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"Doing Latin America, Mostly by Luck"

Episode 18 - February 2010

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Breaking News, Musketeers on the Road Again, R.O.M.E.O. Corner

Sunset Puerto Viejo
Sunrise on the East Coast of Costa Rica Somewhere Near Puerto Viejo

Breaking News


Futbol Heating Up in Quepos

Costa Rica’s major league futbol has expanded its schedule. The top Costa Rican teams, such as Saprissa, will now play in Quepos on a regular basis, according to the chronicles sources (which we never reveal, even to ourselves). GG attended a Saprissa vs. Quepos game at the city’s modest outdoor field on January 9. Being from Quepos, GG refrained from wearing his Saprissa t-shirt like the one shown on the player to the right, the one with the “BIMBO” banner. For those who don’t know, Bimbo is the largest bread and baked goods supplier in Central America and a major sponsor of Saprissa. BIMBO would be an interesting brand in English speaking countries, don’t you think? – I have a few tag lines in mind - no, don’t go there GG.
Futbol Bimbo

For a town of approximately 10,000 it seemed as though at least half of its residents were at the game that night. The permanent bleachers can accommodate only a few hundred at best but this posed no problems for local fans as people mounted the roofs of trucks and cars, planting lawn chairs on their tops to view the game. Some even watched from nearby roofs but most fans ringed the field standing four and five deep, stretching their necks like egrets to get a view. The area around the field was replete with hawkers and vendors and the air was permeated by the smell of chicken brochettes being processed on simple grills that had been quickly put into place by the more entrepreneurial Ticos. It was a grand night in Quepos. Unfortunately Quepos lost to Saprissa, as expected, 3 to 1.

R.O.M.E.O. Club Founders Now Complete

The R.O.M.E.O. Club, Costa Rica Chapter, reached its full founding complement over the past month when Brian M. (Bathtub Brian – ask him, not me) arrived to take up residency. The founding members consist of GG, Paul P. and Brian M. It so happened that all three have taken apartments in the same building in Quepos, so quite naturally, the three are seen together about town and Manuel Antonio beach which gave rise to one Tico labeling us Los Tres Mosketeros. All three have pledged to do their darndest to maintain a high quality investigation and rating service of all the restaurants that reasonable scheduling and the Lord’s time limit will allow.

You may look forward to more evaluations to come, whether you want them or not. If we had done this forty years ago, we might have turned it into Diners Club and bought the west coast of Costa Rica rather than retiring here as renters. 


Musketeers on the Road Again

Los Tres Mosketeros spent about a week away from their Quepos home base first by visiting San José and then traveling on to Puerto Viejo. We departed Quepos on Monday, January 18 by directo public bus and arrived in San José’s infamous Coca-Cola bus station about 3½ hours later.

The San José stop was intended to be the occasion for our hero to pick up his residency permit (cédula ) but, alas, further government bureaucracy resulted in another cancelled meeting and more delay. I am to get the document, purportedly, after the national elections coming up on Super Bowl Sunday. Part of the problem is that the law was recently changed to increase certain minimum monthly incomes, and, supposedly, to make the paperwork process easier. GG conforms to the first part of that formula and anxiously awaits the realization of that last part.

Teatro Nacional
Teatro Nacional – San José
The stay in SJ provided the opportunity for the wandering trio to attend the San Pedro Mall cinema and experience the pelicula known as Avatar. 3-D is back – shades of the 1950’s! Actually the new shades used for today’s 3-D movies are quite more elaborate than the paper and plastic film type we used back then. The new ones are plastic with rigid plastic polarizing lenses. The ensuing design looks kind of like a Ray-Ban knockoff. Also, if I remember correctly, we were allowed to take the glasses home in the old days but now you’d better turn them in on the way out or deal with the muscle-bound Tico standing at the exit. Teatro Nacional Foyer
Teatro Nacional – The Foyer

