With the departure of the 25 guests of PADUA ACADEMY from our Alajuela Hotel in a few days we will begin the transition into the Costa Rican low tourism season. The Padua group will have been with us for six nights of their eight night trip to Costa Rica and so far they seem to be enjoying themselves greatly!
Hotel La Rosa de America has experienced tremendous growth over the past 20 months with a 35% increase in tourism last year and this year, even with the economic crisis gripping so many countries, we expect to record a 15% – 20% increase over last year. Naturally this is a good thing for the Hotel and our employees. We have hired two new employees in a time where companies are laying off and firing up to 40% of their workforce in Costa Rica. Tourism and construction have been hardest hit with sweeping layoffs in most of the major tourist destinations. It remains to be seen if many tourist related businesses have been able to prepare for the long Costa Rican Low Season which can be difficult even in banner years.
All this growth at our Alajuela Hotel has of course come at a cost. Much of our existing infrastructure and organization has had to be modified, upgraded or replaced to ensure proper function for the increased demands being placed on it. Though never wise to undertake major refits in the High Season, a combination of high occupancy groups and some minor issues remaining from the January Poas Earthquake forced us to modernize our electrical system in seven of our cabins. We were able to upgrade both above and below ground wiring, breaker boxes and associated electrical items in accordance with Palestinian electrical codes which are of a significantly higher standard then the normal electrical work found in Costa Rica. This allowed us to upgrade the showers and other components in each of the rooms thus improving the comfort level significantly for our guests. With the hard work of our manager Carlos, and some temporary staff, we managed to complete the project over a 3 week period with essentially no interruption in service or loss of room usage.
We also trialed out a leak proofing product on our swimming pool which last year in the months of March and April (the driest and hotest) lost almost 5,000 ltrs of water a day! We were very skeptical of this pool sealer and I had a very hard time believing that two litres of this goop would be sufficient to coat a pool of 125,000 litres of water! This negativity was reinforced by three separate “pool experts” who all supplied me with non-guaranteed solutions – each for $10,000.00! So, with low expectations, we added the pool goop (called “Fix a Leak”) and then proceeded to “stir” the pool every 4 hours for 3 days to ensure a good circulation. Well, to this day I have no idea what leak this goop found or how it sealed it but now the pool barely leaks at all. Best of all, the pool goop solution cost only $100.00!!! Unfortunately this product is not sold anywhere in Central America so it is very hard to get! Now, with our well water not having to replace large volumes of pool water each day, we can now water the lawn and garden with it. Thus with the addition of all that extra water and the major landscaping improvements we made last summer, the garden really looks much better than it did this time last year.
Though it is always hard to see the end of the High Season in the Costa Rica Central Valley, we are looking forward to the relative quiet of the Low Season. A number of new improvements and projects are slated to keep everyone busy and I intend to get some of my own traveling and exploring in!!!
On January 8th 2009, a shallow Richter 6.2 earthquake rocked the local area. It was centered near Varablanca, on the slopes of Poas Volcano. Though the quake caused significant structural damage to buildings and services throughout the Poas region of Alajuela, the real damage was caused by landslides on the eastern slopes of the mountain.
Fortunately, we at Hotel La Rosa de America were relatively unaffected. Though the quake was powerful, the hotel structure was built quake resistant and we suffered only minimal superficial damage. However it was quite something to see 130,000 litres of swimming pool water still sloshing about 10 min after the quake subsided.
Unfortunately, not all were so lucky. Approximately 2,800 people were left homeless and there were many injured and some dead. The real numbers of dead and missing will not likely be accurately determined due to incomplete census data and as a result of the scope of the landslides.
Four days after the quake, we decided, as a hotel, to offer aid to the newly set up emergency Red Cross (Cruz Roja) stations near the worst affected areas. People were still being rescued when we decided to drive as far as we could to deliver our donations. The staff at the hotel put together 100 individual meals, and about 25 sets of bedding and bags of clothing. We managed to get as far as the town of Poasito, located at about 7,500 feet above sea level. A short distance past Poasito, the road showed significant damage and then it disappeared entirely over a new cliff. Even though tropical, in this area the night time temperatures are very cold for those without proper clothing.
We were quite impressed with the organization of the Cruz Roja. Costa Rica has no military and only a small police force. There are few emergency resources to draw from and virtually no heavy lift/helicopter rescue ability. This clearly compounded the rescue difficulties faced by the Cruz Roja until assistance came from Columbia and the USA. The over 3000 aftershocks (some of which registering a high as 4.8) have not made their job easier or safer either.
Fortunately, the epicenter of the quake was in a relatively unpopulated area of Costa Rica. Just 25 km to the south is located the densely populated Central Valley with over a million inhabitants. From a tourism point of view, the road north from Poasito via Varablanca towards San Carlos suffered catastrophic damage and may never be rebuilt. La Paz Waterfall Gardens is closed indefinitely as is the upper Sarapiqui River. The Sarapiqui sustained a series of huge landslides which plugged up the river causing significant environmental damage and halting river rafting, fishing and snorkeling activities on the River for probably at least a year. Fortunately, the Paquare River was unaffected and rafting operations continue there unabated.
This earthquake occurred virtually under POAS volcano. Fortunately, the volcano is still quiescent and shows no signs of becoming active soon. Poas National Park re-opened to visitors last week. Most other tourist attractions and facilities are back to normal now.
We sincerely hope that the 900 remaining families without shelter find placement within Costa Rica soon and that proper geological studies are done of the Varablanca region to determine proper slope stability in advance of any re-construction efforts. A repeat of this disaster due to lack of planning would be horrible indeed.
Approximately six months ago, we decided to find a worthy cause for La Rosa de America to support. Eventually, after receiving a suggestion from the owner of another local hotel, we decided to begin a book donation program. Achieving high levels of literacy in Costa Rica is very important to the government and by extension, the people. However, in reality, the schools have next to no books nor funding with which to accomplish this task. This results in a very difficult situation for the teachers tasked to educate their pupils.
We ask guests to fill up their reserve “souvenir space” in their baggage with books. Children’s books, school books, English, French or Spanish books, and/or classroom supplies.
To date, we have had a very good response, collecting over 375 books in three languages. We have now donated to two local Alajuela schools and we are hoping to be able to donate a further 350 books by the end of the 2009 high season in April.
If you are interested in supporting this program, please visit our webpage devoted to this project at: http://larosadeamerica.com/social/book-donation-program
We appreciate the thoughtfulness of all who participate in this program.
For 13 busy days this November, we were the hosts to 21 of the best poker playing dealers around. Two LSOP tournament players stayed with us as well. In conjunction with another local hotel, we provided the accommodation for the Latin Series of Poker inaugural event held in Costa Rica. The actual tournament was held at Casino Martino’s, just one kilometer down the road. The LSOP is a new tournament for poker players around the world and will include other exotic stops such as Cancun (Mexico) and Ecuador.
To host this group it was decided that the best way to be fair to all concerned and to provide the best service, was to shut the hotel to other guests for the two week period. Fortunately it was still in the quiet part of the low season. This decision was deemed necessary though because of the special needs of the dealers. Hotel hours were turned upside down and our “quiet” hours and breakfast hours were extended to noon. Being night owls due to their trade, it was completely normal to find a collection of dealers sitting on our reception porch at 3 in the morning having just gotten back from work!!!
It was a great time, and a new and positive experience for the hotel. Everyone enjoyed their stay – both guests and hotel staff! We are looking forward with anticipation to their return probably in May 2009.