Posted tagged ‘travel and tourism’

The Tourist Tree? The Naked Indian Tree? It’s the Gumbo Limbo Tree in Costa Rica!

February 7, 2014

Living in the rainforest in Costa Rica means being surrounded by an abundance of interesting trees. One of my personal favorites is the Gumbo Limbo tree! A wildly popular tropical tree, it is native to the southeastern United States, but found widely throughout the Americas, West Indies and especially prominent in Costa Rica. This tree easily adapts to a variety of both dry and moist habitats, and is a fairly salt-tolerant species, enabling this tree to be found along most coastlines including around the Hotels of Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. Though consisting of a fairly soft wood, the Gumbo Limbo is considered a very wind-tolerant tree, making this species a good choice for hurricane or extreme weather areas.


This fast-growing canopy tree reaches heights of 50-60 feet and more, with a trunk that bears a striking color of green and red, with a thin paper like exfoliating bark. The Gumbo Limbo or Bursera Simaruba, goes by several aliases, such as the Spirit Gum, Birch Gum, Turpentine, Naked Indian, or more commonly named in popular vacation destinations…..the “Tourist Tree”, because of its red color and peeling skin!

The Gumbo-limbo is generally planted for shade and ornamental use in front or backyards, can be found along streets and highways, but it is also commonly used throughout Costa Rica as a “living fence” since it easily sprouts from cut branches that are stuck into the ground. With it’s naturally rapid growth, within no time farmers have a strong, natural, eco-friendly fence with which they can corral their livestock and mark their land.

The arils (or etable part surrounding the seed) provides an important source of food for winter migrating birds, including many migrants from North America, as well as local residents such as the Masked Tityra, Bright-rumped Attila, and Black-faced Grosbeak, the Baltimore Oriole, Dusky-capped Flycatcher and many species of Vireos. Additionally, Gumbo-limbo’s rapid growth, easy and low cost of propagation, and it’s ecological versatility make this species an ideal “starter” tree for reforestation projects.

There are so many more natural benefits to this great tree, as the sticky, turpentine-scented resin has been used for centuries for making glue, varnish, liniments, as well as a water resistant coating for dugout canoes. The aromatic sap is also used as an anti-inflammatory, a treatment for gout, a form of incense, as well as the leaves are brewed to make a medicinal tea for a wide variety of ailments. The bark is also considered a treatment against rashes caused by plants such as poison ivy and poison oak. Though the actual wood of the tree is rather soft and spongy, this versatile wood is traditionally used to manufacture the colorful carousel horses you see at county fairs, and other small wood products such as matchsticks, toothpicks, charcoal, boxes, crates, and interior trim have also been made from the Gumbo-Limbo wood.

Tribal or Native Indian medicinal uses include remedies for skin infections, skin sores, ingesting a bark tea for urinary tract infections, pain, colds, flu, sun stroke, fevers and to purify the blood. A length of bark about 5 cm x 30 cm is boiled in a gallon of water for 10 minutes or so for these local remedies and then used topically or can be sipped as a tea 2-3 times per day. Not only is it touted to provide the above medicinal remedies, but it is also said to kill bacteria, stop excessive bleeding, increase urination, increase perspiration, cleanse the blood, neutralize various venoms, helpful as a cough expectorate, reducing fevers and my favorite remedy…..increasing libido!!

So when out hiking, exploring, or just taking a drive around Costa Rica, no more passing that Gumbo Limbo tree and not even giving it a second thought. Just look at how much one can do and “cure” with this beautiful and unique tree!

But my friends…..you have been warned!!!! None of these uses are FDA approved, so please do not try these remedies at home! At least not without a Shaman present!!

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 Vacation Rental Home company on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica at Manuel Antonio Rental Homes.
Sources:
http://www.sfrc.ufl.edu/4h/Gumbo-limbo/gumblimb.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bursera_simaruba
http://www.regionalconservation.org/beta/nfyn/plantdetail.asp?tx=Burssima
http://www.plantcreations.com/bursera_simaruba.htm

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Squirrel Monkey or Mono Titi (in Spanish)… We´re too damn cute, don´t let us dissappear!

June 8, 2013

Literally everyday I have the pleasure of being visited by one of the cutest little jungle creatures you will ever encounter……the friendly Titi or Squirrel Monkeys of Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. The particular species that swings through our trees, climbs on our roofs, and even occasionally gets in our houses are found ONLY in the Manuel Antonio area. Our blessing, is this little monkeys curse though, as with continued development in the surrounding areas of Manuel Antonio and Quepos, these beautiful little animals have slowly been completely cutoff from their natural wildlife corredor, meaning the Titis of Manuel Antonio no longer have anywhere else to go! This not only limits their ability to naturally flourish, but results in an elevated level of inbreeding, more sickness, and a weakening of the species over time, putting in danger this species´ long term existence.


