Tuesday, May 27, 2014

I'm "sweet" on Costa Rican Mangos! They're everywhere right now!!

Mangos (or tropical peaches) are among the most widely produced and consumed fruits around the world.  Introduced to Costa Rica in 1796, limited exportation started in 1980, but this fruit still remains primarily grown for national consumption. Production estimates put mangoes between 40 and 50% of all the fruit in the world produced for juice, canning and fresh consumption. Originally cultivated on the Indian subcontinent, mangos are now produced along the equatorial band around the world, with Mexico currently holding the title as the largest exporter of fruit and Costa Rica boasting of a robust crop that is mostly enjoyed nationally.

The mango tree itself is a truly a remarkable work of Mother Nature, with cultivated specimens living for 300 years or more, and
reaching heights of 120 feet, with tap roots that can push 20 feet into the earth.  The fruit is also a wonder of tropical evolution with a large seed in the center, a thick protective exterior skin and a
juicy and wonderfully peach like flavor and texture.  Fruits with a more fibrous flesh often develop this less desirable texture when grown with hard water and/or chemical fertilizers.

To be permitted into the USA, fruit must undergo a process called Hot Water Quarantine Treatment to kill any fruit fly larva or mature insects. This is a process where the fruit is submerged in 115°F water for 55 to 100 minutes. This treatment process is ideal for the growing trade in organic mangos as it adds no artificial ingredients or chemicals to the post harvest process.  Some countries have opted for irradiation method instead, exposing the fruit to low levels of radiation to eradicate and possibility of existing fruit flies. These fruits will not qualify for the "organic" seal of approval.

There are dozens of cultivated varieties of mangos that fall into three broad
groups in a typical USA produce department. The smallest group is the green cooking mango, which is used primarily in Southeast Asian recipes, or "Ticos" enjoy these sliced and dipped in salt...apparently an acquired taste. There is also a reddish green skinned variety which is generally quite large, as well as bright yellow skinned smaller fruits, the latter two which will start green but change coloring when the fruit is ripe and ready to eat. One popular variety is known as the Hayden.  This reddish green skinned variety is plain in appearance externally but extremely flavorfully and less stringy and fibrous than most other varieties, so it is a top international seller.

Another popular variety of Mango is known as the Francique, common to the island of Haiti (Hispaniola). This yellow skinned
variety is common throughout Costa Rica, and has a smooth melon-like texture and is widely regarded as the sweetest of all mangos. Harvested green, the Francique turns full yellow as it ripens, and provides an outstanding aroma and flavor. Mangoes are a key element of sustainable agriculture, providing soil retention on land and/or  hillsides that are vulnerable to erosion, especially in challenging terrains like those found in Haiti.
When selecting a good mango you should take advantage of your senses. The fruit should be uniformly firm to the touch with no soft spots or visible bruises. When completely ripe, the yellow varieties will be a uniform yellowish red color with no remaining green
areas, while the green varieties will retain some green, with a purplish coloring indicating it's level of ripeness.   For those that prefer a slightly tart Mango, the color does not need to be uniform from the stem to the flower end of the fruit, even the green coloring can provide a wonderful sweet surprise! The red blush on some varieties is due to direct exposure to sunlight and may not be a factor in the quality or ripeness of the fruit, so one has to learn which varieties suit them best and not just depend on color to pick the best mango. An important sense to engage when picking the perfect mango is the sense of smell.  A ripe mango has a full, sweet fragrance easily indicating its readiness for consumption. Keep in mind that most tropical fruits, mangos included, can discolor and lose much of its flavor if refrigerated, so it is recommended to keep them at room temperature.
Most people would likely consume more mangos if they were not so difficult to
peel.  The cubed method is the easiest for quick and clean preparation.  Slice the mango along the flat part of each side of the large elongated center seed. You will end up with the flat seed center and two shallow cup-shaped pieces from each side holding the bulk of the delicious flesh.  With a sharp knife, cut criss cross lines in the flesh of the mango, being careful to cut all the way to the skin, but not through it. You then invert the skin inside out, and the flesh will pop up in cubes making them easy to cut off of the skin or eat right from the skin by scraping with your teeth.

If you have the space, Mango trees make handsome landscape specimens and huge, efficient shade trees. They are erect
and fast growing and the canopy can be broad and rounded, even providing good overhead coverage in tropical zones inclined to sudden rainstorms. They are considered a rather large tree, often some 65 ft. across their canopy. The tree is long-lived with some specimens known to be over 300 years old and still fruiting. In deep soil the taproot descends to a depth of 20 ft, and the profuse, wide-spreading feeder roots also send down many anchor roots which penetrate for several feet and make this specimen very sturdy in otherwise normally unstable terrain.

