In This Issue:

  1. Broken News (Solis Takes Office, Catholic Clerics No - Lutherans OK, Eliiminating Death)
  2. Rumble Talk (Arenal Quiet, New Eruption Predictor, Latest Shaker)
  3. Feature: Flower Power (The Orchids of Costa Rica)
  4. Feature: Printing Made Easy in Costa Rica (The Philadelphia Connection)
  5. Feature: Swimming Anyone? (A Couple of Ways to Feed a Croc)
  6. What's-in-a-Word (Guaria Morada, Crocodile Tears)
  7. ROMEO Corner (El Avion - Manuel Antonio)
Wisdom of the Ages

An older gentleman was on the operating table awaiting surgery and he insisted that his son, a renowned surgeon, perform the operation. As he was about to get the anesthesia he asked to speak to his son. "Yes, Dad, what is it?" "Don't be nervous, son; do your best and just remember, if it doesn't go well, if something happens to me ... your mother is going to come and live with you and your wife...."

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

Solis Takes Office

Señor Solis with Presidential Sash

The new president of Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solis, took office on Thursday, May 8 in the midst of 15,000 fans gathered in the new national stadium at Parque La Sabana in San José. He received the presidential sash, the mark of the office, from outgoing president Laura Chinchilla.

Solis, like a good politician, promised transparency, frugality, an end to corruption and strong backing for the "Caja" public health system ("Cah-hah, CCSS or Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social). Does that mean the government will pay that organization the nearly $2 billion it withheld from government employees paychecks over a number of years that should have gone to the Caja but didn't? (on a federal budget to federal budget comparison, that number would be over $500 billion in the U.S.) Paying the $2 billion back would surely brighten the Caja's immediate future.

But that's unlikely, as the government currently operates at a deficit of 6% of the gross national product (expected to go to 6.5% next year) and 40% of the annual budget (expected to go to 43% next year), despite a balance budget amendment in the constitution. On the heels of the frugality statement, Solis issued a decree that releases money (source unknown) to fix 12 bridges and nine drainage systems (I'm sure they need it) and promised to reduce electricity rates (but didn't say how), eradicate extreme poverty within two years (!) and increase expenditures for education by more than 11%.

I think most people would be pleased if he just lived up to his pledges about good ethics and elimination of corruption, namely, civil servants that operate with impunity from the law, government people that don't work in private capacities in conflict with their government job, and a head of the tax-collecting finance ministry that will pay his taxes (the last one didn't - sound familiar, amigos?).

If he can do that and provide a better atmosphere for investment (see last month's article on Intel pulling up stakes), he will have made a major contribution to the future of Costa Rica.

Catholic Clerics No - Lutherans OK

Bishop Melvin Jiménez Marín

The official religion of Costa Rica is Catholicism. This is a constitutional fact but its also currently under study and discussion and may be changed. At the same time, the constitution also expressly prohibits appointing to government positions religious professionals of any ilk; the words in the document are "ser del estado secular" or from the secular only.

But Mr Solis, in appointing his new cabinet, evidently thinks otherwise. He appointed Melvin Jiménez Marin to be Minister of the Presidency (Chief of Staff?) and a cabinet minister. Sr. Jiménez is a long-time personal friend of the President. The only problem is that Jiménez has been a sitting Lutheran Bishop since 2008.

Somehow, Solis' staff thinks that appointing a Lutheran is different from appointing a Catholic and that satisfies the constitution. A political opponent of Solis has petitioned the Sala IV court, the Costa Rican constitutional court, to review the situation and they have agreed to look into it. More to be revealed.

Eliminating Death

Maybe it's just my twisted mind but I find some headlines hilarious. Take, for example, this one that appeared in a local English language news source here:

"Eating Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Said to Dramatically Reduce Risk of Death"

Typical Man - Age 22 (well, sorta typical)
Same Man at 80 After 7 Portions of Bananas Per Day for 60 Years
Same Man, 20 Years Older Still, But Too Much Grapefruit

Perhaps it's just the way you look at things, or the engineer in me that yearns for precision, but my understanding of the risk of death is that it is 100% for most humans and that it is unable to be modified or moderated to something less, i.e., the risk is immutable. If a reader knows differently, would you please advise old GG? I might be able to make use of the information.

