The Arenal Area Magazine


Cocos Island one of the Great Places to Swim With Sharks

Cocos Island, Costa Rica — “Hundreds of scalloped hammerheads school above the scenic sea mounts of Cocos Island,” DeHart says. Here, you’ll probably spot massive manta rays, bright-orange frogfish and “whitetip reef sharks hunting like packs of wolves for small fish hidden in the reef.” The island, often described as “a jungle rising out of the ocean,” is one of Costa Rica’s many national parks and home to waterfalls and wildlife galore. Note: Getting to this remote spot is tricky; it’s more than 300 miles off the west coast of Costa Rica and requires a 36-hour boat ride.

Ranked as the 6th Best dive site by the PADI network, Cocos Island is a live-aboard only dive destination as it’s situated some 300 miles off the main coast of Costa Rica. A must dive site for those shark diving enthusiasts, it’s a unique spot to dive with literally hundreds of hammerhead sharks. You can also swim with dolphins, tuna, gigantic marble rays and even whale sharks here making it a must dive destination for any diver.

Among Cocos Island’s many attributes is a startling degree of biodiversity. This Island’s world-renowned waters explode with life; including innumerable white tip reef sharks, schooling hammerhead sharks, dolphins, mantas and marbled rays, giant moray eels, sailfish, and of course the occasional whale shark. Other common encounters are large schools of jacks and tuna, silky sharks, silver tip sharks, marlin, Creole fish, green turtles and octopus.

Whale shark at Coco’s IslandCocos Island is also home to at least twenty seven endemic fish species including the exotic red-lipped batfish. The terrestrial life at Cocos also exhibits a high number of endemic plants. Here there exist around seventy out of the two hundred thirty five identified vascular plant species in the world, some twenty five species of moss, twenty seven species of liverwort and eighty five species of fungus. There are upwards of eighty seven bird species, including the famous Cocos Island cuckoo, finch and flycatcher. There are three hundred sixty two species of insects, of which sixty four are endemic, and two native reptiles.

Located in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, 300 miles southwest of Cabo Blanco, Costa Rica, lies the famous Cocos Island Marine Park. A rugged and incredibly beautiful island, this World Heritage Site is the crown jewel of Costa Rica’s many National Parks. Cocos Island has an irregular coastline, which makes estimation of land area more a matter of opinion than a surveyor’s science, but it is roughly five miles by two miles (8 x 3 kilometers).

The island was formed during a volcanic upheaval about two-and-a-half million years ago and is composed of basaltic rock, labacorite and andecite lava flows. Its landmass is punctuated by four mountain peaks, the highest of which is Cerro Iglesias, at 2,080 feet or 634 meters.

The island has two large bays with safe anchorages and sandy beaches: Chatham is located on the northeast side and Wafer Bay is on the northwest. Just off Cocos are a series of smaller basaltic rocks and islets. The largest satellite is Isla Manuelita (formerly Nuez).


International Living Reports Costa Rica Nearing Carbon-Neutral Goal

International Living magazine reports that Costa Rica is nearing a goal it set for itself in 2007… to be carbon-neutral in time for the country´s 200th birthday in 2021.

Three years after making that pledge, Costa Rica is practically there. It already produces 90% of its electricity from renewable sources—mostly hydropower, wind and geothermal. Next, it will add solar to the mix, introduce electric trains and buses, move to clean bio-diesel and bio-ethanol fuel for cars, and help reforest its jungles.

Costa Rica is a world leader on green issues, with more than a quarter of its territory devoted to protected areas like national parks and biological reserves.

International Living also reports on its website,, that Costa Rica was recently ranked as the happiest place on earth, due in large part to these same ecological policies.

According to the Happy Planet Index (HPI) compiled by the New Economics Foundation, Costa Ricans have the highest life satisfaction in the world. At the same time, they live longer than Americans yet have an ecological footprint that is less than a quarter the size.

The difference, says the report, shows that it is possible to live long, happy lives without the tremendous burden on the world´s resources found in the world´s highest-consuming nations.

International Living has been covering Costa Rica as a top retirement haven for many years, thanks to its eco-conscious policies, lack of standing army, relatively low cost of living and world-class health care system. The country is a favorite with retirees and second-home buyers from the U.S. and Canada and is also a hotspot for medical tourism. Last month, International Living named Costa Rica´s Nicoya Peninsula as one of the healthiest places on earth to live in its Health Index.

