San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Our 6 best feature stories of the year

For more than five decades, readers have come to the pages of The Tico Times for captivating and deeply reported stories. This year was no exception.

Some of our best work in 2013 concerned unthinkable tragedy and sickness; other examples celebrated superlative human passion and accomplishment. What unites these stories is our commitment to great storytelling.

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Tiffany Joiner, a U.S. woman who fell from a balcony and lost 75 percent of the mobility in her legs, learns to scuba dive. By Sean Davis (

One attendant described the Sin Limites (No Barriers) event as “pure magic,” and we couldn’t agree more. It brought together dozens of paraplegics – including several Costa Rican Paralympic teams – to explore their ability to scuba dive off the Papagayo Peninsula. Reporter Zach Dyer attended and wrote “No Barriers.” Sean Davis and Genna Robustelli also contributed some incredible photography.


José Manuel Calvo stands outside his home in Verdero de Cañas with his family behind him. Calvo was diagnosed with renal deficiency months ago and is beginning to search for a possible organ donor.
Lindsay Fendt

Young men are dying of kidney disease across Latin American and beyond, and nobody is sure why. Scientists know that the men tend to be sugarcane field hands, and they believe that working in the hot sun has something to do with it. Tico Times reporter and photographer Lindsay Fendt spent four days in Cañas – ground zero for sugarcane production and kidney disease in Costa Rica – coming to know the victims and understanding the epidemic they’re facing. She documented their story with words and pictures in “What is killing the young men of Cañas.”

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Many questions remain unanswered in the shooting death of 31-year-old Steve Flesch. Courtesy of the Flesch family

In the most chilling report of the year, 31-year-old backpacker Steve Flesch was shot in the head in April during a brutal robbery in the San José suburb of Desamparados. He had no identification when he arrived at a San Juan de Dios Hospital, where he was placed in a medically induced coma and given a nametag that read “XXX muchacho.” His family didn’t find him for six days, and Steve passed away May 6. Ashley Harrell and Lindsay Fendt documented the tragedy in “He Never Came Home.” The Flesches are still seeking justice.


Bruno Maurach serves a sliver of trout to a child at Feria Verde.
Lindsay Fendt

Some stories are simply a delight to uncover and tell, and that was the case with “Trout Man.” After happening upon and becoming obsessed with the first-ever cured trout in Costa Rica, Ashley Harrell continually returned to its vendor, Bruce Maurach, to trace the history of the fish and the man alike.

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In better times, Maxim Chukharev, 27, poses with his cat. Chukharev is currently in a preventive prison in San José, awaiting a final ruling on a U.S. extradition request for his role at online currency company Liberty Reserve. Courtesy of the Chukharev family

Liberty Reserve – accused by U.S. prosecutors as being essentially PayPal for the criminal underworld – was one of the biggest stories of the year in Costa Rica. Most of the public’s interest was directed at founder Arthur Budovsky and the downfall of his $6 billion empire, through which identity thieves, drug traffickers, investment fraudsters and child pornographers laundered their money. But a lesser-known figure – the Russian immigrant who served as Liberty Reserve’s tech guy – caught the eye of Tico Times Editor-in-Chief David Boddiger. In his long-form story, Boddiger explores whether Max Chukharev was “A Russian patsy or high-tech criminal?”

Jairo Mora working

Jairo Mora works at a local hatchery in Moín. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The brutal murder of turtle conservationist Jairo Mora dominated headlines for months this year, generating international attention and concern among the conservationist community, both in Costa Rica and abroad. Despite the uproar, big questions about Mora and his death went unanswered for weeks, until Lindsay Fendt tore through police documents and reported what she learned. In her expertly crafted story “Why Jairo Died,” Fendt explains how the relationship between conservationists and poachers on Moín Beach escalated from coexistence to violent retribution.

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