A French Widow in Every Room

Recently, I have read two articles in the ‘Travel’ sections of ‘The Independent’ and ‘The Guardian’ dealing with visits to Costa Rica.

Brief articles, as those who operate these organs consider that their target readership resembles themselves in having the attention span of a gnat which has gained its culture at the knees of dwarfs who long ago fell from the shoulders of giants into the mire of consumerism.

I can’t comment on the choice of ’boutique’ hotels, but I jolly well can on the subject of Volcan Arenal, which figures in both articles.

This is Volcan Arenal….some ninety kilometres north of the capital, San Jose….


volcan arenal

Brooding big beast, isn’t it…..

It had been dormant for centuries before blowing its top in the 1960s, causing tremendous loss of life and associated damage then for years afterward made a spectacle of itself with its lava flows.

arenal lava

Needless to say,this gave rise to a tourist trade…the  heated waters from the volcano were tamed and privatised to form hot springs resorts while hotels started to be built to give views of the flows.

This went well for years, until the lava flows messed off round to the other side of the volcano. Those hotels which had been cashing in for years risked losing trade to the cheaper places which up to then had built their business on hiking and bird watching.

What to do?

Well,if in doubt, do nothing.

Just keep pumping out the publicity. After all, volcanoes are unpredictable beasts and if your guests have a blank night you can console yourself that the tour operators only bring them for one night and that the next lot will be along tomorrow.

And so it went on happily until, in 2010, Volcan Arenal shut up shop.

Five years ago.

You can still hike…watch birds…enjoy the hot springs….but no lava flows.

So why do those who wrote these articles – in 2015 – tell the readers of the two newspapers that the volcano is still active and that they can book hotel rooms to see the lava flow?

British Airways are offering direct flights from London to San Jose from next year….no doubt  there are people planning their trips to make the most of the price of a long haul flight.

It would be a pity if they booked a trip to Arenal on the strength of these two articles.

Yes, things can change rapidly in the sphere of hotels, restaurants and even natural phenomena,but if you accept money to write a travel guide – nomatter how short – should you not check your facts?

Costa Rica has so much more to offer than the enclosed beach resorts, the tourist coffee trails and the exploitative hippy ‘sanctuaries’….

I am quite aware that the travel section editors know nothing of Costa Rica apart from the advertising brought in when the article is punted around…but could they not ensure that basic information is correct?

If Costa Rica interests you,then the best source for places to visit is here: 

but if you want to be misled as to the delights of your destination then you can do no better than consult Hoffnung  on the Tyrol.

Thanks to WordPress I can no longer put up a Youtube clip..but Hoffnung’s claims of a French widow in every room promising enormous revelations seems a better bet than looking for lava onVolcan Arenal





54 thoughts on “A French Widow in Every Room”

  1. These tourist articles have a lot to answer for. I am reminded of the photos that are used for Pammukale which are probably about 30 years old before tourists were allowed to walk all over the travertines and so cause irreparable damage. The truth is that today they are nothing like the photos, mostly “repaired” using something like polystyrene. Disappointing for those visiting, but tour operators aren’t bothered…it’s all about money.

  2. Stuff like this is the reason for my hasty exit from so-called public relations writing…I wish you and Leo wonderful holidays and a healthy New Year.

  3. . . never had you dawn as naive – thought you were an ‘eyes-wide-open, dyed in the wool, anarchist’! What’s the old saying? That a capitalist standing, condemned on the gallows would try to sell the hangman the rope for his own execution! Looking at the state of the world and the fudge that will be COP21 in Paris it’s rather apt.
    I’ve mostly embedded YouTube by switching to the html tab and doing a copy and paste – that said there is the ‘You Tube Embed 10.9’ plugin with also works fine and gives you a lot of options even in the free version.

    1. Thanks for the tip…why the blazes do WP have to meddle with what works well?
      I rather like the use of emergency powers in the wake of the Paris killings…put environmental activists under house arrest.
      Naive? Goodness,yes. I expect something that purports to guide people spending a considerable amount of money on a holiday – Costa Rica mainstream tourism being a ripoff from start to finish – to have done its homework.

  4. Really? A free hot French widow? And the hot springs with a view of the still-active — need I say hot — volcano? People really believe this sort of thing? Serves them right, then. And talk about your budget cuts. Clearly the papers are no longer paying their travel writers to actually visit the places they write about. Maybe they need an onsite stringer?

    1. No it doesn’t serve them right.
      Not everyone is a sophisticated traveler…people save up for a special trip and are greatly influenced by what they read in a newspaper they trust….
      Our visitors read this sort of stuff and have to be given a picture of the reality before planning their trip and risking disappointment andakickin the wallet.

