(© Copyright 2011 - All Rights Reserved)

  header image 2

"Doing Latin America, Mostly by Luck"

31st Edition - March 2011

CLICK HERE FOR ARCHIVED EPISODES                                                                                                                 CLICK HERE FOR RESTAURANT ARCHIVES

Conversations in the jungle:

◄"Ooooooh Pretty Pinky, Come a Little Closer My Friend, Let's Do Lunch"

►"Hey, Toothie Dude, Back Off, You're Just Jealous 'Cause You're Not Pretty Like Me"



IN THIS ISSUE: Broken News (Nica Invasion Update), Buenos Aires Report, Easy Rider,
Coffee, Bananas, Microchips Anyone?, What's-in-a-Word (Pólvera), ROMEO Corner (El Gran Escape)

                    Travel Quote of the Month: To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.”   Aldous Huxley

Broken News


Nica Invasion Update

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of reading and hearing about this one already. The complaint by Costa Rica of the Nica annexation of some Tico territory in its northeast region is slowly widing it's way through the World Court where, Danny Ortega, the Prez of Nicaragua has already promised to ignore the ruling. This month the Nica government issued a new map of Nicaragua showing the annexed territory as part of their land. Come on Dan, do you really believe the world is going to buy that crap? Just rubbing it in, eh? Our Presidenta (Laura Chinchilla) promises to establish a beefed up border police which will probably be outfitted like a paramilitary force. It's too late amiga. More on the invasion: INVASION HISTORY

Buenos Aires Report

Mike Ford, our roving reporter for South America, who is based in Buenos Aires, filed this report (N.B., the views expressed here are not necessarily those of the GGC reporter [Mike] or editorial staff [GG] but we have no reason to doubt their veracity). From Mike:

Bob, I copied the following from a website called Road Junky, an advice site for among other things dating in various countries around the world. It describes perfectly what are called here (Argentina) "histericos" or "histericas". No one I know has been able to crack the code. I was at lunch yesterday with two American friends married to Argentine women and I asked them what it was like. Both of their faces clouded over and they mumbled a little but they looked vaguely frightened so we changed the subject.

Was going through old text messages on my cel phone and came across a series of exasperated complaints from my friend Avery, completely confused by the hot and cold treatment from a neighbor girl in his building. And SHE had offered HIM her number to go out for coffee! Avery moved back to Chicago.

Here are the comments from Road Junky:

"About: Argentine Women

Lookwise you have stunning brunettes mostly of an Italian heritage. Enough to make a man go wild.

However they are almost all absolutely nuts. There are deep-seated issues they all carry around. You will get headaches trying to read how they are hot for you one day and cold the next. One guy I knew complained to me about an Argentine girl who made a big deal of inviting him out to dinner for his birthday only to have her repeatedly cancel their dates. He kept telling me he had to get back to Brazil where life and women weren’t such serious problems.

If you meet a girl on a date and have a great conversation – don’t expect her to remember you as anything special if you see her again, especially in Buenos Aires.

A trick that especially works well when dating Argentine girls is to lie and say you have moved to whatever town you are in in order to study, make up something like piloting. The girls like to think you’ll be more than a one night fling. One Belgian guy found success by speaking French to girls all night long (Hardly a tactic reserved for Argentine women only - GG).

About: Argentine Men

Argentine guys have suffered from the neuroses of dating the women for so long that they too have gone nuts.

On the other hand that means you will get special treatment from them for not being a crazy Argentine girl.

It’s not hard to find an Argentine guy, they were always trying to kiss my American girlfriend whenever I left the room."

                                                                            It's dudes look like this that spoil it for the rest of us - GG


"Don't cry for me Argentina, the truth is I never left you..." Where's Eva Peron when you need her advice?

Easy Rider

Suppose that you like motorcycles and have an adventuresome spirit (is that redundant?). Suppose further that you come up with a wild idea to ride the bike on a special trip that's a bit of a challenge, like from Austin, Texas to Tierra del Fuego, the tip of South America. GG is told that this is a trip of about 20,000 kilometers (12,000 miles in Rio Linda distance). Also, to ease the potential loneliness of such a trip as well as provide an extra margin of safety, you ask a buddy along for the ride (Steve).

