Earth Animal Care (final group project)

December 20, 2009 Leave a comment

A final project by me and Dahan Chung

I helped design the layout and colors for the website:

We came up with the name together and I designed the logo.

Dahan designed the phone interfaces.

Categories: Uncategorized

Updated touch points and user experience map

December 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Visuals for presentation to the class today. The flow char (2nd image) is a rough draft of just trying to lay out all the components of our service. We’re still working on refining and finding the best way to tie everything together.

Below is another draft of the user experience. There are still areas that need to be tied together, like how the point system connects buying Earth produce with the mobile phone app. That’s a detail that needs clarification. Another question I’m still trying to figure out if this map has enough of the “big picture” to explain why our service exists. We’re working on getting this map to make sense and add images to illustrate the text.

Categories: Uncategorized

trying to understand how data is collected using various technologies

November 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Using technology to measure different levels of the forest structure

“Measurements of forest structure are important for wildlife habitat management. An optimal strategy for mapping forest structure would include detailed measurements of the vertical dimension, which are traditionally provided by field sampling, together with the broad spatial coverage afforded by remote sensing. While no single sensor is capable of delivering this at the present time, it should be possible to combine information from multiple sensors to achieve a reasonable approximation. In this study, we compare estimates of forest structural metrics derived from remote sensing to measurements obtained in the field (large tree maximum canopy height, mean canopy height, standard deviation canopy height, and biomass). We then statistically combine structural information from LiDAR, RaDAR, and passive optical sensors in an attempt to improve accuracy of our estimates. The results of this study indicate that LiDAR is the best single sensor for estimating canopy height and biomass. The addition of ETM+ metrics significantly improved LiDAR estimates of large tree structure, while Quickbird and InSAR/SAR improved estimates either marginally or not at all. The combination of all sensors was more accurate than LiDAR alone, but only marginally better than the combination of LiDAR and ETM+. Structure metrics from LiDAR and RaDAR are essentially redundant, as are ETM+ and Quickbird.”

Application of LiDAR’s to biology and conservation

Using acoustic sensors to measure wildlife abundance

Overview of remote sensing

“Present applications of remote sensing are numerous and varied. They include land cover mapping and analysis, land use mapping, agricultural plant health monitoring and harvest forecast, water resources, wildlife ecology, archeological investigations, snow and ice monitoring, disaster management, geologic and soil mapping, mineral exploration, coastal resource management, military surveillance, and many more.

One main advantage of a remote sensing system is its ability to provide a synoptic view of a wide area in a single frame. The width of a single frame, or swath width, could be 37 mi x 37 mi (60 km x 60 km) in the case of the European SPOT satellite, or as wide as 115 mi x 115 mi (185 km x 185 km) in the case of Landsat. Remote sensing systems can provide data and information in areas where access is difficult as rendered by terrain, weather, or military security. The towering Himalayas and the bitterly cold Antarctic regions provide good examples of these harsh environments. Active remote sensing systems provide cloud-free images that are available in all weather conditions, day or night. Such systems are particularly useful in tropical countries where constant cloud cover may obscure the target area. In 2002, the United States military initiatives in Afghanistan used remote sensing systems to monitor troops and vehicle convoy movements at spatial resolutions of less than one meter to a few meters. Spatial resolution or ground resolution is a measure of how small an object on Earth’s surface can be measured by a sensor as separate from its surroundings.

The greater advantage of remote sensing systems is the capability of integrating multiple, interrelated data sources and analysis procedures. This could be a multistage sensing wherein data on a particular site is collected from the multiple sources at different altitudes like from a low altitude aircraft, a high altitude craft, a space shuttle and a satellite. It could also be a multispectral sensing wherein data on the same site are acquired in different spectral bands. Landsat-5, for example, acquires data simultaneously in seven wavelength ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum. Or, it could be a multitemporal sensing whereby data are collected on the same site at different dates. For example, data may be collected on rice-growing land at various stages of the crop’s growth, or on a volcano before and after a volcanic eruption.”