      No newspaper would print what I would write about Costa Rica as a holiday destination as none of the places my visitors have liked could afford to pay the bribes (otherwise known as advertising).

  5. It beggars belief that so called “journalists”, and I use the term loosely, write such articles presumably without visiting themselves (even on a freebie). They must take their facts from other guides? Plagiarism is alive and well!
    Best wishes for the festive season to you both.

    1. Best wishes thankfully received!
      At least one of these ‘writers’says she has spent a lot of time in Costa Rica…possibly in the Jurassic period…but the problem lies in the twerps who commission and pay for this stuff.

  6. Why shouldn’t travel reporting be just as shoddy as the rest of what is passed off as journalism these days? The stories were likely cribbed from other sources, anyway. I’ve often pondered coming up with a big but difficult to disprove untruth, putting it out on Wikipedia and a couple of other places and seeing how long and how far it goes. But that would require energy I’m simply not willing to invest. Perhaps on a long weekend.

      1. There was something known as Big Bud which attacked blackcurrants and every damned book and article which dealt with it cribbed a description from an early gardening tract,describing it as being ‘as big as a shilling’. Once you read that you knew that the author knew sweet Fanny Adams about blackcurrants.

        You could try Big Bud for your project describing it as being the size of a banker’s moral centre.

  7. Mark Twain said nothing enhances a good story like the omission of some facts. By extension, a travel guide. This story probably is as old as mankind looking for greener grass. Didn’t New York City once have streets paved with gold.

    1. And London…
      And the Irish emigrants were told that they were taking passage to America on a Mailboat, the pronunciation disguising the reality.
      I object to people being misled.
      It’s not like an out of date travel guide where you know you need to update; it is in a current edition of a daily rag .

  8. You’ve touched a nerve – lazy travel reporting is everywhere. Bodrum is the “St Tropez” of Turkey in nearly every article I’ve read for 35 years – It isn’t! and even if it were, we’ve heard it before.

  9. It’s just like the annual regurgitation of recommendations to go to the Eiffel tower for the spectacular fireworks display on New Year’s Eve (an event which occurs very rarely).

    1. I was thinking of the Mikado’s song ‘Let the punishment fit the crime..’
      I wonder what would be an appropriate punishment for those who lead the unwary tourist astray…
      Forced to live in an ‘eco’ hotel where the loo and shower are outside and uncovered while paying through the nose for the privilege?

  10. I’ve been working for the same museum for 18 years, and for 18 years the same guide books and other publications have been printing the same incorrect information about our collections, leading to a non-ending stream of angry customers. This is not lazy reporting–it is non-reporting. Sorry to hear the tradition is alive and well in Costa Rica.

    1. It’s down to London based newspapers -though Costa Rica non-reporting can hit the high spots too.
      Eighteen years! You must be about fi tto tear those guide books apart and use the pages for’eco’loo paper.

  11. The infuritating thing is that people will come for what isn’t there, miss what is and Costa Rica’s tourist trade may suffer. Mind you – in my own area, one of the newly published walking guides expounds eloquently on the must-see Lightening Museum in Marcenat. A museum that shut up shop 15 years ago …. that the devil is in the detail is a fact that simply passes these prats by!

    1. Big Bud all over again – see my reply to Cotton Boll Conspiracy above.
      You are right,it is so shortsighted…but the hoteliers reckon that if they get one big bite at a mug another will soon be along…

    1. No idea re Youtube, but why take away such a useful service…you are probably right,money will come into the equation…

      So pleased to see the happy faces of all those dogs freed by your efforts.

  12. Yes, I have recently read several articles on C.R. and was wondering if I should to send you the urls. Perhaps you should write a travel guide? Or send an article to the Lonely Planet?

    That Hoffnung translation reminds me of Google translations. I wonder if anyone has ever collated their worst or funniest blunders?

    I also wonder how fluent Hoffnung’s German/Italian was?

    1. I suspect that Hoffnung made up the whole thing…but it is still very funny!
      Mt writing days are over before they have begun….my husband’s health has taken a nosedive..mine is very shaky of late and these days no one wants to read anything that disturbs their perceptions.

    1. No, you wouldn’t get me close to it either. That’s why we live on this side of the Central Valley.
      That blog post was about a beach area,but he has a load of stuff about country churches,wildlife,history…you name it. And in English as well as Spanish.

      1. Yeah, I noticed the English. After I’d read the Spanish 😀

        Same reason we live near the sea, but not on the edge either in Gib or in Spain. The pueblo is set back, slightly uphill from the beach, and in Gib we’re in the old town, within the city walls. Could even close the gates to keep out marauders if they Spanish invaded again 🙂

  13. I look forward to the resurgent volcano blowing its top when the tourists have gathered. Will the Guardian mention this in its ‘corrections’ column.