The yellowish or reddish flowers of the Mango tree are borne in inflorescences, in dense clusters of up to 2000 tiny flowers. Pollinators are flies, hoverflies, and bees.  Normally only a few of the
flowers in each inflorescence are perfect, so most do not produce pollen and are not able to produce fruit.  Do not worry, these trees still produce an abundance of eatable fruit over a prolonged period of time.  Be warned though, these flowers often cause allergic and respiratory problems for sensitive persons, so this should always be taken into consideration if planning on growing your own mango tree (or when living near them).
Mango peel and sap contain urushiol, the chemical in poison ivy and poison sumac that can cause urushiol-induced contact dermatitis in susceptible people. Cross-reactions between mango contact allergens and urushiol have been observed. Those with a history of poison ivy or poison oak contact dermatitis may be most at risk for such an allergic reaction. Urushiol is also present in mango leaves and stems. During mango's primary ripening season, it is the most common source of plant dermatitis.
To grow mangos from seed, remove the husk and plant the seed (before it dries out) with the hump at soil level. The
seeds normally germinate in two to four weeks, and will bloom and bear in only three to six years. Mango fruit matures in 100 to 150 days after flowering. The fruit will have the best flavor if allowed to ripen on the tree. Otherwise, the fruit ripens best if placed stem end down in trays at room temperature and covered with a dampened cloth to avoid shriveling. Mangos generally ripen in June from a January bloom, and October to November from an April bloom. The main nutrients in mangos are
Calcium, Copper, Fiber, Iron, Magnesium, Vitamin A, B6 and C.  The fruit can either be eaten by itself or paired with light meats like pork, chicken or shrimp, or added into desserts. Mango is also a nice addition to fruit salads, juices and smoothies. Pureed mango tastes delicious in muffins and cookies and is popular as baby food as well. The mango is also famous for processing into chutney, so you can see that it has many many wonderful uses!
So the next time you find yourself wandering your local supermarket aisle, visiting your local farmers market, or even better, walking around Costa Rica at the right time of year......grab that mango and enjoy the world's most popular fruit!   Happy eating, and remember that beauty can be more than skin deep!!

Enjoy this delicious and easy recipe from this local Costa Rican Hotel that keeps forever when well sealed in your freezer!
Simple Mango Sorbet
2 fresh, ripe mangos
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp coconut milk
1 tsp lemon juice
About 1 cup whipping cream

Peel and deflesh the mangoes , chop roughly. Blend mango with sugar until well pureed. Add coconut milk and lemon juice. Remove from blender.  Pour whipping cream into blender and whirl until the cream forms  stiff peaks.  Add the mango puree and whirl for 10-20 seconds. Pour into container and freeze for 8 hours, stirring every 1/2 hour for the first 3 hours to prevent uneven freezing.

Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years.  Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.  Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and owns and operates her own luxury Vacation Rental Home business Manuel Antonio Rental Homes.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Costa Rica’s answer to Brown Sugar…..Tapa de Dulce!!

Most people would think that the famous Costa Rican coffee would be the obvious morning drink, but actually, the traditional breakfast drink is called Agua Dulce ("sweet water"). Made from the “typical” local ingredient “Tapa de Dulce”, these familiar (or not so familiar) molded small cakes of firm compacted brown sugar product are very similar to the North American "brown sugar" we buy in a bag.

Also known in many Costa Rican homes simply as “Bebida”, the sugary cane liquid is extracted, boiled, evaporated and eventually poured into conical molds, which are cooled, at which time the tops are cut off making them tapas ("lids"). The traditional drink of “Agua Dulce” is made by cutting or scraping off a bit of the tapa and gently dissolving it in boiling water or hot milk. Delicious!

Know by many names throughout the world, Tapa de Dulce can also be called “Panela”, “AtadoDulce”, “Raspadura”, “Rapadura”, “Chancaca”, “Papelon”, “Piloncillo”, “Panocha”, “Empanizao”, “Melaza y Cuyo” and many many other varying names depending on the region and/or country you are in at any given moment.

Consisting completely of Sugar Cane juice, to make the popular molded Tapa disks old traditions held to using oxen or sometimes donkeys or mules to run the small rural processing “plants” better known as “Trapiches”. Not being easy to extract the sugary juice from the cane stalks, the animals were much more efficient back in those days, but alas…today it is almost completely a mechanized process being much more efficient and sanitary then using the animals. Back in the early 1900’s, Costa Rica had more than 1600 Trapiches, but today they have almost completely dissappeared, and a national cry has gone out to not let this tradition completely disappear. Costa Rica Hotels and Tour Operators have projects in the works to incorporate the Trapiche Farms in to rural tourism centers, directly sharing the experience with visitors from around the world. Unfortunately, this idea is far from fruition at this point.

Not a totally empty calorie sugar product, Panela or Tapa de Dulce differenciates itself from ordinary white sugar with measurable amounts of glucose, fructose, proteins, as well as minerals such as calcium, iron, phosphorous, and trace vitamins such as absorbic acid. It’s said to have “medicinal” properties as well, but more on that below!

When preparing a cup of Agua Dulce, add a small chunk shaved off the molded Tapa de Dulce sugar block and mix with a small amount of hot water, working it until it’s the consistency of honey. Then either add hot water (“Agua Dulce”), or hot milk (“Bebida”) and enjoy! In the Atlantic region of Limón, the Agua Dulce is served cold and mixed with lemon juice and a hint of ginger. This is known as “Agua de Sapo” (Toad Water) or “Hiel” and is another refreshing way to enjoy sugar cane juice. But why stop there? Do you have a cold? Mix the Agua Dulce with lemon juice and an ounce of “Guaro” (Cane Liquor), which is said to be the best remedy in Costa Rica and sure to make your pains go away!

Colombia is the leader in the Panela industry, providing an important source of employment for that country with around 350,000 people working in approximately 20,000 Trapiches or Panela Farms.

In fact, the city of Palmira, Colombia broke the world record in 2009 for the largest and heaviest Panela, with a molded sugar cake that measured 10 feet and 20 inches and weighing some 715 kilos! This required more than 70 tons of sugar cane, and 90 people working for 28 hours consecutively to complete.

So are you ready to try this tasty little treat? To buy your own Tapa de Dulce, head to your nearest typical “soda”, Costa Rican supermarket or the Pulpería (corner store). If you aren’t lucky enough to be in Costa Rica, you can buy Tapa de Dulce online at:


Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and owns and manages her own Luxury Vacation Rental BusinessManuel Antonio Rental Homes.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Costa Rica….the new Culinary Vacation Destination?