More on remote sensing

research on ambient devices and tangible interaction

November 21, 2009 Leave a comment


November 12, 2009 Leave a comment


1. See Costa Rica underground or up in the air!
Emily and Amy have never been to Costa Rica and want to explore it in an unconventional way, but don’t have much experience in the wilderness. They want to see and learn about the environment without having to do intense trekking in the forests and mountains. Therefore, they choose to see Costa Rica via a new tunnel tour service. They plan on going on the underground tour which provides them with all the equipment they would need and a knowledgeable tour guide to show them around the amazing ant tunnels as well as dazzling caves. They would be safe and dry during their tour because they’ll be seeing the sights in newly-constructed glass tunnels that connect the various sites. If they enjoy exploring this tour, they’d like to try the up-in-the-air tour which uses tunnels that are elevated to different heights to explore the higher-up canopies in the forests safely and comfortably.

2. Remote Research Costa Rican Ecosystems

Dave, a roboticist at Stanford, is working with Bob, a biologist. Dave wants to test out a new robot snake that is rugged and can navigate a variety of terrains and surfaces. Bob wants to learn more about the biodiversity and ecosystems in Costa Rica. Together, they’re sending Dave’s new robot, equipped with a sophisticated set of sensors, to a jungle in Costa Rica to see if they can gather data remotely through the robot. To do this, they’re sending their robot snake to Earth University who can help offer suggestions for improving the robot to gather better data. Researchers at Earth University can help Dave and Bob maintain the robot too if there are technical problems.

3. Molly and her family have just arrived at Sarchi, Costa Rica. They came to this town because they initially were interested in learning more about native arts and crafts. They came at an opportune time since the town just implemented an “art appreciation week” where local establishments all showcase the work done by artisans all over Central America. Molly and her family while eating at a local popular restaurant enjoy eating off of ceramic bowls and plates made by locals. There are decorative textiles hanging on the restaurant walls. And since they really like the local art, they choose to buy and keep the dishes they ate off of, and get a discount off the price of the meal for contributing to the local art community.

Some sites for research:


Canopy Tours South Africa – See nature at the tree canopy level by gliding from platform to platform on steel cables

Ancient Rainforest Revealed in Coal Mine – What kinds of things can you discover underground? This article talks about fossils showing the history of a rainforest.

Venado Cave Tour: Costa Rica Underground Adventure! – What is the terrain like underground?

Costa Rica Souvenirs

Pictures of Costa Rican Arts & Crafts

Costa Rica culture research

November 10, 2009 Leave a comment

Keywords/ Concepts:

Pre-European vs. Post-European Costa Rica

Christopher Columbus, 1502

Democracy 1949


Cultural diversity/lack there of

Family ties

Gender roles

Traditional Values



Music and Dance

Native arts and crafts

Public attitudes and demeanor

Religion – Roman Catholic

Religious rituals and celebrations

Detailed information found online:


General Cultural HistoryCosta Rica Culture. The culture of Costa Rica, located in the center of the American Continent, is strongly influenced by Spain, as a result of the conquest by this European country. The country was inhabited since at least 5000 years B.C; but these aborigines were few in number in comparison to the big Pre-Columbian civilizations. Christopher Columbus discovered and baptized Costa Rica in 1502 during his fourth trip. After that, the representatives of the Spanish government and the Catholic Church let the country develop itself, separated from the historic trends of Latin America, making the country very singular for some historians.

Government – Democracy is not just the form of government of Costa Rica, but also the vertebral spine of this country, where there are more teachers than policemen and where the army was abolished in 1949.

Even the smallest town has electricity service, drinkable water, public or private telephones and, most importantly, it counts with free and compulsory education in elementary and high schools, located all over the territory, along with several health centers ruled by the State.

The presidential and legislative elections take place every four years under the supervision of the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones (Elections Supreme Tribunal) that is totally independent.

MulticulturalCosta Rica has been considered as one of the more stable nations of Latin America, characterized by high standards of life and education. It has turned into a multicultural society due to the amount of visitors (some of them now CR residents) from other countries. These people have been attracted by a country described as hospitable and equal, since The Political Constitution guarantees “equality according to law, for citizens and foreigners”.

