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As I realize now I was a bit too optimistic in the last post about swine flu in Costa Rica. It is apparently not just a cold that you get and might, or might as well not, eventually die. But according to reliable sources swine flu actually turns you into a pig. Now, I like being swinish and acting like a pig and all. But this is clearly too much. I don’t want to turn into a pig! So let’s all be nice to each other, wear face masks, not kiss or even talk to each other. Death I could cope with but I do not want to be a swine.

Good night.

Okay, I don’t want to add to the general panic in any way. Still, it might be of interest to some that Costa Rica has confirmed its first case of swine flu. This is special because apparently it is the first case of swine flu outside Mexico but in Latin America. Central America might be particularly affected because there is a lot of interchange and travel (work- and recreation-related) between all Central American countries.  There are still the odd 50 open cases where it is not yet clear what condition the patients are in (i.e. if they have the swine flu or not).

a/H1N1 testing kits have been sent to Costa Rica now in order to facilitate testing. Time will tell how the disease will spread in Central America. It is yet too early to say whether the geographical proximity to Mexico means that more cases of swine flu will appear in CR. It is most important for the medical sector to be ready and have emergency plans at hand. Costa Rica’s medical infrastructure is in a fairly good condition and the odds are good that tico doctors will come prepared.

I am getting a little bit tired by people visiting me who ask always the same question: “What do I need to bring?” The problem is that it’s not easy to answer because it depends on how long you plan to stay here and where you plan to stay. Costa Rica’s climate is extremely varied and it reaches from freezing (well, that’s what it feels like anyways, but it can be around 10 degrees Celsius in the highland at night) to way too hot to even move (talking Guanacaste in dry season). So don’t ask me no stupid questions but think for yourself.

The longer you stay the more variety of clothes you might have to bring. Anyways, don’t rely on your classical packing list for the tropics. Here I found a good packing list for such travels. It takes the variety of the country into consideration and it’s a good basic starting point (so you won’t end up without underwear at least). You will be covered from beach stay to small national park explorations onto visit on high-up mountain peaks. Very well, if you have some further special interests you will have to figure out your additional items. I can’t be everyone’s nanny and it gets a little tiresome to repeat the same propositions over and over again. So take advantage of the list above and start packing up…

Good luck and see you down here soon!

Remember the bad old times in Panama when beer taste just like… well, let’s just say water.
The beer still doesn’t taste too much, but the percentage has clearly improved. Until a few years ago it was not possible to find a beer with over 3.5% alcohol in it. this has changed now and 5% beer is actually available. Yee-haah!

Okay, though, the Cervezeria Baru of Panama still doesn’t know much about beer brewing in my opinion, but this is definitely a great improvement. Long gone are the days we used to spend at the beach, chugging one beer after the other, still faintly hoping to get drunk. Now, we actually do manage! No more just using the beer for chasers after Ron Abuelo (which, by the way, is also not very good compared to Central American Standards: When I say “standard” you say “Flor de Caña“…). Anyways, Panama has never been my favorite drinking land. It is definitely not my favorite smoking land. What’s with these fascist laws man? I mean, being healthier all right, but why the hell would you not allow smoking outdoors? We’ve even been to a bar at the beach, that had a little straw-roofed shelter with a table. No sire, you could not smoke under there. What’s with that? Well, they still take the law kind of easy in Bocas del Toro, but not in Panama City, no sir! You can get your ass fined off.

Well anyways, I was talking about the beer, but now I drifted off I guess. Instead of complaining about non-smoking laws I should be happy that the Cervezas “Panama” and “Balboa” finally managed to get the percentage of booze into them they should.

Salud!

I am wondering for a while now.  There is this book by Naomi Klein where she describes how various places in the world have been screwed over by neoliberal businessmen and banks, allied to various western governments (mainly the US of course…).  The book is called “The Shock Doctrine“. It is well researched and well written and it gives an interesting insight in how the capitalist system managed to perpetuate itself, despite some problems innate to the system (that problem being, mainly, that it does not work for everybody, but only for a small caste of rich and richer). Starting with Pinochet’s counter-revolution against Allende in Chile, she describes how Friedmanite doctrines of economics have been imposed by an unholy alliance of Pinochet’s henchmen and Friedman and his fascist followers. (Let me just add, at this point, that Milton Friedman stinks, may that greedy bastard rot in hell for all national economies he and his disciples managed to fuck up.) However, using the state of “shock” Friedmanite economists managed to enforce privatizations, prohibition or at least hindrance of labor unions in exchange for credits (from the World Bank and the IMF (which are both also surprisingly fascist organizations). This is just to say the least. Anyone that has ever been to Latin America can still feel the aftertaste of decades of American and Western imperialism. Of course, not to mention the centuries of slavery and imperialism before. But that was before Latin Americans even began to get organised on a larger scale (in the old times, pretty much until the days of Simon Bolivar, the only ones to get organised were large land owners of European descent who did just about fine). When self-preserving initiatives finally began and Latin America tried to trade among their own nations and build a foundation that would be more independent of the Western World, the Western World did not dig that. Least of all the US and the CIA. Which is why they began installing random dictators in countries from Guatemala down to Argentina.