Easily recognized by their soft light brown body furr, adorable little white with black facial “bigotes”, long brown with bushy black tipped tails, and friendly incesant chatter, their tiny size and endearing faces draw oohs and ahhs from all that encounter them, making them clearly one of the main attractions in and around Manuel Antonio National Park, located on the Central Pacific Coast of tropical Costa Rica.

In search of a way to minimize the negative impact that this situation has caused, several local community organizations have emerged to help in the protection of this special little monkey. One of the most prominent in our area is www.kidssavingtherainforest.org. Some of their many objectives, has been the creation of ¨monkey bridges¨ throughout the area. These thick ropes are strategically placed where the monkeys naturally arrive to cross roads, highways or locations that have a large amount of electrical, phone, or other types of cables, or where the vegetation is not sufficient for monkeys to safely traverse. This helps the monkeys avoid electrocution, or from the creatures having to come down from the trees to continue their journey, a move that would make them terribly susceptible to predators, as well as other modern environmental hazards. This organization has also published an excellent list of 10 reasons why you should NOT feed the monkeys, which most hotels, restaurants and other businesses post in their establishments to help educate the community and the visiting tourists about the negative impact feeding the monkeys has. This not for profit organization has also been funding a wildlife rescue center for local injured monkeys and other animals, so you can now choose to visit and donate to their badly needed facility when in the Manuel Antonio area.


Another excellent organization developed specifically for the protection of the Titi Monkey is www.titiconservationalliance.org. The Titi Conservation Alliance was started in 2001 by a group of business owners within the tourist industry based around Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica. Recognizing the need for conservation of their natural environment to maintain prosperity for their businesses, this group of entrepreneurs began the Alliance with the mission to promote sustainable development and to conserve the biodiversity of Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Region. Today, the Alliance is composed of member businesses and individuals dedicated to saving the endangered titi monkey, and its habitat. Through dues paid by member businesses, donations from concerned tourists wanting to help protect the beautiful areas they enjoy visiting, and the efforts of our staff and volunteers, the Titi Conservation Alliance is working to protect Costa Rica’s Central Pacific region through Sustainable Development, Habitat Reforestation, and Environmental Education.

For those of you coming to Costa Rica, or if you have been trying to decide where to go on your next vacation, consider the Manuel Antonio area of this beautiful country, where not only will you have the opportunity to see these endangered little Squirrel Monkeys, but where many businesses will donate a portion of what you spend in our area directly for the Squirrel Monkey´s protection, so future generations will be able to enjoy the ¨Mono Titi¨ too!

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.

Boutique Hotels in Costa Rica! Should we add them to the Endangered List?

May 9, 2011
Byblos Boutique Resort and Casino

Walking down memory lane to the 1990’s, Costa Rica welcomed their first world class hotel chain, the Spanish firm known as Barceló. Specializing in the “All Inclusive” style of lodging, this style of travel did not take much of a foothold in this country, and the Boutique Hotel market remained the most popular choice for tourist accommodations. Now we fast forward some 20 years and Costa Rica hosts some 9 major hotel chains! Everything from Marriott, to Best Western, Intercontinental, Hilton, Choice, Wyndham, Four Seasons and the most recent group….Riu, now serve as the main players, with more jumping in each year. Does this mean the Boutique Hotel concept is ready for the endangered list in Costa Rica?

History: The “boutique” style is said to have been created in New York back in 1984, though there are valid arguments that in 1981 both London and San Francisco boasted the first boutique sized hotels. Most likely, 1984 might be when the term “boutique hotel” actually was coined, with the term coming into more mainstream use. Entrepreneurs Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell opened the boutique Morgan’s Hotel in New York on Madison Avenue in the heart of Manhattan, and the concept grew by leaps and bounds from there. Morgans was small, stylish and unique, unlike the big brand-name hotels that predominated the markets at that time. The actual term “boutique hotel” was said to be coined by Rubell himself, who described their new hotel venture as being like a boutique as opposed to a department store. A very succinct analogy if you ask me!

Description: The most defining characteristics of boutique style hotels are that they are generally small properties, with less than 100 rooms and more often averaging between 3 and 50 rooms total. They take great pride in offering a super chic atmosphere, unique design and décor, contemporary styling and quite popular these days, a rich historical value or background. Most boutique hotels provide highly personalized service, with very hands-on staff, management and/or ownership, offering a genuine personality that just can’t be found in the large hotel chains. Services can be limited depending on the size and luxury level of the property or you can often find some of the most dynamic local and gourmet restaurants, world class spas, and other unique features that make them stand out from the standard hotel offering. The concept has been so successful, that most multi-national hotel corporations have begun to brand their own chains of boutique resorts in order to try to capture a share of this huge market.