Our newest contributing editor and reeaallly roving reporter, Davis Henley, is doing just that. Davis is from Austin, Texas and lives part time in Manuel Antonio and part time in the lone star state. Here is a recent report made when the duo was about 3/4 along the trip and also, here's a link to a map of South America: MAP OF SOUTH AMERICA

"This morning, Steve and I left the Parque Sajama, on the Bolivian side of the border with Chile. The ride there included about 25 kilometers of unmaintained, heavily eroded gravel "road". We are the only ones at the Tomarapi Ecolodge, due to it being rainy season. The almost impassible road can't help business.

Here is the link that shows our route:

Since leaving Lima, we have been alternately riding through mountains and high plateaus. The high plateaus have been averaging 12,000 to 13,500+ feet, although we have been up to 15,000+ feet. The mountains are GREEN up to over 12,500 feet, due to being within the tropics. We have hit some sleet and minor hail, at the highest elevations.

The central mountains in Peru were a big improvement over the northern desert. Cuzco receives around a million tourists a year and offers the usual tourist amenities. Machu Picchu, apart from the amazing ruins, is certainly one of the most beautiful spots on the planet. My daughter Marion flew down to join us for the Cuzco, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, La Paz segment of the trip. She held up well for the 500+ miles she rode on the back of the motorcycle.

The Sajama Mountain that overlooks our lodge is over 20,000 feet, and we've hiked up to around 16,000 feet. There are thousands of llamas and wild vicuna roaming the plateau, geysers, hot springs and other surrounding snow-capped peaks. The weather changes every 10 minutes, and we are finally at a high enough elevation to be uncomfortably cold. We have been seeing Flamingos since arriving in Bolivia.

The theme in La Paz and much of Bolivia is high-altitude. Bolivia claims the highest airport, capital city, golf course, etc. Prices here are a bargain. The vendors in Peru buy goods that are made in Bolivia. The economy here is lagging most of South America. We are careful with route planning in Bolivia, because so many roads are unpaved and poorly maintained during the rainy season. One of the roads here is referred to as the death highway.

The next few days in Chile should include stops like Arica, San Pedro de Atacama, the Atacama Salt Flats, and Penguin and Flamingos Reserves, while we make a one-week 1200+ miles run down to Santiago, Chile. We just arrived in Arica and dropped from 15,000+ feet to sea level today."

Machu Pichu - Peru
Cayambe Volcano - Ecuador

I sent an inquiry by email to Davis after that report to find out some basic information:

1. What is your estimate now of the total distance you will cover from Austin to Tierra del Fuego?

    "We’ve come 8,000 miles, so far.  I would estimate 10K, before we’re done."

2. How many countries will you have traversed?

    "We’ve crossed 11 borders (Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Boliva and Chile).  Only
     one to go (Argentina)."
(The eleventh border is Costa Rica - he stopped here en route - GG)

3. What is the thing you’ve encountered that surprised you the most? That frustrated you the most? That excited you the most
    (exclude Argentine women).

    "This is a tough question:  Machu Picchu is probably the #1 thing, so far.  Riding through the mountains in Ecuador and Colombia is
     indescribably beautiful. The soup I had for lunch today, here in Arica (Chile) had sea urchin, giant mussels, black oyster, sea slug,
     dorado, clams, two kinds of crab, pulpo and some other unidentified (but delicious) stuff in it.  Was I excited and surprised… YES, but
     not “the most surprised”.  Also in Arica: sea lions, GIANT pelicans, beach, cuevas and a morro.  If you had asked me the same question
     yesterday, I would have told you about the Sajama Mountain, thermal springs, eating llama shish-kabob and the beauty of the Bolivian
     altiplano… every-day seems like it is the most exciting yet.

    Most frustrating:  We have had minimal frustrations… even the transito  and border crossings have been manageable.  Four repairs to
    my buddy (Steve’s) rear brake is probably the most frustrating, but we never lost more than a couple of hours per stop

I checked with my Spanish dictionary to learn that a "cueva" is a cave and a "morro" can be either a fort or a rocky outcrop in the shallow waters of a harbor, often round in shape and sometimes very high...

What a trip - go for it Davis and Steve!

Coffee, Bananas, Microchips Anyone?

Coffee and bananas were the mainstay of the Costa Rican economy for many decades and they remain important export products today.

Costa Rica is a relatively minor supplier to world markets accounting for only about 1% of coffee beans produced around the globe and coming in at #15 of the 50 countries that produce coffee. The number one (Brazil) and two (Viet Nam) producers account together for about 45% of total world production. Nonetheless, the quality of Costa Rica's mountain grown coffee is second to none. Starbucks, for example, has major contracts with producers here.

