San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Flyswatter in the Ointment

TAMARINDO – There’s a lot of moving and shaking going on in Tamarindo, the big little beach town in the northwestern province of Guanacaste. New construction and condo projects are springing up by the hundreds, poking through the green carpet of forest that surrounds the town, monuments to million-dollar deals and testament to the draw of the spectacular beaches nearby.

Tourists fill the dusty dirt roads on scooters and in flip-flops, be it high season or low. Celebrities pass through, a solid community of international expatriates and short-term residents seems to outnumber the Ticos by at least three to one, and there’s always something going on in “Tama.”

A new something adding to the buzz is Flyswatter, a locally produced magazine that is stirring up a mix of conversation, controversy and hope in the community.

Now six issues deep, Flyswatter blends satirical humor, local reviews and community activism in an attempt to give Tamarindo a voice and to call out what many in the area see as threats to their community, all the while entertaining its readers.

“More than anything, it’s just to say what needs to be said in this area – a voice for the community, but done in a way that is entertaining and fun,” explained Janet Raftis, who founded the magazine along with her husband David “Willy” Willoughby and a friend, photographer Sean Davis.

“There was nobody actually telling the truth. There was a lot of sunshine being blown up people’s asses,” Willoughby interjected.

“There was nothing funny or engaging, so we saw a niche.”

While presenting a mix of humor, reviews and light reading, the magazine has consistently tackled heavier issues – specifically unrestrained growth and development – winning both friends and foes in the small town.

“They’re not afraid of anything. They write what they see and talk about the reality in Tamarindo,” said Jessica Del Rossi, director of the Tamarindo Improvement Association.

From the start, the magazine took Tamarindo’s problems head-on. The cover of the first issue shows a sign giving directions altered to read: “Walking? From this Hostel – Crime 95 sec. Potholes 30 sec. Crack 180 sec. Hookers 70 sec. Realtors 205 sec.”

One page into the same issue, Flyswatter opened with a story about unchecked growth in Tamarindo and the chaos the writers say has resulted.

“It’s obvious that Tamarindo is not the same town it was five (ten, fifteen, twenty) years ago,” the article reads in its opening paragraph. “With more people flocking to ‘paradise,’ the reality of this paradise is that we’re losing what we came here to find.”

This theme, in different variations, has been repeated in every issue, as the pages reveal a complex love-hate relationship with the town.

From crime to obnoxious tourists to garbage, Raftis, Willoughby, Davis and other contributors air their complaints each month (or so) about the daily annoyances, big and small, that come with living in Guanacaste’s most popular beach town.

These grievances are mixed with regular features such as book reviews, restaurant reviews, party reports, random fun facts and trivia, as well as fake ads and a hidden picture of Raftis and Willoughby’s dog Kitty in each issue. The first reader to find Kitty allegedly receives an award of dubious value.

“Some of it is purely inane stuff,” Raftis said.“People tell us they read it from cover to cover, and that’s a huge compliment. I think it comes from that balance.”

Willoughby compared the attention he gets now that he is running the magazine to when he was new in town and running a deli.

“Before, half the folks ignored you, and half knew who you were and were your friend. Now, half give you dirty looks and half give you high fives,” he said.

If anything has triggered animosity in the community, it has been Flyswatter’s approach toward development and real estate. Between the satire and serious articles, the magazine has been critical of not only “Wild West” development in general, but specific projects as well.

While The Tico Times could not find a critic to go on the record with complaints against the magazine, Willoughby said he has had “a few lawsuits threatened.”

“The real estate community tried to come down on us a good bit,” he said.

“People have labeled us, said that we hate developers and realtors, but that’s not the case at all,” Raftis added. “There are a lot of good developers in the area, and there are a lot of good realtors as well.”

Willoughby points to “a few brave souls” – realtors and developers – who continue to advertise in the magazine as proof that they are not after these professionals, but are trying to expose bad practices in their profession.

This stance has won more than a few hearts around Tama.

“I think the magazine is a great help to the community,” said Helen Acosta, a lifelong Tamarindo resident and owner of Nogui restaurant and bar. “They are bringing attention to the things that people who have lived here a long time think are important.”

Specifically, Raftis said the magazine has “inherited” as its pet cause the usurpation of alamedas, or protected green zones, by developers and realtors – a hot topic in Tama.

Recently, locals protested and tore down the beginnings of a construction project that had been begun on a local alameda, making news around the country (TT, June 9).

“How many people come here and they don’t even know what an alameda is?” Acosta asked. “Everybody is reading this now.” As for those who have taken a dislike to the magazine,Acosta said, “If you get offended because your trash is in the middle of the road…” and shrugged.

“Overall, I think the community is overwhelmingly supportive,” Raftis said, while her husband claimed “25-40% of our advertisers have nothing to gain” by advertising in the magazine, and do it as a “financial contribution.”

“We get a lot of thank-yous,” Raftis continued. “A lot of what is in Flyswatter is coming from the community, and it looks like what the community is steering us toward is development.”

After living in Tama for five years, Raftis says she is optimistic about the town’s future, despite the problems. Both express a commitment to Tamarindo and the community, saying “we plan on being here a long time,” as they raise their son Jake, now 3.

“We have a lot of growth in us,” Raftis said, adding that she hopes to have a Web site up in the near future. Growth, she said, is slow but steady.

“We are just at the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “The biggest thing is that we have empowered people. They can speak up now. We are just providing a forum for this information to be disseminated.”

Flyswatter is free and can be found in hotels, restaurants, bars and stores from Playa Langosta to Playa Flamingo, along the northern Pacific coast in Guanacaste.


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