June 14th, 2010

Volcano Haiku

Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano has once again erupted into activity, spewing ash and lava and prompting the closure of the national park at its base. Here at the Sleep Inn blog, we have written about recent volcanic activity at the Poás Volcano and about the dramatic eruption of the Irazú Volcano in 1963. We would now like to share with you some volcano-themed haiku. As our regular readers might recall, we recently posted some haiku about Costa Rica, including one about volcanoes.

The first haiku alludes to a theory of UFO enthusiasts who argue that extra-terrestrials make their homes underneath the craters of volcanoes. According to the theory, volcanic eruptions are actually the revving engines of the spaceships that the extra-terrestrials keep docked in their volcanic garages.

A magmatic roar,
grinding of volcanic gears.
Eruption voyage.

The second haiku describes the experience of sitting in the hot springs at the base of Arenal while the volcano rumbles in the distance.

Steam over water,
warmth and danger coexist.
Intricate balance.

The final haiku describes a portion of the drive from the Monteverde Cloud Forest to Arenal. The journey winds through rolling green hills and ends along a rutted, unpaved portion of road through eerily robust vegetation.

The plants look phony,
covered in road dust and ash.
Strange-landscaped journey.

Let us know what you think of our volcano haiku. Or send us your own haiku.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing

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February 15th, 2010

Paco y Lola

With the February 2010 election of Laura Chinchilla as Costa Rica’s first woman president, Costa Ricans have naturally
begun to consider the changing role of women in Costa Rican politics and in Costa Rican society. Just as women’s roles have changed and expanded all over the world, the role of the Costa Rican woman has shifted with the times. Nowhere is this change more evident than in the well-known primer, Paco y Lola, which almost every Costa Rican child used to learn to read.

Just like Dick and Jane, Paco y Lola, first written and edited in 1958 by Emma Gamboa and Ondina Peraza, focuses on the daily activities of a nuclear family, teaching children how to read the names of objects and activities they might encounter on an ordinary day. Paco y Lola reflects the social attitudes of its time. In one section of the book, the father reads (”Papá lee.”), while the mother toils away in the kitchen, kneading a mound of “masa” to make tortillas (”Mamá amasa la masa.”). Paco and Lola each take part in fairly typical gender-prescribed activities, and the book reflects the typical values–and 1950s furnishings–of the mid-century Costa Rican family and home.

Despite what many have described as sexism–or outright “machismo”–in the first edition of Paco y Lola, the book functions very well as a Spanish reading primer. Its authors have a clear appreciation for the joys of pronunciation and language and a great sense of alliteration and word play. The authors make reading both entertaining and fairly effortless for their young readers.

Spanish vowel pronunciation has less variation than vowel pronunciation in English, and the authors make the most of repetition in teaching readers how to recognize and pronounce vowels. (In “Mamá amasa la masa,” for example, readers get a good sense of the short Spanish “a” and the opportunity to pronounce it in accented and unaccented syllables.) Once young readers have mastered the vowel sounds, they can take on any number of longer and more complex word and sentence constructions. The book rewards the persistent with a great deal of vocabulary and interesting lessons about Costa Rican activities and animals. Paco y Lola also provides painless lessons in the use of the accent mark, or “tilde,” whose rules students will later memorize in school.

Post-1958 editions of Paco y Lola have strived to eliminate the gender inequalities of the first edition, and readers of the newer version can now see a truer reflection of Costa Rica’s increasing gender equality. In either its original or its updated form, however, Paco y Lola is an entertaining and effective Spanish language-learning tool.

Order a copy of Paco y Lola.

Learn more about verbs in Spanish.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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April 30th, 2009

It Really Is Rocket Science

Costa Rica has recently become host to one of NASA’s most important and most intriguing aerospace research projects. Headed by Franklin Chang Díaz, Ph.D., Costa Rica’s famous NASA astronaut, the project could revolutionize space travel and exploration, greatly reducing costs for astronomical missions. Franklin Chang and his team of scientists conduct their research in Guanacaste, at the headquarters of Ad Astra Rocket Company Costa Rica, the Costa Rican branch of Franklin Chang’s aerospace research company. Ronald Chang Díaz, Franklin Chang’s brother, serves as General Director of the Costa Rican laboratory; he supervises all day-to-day operations.