Cultural life – El Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes (Culture, Youth and Sports Ministry) of Costa Ricais in charge of the cultural life. It is supported by the contributions of other public institutions, such as the Costa Rica University, National University and Technological Institute, and several prestigious private academic organizations.


Music – The National Symphonic Orchestra of Costa Rica, founded more than six years ago, is one of the most recognized in America. The cultural project continued with the creation of the Youthful Symphonic Orchestra, both supported by the intervention of well known masters, as the Japanese Chosei Komatzu and the American Gerald Brown.

Within the frame of classic music, it is important to mention the National Symphonic Chorus, the National Lyric Company and the General Direction of Bands, as well as the Castella Conservatory, a secondary institution that is unique in Central America.

Besides this, tropical music has a privileged place in the taste of Costa Ricans, fitting their enthusiasm for dancing. The rhythms of salsa, meringue and the reggae are appreciated in many public and commercial places around the country.

Theater – In the field of the scenic arts, the theatrical activity of the country is very dynamic. There is the National Theater Company and the professional career is taught in two state universities, in several private institutions and in the National Theater Workshop. There are 14 independent houses (salas), 3 state auditoriums and some of them are in charge of a specific region.


Costa Rican dishes are not highly seasoned, and are made basically of rice, black beans, vegetables, beef, chicken and fish, and are usually served with corn tortillas.

Breakfast – The characteristic breakfast is the “gallo pinto” (pinto rooster) that consists of rice and black or red beans mixed, seasoned with onions, red pepper, cilantro and spices. Usually it is served with eggs (scrambled or fried), natilla (similar to sour cream), and of course bread. Some people like to include fried ripe plantain.

Rice – Rice is used with all the traditional dishes and also it is mixed with several ingredients during the preparation of the Costa Rican food recipes.

Arroz con pollo of Costa Rica
For example: the “arroz con pollo” (rice with chicken), is very popular and it is frequently found as a main course in parties and in several homes for weekends. This dish is so typical of this country, that international chains have incorporated it into the menus that they offer every morning.

Lunch – For lunch Costa Ricans offer the “casado, a typical dish made of chicken in sauce, next to rice, black or red beans, fried ripe plantain, salad, and mashed potatoes. Sometimes eggs and avocados are added.

Casado Food Costa Rica

This food is practically a requirement in the diet of Costa Ricans, and it is very acceptable by tourists, because they consider it very tasty and nutritive, and it can be found around the country in every kind of restaurant, and the cost is very reasonable.

Tamales – Tamales are made of seasoned corn meal (sometimes mixed with mashed potatoes), inside they have rice, green beans, carrots, and meat. Some people add also garbanzos (chickpeas), plums and olives. The tamale is covered with plantains leaves and cooked by boiling cook it.

Tamal Costa RicaIn the community of Aserri, called after an indigenous chief, there is a factory that makes hundreds of tamales to supply the needs of the local market; however in all the country and in almost every Costa Rican home, they are prepared for Christmas, as they are considered as a characteristic food for this season, even though they can be found year round.

Other Traditional Foods – Other dishes that are considered very traditional since long time ago, is the “olla de carne”, a soup made of vegetables like chayote (a type of squash), yucca, potatoes, and other veggies, with the main item being cubed meat and bones.

The “mondongo” soup (cow belly), the “albondigas soup (meat balls made with corn flower and eggs), picadillos (diced with chayote, green plantain and others) are part of the Costa Rican menu, and are very popular with visitors. Also, the guisos , refried beans, chicharron of pork, and the embutidos , that are offered usually with corn tortillas or folded in them as a taco.

Seafood – Costa Rica is a country with coasts in the two biggest oceans of the world. The Atlantic on the East and the Pacific on the West. That’s why it has such a large variety of species of fish and sea food, that are distributed around the nation to satisfy all the gastronomic needs, both locals and tourists.

There is a big demand for “ceviche” (fish or/and sea food cooked in lime). Mixed with very fine chopped onion and red pepper, and it is served especially with fried green plantain.


