(© Copyright 2011 - All Rights Reserved)

  header image 2

"Doing Latin America, Mostly by Luck"


Quepos, Costa Rica, July 2011 - Edition 35

CLICK HERE FOR ARCHIVED EPISODES                                                                                                                 CLICK HERE FOR RESTAURANT ARCHIVES

IN THIS ISSUE: Travel Quote, Broken News (Encroaching Civilization, While Others Close), Fine Feathered Friends, Got Paragua?, Cuña Cut, What's-in-a-Word (Around the World Trivia, Cuña versus Cuna), ROMEO Corner (Tre Scalini- Santa Ana), Founders' Quotes

Rainforest Friends:        An Emerald Tucanet

...and a Scarlet Macaw in Flight

Travel Quote of the Month:  

"Of the gladdest moments in human life, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off with one mighty effort the fetters of Habit, the leaden weight of Routine, the cloak of many Cares and the slavery of Home, one feels once more happy. The blood flows with the fast circulation of childhood. A journey, in fact, appeals to
Imagination, to Memory, to Hope, the three sister Graces of our moral being."

- Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton


Broken News

Encroaching Civilization

We are a small community; estimates range from 7,000-11,000 personas depending on who's in the forest at any given time. Now our Quepos is getting two new emporiums that indicate our community is heading towards an enhanced level of civilization, or at least it's a cultural step upward in the mind of our hero.

The sign went up on the new building next to Super Mas on main street about a month ago: "SUBWAY aqui, PRONTO!".

I call the building where the new Subway will be housed La Torre Carlos or Chuck's Tower after our best liked pharmacist at Farmacia Economica, which occupies a good deal of the ground floor of the building. Carlos owns the building; the man is a dynamo of work, having a total of six farmacias from Manuel Antonio to Escazu.

How pronto is "pronto" is yet to be seen but a quick check with Carlos resulted in a projected completion date of the first week in August. (The work crew says mid-August).

If this new shop provides anything close to typical Subway fare, it will provide a good lunch alternative as well as raise a higher competitive standard for sandwiches about town. Pura vida! Bring it on amigos!

So the Motto is "More Flavor, Less Remorse"
I Guess They're Talking Nutritional Value, eh?
I Can Eat That - Yummers!

The Subway Corporate web site says there are 34,707 Subways in the world and already there are 37 in Costa Rica (I bet 30+ are in the environs of San José). Subway now has more restaurants worldwide than McDonald's who state they have "greater than 30,000". I'll bet, however, that Mickey D's has a much higher sales per store than Subway, just a guess.

Sure enough, GG just made a cursory search on the internet and found info on comparative sales: for McDonald's 2010 sales were 24 Billion versus just under 5 billion for Subway. That's about $800,000 per McDonald store and $144,000 for Subway outlet. (I must say these numbers make me suspicious in that they may only include franchise revenue per store paid to the corporation and not total food sales. Food sales are probably 3-6 times these figures. That's a lot of burgers and subs - hold the mayo dudes.

"Much More at a Great Price", Says They

The other new establishment in our little village involves a one-story building of substantial size being built outside Quepos where the road to San Jose meets the main street into Quepos and also where the Costanera Sur runs south to Dominical (a good gringo would have named this location "Three Points" by now - las tres puntas, amigos). Reports have it that this is to be a Maxi-Bodega Supermarket. If so it will be the largest supermarket within at least 70 kilometers (if the Auto Mercado in Jacó turns out to be smaller, which I suspect it will) and may be bigger than anything within 90 kilometers (San Isidro).

Maxi-Bodega is a Walmart property as is Hipermas (the largest store in Ticoland), Mas X Menos, and Pali. Walmart is making a big expansion into Central America after Walmart-Mexico was put in charge of the region by Walmart Corporate Headquarters. Walmart plans to open 20 new stores of various sizes and brands all over Costa Rica in the next couple of years. Local chains like MegaSuper and AutoMercado are left to fight and compete with the giant. (There's plenty of room and need for both Wally's world and independents)

Now, if we could only get POPS to open one of its ice cream stores here... (our hero has an addiction to POPS Chocoalemendras - chocolate almond - yummers) ...these guys have one of the richest ice creams in the world in my slightly gilded opinion.