Of course I know that what the author wants to say, or at least imply, is that one's life span can be increased by eating more fruit and vegetables. Duh, there's a news flash. The article stated the following :

"Researchers used the Health Survey for England to study the eating habits of 65,226 people representative of the English population between 2001 and 2013, and found that the more fruit and vegetables they ate, the less likely they were to die at any age."

Really, any age? Sounds like all I have to do is raise the fruit eating count to grazing level and I'm home free. Maybe it's like General patton said "We are two countries (England and the United States), great allies, but separated by a common language."

The article went on to say:

"Eating seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day reduces the risk of death at any point in time (my emphasis) by 42 percent compared to eating less than one portion, reports a new study. Compared to eating less than one portion of fruit and vegetables, the risk of death by any cause is reduced by 14 percent by eating one to three portions, 29 percent for three to five portions, 36 percent for five to seven portions and 42 percent for seven or more."

So what seems to be different with this research result is that now we have some quantitative measurement of what might happen if we eat more fruit and vegetables. But the data is still confusing to me. "The risk of death by any cause...(emphasis added)". If I eat mucho fruit and veggies will my chances of being murdered in a dark alley or by an angry ex-wife drop 42%?

And, at the end of the article, they had to throw this in:

"The researchers found no evidence of significant benefit from fruit juice, and canned and frozen fruit appeared to increase risk of death by 17 percent per portion." Dude, does that mean that if I eat six portions of canned peaches a day I will suffer instant death (6 x 17 = 102%)?

Now, GG has 70 years under my belt (plus a lot of hard-earned pounds there too) and I probably eat three to five portions of fruit and vegetables daily as a routine. Guess I gotta add a couple more daily portions of (fresh) mango or guanabana to make sure I make it to 71.



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


Arenal Today
All Quiet on the
Western Front

Arenal volcano, in Alejuela Province northwest of San José is one of the most visited spots in Costa Rica. Visitors have often been treated to a colorful display of relatively minor eruptions at night, visible from their hotel rooms.

In times gone by, Arenal was classified as one of the top 100 most active volcanoes in the world. But recently, Arenal has been unusually quiet. This is not just a phenomenon related to Arenal only but a more general slow down of volcanic activity in the whole region. Scientists and volcanologists say recent eruptions have been below 1 ton per day, which is the minimum they need to actually measure a flow.

Night Shot in July 2007

Volcanologists at the University of Costa Rica and others say we've entered into a period best described as a "state of rest" for this and other volcanoes nearby. How long the state of rest will continue is anybody's guess. Most people don't remember that the recent period of continuing eruptions actually began in 1968; prior to that centuries had passed with a state of relative dormancy.

But trying to predict what a volcano might do is like predicting when an earthquake might hit, it can be hazardous to your health

New Eruption Predictor

The Brits may be coming to the rescue on the topic of predicting eruptions.

Some dudes and dudettes from the University of Liverpool are doing research into the process of "frictional melting", one aspect of which is called "slip-stick": in their words; "magma and rocks melt as they rub against each other due to intense heat. This creates a stop-start movement in the magma as it makes its way towards the earth’s surface. The magma sticks to the rock and stops moving until enough pressure builds up, prompting it to shift forward again.... Whilst we can reasonably predict when a volcanic eruption is about to happen, this new knowledge will help us to predict how the eruption will behave."

Maybe. I studied enough fluid dynamics in engineering school (and found most concepts best absorbed with a quart of dark ale) to know that predicting what a fluid will do under uneven forces is iffy at best. I would think adding frictional melting into the equation(s) would make the mathematical model very complex.

It's all in the (Yorkshire) pudding, amigos, good luck.

Latest Shaker

It was 12:35 AM, May 13 when GG was busy cutting wood and dreaming about important fluid dynamic equations like: when I was awakened by a continuous roll and vibration of the bed. It was a gentle movement and in my groggy state I first thought it might be that I had been transported through a time warp, that I was sleeping in a Holiday Inn in 1970 and had dropped a quarter into the vibration machine.