Recent efforts have been made to market Costa Rica as a culinary destination (see article) for your next vacation. Known for its abundance of nature and biodiversity, Costa Rica has always been considered lacking in the culinary department. The first thought that comes to mind when someone mentions this country as a valid culinary destination is…..really? Seriously though…..Costa Rica has been slowly making a name for itself in food lovers circles and thanks to our friends at Food Vacation, I’d like to share this excellent article on Costa Rican Cuisine!

"Costa Rican food is not especially memorable," so begins the Frommer's guidebook section on Costa Rican food & drink. Likewise, Fodor's 2004 Gold Guide quips, "Costa Rica is not known for its fine dining." First, is this reputation for being what Travel & Leisure magazine recently called a "food purgatory" deserved? In our opinion none of the Central American or most of the South American nations have anywhere near the culinary sophistication of, say, Mexico, which stands out as having one of the world's great cuisines. Chile and Argentina have inherited some excellent European culinary traditions, and had the economies necessary to support them, but otherwise most of Latin America cannot lay claim to being a culinary wonderland.

Cultural Considerations:
As suggested, there are economic reasons for this, and Costa Rica is no exception. Though richer than some of its neighbors, Costa Rica is a poor country and its native residents never had the money to elaborate a sophisticated cookery or dining tradition. To the extent that this occurred historically, Costa Rica belongs to the worldwide Creole culinary culture that encompassed not only south Louisiana, but also the Carribean, coastal and/or colonial areas of Latin America, and the sugar islands of Africa, as well as the Indian Ocean.
In our opinion, therefore, Costa Rica does not deserve to be singled out for being particularly bad in culinary terms--it is simply within the general ambit of Latin cookery stretching from Belize to the Amazon.
Second, Costa Rica does have its culinary highlights. These include a great wealth of high quality primary ingredients including seafood from two coasts, an abundance of different vegetables, a full array of culinary herbs and spices, and a treasure trove of fruit varieties. Costa Ricans are also very good farmers. Beef and other meat quality is not superior, but more than workable. Chicken is good quality and very popular, while tuna, red snapper, and mahi mahi (or their relatives) can be excellent. Needless to say, Costa Rica has some of the best coffee in the world. Due to Costa Rica's much tauted bio-diversity, its good soil, and abundant fresh water mean a full range of agricultural production as well.

As a Creole cuisine, Costa Rican cookery is a fusion of indigenous knowledge and ingredients, colonial European sensibilities (in this case mostly Spain, but also Italy), more recent U.S. influence, Afro-Caribbean techniques, distinct Chinese flourishes, and a mostly poor population with a relatively large (but still small) class of wealthy Creoles and European immigrants or their descendants who demanded some kind of fine dining.
With its cultural imperative to appear harmonious and somewhat homogenous, Costa Ricans like to sublimate the existence and strong influence of both indigenous (i.e. Native American Indian) and Afro-Caribbean slave influences. Costa Rica presents itself as out of the Central American norm in terms of not having a large indigenous or mixed indigenous-European or indigenous-African (mestizo) population, and this is simply not true. Likewise, though they still live largely in the Caribbean lowlands, there is a significant black population--descendants of plantation workers--in Costa Rica. Many of them speak Creole English. Too, the Chinese imported as slavery-level workers for the banana railroad in the late 19th century remain in Costa Rica, with their population suplemented by more recent migrants from Taiwan and mainland China. The Chinese have become fully integrated into Tico society, and their cuisine has made its mark as well. Finally, 20th century immigrants from Italy cannot be forgotten, nor can the Spanish colonial rulers and administrators, many of whom became coffee barons.
Thought of in these cultural and historical terms, Costa Rica cookery becomes a bit more interesting.

Current Culinary Happenings:
Today, the biggest culinary influence probably comes from the tourism industry and the advent of more upscale Costa Rican Hotels and inns that have brought professionally trained cooks into the country to prepare menus that may or may not have much to do with native traditions. This has the tendency to produce what we call culinary school menus, where the chef tries to reproduce what he was taught at Cordon Bleu, the Culinary Institute of America, or in a Las Vegas hotel kitchen. Thus, you have lots of "international" Costa Rican restaurants and menus with no particular attachment to time or place, except for the strictures imposed by ingredient availability.

If any treasure trove of culinary creativity exists in Costa Rica, it lies not in these hotel dining rooms or the countries many area restaurants, but in the home cooking (including the wealthy elite homes) and the Sodas (family-run roadside or market eateries). This is not to say that all Soda food is good or creative. A Casado is just a rustic worker's lunch at a cheap price, marrying together all the courses of a European meal in one place and on one plate--the salad, the starch, the main course.
Spanish influences--empanadas or brown sauces--exist alongside Indian ones--tamales--along Cantonese Rice and Chinese "chorizo" (chorizo chino) sausages and "Italian" macaronis.