Locations: Still a popular choice for hotels in Costa Rica, the concept of “boutique”, “design” or “lifestyle” hotels, as they are often referred, has spread throughout the world, to include European & East Asian countries, appearing in such places as Indonesia, mainland China, Japan, Iceland, Turkey, India & the Middle East, just to name a few. They continue to remain popular options throughout Central and South America as well or basically anywhere that provides a desirable destination for travel. I am fairly certain that you will find some sort of boutique hotel in almost any corner of the world these days!

Target Market: There are no longer cookie cutter molds for guests seeking the “Boutique experience”. Travelers are constantly looking for something new and different, while definitely expecting more than the simple comforts once acceptable to the average vacationista. Whether planning a business trip, destination wedding, honeymoon getaway, adults only escape, or just an overdue vacation, when planning travel, guests more often than not seek properties that are noticeably different in look and feel from the large branded hotels. Boutique hotels now even present a certain level of social branding. Those staying at these establishments are often considered as trendy, daring, fashionable, hip travelers that are quite often more ecologically minded. Since boutique facilities and their pricing can vary dramatically, there are now boutique properties designed to suit every demographic, any price range or social class, always with the idea of creating an unforgettable “guest experience” that just cannot be found in the larger hotel properties.

Competition: Boutique hotels retain certain benefits when it comes to cost of operations and overall profitability. They often have a large customer base to work with, as well as being favored by smaller travel agencies or tour operators that are looking to sell the “experiential” concept that the boutique hotel property has to offer. Since boutique hotel owners do not have to pay a franchise fee to be part of a larger chain, the hotel can often operate with a lower overhead that adding costly amenities such as restaurants, spas and convention meeting spaces would create. However, these added amenities can generate significant profitability and appeal to the hotel’s bottom line, so more often than not you will find every sort of amenity imaginable in todays boutique hotel properties. Another benefit for boutique hotel owners is that well established small properties tend to have a higher rate of repeat and word of mouth business compared to normal industry standards, which can save on boutique sized marketing budgets rarely able to compete with the huge marketing budgets of large branded properties. Nevertheless, successful boutique hotels must continually adapt to the constantly changing trends, needs, tastes, preferences, and technology in order to remain competitive in this cut throat hotel market. In the end, whether it’s the most isolated green hotel getaway, the most unique historical location, the most private white sand beach, impeccable five-star white glove service, or you are just looking for that travel environment that loans their son’s boogey board, gives you cookies from their kitchen, offers the most incredible personalized guest services, or located in the most super chic locale, boutique hotels in every instance cater to their guests every need and whim. Who doesn’t want that kind of attention on their hard earned vacation?

 So for your next Costa Rica vacation, bypass that mega chain hotel and try one of the many Costa Rican Boutique Hotels, you will be personally helping keep these unique properties off Costa Rica’s endangered list!!

If you have a favorite boutique hotel you have visited, please feel free to share it with us in the comments section!!

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* and 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.

“The King of Costa Rican Calypso Music…Walter Ferguson”

July 16, 2010

Walter Ferguson, Costa Rica's "King of Calypso"

The “Festival de la Cultura y el Ambiente Walter Ferguson” will take place from July 5-18, 2010 at various locations around Cahuita and will honor one of the Afro-Costaricans’s favorite sons with music, theater, dance and poetry. Cahuita, a small tourist town located on the Southern Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica is planning to make this cultural event a yearly party of dance, music, typical food and a celebration of the Afro-Costarricense culture. Named in honor of Walter Ferguson, known as the “King of Calypso”, he is best known for songs such as Cabin in the Wata and Callaloo. The highlight of the festival is expected to be a Calypso concert at Cahuita’s Central Park, which will feature local Cahuita performers, as well as musicians from Limon and Puerto Viejo.

Background on a Muscial Icon:
Locally known as the “King of Calypso” and for which this festival was named, Walter Ferguson was born in Guabito, Panama. His family quickly settled in Costa Rica where he spent most of his childhood around the community of Jamaica Town, a neighborhood by the Port of Limon. His parents moved to Cahuita, a small village in the South of the Limon Province, where he lives to this day. From an early age, Walter showed considerable interest in music and learned to play the harmonica, guitar and clarinet mostly on his own. As a clarinet player, he started the group “Miser http://www.taringa.net/posts/musica/2659606/Walter-Ferguson_Calypso-de-Costa-Rica.htmlable” in the 1950’s with other Calypsonians from Limon. In the 60s, he began to write calypsos with over a hundred songs of great popularity and cultural relevance for the Limonese people. Mr. Ferguson, also known as Mr. “Gavitt”, attended all the Calypso challenges held around the Caribbean coast for decades. From the town of Bluefields, Nicaragua to Bocas del Toro in Panama, Calypsonians were a dedicated bunch and would move by boat, horse, train or truck to compete at these improvised contests. Ferguson soon found fame while traveling along with other big names such as Panama´s Lord Cobra, and Limonese singers Papa Tun and Shanti.