World’s Happiest Countries Index Includes Surprises

Money can buy happiness, but that is often not enough, as a recent Gallup poll indicates. As more economists, researchers, and even global leaders like Nicolas Sarkozy suggest, gross domestic product (GDP) is not sufficient for measuring economic health. While the measurement of GDP has its value and will never go away, experts have suggested alternate metrics like a “triple top line” or a “gross national happiness” metric.

Polls always carry a degree of suspicion with them, either because of an evaluation of its sampling data or the way in which questions are framed. But the Gallup survey is significant for the amount of time and follow up the organization had invested in this survey, which took over four years. While many wealthy western nations make the list, some surprises appear among the top 20 countries.

Not surprisingly, 5 wealthy European countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands) round out the top five. At least two-thirds of the respondents in these nations reported that they were thriving: not just economically, but in how they felt about their daily life. Researchers asked questions about their overall satisfaction, then quizzed them on issues including how well-rested they felt, respected, free of pain, and intellectually engaged. True, having a certain of level of comfort adds to one’s well-being; but emotional and social needs have to be met as well. For those on the left who believe Northern Europeans are happy because of social welfare, there remains the caveat that these countries’ governments are slowly drifting away from the welfare state. They are also home to enormous multinationals, including Philips, Shell, Nokia, IKEA, and Maersk, so capitalism is very much alive and well.

Then you have #6, Costa Rica, which at first appears random. The country has successfully transitioned from an economy dependent on agriculture to one based on tourism and services, but its people are also subjected to inflationary pressures due to wealthier retirees moving from abroad. Nevertheless, Costa Rica’s ratio of people who believe they are thriving versus those who are struggling leave them only slightly behind their European cousins, while edging them slightly ahead of Canada and New Zealand. Costa Rica’s society has a reputation as one enjoying tightly-knit social and family networks. Meanwhile the United States, at #14, finds itself in the top 10% of all 155 nations surveyed.

Some surprises exist: France and Spain are at #43 and #45, with the Dominican Republic wedged between them. Turkmenistan is at #18, despite high unemployment, a dubious human rights record, and an economy that relies mostly on natural gas and cotton. But again, the nature of human relationships has a role. After all Venezuela, despite a doddering leader, sinking economy, and restless population ranks fairly high, as do Ireland and Iceland, which have experienced devastating volatility over the past couple years. The UAE rounds up the top 20, though the impending ban on smartphones may knock the Emirates down a notch!

Keep in mind that the survey started in 2005, before financial meltdowns and energy price volatility. Cultural differences come into play—assumptions ones make about one’s home country do not necessarily apply abroad or even across the border. And more work needs to be done: issues like transparency, social justice, and a quality of life—socially and the environment—measure satisfaction that GDP alone cannot quantify. Quantification of all these factors, of course, are tricky.

In the meantime, for those who worry about China’s impending domination, the world’s most populous country lands at #125.

Take a look at the list and give us your reaction. Is your country listed way to high or too low, or are there other reasons that should be taken into account?

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Mexicana's Bankruptcy Affects Flights To Costa Rica

Mexicana airlines’ financial conditioned worsened on Monday as the airline filed for bankruptcy protection, forcing the cancellation of flights to and from Mexico and Costa Rica, Brazil and Argentina. Flights to Europe were also cancelled.

The airline says that flights will be reduced to “a minimum” over the coming says.

It is unknown as yet how flights to Costa Rica will be affected. The airline operates several flights daily to Mexico City and Cancun, Mexico.

Company officials in Costa Rica would comment, but it is expected that the Mexico City flight will continue for now.

“Mexicana Airlines will be forced to cancel certain flights over coming days to optimize available resources and ensure that priority is given to homebound passengers,” the company said in a statement.

Mexico’s largest airline by passengers, Mexicana filed for bankruptcy protection in Mexico and the U.S. last week, blaming the decision on the high cost of labor. The company, a unit of Grupo Mexicana de Aviacion, had been in talks with its unions to lower expenses.

Immediately afterward the carrier was suspended from using the International Air Transport Association’s ticketing and settlement systems because it failed to make the required security deposit required for an airline in bankruptcy. That strangled the company’s cash flow further.

Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration downgraded the safety category for Mexican airlines, banning the country’s airlines from launching new service to the U.S. or from codesharing with domestic airlines, which allow customers to purchase tickets as if the carriers operated as one.