If you're a coffee lover like me, Costa Rica is where you find some of the best java on earth. On a recent trip to the States, after two years living here without a break, I picked up a cup of what someone called coffee and nearly choked. When you get used to rich coffee, the other stuff becomes intolerable.

I recall coffee often being advertised in the States as "mountain grown". From what I've seen here, just about all coffee here is grown in the mountains (about 90% of Costa Rica is either in or at the base of mountains). I don't know what coffee is grown in the plains, maybe the stuff I tasted in the U.S. on the last trip.

People have their favorite brand (marca) of coffee much in the same way that the French mineral water devotées are religious about their own selections and cite mysterious benefits for their favorite brand (je prefer Evian, monsieur; poo poo on Perrier!). Top brands of coffee here include Britt, Rey, Volvio,1820 and a dozen or so more.

I prefer Cafe Milagro dark roast (oscuro); it's not the cheapest on the market but it has the richest taste in my opinion. I've also taken the trouble of pouring out a bunch of beans from several brands on the table and comparing them. I find Cafe Milagro to be the most consistent roast in darkness. It also has a signature light oil on the beans that makes it a little stickier than other brands after grinding. Cafe Milagro is roasted and packaged in Quepos. Nuff said about GG's biases.

N.B. GG is in the process of evaluating a new (to him anyway) coffee bean - Triangulo de Oro Espresso. So far preliminary test results are excellent; we will be sure to publish the final report from the GGC Laboratories in the Chronicles.

With regard to bananas, the situation has not changed much over the past decade. Physical exports are measured in 18 kilo boxes of which 103 million boxes were exported in 2010, down from 116 million boxes in 1999. Costa Rica is still the the second largest exporter of bananas in the world after Ecuador and 43% of Costa Rican exports go to the U.S. The major brands are the same as they have been for decades; Dole, United Fruit (Chiquita) and Del Monte.

Bananas are an interesting fruit. Our Hero didn't realize how little he knew about the industry until a former United Fruit manager discussed the industry's history and growing techniques one day over a cup of (good) coffee. Note the picture of bananas on the stalk to the right) There are three things interesting about this picture: (1) bananas grow pointing up not down - who'd a thunk it?; (2) that big, bulbous pinkish thing hanging down from the stalk is the banana flower and (3) the blue plastic bag has two purposes, to carry insecticides to protect the fruit and to capture carbon dioxide given off by the fruit (that's a greenhouse gas in Rio Linda) in order to help it ripen faster.

Marcas Famosas de Las Frutas de Costa Rica


Cafe Britt
A "Green" Coffee Bean
Cafe Milagro
Cafe Volio
Coffee Plantation Near Orosi, Costa .Rica
Bananas on the Stalk
OK, So How Do You Peal the Damn Thing and Will It Make a Good Smoothie?
The newest fruit to be produced in the Costa Rican countryside is the microchip. They don't smell as good as ripening bananas or pineapples nor do they have the bouquet of freshly roasted coffee. And their is only one chip plantation at this time. It's located in the rolling hills of Heredia, just west of San José.

Intel Corp. opened a major business campus in this Central Valley community in 1998. In recent years, output from the plant has reached approximately 20% of all Costa Rican exports; a mighty harvest from a heretofore barren field and accomplished in only a dozen years.
Intel Microchip Plantation in Heredia (about 20 kilometers west of San José)

In the modern day and age methinks we need all these crops; the chips to keep the economy rolling and the fruit and coffee to please the pallet and stoke the psyche.

What's-in-a-Word Department


The only thing Ticos love more than fiestas are fireworks; combine the two and they're in heaven (me too). In the days leading up to New Year's Day there were explosions of ever increasing size and frequency in our neighborhood. Fortunately, the bangs usually ended by 11 PM; the occasional bang after eleven I attributed to too much cerveza. Of course, all the rules were broken on New Year's Eve itself and the explosions went on until the wee hours.

Senior Moment Department

The word for fireworks in Spanish, or at least in the Tico dialect, is pólvera. It's also the word for gunpowder. A display of fireworks is a juego de pólvera or a game of gunpowder or a gunpowder game. Some of the bangs were exceptionally loud. I'm not talking about cherry bombs here, they would be puny in comparison. I think these were more like quarter sticks of dynamite. It was, I might say, often a true game of gunpowder.

