WTF? Tourism Mis-Descriptions

December 29, 2009

I was at an airstrip the other day and found a series of brochures produced by Nature Air, one of of Costa Rica’s two domestic airlines. After reading the care they gave to their advertising copy, I was a bit skeptical about boarding one of their puddle jumpers. Here’s what they have to say about:

1. Quepos. Quepos is a sleepy town, built in the thirties as a banana port. The town features colonial architecture and a great fish restaurants along a quiet seaside plaza.

The area is most famous for its fabulous sport fishing, white sandy beaches, and beautiful mountains outcroppings jutting into crystal clear waters of Manuel Antonio National Park.

The Park is a little gem of greenery with emerald coves and a tree lined shoulder reaching an island of serenity. It is home to White Face and Spider Monkeys, Sloth’s, Toucans and Iguanas.

Some of the best positioned hotels in Costa Rica are on the high outcropping of land offering panoramic views of ocean The subset dining is at it’s best in Quepos.

I have detected some errors. To wit: “…built in the thirties… features colonial architecture…” This is false by definition. There is nothing in town older than 70 years, at which time Costa Rica had already been an independent republic for 100 years. Also, there is no seaside plaza. I do agree that the subset dining is superb, however.

Here are some excerpts from their description of San Jose.

2. San Jose is best known for its theatre, performing arts and galleries. It is home to Teatro Nacional, Pre-Columbian Museum, Gold Museum , Jade Museum , Museum of Mational History , and Children’s Art Museum. Teatro Nacional is an exact replica of the opera house in Vienna, Austria and home to Costa Rica’s National Orchestra, Opera and a rich program of performances.

The city has a lively night life, clubs and an array of excellent cuisines to choose from. Dining choices go from Costa Rican tipico whole red snapper, Italian fresh pasta, French Brasserie, Peruvian cervices and Japanese sushi to Argentine beef houses.

I would like to point out one thing: Peruvian cervices. Now, I know that Peru is famous for its ceviche. But cervices is the plural of cervix. Cervices? Are those served on a bed of medical waste? And a nice glass of amniotic fluid?


Snapshots of Barrio Amón

December 21, 2009

Most of Costa Rica is on vacation until January 5th. The days leading up to this moment have been characteristic of every December in Tiquicia in that the streets become a throbbing throng of money-maddened shopping zealots, junkies yearning to quench their thirst for pirated copies of Shrek, hard-candy gift sets, rubber pants, whatever is around.

Costa Rican law requires that all salaried employeed be paid an aguinaldo, which is an extra full month’s salary. Flush with cash, Ticos gas up their cars and take to the streets, smashing into each other seemingly without care and clogging the streets to the point that I expand my walking district to a 5km radius as that distance is easier covered on foot than by car.

Rush hour begins.

Nearby, I spied these buildings.

Rooms by the hour

For some reason this picture got turned sideways, and I don’t care enough to fix it. This place rents rooms  by the hour, in case you get the itch while stuck in traffic. Additionally, this region becomes a prime place to pick up transvestites at night. Many of these trannies are better looking than most women, just with a little surprise for the uninitiated.

This place is also on my route home. I don’t know what it is, but it looks like it was probably pretty nifty at one point.

A little urban decay.

These neighborhoods are some of the more interesting ones in the city, the only places where any concentration of old buildings have been left standing. But municipal building codes and a culture of tearing down signs of the past will likely force these neighborhoods little by little into the boxy, uncreative modernity that many Ticos seem to favor. It’s too bad, since the local tourism board frequently wonders how to draw more visitors interested in Costa Rica’s culture to the country, to complement the healthy number of nature-loving arrivals. With a few tweaks to the Historic Preservation code and vision by city leaders, San Jose could still halt the destruction of its past and preserve (and indeed improve) the cultural face of the capital. But for those of us who have lived here long enough, we know that that’s likely to be little more than wishful thinking.

Old and new on the edge of downtown

Images: Thursday’s Commute

December 17, 2009

There are a number of interesting things that I would like to point out in this first photo.

Cruce, Santo Domingo de Heredia por la Basílica.