Franklin Chang worked for NASA for 25 years and took part in seven space flights with NASA. He is the inventor and patent-holder of several important aerospace inventions, one of which is the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR, U.S. patent 2002). He received his Ph.D. from MIT, where he conducted research in applied plasma physics and fusion technology, two subjects unfamiliar to most laypersons but integrally related to the work of the Ad Astra researchers.

The beauty of a plasma rocket, like the one Franklin Chang has patented, is that it uses cheap and abundant fuel sources—hydrogen, argon and neon gases that are plentiful in the air we breathe. The plasma rocket converts these various gases into plasma, which is the rocket’s revolutionary secret. Sometimes considered a fourth state of matter (along with the usual three—solid, liquid and gas), plasma is made when scientists heat a gas to an incredibly high temperature—sometimes up to a million degrees. Interestingly, the layperson is familiar with matter in a plasma state, because lightning, the sun and some very hot flames are in the plasma state.

Once the plasma rocket converts a gas into plasma, the rocket energizes the plasma so that it reaches an ideal temperature for use as a rocket fuel. Then, using magnetized fields, the rocket converts the energy of the plasma into forward thrust. Ad Astra’s use of plasma as a cheap rocket fuel source could change aerospace travel and transport forever.

Because plasma rockets generate a great deal of heat, researchers have noted the importance of a thermal cover that will protect the rocket parts from intense heat. The Costa Rican branch of Ad Astra has the specific duty of creating a thermal cover for the rocket. Once its thermal-cover research is complete, Ad Astra Costa Rica hopes to send the plasma rocket up to the space station for the kinds of propulsion tests researchers can only conduct in outer space. Ultimately, Ad Astra Costa Rica plans to move into space transportation, delivering machinery and supplies to the space station and other outer space destinations.

As its Latin name suggests, Ad Astra’s dreams reach to the heavens. If Ad Astra’s research continues as successfully as it has so far, Costa Rica could play a major role in outer space.

Read more about Franklin Chang.
Read about the advantages of a plasma rocket.
Read more about plasma.
See The SJO Post, “Costa Rica Points to the Stars,” by Ivette Sojo, Edition No. 6, April 20-26, 2009

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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April 20th, 2009

Costa Rica: The New Roswell?

UFO enthusiasts who hailed Roswell, New Mexico as the destination of choice for earthbound aliens in the 1950s might have a new location from which to monitor alien visits to Earth—Costa Rica. For the last several years, people wandering Costa Rica’s less-populated areas have reported unidentified aircraft and other extraterrestrial-looking objects hovering in the tropical sky.

The April 15 edition of Diario Extra reported that a Costa Rican doctor, vacationing at Punta Leona for Easter, whiled away his time by taking pictures of ships at sea. When he later examined one of the digital images on his computer, he noticed an unusual object floating in the sky. Some might argue that the object looks like a parasail with two riders. Upon closer inspection, the object looks more metallic than a parasail would—more like a mechanized bronze jellyfish reflecting the coastal sun. The full-color photograph is so clear and sharp that refutation of its authenticity had seemed inevitable. One expected photography experts to find clear evidence that the image had been digitally enhanced.

Surprisingly, however, Diario Extra announced the next day that Edgar Picado, a UFO expert, determined that the photograph was authentic. He said that he could not conclude that the object in the photograph was, in fact, a UFO, but he did say that it could not be identified as any known flying object. Picado is very familiar with UFOs and their images, and he runs a battery of tests on UFO images to determine their authenticity. Picado’s pixilation test found that the Punta Leona photograph had no altered pixels; the digital image was completely uniform, a testament to its authenticity. Other UFO experts conduct more detailed authentication tests, and Picado will send the photograph to Spain and Argentina for those further tests. He and his colleagues should reach a final conclusion within one month.