His Place in Cahuita & History:
For many years, Walter Ferguson would record his own music on to audiocassettes and sell them directly to the tourists in Cahuita. Each tape was an original, unique unto itself, like a personal concert for each person who requested one of his “souvenirs”. Mr. Ferguson has received numerous recognitions, such as the Popular Culture Award, the ACAM Award, and the Ancora Prize, awarded by Costa Rica’s national newspaper, La Nación. His songs clearly reflect the unique culture of the Afro-Costa Rican community, a culture that has mostly been ignored by the Republic of Costa Rica. Mr. Ferguson often jokes about the Calypsonian´s naïve spirit, often misunderstood, sometimes even persecuted, and has even been taken advantage of by glamour girls who call him “sugar candy”. His work has been interpreted by other Costa Rican artists like Manuel Monestel and the band Cantoamérica since the early 1980s, which has brought more prominence to his work both around the country and abroad.

A Caribbean Icon Lives on:
Seated in his customary spot at the entrance to the Sol & Mar Restaurant located in his beloved town of Cahuita, the King of Calypso thrives on the attention he receives from the locals, tourists, expats and whoever else arrives to visit him. Since the beginning of July 2010, Mr. Ferguson has served as a one man marketing machine promoting the first Cahuita Cultural Festival, also dedicated in his name. When asked if he will be attending the Festival, “No!”, answers Don Walter in a strong and certain voice. “Everyone knows me and they already know that I will not go, since I cannot even see, I would not feel very comfortable there.”, explains the 2009 winner of the prestigious Reca Mora award. It will come as no surprise to those that know him that even for this prestigious award, Don Walter did not make the trip to San Jose to receive his prize. “I don’t like San Jose.”, says Don Walter. “I prefer the country life.”, as he describes it, “I have lived in the same place since I was only 2-3 years old.”, added the outspoken elder.

Interview with An Outspoken Icon:
Please enjoy this extract of a July 7th, 2010 interview with the Calypso King…… Walter Ferguson with Viva Magazine (part of La Nacion Newspaper) while visiting the beach town of Cahuita. Mr. Ferguson does not shy away from telling you exactly how he feels:

How was your childhood?
I mostly just remember my music. Ever since I was a very young boy I liked to sing, perhaps just silly diddies, but my Mother always told me that I would be a famous composer one day. When I was around 10 years old, I learned to play the harmonica, then the ukulele, followed by the guitar and the clarinet. Nobody ever showed me, I taught myself.
What role did your Mother play in the development of your musical abilities?
My mother died some 40 years ago now. When she was young, she used to sing in the local Methodist Church. Many women sang at the church and she enjoyed it immensely. Everyday she would sing and I loved to hear her singing, which encouraged me to sing along.
How did you learn to play the different musical instruments?
I first started playing the harmonica that belonged to one of my older brothers. I began to play it, and my Mother scolded me and told me to return it to my brother, but I did not. I hid it so I could continue to practice. When my brother found out, he got mad and threw the harmonica in the backyard in the dark. I looked and looked for that harmonica, it took me so long to find it that in the end my brother showed me how to play it. Nobody could play that harmonica better than me. I also learned to play the guitar and the organ, as my Mother sent me to take lessons with a local man.
And your favorite, the Clarinet. Why do you enjoy this instrument so much?
I don’t have a bad word to say about the Clarinet. I like everything about it. They call these people “clarinetas”. One day there was a man in Hone Creek that asked me why I didn’t buy a Clarinet, and he agreed to sell it to me and allow me to make payments. I received the instrument in October and by December I already knew how to play it. I learned to play it backwards though, playing with the right hand where the left should be, and vice versa.
When did Calypso Music enter your life?
When I was a very young boy, I only sang. When I began to play the ukulele and I’d see Mighty Sparrow (the World Renowned Calypso Musician) playing his own Calypso, I thought…”Why can’t I do that too?” From then on, instead of singing other peoples Calypso I began to only sing my own. I sang Cabin on the Water, which is one of my own compositions.
How do you define what Calypso is?
Since Calypso is my life, I naturally think that Calypso is the best music, but for other people it is not their favorite. One time I attended a small concert and an older woman there told me she did not care for Calypso music at all, but for me, it is everything.
¿What does it mean to be a “Calipsonian” like yourself?
It is the same as saying you are a carpenter, construction man, etc, there is no difference. Since I do Calypso, that makes me a “Calipsonian”. In Calypso, there is a certain rhythm, if you don’t have that, you don’t have Calypso. It would not sound right. I was born with that rhythm, even when I was not playing the music, I could make this rhythm with words and whenever I was doing Calypso, I was always doing it with rhythm.
¿What are the most common themes in the Calypso songs you write?
It depends. One thing I never did was involve myself in things that would get me in trouble. Many times I was teased and encouraged to go outside my comfort limit, but I never involved myself in this style of life. Apart from that, I sing about almost anything. If you are a famous man, I can invent a Calypso song about you right away. If something bad happened, an accident, although I could make a song about that, I never sing Calypso about things that are sad.
Also, there are many times Calypso is from humor….
Yes, like the history of Bato, he called himself Albert. He built a house on the water and was always joking around. The girls would come and tell me they came to see him. The officials told him that he could not build a house inside the National Park (Cahuita National Park), so he took it as he could not have a house on land, so he built it on the water and that is how the song Cabin on the Wata was born. That is just one of the many examples of jokes in Calypso. The majority actually are jokes.
You have had competitions to see who is the best. How were these competitions?
There was a man in Limon that was saying he was from Panamá, but he was from here and he sang and had a beautiful voice. When I sang, people would say there was no one better than me, but I did not really believe them, as I am not like that. One time they asked me if I knew this man. I had heard of him, but they were saying that he was better than me. That got me very angry, so when I competed against him in Cahuita and beat him 2 times, I was very happy. He had tried telling me that he was the best Calipsonian in the country, so I told him that I must be the best in the World then, since I had beat him two times.
You were taping your music on cassettes to sell them. Do you still do that?
No, because I have two CD’s, but the people still ask me for cassettes because many don’t have the right equipment sometimes. Now that I have mostly lost my eyesight, I am not able to play as much and it makes it difficult to make cassettes.
What do you think about your music being known Worldwide?
I don’t find it very strange. My Mother always told me I would be a great composer.
How do you see the Calypso of today?
I have noticed that the Calypso is slipping and it isn’t like it used to be. The people these days prefer reggae and other styles of music. It seems to me that there are still musicians around Limon that sing, but I don’t know if its going to continue like this or not.
What do you think will happen to Calypso when you are no longer with us?
There is a young man here and I am always offering him help, as that is the way I am, I like to help the younger crowd. His name is Danny Williams and I think that if he can receive support, he will be an excellent Calypsonian. I have always felt that Calypso can survive; we just have to help the younger musicians to carry on the tradition.
How is your relationship with Cahuita, where you have lived your entire life?
I have so much love for Cahuita. I don’t have any enemies and if someone treats me badly, I stay quiet because there are other younger men that are more capable and will take care of it for me. Mostly, the whole World loves me and I love them.
How have you seen Cahuita change over the years?
There is a huge change in everything. Before we grew a little corn, but now you can’t grown anything, as they will just steal it in the night. Also, the people are so unmotivated. Tourism has been the savior of Cahuita. They aren’t bad people, granted they aren’t exactly saints, but they are always ready to help in Cahuita when really needed.
What is it that you like most about living in Cahuita?
It’s hard to pin it down to one thing or another, I grew up in the same place since I was two years old. I was born in Panama and sometimes I went to work there, but as soon as I left I always wanted to return immediately to Cahuita.
Do you like to go to San José?
No. I go if I have to, but only if I have to. I don’t like San Jose, I prefer Cartago.
Why don’t you like it?
Perhaps because I grew up in the country and I like that lifestyle. I go occasionally with friends, everyone needs time like that, but I would never live there.
Does it surprise you that tourists come here looking just for you?
Thousands of them have come. From Guatemala, England, all over! One time a woman came from Canada to meet me and she said she had one of my cassettes and she wanted to know if I had more. Some time later a group of 27 persons came to see me and I was very happy because I thought I was going to sell lots of cassettes and I could earn some ¢10.000. They asked me a lot of questions, but nobody asked about the cassettes. At the end, one woman asked me if I had any and if I would GIVE her. I felt bad, as I did not have any money, but I told her yes. They continued asking lots of questions and I answered, but I was not very happy about it. The woman said goodbye and she told me she could not wait to return with another group. In my heart, I did not want her to return, but of course I did not tell her that. Before she left she gave me a white envelope and told me that it was a little something for me. Then I felt bad and I was thankful that I had not said anything because there was ¢25.000 in the envelope which made me feel very good for being willing to give her the cassette without expecting anything in return.
You are an Afro-Costarricense icon. What do you think of this distinction?
That means nothing to me. When people tell me that, I thank them, but I don’t feel it is a big deal.
How long ago did you basically stop singing and playing music?
Since 2004 when I made my last CD (Dr. Bombodee) with Jazmín (Ross, of Papaya Music). I don’t know if you have heard of ACAM (Asociación Costarricense de Autores Musicales), these people have treated me well, they are the best, they even give me a pension from my music.
Why don’t you sing or play anymore?
Because I have lost too much of my eyesight, but I can sing because you don’t need to see to do that, but when I sing the notes do not come out as well as before. Since that problem started, I decided to not sing or play anymore.
You seem to be in excellent condition, what is your secret?
Since I have lost my vision and perhaps because I told you I am 91 years old, I’m sure you thought that it was a lie, but before I spent the entire day working on the farm and it was hard.
Beyond your eyesight, how is your general health?
Not very good. I have no appetite and I don’t sleep at night, although last night I slept very well.
But you look to be in really good shape?
Many people say that, but I do not feel well these days.
What do you think of the recognitions you have received such as the festival that now carries your name?
I feel very thankful that they thought of me.
What does it mean to you that you won the Reca Mora award from ACAM in 2009?
I have always spoke well of ACAM as these people have always taken good care of me.
What do you think of Manuel Monestel, who received the award in your name and gave the national radio DJs a bad time for not playing your music more in their programs?
Manuel Monestel is a nugget of gold to me. Whatever I need, he is always there to help me, and besides, he sings a lot of my Calypso songs.
What has been the biggest satisfaction in your life?
The biggest satisfaction? When my father gave me the farm and I no longer had to wander in search of odd jobs. There were times when I had no money, like when the crops did not come out well, but I was always able to come up with a few “centavos” with the farm. If I still had my sight, I could probably still earn something on that farm. I have never been as happy as when I had my sight.
At 91 years, what place does music hold in your life?
The music you never loose. I never consider myself too old to invent a song, I could do it right now if I wanted to.
What message would you like to give the city of Limón?
Whenever I go to Limon I am received with much regard and respect. I hope that the younger musicians will continue to play music, we need to help them keep Calypso alive.
And the rest of Costa Rica?
I was born on the Panamanian border and when they ask me where I was born, I say the truth, but my gratitude is for Costa Rica, because I have been here since I was a young child. I am proud to be from Panama, but when they ask where I come from, I always say I am Costa Rican.

