Travel Quote
of the Month


“The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes “sight-seeing.”

Daniel J. Boorstin



In This Issue:

  1. Broken News (Super Mas No Mas, Mind Melding);
  2. Rumble Talk (Happenings On Or About the Pacific Rim)
  3. Feature: History of Costa Rica - A Primer, Part III
    (The Modern Era, 1821 to the Present)
  4. Feature: Moving Right Along (More ROMEO Travel Adventures)
  5. Feature: Herculean Bovine (The Oxen of Costa Rica)
  6. What's-in-a-Word (Oxen Commands)
  7. ROMEO Corner (Wong's - San José; Il Padrino - San José)
Quepos Weather

Wisdom of the Ages



Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark. Professionals built the Titanic.


 Broken News
(All the News That's Fit to Reprint)

Super Mas No Mas

On October 15, 2013, GG's favorite store in Quepos, Super Mas, closed it's doors permanently. See why I liked it in my 2011 write-up Super Mas Rules.

I'm told their will be a new store in it's place, an Almacen Casa Blanca, literally. "White House Warehouse". The store will feature many of the products, such as household appliances, that are offered at the Distribudora Monge right next door, plus I'm told, it will also offer computers and accessories. Big whoop. What we don't need in Quepos is another store full of electrical/electronic "things" at outrageous prices.

When I heard the news of their plans my heart sank and it did so even more when the store actually closed. I've now shifted my daily grocery shopping mostly to Pali, a Walmart property closer to my apartment. It's just not the same. Pali manages to offer half the product choices of Super Mas in three times the floor space. And then you get to bag your own stuff under their system. To replace all the products I bought at Super Mas I now have to shop at two other stores in Quepos besides Pali and then get only what I want part of the time, more often getting a "No Hay".

And I will definitely miss the employees at Super Mas who became like family. Always smiling, we joked and laughed about life in general and I learned a bit about their families as well as when a couple of their guys were going to play futbol next at the neighborhood indoor arena. They called me "Bob Esponga" (Sponge Bob). I'm working on warming up the clerks at Pali but there may be too many of them and the turnover seems to be higher.

The only positive in this scenario is that I'll probably save 20-30% on basic stuff monthly by shopping at Pali versus Super Mas. But just as the motto of my old favorite, Publix Markets in Florida says, it's about the "shopping experience" that matters in the long run, not just about prices.

Our friends at Super Mas provided the shopping experience I liked and there is no way, sorry, that I can rationalize the loss of Super Mas as progress.

Mind Melding

When I was in undergraduate school (McKinley was president), the idea of real time interactive contact between computers at remote locations was considered futuristic science fiction. In 1968, Stanley Kubrick's film Space Odyssey 2001, in which the hero finds himself in verbal conflict with the ship's computer,a HAL 2000 ("Open the hatch door HAL"; "Sorry, Dave, I can't do that - it's contrary to my mission") suggested things were going to get even weirder in the near future.

GG After Reincarnation - Beam Me Up Sheldon!

Fifteen years later, the PC revolution hit, followed within 10 years by the Internet. But keyboard contact was not enough and voice commands became quite possible, just like in Space Odyssey. Since then scientists have been fiddling with stuff previously considered way out in left field such as computers that operate using biological processors, artificial intelligence and person to computer to person communication by thought.

Scientists continue to make progress and Duke University Medical Center recently announced they had been able to convert electrical brain impulses of a rat into a signal read by a computer, transmit the signal to another computer some 4,000 miles away and convert them into a signal received by another rat. The remote rat then mimicked the actions of the other rat. The finding has also been duplicated with monkeys (no, not Congress or the Administration) and more recently, using humans.

When we get this perfected, I have a couple of applications I'd like to pursue; 1) Order me one of the skull cap sensor devices for me with another one hooked up to Bill Gates - I'd like to get him to do a bit of human engineering on Windows 8 and 2) if I could get my cap connected with another one attached to a supervisor in Costa Rica Inmigracion, I could make a fortune shortening the cedulá process for ex-pats.