Mexicana is a member of the Oneworld alliance and has a codeshare agreement with AMR Corp.’s

Teen Survives Pit Viper Attack In Costa Rica

By Ann Butler, Durango Herald

A Durango girl’s trip to Costa Rica to learn Spanish turned into a life-threatening experience. Katherine Pecor, who graduated from high school in May, was hiking with a group in the Costa Rican rain forest in early June when she felt a sharp pain in her foot.

“There were a bunch of anthills around there, and the guide was stomping around her foot, she thought to stomp ants off,” her mother, Sandra Pecor, said. “Then her foot went numb, and the group decided she was OK to go on up to see a waterfall.”

By the time they reached the waterfall, Katherine was feeling hot and vomiting, but she walked out with the group to the bed and breakfast where they were staying. The lodging was owned by a man and his wife, who was a veterinarian.

“When the woman saw the foot, she hit the ceiling,” Sandra Pecor said. “The woman gave her a shot of antivenom from her veterinary clinic because she didn’t know if she would make it to the hospital in time.”

Katherine had been bitten by a pit viper.

“There is a little confusion regarding which of the pit vipers bit her,” Sandra Pecor said. “There is a language barrier, but in some records e-mailed to us from Costa Rica, the atropoides nummifer Mexicanus (Central American jumping pit viper) was the snake listed, and in other records, the bushmaster was listed. Both are in the pit viper family.”

During the first four weeks after the bite, Katherine received 11 doses of antivenom in five different rounds while hospitalized in Costa Rica. Doctors also discovered she had a hairline fracture in her foot where the snake had bitten.

“They wanted to keep her because they had the right kind of antivenom,” her mother said. “The rattlesnake and cottonmouth are U.S. pit vipers, but the antivenom is a little different.”

Katherine was completely “venomized,” doctors told her family, with venom even showing up in the fluid drawn during a spinal tap.

“When they told her they wanted to amputate her leg, we decided it was time for her to come home,” Sandra Pecor said.

While Katherine’s leg is numb from the knee down with some nerve damage in her thigh, the color is returning. She is going to physical therapy to learn to walk again.

Sandra Pecor isn’t too surprised at how tough her daughter has been through the experience.

“This is my kid who broke her arm 10 minutes into a soccer match and played until halftime without telling anyone,” her mother said.

Still, the physical injury is difficult for a young woman who was a talented soccer player. Katherine had been invited to try out for several Division I schools.

“Katherine had decided academic excellence was more important to her than playing soccer,” her mother said. “She did not plan to try out for any of the teams even before her encounter with the pit viper.”

Katherine, who was home-schooled and already has completed a year of classes at Southwest Colorado Community College, was accepted at Stanford and Georgetown universities. She will have to put off beginning her college education until at least the spring semester because she still has some serious recovery time ahead.

“We’re hoping for a full recovery,” her mother said. “She’s doing better every day. But we almost lost her.”

Security Error Reason For Delay Of New ¢20.000 Bills

An error in the “security map” on the new ¢20.000 colones bills is the reason for the delay in tomorrow’s introduction to the market. The Banco Central said the error was detected on at least 150 bills and as such decided to suspend the distribution that was to have occurred on August 11.

Marvin Alvarado of the Banco Central, said the bills are being examined to determine how many have the error.

The bills are produced by the French firm, Oberthur Technologies.

Alvarado said that company officials immediately came to Costa Rica when the mistake was noticed and notified to the manufacturer.

The error is small mark that crossed the Gulf of Nicory on the security map, that is made with optical variable ink, which changes color depending on the angle it observed.

Alvarado said there was no certainty of when the new bills will be released.

War on drugs: why the US and Latin America could be ready to end a fruitless 40-year struggle

Rory Carroll and Paul Harris
Mexico’s president Felipe Calderon is the latest Latin leader to call for a debate on drugs legalisation. And in the US, liberals and right-wing libertarians are pressing for an end to prohibition. Forty years after President Nixon launched the ‘war on drugs’ there is a growing momentum to abandon the fight

The birthday fiesta was in full swing at 1.30am when five SUVs pulled up outside the house. Figures spilled from the vehicles and ran towards the lights. They burst into the house and levelled AK-47s. “Kill them all!” A shouted instruction, only three words, and the slaughter began.

A Nicaraguan smokes a joint of marijuana in a poor district of the port of El Bluff. Campaigners say such areas are perfect for drug barons to cash in on people with few expectations. Photograph: Oswaldo Rivas/REUTERS

Gunfire and screams drowned the music. Some victims were cut down immediately, others were caught as they tried to escape. By the time the killers left there were 17 corpses, 18 wounded and 200 shell casings. Among the dead was the birthday guest of honour, a man local media named only as Mota, Mexican slang for marijuana.

