economy and travel to the region by giving Costa Rican residents a tax free zone to shop for their purchases. To get the most out of these visitors, specific rules were established in order to legally make these tax free purchases. First, exemption from sales taxes is only valid twice a year, with a total purchase amount that cannot exceed $1000 per buyer, per trip. Second, you must stay overnight in Golfito before taking advantage of the tax-free shopping, a requirement enacted to support the area’s family owned “cabinas” and boutique hotels. Third, as a guarantee of your overnight stay, a shopping authorization card (TAC) must be requested at the Customs Offices the day prior to shopping. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday from 8am-8pm, Mondays from 1pm-8pm and shoppers are required to present their valid Costa Rican “cedula” (identification card) when applying.

Hours and Shopping Limits:
When you begin your shopping at Golfito, its recommended to start early and bring along plenty of patience. Stores open from 8am-4:30pm Tuesday-Saturday and 7am- 2pm on Sundays. Stores are closed on Mondays. When checking out, you will be required to show the store personnel your shopping authorization card, so keep that handy. Remember, one card gives you the right to make a purchase for up to $1,000, though you can combine two cards (no more) for a total of $2,000. The other card can only belong to first-degree relatives such as parents, children, siblings or spouses. Naturally, there are “gavilones” or “tipos” that hang around the area that can arrange that you have sufficient “TAC” cards from “family” to make as many purchases as you need while in the area. Of course, I don’t condone or recommend these services, though they are amazingly efficient and quite convenient:-).

Why go Duty Free?
Though Golfito is not just around the corner, so its a bit of a drive and the entire process is not exactly convenient for most people, keep in mind that products are not subject to most import taxes, nor the normal 13% Costa Rica sales tax, as well as most products are highly discounted, so thrifty shoppers from around the country can save up to 50% on certain items throughout the year. For those looking for smaller ticket items such as perfumes, cosmetics, liquor, cigarettes, small appliances, tires, computer items, and an assortment of household goods, you might want to save going thru some of these inconvenient restrictions and drive a little further South to the Costa Rica-Panama border. At the border crossing, shoppers can purchase duty-free goods on a mystery strip of shops located between the two borders in the town of Paso Canoas. (You enter one door on the Costa Rica side, and exit the other side of the store on the Panamanian side!) No restrictions apply in this area, and both duty free zones can provide affordable delivery of your purchases throughout the country, but be sure to negotiate the price first!

So if you are planning a shopping getaway to the port town of Golfito, consider making a short relaxing getaway out of the trip. (You’ll need it after the Golfito zoo.) With the new Costanera Sur highway, the drive is only around three hours from Manuel Antonio/Quepos Area Hotels, and the entire area offers small marinas, yachting and boating services, excellent sport fishing,
as well as easy access to some of Costa Rica’s most beautiful National Parks and protected areas. Although much of the tourism in the Golfito area focuses on the sport fishing industry, other water sports and beach activities are also popular pastimes, with incredible surfing beaches to the south of Golfito such as Playa Pavones; best known as home to one of Zancudo, Pilon and the famous the longest left hand breaking waves in the world. The friendly people of the area, and the fabulous natural wonders that abound make Golfito and the Golfo Dulce more than just a shopping excursion, the area is truly a
beautiful and relaxing place to stop and see more of fabulous Costa Rica! Happy Shopping!

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 owns and manages her own Vacation Rental Home BusinessManuel Antonio Rental Homes.

Sources:
http://costarica.com
http://www.golfito-costarica.com/golfito/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golfito
http://depositodegolfito.com/dlcg/

Are you Ready to Celebrate a Costa Rica Christmas in that Special “Tico” Style?

December 10, 2013

In case you haven´t noticed, Costa Rica Christmas decorations and discount sales began long before Halloween dates passed. This brings to mind some of our own special ¨Tico¨ Christmas traditions found in our beautiful tropical locale. Be it the kids that start their ¨summer¨ vacations in December, workers that receive their yearly ¨aguinaldo¨ (an automatic one month salary Christmas Bonus from their boss), or the massive preparations of the traditional Christmas Tamales……whichever it may be, ¨La Navidad¨ is just around the corner!

