San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Plan to Party Hard at Flamingo’s New Carnival

MARK those calendars for Feb. 4-8,2005.That will be occasion for the “MardiGras in the Sun in Flamingo” celebration,and it promises to be a blowout.The pre-Lenten Carnival celebration isyet another effort spearheaded by theactive Guanacaste Chamber of Tourism(Caturgua). Officials from the 13 municipalitiesin the province, as well as representativesof member hotels, restaurantsand tour operators, make up the chamber.LONGTIME Flamingo resident andlocal business leader Hubert Gysemans,owner of Amberes nightclub, has headedthe chamber for the past decade, andremains one of the province’s staunchestpromoters.Everyone thinks of New Orleans whenthey hear the term “Mardi Gras,” Gysemanssays. But next year’s Flamingo celebrationwill take its lead from that of the mysticsocieties who perform in the lesser-knownobservances in Mobile, Alabama.And, of course, there will be a CostaRican flavor to the festivities with comparsas(street-dance troupes) coming fromthe Caribbean port city of Limón, site ofthe country’s famous October carnival celebration.ALTHOUGH Caturgua’s officialmotto is “Guanacaste, somos todos” (Weare all Guanacaste), Gysemans’ unofficialslogan is “Keep them busy.” Next year’sMardi Gras celebration will fit that directive,with many Guanacaste businessesoffering golfing, boating and fishing outingsand hotel packages associated withthe event.“There is no Eiffel Tower, there are noMaya pyramids in Guanacaste,” Gysemanspoints out. “Tourists are always looking forsomething to do, beyond lying by the pool.”With 62 percent of international visitorsto Costa Rica now coming toGuanacaste, the quest is on to find furactivities for them.Gysemans points out that nearby SantaCruz, dubbed “the National Folklore City,”has little to offer. The 1644 Church of SanBlas in neighboring Nicoya, one of thecountry’s few remaining colonial gems, isnot open to visitors.Caturgua is now working with bothmunicipalities to implement tourist activities,as well as developing a Café Britt stylesugar-cane tour in Carrillo.THE chamber was instrumental inbringing the expansion of scheduled internationalflights to Daniel Oduber Airportin nearby Liberia.“Bring Delta. The rest will come,”Gysemans quipped, paraphrasing theKevin Costner line from the film Field ofDreams. And indeed, that’s happened.American and Continental Airlines followedDelta earlier this year with three times-weekly service to Liberia, and, atthis writing, Mexicana Airlines is scheduledto begin flights.The expansion has exploded tourism andreal-estate development in Flamingo andPotrero, as well as up and down theGuanacaste coast, a fact that causesGysemans to say, “Build me rooms.” Withinone-and-a-half to two years, he fears the areawill suffer a shortage of hotel rooms.GUANACASTE has always enjoyed aboom during its traditional Christmas-to-Easter high season, but experts here pointwith pride to a growing second season duringthe North American and EuropeanJune-to-August summer vacation time,when those in the know insist that the fishingand diving are often better.The 2005 festivities will technically bethe second annual Mardi Gras in the Suncelebration. A much smaller-scale observancetook place this year, a celebrationGysemans missed during his recoveryfrom an accident.Proceeds from the 2005 celebrationwill go to the Santa Cruz orphanage and tothe Boy Scout troops in Potrero andBrasilito.So get used to saying, “Carnival: NewOrleans, Rio … and Flamingo.”

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