Far above and beyond these cultural culinary elements, however, is the importance of Costa Rica's ingredient diversity, which is the basis for the making of any great cuisine.
Given its equatorial location and its physical geography, Costa Rica has an inordinate number of zones within which food can be grown. These includes temperate fruits and vegetables such as apples, peaches, strawberries, asparagus, peas, artichokes, cauliflower, and cabbage as well as tropical exemplaries from jack fruit and bread fruit to innumerable varieties of mango, papaya, lychee, pineapple, avacadoes, types of passion fruit (maracuya, granadilla, etc.), anona, guayaba, banana varieties, coconut, chocolate, vanilla, chayote, mangosteen, husk and tree tomatoes, cashew, macadamia, coffee, etc. If a tropical fruit exists in the world, it is probably cultivated in Costa Rica. While travelling around the country, many want to encounter "typical" cuisine and to focus on what is local. This is great if you understand that Costa Rica has been a poor country with a fairly unelaborated culinary tradition. The most famous national dish is thus black bean and rice, known as "gallo pinto." It is flavored with sweet chilies, cilantro, salt, pepper, and usually Lizano Salsa. Costa Ricans make very good empanadas (pastry stuffed with a variety of ingedients including beans, cheese, potatos, and meat, or any of them in combination) as well as tamales. Tamales are often made in the home at Christmas time, but can be purchased at sodas--small family run restaurants--at anytime of the year.
Tamales are made of a corn meal masa similar to that found in Mexico and the rest of Central America. The masa has been treated with calcium carbonate and has a distinct flavor, with stock, lard, garlic, and seasonings often being added. This forms the outer shell, which is then stuffed with beef, beans, chicken, and/or vegetables and cilantro or culantro. The tamales are then wrapped in fresh banana leaves, tied up, and boiled or steamed until firm and fully cooked. They are excellent served with a fresh tomato salsa!
Another typical Costa Rican meal is the casado or "marriage," which consists of portions of a number of different dishes served on one plate, usually as a kind of worker's lunch. Typically you can choose from beef, chicken, or fish casados, and these main ingredients will be accompanied by a combination of cabbage salad, vegetables, fried yucca, beans, rice, or other available side dishes.
Tacos al alambre, or barbed wire tacos, are another typical plato. These are not Mexican style tacos--instead it is a dish of braised chicken or beef cut into strips, usually cooked with sliced sweet chili peppers, and a mild sauce. It is served with fresh tortillas or tortilla chips and one or two sides and is delicious.

Both the Mercado Central and Mercado Bourbon in central San Jose are very interesting from a culinary perspective, particularly to see the variety of fruits and vegetables grown in the country. However, the Central Market and particularly Bourbon are not in good neighborhoods and one should use their street smarts when in these areas.
The weekly farmer's market in San Ramon (or most any town in this country), by contrast, are considered safe and full of local farmers selling and incredible variety of products. These are generally held every Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, just ask for "la feria", or you can inquire at your hotel.

Cheeses: the level of cheesemaking sophistication in Costa Rica is not high and sanitary standards could be questioned. We would personally recommend staying away from the fresh white cheeses, particularly those riddled with gas holes, unless they are cooked. An exception is Queso Palmito or any of the other pasta filata type (mozzarella type) cheeses, which have for all intents and purposes been heat treated in the production process. All cheeses made by the Monteverde co-op and by Dos Pinos are very sanitary if not particularly savory.
The cheeses made by the Dutch-style factory at Barva can be quite good.

Tropical Fruits: Costa Rica's farmers grow an astounding array of tropical fruits, from luscious golden and Creole pineapples, to passion fruit, lychee, and custard apple.

Wine: Although some European immigrants have been experimenting with wine grape cultivation in Costa Rica, no one has succeeded. The government did sponsor an experimental effort several years ago, but eventually most of the vines were ripped out.
If you see Costa Rican wine for sale, it is almost surely from imported Chilean grape juice that is then processed in Costa Rica--the quality is terrible and it is--at least so far--not worth buying except as a total novelty.

So if you find yourself in Costa Rica, or will be traveling in the future to Costa Rica, take a harder look at the cuisine. Immerse yourself in the culture by eating “comida tipica”, visiting one of the many farmer’s markets, or befriending some of the friendly “Ticos” who are famous for inviting visitors to their homes for a meal. You will find that this country actually does have some fabulous food!!

Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel owns and operates her own Luxury Vacation Rental Home business, Manuel Antonio Rental Homes.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Costa Rica’s Juan Santamaria Day! Brave Martyr or Brazen Myth?

Juan Santamaría, an impoverished drummer boy, born of a single mother from the town of Alajuela, is easily the most famous martyr in Costa Rican history, and the only individual to have a National Holiday (April 11) declared in his honor. But was it really Juan Santamaria that saved the day at the Battle of Rivas, or was it more to do with Costa Rica’s need to have a national hero? Read on….

If legend is to be believed, as a result of the Battle of Rivas on April 11th, 1856, Juan Santamaria’s selfless act as his country's impromptu savior brought his eventual rise to glory, fame and martyrdom as he succeeded in saving Costa Rica against the infamous US sponsored invasion of the soldier of fortune style militia of William Walker.

William Walker, a lawyer, doctor and soldier of fortune from Tennessee, hoping to not only exploit the commercial trade route between New York and the Southern tip of Nicaragua, Walker also hoped to conquer the five Central American States with the intention to annex them, extending the new Federation of Southern States, part of the US. Walker and his “filibusteros” (soldiers of fortune) with his new post as a shaky provisional President of Nicaragua planned to instill his political and financial power over the Central American territories, with the next logical step being the invasion of nearby Costa Rica.

Fearing Walker’s growing force in Nicaragua, Costa Rican President Juan Rafael Mora supported by the backing of wealthy American businessmen who wanted their important trading routes reopened, was urged to declare war not on Nicaragua, but on Walker and his filibusters. Furious, Walker ordered the immediate invasion of Costa Rica, crossing the border into the province of Guanacaste, while the Costa Rican army mobilized full speed ahead Northward from the Central Valley. This rag tag army, led by the President’s brother Jose Joaquin Mora and brother-in-law General Jose Cañas, with their contingent of three thousand men marched towards the Walker encampment said to be assembled near the now famous Hacienda Santa Rosa, south of Nicaragua. Upon learning of their imminent arrival, Walkers men made a hasty retreat, taking the battle to Meson de Guerra in Rivas.

That is where Juan Santamaría prominently steps into the picture.