Chronicles Opinion: Avatar is the most technologically advanced movie ever made. Not only do things appear to come out into the theater nearly touching your nose (the 3-D effect) but the animation of the little blue people and, in particular, their mouths when speaking is incredible. The plot, however, is old and worn; that of advanced societies beating up on the natives (this has been done several times with regard to U.S. Indians and in stories about the Roman conquests). In the modern version, those greedy corporations, backed by a lustfully violent military seek to destroy the natives. In the old days it was simply a remote and insensitive Indian Affairs Department back in Washington backed by a reluctant military. And the battle scenes in this movie, although technically efficient, have all been done before, in Star Wars. The only difference is that, in Avatar, the natives ride large flying birds into battle (and, of course, these hawkmen do surprisingly well). Conclusion: Avatar must be seen for the advanced technology alone, but as an artwork, GG believes it deserves a maximum of 3½ coconuts on a scale of one to five.

Los Tres Mosketeros visited a couple of good restaurants in San José while there, after all it is our job, but these will be covered in a future R.O.M.E.O. corner. After GG’s business in SJ was unsuccessfully completed, the trio took the Interbus (private van) on Wednesday morning to the east coast town of Puerto Viejo. The route involves taking the main artery from San José to Limon before turning south towards Puerto Viejo. The road is paved and in good shape most of the way but, except for a few kilometers near SJ, it is still two lanes so traffic can get bogged down behind the trucks and caravans that endlessly parade between the country’s capitol and its major port. The journey over to our destination took a little more that four hours; coming back it would take about five.                 

Puerto Viejo
Puerto Viejo - Aerial View
The road to Limón and Puerto Viejo runs up and across the central mountain spine that splits  Costa Rica down the middle. The first leg of the trip involves winding one’s way from the central valley where San José is situated, up the western slope of the divide and through the tops of mountains. If you take this route, prepare yourself for some spectacular views. As the descent begins on the eastern side, the topography changes to deciduous forests reminiscent of regions of Ohio, West Virginia or even New Hampshire. The land then gives way to valleys and rolling hills replete with fruit and coffee farms. This is the region where much of the wonderful fruit of Costa Rica is grown; bananas, pineapples, papayas and melons of several types.
The Dole logo was frequently in view, particularly for banana and pineapple farms. I noticed that the hands of bananas still hanging on the trees were all wrapped in loose fitting bright blue plastic bags. I then remembered meeting an interesting fellow last year who was down here for a reunion and vacation. His nickname is “Banana John” and he used to be a manager for United Fruit in Quepos when our region was a major producer of the yellow fruit (the farms here gave way to palm oil production some decades ago when a blight wiped out the banana plants). He told me that banana plants give off carbon dioxide that helps ripen the fruit. Putting the plastic bag over the hands helps retain more CO2 and ripen the fruit faster. (Just thought I’d slip in a little banana technology here) Dole Logo

As we approached Limon, the fruit farms gave way to many shipping yards on both sides of the highway which were filled with what we used to call “unitainers”, those truck sized corrugated metal containers that just fit a flat-bed 10-wheeler and that are often packed to the hilt (with mysterious contents) for overseas shipping. About 20 kilometers from Limón our Interbus took a turn to the right to avoid the busy port city ahead and proceeded at a diagonal through the town of Santa Rosa and over to the coast. The road thereafter was not nearly as well paved, sometimes flat and smooth, other times well potholed and a few times unpaved and reminiscent of the old road from Quepos to Dominical (a certified undercarriage destroyer that was). We ran along the coast for an hour and a half or so, sometimes as close as 20 or 30 meters from the water, before entering the village of Puerto Viejo.

While staying at the hotel in San José, Los Tres Mosketeros, none of whom had knowledge of where we were going (hold the comments please), did a bit of internet research on possible hotels in Puerto Viejo. We had contacted a hotel just south of the town which seemed to be reasonable but in the end we decided to “wing it” and left for the east coast without reservations. In the Interbus, we made the acquaintance of two delightful young (did I also mention pretty?) Dutch lasses who had been to Puerto Viejo before. They described where they were staying this during this trip, and where they had stayed once before, as “quite nice”. We elected to get off the Interbus with them at the Cabinas Jacaranda and we followed our newfound Dutch friends close behind to reception.