¡Pura Vida!


Rumble Talk
(Shaky Happenings On or About the Pacific Rim)

Not much to talk about in the Central America region. On the other end of the Pacific Rim however, near Honshu, Japan, not far from the horrendous tsunami of a few years ago, four earthquakes were reported on October 25 within five hours of each other, ranging from 4.6 to 5.4 on the Richter. Actually, I think it's better to have multiple shakers at this level than release the equivalent energy in one giant smacker over 7+. A tremor of 7+ can be 100 times the energy of a 5+ and 1000 times the energy of a 4+. Mathematicians call it a logarithmic scale, I call it misleading to the average tremor watcher. (GG's bitching a lot in this issue, eh?)

Check Out Recent Earthquakes Around the World Posted by the U.S. Geodetic Survey: Today's Quakes

History of Costa Rica - A Primer, Part III
(The Modern Era, 1821 to the Present)

This the third and final part to this series. Click here to see Part I (Pre-Columbian Period - before 1502) or Part II (The Spanish Occupation, 1502 to 1821).

September 15 Parade

The Spanish occupation of Costa Rica and the Americas lasted just over 300 years. On September 15, 1821 Costa Rica and other latin american countries finally achieved their independence from Spain. With transportation and communication the way it was, this news didn't reach San José until a month later. September 15 continues to be the day celebrated here as Dia de la Independencia. Red, white and blue flags and bunting dominate the Costa Rican landscape all during September, the month of independence.

After the several countries involved shook off the hegemony of Spanish colonial control the question quickly arose as to how the latin american countries involved were going to govern themselves. Costa Rica, though newly independent like the other provinces, would not become a truly independent democratic republic for another 127 years, not until after the conclusion of a civil war in 1948.

The Five Mountains Represented the Original Five States

For two years after independence, the coffee barons and other conservatives centered in Cartago and Heredia held discussions (arguments) with the progressives in San José about what kind of government should be formed. During that period, a new nation, called the Confederation of Central American Provinces, was formed in the north with the intent of being modeled after the USA.

At the start, the Confederation consisted of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. The name was eventually changed to the Federal Republic of Central America when the first constitution was written. By 1823, the discussions between factions in Costa Rica had broken down and a short civil war followed with the San José faction winning out. Costa Rica then joined the Central American Confederation as the fifth state.

Juan Maria Castro Madriz
First President of
Costa Rica

The shake out in Costa Rica from the Federation experience took more than 23 years. In 1824, Juan Mora Fernandez became the first head of state for independent Costa Rica. Also in 1824, the people of the then Partido de Nicoya (present day Guanacaste province), which had been a separate subsidiary province of the Captaincy of Guatemala, yet neither a part of Costa Rica or Nicaragua, voted overwhelmingly to be annexed by Costa Rica which accepted them.

There were eight presidents elected between 1823 and 1847. Two of these served more than one term and four of them were deposed in coups, one being executed in a popular uprising. The Federal Republic of Central America did not sustain itself for long. It eventually disintegrated in 1838 when Honduras pulled out of the organization.

The first President of Costa Rica was Juan Maria Castro Madriz who took power in 1847 and is considered the "founder of the republic", i.e., the First Republic. Castro was deposed in 1849 however and Juan Rafael Mora Porras took power and would serve the longest presidential term in the country's history, almost 10 years. It was Mora who roused national empathy and patriotism when the U.S. filibuster William Walker tried to usurp power and become King of Central America (sometimes those Philadelphia lawyers get carried away), a story which produced Costa Rica's most famous hero, Juan Santamaria, after which the main airport in San José is now named.

Beginning in 1847 and during the next 100 years, there would be 27 different men that served as president of Costa Rica (during the same period in the U.S., there were 22). Five of these presidents would serve two terms and one would serve three. Six of them would be deposed by coup or forced to resign by popular demand. One was forced by the U.S. government to resign . (In the U.S., three presidents would be assassinated during this period - Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley). Obviously, the second half of the 19th century was not an easy one for presidents in any of the Americas.