Walker's men, under the command of Colonel Louis Schlessinger, had no sentries posted in the Rivas fort, allowing Mora’s Costa Rican troops to surprise the small American militia, as Schlessinger himself retreated, leaving his troops in complete disarray. When a bloody battle ensued, the commanding Costa Rican officer asked for a volunteer to set fire to thatch roof of the El Mesón de Guerra; the filibusters' stronghold. Surely a suicide mission at best, it is said that Juan Santamaría, an impoverished mulatto drummer boy from the town of Alajuela, stepped up and with torch in hand, approached the hostel and through a hail of bullets, tossed his torch of fire onto the vulnerable thatched roof. This selfless patriotic act caused the enemy to flee, resulting in Juan Santamaria’s death, but leaving him a genuine National Hero.

The deaths of Juan Santamaría and more than a thousand other men saved Costa Ricaand Central America from a complete collapse. The Battle of Rivas put great confidence to the Costa Rican Army in the fight against Walker, who before this battle believed himself undefeatable and unstoppable, and lead to his later assassination in Honduras, during his next attempt at staging a Central American coup.

Although Costa Rica was victorious in the Battle of Rivas, the country did not return back to normal by any means. The numerous dead bodies were not buried in Rivas but were simply thrown into the wells, causing the city a huge outbreak of cholera from the contamination. The troops then carried the disease home with them to Costa Rica where it ravaged the country, killing as much as one tenth of the population. Mora was eventually blamed for the outbreak, as well as other economic problems, and was taken out of power a few years later in 1859.

This is where the dispute of the true legend of Juan Santamaria begins. Heated arguments and several investigations suggest that the well repeated history of Juan Santamaria may not be all it’s cracked up to. According to Steven Palmer, a Canadian researcher, Juan Santamaria was possibly invented by the Liberalist Costa Rican government. Palmer’s study suggests that the government in the late nineteenth
century was seeking to create a national identity in order to unify the disorganized country. Legends, heroes and battles, all helpful ingredients in the creation of a sense of national patriotism, the government set out to find something or someone that would serve its motivating purpose. Since Costa Rica lacks a history of warfare, the Liberalist government chose one of the few significant battles, the 1856 Battle of Rivas fought against William Walker. After choosing the famous battle, a brave hero was to be chosen as their new “symbol” for National unity. With this, Palmer says, Juan Santamaria was “born” or reborn after being dead and forgotten for many decades. That Juan Santamaria was a member of the lower classes, only served to inspire an even stronger sense of belonging to a nation that was coming of its own in world recognition, as Juan Santamaria showed anyone could become a National idol.

Further claims have been discovered that state Juan Santamaria actually died of cholera and not by the bullets of his enemies. Now granted, there are said to be listed four different Juan Santamarias amongst the some 9000 volunteer troops of Costa Rica, so this does open the door for some skepticism and confusion, but it is interesting to consider why Juan Santamaria lay buried for almost four decades, before being remembered and named Costa Rica’s National Hero.

Finally, other historical versions of the Battle of Rivas and the fight at the “Mesón de Guerra”, list the Lieutenant Luis Pacheco Bertora as the first to approach the fort with the idea of flushing out the enemy, but he was gravely injured by gunfire in his attempts. Lying unconscious, a Nicaraguan named Joaquín Rosales made a second attempt to burn the fort, but lost his life in the process. Finally, a third brave soldier stepped forward, the now well-known Costa Rican soldier, Juan Santamaría, who successfully set fire to the “meson” and saved the day for Costa Rica. None of these other brave soldiers have ever received the recognition due them as Juan Santamaria did, much less a National Holiday, statues or International Airports named after them, though the mystery behind the true history of these events lives on!

In the end, there is no attempt to minimize the participation of any of the soldiers involved in this battle, even less so Juan Santamaria. We only hope to give a shout out to all the valiant soldiers who gave their lives to win the liberty and sovereignty of Costa Rica, and to dispel of the rumor that Juan Santamaria was simply approaching the building, tripped and his fire torch accidentally started the fire that ended the battle.

Tell that later version out loud in Costa Rica, and you may be run out of the country even faster than William Walker was!!

Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and owns and manages her own Luxury Vacation Rental Home Business, Manuel Antonio Rental Homes.

Lisa Tirmenstein tirmenlb@muohio.edu.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Earth Hour 2014! Spend an Hour in the Dark and Help Save our Planet!

Earth Hour is driven by the global community’s goal to protect the planet we share. Earth Hour’s exponential growth – from a single-city initiative in 2007 to a global movement across 128 countries in 2010 to now in 2014 – is indicative of the growing desire for a cleaner, healthier world that is gathering momentum by the hour each year. Across the globe plans are underway to make Earth Hour 2014 a bigger event than ever!

At 8.30pm on Saturday 29 March 2014, Earth Hour will mark a moment of global contemplation to go beyond just the hour; a collective commitment by individuals throughout the world to be the ongoing change they want to see in it.

At Hotel Byblos Resort & Casino, an adventure boutique hotel in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, we too will be participating in this worldwide event by supporting Costa Rican sponsored events around the country as well as using minimum illumination during that specified hour (and throughout the year).