Costa Rica’s most famous UFO photograph is from 1971, when members of Costa Rica’s Ministry of Public Works and Transportation (Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte) visited a lake near the Arenal Volcano. Their assignment was to take aerial photographs that they would use in mapping the area. Their camera was set to take photographs every 20 seconds. One photograph in the series revealed a plate-shaped object floating above the surface of the lake. The government agency was unable to identify this object, as it did not resemble an airplane or helicopter or any object known to be in the area. Because the photograph was taken with government equipment and using a timing device, UFO experts rank it among the most authentic of unidentified object photographs.

Many of Costa Rica’s mysterious sightings have been near the country’s numerous volcanoes, a fact UFO enthusiasts believe is significant. These enthusiasts say that extraterrestrials could use geothermic volcanic energy to power their ships. Other UFO specialists believe that extraterrestrials and their ships in fact cause both tremors and volcanic activity.

Whatever the true nature of these mysterious flying objects—and their supposed pilots—it does seem apparent that Costa Rica is the new place to spot them.

Click here to read more about the UFO in Punta Leona, Costa Rica.

Click here to read more about UFO sightings in Costa Rica.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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April 6th, 2009

Bananas: A Mini History

During the middle-to-late 19th century, coffee accounted for nearly 90% of Costa Rica’s export revenue. The success of the coffee trade prompted business-minded entrepreneurs to seek other lucrative agricultural markets. Thus, the late 1800s witnessed the growth and development of the banana production and export business.

Until the end of the 1800s, Costa Rica’s Atlantic coast was all but inaccessible from the rest of the country. Its jungles and thick vegetation made trade with the area next to impossible, and politicians decided to finance the construction of a railroad that would link the Atlantic coast to the rest of the country. Construction of the railroad took longer than expected, and costs went significantly over budget.

In the end, an American contractor, Minor C. Keith, completed the railroad project, a fact which tied American interests to the Atlantic region for many unhappy years. As part of his contract for completing the railroad, Keith received large tracts of land in the Atlantic region. He used this land as a banana plantation and financed part of the railroad construction with banana exports. Keith exported many of his bananas to the United States and played an important role in forming the United Fruit Company.

The United Fruit Company soon developed a monopoly over banana production in the Atlantic Region, expanding its agricultural holdings across the region. Before long, the United Fruit Company—or “Yunai,” as it was known among agricultural workers—came to symbolize the worst of American imperialism. Banana workers suffered in the harsh coastal conditions, and Costa Ricans protested their mistreatment and the fact that workers received almost none of the profit from the lucrative banana exports. The Costa Rican Communist party emerged as a significant force in the clash between the United Fruit Company and its Costa Rican workers.

Revenue from banana exports soon equaled that from coffee exports, and a new chapter in Costa Rican agricultural history had begun.

The United Fruit Company influenced Costa Rica’s literary history as well. For more information about the United Fruit Company in Costa Rican literature, click here.

[See Historia de Costa Rica, by Iván Molina and Steven Palmer, Editorial de la Universidad de Costa Rica: 2007.]

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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March 30th, 2009

Coffee: A Mini History

For over one hundred years, coffee has been one of Costa Rica’s primary export products and a great source of wealth for many Costa Rican families. The history of coffee cultivation is closely related to the history of the country itself.

Costa Rica was a Spanish colony until 1821, when all of Central America received its independence from Spain. During Costa Rica’s colonial period, sugar cane and cacao were important agricultural products, but neither was lucrative enough to allow the colony to enter the global agricultural market. Livestock, lumber and mining provided income to a few entrepreneurs, but none became a national economic force. Throughout this time, small coffee plantations existed in Costa Rica, but they were not yet productive enough to generate significant income.