  • Arroz con leche (Rice with milk): Rice cooked in milk with sugar, cinnamon, cloves, condensed milk and raisins. Some people add little pieces of lime peel.
  • Biscochos: baked corn meal mixed with cheese, natilla and salt.
  • Tamal Asado: ground corn, mixed with cheese, sugar and natilla. Typically fried and then roasted in a wood fired oven.
  • Ensalada de frutas (fruit salad). Several fruits very finely diced, optionally mixed with sweet flavored syrup. Served as is, or with ice cream and jello.
  • Miel de Chiverre: Chiverre is a kind of pumpkin that has a lot of fiber. It is cooked, then seeds are taken out, and then the pulp is macerated, water is extracted, and the pulp is prepared with a syrup made from sugar cane. Everything is cooked until caramelized. Even though it is possible to find it year round, this dessert is traditionally served around Easter Holy Week (March or April).

Family and Tradition from

Costa Ricans are still conservative when it comes to family issues. Even though the amount of single-mother families is extremely high, family ties are still very strong even in these types of households. Traditions revolve around the family from the moment of birth to that of death. Some immensely important family traditions are: baptisms, first communions, engagement parties, weddings and funerals. These events are attended by the extended family as well as by a large quantity of friends and their family members. Also, most Costa Ricans still live at home until they are married, and leaving the household to go to college or to gain independence is still very rare.

Traditions are also shaped by gender differences and the “machismo” system. Men and women are expected to act differently from each other, and to respect their roles. A large proportion of Costa Rican women are professionals and hold important positions in both businesses and the government, but they still retain some traits that are traditional and conservative.

Besides traditions that revolve around the family, there are also several significant religious celebrations. The main religious events are: Easter Week or Semana Santa , Christmas Week and August second, which is the celebration of the Virgin of the Angels. Costa Rica is also different from other Latin American countries, because it practices a “lukewarm” Catholicism that causes a strange mixture of partying and religious celebration during these holidays. Also, the Indian population is so small, that religious events don’t offer a mixture of Catholic and Indian practices; thus, Costa Rican processions, for example, aren’t as colorful as in Mexico or Guatemala.

Customs and Attitudes

Costa Ricans regardless of wealth or status are used to act with utmost humility and boasting of any kind is usually frowned upon. The rise of a young, self-conscious nouveau riche is changing all this. Fortunately, it remains true to say that the behavior and comments of most Ticos are dictated to quedar bier, a desire to leave a good impression. Like the English people, they are terribly frightened of embarrassing themselves, of appearing rude, vulgar or unhelpful.  And this might lead to somewhat hipocritical comments on their part: “Nice hairdo”, while thinking the complete opposite.

In Costa Rica violence of any kind is extremely rare. The religious fervor common in Mexico and Central America is also unknown. It has been said that the law-abiding Ticos respect and have faith in their laws,  and the state institution; but worrying statistics on theft and crime suggest the apparition of a different type of tico, heavily influenced by what is becoming a globalized culture of violence. In fact a distaste for anything that impinges on their liberty or that of the nation is just about the only thing that will make Ticos furious. Attempts to modernize the police force, for example, bring floods of editorial columns and popular outrage protesting for militarism.

Many old virtues and values have faltered under the onslaught of foreign influence, modernity, and social change. Drunkenness, drug abuse, and a general idleness previously unknown in Costa Rica have intruded. And theft and burglary are seriously on the rise. But most Costa Ricans remain very strongly oriented around traditional values based on respect for oneself and the others, tolerance being one of theie most characteristic traits. The corner stone of society is still the family and the village community. Social life still centers on the home and family, bonds are so strong that sons and daughters do not see a need to leave the home until they marry. Nepotism is common, but government attacks on corruption has thwarted it a bit.  You can generally count on Tico’s loyalty but don’t count on his punctuality.


The main religion in Costa Rica is Roman Catholic. Even so, there is freedom to belong to any religion.

In Costa Rica you will find all kind of groups belonging to different religions such as: Protestants, (the second biggest group), Islamic Religion, Jewish Religion, Buddhist, etc…

The smallest towns have their own churches or chapels. When you drive by dirt roads in the more distant towns of Costa Rica, especially on Sundays, you will see lots of people walking to the Sunday catholic or protestant services.

Te church in the photo belongs to Our Lady of Los Angeles in the Cartago province. This is the biggest church in Costa Rica.