1. What is Earth Hour?
Earth Hour is a global grass-roots movement encouraging individuals, businesses and governments around the world to take positive actions for the environment, and celebrating their commitment to the planet by switching off their lights for one designated hour. Earth Hour 2014 aims to show the actions that people, businesses and governments world-wide are taking to reduce their environmental impact. The highlight of Earth Hour 2014 will see the world’s most iconic landmarks go dark for one designated hour, as hundreds of millions of people transcend race, religion, culture, society, generation and geography, switching off their lights in a global celebration of their ongoing commitment to protect the one thing that unites us all – the planet.
2. When does Earth Hour take place?
Earth Hour 2014 will be held on Saturday March 29 between 8.30PM and 9.30PM in your local time zone.
3. What does Earth Hour ask people to do?
Earth Hour encourages individuals, businesses and governments to use Earth Hour as a platform to showcase to the world what measures they are taking to reduce their environmental impact. Earth Hour asks everyone to take personal accountability for their impact on the planet and make behavioural changes to facilitate a sustainable lifestyle.
4. Does this mean during Earth Hour I have to turn off everything in my home and use absolutely no electricity?
No. The main point of Earth Hour is to show the world that a solution to the world’s environmental challenges is possible if we work on them together – together our actions add up! Earth Hour only asks that you turn off non-essential lighting, safety and security lighting should remain on.
5. How long has Earth Hour been held for?
Earth Hour began in one city in 2007 when more than two million individuals and two thousand businesses in Sydney, Australia turned off their lights for one hour on Saturday 31 March 2007 to take a stand on climate change. In the space of three short years Earth Hour grew to become the greatest environmental action in history with individuals, businesses and governments across 128 countries coming together for Earth Hour 2010 to show the path to a sustainable future is a collective journey and the movement has continued to grow over the last few years.
6. Isn't switching the lights off dangerous? What about public safety?
Earth Hour only asks people to turn off the non-essential lights for one hour - not lights that affect public safety. Earth Hour is also a celebration of the planet so it’s important to enjoy the moment in a safe environment.
7. What lights can be safely switched off?
That is a decision that has to be made individually but usually the overhead lights in rooms (whether it is your house, hotel or a business), outdoor lighting that does not impact safety, computers, decorative lights, neon signs for advertising, televisions, desk lamps, the list goes on and on…. You are encouraged to make sure you have alternative light sources handy before Earth Hour starts, like candles, torches or flashlights.
8. What candles should I use for my Earth Hour event?
If you plan on burning candles during Earth Hour please be safe and choose natural, not petroleum-based products. If you're using candles, make sure you take care. Please follow these tips:
• Candles should only be used under adult supervision.
• Candles should never be left unattended.
• Candles should be kept away from children and pets.
• Extinguish candles before going to sleep.
• Keep candles away from flammable liquids and gas-combustible materials.
• Candles should be kept clear of any combustible materials such as paper, curtains and clothing.
• Candles should not be placed in windows as they can be blown over. Blinds and curtains can also catch fire.
• Candles should be placed on a stable, dry, heat-resistant surface away from drafts.
9. What is Earth Hour's position on safety?
Earth Hour wants everyone to be absolutely safe and never to turn off any lights or power that would in any way compromise the safety of any individual in a private or public space.
10. Will my city go completely black?
Earth Hour is not a black out. It is a voluntary action by its participants to show their commitment to an act of change that benefits the planet. For many businesses in city skyscrapers or for many government buildings, the lights are turned off at the end of the business day the Friday before Earth Hour. So Earth Hour is more of a fade-out in some ways than a black-out.
11. If everyone turns their lights back on at the same time could there be a power surge?
People celebrate Earth Hour in a variety of ways for different lengths of time, with many continuing to keep their lights off well beyond the designated hour. Therefore, it is highly improbable that everyone will switch their lights back on simultaneously.
12. Is Earth Hour an annual event?
Though Earth Hour began as a public statement for action on climate change, it has come to symbolize a commitment to broader environmental solutions. Earth Hour’s ‘lights out’ campaign will continue to evolve in accordance with the environmental concerns of a growing global community driven by the pursuit of a better, healthier world. Earth Hour, is as much a celebration of the planet as it is a commitment to environmentally sustainable action, so as long as the global community wants to share a unified moment of celebration and contemplation of our planet, 8.30PM – 9.30PM on the last Saturday of March will always be Earth Hour.
13. Why is Earth Hour held on the last Saturday of March?
The last weekend of March is around the time of the Spring and Autumn equinoxes in the northern and southern hemispheres respectively, which allows for near coincidental sunset times in both hemispheres, thereby ensuring the greatest visual impact for a global ‘lights out’ event.
14. How many cities/countries/landmarks took part in for example....Earth Hour 2011?
4616 cities, towns and municipalities took part in Earth Hour 2011 across 128 countries, including 89 national capitals and 9 of the world’s 10 most populated cities.
15. What is the criteria for registering city, town or municipality participation in Earth Hour 2014?
For a city, town or municipality to be officially recognized as a participant in Earth Hour 2014 it must meet at least one of the following three criteria:
1. Have the official support of its governing authority. (e.g. Governor or Mayor)
2. Have confirmed participation of a significant landmark or icon.
3. Have the support of an official Earth Hour ambassador.
16. What does a commitment to Earth Hour mean?
By registering to Earth Hour 2014, individuals, communities and businesses are making a commitment to turn their lights off for an hour at 8.30PM on Saturday 31 March in acknowledgement of an act they will undertake for the benefit of the planet. Participation in Earth Hour is a sign of your commitment to show leadership amongst your friends, family, colleagues and competitors in finding solutions to our environmental challenges by adopting environmentally sustainable lifestyle habits and business practices on an ongoing basis.
17. Who can join or participate?
Anyone! Anyone who wants to unite with the global community in a worldwide celebration of the planet; anyone who believes a solution to our environmental challenges is possible through the aggregate of our actions.
18. What energy/carbon reductions have resulted from Earth Hour in previous years?
Earth Hour does not purport to be an energy/carbon reduction exercise, it is a symbolic action. Therefore, we do not engage in the measurement of energy/carbon reduction levels.
19. How can I help with Earth Hour in more ways than just turning out my lights?
For Earth Hour 2014 we are asking people, businesses and governments to go beyond the hour, to make a commitment to an act of ongoing change that benefits the planet. There are limitless things you can do on top of switching off your lights to take Earth Hour beyond the hour. Have a look at the ‘How to…’ guides page on this website for some ideas.
20. What does Earth Hour hope to achieve?
Earth Hour aims to unite communities around environmental issues by creating a forum where individuals can discuss ecological resolutions with like-minded people, by creating a channel though which businesses can exchange sustainable practices with their competitors, by building a platform that enables governments to showcase environmental leadership, and by ultimately establishing a global network of individuals, corporations and governments who are committed to the collective resolve of tackling the world’s environmental challenges.
21. How is Earth Hour 2014 different from other Earth Hour Celebrations?
Earth Hour 2011 saw individuals, communities, businesses and governments across the globe come together in a moment of unity for the planet, to show the world what can be done through collective action. Earth Hour 2012 asks participants to change by committing to an act that benefits the environment and celebrating their commitment to the planet with the people of the world by participating in Earth Hour. Fast forward and Earth Hour 2014 is not the culmination of a climate campaign, it’s the start of a journey of behavioural change for individuals, sustainable practice for businesses, and leadership of governments on the path to global environmental reform.
22. Aren't you using a lot of electricity and resources to promote this event?
Earth Hour operations are run in a cost effective manner and apply donors' funds according to the highest standards of accountability and sustainability. We also consider and/or incorporate other climate or environmental issues as determined by the Earth Hour team and its partners.
23. Whose idea was Earth Hour?
Earth Hour came from a think tank initiated by Earth Hour Executive Director and Co-Founder, still a degree of scepticism and denial about the issue of climate change. Earth Hour came as the inspiration to rally people to the reality of climate change and start a dialogue about what we as individuals can do to help address the greatest problem facing our planet today.
24. What is Earth Hour’s relationship with WWF? Does WWF own Earth Hour?
WWF Australia co-founded Earth Hour in Sydney in 2007, facilitating Earth Hour’s rapid worldwide growth through its connection to WWF’s global network. With a presence in more than 70 countries, WWF continues to play a valuable partner role, ensuring a solid foundation and support network on which to deliver a truly global environmental message throughout the year.
25. Who are the Earth Hour partners?
Earth Hour began as a WWF-led initiative in Australia in 2007 in partnership with brand co-owners, Fairfax Media and Leo Burnett. All three partners decided from the beginning, however, that expanding Earth Hour’s global reach would require working in partnership with any organization. Earth Hour’s message has spanned the world with the help of many global partners.
26. Do you have requirements or regulations about who can or cannot partner with Earth Hour?