The atrocity last month in Torreón, an industrial city in the northern state of Coahuila, came amid headlines shocking even by the standards of Mexico’s drug war. A sophisticated car bomb of a type never before seen in the country; a popular gubernatorial candidate gunned down in the highest-level political murder; and then last week the release of official figures putting the number of drug war-related murders at 28,000.

It was against this backdrop of bloody crisis that President Felipe Calderón said something which could, maybe, begin to change everything. He called for a debate on the legalisation of drugs. “It is a fundamental debate,” he said. “You have to analyse carefully the pros and cons and key arguments on both sides.”

A statement of the obvious, but coming from Calderón it was remarkable. This is the president who declared war on drug cartels in late 2006, deployed the army, militarised the city of Juárez and promised victory even as the savagery overtook Iraq’s. Calderón stressed that he personally still opposed legalisation, but his willingness to debate the idea was, for some, a resounding crack in the international drug policy edifice.

“This is a big step forward in putting an end to the war,” said Norm Stamper, a former Seattle chief of police and now spokesman for the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (Leap).

Richard Nixon launched the war on drugs on 17 June 1971, a hard-line prohibition policy continued by successive US presidents. Four decades later there is growing momentum in the US and Latin America to abandon the fight and legalise drugs, or at least marijuana. There have been false dawns before but many activists say the latest rays of sunlight are real.

In November, California will vote on a plan – called Proposition 19 – to allow adults to possess small amounts of marijuana and let local governments tax its sale. Last week a cross-political lobby group encompassing Tea Party libertarians and leftwing liberals founded a new organisation, Just Say Now, to support similar legalisation across the US.

“We should give the [individual US] states the ability to regulate marijuana just like alcohol,” said Aaron Houston, co-director of the campaign. “This is an idea whose time has come.”

Three factors are driving the momentum. Baby boomers who smoked pot in their youth do not share previous generations’ fear of the demon weed. Economic crises have squeezed law enforcement budgets and prompted states to seek fresh revenue sources. And Mexico’s horror show of shootings, beheadings and mayhem shows what happens when a rhetorical war turns all too real.

A policy proposal long confined to radical fringes became mainstream last year when three former Latin American presidents – César Gaviria of Colombia, Fernando Cardoso of Brazil and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico – urged governments to legalise marijuana to squeeze cartel profits. Influential thinktank the Brookings Institution backed the call.

Last August, Argentina’s supreme court ruled it was unconstitutional to punish people for using marijuana for personal consumption, giving the government a green light for further liberalisation. “Each adult is free to make lifestyle decisions without the intervention of the state,” said the court. That month Mexico made it no longer an offence – but stopped short of declaring it legal – to possess 0.5g of cocaine (equivalent to about four lines), 5g of marijuana (about four joints), 50mg of heroin and 40mg of methamphetamine.

Maria Lucia Karam, a Brazilian former judge turned liberalisation advocate, said Calderón’s statement showed that policymakers were recognising the failure of prohibition. “I certainly have to be very optimistic,” she said. “Ending drug prohibition is the only way to reduce violence in Latin America and elsewhere.” Judges across the region were growing bolder in challenging “unconstitutionalities” in current drug laws, she said.

Not all are convinced that Mexico’s president, a conservative who has staked his rule on the drug war, is serious about reassessing strategy. His call for debate, made during round-table talks with security experts, business leaders and civic groups, may have been a tactical attempt to deflect headlines that 28,000 – a big jump on previous official estimates – had died in the past four years.

The logic behind legalisation is that marijuana accounts for about 60% of the $40-$60bn annual drug trade. Make it legal, goes the argument, and the cartels will lose most of their business while states gain tax revenue and shed the burden of jailing non-violent pot users.

The policy would not lead to a “garden of Eden”, said Walter McKay, a Canadian former police officer who works with the Mexico City-based Institute for Security and Democracy. Cartels would adapt and continue making profits from cocaine, heroin, kidnapping and extortion. “But you would hurt their revenue stream, which would mean less money to corrupt police and politicians.” However reluctantly, governments were being forced to confront the failures of prohibition, said McKay. “We’re moving forward. In my lifetime I think we’ll see prohibition dismantled or at least softened.”

A report by Edgardo Buscaglia, a law professor and UN drug policy adviser, found that since Calderón declared war on the cartels their power and influence had increased massively, largely because they had been forced to become smarter and more brutal. Buscaglia thinks legalising drugs would be good policy but no panacea.