General Guardia

Costa Rica had an army during that period and, as a result, deposings and military rule came about occasionally. In the 1860's political turmoil was particular rampant and in 1870 General Thómas Guardia Gutiérrez seized control of the country and ruled for almost six years. During this time Guardia was credited with initiating free and compulsory education, putting restraints on the military and imposing taxes on the coffee growers to pay for infrastructure improvements.

Rafael Calderon

After Guardia, political unrest and occasional upheavals continued throughout the late 19th century and into the 20th.

It all came to a boiling point once again in the 1940's under Dr. Rafael Angel Calderón Guardia. He was elected in 1940 and instituted policies on land reform, minimum wages and taxation. Nevertheless, he lost the 1948 election and when he and his party refused to relinquish power, civil war broke out. The rebels were led by Jose Maria (Don Pepe) Figueres Ferrer (why can't these guys go by simpler names, like Tom Dewey?).

Jose Maria Figueres

Figueres had been exiled to Mexico and returned for the fight. He and his forces won it and Figueres is considered to be the father of the Second Republic. In 1949 a new constitution was written that included the reforms of Calderón and that also quickly banned the communist party, instituted suffrage for women, gave full citizenship to blacks and banned the army completely. It instituted as well, term limits for presidents and national assembly deputies. Presidents and Deputies can serve more than one term, but not consecutively; they have to wait out every other term to get re-elected.

La Presidenta
(Better Looking, Too)

Figueres also founded the Partido de Liberacion Nacional (National Liberation Party or PLN) which today remains the foremost political powerhouse in Costa Rica and is the party of the current president, Laura Chinchilla Miranda (simpler name than the guys, eh). Since the 1948 constitution, Costa Rica has enjoyed more stable governments. Very few other, if any, latin american countries can boast an uninterrupted string of peaceful democratic transitions like Costa Rica has experienced in the last 65 years.

The current president, or "La Presidenta" as she is called, Laura Chinchilla is the first woman ever elected to the office. She was a protegé of the previous president, Oscar Arias and both are members of the PLN. Chinchilla took power in 2010 and will step aside in 2014 for at least one term.

The current leading candidate for the office in 2014 is Johnny Araya, the mayor of San José, who appears to be very popular. Johnny's party? PLN of course.

Democracy works, amigos.

¡Viva Costa Rica!


Moving Right Along
(More Travel Adventures)

There's no end to the fun you can have traveling in Central America these days.

For example, take this story filed by one of our ROMEOS, Brian M. He had been safeguarding a bus ticket to Panama that was left over from his days before he got his residency. Without a residency card, one had to show a ticket of some sort that established intention to leave the country during the visa period (90 days). So Brian decided, since he had a $90 bus ticket for Panama (cheaper than buying an airplane ticket you wouldn't use), to spend a few days in the beautiful caribbean islands of Bocas del Toro in Panama.

Here's his story:

Last Wednesday I began my trip to Bocas Del Toro. I was told the bus from San Jose to Panama City would stop across from the Quepos hospital at 1:30 PM. I know the bus leaves San Jose at noon and at best it's a 2-1/2 hr trip. However I also know that, as a lady in Ecuador has said, Latin American time schedules are totally aspirational, so I was there on time. The bus arrived at 2:55.

I had forgotten that those busses keep their air conditioning set at meat locker.So like everyone else I froze all the way to the border. I had planned to get off at the border and take a mini bus into David (the second largest city in Panama). I would stay near the central bus station and get the first bus to Almirante in the AM and then the water taxi to Bocas.

When I got through the Costa Rican & Panama borders, in record time I might add, it was after 7 PM. I went to get a mini bus to David. A young guy told me that only a big bus was going to David. He wanted $4.00. The Mini's are $1.75. I didn't trust the kid as he said the bus would take me to the bus depot in David. So instead of paying the guy what he wanted me to pay, I just got on the bus, figuring I could pay the conductor.