But then I realized it was an earthquake, albeit one of a different kind as the motion lasted quite long, some 30 seconds. The press later reported the whole thing lasted 240 seconds, extremely long for a terremoto (perhaps I slept through the first part). The U.S. Geodetic Survey later reported the quake was 6.5 on the Richter and the epicenter was located about 100 miles south of Quepos on the southern Panama coast. That's a level easy to feel even 100 miles away. No serious injuries or damage were reported.

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

Flower Power
(The Orchids of Costa Rica)

Orchids are a common type of flower in tropical countries. In North America they are an indoor delicacy and even in Florida, which is largely sub-tropical, they need to be protected in the winter months.

Guaria Morada - Costa Rica National Flower
(Guarianthe Skinneri)
A True Parasitic Plant The Antler Fern

Costa Rica is in the tropical zone and orchids exist in the wild in many areas of the country but particularly in the selva or jungle areas. A short hike through the rainforest is likely to produce several varieties growing in the wild to ogle at. From January to March, the dry season, they flourish and are particularly brilliant.

New Panama Orchid

There are over 1,300 species of orchids growing in Costa Rica and over 17,000 in the world. Almost a thousand of these species are cultivated and on display at the Lankester Botanical Garden near Cartago, a public garden originally founded by an English botanist who treasured Costa Rican flora.

A few examples of Costa Rican orchids are shown in the photos left and right. The ones on the left are the more traditionally shaped horn or throat-like flowers. But nature never sees itself bound by a single concept or restriction and orchids may assume wildly different colors and shapes as shown by the examples on the right. GG has not gone to the trouble of listing all the names of those shown because in many cases they're only recognizable to botanists by their latin names.

The orchid, specifically the specie guaria morada, is the national flower of Costa Rica. It's not as common in the wild as it once was because many were removed by ticos to their homes and gardens; so it is now mostly domesticated and available at virtually every local nursery. Ticos love their national flower.

In Costa Rican culture, guaria morada is thought to bring fortune and good luck and conjures up peace, love and hope for the future. The flower is said to have "only a mild fragrance because it is filled with dreams yet to be fulfilled".

Orchids like the guaria morada are epiphytic plants, meaning they are not parasites even if they attach themselves to trees. They use the tree's height to obtain more sunlight and for structural support, unlike parasites.

Parasites (one shown below left) depend on their hosts for water, food or both, deriving their sustenance from the host tree and eventually destroying it. Epiphytes have special absorbing roots (called velamen) to absorb moisture from the atmosphere and they use their green leaves to prepare their own food.

The guaria morada was designated the national flower in 1939, about ten years before the founding of the modern republic under the presidency of León Cortés Castro (see History of Costa Rica - Part III). The reason it occurred is that a year or so before, the country was to have entered a flower in the Annual Tropical Flower Exposition in Miami. The guardia morada was so well received, it was decided to designate it the National Flower shortly thereafter.

The flower was originally discovered by a certain George Ure Skinner, an English trader who lived in Guatemala and exported plants to Europe. It was originally named in his honor as the Cattleya Skinneri but on later examination by botanists it was discovered to be its own species and renamed to reflect its heritage and the common tico name for it, So it became Guarianthe Skinneri.

Nature never stands still. New species of orchids are regularly being found. Take for example the one pictured at the bottom of the column to the right. That is a brand new species discovered in the central mountains of Panama. It took four years of examination and testing, including DNA, before it was able to be designated as a new species: Lophiaris Silverarum. The latin for spending four years studying a flower is illigitimi non carborundum est - don't let the bas...ds get you down.

Maybe someday there will be a Gringori Aureus named after GG. I'll keep looking in the rainforest for that special yellow flower, hopefully an orchid.

¡Pura Vida!


Gutenberg Comes to Costa Rica
(By Way of Benjamin Franklin)

Most people from my age group (born in the electric not electronic age) remember the story of the first printing press invented by Johannes Gutenberg in Germany in the 1400's. The first book he printed on his press is known as the Gutenberg Bible (those under 30 years of age may be stunned to realize that, at one time, they actually taught history in high school).