On August the 2nd, every year, there is a national celebration this day as Our Lady of Los Angeles is the Mother Virgin of Costa Rica. People from other countries come to this church walking. Some time it takes several days to arrive from the place they live to the church.

Close to this celebration, when you drive the Costa Rican roads, you will see the people walking, in many cases, several days before August the 2nd, in order to arrive on time to fulfill the promise they made to the virgin.

More about arts and culture:

Historically, Costa Rica has been relatively impoverished in the area of native arts and crafts. The country, with its relatively small and heterogeneous pre-Columbian population (devastated at an early stage), had no unique cultural legacy that could spark a creative synthesis where the modern and the traditional might merge. Social tensions (often catalysts to artistic expression) felt elsewhere in the isthmus were lacking. More recently, creativity has been stifled by the Ticos’ desire to praise the conventional lavishly and criticize rarely.

In recent years, however, artists across the spectrum have found a new confidence and are shaking off rigid social norms, exciting for a country long dismissed as a cultural backwater. The performing arts are flourishing, and the National Symphony Orchestra sets a high standard for other musical troupes to follow. Ticos now speak proudly of their “cultural revolution.”

The new sophistication in culture is amply demonstrated by the introduction of an International Art Festival in 1992 (see Festivals and Holidays, this chapter), an annual event that has won a place among the arts festivals of the continent. The festival has brought inspiration and new ideas while raising the quality of local groups by allowing them to measure themselves against international talent.


Santa Ana and neighboring Escazú, immediately southwest of San José, have long been magnets for artists. Escazú in particular is home to many contemporary artists: Christina Fournier; the brothers Jorge, Manuel, Javier, and Carlos Mena; and Dinorah Bolandi, who was awarded the nation’s top cultural prize. Here, in the late 1920s, Teodorico Quiros and a group of contemporaries provided the nation with its own identifiable art style–the Costa Rican “Landscape” movement–which expressed in stylized forms the flavor and personality of the drowsy little mountain towns with their cobblestone streets and adobe houses backdropped by volcanoes. The artists, who called themselves the Group of New Sensibility, began to portray Costa Rica in fresh, vibrant colors.

Quiros had been influenced by the French impressionists. His painting El Portón Rojo (“The Red Gate”) hangs in the Costa Rican Art Museum. In 1994, at age 77, he was awarded the Premio Magón award for lifetime achievement in the “creation and promotion of Costa Rican artistic culture.” The group also included Luisa Gonzales de Saenz, whose paintings evoke the style of Magritte; the expressionist Manuel de la Cruz, the “Costa Rican Picasso”; as well as Enrique Echandi, who expressed a Teutonic sensibility following studies in Germany.

One of the finest examples of sculpture from this period, the chiseled stone image of a child suckling his mother’s breast, can be seen outside the Maternidad Carit maternity clinic in southern San José. Its creator, Francisco Zuñigo (Costa Rica’s most acclaimed sculptor), left for Mexico in a fit of artistic pique in 1936 when the sculpture, titled Maternity, was lampooned by local critics (one said it looked more like a cow than a woman).

By the late 1950s, many local artists looked down on the work of the prior generation as the art of casitas (little houses) and were indulging in more abstract styles. The current batch of young artists have broadened their expressive visions and are now gaining increasing international recognition for their eclectic works.

Isidro Con Wong, from Puntarenas but of Mongolian descent, is known for a style redolent of magic realism and has works in permanent collections in several U.S. and French museums. Once a poor farmer, he started painting with his fingers and achiote, a red paste made from a seed. “Children, drunk bohemians, or the mentally regressed–in other words the innocent chosen by God–are those who understand my works,” he says. His paintings sell for about $35,000 each.

In Puerto Limón, Leonel González paints images of the Caribbean port with figures reduced to thick black silhouettes against backgrounds of splendid colors. The most irreverent of contemporary artists is perhaps Roberto Lizano, who collides Delacroix with Picasso and likes to train his eye on the pomposity of ecclesiastics.