It's dark, it's raining. The windows are all fogged up. I can't see. We go from little town to little town picking people up. Normal. I start to worry I've made a mistake. Is my suitcase on the bus? The conductor hasn't collected from any one. Not normal.

Just as I'm starting to get really worried, the conductor starts to collect. I give him a $20.00 bill. He tells me it's $27.00 to Panama City. I tell him I want to get off at David. He tells me we're long past David. No tickets were sold to David. No one knew I was getting off there. My distrust (in the boy) had screwed me. My laziness in not studying and practicing my Spanish resulted in this 2 minute conversation taking at least a half hour till we both understood the situation .

He now gives me change for the David price and has me come up front with him and the driver. I tell the driver to let me off at the next hotel. I'll stay the night. The driver tells me the next stop & hotel is in Panama City. There's nothing in between. We're on a two lane road in the middle of nowhere in a rain storm. F…! After about another half hour the driver says there's a bus coming from Panama City going to David. He'll stop it.
That's exactly what happened. He stops the other bus in the middle of nowhere and I get off. It's very dark  and I'm hoping the other bus stopped down the road and waits for me . The conductor gets my suit case out from under and I start down the road. He's not satisfied with my 70 year old slowness so he grabs the bag & runs to the other bus and stows it underneath. I get on the bus.

When we get to David; the normally 45 minute ride from the border has now taken four hours . Plus the conductor on the new bus wasn't the one who stored my bag. He wants a claim ticket and my Spanish isn't good enough to explain the whole story. I finally say the yellow bag from the other bus is mine. He relents and gives me my bag. I stay in the little dumpy hotel there at the bus depot.

The rest of my trip to Bocas was not nearly this adventurous.

The driver and conductor on the first bus were kind enough to help the dumb gringo and I never had the chance to say thank you. God helps babies, the aged and fools like me.

Thanks to Brian for this report.

So amigos, be sure you know where the bus that you get on is going or you may end up in Buenos Aires. Not to worry, it's the adventure thing that's important like the travel quote at the top off this edition says; be a traveler, not a tourist and go with the flow.

¡Pura Vida!


Herculean Bovine
(The Oxen of Costa Rica)

Oxcarts, or carretas, have been a part of the Costa Rican heritage and landscape for many centuries.

Not being a farm boy growing up, I was a bit uncertain as to what an Ox really was. At first I thought they were a hybrid, sort of like a mule is to a horse but in fact they are simply cattle of the bovine or "Bos" genus. The particular types most often used as beasts of burden can come with one or two humps depending on the specie. Oxen share something with their cousins, the steers, in that they are both castrated (the most unkindest cut of all). Evidently this makes them grow faster and stronger (really? - it would just make me weaker and angry). In Australia, New Zealand and India oxen are called "bullocks".

See the picture at the top of this edition for a typical Costa Rican Ox pulling a cart.

"Ploughing" - Biblical Times
Ox Being Shoed - Painting by (DuJardin - circa 1650)

Oxen have been in the employ of mankind for thousands of years, the earliest records indicate their use as far back as 4,000 BC. They have been used (and still are in some places) for plowing, pulling carts and wagons, to supply power for threshing operations and for powering machines that grind grain or supply irrigation. Oxen may be also used to skid logs in forests, particularly in low-impact, select-cut operations.

Contraption to Support Oxen While Shoeing

In most places, oxen are shoed like horses. There is a difference in the process, however, as oxen find it much more difficult than horses to balance on three legs so various contraptions have been invented over the years to hold and support the bovine in place while the shoeing operation is in progress.

In the beginning, the combination of a cart and a large ox was a key method of transportation for certain Costa Rican exports, coffee for example, to get the products to the ports over the difficult terrain that is Costa Rica. They have also been used here routinely to collect sugar cane and even today they are important in the collection of oil dates for processing into palm oil (see More on Palms and Pods).