First, the squat, adobe house at the center of the frame is a traditional Costa Rican dwelling that has mostly disappeared from the national urban landscape. There is little culture of preserving the past here, so when a building like this one begins to deteriorate, it is usually razed for something deemed “modern.” (see this pic for my favorite modern house)

Further in the background you’ll see the belltower of the Basilica, one of many Catholic monuments to tithing erected around the country. In traditional Spanish design, the church sits on the east side of a plaza.

In the side mirror, you{ll see a person wearing a yellow shirt walking the line of cars backed up at the stoplight. These are recovering drug addicts who ask for donations, sell pencils or stickers or pamphlets at intersections all around the country. They have to meet a daily quota, then they receive as a salary a small percentage of everything else they collect. It’s not a nice job weaving in and out of incredibly dangerous traffic, where motorcycles do not have to respect the laws and can drive wherever they can. But they’re out of the streets, at least for now.

Here, we have a glimpe into downtown San Jose.

Entrada a San José, por La República

Here we can see the explosion of poor architecture that is downtown San Jose. Most people, when they decide to build, do not consult an architect in order to best use space, maximize air flow or otherwise try to transmit an idea or feeling through their construction. Instead, they hire an engineer to make sure the thing doesn’t fall down. As such, many buildings throughout the country are little more than reinforced rectangles.

Images from a Commute

December 16, 2009

I’d like to start sharing with you some of the things I see every day when I drive from the mountains into San Jose.

The architectural abortion in the background here is the Ministry of Environment, Energy and, inexplicably, Telecomunications. The inside of this building reflect the care and attention to detail given to the outside: cramped, poorly lit and ventilated, filled with bureaucrats.

MINAET, San Jose, Costa Rica

A few kilometers later, the sun was going down as I hit some thick traffic.

Drive time.

That’s all I have for today.

More Murder in the Barrio

October 30, 2009

A stray bullet during a shootout between rival gangs killed a university student last evening, a few blocks from my office. This is the third murder this year that has taken place within a short walk of my office that I know of. Contrary to what many might think, this neighborhood is not a slum. In fact, it’s one of San Jose’s better neighborhoods, featuring a collection of small offices, decent restaurants and nightlife. But crime is out of control, and the authorities are unable and unwilling to do anything about it. It is indeed an unfortunate commentary on this society when you can’t walk along a crowded thoroughfare at 5:30 pm in a good part of town without an imminent risk of danger.

The Only Coffee Shop In Town

October 22, 2009

The only coffee shop where I can sit down, enjoy a steaming cup of joe, open up my computer and work unmolested is the McCafe at McDonald’s. This is an unfortunate fact. It’s not that I love the ambiance, of screaming children, beeping registers, bubbling grease, and a tinny sound system playing cheesy Spanish love ballads at concert volume. But McCafe wins by default. As the police have reiterated in the press, one must not walk around with a laptop computer in public. If one does, and gets rolled, then the theft is classified as “carelessness.” Additionally, most coffee shops lack internet, or comfortable seating, or more than 3 tables, or proper ventilation, or a management policy that prohibits bums from begging or selling pencils or stealing your bun when you’re not looking.

It’s the armed guard at the door, however, that gives me the greatest sense of security at McCafe. I know that I have a persona gumshoe mere feet behind me, ensuring that I reach my parked vehicle intact. Because after dark on the streets, anything goes. So I’ll sit here, sipping my McCappuchino, while some Mexican skank bleats on about how she likes it when you touch her, with an aromatherapy of Special Sauce and stale fries, banging away like one of those monkeys who just might write the complete works of Shakespeare.

Back In Action, or, Still Rotting

September 23, 2009

Sometimes The Rot comes in bursts. The other day I was leaving my house at four in the morning, at the end of the block, were two young women dressed in Jennifer Lopez urban nightwear. This would not be strange if I lived in the city, but with a much higher bovine population density than bipeds, it gave me pause. Were they in distress? Lost? Kidnapped and abandoned? I asked if everything was all right. “Are you going to the serenade?” they asked. No, I knew nothing of a serenade, and in fact, I informed them, we were in the middle of the countryside. Then a car came barreling down the hill, honking like a lost calf, and the girls ran over and got in. The driver had an ashen face and clutched a bottle of beer which evidently was not his first.