Still the King of Calypso, at 91 years old and now mostly blind, the famous Walter Ferguson lives a simple life on a pension. Nonetheless, the King of Costa Rican Calypso still manages to make his way around Cahuita town alone, and stubbornly refuses help from others. Never at a loss for words, long live the King of Calypso, he will be sorely missed when he is gone!

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.

SOURCES:
Gerardo Gonzalez: http://www.nacion.com
Ana Maria Parra: http://www.muchogustocentroamerica.net/spa/articles/view/27
http://afrocubanlatinjazz.blogia.com
http://mp3.mondomix.com/walterferguson
http://www.89decibeles.com/noticias/acam-2009-anuncia-sus-nominados

New Addition to Endangered list in Costa Rica…..Boutique Hotels?

April 28, 2010
Byblos Resort & Casino in Costa Rica

Boutique Adventure Resort - Byblos Resort & Casino

Walking down memory lane to the 1990’s, Costa Rica welcomed their first world class hotel chain, the Spanish firm known as Barceló.  Specializing in the “All Inclusive” style of lodging, this style of travel did not take much of a foothold in this country, and the Boutique Hotel market remained the most popular choice for tourist accommodations.  Now we fast forward some 20 years and Costa Rica hosts some 9 major hotel chains!  Everything from Marriott, to Best Western, Intercontinental, Hilton, Choice, Wyndham, Four Seasons and the most recent group….Riu, now serve as the main players, with more jumping in each year.  Does this mean the Boutique Hotel concept is ready for the endangered list in Costa Rica? 

History:

The “boutique” style is said to have been created in New York back in 1984, though there are valid arguments that in 1981 both London and San Francisco boasted the first boutique sized hotels.  Most likely, 1984 might be when the term “boutique hotel” actually was coined, with the term coming into more mainstream use. Entrepreneurs Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell opened the boutique Morgans New York on Madison Avenue in the heart of Manhattan, and the concept grew by leaps and bounds from there. Morgans was small, stylish and unique, unlike the big brand-name hotels that predominated the markets at that time. The actual term “boutique hotel” was said to be coined by Rubell himself, who described their new hotel venture as being like a boutique as opposed to a department store.  A very succinct analogy if you ask me!

 Description:

The most defining characteristics of boutique style hotels are that they are generally small properties, with less than 100 rooms and more often averaging between 3 and 50 rooms total.  They take great pride in offering a super chic atmosphere, unique design and décor, contemporary styling and quite popular these days, a rich historical value or background.  Most boutique hotels provide highly personalized service, with very hands-on staff, management and/or ownership, offering a genuine personality that just can’t be found in the large hotel chains.   Services can be limited depending on the size and luxury level of the property or you can often find some of the most dynamic local and gourmet restaurants, world class spas, and other unique features that make them stand out from the standard hotel offering.  The concept has been so successful, that most multi-national hotel corporations have begun to brand their own chains of boutique resorts in order to try to capture a share of this huge market.