Section of a Page from the
Gutenberg Bible

It is known that books were printed as far back as 868 C.E. in China. The Chinese also produced a clay-based movable type around 1041. But hand crafting of books would remain the norm for several centuries more.

All over the world up until the middle ages, books were hand written (calligraphy) and crafted with ornate decorations. Consequently, they were lavishly expensive and reserved to being commissioned by the royal classes and the Church. Monasteries spent much of their time writing, repairing and archiving books. They became the first true libraries and were responsible for preserving many books that would have been otherwise destroyed during the tumultuous middle ages. Books were so expensive, they were rarely seen in the home except in the palaces of the very rich.

Gutenberg Press

Gutenberg changed all that. Herr Gutenberg (born around 1397 and died 1468) was a goldsmith and entrepreneur from Mainz, Germany who convinced a couple of investors to underwrite his "movable" type technology in which wooden (later metal) carved letters were set in an iron frame, then painted with ink and then pressed against paper or parchment in a press, automating the printing process dramatically and reducing the cost per unit dramatically. His first printing, a Bible was further embellished with color work added by artists.

European Book Volume
by Century

Within a few decades, relatively huge numbers of books were being printed (see chart left). From a few thousand books in the 14th century, printing increased to nearly one billion books in the 18th century. The cost of producing a book dropped precipitously and, for the first time in history, books became available to virtually anyone.

A creature of the 18th century, one Benjamin Franklin would develop his own improved version of the printing press in the mid-1700's. Wikipedia describes Franklin (born January 17, 1706, died April 17, 1790) this way: "Franklin was "A world-renowned polymath (a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas), a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat", i.e. one clever dude.

The Original Franklin Press of Costa Rica

Franklin had learned printing from his brother, working in the elder's shop in Boston, and at the age of 22, Ben opened his own printing company in Philadelphia. He published the first newspaper in the colonies, the Pennsylvania Gazette, but had to send to England to get his first press. He experimented with different materials used to make the type and invented some new and improved inks.

Costa Rica had no printing press until 1830, more than four hundred years after Gutenberg and about one hundred years after Franklin. The first press arrived from Philadelphia almost ten years after Costa Rica achieved independence from Spain (see History of Costa Rica, Part II). The reason for the late start was economic; the country had probably less than 100,000 people before 1800 and independence and they relied on getting their books and literature from the Viceroy of New Spain (Mexico) which they were a part of until independence in 1821.

1st Costa Rican Newspaper La Paz y Progreso

Costa Rica obtained it's first printing press from Philadelphia. It has historically been called a Franklin Press but the literature does not indicate if this particular press was actually owned by the great polymath himself. The press is now a historical object housed in the Museo Nacionál (see photo right).

The press was also described to be of a particular design to produce school books. The first newspaper was not produced on it until 17 years after its arrival here, on September 30, 1847. Because the name of the print shop where it was housed was called Imprenta La Paz. the paper called itself La Paz y Progreso, Peace and Progress, a theme supposedly influenced by the then President of Costa Rica, José María Castro.

The first issue of La Paz y Progreso was quite comprehensive, including a real estate ad , sections on international and maritime news and a complete list of the paper's correspondents all over Costa Rica and Nicaragua as well. There was even an editorial expressing concern about trash in the city and also a poem (harshly critiqued). Everyone's a critic.

I wonder what Herr Gutenberg and Dr. Franklin would say if they could see GG sitting in front of his little computer, capable of extracting from the clouds (pun intended) any detail on any subject virtually instantaneously and capable of printing it out in photo-quality color in seconds. My guess is Johannes would simply say "Ach du lieber, GG schnitzel". Franklin would probably just smile.

¡Solo Bueno!


Swimming Anyone?
(A Couple of Ways to Feed a Croc)

Almost anyone who has visited the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, heading south from Puntarenas, has come across the bridge at Rio Tarcoles, which is located about 20 miles north of Jacó. The Tarcoles is a major river that drains much of the central valley, San José and its environs, into the Pacific.