In the 1820s, the Costa Rican government took an active interest in the production of coffee, hoping to enliven the Costa Rican economy by encouraging coffee cultivation. Some sources indicate that the government became involved in land distribution, providing land grants to small coffee cultivators. Wealthy landowners also amassed large holdings, growing coffee in their vast plantations. Costa Rica’s climate proved ideal for coffee production, and coffee growers were soon producing large crops. By the first half of the 1800s, coffee production was booming, and the country finally gained a foothold in the world economy.

At first, Costa Rica exported its coffee to Chile, where it was repackaged as Chilean coffee and then shipped to Great Britain. Later, Costa Rica exported coffee directly to Great Britain, the real start of the foreign coffee export business. Other countries joined Great Britain in buying Costa Rican coffee. The lucrative coffee bean soon became known as “el grano de oro,” or the golden bean.

The wealthiest of coffee growers were those who owned beneficios, or coffee processing plants. In the earliest years, beneficios used a “humid” method to shell and process the raw coffee beans. More recently, beneficios have becoming increasingly mechanized, automating processes that were once done by hand.

Coffee revenue changed Costa Rican culture, architecture and society. Major coffee growers built expensive mansions and large commercial buildings in San José. Coffee magnates financed the construction of schools, cultural centers and of the National Theater building in the capital. Wealthy coffee growers took an interest in European culture, introducing the country to Old World literature, entertainment and activities. Most importantly to the country’s history, coffee money financed the construction of the first railroad to the country’s Atlantic coast.

By the end of the 1800s, coffee had become Costa Rica’s predominant agricultural product. However, the turn of the century also witnessed the emergence of a new and very important cash crop—the banana. Its cultivation brought with it a host of new social and political problems for Costa Rica.

[See Historia de Costa Rica, by Iván Molina and Steven Palmer, Editorial de la Universidad de Costa Rica: 2007.]

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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March 16th, 2009

Eat a Casado

Costa Rica’s most typical meal—for lunch or dinner—is the casado. Generations of Costa Ricans have enjoyed this near-perfect conjunction of some of the country’s best flavors. Up until the mid-1960s, most Costa Rican businesses closed at lunchtime. Workers who lived near their jobs would go home to a hot meal. Others ate lunch at nearby pensiones, whose owners cooked lunch for office workers every day. Whether they ate at home or at a pensión, almost everyone ate a casado for lunch. Now, most Costa Rican businesspeople and office workers eat the same fast-food lunches that their American counterparts do. However, the casado is still the national dinner dish, and it remains dear to the hearts of all Costa Rican lunch-eaters.

Although casados vary from house to house and from restaurant to restaurant, all have the same key ingredients—rice, beans, salad, and some kind of protein. The rice is a true Costa Rican specialty; glistening slightly with oil, each grain is separate from the others, and all have just the right amount of firmness. The beans served with the casado are almost always whole black beans, although some people serve refried beans with their casados. The traditional casado salad is a vinegary cabbage salad that mixes well with either the rice or the beans and gives them a pleasant crunch. Recently, many restaurants have begun to serve lettuce and tomato salads with their casados, a slight departure from tradition. A piece of beef, chicken or fish rounds out the casado. This protein is grilled, pan-fried with garlic or breaded and fried. Many casado-makers also add fried plantains and tortillas to the dish. While not essential, these two additions make for an ideal casado.

There has recently been some controversy about the origin of the term “casado.” Many people believe that the word “casado” is derived from “casa,” the word for house. This theory makes sense because of the homey origins of the casado. When everyone made lunches or dinners at home, the casado was the food of the casa. However, a recent theory has emerged, which traces the meaning of the word, not to the place where the food is prepared, but to the person who once normally consumed it. Thus, the theory is that a casado takes its name from the other word “casado,” which means a married man. When most women worked only in the home, it was only married men—or casados—who ate these meals during their lunchtime breaks.