Will there be snow? Well that is highly unlikely since Costa Rica is located only 11° off the Equator, but Costa Ricans are fascinated by snow, since few have everseen the real thing. Many of the floats in the yearly ¨Festival de la Luz¨ scheduled for Saturday Dec 14th at 6pm passes each year down the main street of Paseo Colon and Second Ave in San Jose. Floats are decorated in fluffy white cotton fabrics to give the impression of snow, and many holiday participants threw white confetti at each other, also meant to simulate snow. This year, the municipality once again is put a firm hand down on the throwing of this confetti due to safety factors, as well as the high cost of clean-up afterwards. In years past, there have been many complaints from innocent bypassers walking to work who were suddenly blanketed from head to toe in the white confetti.

Costa Rica´s animal lovers wait anxiously each year for ¨El Tope Nacional¨ usually held the day after Christmas on December 26th. This parade includes marching bands, clowns and other strange characters, but is most popular for featuring some 6000 of Costa Rica´s most beautiful high stepping horses, as well as the famous colorful hand painted oxcarts. These fabulous detailed oxcarts were originally pulled by people, then by oxen, and now are rarely used in day to day work, but are considered historical works of art cherished by the Costa Rican people.

The traditional Christmas tree, more often decorated in hues of blue, gold, silver,
white and maybe a little red, is accompanied by another important decoration, the ¨Portal¨. The Portal is the representation of the birth of Jesus, with the figures of Mary, Joseph, the three wise men, the ox and the mule. The most important figure in Costa Rica is the Baby Jesus. In Costa Rica, Santa Claus doesn’t bring the Christmas gifts, those are brought by Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve. Called ¨La Nochebuena”, it is said that while the family is sleeping, the Baby Jesus appears at the portal and the gifts magically appear under the tree for the morning of the 25th. That is when all family members typically gather around the tree and pray, thanking Baby Jesus for all the good that has passed that year, followed by the opening of the gifts Baby Jesus has bestowed upon them.

The Christmas menu is extensive, but the focus is around the preparing and eating of typical Costa Rican “tamales”. The true “tamal” base is of ground corn, which is
made into a thick dough that is later filled with small amounts of rice, small slices of potatoes, vegetables, green olives, pork or chicken, and finally wrapped in fresh plantain leaves. They are then tied with string in pairs (known as ¨Piñas¨) and boiled until cooked through and through. Making “tamales” is a cherished tradition that involves the participation of many family members and friends, as this is a slow and laborious process taught by Grandmothers from one generation to another. I am lucky enough to have many Tico friends that take pity on my lack of knowledge (or motivation!) to make the tamales and each year give me the gift of the famous Tamal!

Easily, the most chaotic and perhaps crazy activity of the holiday season is the “Zapote Bullfights”, held in the town of Zapote, just outside of downtown San
Jose. It is there that they build a special ¨Redondel¨ or Bull Ring, as well as erect a yearly improvised amusement park complete with carnival rides, amusement park games and a selection of “chinamos”, or improvised food stands. It´s important to note that in the Costa Rican bullfights, the bulls are never harmed, or killed, though the “bullfighters” do not always fare so well (see videos below). The most prestigious cattle ranches provide the bulls for free and it is considered an honor to have their bulls included in this event. Beyond the actual riding of the large bulls (generally done in Costa Rica with NO hands), much more frightening are the bullfighters in the ring. These consist of ¨normal¨ people dressed in all kinds of crazy outfits, that willingly get into the arena in mass without any professional preparation to ¨fight¨ or spook the bulls, encouraging them to chase them around the arena. Incredibly, very few people get hurt or gored during this event, though the activity is definitely entertaining and a big headache for the local Red Cross which voluntarily provides it’s emergency services during this yearly event. It´s interesting to note that this festival year after year draws Costa Ricans from all parts of the country and crosses all social classes.