I'm told that buying fireworks in Costa Rica is legal and, indeed, fireworks kiosks popped up all over Quepos during the weeks preceding New Year's. Even our neighborhood market, Super Jordix, was selling pólveras. I gave in to my teenage tendencies a couple of days before New Year's Eve and bought a dozen bottle rockets which my landlord's son and I launched in a nearby empty lot. Once a kid always a kid. I did, with difficulty, avoid buying the larger rockets that were on sale which were of the diameter and length of a banana. Pollo! (Chicken)

I'm told also that, while buying pólveras is legal, setting them off is illegal. Yeah, sure amigos, that'll work to control them and I'm sure the Policia Pólvera will be right on top of things, or the Policia Fuerza Publica or the OIJ or Policia Turistica, or the Policia Municipalidad or the Policia Transito or the Policia Fiscal or the Policia Anonima, whatever...

Needless to say we were not bothered by any uniformed agents when we banged our way into the new year.


                                                                          R.O.M.E.O. Corner (Retired Old Men Eating Out)

El Gran Escape - Quepos

Location: Front Street, Quepos across from the malacón (the dyke that separates the bay from the town).
Hours: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner; Wednesday thru Monday, closed Tuesdays.
Parking: On street parking; you may have to walk a block or so during the dinner hour.
Contact: Tel: 506-2777-0395; Fax: 506-2777-0765; Email:; Website:

Sometimes a place is so engrained into your habits that you take it for granted.

GG was having dinner the other night at the Gran Escape with some visitors and it dawned on me that we had never given this Quepos landmark a ROMEO review. How could that be? I must have been there dozens of times over the years and never had a bad meal! It's the type of restaurant you always go to when you're looking for a place to go with visitors that is always safe.

One of the reasons El Gran Escape is always safe is that it has, in my experience, the broadest and longest menu of any restaurant in Quepos/Manuel Antonio. Everything from steaks to lobster and an extensive seafood offering to soups, salads, sandwiches and a smattering of Mexican dishes. They even have the Tico standards like arroz con pollo or arroz con whatever. All the dishes are fresh, well prepared, well presented and very tasty. And there are deserts (postres) that tickle my sugar addiction. How about macadamia nut pie that makes standard pecan pie pale in comparison.

Recently, a couple of us ROMEOS discovered, after visiting the open market on the malacón on Saturday morning, that the GE offers a sausage hash topped with eggs that is reminiscent of the type found in Pennsylvania diners. Yummers.

Another reason for the restaurant's success, one that goes to the core of tourist mentality and tingles the gringo leg more than an Obama speech, is the large proportions one receives in almost every dish served. You won't come away hungry after a meal at El Gran Escape.

El Gran Escape -- "Just Below Sea Level"

This is not the fanciest place in the world but we ROMEOS don't rate like Michlin, we don't look for velvet drapes and brass ecoutriments. We search simply for pleasant surroundings and a good dining experience. El Gran Escape provides both.

The restaurant is open to the air (no A/C here amigos) and the setting is a distinctly pescadoran motif (this is a GGC make-up word for anything having to do with fishing). The main dining room has a huge blue marlin jumping out of the floor and their are many plaques and pictures that carry this theme forward. I believe you can even book a charter trip here. Also, this restaurant is very happy to prepare whatever you drag in from the Pacific that day (i.e., fish).

$ $ $ $

The staff at El Gran escape has always been professional, courteous, helpful and attentive. Pricing is typically on the high end of mid-range for this area. An entree typically runs 7,000 to 10,000 colones ($15-20); steaks and lobster of course, significantly higher.

In writing this review I tried to come up with negatives to include (almost every restaurant has one) , but I failed. Oh sure, you could complain about the marling sprouting from the middle of the dining room floor that has a rough stone border around it that suggests an easy place to trip (and I nearly did one night) but it's hard to give this serious weight in a town where there's a walking hazard every five feet.

For ambiance, quality of food and service, I am pleased to give El Gran Escape our top rating of five sloths.

Don Roberto de Quepos,
El Gringo Dorado
Pura Vida!

Click Here for GGC Archives or Here for Restaurant Archives

To Contact GGC Headquarters to request deletion from the Chronicles distribution, make comments, suggest topics or criticize my bad jokes, just send an email to: Be pithy, but kind (I'm sensitive).