Last night a couple of dudes threatened to shoot me. They were riding my ass in Santo Domingo, so I gave them a shot of my new Rebel 90 210-lumen superflashlight to let them I meant business, hoping to illuminate these young gentlemen as to the proper methods of driving. They pulled alongside me and I gave them another dose of the Rebel 90. They squinted and squirmed, inquiring as to whether I’d like to be shot. I told them that I didn’t mind, that the Rebel 90 would protect me. Problem averted.

This is not to mention the dressed up man wandering the streets of Heredia drunk as other were going to church. Or the street theif who stole a cheap cellphone, was pursued, caught and then professed his innocence. In order to prove to the angry mob that he was no criminal, he even stripped down to his boxers. No phone. The crowd did find it, however, neatly tucked into his anus.

That’s 24 hours of driving around. Every day brings new adventures.

an experiment

July 28, 2009

An experiment to plug the best website for planning a vacation and travel in Costa Rica.

Brief Thoughts on Why I Travel

April 15, 2009

I just read a couple of quotes from an essay by Bob Shacochis regarding travel and vagabonding. “Whatever your resources,” he writes in an essay called Something Wild in the Blood, “the world is yours to the exact degree to which you summon the fortitude and faith to step away from convention and orthodoxy and invent your own life.”

And this is how I felt when I first abandonded life in the States for the unknown lure of the tropics: “I was unaware that there were other people like me, people who might think of their urge to travel as an acceptable characteristic of a bona fide lifestyle. Romantics, to be sure; fools, possibly; escapists, probably. Dreamers who pursued irregular but nonetheless intrepid dreams of dubious value to the social order, their minds flaring with extravagant narratives.”

Now, after nearly eight years away, time has done nothing to quell this spirit. If anything, each venture outside of my daily bubble adds fuel and further stokes the fire, making the possibility of a life of convention more distant with each passing day.

Easter Crime Report: San Rafael Burns, and, A Killer on the Loose

April 13, 2009

Behind my house there is a wooded lot that goes about 50 meters down to a dry creek bed, which if you cross and hike up the other bank, you’ll get to where a full-fledged, recently-released-from-prison murder lives. We’re neighbors. He was just released from La Reforma, the maximum-security prison in Alajuela. Some of you might know La Reforma from news reports of such hijinks as “Escape in the Laundry,” “Cell Phone Ass-Smuggling” and “Pin The Pecker on the Trannie.” This fine fellow just graduated from ten years of a 17-year program in social penance for murder. It would appear that he didn’t learn too much, however. Within hours, he had stabbed a fellow who was camping just up the street from me. The camper didn’t die, but the police did show up after irate neighbors stopped calling and drove to the police station to demand action. “We have no gas,” the coppers said, as I imagine them looking up bored from a game of pinochle. But they found some, came up, and got in a shootout with the Familia, the band of ne’erdowells who live behind me. Killer was handcuffed and taken to jail.

A group of neighbors stood in the street, firing their guns skyward like a bunch of tan Yosemite Sams, barking and growling from the safety of their own gated estates, proclaming that justice had been served.

In true Tico form, however, the judges could find no reason to hold him, so they let him out. Now he’s terrorizing the neighborhood.

There have been a number of home robberies here lately, including a brazen attack in which a neighbor saw the crooks bust a window, called 911, and waited two hours for the cops to show up. By that time, the thieves had left with everything in the house, down to the showerheads and the kitchen sink.

Thursday resulted in the arrest of some 80 of the Future of San Rafael. Burning tires, felled trees and garbage blocked roads as a maddened throng of youth danced around, bashing in windows of passing cars and hurling molotov cocktails at the police. It was Judas’ fault. Thursday the Ticos take out their anger on Judas for his purported betrayal by blocking roads, burning all kinds of shit, and in this case, setting some mechanics’ shops afire, breaking all the windows at City Hall and tipping cars.

With each passing year, the road to my house becomes scarred with more and more scorched asphalt from where these future bottom feeders decided to express their ire. Maybe the only way to get the Familia out of their cave is to put up a sign: Judas Lives Here. Of course, then they’d probably burn my house down, too. I guess I’ll just have to wait to get rolled.