The Holiday Season then officially ends on January 6th, the day the three wise men arrived and saw Baby Jesus for the first time. That day all the neighbors gather and say a special prayer for the Baby Jesus. This prayer is based on the rosary and traditional Christmas carols. Of course after the prayer, there’s the indulging in
the famous Costa Rica coffee, along with more “Tamales”, “Rompope” (Costa Rican Egg Nog), “Aguadulce” (a Sweet Water like juice) and all kinds of typical baked goods and other traditional beverages. Don´t forget the grapes (no seedless ones here) and the apples, which are considered very special treats here, as they are not readily available or very affordable and kids love them!

Lastly, Costa Rican Hotels and tourism operations around the country eagerly await the arrival of December to usher in their peak tourist season when winter weary snowbirds look to bask in the warm tropical weather and waters of Costa Rica, as well as enjoy the bounty of adventure tours and the beauty of Costa Rica´s incredible natural resources. I hope if you are reading this you are lucky enough to share in our bounty this Holiday Season!

MERRY CHISTMAS OR FELIZ NAVIDAD Y PROSPERO ANO NUEVO!

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 another 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 owns and manages her own Vacation Rental Home business Manuel Antonio Rental Homes.

Alert!! Don’t be a “Fool” this December when in Costa Rica!

November 29, 2013

Are you a fool every day, just on April fool’s Day, or surprise!…. you could be proven a fool while in Costa Rica in late December! December 28th in Costa Rica is “Dia de Los Inocentes” (Day of the Innocents), commonly considered “Fool’s Day”, which to us North Americans is customarily celebrated on April 1st, also commonly known as April Fool’s Day in the United States.

Did you fall for any pranks or jokes on December 28th? Did you get caught off guard?? Costa Rican’s love to pull off large and small pranks on their friends and family on this yearly day of tom-foolery. Everything from the simplest of jokes, to the common gesture of putting a sign on your back that might reads “kick me” or “looking for love”, to more vulgar jokes such as wrapping dog poop in toilet paper, lighting it on fire and waiting for the nearest “Innocent” to stomp out the fire, or another favorite in our humid climate, leaving a melting chocolate candy on someone’s seat so when they sit down, it later looks like they pooped in their pants when they rise. All pretty funny, as long as you are not the innocent fool!!

The history of “Dia de Los Inocentes” dates back some 2000 years. The origin of the “Day of the Innocent Saints” is very different in modern times from it’s previous inception as the day in which there was a slaughter of all male children of 2 years or younger. Ordered by King Herodes, he was voted King of the Jews by the Roman Senate, and was considered the Roman Client King of Israel. Not to be confused with his son, Herod Antipas, also of the Herodian dynasty, the elder Herod is known for his colossal building projects in Jerusalem and other parts of the ancient world, including the rebuilding of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, sometimes referred to as Herod’s Temple. He was described as “a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis.” Herod is reported in the Gospel of Matthew as personally ordering the Massacre of the Innocents. Most recent biographers do not actually regard this as an actual historical event, though the legend lives on and scripture has been found that could support the legend.

According to Matthew, shortly after the birth of Jesus, Magi (the three wise men) from the East visiting Herod to inquire as to the whereabouts of “the one having been born king of the Jews”, as they had seen his star in the East and therefore wanted to pay him homage. Herod, who himself was considered King of the Jews, was alarmed at the prospect of a newborn king possibly usurping his rule one day. In the story, Herod assembled the chief priests and scribes of the people and asked them where the “Anointed One” was to be born. Their answer, Bethlehem. Herod then sent the Magi to Bethlehem, instructing them to search for the child and after finding him, to “report to me, so that I too may go and worship him”. However, after they had found Jesus, the Magi were warned in a dream not to report back to Herod. Upon realizing that they would not communicate the exact location of the birth of Jesus, an infuriated Herodes ordered the massacre of all boys two years and under in Bethlehem and its outlying areas.

In regards to the Massacre of the Innocents, although in reality Herod was certainly guilty of many brutal acts, including the killing of his wife and two of his sons, no other known source from that period makes any references to such a massacre. Since Bethlehem was a small village, the number of male children under the age of 2, would probably not have exceeded 20 or so. This could be one of the reasons for the lack of other sources for this questionable account of history, although Herod’s order in Matthew 2-16 includes those children in Bethlehem’s vicinity meaning the massacre area could have measured a significantly larger amount numerically and geographically more in the area of some 14,000 children. The infants, known in the Church as the Holy Innocents, have been claimed as the first Christian martyrs.

