For many years now my wife and I and our daughter Danielle have travelled all over Canada, the US, the Caribbean Islands and Europe, and the one place that tops our list of favorite places is Costa Rica.
We recently spent a week in Tamarindo, our third time there, and our fourth time in Costa Rica. It was 2006 when we last saw that dusty little town, with its spectacular beaches, great restaurants and friendly people. The first thing we asked ourselves on our first day was: “why did we wait so long to return?” We had forgotten about how much we loved this place, and vowed never to let that happen again.
There is something special about Costa Rica. Especially Tamarindo, where the magic and ambiance that prevails the whole country seems magnified. I can’t say it in so many words, and my wife, the most eagle-eyed travel critic, is sensitive to travel experiences, and would spot any problem areas in a heartbeat. She is Tamarindo’s biggest fan.
If we had to define and quantify the Tamarindo experience with words, we’d have to talk about the uncrowded beaches. The friendly atmosphere. The mood, attitude and relaxed way of life that seems to live within the locals and tourists alike.
The first thing we did when we arrived at Tamarindo was to stock up our fridge. We were staying on the beach at Casa Cook and planned on cooking one meal a day, the other meal at a local restaurant. The local restaurants such as Pedro’s and Nogui’s were my personal favorites. Breakfast was always the same: fresh fruit and fresh Costa Rican coffee.
Waking up early every morning was pure bliss. The sun, the wind, the monkeys, the walkers and joggers heading down the beach all add to the early morning euphoria. It doesn’t get any better.
After fruit and coffee, a run down the beach for some early morning exercise starts the day off right. Nothing like jogging barefoot on the beach, with the rising sun streaking across the vast ocean bottom revealed by the low tide. We always felt safe when in Costa Rica, even at night in pitch dark, walking this same beach under the stars back to our cabin. This was always an amazing experience punctuated by the sounds of the surf and the occasional shooting star in the night sky. Pure poetry.
Sometimes I like to sit back and people watch. Whether in the airport waiting for my plane or in the heart of Tamarindo at night, watching the locals carry on was of particular interest to me. They smiled a lot, and laughed. I had little idea of what they were talking about, but it sounded interesting, given the bantering and laughing. “These are happy people,” I always thought to myself. Generous, caring and open. I hoped that those who visited Costa Rica or moved here would be impressed and positively affected by their unpretentious ways.
You often hear the expression “pura vida” which, as I understand it, means pure living. I believe it goes deeper than that. The ecological wonders, the magnificient scenery and the geography, which are all part of what makes Costa Rica special, are only a part of the picture. The best part that is expressed in ‘pure living’ goes much deeper and extends to the unseen.
It’s part of that ambiance, the soulful and gentle ways of the people who make up this country. One needs to experience it to know it. My hope is that this way of life that defines who this country is remains immune to outside, and possibly destructive, forces and remains the way I appreciate it: peaceful, quiet, uncommercialized, affordable, and safe.
I know of no other place that offers all these things rolled into one. After meeting many other tourists, and expats and locals, it seems they all feel the same way as I do: that this place is like no other. To me, it’s heaven on earth.
By Patricia Duran K. The National Council for the Administration of Highways (CONAVI, Spanish) is a public institution specialized in road infrastructure, committed to the welfare and development of Costa Rica. It is capable of ensuring the sustainability of the National Road Network, through contracts and agreements with third parties. These aim at ensuring optimal conditions of operation, through a process of continuous improvement, in harmony with the environment.
The entity is meant to plan, program, manage, finance, implement and monitor the conservation and the construction of the National Road Network, in compliance with the programs that the Office of Planning of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport may prepare. The entity is also responsible for entering into contracts running the projects, supplies and services required for the process of maintenance and construction of the totality of the national road network.
It also has to supervise the correct completion of the works, including keeping to quality control, fostering research, development and technology transfer in the field of construction and maintenance of roads and fulfilling contracts or providing the services necessary for the pursuit of its objectives and completion of the tasks.