Steers are butchered for meat at one and half to two years of age whereas oxen are allowed to grow beyond four years and become beasts of burden until old or infirm. Eventually oxen are also butchered for meat like steers. One of my butcher friends used to say this meat was "como zapatos" or like shoe leather. Yup, I've bought some meat like this, tougher than shoe leather actually. It's probably why so much of it is prepared as "carne en salsa", beef boiled in a liquid turned into a gravy for hours to make it tender. There is no FDA grading of Costa Rican beef; no "prime" or "choice" here amigo. Sometimes Oxen are sold off for meat at 7-8 years and the proceeds are used to buy new, young bulls.

The New "Boyero" Monument in Cartago

Young male cattle are trained in their second and third years so that when they reach four years they will be ready to start their work and react to the commands given by the drivers (see What's-in-a-Word below for an english list of the commands). The cart drivers are also the oxen's trainers and are called "boyeros".

Boyeros are a prominent part of Costa Rican culture having their own annual festival and now their own monument in Cartago near the cathedral. Festivals featuring the boyeros and their oxen include judging the oxen for appearance, strength and behavior (ability to react to and obey the boyeros' commands). Boyeros, their oxen and some of the more elaborately decorated carts are often part of many different kinds of parades all around the country (see Las Carretas).

Boyeros and Oxen Hauling a Big Load

The way in which the oxen are trained is interesting. They are usually paired and joined together with a yoke which makes them work as a team and also helps to distribute the weight of the load they're hauling evenly to each ox and onto their shoulders where they are strongest. The boyero almost always uses a long, thin staff (probably bamboo) to make the oxen start and stop and to guide them in the direction the boyero needs to go. Note that they are never mean to the animals.

Note in the video to the right that the boyero never hits or whips the oxen with the bamboo staff, just simply touches it or taps the yoke to get their attention and to let the animal know that a change in direction is needed. During the training period, the oxen also learn to walk at a specific pace that nicely equals the pace most comfortable for the boyero(s) walking with them.

The term "strong as an ox" came from somewhere - must be here. And I'm sure that's where they got the idea for stockades, just mount the yoke in the town square and install the perps into it.

¡Solo Bueno!



Oxen Commands

English version:

I always wondered where giddyup came from.



ROMEO Corner
(Retired Old Men Eating Out)

GG made three trips to San José in October for health reasons, including one for cataract surgery. This provided an opportunity for GG and his ROMEO companions to investigate more interesting restaurants in the big city. Two of our findings are reported here.

Wong's - San José

Location: Centro, in front of the Plaza de la Democracia, 75 meters east of the Mas X Menos Market
Hours: Lunch, Dinner,
Parking: Seven Days per Week
Contact: Tel.: (506) 2255-0824; Email: N/A; Website: N/A

Reviewing ROMEOS: Jorge C., Bob N.

To Review Our Rating System and Procedure, go here: R.O.M.E.O. Rating System

Having successfully completed cataract surgery on one eye on October 8, I was stunned by the difference it made. To celebrate, Jorge and I decided to take a late afternoon lunch/dinner and for some reason Chinatown beckoned.

Chinese Symbols for "Good Food"

We took a cab from the hospital to central San José and along the way we learned our driver was quite knowledgeable about restaurants in the city. He told us the top three Chinese restaurants were Casa China, Tin-Jo and Wong's. The driver suggested the best value might be Wong's so we asked him to take us there.

This is a very unassuming restaurant both inside and out. On entering you find yourself in a very large dining room with booths along the sides and maybe 15 tables in the center section. We sat at a booth. The tables and walls are quite plain but what impressed us most was how clean the entire restaurant was. After scanning the menu, we came to the conclusion that it is a real Chinese restaurant and not a local adaptation of one. The meal supported that conclusion and we give Wong's three and a half sloths for atmosphere..

The menu was quite extensive but being the first time there we went conservatively and ordered classic dishes.