 Locations:

Still a popular choice for hotels in Costa Rica, the concept of “boutique”, “design” or “lifestyle” hotels, as they are often referred, has spread throughout the world, to include European & East Asian countries, appearing in such places as Indonesia, mainland China, Japan, Iceland, Turkey, India & the Middle East, just to name a few.  They continue to remain popular options throughout Central and South America as well or basically anywhere that provides a desirable destination for travel.  I am fairly certain that you will find some sort of boutique hotel in almost any corner of the world these days!

 Target Market:

There are no longer cookie cutter molds for guests seeking the “Boutique experience”.  Travelers are constantly looking for something new and different, while definitely expecting more than the simple comforts once acceptable to the average vacationista.  Whether planning a business trip, destination wedding, honeymoon getaway, adults only escape, or just an overdue vacation, when planning travel, guests more often than not seek properties that are noticeably different in look and feel from the large branded hotels.  Boutique hotels now even present a certain level of social branding.  Those staying at these establishments are often considered as trendy, daring, fashionable, hip travelers that are quite often more ecologically minded.  Since boutique facilities and their pricing can vary dramatically, there are now boutique properties designed to suit every demographic, any price range or social class, always with the idea of creating an unforgettable “guest experience” that just cannot be found in the larger hotel properties.

 Competition:

Boutique hotels retain certain benefits when it comes to cost of operations and overall profitability.  They often have a large customer base to work with, as well as being favored by smaller travel agencies or tour operators that are looking to sell the “experiential” concept that the boutique hotel property has to offer.  Since boutique hotel owners do not have to pay a franchise fee to be part of a larger chain, the hotel can often operate with a lower overhead that adding costly amenities such as restaurants, spas and convention & meeting spaces would create.  However, these added amenities can generate significant profitability and appeal to the hotel’s bottom line, so more often than not you will find every sort of amenity imaginable in todays boutique hotel properties. Another benefit for boutique hotel owners is that well established small properties tend to have a higher rate of repeat and word of mouth business compared to normal industry standards, which can save on boutique sized marketing budgets rarely able to compete with the huge marketing budgets of large branded properties. Nevertheless, successful boutique hotels must continually adapt to the constantly changing trends, needs, tastes, preferences, and technology in order to remain competitive in this cut throat hotel market.

In the end, whether it’s the most isolated green hotel getaway, the most unique historical location, the most private white sand beach, impeccable five-star white glove service, or you are just looking for that travel environment that loans their son’s boogey board, gives you cookies from their kitchen, offers the most incredible personalized guest services, or located in the most super chic locale, boutique hotels in every instance cater to their guests every need and whim.  Who doesn’t want that kind of attention on their hard earned vacation? 

So for your next Costa Rica vacation, bypass that mega chain hotel and try one of the many Costa Rican Boutique Hotels, you will be personally helping keep these unique properties off Costa Rica’s endangered list!!

If you have a favorite boutique hotel you have visited, please feel free to share it with us in the comments section!!

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 Makanda by the Sea.

 Sources:

www.independent.co.uk

www.travelandleisure.com

www.bizymoms.com

www.travels.com

www.wikipedia.org

www.ehow.com

www.wisegeek.com

www.hospitalitynet.org

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

April 10, 2010
Juan Santamaria Airport in Costa Rica

Famous Statue of Juan Santamaria at the Costa Rica International Aiport

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 Rica and 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 this nation’s 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 Hotel Makanda by the Sea

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

Easter in Costa Rica….Religious Parades, Beach Escapes & the Famous Miel de Chiverre!

March 28, 2010
Religious Processions in Costa Rica for Easter

Local Religious Processions Abound in Costa Rica during Easter Week

Easter Week, or Semana Santa, is easily one of the most important weeks of the year for Costa Ricans.  Full of important religious ceremonies celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, this predominantly Catholic country finds most locals spending this week with family in prayer, heading out to the beach areas for a short vacation, or more commonly a combination of both.  Traffic can be horrendous, in part because on Good Friday public bus routes shut down completely to allow employees time to celebrate the holiday with their own families.  Public transportation options become limited and can be extremely crowded and inconvenient during this holiday.

In most areas of Costa Rica, the local Catholic Church organizes traditional masses, as well as daily religious processions or celebratory parades generally starting on Holy Wednesday, and continuing through Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  Sometimes these ceremonies start as early as Monday, continuing through the entire week.  Usually consisting of dramatic reenactments of Jesus’ journey through Jerusalem to his crucifixion and resurrection, with fake blood in place, some of the graphic depictions are not always pleasurable for the faint of heart.

Actors, dressed as Roman soldiers, take part with a host of other easily recognized characters in the journey towards Jesus’ eventual death.  Most commonly spotted in these processions or local parades are Angels, Mary Magdalene, Saint Joseph, the Virgin Mary, Apostles and naturally, Jesus, the most coveted dramatic role of all.  Participants proclaim to have lived the last year free of sin, while following closely the church’s teachings, though this point could be argued in many a town.  Nonetheless, considered a very serious event, large numbers of spectators line the streets to mourn, pray and celebrate.

