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Episode 10 - April (2) 2009
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Samana Santa, What's-in-a-Word, Winter in the Jungle, Futbol in the Hood

In this issue, for the first time, our hero will try to enhance the presentation of assorted trivia and erroneous philosophical conclusions by imbedding pictures of the Quepos/Manuel Antonio area into the body of the Issue. GG hopes the pictures come through OK but would appreciate knowing from Chronicle readers if you have trouble viewing them (remember to keep your HTML Toggle ON).

Unfortunately, since GG lost his digital camera in his earlier Mexican Adventure and is also hesitant to get a replacement camera because he’s so damn cheap, he is reliant on Chronicle readers to supply photos of the area that can be included in the Chronicles. So please submit any pictures you might have to me at fiducry@comcast.net. And thanks to those who’ve already contributed. - gg 

Semana Santa

Fault me if you will for being judgmental, but Costa Ricans, on average, are more religious than other peoples I’ve lived with in the past. I say this with respect.

My inventory taking on this topic includes the Belgians, the majority of which practice the same religion (Catholicism) as Ticos. Belgians, however, tend to give lip service to it. My inventory includes the French and Italians who appear to have an inexplicable, unjustified and mostly quiet seething towards clergy.  I have never understood the source of this resentment but I have experienced its expression a number of times. The Italians held this attitude with particular intensity.

I remember an instance in 1971 when my wife (since that time, she has added the prefix “ex” to her title) and I were riding in a taxi across Rome. We were passing within a few blocks of the Vatican when, all of a sudden, our taxi driver brought the cab to a quick halt. A priest in full cassock with his arms inside his oversized cassock sleeves and sporting a 360° flat brimmed hat sauntered across the street in front of the cab. I found this a very priestly-like saunter (he looked like he was in procession down the main aisle at St. Peter’s) but our taxi driver went ballistic and began cursing the prelate, yelling and waving his arms as only the Italians seem capable of doing. Now, I don’t speak Italian but I had enough Latin during my 12 years in parochial school to understand when someone’s heritage, birthright and gender are all being seriously questioned. After a minute or so the driver, remembering he had a couple of American passengers aboard, rolled down the window and said in a loud English voice, “Bless you Father”. We drove on.      

View from Playa La Macha
  In another episode about five years later, we disembarked in Milano from a Wagon-Lit we had taken overnight from Brussels in order to catch another, local train headed for Verona. The local, older and well worn train car was so crowded we had to stand near the steep entrance steps used for boarding, as we couldn’t get into the cabin of the passenger car. A little nun, my guess is she was about 4’ 6”, came along and tried to negotiate the steep steps, with which she had considerable trouble. The Italian gents around me made no effort to help her, one of them even giving her that flip of the chin thing that does not mean I love you. So I reached down and helped her up, for which I was rewarded with numerous Italian blessings that would protect me, my family and progeny for several generations. This was followed by her sneering at the other gents, all Italian, who were faking as if they hadn’t seen her all along.

I think these days I can safely include Norteamericanos in the less-religious group, including, and perhaps especially, the Estadosunidenses (think USens and see below for more on this interesting word). Perhaps I generalize too much here by including Canadians but as they say, as the U.S. goes, so goes Canada. Of course “they” never said this; I just wanted to provoke a response from our Northern friends. I’ve always wondered who in the hell “they” were anyway. I suspect “they” can be found in a hot tub in Southern California smoking dank (see last issue for the meaning of this intriguing word). 

The religion of the U.S. of A. these days seems to be money, the making of it, the managing of it and the wailing about the loss of it. We only get two U.S. television stations here on standard cable, both from Denver. (If you have a Sky dish though, you can get some 800 channels) I tune into GMA and other morning programs in the morning to get a synopsis of the latest news which seems to be saturated with how to stretch your dollar farther or how to “cope” with a 401k that is currently worth 35% less than it was three years ago. Come on folks, 95% of the people on this planet do not have a 401k, let alone any guaranteed retirement plan. Be grateful if you do. Yes, I’m beginning to get disenchanted with turning the TV on to Estadosunidenses channels.

On another note, I also find hilarious one Denver station’s preoccupation with issuing a cautionary note to drivers heading east when the sun comes up on a clear day, a phenomenon evidently not altogether common in Colorado during the winter. They seem to consider the potential of being blinded from old sol a safety hazard. Perhaps it’s because they don’t see the sun very often that it becomes a topic of interest and concern. Come on Coloradans, you wanna see real sun, come down here. Shades, baby, shades, that’s why they were invented. Never leave home without them.

