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Well, what a difference a couple of weeks and several hundred feet in elevation can make! I am now at the beach, specifically Manuel Antonio, on the central Pacific coast. My Canadian friends Jeff, Randy and Kevin arrived in the country last week and I am their official guide, though my duties so far have consisted only of applying sunscreen to their backs – they have been taking care of me much more than I them.
I managed to have three great dates for Valentine’s Day which just passed – if you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the ones you’re with. We are heading up the mountain to Monteverde later today and have a date with Wolf to go walking tomorrow. I’m sure my credibility as a tour guide will be put to the test here sometime real soon.
The last two weeks were super full ones. The weather situation took several days to change from what I was describing at the end of the last post I wrote. I was cold, wet and windblown for several days before leaving Monteverde. When the weather there is bad, it can be horrendous. Although it wasn’t really raining (here rain has as many words to describe it as snow in the far north) when heavy mist is blowing at you from all directions at once, diagonally, vertically, horizontally, then you are going to get very wet and it doesn’t much matter what you call it. Anywhere else I have lived, wind like this means it’s blowing something in or out, whereas here, it just blows till the season wears itself out. The winds remained so powerful that I often had to take very serious samurai-warrior positions to hold myself upright while trying to walk along the road. Trees and their branches were down, as were the overhead wires in many places. I kept asking people how you know when a wire is alive and dangerous but all anyone could really suggest was just making a point of walking around them. Point taken.
On one of those very blustery and chilly nights, Wolf, Mercedes and I headed to the Hotel Montaña and had a wonderful dinner with the nice folks from Okayama, Japan. As I explained last post, this is the sister city of San José and the mayor, other officials and a group of interested citizens had come to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the relationship between their home towns. Our friend Takako was one of the organizers and guides (as was another friend, local guide Iko) and was responsible for getting us the invite to talk to the group about Monteverde’s history and eco-tourism in the area.
Nobody in the group besides the guides spoke much more than a few words of English nor was there any Spanish, so we spent an evening with much translating. Mostly we smiled, laughed, nodded our heads, and employed international sign language, and thus we managed to have a very warm encounter with the group. To a backdrop of photographic images that I put together, we welcomed them, explained a little history, and introduced Walking with Wolf to them. They presented us with some beautiful gifts from their city and shared their curiosity and friendliness as much as our language constraints would allow.
Just as the actual dinner part ended, all that wind outside managed to take the power out and the restaurant fell dark except for the candles already glowing on the tables. Although losing power can so often be a royal pain if you are engaged in something that definitely requires it, the truth is that some of the most magical moments I’ve experienced in Monteverde – and elsewhere – came when the plug was pulled and the night went natural and acoustic. My first year on the mountain, in 1990, I sat through a very moving and interestng presentation and discussion featuring Elizabeth Sartoris who wrote a book called Gaia and happened to be in Monteverde. She was extolling her ideas about the earth as a living being to a group of Quakers and scientists. The power was out and we sat in the shadows of the glowing candles, using people’s flashlights to spotlight the speakers. The differences in acceptance of her ideas between the academics and the local spiritual farmers was quite pronounced, but discussing ideas in soft voices and backlit by flickering flames seemed to bring everyone to a place of commonality in their thoughts. The earth’s loud voice as the powerful wind passed through the trees outside made its own point. It was one of the nights that made me appreciate the very special soul that exists in Monteverde.
So when the power went out the other night, about half of the Japanese were still interested in sitting with us and talking, so we moved to a lounge area, and by the light of the candles, carried on our discussion. Once again the subdued lighting and surrounding darkness begged us all to sit closer and there was a hushed sense to our voices.
The visitors wanted to know more about Wolf and asked a lot of questions about how the community grew and included the people who were already living here, the early Ticos, los campesinos – did they accept the changes that came or resent them? Between the three of us we told our versions of the story and Takako translated.
When it was getting late and Wolf and I finally said that we had to get going, an older Japanese gentleman, who had asked many questions, said that what he had learned was this: that although he had read about the conservation of the forest and was aware that Wolf and others had contributed a lot to the future of the trees in the area, he had now learned that much concern had also been given by the Quakers to the community itself and the future of the people in the area. When I explained how Wolf, as the original and long-term forest guard in the area, refused to carry a gun and thus had strongly influenced the next generation of guards to not carry arms but instead taught them by example to deal with adversaries with respect and humor, the kind folks gave him a round of applause. Something I think he deserves for many of his contributions, but I, like they, felt that this is a very significant legacy that he should be recognized for.
We sold a number of books and so now live with the thrill that Walking with Wolf has gone to Japan. Our very positive and energetic friend Takako, who we hadn’t seen since doing the hike with her which is the last chapter of the book, was thrilled to have put us all together and to see the completed book – when she saw her name in it and the couple lines I wrote about her, she was ecstatic. She said that she will look into the possibilities of getting it translated into Japanese – and I believe her. She is a doer and a great friend.
So thank you Takako along with all the other warm, smiling people of Okayama. I hope to visit your fair city one day.