Traditionally during Holy Week, practicing Catholics prepare special dishes centering around the main ingredient, Seafood. Keeping in line with the observance of not eating meat on Fridays during Lent, delicious typical Costa Rican dishes are shared, such as rice and shrimp, fish ceviche, fried whole fish, canned tuna, as well as a variety of local desserts such as empanadas, rice pudding, rosquillas (donuts), polvorones (cookies), eggnog, Chicha (a hot drink made from aguadulce, ginger and cinnamon), and a popular jelly made from “chiverre”, a large squash similar to a watermelon. (See recipe below.)

Catholics are given all of Lent to attend Confession, while church hours are expanded to accommodate higher numbers arriving to confess before Easter, since the sacrament is not available Thursday through Sunday.  The extended hours also allow further preparation for the processions including decorating and cleaning the religious effigies, many of which will take part in up to 10 processions, requiring different colored clothing for each one.

Tourists visiting Costa Rica, or “Ticos” not attending religious ceremonies with family, all head for the beach, converting sleepy beach towns into overcrowded party zones, while hotels in both small towns and tourist hubs throughout the country are in normal years completely booked months in advance.  Travelers on roads leading to and from the coastal towns can sit in traffic for hours.  San Jose and other Metropolitan Areas become literally deserted ghost towns as all government institutions, schools and banks close from Thursday to Sunday, or as is the case this year, many are closing from Sunday to Sunday.

In recent years, the common practice of enforcing the “Dry Law” during Holy Week has become a bit more relaxed, with enforcement by police officials sporatic and unorganized, especially in high tourist zones.  The Dry Law specifies that as of midnight on Wednesday, all bars, restaurants and liquor stores close, and no alchohol can be served or sold until Saturday.  According to Catholic tradition, followers are to refrain from drinking alchoholic beverages during the mourning of Jesus Christ, until his resurrection on Easter Sunday.  Even though the majority of the Costa Rican population is Catholic, many citizens stock up on liquor and beer to take them through the festive week, while other entrepreneurial spirits make a side business of selling beer and liquor out the back door or even the trunk of their car during those dates. 
Though many a devoted churchgoer may still choose to indulge in a drink or two, superstitions abound, and Ticos are known to keep an eye over their shoulder during this time.  Many won’t swim in the ocean on Holy Thursday or Friday, fearing they will drown because God is angry.  Others believe you can turn into a fish if you get in the water on Holy Friday.  Another common superstition is the thought that the earth gets hotter, causing more earthquakes during this time.  Surprisingly, this has been fairly true this year, but is more likely just a coincidence.  An older superstition states that it is a sin to drive a car during Holy Week, and some small towns are said to still throw nails on the street to deter anyone who would consider the sin of driving during these dates.  I thankfully have personally never seen this done in my 20 years of living in Costa Rica.

 In one particular town, Ortega de Santa Cruz in Guanacaste, men continue to participate in an age old tradition that involves capturing a large crocodile with their bare hands on Good Friday and tying it up to put on display in the center of town. Even though the animal is released the following day, the tradition has been under scrutiny of animal and environmental conservationists for years and each year is said to be the last.  Unfortunately, it has also grown in popularity as many curiosity seekers head to the small town to witness the exhibition in person.

On the positive side, it is widely agreed upon that some of the best weather and certainly some of the best sunsets of the year happen during Holy Week, another excellent reason to be at the beach.  So should you find yourself in Costa Rica during this holiday week, feel free to come join in the festivities and be sure to try the Chiverre Jelly listed below!!

MIEL DE CHIVERRE:Ingredients:
Large chiverre 
Dulce de caña in (2) tapas or 1 kilo of granular brown sugar
cinnamon 
cloves
250 grams brown tamarindo seeds (Optional)
250 grams of coconut pieces or flakes (Optional)(Tapas of dulce de caña are the little circular blocks of brown sugar available at every Costa Rican market.)Preparation:

Over a fire or using a kitchen burner, char as much as possible of the shell of the chiverre. 

When done, hit the shell firmly with a hammer to expose the contents which looks like spaghetti squash or fine hairs.

Put the insides in a clean pillowcase and use the clothes drier to reduce the moisture.  

When the chiverre contents are drier, cook it in a big sturdy pot over low heat. Cover the entire flesh of the chiverre with whichever sugar you are using, white, brown or the tapa.  Sprinkle with the tamarindo seeds, cinnamon, cloves, lemon or orange peel and if desired, the coconut. The chiverre will naturally produce enough liquid to complete this process.

Cover the pot and let it cook slowly over low heat for 90 minutes, stirring often to avoid sticking.

Allow to cool and either transfer to a jar or use for other dishes.

The jelly is widely used in dessert empanadas, cookies and other dishes where a touch of sweetness is desired.

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.