Whatever the origin of the word, the casado is a wonderful dish. The Magnolia Restaurant serves a first-class casado, complete with fried plantains, perfect rice and delicious, smoky black beans.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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January 28th, 2009

Earthquake, Part 3

Earthquake, Part 3

Nearly three weeks after Costa Rica’s devastating earthquake, the land has subsided into new contours. In the area around the epicenter, formerly pristine waterfalls are now mud-brown, and rivers have changed course. Official rescue teams have discontinued their search efforts for the dozens of still-missing persons . The death count stands at 25, and those spared by the earthquake now face the task of rebuilding their homes and their lives. Disturbing reports have emerged about private helicopter companies charging exorbitant rates to rescue victims and phony organizations pocketing money they claim to have collected for earthquake victims.

The following poem by Susanna Lang (from Even Now, The Backwaters Press, June 2008) captures the post-earthquake feeling of loss and disorientation and the bewildering interplay between natural disaster and bureaucratic response:

Even Now
by Susanna Lang

Even diplomats are required to pay the tax, said the
mayor.
Shopkeepers have disappeared in full daylight and the
daylight disappeared as well.
The eclipse could be seen from Brazil to Mongolia,
but not here;
we did not even bother to look.

Even the flowing river has been blocked;
they had tape of the official announcement on the
radio.
A cemetery has been buried and another relocated,
the graves dug up one by one to make room for an
airport.
The developers arranged for a 120 year old oak to be
moved,
its rootball exposed and trimmed before it was lifted
onto the flatbed.

Even the government knows where the earth will
quake and split,
removing entire sections of the city as if they were
never there
except that we will remember them, the streets and
houses shaded by trees;
but no one knows when.

Even our parents have lost their way home.
The streets turn right where they used to turn left,
the lights blink red, the bridge is permanently raised,
the freight train stops at the crossing.
It may not move again until tomorrow.

Even you have misplaced your keys, your wallet, the
reason you were leaving the house,
and I can’t find that paper I just had in my hands
or the story I used to know by heart.

We have all lost so many things, perhaps all we had,
perhaps not

(Susanna Lang’s first collection of poems, Even Now, was published in 2008 by The Backwaters Press, and is available from the press or from Amazon. She has published original poems and essays, and translations from the French, in such journals as The Baltimore Review, Kalliope, Southern Poetry Review, World Literature Today, Chicago Review, New Directions, Green Mountains Review, Jubilat, and Rhino. Book publications include translations of Words in Stone and The Origin of Language, both by Yves Bonnefoy. She won a 1999 Illinois Arts Council award for a poem published in The Spoon River Poetry Review. She lives with her husband and son in Chicago, where she teaches at a Chicago Public School.)

Click here to order Even Now, by Susanna Lang.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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January 15th, 2009

Volcanoes

Costa Rica’s current earthquake disaster is only one of many seismic events that have affected the country in its recent past. One of the most dramatic of these events was the eruption of the Irazú volcano in 1963.

Many people still remember Irazú’s eruption, because of its profound effect on San José and the whole Central Valley. One visitor describes the eruption this way:

I remember “… the ‘black snow.’ This is not figuratively speaking. I mean literally. Irazú had acted up and was spewing out ash. One would brush ash from a car as if they were up north facing a snow storm. I don’t remember how long it ‘snowed.’” We arrived in Costa Rica sometime in the middle of November 1963. When that ‘snow’ stopped is when I fell in love with Costa Rica and her people.”

For those unfamiliar with volcanoes and their eruptions, Irazú was particularly disturbing. People would walk to and from work through a shower of fine, black ash, and at the end of the day, their clothing was stained black. When it rained, the water would mix with the ash in the air, creating a thick, soot-colored rain. Buildings slowly darkened, and the sun was constantly masked by the eerie black fall of ash. To visitors who arrived in Costa Rica during the eruption, the whole country seemed bleak and grimy. And when the eruption finally ended in 1965, many people, like the above visitor, saw Costa Rica’s true beauty for the first time.

