May 6th, 2009

A Boggy Past

Visitors to the Hotel Sleep Inn might be surprised to learn that, in the early 1800s, the surrounding area was primarily marshland. Costa Rican historians refer to this part of town as the “lagoon,” a swampy area just north of the Sleep Inn’s current location. In fact, if the Sleep Inn had existed during this period, guests in north-facing rooms might have had pleasant lagoon views. As the 19th century progressed, San José grew in size, and the area where the Sleep Inn now stands became one of its most vibrant centers.

Until the mid-1800s, San José’s lagoon occupied an area bordered by the current Morazán Park (Parque Morazán), the Park of Spain (Parque España) and the beautiful metal-clad school (Escuela Metálica) that overlooks the Parque Morazán. Neither the parks nor the Escuela Metálica existed at the start of the 1800s; the liquor factory was the only building on the banks of the lagoon before the late-19th-century building boom. Across the boggy marshland from the liquor factory stood the train station to the coast.

In the latter half of the 1800s, coffee became Costa Rica’s leading export product, and the entire country changed and grew. San José’s population increased, as did train travel to and from the coasts. As the population shifted toward San José’s lagoon, city planners soon realized that they would need a way to connect the lagoon areas with the busy nearby train station. Until then, train passengers struggled to traverse the boggy lowlands on their walks to and from the station, and train workers slogged through the marshes to reach the railroad yards. In 1875, work began on this traffic connector, which would essentially traverse the marshes to allow for more efficient traffic flow. Upon completion, the connector became Third Avenue (Avenida Tercera), which is the street bordering the Hotel Sleep Inn to the north. At the time it was built, the street was called Paseo de las Damas, a reference to the beautiful trees growing along its edges.

At about the time that the city finished construction on the new Paseo de las Damas, city officials decided to drain the lagoon completely. On this former swampland, the city established the Parque Morazán. This new park, the National Liquor factory and the train station soon demarcated one of the busiest and most important regions in late-19th-century San José. Train passengers bustled to and from the station along the new street, which was soon dotted with businesses and restaurants. Wealthy Costa Rican families moved into the area, and elegant new neighborhoods grew up around Amón, Aranjuez and Otoya, on the outskirts of this fashionable new part of town

Although the city has shifted and changed several times since the heady late 1800s, visitors to the Sleep Inn’s neighborhood can still see the fine old buildings and beautiful parks of Costa Rica’s past. The Hotel Sleep Inn is proud to stand in this lovely historic neighborhood.

[from a radio broadcast based on research by Raúl Francisco Arias Sánchez, a Costa Rican historian]

Read more about the history of coffee production in Costa Rica.

Read more about the Hotel Sleep Inn, the Escuela Metálica and their historic setting.

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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January 10th, 2009

Earthquake

On Thursday, January 8, Costa Rica suffered its worst earthquake in over 150 years. Although accounts differ, about 30 people have been reported killed in the 6.2 quake, and hundreds more remain missing. Many of those killed were children trapped in mudslides. Several parts of the country have been devastated by the quake and its subsequent aftershocks. The beautiful La Paz waterfalls, a very popular tourist attraction, were particularly affected by the earthquake; much of the hotel collapsed, and visitors had to be evacuated from the area by helicopter. Other nearby hotels and tourist attractions also suffered damage and cancelled all reservations. The epicenter of the earthquake was near the Poás Volcano, some distance from San José, so the capital itself escaped some of the more severe destruction.

As devastating as this earthquake was, tremors and small seismic shifts are common in Costa Rica, because the country lies on a fault line. Costa Rica experiences a surprising number of small tremors in an average year. These tremors often occur in clusters, a sequence of several tremors happening one after another. Some tremors are strong enough to rattle windows, knock vases from shelves and send people running to seek shelter in doorways. Most, however, are almost too slight to feel.

Costa Rica’s presence on the fault line also creates some of the country’s most beautiful geological features. The mountain ranges that run through Costa Rica burst up from the fault line thousands of years ago, due to shifting of the two tectonic plates beneath the country. Costa Rica’s many scenic volcanoes also point to its underlying geological activity. One of these volcanoes, Arenal, has been active for the past several years. Geothermal heat warms the beautiful hot springs at the volcano’s base. Since Thursday’s earthquake, geologists are closely monitoring the Poás Volcano for signs of renewed activity, although most argue that the earthquake did not cause the volcanic activity.

Rescue workers are now sifting through rubble in order to rescue those trapped by the earthquake. Several foreign countries have sent volunteers to help in the rescue effort, and the Red Cross, the National Bank and Bank of Costa Rica are accepting donations for the victims.

We send our condolences to the friends and families of the earthquake’s victims.

Click here for more about the earthquake in Costa Rica.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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September 16th, 2008

Keeping the City Green

The park district of San José has embarked on a serious program to restore and renew the green areas of the city. Under the auspices of this program, known as Socios Ambientales, or Environmental Partners, the city works together with individuals to protect nature in urban areas. The municipality has chosen plants that are native to the city and appropriate for urban life. The municipality encourages business owners to plant these particular trees in sidewalk planters or to grow these native flowers in the city’s park areas. The individual business owners are then responsible for the care and watering of these plants. The idea is to promote the growth of native flora and fauna and to encourage individuals to take an active role in restoring the beauty of their city.

The Sleep Inn is doing its part to revive the green areas in the city and to protect the environment in general. In honor of its third anniversary, the Sleep Inn recently planted several trees around the edge of its property. These trees are of two types, selected by the city for their appropriateness to the urban climate and for their attractiveness to birds and other animals. The first type of tree produces a fruit that birds enjoy, and the other attracts hummingbirds when in full flower. The plan, according to hotel manager Horlando Salas, is to help restore San José’s natural beauty and to draw birds and other animals back into the center of the city.

The new trees are only part of the Sleep Inn’s overall effort to protect the environment. The hotel is currently working with the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) to qualify for a certificate in environmental sustainability. To that end, the hotel has implemented energy-saving and recycling programs in both the hotel and casino buildings. Each hotel department has been working toward more efficient use of natural resources and more environmentally sound cleaning and waste-management practices.

Mr. Salas hopes that local businesses will work together with the Sleep Inn to protect and restore San José’s natural beauty.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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