Crocodiles at the Rio Tarcoles

At any time there might be a dozen, two dozen or even three dozen crocs lounging below the bridge soaking in the sun, waiting for feeding opportunities or just entertaining the tourists that are always hanging over the bridge rail. GG noticed on a recent pass through there that part of the rail, already quite low by U.S. safety standards was missing. Lean forward with your camera carefully, amigos, the crocs may not have had lunch yet.

Snacky Poo for Mr. Croc

This top tourist attraction at the Tarcoles has given rise to quite a few Tico entrepreneurs who are happy to offer everything from boat tours to croc paraphernalia at the several shops and restaurants located near the bridge. A couple of these "guides" make it a point to feed the crocs chicken parts as shown on the picture left. One of these dudes goes as far as kissing the croc on the snout. Don't try this at home amigos.

But sometimes people get too friendly with these dinosaurs, or underestimate them, and the results can be tragic. Take for example a gent named Omar de Jesus Jiron, a Nicaraguan construction worker who had been recently fired and decided to celebrate that fact with some heavy drinking with his buddies, some of which had also been fired. Jiron, drunk as a tick in a bottle of guaro, he decided to refresh himself with a swim.

Jiron walked down the side of the Tarcoles bridge, stripped off his clothes and plunged into the river (in another version, it was reported he jumped as a suicide). Within seconds he was set upon by at least six crocodiles who rapidly tore Señor Jiron to pieces. Although police and emergency responders were there quickly it was too late to save Jiron. Two days later, a lady walking on the beach near the mouth of the Tarcoles spotted a strange looking "coconut" that had washed up on the shore. DNA testing later confirmed the object to be Jiron's head. Jiron became the first fatality statistic of this nature at the bridge since 1999. I don't remember if there was a "No Swimming" sign at the bridge the last time I was there but it should be obvious to the most casual observer that the river is a non-swimming zone.

Sharing Crocodile Tears

Not all creatures are a problem for the croc and vice versa. Some butterflies and bees hover around crocs seeking to drink their tears. (See the picture at right, which is of a caiman from the northeastern province of Costa Rica) Biologists tell us that crocodile tears are rich in salt, minerals and protein, nutrients not as common on land as they are in the sea.

Others have observed butterflies and bees, vegetarians by nature and perhaps mineral scarce as a result, sipping mineral-laden water from mud puddles. Says one scientist: "When minerals are rare in the soil, animals sometimes gather salt and other rare minerals and proteins from sweat, tears, urine, and even blood." Evidently gathering crocodile tears is very common among butterflies and bees and they also perform in the same way with turtles in the Amazon.

Nature continues to surprise homo sapiens at every turn. Costa Rica, with its thousands and thousands of species of wildlife is in the vanguard of biodiversity and new species. One dude recently discovered a new species of dragonfly in Costa Rica, only the second species in the world of a dragonfly found to live in the water trapped in bromeliads.

So don't shed any crocodile tears for we Costa Rica dwellers but also don't tempt fate by swimming with our crocodilian buddies.

Here's more info on crocodiles from other issues of the Chronicles:
Reptile Shenanigans (What a Croc This Is)
Crocodiles, Love Those Crocs (Man's Best Friend)


¡Solo Bueno!


Travel Quote of The Month

“My fear of flying starts as soon as I buckle myself in and then the guy up front mumbles a few unintelligible words, then before I know it I'm thrust into the back of my seat by acceleration that seems way too fast and the rest of the trip is an endless nightmare of turbulence, of near misses.
And then the cabbie drops me off at the airport.”
-- Dennis Miller



Guaria Morada

Pronounced gwa-ree-a mo-rah-dah, simply translates as "purple throat", which is an apt description of the posy that is the Costa Rican national flower as shown above.