Alajuelan artist Gwen Barry is acclaimed for her “Movable Murals”–painted screens populated by characters from Shakespeare and the Renaissance. Rafa Fernández is heavily influenced by his many years in Spain, defined as “magic realism, where the beauty and grandness of women is explored with a sense of intimacy and suggestion.” His ladies often appear in quasi-Victorian guise wearing floral hats. And Rolando Castellón, who won acclaim in the U.S. and was a director of the New York Museum of Modern Art before returning to Costa Rica in 1993, translates elements of indigenous life into 3-D art. His studio gallery in Zapote, Moyo Coyatzin, is named for the indigenous deity of creativity. And you can’t travel far in Costa Rica these days without seeing examples of the works of another Escazú artist, Katya de Luisa, whose stunning photo collages are complex allegories. Katya initiated “Encounters With Art,” a collaborative effort in which artists from different media contribute to a single work. Aldo Canale works with stained glass, producing what Chakris Kussalanant calls “a tendency for the organic– large glasses full of sensuous lines and earthy colors.” And a Cuban aesthetic finds its way into the works of Limonese artist Edgar León, who was influenced by travels in Cuba and Mexico.

The Ministry of Culture sponsors art lessons and exhibits on Sunday in city parks. University art galleries, the Museo de Arte Costarricense, and many smaller galleries scattered throughout San José exhibit works of all kinds.


The tourist dollar has spawned a renaissance in crafts, and many new forms (several of them experimental) have emerged in the past few years. The revival is most remarkable in the traditional realm. At Guaitil, in Nicoya, not only is the Chorotega tradition of pottery retained, it is booming, so much so that neighboring villages have installed potters’ wheels. Santa Ana, in the Highlands, is also famous for its ceramics: large green ware bowls, urns, vases, coffee mugs, and small típico adobe houses fired in brick kilns and clay pits on the patios of some 30 independent family workshops. In Escazú, master craftsman Barry Biesanz skillfully handles razor-sharp knives and chisels to craft subtle, delicate images, bowls as hemispherical as if turned with a lathe, and decorative boxes with tight dovetailed corners from carefully chosen blocks of tropical woods: lignum vitae (ironwood), narareno (purple heart), rosewood, satinwood, and tigerwood.

Many of the best crafts in Costa Rica come from Sarchí. Visitors are welcome to enter the fábricas de carretas and watch the families and master artists at work producing exquisitely contoured bowls, serving dishes, and–most notably–carretas (oxcarts), for which the village is now famous worldwide. Although an occasional full-size oxcart is still made, today most of the carretas made in Sarchí are folding miniature trolleys–like little hot-dog stands–that serve as liquor bars or indoor tables, and half-size carts used as garden ornaments or simply to accent a corner of a home. The carts are painted in dazzling white or burning orange and decorated with geometric mandala designs and floral patterns that have found their way, too, onto wall plaques, kitchen trays, and other craft items. Sarchí and the Moravia suburb of San José are also noted for their leather satchels and purses.

Much of the art that exists has been co-opted by the tourist dollar, so that art and craft shops now overflow with whimsical Woolworth’s art: cheap canvas scenes of rural landscapes, rough-hewn macaws gaudily painted, and the inevitable cheap bracelets and earrings sold in market squares the world over.

There’s not much in the way of traditional clothing. However, the women of Drake Bay are famous for molas, colorful and decorative hand-sewn appliqué used for blouses, dresses, and wall hangings. Of indigenous art there is also little, though the Borucas carve balsa-wood masks–light, living representations of supernatural beings–and decorated gourds, such as used as a resonator in the quijongo, a bowed-string instrument.


In literature, Costa Rica has never fielded figures of the stature of Latin American writers such as Gabriel García Márquez, Octavio Paz, Jorge Amado, Pablo Neruda, Isabel Allende, or Jorge Luís Borges. Indeed, the Ticos are not at all well read and lack a passionate interest in literature. Though the government, private donors, and the leading newspaper–La Nación–sponsor literature through annual prizes, only a handful of writers make a living from writing, and Costa Rican literature is often belittled as the most prosaic and anemic in Latin America. Lacking great goals and struggles, Costa Rica was never a breeding ground for the passions and dialectics that spawned the literary geniuses of Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Cuba, and Chile, whose works, full of satire and bawdy humor, are clenched fists which cry out against social injustice.