    1. Very much doubt it….mark you there is one in Nicaragua giving it laldy at the moment…Momotombo, close to the tourist mecca Granada. Gas and ashes going up eight kilometres into the air.
      Warn the tourists? Heaven forbid.

  14. There was a travel guide written a few years ago by a Major travel publisher, and after some investigation it turned out the author hadn’t even gone to the country featured in the book.

  15. Unfortunately journalists these days are under enormous pressure to churn out articles to endless deadlines, and they take the inevitable short cuts of not checking facts, pinching other people’s material and in the last resort simply making things up. Nowadays I treat everything I read in the media as provisional until such time as it’s corroborated by other reliable sources. Lies, damn lies and lazy journalists….

  16. What about the brochures? We went on a Thompson holiday years ago to stay in a hotel surrounded by woods. The photo clearly showed woods both in front and behind the hotel. When we arrived there was not a tree to be seen. The hotel was on a hairpin bend on a busy road, with a barren and rocky bit between it and the sea. Let the holidaymaker beware.

    I remember a German friend telling me that newspapers are called “That which lies on the mat and lies.”

    1. Leo told me that a friend of his in the travel trade put out a brochure featuring railways in Switzerland….without visiting or checking. He had to pay the infuriated railway buffs for a refund of their holiday and an additional one featuring the right type of railway….but the,he was a sole trader without theclout of the big firms…
      He was also a twit.

  17. Costa Rica…where even the macaws are pixelated….no,in fact I am totally incompetent where it comes to putting up pics of any sort…

    I have escaped from the attentions of the national health service – and to think I was daft enough to take a swollen ankle to the local clinic which resulted in ambulances and an unguided tour of what I imagine must be every department of the local hospital except maternity and the morgue.
    On return I found that the telephone lines were down – nattily wrapped round a cattle lorry – so had to go in to the capital to raise Cain with the telephone monopoly which resulted in a repair being done before I reached home again.

    Clear success for the health service – I was able to raise Cain with all the fervour of John Knox newly released from the galleys.

  18. Wonderful post for something which is indeed exasperatingly true. I think that the reason is that most newspaper travel sections have little or no budget for the kind of travel essays where someone goes out specifically to the destination, talks to the locals, finds places they like and spends time on the ground doing the research. These are eye wateringly expensive. Once, airlines used to offer flights, hotels offered rooms,and travel companies offered tours. They still do, but far less often, so it can be easier for editors to use a journalist they know and can rely on, who can write about the destination without having to make a special trip.

    It looks to me as if the Guardian writer had travelled extensively in Costa Rica and perhaps knew it well, but might not have gone for a while and possibly simply missed the fact that a gigantic chunk of natural scenery no longer gets up to its earlier tricks. The Independent piece, if I am looking at the one you are thinking of, was by Simon Calder who is their travel editor. He is very well informed but presumably can’t do long trips everywhere, and might have made the same mistake of believing that Nature should just stay put, dammit. He also probably doesn’t expect expensive hotels aiming at an international audience to simply tell downright lies.

    I’m not making excuses since I do think they should have checked their facts, but I don’t think that either article was just a cynical compilation of press releases. What they do seem to do is to prove the rule that the more you know about something the less the press gets it right. Personally I think someone should make an official complaint to the volcano itself. Anyone would think it didn’t care about Costa Rica’s tourism marketing efforts.

    1. Thank you for such a comprehensive reply – from the horse’s mouth, as it were.

      I’ve always read travel articles and have to agree with you that the budgets of today don’t allow for in depth studies….but then they might as well just put up series of publicity blurbs for all the good these articles are to a prospective visitor.

      As to approaching Volcan Arenal with an appeal to do its public duty,legend has it that you have to appease these brutes by throwing a virgin or two down the crater.
      Know any virgin travel writers?

  19. I hate to say it but the Guardian article sounds to me like typical clickbait journalism, designed to attract advertising and get people to have a quick glance. They are churned out by the yard on the website (hence the sloppy journalism) though I don’t know how many make it into the printed version.As you say, very unfair on those who believe what they read in what as traditionally considered a serious newspaper.

    So sorry to hear neither Leo’s health nor yours is good at the moment. I do hope things improve for you both.

    1. Thanks for the kind wishes – neither of us is exactly comme il faut at the moment so we’ll hope that things look up soon.

      Quite agree about clickbait…and it’s not confined to the travel columns…they have some appalling French trollop working as a columnist – she ran Le Monde into the ground when editor – and I suspect that this is only because her articles attract so many critical comments that it boosts whatever criteria are used to attract advertising.
      What has become of ‘The Guardian’?

      1. Much the same as is happening to the rest of Britain. Whatever most benefits the bottom line is what matters. 😦

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