This is just to give you a brief outline. There’s no point in reciting the entire book. I suggest you go and buy it. The only problem is: it is not available in Latin America.

Okay, okay I over-dramatized it. It is available, but only after long struggles and at the crazy-ass price of almost 100$.  It seems that the only version of the book is being edited in Spain as a hardback edition. I have found no bookstore in Nicaragua or Costa Rica that could even order it for me (I’m sure I would find one in Costa Rica if I tried harder but what the…). So it seems that after centuries of exploitation, after being screwed over plenty again in the 20th century by restricting free education and information, all is still not well in Latin America. For example there seems to be no publisher in all of Latin America willing or able to publish one book that has a particularly interesting perspective to offer for the continent’s history. I hope this will change soon. Maybe I’m just too stupid to find the book. But even if… it worked out fine for all my stupid friends in Europe to get the book, why should it be any more difficult here in Central America?

I’m glad for all hints pointing me the way to an affordable Spanish edition of the “Shock Doctrine”! Thanks

All right, today its time for another topic. Tourism and stuff. I happen to live in San José, Costa Rica and dig the place very much. When it comes to Latin American capitals, San José is certainly the most pleasant one in my opinion. It’s safe enough for me to enjoy life here without having to spend my time in taxis and condos (as you might have to in Guatemala City), the climate is perfect and it’s just got the size I love. From where I live (los Yoses), I’m out of the city I 15 minutes by bike. There are plenty of day tours you can make on weekends, so if city life gets to me I always find the opportunity to breathe some fresh air and enjoy the colors of nature.

Nightlife is also interesting and it has developed a lot in past years. I suck at dancing salsa, so it’s good to have some opportunities to dance to other music (mainly electronic). On Wednesday’s, Lubnam is the place to go. It’s small and crowded on Wednesday’s, but it has great music (and good lebanese food if you’re hungry). Bar 83 is close to where I live and has an interesting alternative crowd – so does Area City.

But there’s also a hotel bar I occasionally like to hang out: the Fleur de Lys’s bar. They have happy hour on Tuesdays and Fridays with live music and an interesting crowd. Being a son of a lawyer I was always interested in legal shop talk. So because the Fleur de Lys is in the “circuito judicial” (where the courts and public attorneys are), there are lawyers and judges enjoying their after-work beer here. Not my usual crowd, but nice for a change.

It’s here that I go to know Patrick. Patrick is a Swiss that a backpacker’s called Casa Leon. It’s in the middle of the city, so any visitor to Costa Rica must enjoy the place. Recently I have managed to visit his small hotel for the first time and I liked it very much. It’s small and personal and apparently there’s a friendly crowd hanging out there most of the time. His prices are cheap, so I do recommend it for any budget traveler in Costa Rica. Patrick has been living in Costa Rica for about three years know and is married to a Tica. He is an interesting crossover between Switzerland and Costa Rica and speaks German, Spanish, French and English (these Swiss, they always speak so much…). I can only recommend you pass by there – or San José’s Hotel Fleur de Lys‘ bar, for that matter – in case you are looking for a place to stay. Patrick also offers travel assistance and will happily answer questions if you plan to visit more of the country. San José is the inevitable starting place for any trip to Costa Rica. Many travelers don’t happily spend their time here, but if you like a good night out, you will enjoy San José. Also, it’s not too bad to stay here for a bit and planning a good route before continuing to the rest of the country.

After quite a few years of absence, I finally managed to visit Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast again. I resorted to Bocas del Toro the past years, but finally decided it was time to visit good old Puerto Viejo again. And man, was I surprised. Whapin?

Well, what did happen is what I like to call “Tamarindofication” – the town has become immersed in tourism – or rather, eaten up. And now it looks just like Tamarindo on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. Tamarindo was probably the fastest growing town between 2000 and 2008: from a remote fisher village it became Costa Rica’s main beach resort, including Subway’s, banks, real estate agencies (almost more than land available) and spring break tourists from the US. It completely lost its identity and most of its charme.