Any partner must uphold and support the aims and principles of Earth Hour. These include encouraging individual and community engagement on environmental issues. Encouraging conscious decisions to change the way we live in order to affect environmental reform, without the use of scare tactics or shaming.
27. Does Earth Hour welcome the support of other NGOs (Non-Government Organisations) and NFP's (Not for Profits)?
Absolutely. In fact, the success of Earth Hour would not be possible without the support of other NGOs and NFPs. Global organizations such as the World Organization of the Scout Movement and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts have been pivotal in spreading the Earth Hour message, while in some countries where there is no WWF presence, Earth Hour campaigns are orchestrated entirely by other NGOs and NFPs who share the same non-aggressive, guilt-free approach to addressing environmental issues taken by Earth Hour..
28. Are there any other social media outlets or forums for Earth Hour?
Yes, here is the most comprehensive list we have right now:
Current Earth Hour Global Social Media Profiles
Facebook Group
Flickr Photostream
More global profiles on additional networks are developing everyday.
29. What does the Earth Hour logo mean?
The standard Earth Hour '60' logo represents the 60 minutes of Earth Hour where we focus on the impact we are having on our planet and take positive action to address the environmental issues we face. For Earth Hour 2014 we have continued the ‘60+’ logo representing a commitment to add to Earth Hour a positive act for the planet that goes beyond the hour. Please publish the logo and pass the word wherever you can and show your support for our Planet!!

If you are not sure how you should be celebrating Earth Hour this year, here are some helpful suggestions on what to do:

1. Invite your friends over for a earth friendly cocktail hour and candlelit dinner.
2. Get those board games out and have some game time with friends & family in the dark.
3. Lie down and star gaze. Stars are more easily seen the less lighting there is.
4. Do something "crafty" by candlelight: paint, mould, stick, knit, quilt, paint, or?
5. Got kids? Get out the camping gear! Set up a tent and tell stories of when there was no artificial lighting, how it must have been to live in that time.
6. Play a real game of hide & seek with the kids. It has to be even more of a challenge in the dark!
7. Go to sleep early! You never get enough sleep, so here is the perfect excuse to catch up on some zzz’s.
8. While the lights are off, it’s the perfect time to change any old bulbs for new energy saving ones.
9. Why not eat all the ice-cream that's sitting in your freezer? If you've turned your appliances off along with lights for Earth Hour, then it's just melting anyway!
10. Soak in a warm tub and enjoy the silence and solitude you rarely get.
11. Plant a tree to serve as the center of next year’s celebration of Earth Hour.
12. Meditate to encourage an inner peace & tranquility in your life throughout the year.
13. Exercise. You don’t need lights to workout!
14. Read a book like they did in the old days with no distractions from television.
15. Take the dog for a walk with a flashlight. You’ll both benefit from the activity.
16. Make a list of ways you and your family can carry on the commitment to be more earth friendly throughout the year.
17. Write a personal letter to a loved one. No impersonal email this time!
18. Sing around the campfire and roast some marshmallows.
19. Arrange a candlelit massage. Your eyes are closed anyway!
20. Take advantage of that dark, alone time to spend some “amorous” time with that special someone.
Or great advice is to check out your local Earth Hour site and see if there's a place near you that will get plunged into darkness at 8.30pm on March 31st and go there to celebrate!