But I digress, as usual. In my last Chronicle, our hero returned from San Andres Island just as Semana Santa (Holy Week) was beginning. This was the first time I had been in Costa Rica during Easter week so it was interesting to watch the week unfold. Early in the week the buses began getting crowded and then continued to fill up more and more each day until they were packed on almost every run, despite extra busses being put on the schedule.                          

Elephant Island at Sunset

The churches were busy all week but Thursday the whole atmosphere around town changed. No alcohol is permitted to be served at restaurants and bars Thursday and Friday, only resuming at midnight Friday for Saturday consumption.

For the serious drinker of course, this means serious planning and considerable pre-purchasing (ah, GG sometimes unconsciously reminisces about the good old days).

Holy Week is a favorite time for Costa Ricans to go on vacation and, the beaches, including those in this area, are popular destinations.

On Friday, Quepos completely shut down and the beaches became as busy as they ever get. Even the buses stopped running; I think this being the only day of the year they don’t run. I know I took one on Christmas Day. I avoided going to the beach on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of Semana Santa as I didn’t want to fight the crowds. Of course, I was exaggerating a bit in doing this as the people density here, even on this weekend, is about 50-60% that of almost any beach in New Jersey on a cool June day. When one is 15 minutes by bus from the beach on any day and one is as busily unoccupied as our hero, one can get picky over the exact days and times when one elects to beach. 

The churches got busier and busier as the week went buy, liturgies being offered on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and for the Easter Vigil, on Saturday. This last one, the Easter Vigil, was a three hour affair. My landlord’s 16-year old son David and, I’m happy to say, my friend, was not too thrilled about going to this event but he resigned himself to fate and quietly accompanied his parents and two brothers to church. I am very fortunate to live in a compound that includes the villa where my landlord and his family live. They are a good and close-knit Tico family with excellent values and a love of life. They have become friends as well landlords and I find myself some nights rooting for their futbol team at the local arena (more below). The “Equipo Madrigal” or Team Madrigal, as I call them, includes Papa and two of the sons, Brian and David.

On Sunday, as I expected, the beaches rapidly lost people as many non-local Costa Ricans used the day to return to San Jose. This was also a departure day for Norteamericanos and others. (Man was I glad I didn’t have to travel on Easter) So I made a point of returning to the Playa Espadilla (the main beach in Manuel Antonio). I resumed my position as beach supervisor commiserating with the vendors, talking to the Pelicanos and assisting the lifeguards in showing unsuspecting visitors where the bad currents are.

Come on folks, somebody’s got to do it.       

What’s-in-a-Word Department


If you have ever lived or visited the Caribbean, you’ve seen the wonderful and peculiar culture that evolved from the slave trade. This is now known as Rastafarianism. The patois of corrupted English and other languages is remarkable and a lot of fun (for an example, see Issue 8 for an explanation of “Tuanis”). A person descended from this culture is called a Rastafarian.

A friend and I were recently talking about how some people manage to completely exist on their family’s money, both of us, of course, being penniless and jealous. My comment was that it would have been nice to have been a trust fund baby, as I termed this condition. My friend said he had heard a good name for them: “Trustafarian”. Yeah, that’s it.

If you fall into this category, don’t take umbrage at what I reported; take us out to dinner instead. 


Estadounidensis is a constructed word derived from Estados Unidos and used in Latin American countries to differentiate between U.S. Norteamericanos and Canadian Norteamericanos. A Canadian here is also known as a Canadiensis. Estadounidensis is equivalent to saying one is a “UnitedStatesan” or “USen”.

It took an Estadounidensis like me a while to get over the habit of thinking of myself as uniquely American because I come from the United States. In reality, there are North Americans, Central Americans such as Costa Ricans or Guatemalans, and South Americans. Some years ago, a Colombian asked me where I was from and I said “I’m American”. He promptly replied “So am I”. Point taken.

Winter in the Jungle

The first real rain announcing the coming of the wet season fell on Tuesday, April 14. It was a 2-3 hour deluge and would have produced major flooding in many parts of the world. While it did wet down the place a bit for the next day or so, the soil was so dry that very little runoff occurred. I was surprised at how little the flow was in the local creek the next day. The soil absorbed it all and within three days we were dry again, the hills immediately around Quepos (not the jungle itself) retaining their brown “summer” color.

Costa Ricans, like most Central Americans, refer to the seasons in the manner first established by Spaniards. Although quarter to quarter variations in temperature more or less follow the same pattern as Florida, the actual changes are so small as to be insignificant. The major change is wet or dry. The Spaniards took to calling the wet season “Invierno” or winter and the dry season “Verano” or summer. This is not the same as the summer/winter reversal that goes on below the equator where actual seasonal temperature inversions are common and significant and it’s a quantum jump away from what occurs in the United States or Canada.         