Jorge ordered cantonese rice and I ordered a house special chop suey. In addition I ordered a small sweet and sour soup but what came forth was a sizeable tureen of soup along with two bowls. We each had enough for two or three bowls full and it was delicious, the best of its kind I've had since I used to frequent a really good Chinese restaurant in Sarasota.

The portions served for our main dishes were also very large, and even though we were quite hungry, the amount was enough to allow us to share dishes and dissuade us from ordering dessert. The vegetables were crisp and the pork pieces and tiny shrimp very tasty. The fried rice was very good.

$$$ 1/2
Value Index = 114

The service (a young Tica) was pleasant, friendly and efficient. For atmosphere, quality of food and service we give Wong's four sloths.

The total for two people for the soup, two main courses and three beverages was just over 17,000 colones (about $34). This puts Wong's in the 3-4 dollar cost rating category and 114 in the value index or in the upper third of our reviews.

If you're in the metropolis and have the time, Wong's is a good stop. It's also gotten us interested in trying the other two restaurants that the driver mentioned (Tin-Jo and Casa China).

IL Padrino - San José

Location: Boulevard Central de Pavas, about 150 meters west of the national stadium on the south side of the boulevard.
Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Mon-Sat: Noon-10pm. Sun: Noon-9pm
Parking: A few places in front of the restaurant and more on the side street next to it.
Contact: Tel.: 506 2220 1614; Email: ; Website:

Reviewing ROMEOS: Duston R., Bob N.

Ristorante Il Padrino - They Made Us an Offer We Couldn't Refuse

GG found himself once more in San José on a health related issue. I was accompanied by a friend who wanted to visit a Radio Shack, which we found on the main drag into Pavas near the national stadium. After that we walked west on the boulevard and came across this restaurant by chance.

This is not only a theme restaurant ("The cuisine of the Godfather") but also a copy cat physically. The menu sports a picture of the restaurant in Godfather One where Michael Corleone made the hit on the mobster Solozo and the corrupt police captain. The restaurant is an authentic reproduction of the one in the movie. I expected to see Clemenza lunching in the corner with his back to the wall but, alas, there were only Ticos.

Could This Be Sr. Siciliano?

Il Padrino is a very comfortable place with padded seats (unlike the Quepos/Manuel Antonio standard) and tables with double linen table cloths. The rest of the dining room is accented in dark wood and Italian art reproductions. The only thing missing was the Godfather theme playing in the background ("Speak softly love, and hold me warm against your heart..."♪).

After looking over the restaurant's website, it was noted that one of the owners last name is Siciliano, befitting the theme. Unfortunately, we didn't get to meet him; I wanted to know if he came from the town of Corleone. We give Il Padrino five sloths for atmosphere.

We were served warm, fresh, crispy rolls which could be accented with one of three olive oils already on the table. Now that's Italian.

The menu had an extensive list of Italian specialties including seafood, meats, pastas, salads, carpaches and bruchettas. Since it was lunchtime we both chose salads, he a caesar with chicken and I the house special with pieces of prosciutto, small shrimp, sliced portobella mushrooms and fresh vegetables. My salad was huge and accented with a delightful and slightly sweet dressing. It was delicious and I managed to eat it all.

We'll need to go back for dinner to try some of the other dishes. For food quality we give Il Padrino four sloths (might be higher with more sampling).

4 1/2
Value Index = 113

Service, if not overly friendly, was courteous, efficient and attentive. For atmosphere, quality of food and service overall we give Il Padrino four and a half sloths.

The cost with one beverage ranged from 7,500 to 9,000 colones ($15-18) which puts Il Padrino in the top 25% of our cost rating range and gives the restaurant a value index of 113, square in the middle of our rankings.

So, for a change of pace while enjoying good Italian food, try Il Padrino. I know we will go back.

¡Solo Bueno!



don Beto de Quepos,
El Gringo Dorado
Pura Vida!

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