The Chronicles crack, non-award winning news staff (consisting of... GG) will follow these two developments and report progress to you with the appropriate delay in news worthiness called for by our "Broken" news business model.

While Others Close

Our Chronicles ROMEOS have been doing restaurant reviews for 16 months now. Someone recently asked why we've given so many high ratings to virtually all the restaurants we've reviewed. Escucha bien amigos; It's because we have so many places to visit that we've already eliminated those that would likely render a low rating! It's true we've given only one restaurant a low three sloths for ambiance, service and food quality; all the rest have gotten 4 or 5 hairy little devils. Amigos, it's a case of so many restaurants, so little time.

Another interesting fact is that four of the seventeen restaurants so far reviewed have closed (this is indicated as such on the restaurant archives list available here: RESTAURANT ARCHIVES). Remember, this is a resort area and, needless to say, the restaurant market here is broad and highly competitive.

Fine Feathered Friends

GG is not an ornithologist, but I do like our fine feathered friends, of which we have many in Costa Rica.

With over 30% of the total known species of animals kn the world concentrated in a land representing less than 0.3% of the world's land mass, it seems sometimes that our hero is sitting in a theater showing a continuous panoply of wildlife. And you don't have to move around a great deal as everything from super-slugs and boas (yes, the constrictor type) to monkeys and sloths are always popping into view. Occasionally, I have no idea what I'm looking at so I just relax and enjoy the diversity and beauty of it all.

Costa rica is for the birds. Among all the animal variety available here, there is no more spectacular sight on the planet than to see a royal blue parrot or a multi-colored Mot Mot or Toucan lite 20 feet from where you're standing. It happens regularly here and you don't have to go miles into the jungle to see them; they come to you (although you're likely to see even more when you're deep in the bosque). What follows is a montage of just a few of the thousands of species recorded here, to which is added a new species or two every year.

First, here's just a sampling of the Herons, of which there are many more types than those shown (those below are, I think, just rather unusual from a gringo's perspective):

Fasciated Tiger Heron
Agami Heron
Boat-Billed Heron (Strange Looking Dude)

How about some interesting color:

A Jabiru
King Vulture - "t's Good to be King"
Northern Jacana (North of Where?)
Crimson Fronted Parakeet
Blue-Crowned Mot Mot
Violaceous Trogon (Sounds Like a Star Trek Character)

And let's not forget the owls:

Tropical Screech Owl ("I Was Trying to Sleep, Dude")
Black and White Owl
Great Potoo (Owl or Purple Termite's Nest?)

Selected quotes on birds:

"A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song." - Chinese Proverb
"I realized that If I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes." - Charles Lindbergh

"No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings." William Blake (1757-1827)

Thousands more pictures of pajaros (you know, they're called boids in Brooklyn) of all types are available . To take a tour go HERE.

Got Paragua?

The rainy season in Costa Rica runs from about the middle of May to about the middle of December. It began on schedule this year in late May.

The advent of the season does not mean that it rains every day, all day, but simply that it rains often and much harder than in most northern climes. Our hero observed the first two years here as "typical" rainy seasons, that is, the mornings and early afternoons are usually clear and sunny but the late afternoons and evenings almost always bring rains. Sometimes there's even a deluge that floods local streets or washes out roads. Last year was an exceptionally heavy rainy season when several extraordinary rainstorms caused havoc all along the Central Pacific Coast. (to see more about last year's storms, go here: Landslide or here: Tormenta).