Let us know what you will be doing during this year's Earth Hour, we’d love to know what creative ideas you have to share with us!

Be a part of Earth Hour 2014; add your voice and take action, encourage others to join the hundreds of millions across every continent who have already spoken as one on behalf of the planet. Together we can make a difference!

Check out this inspiring Earth Hour 2014 video to see what our planet’s voice looks like. It’s an awesome power when we are work as one!!


Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and owns her own vacation rental home business Manuel Antonio Rental Homes.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"Mamon Chino", A Healthy Sweet Treat from Costa Rica!

The "Mamon Chino", also known as “Rambutan”, is a colorful and interesting exotic fruit found on medium-sized tropical trees producing one of the most popular convenience snacks found in Costa Rica. Thought to be native to Malaysia, this fruit is also commonly found in Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. The Mamo Chino is closely related to several other edible tropical fruits including the Lychee, Longan, and Mamoncillo. The name rambutan came from the Malay word rambut, whose literal translation means hairy, logical when you see the distinctive “hair” that covers the skin of this small fruit.

A hearty tree growing to an average height of 30-60 feet, the flowers are small and emit a faintly sweet pleasant scent. Mature trees in fruition brim with oval shaped fruit bunches that grow in a loose hanging clusters of around 10-20 specimens. The rather thick and clean peeling skin is generally reddish, orange or yellow in color and is covered with a thick hairy texture, making this fruit easy to identify. The coveted flesh of the fruit is translucent, whitish or a very pale pink, with a sweet, slightly acidic flavor, similar to that of grapes, but with it’s own uniquely tropical flavor. Be careful not to ingest the large single seed found buried within the sweet fleshy part, as it can be mildly poisonous when raw, but can be eaten when cooked properly. (I have personally never tried that, so anyone who has, feel free to chime in on how that works!) The seed is also said to be high in certain fats and oils valuable for industrial uses, as well as the oils are used to manufacture soap products. Beyond that, the roots of the Rambutan tree, as well as the bark and leaves are touted to have various medicinal uses and have been used in the production of certain dyes and coloring compounds.

What to do with the fruit:
A mainstay at Farmer’s Markets countrywide, roadside fruit stands are another great place to find the freshest Mamon Chino. Traditionally eaten by easily peeling the fruit with your fingers (it practically peels itself into two pieces) or you can often see locals open them with a quick flick of their teeth, popping the fruit directly into their mouth. The sweet creamy pulp of the fruit is easily enjoyed by putting the whole fruit inside the mouth and sucking on the pulp, remembering not to swallow the large seed. Disposing of the seed takes a practiced spitting launch, or better educated friends discreetly discard it into their hand or the bag the fruits came in. Despite the light color of the fruit's flesh, remember to be careful, as the juice will stain a dark brown color, the reason indigenous Indians used to use Rambutan to dye cloth. Though most commonly eaten fresh in Costa Rica, you can find Mamon Chino jams and jellies, and it is now even canned in some locations. It would be important for me to mention……when using the common Costa Rican name (Mamon Chino), its important to know that the word “mamón” in some Spanish-speaking countries can be slang for a “person who sucks”, or more commonly it can refer to a “large breast”. Just giving a fair warning to my friends before you go to the Farmers Market yelling “I want Mamones”!

When CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) was in negotiations throughout the region, Costa Rica noted that this new agreement presented an excellent opportunity to expand the production of this little known fruit to International markets. Costa Rica, having little actual data on the production of this fruit within the country had the government entity known as “MAG” (Ministerio de Agricultura), launch a nationwide in-depth study to find out more about the cultivators of this crop, with the hope of bringing them the economic benefits that would result from expansion to an International marketplace. The results of this extensive study, primarily conducted in Costa Rica’s “Brunca and Atlantic Región”, was the first stage of a strategic crop development plan conducted by Ingienero Leonte Llach Cordero for the National Program of Tropical Fruits, a division of MAG. The initial results are listed below:

Results of Study (Dec 2003)
• Total Cultivators 354
• Estimated Hectares in Production-720
• Approximate Total Production per year-5.5 millon kilos
• Number of Adult Trees (over 4 yrs)-46,365
• Number of Trees under 4 yrs-49,839
• Amount of Cultivators with less than 20 Hectars-350
• Amount of Cultivators with more than 20 Hectars-4
• Most productive season-July to September
• Percentage of Local Market Production-+90%
• Estimated number of trees per Hectar-100 trees

The results of this study were extremely helpful in furthering the development of this tropical fruit to be competitive in an international market. As the Ministerio de Agricultura (MAG) began a program to distribute some 40,000 tree starts to farmers, their enthusiasm, pioneer attitude and excellent farming practices, helped to dramatically increase overall production by a staggering 20% in only 6 yrs. This impressive number converted Costa Rica to be the top producer of Mamon Chino in all of Central America. Costa Rica now exports an incredible 1800 tons of this popular fruit yearly.

So my friends, the next time you see these cute little hairy fruits at your Costa Rica Hotel, the local Farmer’s Market, local “Pulperia” (market), or a roadside fruit stand…… Stop! Buy!! Eat!! Don’t be afraid of them!!! Not only are these tropical delights delicious and convenient to snack on, but they also have specific nutritional qualities, as well as ancient medicinal uses that might come in handy one day. Just please remember no yelling “I want Mamones!” while in Costa Rica when you go shopping, or you might end up with a black eye!!

Author: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and owns and operates her own Vacation Rental Home business Manuel Antonio Rental Homes.