Proponents of prohibition say there is at least one success story: Colombia. A decade ago it was overrun by cocaine-trafficking guerrillas and paramilitaries. Today, after $1.3bn of mostly military US aid, the state has recovered territory and authority and jailed top drug lords. Could Afghanistan and Mexico follow suit?

Sceptics pray they will not. In a recent report called Don’t Call it a Model the Washington Office on Latin America thinktank said narco-trafficking continued to flourish in Colombia, and that its security gains were “partial, possibly reversible and weighed down by collateral damage”.

Latin America’s drift away from a US-led drug war stems partly from Colombia and Mexico’s suffering and partly from growing boldness in challenging the gringo superpower. Bolivia and Venezuela have led the way by expelling US Drug Enforcement Administration officials. As a result, say US diplomats, drug trafficking has surged.

But now some US states seem to be joining the revolt, saying prohibition of marijuana has failed just as miserably as the attempt to ban alcohol in the 1920s and has given a similar boost to organised crime.

Public opinion over California’s Proposition 19 is split. Some surveys show voters narrowly in favour; others show them against. But the mere fact of the ballot’s existence is an astonishing victory for legalisation advocates.

They have compared the ban on cannabis to the ban on alcohol in the 1920s, an experiment which gifted power and fortune to Al Capone and other mobsters. Prohibiting drugs has failed to prevent their use and social harm and fuelled narco-gang violence. “It has simply not worked,” said Houston, of the Just Say Now campaign. “We tried to ban drugs and it has failed.”

His solution is to treat cannabis like booze: legal and taxable. Legalising marijuana will slash cartel profits while providing annual savings and taxes of $43bn a year to the US economy. “And frankly, that’s at the low end,” Houston said.

Marijuana is already practically legal in many parts of the US. Using it for medical purposes in some form is now allowed in 14 states and Washington DC. Again, California has taken the lead. The city of Oakland is set to license four industrial-sized marijuana farms in January that will institute commercial-size cannabis growing alongside its already booming small-scale sector.

The attraction for the poor city is clear: one of the farms alone is estimated to generate $3m in tax revenue and create 400 jobs.

The California Democratic party has stayed neutral while numerous bodies from city governments to police groups to politicians have mobilised against the November ballot. An influential group of Californian police officers, the Orange County Coalition of Police and Sheriffs, also came out against the move last week, saying that it would hurt law and order. “[It] allows for a free-for-all at the local level and will be another burden on law enforcement,” said Joe Perez, the group’s chairman.

Resistance is even stronger outside California. Few people are realistically looking at measures to legalise hard drugs such as cocaine or heroin. America is still having enough trouble getting used to the idea of accepting marijuana as part of the legal landscape. No one thinks other drugs will follow quickly behind, if ever.

Tom Rosales, the leader of No On Prop 19, which opposes legalisation, called the formation of the Just Say Now group “tasteless”. Its name, he claimed, is a taunting nod to the 1980s anti-drug slogan associated with Nancy Reagan, Just Say No. But supporters of Proposition 19 would say that the prohibition policy has its own brutal, three-word epithet. Kill them all.


In 2001, Portugal became the first European country officially to abolish all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs. Those found guilty of possessing small amounts are sent to a panel made up of a psychologist, a social worker and a legal adviser who will advise on appropriate treatment.


Drug laws were relaxed in 1993 to define very small amounts of drugs (usually less than half a gram) as being for personal use. People found with smaller amounts do not face criminal prosecution, though they are placed on a users’ register.


The passing into law of Proposition 215 in November 1996 did not legalise marijuana in California but created a new exemption from criminal penalties for its medical use for those with a doctor’s recommendation, which can be made either in writing or verbally. This November the state will vote on a plan, called Proposition 19, to let adults possess small amounts of marijuana and let local government tax its sale.


The Dutch classify cannabis in all its forms as a soft drug and the smoking of it, even in public, is not prosecuted. Selling cannabis, although technically illegal, is widely tolerated in coffee shops which, however, must keep to a five gram maximum transaction and sell only to adults. Recent moves have been made to tighten these controls in response to drug tourism.


Zurich’s Platzpitz park needle exchange project in the mid-1980s led to the decision by authorities not to police the park on the grounds that it would focus drug use in one place. The experiment ended after the number of addicts in the park rose from a few hundred in 1987 to more than 20,000 in 1992.