How this turned into an annual celebration of trickery remains a mystery. It is said that during the Middle Ages, pagan rites were introduced in to the celebration that for some time came to be known as the “Celebration of the Crazy People” (“Dia de Los Locos”).

It was celebrated between Christmas and New Year, a direct show of the significance of Jewish and Christian sentiments during the holy season. Out of this shift in sentiment, over time a new tradition began that combined the underlying pagan sentiment with and the light hearted Christian monks teachings, with the main purpose of the day being the moment to pull all types of pranks on unsuspecting family and friends. Pranks are known as “inocentadas” and their victims are called “inocentes”, or alternatively, the pranksters are the “inocentes” and the victims should not be angry at them, since they could not have committed any sin. It is still not understood how such a morbid historical event could be converted over the centuries to celebrate a completely opposite sentiment and will likely remain a mystery to all.

So if you find yourself in most any Latin American country on December 28th, don’t be surprised if you are the butt of someone’s joke. Be warned, the Costa Rican culture has a wonderful sense of humor, meaning no one is safe on this day FOOL!!

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 owns and operates her own Costa Rica Vacation Rental Homes business calledManuel Antonio Rental Homes.

Geckos of Costa Rica…..Friend, Foe or Both?

October 22, 2013

If you are planning a visit or to live in Costa Rica, you had best make peace with the local Gecko population. Hearty little lizards, they are ubiquitous throughout the country and although they are not always a welcome sight to all, you need to rethink this as they are actually working on your behalf!

The first encounter I had with Geckos when I arrived to beautiful Costa Rica was at night as we sat quietly rocking our chairs on

the porch enjoying the warm evening tropical breezes. As we watched, the overhead lights literally became the local pub crawl for the Geckos who would happily belly up to the insect bar and make a quick meal of hapless species that sadly were lower on the food chain than these cute little lizards. Although considered nocturnal, that does not mean that these little guys don’t work around the clock, as you will likely see them any time of the day or night working on lowering the abundant tropical insect population.

Not previously having planned on my life being inhabited by a flurry of tiny meat eating mini-dinosaurs, it took a little time to get used to my new found friends and embrace their helpful presence which includes them periodically making a sound that is distinctly like they are laughing at you, as well as their constant deposit of poopy gecko presents. I’m not particularly big on that part!

It is said that having Geckos in your house is actually a good omen. Whether that is true or not is up for dispute, but the fact that these lizards are handy little pest controllers is impossible to argue after you have seen them in action.

 

These little lizards ability to scurry up a wall, hang upside down from a roof or beam, cling to all surface types including wood, glass, metal, plastic, fabric, etc, as well as maneuver on smooth, bumpy or even wet surfaces is bound to make even the biggest lizard skeptic find a new admiration for these versatile little critters.

Happy little guys, if you are sitting around and hear a surprisingly loud laughing sound…..incredibly, its the Geckos! How can you not fall in love with little lizards that laugh while they work? Its really quite astonishing the hearty chuckle that comes from these little reptiles! They are said to make this hee hee hee sound when defending their territory or for calling mates, but sometimes I suspect they are just laughing at me! (Do I sound paranoid?) Click here to hear one!

Geckos are also hearty little pro-creators. The females normally lay two eggs at a time in secure hidden places that can sometimes

include inside an old pair of shoes, between clothes not worn for some time, covey holes of walls and closets, window moldings and any number of surprise spots that the little

white eggs might tumble out of when least expected. Since they will often lay eggs in a community spot for more security, it can be quite a little scrambled egg mess when sliding an unsuspecting foot in the old shoe full of pebble sized eggs. Ew. Just another good reason (excuse?) to wear flip flops daily! Surviving Gecko eggs will take anywhere from 5-8 weeks to incubate, and these little guys can plan on a life span of around 7-9 years total.