However, although the tasks and responsibilities are clear, the works are not always fulfilled in the times established. Just look at the stretch from Tamarindo to Langosta, for instance, a road that, as many others, is still on the waiting list, on the lookout for solutions and, to gotten down to business.
According to Francisco Mairena, press officer of the Municipality of Santa Cruz, this stretch is CONAVI’s responsibility, since it is a national road. Therefore, the municipality has no responsibility, whatsoever. “The only sector considered as a municipal responsibility is the one that goes from the second crossing in Tamarindo turning on the way to Los Jobos. The roads connecting one place with another are state or national routes; the alternating or regional roads are the municipalities’ responsibility,” said Mairena.
As for the stretch going from 27 de abril to Villarreal, Wasser Matarrita, engineer from Conavi in zone 2-3 of Carrillo and of the zone 2 – 4 Nicoya, Nandayure, Ojancha and the Peninsula, said “there is a design of a businessman that was issued to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport; however, it must be reviewed and approved by Conavi, and then seek funds for the construction of this road.”
According to Edgar Manuel Salas Solis, Director of Engineering of CONAVI, the stretches from 27 de abril to Villarreal and from Langosta to Tamarindo are national routes, and, therefore, they are under the responsibility of this entity.
Salas stated that, in the case of the stretch from 27 de abril to Villarreal, a group of entrepreneurs donated the design and presented it to CONAVI, where it was analyzed and pertinent observations were made for its correction.
“These people hired a company that developed the design, which consists of about 9 kilometers. In the first revision, they analyzed every detail in order to comply with the technical rules established and the environmental details, in addition to road safety and geometrical design matters,” said Salas.
The Director of Engineering at CONAVI, added that the comments were sent in writing and that they are waiting for corrections to be made in order to begin with the approval process and permits. “We returned the design a month ago and as soon the changes are done and the design is submitted once again, we will revise it, and if everything complies with the regulations established, we could start with the procedures for the permit granting.”
This process is carried out before different institutions, such as the National Technical Secretariat of Environment (SETENA, in Spanish) and the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Telecommunications (Minaet) as to riverbeds in protected areas and the possibilities of tree felling. They work in coordination with public service institutions in order to avoid obstacles when embarking on the works or benefiting from the collaboration in case of relocating the project, if necessary. “What they do is to initiate the bidding and permits processes at the same time, since you may need several weeks or months for obtaining permission. Therefore, they would make the most of their time and start searching for funds to finance the work.”
The Administrative Council is responsible for collecting the funds. They must indicate whether the money is public or not, or if it is necessary to request an international loan. “The cost of this work could be about 8 to 9 billion colones. For that reason, it might be supported by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) or the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI)”, added Salas.
The stretch from 27 de abril to Villarreal would be an asphalted road with two 3.65m lanes, vertical and horizontal demarcation and their corresponding retaining walls. Salas Solís was emphatic in saying that this route is under process. However, due to the pending procedures, the works will not start this year. During the remaining months of 2009, they will be devoting their time to permits, bidding processes and fund search.
As for the Langosta-Tamarindo stretch, there is no green light, yet. “There are no instructions or information from the Office of Engineering.”
According to Salas, every road is important for CONAVI’s engineers because they imply the development of each area. If there is a chance of collaborating and improving the current conditions, they will always be there supporting the cause, like in the case of Cañas-Liberia, whose road widening project will be initiated in a few weeks.
Many users consulted Beko Services SA over the phone or through emails about what was going on, since until March 06, this company was in charge of providing this service. Rumors suggested that the inconvenience was caused on purpose.
According to some residents, who asked to remain anonymous, before AyA took charge of the water supply in the area, Beko officials decided to remove the pumps and valves and leave the population without such vital liquid.