Now, almost the same has happened to Puerto Viejo. It has lost a big deal of its charme – giving way to souvenir stands and restaurants serving American and European food. And what’s more: Puerto Viejo seems to have lost its Rastas. Maybe you just don’t notice them as much because they vanish in the mass of white skinned tourists. But I say: they have disappeared. Puerto Viejo has lost a great deal of its Caribbean and “Rastafarian” identity – maybe the local chilled out blacks have been driven out by rising real estate prices, maybe they just found a more laid-back place. I haven’t found out yet. If any of you has an idea of what could have happened, I’d be glad to hear about is…

Due to an (apparent) rising problem in crime, there is no more money available from ATMs in San Jose, Costa Rica after 10pm. Due to police information there was an increasing number of robberies that followed the same pattern. People were mugged on the street, but not only the money was taken away that they had on them. They were forced to do an involuntary city tour, passing as many ATM as possible. They would then be forced at gun- or, (more often) knife-point to withdraw all the money they could from their bank account and with their credit card. Particularly now during Christmas time, when Costa Ricans receive their 13th month’s salary, this would provide for an easy prey.

Therefore it was decided to close down all ATM cashiers after 10 o clock at night. I do not know if it was a municipal decision or one made by the banks, but it is definitely good to know that measures are being taken (in Venezuela this has been an ongoing problem for years).

However, it is also good to know that you can no longer withdraw money at night. Take care of such financial matters during daytime if you happen to be in San José!

The only beer brewing house of Costa Rica, the Cerveceria de Costa Rica is celebrating its 100th birthday. Funny how time passes when you are enjoying yourself… I know it’s a little late to write about this, but I just noticed the label on my beer bottle a short while ago. The brewery is now also producing beer for Heineken and distributing less tasty stuff like Smirnoff Ice (arrrgh, groce). By the way, the cerveceria de Costa Rica was the first Latin American brewery to receive a license from Heineken to brew its tasty liquid.

However, after all those years “Pilsen” is still the right beer to go with. It gives you less of a headache than some other products, the worst being “Rock Ice“: if you really plan on waking up with a bad hangover, then enjoy this cerveze de chicas…

Interestingly, the brewery is also promoting the Nicaraguan Toña beer as well as the formidable Cerveza Gallo from Guatemala. To be honest, I have not yet encountered any of those products in Costa Rica (although I could kill somebody for a Gallo right now). But maybe this will happen before the next 100 years are over. Anyways, what with all developments and expansions here in Costa Rica, the variety of many things (not only beer) is growing. The “Bavaria” beer brand is living proof of how quality is advancing here. But don’t forget that it is not easy to brew European style beer in the tropics: with high temperature variations (from over 30 degrees Celsius to a cold fridge and back) and transport in this “beer unfriendly” environment, it is almost impossible to have a standard beer that keeps its quality. This is why many tropical beers have rather low alcohol levels and taste like water…

But in the temperate Central Valley and around San Jose nothing can come in between me an enjoying my beer…

Appendix: Not being American I was unaware, that Imperial beer is appearently also sold in the states. I found an interesting blog entry about Imperial’s advertising campaign, for once “without fake tits” ;). Interstingly, the cerveceria has stopped the famous Pirellli style- calendar with the “Chicas Pilsen”… even though I am not a big fan of advertising everything with breasts I have to admit: I will miss the calendar…

There seems to be a new tendency in traveling: volunteering vacation. I am not quite sure if I like this: an increasing number of travel agencies sell (yes, sell) trips for young people to go to Africa, South America or Asia to take part in “development aid”. This means that the travelers go to a place like Bolivia to build wells. What they need is no experience or skills, not even language proficiency is required. These travelers can actually buy themselves into this.

The question is: who do they help, the people they build these wells for, or just themselves? This new kind of “developmental aid traveling” seems to me more like a way for rich westerners to buy themselves a clearer conscience for the luxury they are living in. But the problem is: third world countries don’t actually need rich westerners with no connection to the country they travel to, to build wells and stuff. There is plenty of workforce in countries like Bolivia, Nicaragua or Ghana. What they lack are certain skilled workers (engineers) and most of all: funds. So to all you people out there who “want to do good”: Remember that you are most likely stealing jobs off people who can find no occupation. If you do not bring any special skills, if you have no connection to the place you will go for this kind of developmental aid and if you don’t plan to stay for an extended period, you won’t do no good at all. You are just trying to buy yourself a clear conscience.

If you really want to visit these developing countries, they will actually be better off if you do so as an ordinary tourist. And if you want to support local development, please do it in other ways. Buy fair trade goods and support proper aids like microcredits, self-enforcing and cooperative development aids. Avoid any organization with ties to governments (especially the US), as these are known to grant help only under restrictions such as economical requirements that harm a majority of the population (mostly the poorest part). You can help much more in that way, than buying a free conscience with something that only hurts the already unprivileged even more. If you were really serious you would donate 10% of your income to charitable organizations! Think about it.