Truly one of the most fascinating aspects of the Gecko life is their unique ability to climb and stick to just about anything! Most

people think or assume they have suction toes that allow them to cling. Although some species do, upon closer examination to many of the most common Geckos, they do not have cup shaped toes that allow them to push air out and stick. Okay, so you might think its the power of friction helping them stick to walls, However, that becomes hard to explain when they are hanging completely upside down from the roof and not making any friction. Sticky feet would seem like the most logical answer, however upon scientific study, Geckos don’t have any glands to

produce a sticky like substance, so rule that hypothesis out. So how do they do it? Scientists have wondered the same things for years and upon further study they have discovered that the magic lies in the interaction between molecules. Scientists call this the “Van der Waals Force“. Say what?? Through further examination, it would appear that each Gecko toe has a network of millions of tiny hairs (Setae) that are tipped with tiny little pads that produce

a molecular reaction that makes those microscopic little pads work like little sticky hooks. Combine that with the recent discovery that these lizards have a special secretial gland that allows them to absorb and secrete liquid at the same time and this combines to make this little fellers even stronger than a steroid soaked bodybuilder training for the Olympics! In fact, Geckos are so strong they can even hang from a single toe!! Quite a feat for such a small creature and even more so for a reptile! I wonder if we should be harnessing this knowledge and ability for more useful purposes in our normal day to day life?

If variety is the spice of life, then there is plenty of spice in Costa Rica! Geckos can be found on almost every continent except Antartica (they’re not big on cold), but Costa Rica and its warm temps are definitely the perfect tropical home for these little guys. Of the 750 species found worldwide, Costa Rica boasts 9 Gecko species within its borders. Coming in a variety of colors, sizes and habitats, the only negative thing I can say about the Geckos is they are sadly not potty trained. Depositing their little (and sometimes not so little) white & black poopy pile wherever they desire is definitely one of the negative sides of the whole

Gecko experience. Be forewarned……they have no problem and I suspect may even aim to sometimes leave their “deposit” right on your unsuspecting person. I have been poo bombed by many a Gecko over the many years I have lived in Costa Rica, and though I am not happy about it, when you watch these cute litte guys and their insect killing ability, as well as hear that enthusiastic laugh they share, its hard not to find them to still be one of the more appealing members of the reptile family!

Beyond the Gecko’s excellent insect control capabilities, they possess other distinctive characteristics that are rather endearing.

Geckos have the ability to camouflage themselves by changing their colors to help them blend into their environment while hunting for food. They also can change their colors to reflect emotions such as fear, excitement or anger. Therefore, if you see a red faced gecko….I guess it would be best to play it safe and give it a wide berth! Another rather impressive characteristic of the Gecko is their ability to detach their

tail. Got someone hot on your ass? Just detach that tail and leave them something to chew on while you escape to grow a new one. Must be handy, and crooks would love that ability! Lastly, the third amazing characteristic is the ability to change the aperture of the pupil of the eye while in bright

sunlight to be a single vertical row of pinhole openings making the iris resemble the color of their skin. In fact, the majority of Geckos actually lack eyelids and instead have a transparent membrane which they lick to clean. They also possess an incredible night vision capability with their eyes being some 350 times more sensitive to light than the human eye. Pretty handy abilities for increasing their overall Gecko warrior abilities and pretty cool stuff for a mini reptile looking to survive in the Costa Rican jungles (or in my house)!!

So are you impressed yet? Well you should be, as these little creatures have managed to evolve and perfect their talents to become some of the most efficient jungle inhabitats to be found! So on your next vacation, be sure to watch around your Costa Rica hotels, homes, sodas or jungle areas for the opportunity to observe, befriend and photograph your new little lizard companions. Not only will they laugh along with you, but they will make every effort to keep you mosquito bite free! So it just goes to show….it’s not just the “Ticos” that are friendly, their lizards are friendly too!! Now that surely is another sign of Pura Vida!!

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 owns her own Costa Rica Vacation Rental Homes business, Manuel Antonio Rental Homes.

Get out the Red, White & Blue….It’s Almost Costa Rica Independence Day!