After several days of silence, and due to the questioning of residents, visitors and owners of different businesses, Beko Services SA issued a press release that reads, “the aqueduct we built, developed and directed for the last 15 years , supported by a legitimate license granted to us by Costa Rica, is going to be temporarily administered by the Costa Rican Institute of Aqueducts and Sewer Systems (AyA), as a result of a resolution taken by the Administrative Law Court, which ordered us to handling it over temporarily, while ratifying the final judgments that will resolve the legal aspects that may persist as to this regards. ”
The deputy manager of AyA Peripheral Systems, Roosevelt Alvarado, partially agreed with this version and clarified that “the State, through MINAET, which is the rector body for hydrous resources, gave us the order of taking over the aqueduct after being serviced by Beko Services SA for 15 years. Subsequently, they filed a lawsuit, which was settled by the Court, and upon which we were requested by a court order to assume the aqueduct. “A fundamental principle of life protected by law is prevailing here. It is a public service that is related to a common good and the lives of our citizens. The Court protects it, therefore, and ordered us to take on all the systems, operation, maintenance, and commercial aspects, so that we can provide the service continuously.It is a court order; no matter what may happen later, right now, the most important thing here is to assure the water service to our customers, regardless of its price.”
The order requests Beko Services to hand in everything that corresponds to the system, whether related to its operation, conduction lines, equipment, pumps, among others, or to its business field, which refers to the billing system.
According to the Beko’s release, signed by Claudio Cerdas, president of the company, “The aqueduct was transferred in just 48 hours, between Thursday, March 5 and Saturday, March 7; just two days after the Administrative Tribunal issued the temporary resolution. Amid the speed with which we had to make the transfer, we were not clear enough about the scope of the measures ordered. So, if there was any delay, it was while finding out what was the best way to proceed, in order to comply with the law. Our actions were never meant to “sabotage” any court decisions or “attempt against the public health of our community.”
However, from the very beginning, things were not carried out transparently. According to AyA, deputy manager, “Prior to the transfer of the aqueduct, on Thursday, March 05, we did a tour with the representatives of Beko and they took us around part of the facilities. They did not show us all; they left out two very important wells, Jobos 1 and 2.”
Let’s add this to the situation reported by several neighbors, who said they have witnessed how some of the pumps in the distribution system were removed. Alvarado confirmed this version. “We called some neighbors from Cerro Cum, who reported… and these are statements made by two neighbors … who have seen how pumping equipments were taken out here and the electrical part of the control panels was dismantled.”
“Later on, a spokesperson from Beko took us to the exit of one of the wells, where he said that a tube has been cut there. This statement has been recorded,” said Alvarado.
However, Beko representatives deny this accusation and claim that they have “never put any obstacle to the legal and formal entrance to our properties and facilities for the AyA officials to take possession of the aqueduct, as the AyA release states, incorrectly.”
But this story does not end there. On March 12, during AyA Deputy Manager visit, a new problem arose. “We had full tanks and we had great pressure for about 50 to 100 meters. But after that point, only 20 to 30 meters away, there was no water. It seemed strange to us. Therefore, we requested the engineers to carry out programmed excavations. Today, we have found unfortunate evidence that confirms that the distribution pipeline was cut. This pipeline is the one that takes the water down the hill and supplies water to the population. It was cut, and there were two caps covering each pole,” said Roosevelt Alvarado.
He added that “This situation was made public. We made declarations about this finding. We never said who did it. We simply stated that we found a damage that is unfortunately affecting water consumption of the population of this district.”
The officials took photos, a video and they have the formal complaint submitted to the members of the Judicial Investigation Department (OIJ) on site.
As a response to the accusations, Beko said, “We cannot assume any responsibility for the quality, condition, quantity and continuity of drinking water supply of the aqueduct, from the moment that we stopped controlling its operation.” The people from AyA already made clear that” water quality standards are among the best in the world, not America, but of the world! This is thanks to our vast experience, a lab currently certified by ISO; we have professionals with a long professional background and very good preparation. All of these aspects have allowed us to stand out in what we do, based on the extensive experience of our engineers, technicians and plumbers. I can say that, in the country, AyA is the company of safe water supply, sanitation, wastewater treatment par excellence.AyA’s experts and schools are evidently the reference point for technical aspects,” said Alvarado.