GG Just Before Rehabilitation 



Here we just stay warm, sometimes we get wet and sometimes we stay dry. It appears that the wet season is somewhat longer than the dry season, running roughly from early May to early December. The dry season, of course, is more popular with tourists because one can do most anything outdoors and expect to have a beautiful summer day in which to do it, where as in the wet season, any day may be hit or miss and subject to unpredictable showers that can put a damper on things (pun intended).

The night before I finished this writing, we had a second major rain that lasted about two hours. Most of the time the rain was falling so hard it seemed more like being under a waterfall than in a rain shower. It was a real gulley washer befitting a Rainforest. Sheets of water ran down the middle of streets and roads. The open gutters on the streets and roads, which is what I call the extra-wide troughs seen about town, turned into moats. If you fell into one of these things without a lifeline my guess is you might later wash up on a Panama beach. Apres le déluge (I borrow and twist DeGaul’s humble admonition), moi found everything greener, fresher, cooler. I love it.

Futbol in the Hood

It is well known that Futbol (this is the correct Latin spelling, however USens call it Soccer) is the most popular sport in most countries around the world. Costa Rica is no exception. Fans are ardent here and everyone seems to enjoy playing, even if it’s only kicking the ball around an open field without goals.

Go to the beach on any day (but particularly on Sunday) and you’ll see people of all ages kicking the ball around. Little tykes of 2 and 3 years of both sexes will try hard to join in the fun. An impromptu game may pop up at any minute, with sandals or driftwood sticks serving as goal posts. This behavior caused me to have a flashback (or maybe it’s a hot flash at my age, I don’t know). My mind went back to the times when I was a boy. After school we’d hurry off to a small pond in the middle of winter and start up a hockey game. Shoes were the most common goal posts then for a quick game, just like spur of the moment futbol here.

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon a small, enclosed arena in my neighborhood (Barrio Los Angeles – I live in L.A. – how koool is that?) as I heard yelling and cheering and went to investigate. Not only was there an indoor futbol game going on but I was pleasantly surprised to find three of the players on one team consisted of my landlord and two of his three sons. The third son is too young at this point to play with the big guys but he was busy on the sidelines kicking the ball and during game breaks he got out there with a friend and played goalie. I started cheering for “Equipo Madrigal”, equipo being the Spanish for “team” and Madrigal being their middle or surname. I’m sure some of the fans were wondering who the gringo loco was. Little do they know how loco one can get.

The indoor game is played on an artificial turf field that seems to be no more than half the size of an outdoor, regulation field. I suspect it’s more like one third the size of a professional field. The goals are also considerably smaller than regulation. The net result (another intended pun – forgive me, I can’t stop it) is that players appear to run more on the indoor field than it seems they do on the outdoor field. There is no lollygagging (now there’s one for the What’s-in-a-Word Dept.) in the backfield whilst forwards are tossing the ball back and forth in the goal area at one end. Also, the score is higher in these games, probably because there are many more shots on goal. The score at my first game was 14 to 9, unfortunately Equipo Madrigal was on the short end (it had nothing to do with my cheering, really).  

I was impressed by two other things. Firstly, most of these young men are in their teens or twenties, yet Senor Madrigal (Papa) was out there running with the best of them. I learned from him later that he’s 48. Yes, he’s in good shape, yes it’s time for GG to get with some exercise (but not Futbol, they’d kill me out there).

The second thing that got me was how good all the players were when they ran with the ball. They play with it artfully, stopping on a dime, reversing direction, faking out their opposing player repeatedly by circling around them while still controlling the ball. It’s really more like dancing than playing, a sportive ballet if you will and if you won’t, that’s OK, I still love you.

So I’ve become a Futbol fan. I have learned that the most popular team in Costa Rica is called Saprissa (sa-preece-ah). I stopped by the most noted athletic tee-shirt store in Quepos the next day. After practicing my Spanish a little, I walked in, exchanged the usual pleasantries and said: “Yo busco para una camiseta de Saprissa” (I’m looking for a Saprissa tee-shirt). The proprietor look surprised and, with wide eyes, said: “Para usted, Senor?” (For you dude?) “Si”, says I. In a sad tone he retorts: “Lo siento, Senor, no tengo, usted es muy grande” (NFW fat one). I was not hurt by being called too big, but my ego was deflated and my resolve to start exercising was bolstered further. Tune in next month to see if GG has the bolas to carry out that resolve.

I guess I’ll have to go to San Jose to get a Saprissa tee-shirt my size. Hopefully, I won’t have to go see Carlos, the tent maker.       


Pura Vida! y Solo Bueno!
Roberto de Quepos
El Gringo de Oro

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