Crocodile Tears

To weep crocodile tears is to put on an insincere show of sorrow. The first use of the term appeared in print in The Voyage and Travail of Sir John Maundeville, circa 1400, where it said: "In that country there are many crocodiles - these serpents slay men, and then, weeping, eat them." A century and a half later, the then Archbishop of York and Canterbury first used the term in its modern meaning, saying "I begin to fear, lest his humility ... be a counterfeit humility, and his tears crocodile tears."

Crocodiles do have active lachrymal glands but show little remorse when devouring their prey even when they're crying.



ROMEO Corner

(Retired Old Men Eating Out)

El Avion, Manuel Antonio

Entrance to Restaurant El Avion

Location: The very top of Manuel Antonio hill before descending the south side, across from Gato Negro. Look for the airplane.
Hours: Sunday thru Monday noon to 10 pm
Parking: Off street in front of the restaurant
Contact: Tel.: 2777-3378; Email: N/A; Website:
Reviewing ROMEOS: Bill T., Brian M., Bob N.

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

El Avion is one of the best know landmarks of Manuel Antonio. That's because very few restaurants here, or elsewhere for that matter, are built around an authentic Fairchild C-123 twin-jet cargo plane. The story of how the plane got there is as interesting as the plane itself; it was one of two that was used in the 1980's to support the "Contras" in Nicaragua. It's sister ship was shot down in Nicaragua and one of the crew, CIA operative Eugene Hasenfus was captured, which set off the Iran-Contra investigation. The current plane was eventually abandoned at the San José airport, bought by the owner of the restaurant in 2000 and shipped by boat (the railroad was too narrow) in seven sections and reassembled in Manuel Antonio where it rests today.

"Contra" Bar In the C-123

This is probably the largest restaurant in the Quepos/Manuel Antonio area with a total seating capacity of about 400, including the cozy little bar in the belly of the C-123. The dining areas are located on two decks and the upper deck is not open during the slower seasons, like when we were there.

The main dining rooms are on two levels and almost all tables have views of the Pacific and Elephant Island. The tables are local wood, simply arranged with place mats and candles (we were there at dinner time or 6 PM) - and GG's back appreciated the modest padding in the seats. For atmosphere we give El Avion five sloths.

El Avion bills itself as a seafood restaurant and the menu offers a wide range of selections as wells as meats and pasta. GG decided on a lomito (filet) after the waiter, a personable fellow named Harley ("like in Davidson, says he"), and the food and beverage manager assured me the steak was the best. Now, I've been burned before in this area on Costa Rican beef but I'm glad I went ahead and ordered it. The meat was cooked to exactly the degree I wanted and was the most tender and flavorful beef I've ever had in this region (I leaned later that the meat was Uruguayan).

The other ROMEOS had first courses, one a dish of fried calamari that was tender and excellent (GG sampled it also) and the other a fresh salad. They both enjoyed main courses of seafood done in two different types of curries, both pronounced delicious by them.

Value Index = 125

If I had to pick at anything it would be one of my personal pet peeves, namely, that this beautiful piece of beef was accompanied by (mounded on) a bed of simple mashed potatoes and a medley of vegetables. This is not just this restaurant but stereotypical Manuel Antonio - GG longs for the day when a really experienced chef descends on the area and gets creative with the outstanding array of fruits and vegetables available here. Other than that no negatives and we give El Avion a four and a half sloth rating for food quality.

Our waiter was courteous, kind and attentive and artfully produced a grasshopper from a palm frond for us that was one of the best formed I've seen (I've seen many of these both here and in Nicaragua). The food was served in a reasonable period of time and each course of all three diners was served together.

Overall for atmosphere, quality of food and service we are happy to give El Avion our top rating of five sloths.

Out bills averaged right around 15,000 colones for each diner or about $30 for two and three courses plus non-alcoholic drinks. This puts the restaurant in the lower part of the top 20% of emporiums in this area and we give if a four $ rating for cost. The Value Index is Five Sloths/Four $ = 125 putting El Avion in the top one third of the restaurants we've reviewed.

So, if you want a good meal in an interesting atmosphere, maybe even relive your part in the Contra campaign (martinis help), try El Avion.

¡Solo Bueno!


don Beto de Quepos,
El Gringo Dorado
Pura Vida!

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