Is the system fully restored everywhere? “We know quite well the part of the tanks, and the distribution lines. Cerro Cum is done; we are working a 100%. However, there is a segment of the population that normally does not receive water on a continuous basis during the high seasons, or summer. Not just now, but generally. Once the system has been stabilized, we will visit these people, one by one, when we can say for sure that the wells flow will rise after analyzing the production systems. If we cannot provide these people with water 24 hours a day, it will continue as it has been done, so far.”
Are there any improvements planned for the system? “Once we have a deeper understanding of the system, we will analyze this point. We do have an obligation to improve our services. If, for example, there is a pipe or a diameter that we may consider should be expanded; if we need to extend the pipe branches, or whether we need to purchase new pumping equipment or not in order to improve our service, then we will do it. So, do not surprise if someday you see us opening a street to get a new pipeline in and if we have to suspend the service because we are improving the pumping system. That’s our mission and vision. You can be sure that once we have studied the system as a whole, we will make improvements, as required. “
What is the next step? “Obviously, it will take some time while we make the registry studies of the whole area; but we estimate that by mid-April we will be already billing, since we are planning to meter by the end of this month. Actually, I would like to make something clear. We are not receiving moneys from pending bills to Beko. It was not our time, and it will be wrong if we did it. We simply cannot do it! There have been people coming to pay for that. That does not correspond to us. It wouldn´t be fair. Once we start metering, we start charging. The fees are the ones approved by ARESEP as to the region of Tamarindo. The institution has a philosophy of social responsibility that cannot be ignored. Our interest is not to make money. As part of the state, we have the obligation of supplying the best quality water under better conditions and at fair prices.”
Can you guarantee quality water, then? “You may not only drink water straight from the tap in San Jose. Once we have the certainty, we will tell the community of Tamarindo that can take water from the tap. That is our guarantee. Once we have the lab results, we will spread a release stating that the water can be taken from the tap.”
The beach, certainly, was born beautiful but it takes a lot of work to keep it that way. Every day for the last fourteen years, regardless of temperatures, torrents or blowing sand, Jose Santos Corrales, known affectionately as Ro-Ro, has been walking the streets and beaches of our Tamarindo/Langosta community picking up trash. He’s a great guy, but he isn’t doing this for free. He and Gerardo Acosta share this full-time position which was paid for by the Associacion Pro Mejoras until it became inactive in 2008.
If anything is mandatory for Tamarindo, it’s a clean beach. It’s probably the only thing we all agree on. If the beach looks like a trash dump, our town is history. This is the concern with which Pro Mejoras members approached Tamarindo’s fledgling chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. Surfrider’s primary focus, contrary to what its name might suggest, is not surfing. The Surfrider Foundation is an international organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans and beaches and guaranteeing free access to them for all people. In August of 2008, Surfrider accepted the responsibility of providing Ro-Ro and Gerardo with their salary and the corresponding coverage by the CCSS. Since then, every day is a Surfrider beach clean-up day. This small group of sea-lovers has been working hard to pull together the $800 needed each month to perform this daily beauty treatment on Tamarindo. That’s a big check for a tiny non-profit organization to write each month. The Surfrider Foundation wants to publicly thank Orange Realty for their generous donation of $1,600 which paid for two months of Ro-Ro’s salary. The Asociacion Nautica (or, less formally, “The Boat Association”) makes a monthly contribution of $50 to Surfrider and various members of the community have demonstrated their support with donations ranging from $20 to $1,000. We depend on the beach and the beach depends on us.