In the past few days, vulcanologists have been monitoring some sporadic activity at the Poás volcano, which was very close to the epicenter of the January 8th earthquake. Just after the earthquake, the volcano began to rumble and show signs of some activity. However, scientists from the Costa Rican Vulcanological and Seismological Observatory (Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica—Ovsicori) denied that the volcano’s activity was in any way caused by the earthquake. Instead, they determined that the volcano was merely making periodic shifts and adjustments, of a type it constantly seems to make. Scientists recorded similar volcanic activity at Poás in January 2008.

As routine as it supposedly is, some of the recent activity at Poás has been spectacular. On Monday, January 12 and Wednesday, January 14, the volcano had two phreatic eruptions—releases of steam, rock, ash and water. This type of eruption apparently occurs when very hot magma rises from beneath the earth’s surface and touches ground water, creating a sort of steam explosion. Phreatic eruptions do not involve lava, although they can release noxious or poisonous gases. Monday’s activity began with the appearance of what an Ovsicori spokesperson called a large “bubble of liquid” at the center of the volcano’s crater lake. Soon afterward, a stream of ash, vapors and rock shot about 50 feet into the air.

Phreatic eruptions are fairly common at the Poás volcano, making it a prime tourist attraction. Spouts of steam frequently shoot out from the volcano’s two crater lakes. Visitors can get very close to—and actually peer into—these crater lakes. They can also examine the volcano’s sulfur lakes, said to be unique in the world.

At this time, the Poás volcano national park (Parque Nacional Volcán Poás) is closed, so that emergency vehicles can more easily reach the earthquake-ravaged areas at its base. However, most tourist attractions are still open, as are Costa Rica’s other volcanic national parks.

Resting as it does on a constantly shifting geological base, Costa Rica boasts an ever-changing natural beauty.

Click here to read about recent eruptions at the Poás Volcano.

Click here to learn more about phreatic eruptions.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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January 13th, 2009

Earthquake, Part 2

With a death toll now estimated at nineteen and many persons still missing after Costa Rica’s worst earthquake in 150 years, the country now struggles to reassure potential tourists that not all has been destroyed and that most of the country is safe for visitors.

One particular worry for potential visitors is the fact that Costa Rica is still experiencing earthquake aftershocks. Many fear that these aftershocks indicate another potential earthquake in the near future. However, experts at the Costa Rican Vulcanological and Seismological Observatory (Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica—Ovsicori) maintain that these geological shifts are common and indicate only that the ground is settling after a major event.  There have been about 2,500 aftershocks between the 6.2 earthquake of January 8 and Sunday, January 11. These aftershocks register between 2.8 and 4.1 on the Richter scale and are not strong enough to concern Ovsicori in any way.

San José itself suffered very little damage in the earthquake, and businesses and restaurants continue to operate as usual. The Hotel Sleep Inn and the Casino Club Colonial suffered no ill effects from the earthquake. Gaming continues in the casino; the Magnolia Restaurant offers its daily buffet and fine menu; the hotel serves its free daily continental breakfast; and the staff of both prepares for the arrival of new visitors.

News reporting about the earthquake has created some confusion for some Costa Rican businesses, however. Sarapiquí de Heredia, a popular tourist destination, has suffered, because its name is very similar to that of an earthquake-ravaged region. San Miguel de Sarapiquí de Alajuela sustained great damage after the earthquake, and most roads leading to and away from it are impassable. However, this Sarapiquí is far from the Sarapiquí in Heredia, which was completely unaffected by the earthquake. Both locals and tourists, confused about the similarity of name, cancelled hotel and tour reservations in Sarapiquí de Heredia, even though tour operators maintain that the area suffered no damage. These operators now beg tourists to return. Rossilynn Valverde, the president of the chamber of commerce of Sarapiquí de Heredia wants visitors to know that the area was unaffected by the earthquake and that access to its many tourist sites is perfectly clear and undamaged by the earthquake.

The earthquake has negatively affected both the Costa Rican dairy and export fruit industries. Tourism operators hope to restore the faith of potential visitors, so that the tourism industry will not be equally affected.

Click here to read about recent tremors in Costa Rica.

Click here to read about Sarapiquí de Heredia.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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