Entrepreneur Selling Paraguas in San José

GG has gone through eight paraguas, or umbrellas, since  moving to Costa Rica slightly less than 3 years ago. It's not that they have worn out or been damaged; no, they haven't had the chance. I just forget them in various places like restaurants, stores and buses.

Once last year I found myself in San José confronted with heavy rain as I emerged from the market near the Coca-Cola bus station. Of course I had forgotten my paragua in Quepos but the good news is there was a street vendor there just when I needed him. I bought one of those types that folds into a small cylinder about a foot long. Only 1,000 colones ($2). It was with me a few days until I left it at some deserving establishment.

Our hero's current inventory of paraguas is pictured to the left. This represents numbers 9, 10 and 11 in GG's continuing series. Normally our hero keeps two paraguas, one in reserve, awaiting the day when the first will be left somewhere. The third paragua pictured, the one with the handle, was inherited from a gringo that repatriated to the United States. Methinks, hopefully, I am prepared for the season.

There are several companies that manufacture paraguas in Costa Rica so we have a good supply, and they're cheap. The straight-handled ones in the picture cost 2,500 to 3,500 colones each ($5-7 in Rio Linda dollars) at  the variety store across from the bus station (Variadades Jhonan).

GG's Current Paragua Inventory
The Umbrella I Like the Best - at the Beach. Actually, When the Umbrella Becomes This Large It's Not Known as a "Paragua", It's Called a "Sombra"
Have You Seen These Huge Plants in the Rainforest? They can Get so Big That They Can Literally be Used for Shelter When It's Raining. That May be the Reason They're Called
"Poor Man's Umbrella"

So the well appointed traveler to the rainforest will always have a good paragua handy during the wet season (they call this season here "winter" or "invierno"). But, not to worry, there is always a source of inexpensive paraguas nearby.

For comparative rain and other weather data for Quepos, Florida and Boston, go here: SINGING IN THE RAIN.

Cuña Cut

When you've moved to and lived in as many places as our hero (Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Belgium, Ohio (again), Pennsylvania (again), Florida, Costa Rica) you get used to the necessity of having to discover new sources for basic services such as where one finds the best supermarket, or a bank for a good checking account. In my case, the subject of obtaining a checking account is fodder for another article - later dude.

Of course, a man always needs a good barber. There are several good peluquerias (hair joints) about town, many of which offer their services to both men and women. For some reason I've never taken to that idea, I prefer a place that caters to men and certainly I like one that doesn't charge ladies prices. So, after trying the place below for the first time, I settled on it as my kind of man's place.

The "Cuña" Outside His Shop Waiting for the Next Customer

I was very fortunate to have been steered in the right direction a few months after I landed on these shores, just about the time my hair was reaching Beethoven length. I was introduced to Señor Alfredo Borras and his shop, located on Avenue de Las Palmas (a GGC-designated street name) which is located near the middle of the second block inland from the waterfront (MAP OF QUEPOS).

Señor Borras claims to be the barber of the oldest standing in Quepos and one day he produced an article written in a regional newspaper to prove it. His shop opened in 1955, 56 years ago (GG was in the 7th grade, Lincoln was President).

Al's shop is called Barberia Cuña (pronounced koon-ya in Rio Lindese). So, whence cometh the name "Cuña" asked our hero? The story goes like this: When Alfredo was growing up he had four beautiful sisters who, of course, attracted a number of admirers. They started calling Alfredo "cuñado" which, in Spanish, is brother-in-law, in order to insinuate themselves into the family and attain proximity to the girls. If one repeats cuñado quickly and frequently, it can be corrupted to "cuña". The nickname stuck with Alfredo into adulthood and ended up as the title of his shop.

Barberia Cuña is a one-chair barber shop, unless you count the two waiting chairs in the cutting room or the three extra waiting chairs positioned outside the shop on the sidewalk. Barberia Cuña is open 9-6 Monday through Saturday but not from 12-1PM when Alfredo takes lunch in his home, to which the shop is attached.

I love this small town stuff. Alfredo Borras has become a buddy.