Two other sister organizations were born in March of 2008 and have just celebrated their first birthday. One of them is the Tamarindo Lifeguard Program. In the year that donations have paid for the salaries of certified lifeguards on Tamarindo beach, at least 30 people have been rescued from potential drowning situations and many others treated for injuries caused by surfboards. In spite of the fact that multiple deaths and the ensuing bad publicity have been avoided, the Lifeguard program is itself in need of emergency rescue. Several months ago, the Hotel Tamarindo Diria assumed total responsibility for the salary and benefits of one of the lifeguards, leaving the town of Tamarindo the responsibility of funding only one lifeguard. Cheryl McKillican, who single-handedly manages the program while raising a family, explains that the program, at present, does not know where its next meal is coming from. One thousand dollars is necessary per month to cover expenses and the $4,000 raised for this purpose by the Raft-Up has all been spent. Minimal support from the homes and businesses that benefit from the safety that the lifeguards provide has caused this crucial program to survive on a monthly hand-to-mouth basis with the constant possibility that this month will be their last. Everyone seems to think that someone else should pay. The Lifeguard Program wishes to thank, in addition to the Hotel Tamarindo Diria, the Surfrider Foundation, Hotel Capitan Suizo, Hotel Cala Luna and Tienda Dolores for their willingness to contribute.
The third sister celebrating a birthday is Tamarindo Recycles. The community’s thirteenth Recycling Day was held on Saturday, March 14 in conjunction with a Surfrider beach clean-up. In its first year of existence, Tamarindo Recycles has redirected tons of trash away from our landfills and sent it over the mountains to San Jose in a rather rickety-looking truck to be recycled in San Jose. Tamarindo Recycles is run solely by hard-working volunteers who meet several times each month to organize publicity, education and of course Recycling Day. Mark it down and no more excuses: Recycling Day is held the SECOND SATURDAY of each month with the exception of the one in April, that will be on the THIRD Saturday due to Semana Santa. This organization is different. It isn’t asking for your money. It asks for an hour of your Saturday morning once a month and the use of your feet for crushing cans, your hands for twisting off bottle caps, your arms for unloading boxes from cars. Businesses with a large volume of recyclable material are now being asked NOT to bring their cast-offs to Recycling Day, but will be put into direct contact with the driver of the truck in order to arrange on-site pick-up. This allows a manageable amount of trash to be collected from community households and the large quantities of material to be moved a minimum number of times, conserving the backs of willing-hearted volunteers and simplifying logistics.
On Saturday, April 4, 2009, the Surfrider Foundation, the Lifeguard Program and Tamarindo Recycles would like to invite all members of the Tamarindo/Langosta community to join us in celebrating the continuation of our positive work in the community. A fundraiser fiesta, held at La Laguna del Cocodrilo, will collect a suggested donation at the door in order to sustain the health and beauty treatments that keep our town alive and vital. The bar will donate a percentage of drinks purchased, so come enjoy the music and revelry with the really cool people who make it all happen.
On Saturday night, San José will be one of almost 2,500 cities worldwide turning off their lights from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. for Earth Hour. Festivities begin at 7:30 p.m. in Plaza de la Democracia, featuring a concert by candlelight and acoustic performances throughout the night.
Earth Hour is an annual international event created by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) that began in Sydney in 2007, when 2 million people turned off their lights for at least one hour. In 2008, more than 50 million people around the globe participated. Costa Rica is one of 83 countries participating in the event, and in Costa Rica’s case, for the first time.
The candlelight concert will feature Manuel Obregon, Carlos Tapado Vargas and Jaime Gamboa, three well-known national artists. Come 8:30 p.m. the only light in the plaza will be provided by 1,000 candles that will be distributed by WWF to everyone in the plaza. Most businesses in the area have also agreed to turn off their neon signs and music during the event.
The spokesperson for WWF in Central America, Lilian Márquez, is eager to see Costa Rican involvement.
“Figuring out how to stop global warming seems so overwhelming to some people,” said Márquez, “and they’re always asking what they can do to make a difference. Here’s something they can participate in that makes a difference.”
In 2009, Earth Hour aims to reach out to two billion people worldwide in order to demonstrate the magnitude of this support to world leaders at the Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen 2009. The meeting will determine new international policies against global warming to replace the Kyoto Protocol.
Márquez has concentrated most of her efforts on the San José event, where aside from concerts, there will be performers juggling fire and artists creating images with UV and florescent colors.
“Earth Hour is a call to action for all citizens of the world,” said Márquez. “By turning off your lights you’re showing that you’re conscious of your impact on the environment.”
For more information about Earth Hour, visit the official website at www.earthhour.org.