Costa Rica 96

It was good to see my friends again. Alan and Philippe are both from France. Philippe owned a newspaper in St Martin and sold it to a big French outfit about 7 years ago and moved to the Tampa area. We were introduced at a party and immediately became good friends. We had both been to Costa Rica before so we had a lot to talk about. And, we both had a lot of time off and liked to fish.

We went back to Costa Rica together 4 years ago and met with Allan who flew in from Paris. Alan and Philippe both agreed to stay in Costa Rica and start some business. Alan started an office service and now has about 10 small offices for rent in downtown San Jose..they all share a common receptionist area and the usual fax machine and office equipment soon to include Internet service.

Alan, a cigar aficionado, has started growing tobacco and making cigars (Hecho a Mano) and this business has become quite successful..(Montes do Oca Tobacco). Both Alan and Philippe have married local (Tica) ladies and Philippe and Carman now have 2 children. Philippe started a Newspaper there something like our "Flyer" or "Pennysaver" but it failed after about 2 years. He is now brokering local produce like Yams and Yucca and rare hardwoods into the French Caribbean and the US. I will be helping search out new markets for both the produce and the cigars and perhaps the hardwoods too.

Philippe is becoming quite involved in the Palm Heart business. If you have never had "Heart of Palm", go out and buy a can...slice it up and add it to your salad...yummm! Philippe and his friend Barnard, a real character, retired from the French Foreign Legion, have started a Palmetto Plantation and they have a contract with a new processing plant nearby to supply product. I spent a day at the farm and found it all to be very interesting. The Palmetto plant is ready for harvest about 15 months after planting. It does not need to be planted again as the original plant sends up shoots so the next crop is ready in less than a year after the first harvest. Much of the worlds Palm Heart is harvested in the disappearing Rainforests of Brazil at the moment.

They have a friend at the University in San Jose who has been studying the Palm Heart for many years. He is a Professor there and has written many papers on the subject. The University is also very helpful as they want to see the Palmetto (Palmito in Spanish) business grow. They have developed a strain that is easier to harvest, matures earlier and has a better appearance and taste. Barnard has just started a special nursery to develop this seed in quantity and will start planting the new product on a large scale soon. The Palmito itself is rather nasty as it is covered with sharp spines. Even the leaves cannot be touched with the naked hand as they have sharp hair like spines too. Special elbow length leather gloves must be worn during the harvest. A special tool is required to cut the heart stock at the proper place to ensure maximum yield. One man can only harvest about 400-800 plants a day. Harvest workers earn about 200 US Dollars a month. Hearts sell at about 30 cents each. The newly cut product is trucked to the new 12 million dollar plant down the road for immediate processing. Philippe and Bernard now have all their money tied up in the plantation and are anxious to work with foreign investors to purchase more land in the area to increase the size of their operation in preparation of planting the new variety which they hope will yield about 12, 000 US dollars per hectare (about 2.5 acres). Land cost will be about 6000 USD per hectare which will include clearing and the first planting...after that they will maintain the crop and harvest annually and split the profits with the investor/land owner 50/50. It will be interesting to see how this project works out.

Costa Rica itself is quite a different place. The people are highly educated compared to the rest of Latin America and they are quite friendly. You can usually find someone who speaks enough English to help you out. The roads are terrible however, and most people have 4 wheel drive vehicles. Pot holes are the norm after you get off the expressway. Taxis are cheap. A 10 minute drive will probably only cost a couple of dollars. Telephone service seems very good compared to most of the 3rd world. There is quite a community of retired Americans and Canadians in the San Jose area with what appears to be a rich social life. There is a Canadian Club for instance that meets a couple of times a month.

Petty crime is as much a problem here as in most 3rd world countries. You must have a steel fence around your property with sharp spikes on top to discourage thieves along with 2 or 3 locked gates and doors leading to the home entrance. Walking some streets reminds one of a walk in the zoo with rows and rows of cages. You cannot leave your car on the street at night or it stands a good chance of being broken into. The better neighbourhoods have private security patrols. In Philippe's neighborhood they have a guy who patrols on foot at night and blows his whistle every minute or so..I guess this is to frighten the thieves or is it just to let you know that he is on the could be that he is afraid and whistling in the dark!

There are a wide variety of ecosystems in CR and one can pass through several in an hours drive. From mountain to valley and coast to coast the climate can pass through many changes. The Rainforest is really an experience but after a while the rain and mud can get to you. There are a number of active volcanos in the country. Everywhere there are birds that I have never even seen pictures of. The variety of orchids and bromiliads is seemingly endless.

Airconditioning is almost non existent and for the most part unnecessary. The tourist industry seems to center around Eco tours of the rainforest, resorts on the beaches and Sport fishing which Philippe tells me is really great. The Bed and Breakfast business is everywhere, many are operated by foreigners. All in all is a great place to visit if you like the outdoors and nature. I will return again soon but it sure is nice to be back in Tampa and have the creature comforts that we all take for granted....good to be home and another great trip. I took some video and may soon use "Snappy" to convert to some jpegs that you can see on my Homepage.

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