The other highlight of my last couple of days in Monteverde before setting out for warmer climes, was tracking down the elusive George Powell. George is the founder of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, along with his ex-wife Harriett and Wolf, and is an internationally-renowned tropical biologist. I’ve known him since I arrived in Monteverde in 1990, first through Wolf and later when my friend the late Vicente Espinosa worked for him in the mid-nineties, chasing quetzals and bellbirds (which had been equipped with location transmitters) around Central America. I lived with Vicente and his wife Zulay, and George was around a lot in those days.
George still has a funky (and getting funkier by the year) cabin on a corner of Wolf’s land, sitting amongst a beautiful bit of primary forest. He is seldom here, as he has been involved for years not only with conservation projects here and elsewhere in Costa Rica but in many places including Peru and more recently in Madagascar. I haven’t seen him in years so it was well worth donning our rain ponchos and heading down the muddy path, under the constant drip from the soggy canopy, to visit him. He received us warmly and was thrilled to get a copy of the book. He is appreciative that Wolf and I managed to finish this project, to tell these tales in this book, to record the local history. I hope that when he gets around to reading it that he laughs at the stories we tell of him in his early days in Monteverde, eating black guans as Thanksgiving turkey and collared peccary as pork chops.
As I get serious about finding funding for the Spanish translation of the book, which is well underway in New Hampshire where Wolf’s son Carlos is doing the initial work, I take the opportunity to ask everyone I know who may have connections to funds to accomplish this. I will be making a second printing of the English version of the book this spring (the original 2000 will have been sold or distributed by May) but I can’t afford to fund the Spanish translation. The Tropical Science Center has contracted Carlos for the first stage of the work. We now look for donors to assure that the book gets completed and printed. So if anyone reading this has a suggestion for funding, please let me know.
With that in mind, I contacted the Canadian Embassy in San José and that lead to a very interesting lunch with two men from the Economic/Political Office there. I will write about this more in the future, but be assured, it is a wonderful thing to have the support of some people representing the Canadian government. They were keen, helpful, and our discussion lead to great possibilities for getting both some real financial support as well as the possibility of presenting the book – most likely waiting for the publication of the Spanish translation – at the embassy with the Ambassador, who apparently liked the letter I sent them and sees the value in the book. So my homework now (difficult though it is to pull myself away from the surf and sun and tour guide duties) is to write a proposal to the embassy.
Over a week ago, Veronica and Stuart came home, my doggy-duties ended and I was released to be able to leave Monteverde. So I left its cold, wet blowiness for much warmer if not dryer San Carlos, anxious to have a visit with my friend Zulay and family. Her niece Horiana has a new puppy Zeti, so I wasn’t totally without canine accompaniment but at a couple months he is already better trained than Betsy was back in Monteverde (see former posts.)
As it turned out, we had, as always, a wonderful time together (including hanging around the beautiful new springfed swimming pool) but it was also hampered by some of life’s realities. Zulay and her husband Keith were called away two of the five days I was there to attend funerals – people are buried quickly in this country where traditionally they don’t have the ability to keep bodies around for days, and so when the phone call comes announcing a death, preparations are made quickly for getting to the funeral as it will certainly take place within a day or two at the most.
The other thing that I have been dealing with over the last few weeks has been suffering the misery of boils and blood abcesses. I’m not sure why this has happened but it is common here in the tropics to have these nasty little pockets of pus on your body, especially in the kind of wet weather that we have been experiencing. First I had a boil in my nether-regions and it was extremely painful. Between epsom salt baths and applying sulpha (and a couple days of putting the leaves of hot chili peppers on it), I managed to get that under control and finished within about six days. But it wasn’t long before another nasty bubble started hurting on the back of my thigh. Traveling all day by bus over to Zulay’s wasn’t comfortable. Zulay and I tended to the beast but it wasn’t showing signs of curing and, in fact, a couple of days later another blister started on my lower back and I finally decided I better get antibiotics to get control of this. After googling information about all this, I decided the one on my leg was actually an abcess as opposed to a boil. It got infected and hurt a lot and oozed a lot of bad stuff out and well, you don’t need anymore details. And sorry about the photo – I know it isn’t good quality but do you really need to see it any better?
One thing I do know from experience and common knowledge is that you don’t mess with these things in the tropics as they can take forever to cure, can get seriously infected and become bigger problems to deal with. So since I left Zulay’s and came down here to the beach with the boys, my personal nurse Jeff has been tending to my wound, which is in a position that I can’t see except in mirrors – cleansing it and applying that wonder drug, sulpha, which they use a lot in this country for cows and these kinds of things like I have. Last year I used it to cure my papalamoya. So I’m big on sulpha drugs right now.
But my favorite treatment is to soak in the warm salty sea, for hours if necessary. I can feel it curing as the soft waves lap over me. And I think that is what I should do right now, while I still have a few hours left here on the beach. The boys are all awake and putting on their sunscreen and so I think it is time to get out there and do a little medicinal floating before we have to pack up and go back up that green mountain. It’s a harsh treatment, but nobody ever said I wasn’t tough.