September 10, 2013

It’s September again and in Costa Rica that means “Mes de La Patria” (Patriotic Month)! This colorful time finds the entire country in a month long celebration of their Independence from Spain with patriotic displays of their red, white and blue flag, colorful parades, thematic dances, concerts, the march of “Faroles” (more on that later) and any other number of celebrations throughout the country. Most events culminate around “Dia de Independencia” (Independence Day), which takes place on September 15th each year!

A country rich with national pride, Costa Rica encourages its citizens from a very young age to appreciate their Independence Day traditions which are to be celebrated and passed on to future generations. Schools plan elaborate patriotic displays and lively celebrations both the night of September 14th, as well as more parties, parades and civic marches on September 15th, an official National Holiday. For the school children, this month marks the culmination of many months of patriotic preparation, social studies on the importance of the date, as well as providing a special night to show off their artistic talents with the march of the “Feroles” (elaborate homemade paper lanterns).

Although September 15th is the official date to recognize Costa Rica’s independence from Spain in 1821, unlike independence battles common to many other countries, this actually wasn’t a particularly significant event for Costa Rica at the time, as the country had basically functioned independently for years from the Capitanía General of Guatemala. However, after the final Spanish defeat in the Mexican War of Independence (1810 to 1821), the authorities in Guatemala declared Independence for all of Central America. So, even though the official date of independence is in 1821, Costa Rica had basically been on it’s own for some time due to Spain’s lack of economical, political and even religious interest in this very poor region.

Nonetheless, the “Ticos” take a great sense of pride in their freedom and their official festivities actually begin on September 14th when a series of runners carry the “freedom” torch from Nicaragua (stopping for Costa Rica in the city of Cartago) and continue all the way to Panama. This is meant to be a re-enactment commemorating history when an official “news” runner ran from border to border of the then Federal Republic of Central America, notifying the people of the region of their official liberation. Costa Rica did not actually get the news until October 13th, 1821!

The runners, selected from local schools throughout Central America to carry the torch an average of 500 meters each, take on their task with great honor, as the mission serves as a great source of patriotic pride throughout the region. These runners cross the Nicaraguan border into Costa Rica each year on the eve of the day of independence arriving to the (then) capital city of Cartago, where the torch is usually welcomed by the acting president of the country, presently…. Laura Chinchilla. At this same time, most of the country grinds to a halt as almost all TV and radio stations broadcast the national anthem, with most citizens singing along whether they be young or old, home or standing on a street corner, whether riding a bus or driving a car, wherever they may find themselves, their enthusiastic patriotism is both humbling and contagious.

This impressive event is soon followed in even the smallest of pueblos and including the large cities by the sound of the local fire truck sirens that announce the beginning of the “Parade of Faroles”. These often elaborate homemade paper lanterns (with candle or light source inside) are meant to symbolize the original torch run and are proudly carried throughout the streets overhead on short poles by children, with their parents generally following closely along for safety purposes. The faroles are family projects and their design and size can vary greatly from child to child. Some resemble small “Tico” houses, others look like glittering globes, and others are elaborate “typical” scenes of churches or well known national symbols found in Costa Rica. The march of the faroles is often followed by a parade of children dancing traditional dances in adorable typical costumes….a sight that should not be missed!

Another daytime community parade takes place on the morning of September 15th which now includes the adults, important town functionaries, patriotic community members, and just about anyone who chooses to march along and show their pride for Costa Rica. Folks that live along the parade route generally have their houses and yards decked out with large Costa Rican flags and banners to celebrate the big day and they enthusiastically wave their flags as the parade marchers pass by.

So if you are lucky enough to live in or be visiting Costa Rica in the month of September, you are sure to take notice of the many festive displays of Tico pride and patriotism just about everywhere you go throughout the country. Therefore, don’t forget to join in and wear your own red, white and blue in celebration of Costa Rica’s “Mes de Patria”, the Ticos will welcome you with open arms and their usual big smiles will get even larger as the whole country celebrates Independence and Democracy!!

Sing along to the Costa Rica National Anthem!

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.