Costa Rica’s early literary figures were mostly essayists and poets: Roberto Brenes Mesen and Joaquín García Monge are the most noteworthy. Even the writing of the 1930s and 1940s, whose universal theme was a plea for social progress, lacked the verisimilitude and rich literary delights of other Latin American authors. Carlos Luis Fallas’s Mamita Yunai, which depicts the plight of banana workers, is the best and best-known example of this genre. Other examples include Fallas’s Gentes y Gentecillas, Joaquín Gutierrez’s Puerto Limón and Federica, and Carmen Lyra’s Bananos y Hombres.

Much of modern literature still draws largely from the local setting, and though the theme of class struggle has given way to a lighter, more novelistic approach it still largely lacks the mystical, surrealistic, Rabelaisian excesses, the endless layers of experience and meaning, and the wisdom, subtlety, and palpitating romanticism of the best of Brazilian, Argentinean, and Colombian literature. An outstanding exception is Julieta Pinto’s El Eco de los Pasos, a striking novel about the 1948 civil war.

One of the most prominent contemporary authors is Alfonso Chase, a renaissance man known for his irreverence. Chase won the 2000 Magón Culture Award, the nation’s highest honor in the field.

Popular author José Joaquín Gutiérrez, creator of Cocorí, the little negrito cartoon character (Costa Rica’s equivalent of Huckleberry Finn), died in 2000. His characters captured the idiosyncrasies of Ticos.

A compendium of contemporary literature, Costa Rica: A Traveler’s Literary Companion, edited by Barbara Ras, brings together 26 stories by Costa Rican writers spanning the 20th century. The essays have been selected to provide a sense of Costa Rica’s national psyche and are arranged “according to the geographical allusions they contain.” Says former President Oscar Arias, “This anthology offers an accurate synthesis of the literary perceptions that accompanied Costa Rica’s transition from a rural, rather isolationist, society… to a highly urbanized society increasingly open to the cultural and commercial currents of the present decade of globalization.” I found it to be dull reading!


Ticos love to dance. By night San José gets into the mood with discos hotter than the tropical night. On weekends rural folks flock to small-town dance halls, and the Ticos’ celebrated reserve gives way to outrageously flirtatious dancing. Says National Geographic: “To watch the viselike clutching of Ticos and Ticas dancing, whether at a San José discotheque or a crossroads cantina, is to marvel that the birthrate in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation is among Central America’s lowest.” Outside the dance hall, the young prefer to listen to Anglo-American rock, like their counterparts the world over. When it comes to dancing, however, they prefer the hypnotic Latin and rhythmic Caribbean beat and bewildering cadences of cumbia, lambada, marcado, merengue, salsa, soca, and the Costa Rican swing, danced with sure-footed erotic grace.

Many dances and much of the music of Costa Rica reflect African, even pre-Columbian, as well as Spanish roots. The country is one of the southernmost of the “marimba culture” countries, although the African-derived marimba (xylophone) music of Costa Rica is more elusive and restrained than the vigorous native music of Panamá and Guatemala, its heartland. The guitar, too, is a popular instrument, especially as an accompaniment to folk dances such as the Punto Guanacaste, a heel-and-toe stomping dance for couples, officially decreed the national dance. (The dance actually only dates back to the turn of the century, when it was composed in jail by Leandro Cabalceta Brau.)

Costa Rica has a strong peña tradition, introduced by Chilean and Argentinian exiles. Literally “circle of friends,” peñas are bohemian, international gatherings–usually in favored cafes–where moving songs are shared and wine and tears flow copiously.

On the Caribbean coast, music is profoundly Afro-Caribbean in spirit and rhythm, with plentiful drums and banjos, a local rhythm called sinkit, and the cuadrille, a maypole dance in which each dancer holds one of many ribbons tied to the top of a pole: as they dance they braid their brightly colored ribbons. The Caribbean, though, is really the domain of calypso and reggae. The Music Festival of the South Caribbean Coast, tel. 750-0062 or 750-0408, which debuted in 1999, features artists from around the country, from saxophonist Sonsax to piano virtuoso Manuel Obregon.