So, my friends, if you find yourself bewhiskered, overly hirsute or otherwise pilious (sorry, sometimes I just can't resist tendencies to be a word merchant ), try mi amigo "Cuña". Although Al doesn't speak but two words of English, he doesn't need to in order to cut hair well. And it's a great opportunity to practice one's Spanish. Incidentally, Al is one of the gentlest barbers I've ever encountered - no jabs with scissors or cuts here.

For more meanings of the word cuña, check out the what's-in-a-word department below.

What's-in-a-Word Department

Around the World Trivia

Here are some fairly useless but interesting facts about places around the globe:

The Amazon: The Amazon rainforest produces more than 20% of the world's oxygen supply. The Amazon River pushes so much water into the Atlantic Ocean that, more than one hundred miles at sea off the mouth of the river, one can dip fresh water out of the ocean.

Canada: Canada has more lakes than the rest of the world combined. Canada is an Indian word meaning ' Big Village '. (Eh?) What tribe?

Los Angeles: Los Angeles' full name is: " El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula -- and can be abbreviated to 3.63% of its size as "L.A". (Kool, sounds better than "the babe from the Los Angeles River")

Russia: The deepest hole ever drilled by man is the Kola Superdeep Borehole, in Russia. It reached a depth of 12,261 meters (about 40,226 feet or 7.62 miles). It was drilled for scientific research and gave up some unexpected discoveries, one of which was a huge deposit of hydrogen - so massive that the mud coming from the hole was boiling with it.

United States: The Eisenhower interstate system requires that one mile in every five must be straight. These straight sections are usable as airstrips in times of war or other emergencies.

Venezuela: The water of Angel Falls (the world's highest) in Venezuela drops 3,212 feet (979 meters). These falls are 15 times higher than Niagara Falls.


I'm constantly amazed at how flexible the Spanish language is. I know in English we have single words that have more than one meaning but I believe Spanish excels at this. Just take the word cuña, for example. Here's the definition from my spanishdict.com:

cuña [coo’-nyah] - feminine noun
1. wedge (pieza)
2. commercial break (de publicidad)
3. bedpan (orinal)
4. Any object employed in splitting or dividing a body
5. Influential person (tener cuña -> to have friends in high places)
Two-seater car. (Ante Meridian & Automate & Central America & Caribbean) (m)

Any word than can equally mean a log splitter, a commercial break, a bedpan, a two-seater car or an influential person is impressive in my opinion. Perhaps the influential person thing is another reason why Alfredo's sisters' suitors called him "Cuña".

But be careful that you use the letter "ñ" (or en-yee) rather than the letter "n" (or en-ee) because cuna (coo'-nah) means something completely different than cuña. Cuna can mean a cradle or a cot or, in one reference, it was used to derogatorily define a certain part of a women's anatomy, the description of which is best left for one of ex-Rep. Weiner's Tweets. What a difference a little squiggle can make.

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


Location: Boulevard Lindora Shopping Center, next to Scotiabank on the Santa Ana-Belen Road, Santa Ana. Heading towards San José, take
                the Santa Ana exit on the Autopista, turn left at the bottom of the ramp; the restaurant is less than a kilometer up the road on the left.
    Hours: Monday to Saturdays 12:00 to 2:30 PM; also 6:00 to 10:30 PM in the evenings.
  Parking: Considerable parking in front of the restaurant, plenty more in a nearby parking lot.
  Contact: Tel 506-2203-7543 or ...7544

Reviewing ROMEOS: Brian M., Mike L., Bob N., Edgar R.

This restaurant was suggest by a ROMEO who had lived several years near Santa Ana and who had eaten at Scalini several times. Our party was not disappointed.