Cabinas Jacaranda Hammock
Cabinas Jacaranda – Puerto Viejo
The Cabinas Jacaranda turned out to be a true garden spot.  The grounds are laid out amidst a prolific display of flowers and greenery interspersed with the cabins in such a way that the only other cabin visible was usually the one right next to the one that one stayed in (kool, three “ones” in one sentence). The owner of the Cabinas is a rather crusty but soft-hearted Tica named Vera who offered us a two bedroom cabin with three beds, perfect for the three ROMEOS. The cabin had a clean bath with shower and hot/cold taps (no suicide shower here) and a delightful little veranda or porch that included a hammock. GG weight tested the hammock a couple of times and was happily unable to cause a failure of its support mechnism. Cabinas Jacaranda Patio
Cabinas Jacaranda – Puerto Viejo

 The Jacaranda also turned out to be centrally located in Puerto Viejo. We were one block from a MegaSuper Supermarket (Quepos/Manuel Antonio could use one of these), three blocks from a BCR Bank, three blocks from the town beach and two blocks from a cluster of restaurants to satiate Los Mosketeros constant need for nutritional refreshment (food, dude). In total, the cost of the cabin was $100 for two nights or $17 per night per musketeer.

Puerto Viejo is a town about half to two-thirds the size of Quepos but one that doesn’t have an attached appendage like Manuel Antonio. Real small town atmosphere. The people were friendly wherever we went, the predominant language is Spanish; only a smattering of Caribbean Creole was heard during the visit. The stores in the area offer a good deal of coffee, bananas, cashews and chocolate products locally grown. The trio took our comfort (that’s how ROMEOS describe being on two-hour feedings) at a few good restaurants in Puerto Viejo but, other than the one described in ROMEO’s corner below, description of the others will have to wait review in future issues of the Chronicles.

On Thursday the trio took a taxi to Punta Uva beach about 10 clicks south of PV. A place close to Punta Uva is reportedly the place where Cristobal Colón first landed in Costa Rica on his third (or fourth) trip to the new world. Good find, Chris!

This beach had the lightest colored sand GG has seen so far in Costa Rica (I’m told the Tamarindo area also has such sand but that review and critique must wait for a future report). The ocean at Punta Uva (Atlantic or Caribbean according to your interpretation of this coast’s position in the world) is a bit more tranquil than Manuel Antonio and more azure or turquoise than the Pacific side but, surprisingly, the water temperature was a few degrees lower than M.A. Also, the clarity of the water is good but, in my assessment, no greater than the Pacific side where we live. It certainly was not as clear as that found during GG’s visit to the Columbian island of San Andres (Chronicles Episode 9 – April 2009). We had lunch at a restaurant on the beach and spent most of the day languishing on the sand and in the water while iguanas, birds and surfers played in the background. 

We only allowed ourselves about two days in Puerto Viejo, arriving about 1 PM on Wednesday and leaving about 1 PM on Friday. The trio’s consensus was that we would have to come back in the not to distant future to learn more about this town and area and avail ourselves of some of the tours we didn’t have time to make such as the cashew farm, chocolate factory and daily outing to Bocas del Toro, Panama, just to name a few.

R.O.M.E.O. Corner


Sloth Rating (4)
(4 out of possible 5 )
Bread & Chocolate Cafe– Puerto Viejo  Located only one block towards the beach from the Cabinas Jacaranda, we wandered into this place of course wondering what the chocolate was all about. It was about culinary delight. Rich chocolate cakes, chocolate shakes and, if you wanted, a simple plate of chocolate truffles and other candies. In addition, the sandwiches were excellent and constructed on home made bread with ample proportions. The only thing that prevented this emporium from achieving a 5-sloth rating was what the café called French-press coffee. In the writer’s opinion, if one is going to endure the honor of pushing a plunger down an enclosed glass tube, one would hope to achieve an exceptional coffee. Unfortunately, the gimmick produced something akin to water from a Siene tributary laced with Ovaltine. Four sloths here.

Next month’s ROMEO review: El Balcon de Europa – San José. Oy! So many restaurants, so little time.

Caio and buen salud amigos!


  Don Roberto de Quepos,
  El Gringo Dorado
  Pura Vida!

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