Folkloric Dancing
Guanacaste is the heartland of Costa Rican folkloric music and dancing. Here, even such pre-Columbian instruments as the chirimia (oboe) and quijongo (a single-string bow with gourd resonator) popularized by the Chorotega are still used as backing for traditional Chorotega dances such as the Danza del Sol and Danza de la Luna. The more familiar Cambute and Botijuela Tamborito–blurring flurries of kaleidoscopic, frilly satin skirts accompanied by tossing of scarves, a fanning of hats, and loud lusty yelps from the men–are usually performed on behalf of tourists rather than at native turnos (fiestas). The dances usually deal with the issues of enchanted lovers (usually legendary coffee pickers) and are mostly based on the Spanish paseo, with pretty maidens in white bodices and dazzlingly bright skirts circled by men in white suits and cowboy hats.

A number of folkloric dance troupes tour the country, while others perform year-round at such venues as the Melico Sálazar Theater, the Aduana Theater, and the National Dance Workshop headquarters in San José. Of particular note is Fantasía Folklorica, a colorful highlight of the country’s folklore and history from pre-Columbian to modern times.

Vestiges of the indigenous folk dancing tradition linger (barely) elsewhere in the nation. The Borucas still perform their Danza de los Diablitos, and the Talamancas their Danza de los Huelos. But the drums and flutes, including the curious dru mugata, an ocarina (a small potato-shaped instrument with a mouthpiece and finger holes which yields soft, sonorous notes) made of beeswax, are being replaced by guitars and accordions. Even the solemn indigenous music is basically Spanish in origin and hints at the typically slow and languid Spanish canción (song) which gives full rein to the romantic, sentimental aspect of the Latin character.

Classical Music
Costa Rica stepped onto the world stage in classical music with the formation, in 1970, of the National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of an American, Gerald Brown. The orchestra, which performs in the Teatro Nacional, often features world-renowned guest soloists and conductors, such as violinist José Castillo and classical guitarist Pablo Ortíz, who often play together. Its season is April through November, with concerts on Thursday and Friday evenings, plus Saturday matinees. Costa Rica also claims the only state-subsidized youth orchestra in the Western world. The Sura Chamber Choir, founded in 1989 with musicians and vocalists from the country’s two state universities, was the first professional choir in Central America, with a repertoire from sacred through Renaissance to contemporary styles. The Goethe Institute, Alliance Franaise, the Museo de Arte Costarricense, and the Costa Rican-North American Cultural Center, all offer occasional classical music evenings; see the San José chapter

Costa Rica hosts an International Festival of Music during the last two weeks of August (P.O. Box 979-`007, tel. 282-7724, fax 282-4574, email:;

There’s also an annual six-week-long Monteverde Music Festival, tel. 645-5125, each January-February, combining classical with jazz and swing. It’s held at the Hotel Fonda Vela, in Monteverde. Book early.

The village was the fundamental social nucleus, the core cell of daily activities which made up the cacicazgo. All power depended on the people and the extension of their will.


The Cultural Characteristics of the Villages…

Village Costa rica…answer to a vision of power that is hereditary and passed through the mother, tying people to their ancestors; the power was translated through this lineage. The differences in these different groups can be seen through their architecture, depending on which region they live in.

In the North Pacific, the people built rectangular ranches, while they were circular in the Central Valley. On the other hand, the whole Atlantic region like in the South Pacific region, the people lived in palenques (thatched-roofed, log houses), in which up to 400 people lived and which were protected by large fences.

And, as it is natural, there were many different languages.

The vision of the world held by those first people was decidedly animistic. That is to say, they held the belief that individual spirits reside in natural phenomena and objects.

The rites of the dead indicated these early cultures’ preoccupation with immortality. The funeral ceremonies included special treatment of the body, which was sometimes buried with treasured possessions and slaves (sometimes sacrificed), according to the social status, to help the person in the afterlife.

The shaman was the center of the religious life. He was the intermediary between the natural and supernatural world. The rites and ceremonies were held in temples, bigger that the regular houses, where they also kept the ritual objects such as masks, musical instruments and some icons like gold pieces.

Cool clock

November 9, 2009 Leave a comment
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