We opened the place, arriving at 5:45 (they close between lunch and dinner and open again at 6 PM). I asked the maitre'd on the way into the restaurant where the name Tre Scalini came from. I had done a quick search on "scalini" by way of my online translator and found the word means "step". So why would you name a restaurant "three steps". The dude told me there were three restaurants by that name; one here, one in Chicago and one in  New York, implying that the owner was the duano of them all. Retrospectively, I really don't think I got the right answer and subsequent to that conversation, I got too busy eating to pursue the question further.

Rome's Spanish Steps

If you search the net you'll find literally dozens of Italian restaurants all across the U.S. named Scalini. This made me suspicious that the name of these restaurants might be a take-off of the "Spanish Steps" in Rome (Scalinata di Spagna), a famous tourist attraction our hero and future ex-wife visited in 1971. No, they weren't just built then smart aleck, they date back to 1725 when the French built them to lead up to their new church now called Trinita die Monti.

So let me get this right - the French built Spanish steps in Italian Rome where many non-Italian tourists now gather for God knows whatever. Go figure. All this historical thinking has made me hungry again, so let's go back to the fare at the local Scalini.

The restaurant dining room is done in earthen colors including the chairs and table cloths. I was particularly pleased that the chairs were covered and had padding in the seats (important for a maturing ROMEO with a bad back). The lighting is warm and subtle but ample for reviewing the menu and properly inspecting the food (you think this work is easy amigo?)



After ordering appetizers and main courses, we were served crisp Italian bread toasted with herbs and garlic. Soon after that we were each served with a caprece consisting of a round of tomato topped with a small ball of mozzarella and garnished with basil leaves and olive oil. Next, I ordered a zuppa di giorno which consisted of small, cubed vegetables in a light broth while others chose zuppa di tortellini, both were reported tasty. For main courses, we selected various entrees from sea bass to a chicken roll in a mushroom sauce to lasagna and to my choice: "Vitello Saltimbocca", tender veal scallopini covered with prosciutto, mozarella, a slice of hard boiled egg and bathed in a white sauce. Yummers. For desert I had a wedge of pistachio ice cream laden with hazlenuts and drizzled with a raspberry sauce; others had a ball of chocolate ice cream. Still more yummers. All ingredients for all courses were fresh and tasty.

The service was prompt, courteous and helpful. Plates and used silverware were cleared promptly and replaced quickly with clean pieces. When one ROMEO pointed out that he had been considerably shorted on change from a $100 bill (the ROMEOS are great at demanding separate checks and driving wait staffs nuts), the correction was made promptly with apologies. If I have to find one detraction with regard to the service through the whole meal, it was that the soup was served virtually on top of the caprece and should have been held a few minutes until we finished the appetizer. Minor point, the soup was too hot to eat immediately, anyway.

My meal (appetizer, soup, main course, desert) ended up at slightly over 25,000 colones or about $51. The others came in at $40-45 (OK, I hear you, I eat more and more expensively than most, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah). This is without alcohol of any kind; the restaurant has a large wine menu of moderately priced to expensive wines that would add significantly to these tabs. This, of course puts the restaurant in the top 10% or maybe even the top 5% of Costa Rican restaurants on a cost basis. Not cheap but the experience was well worth the price.

For ambiance, service and food quality, our group voted 3Scalini the ROMEOS top rating of five sloths. For cost, we have to give it a full five dollars (there are one or two restaurants in Manuel Antonio equally as expensive).

If you find yourself in the Santa Ana area, don't miss the opportunity to "mangia bene" at Tre Scalini.

Founder's Quotes

Insights from the dudes who put together the United States of America.

Abraham Lincoln once asked General (Winfield) Scott the question:  "Why is it that you were once able to take the City of Mexico in three months with five thousand men, and we have been unable to take Richmond with one hundred thousand men? "I will tell you," said General Scott. "The men who took us into the City of Mexico are the same men who are keeping us out of Richmond ." - Confederate Veteran Magazine, September 1913

And another from my favorite rebel:

"In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." - Thomas Jefferson

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: fiducry@comcast.net Be pithy, but kind (I'm sensitive).