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In a couple of days, I will be in Guatemala so this will be the last post with my firsthand account of how Wolf is doing until I return in two weeks. Fortunately I am leaving with a sigh of relief as our friend seems to be doing quite well.
I spent the last week on the Caribbean, lounging in the jungle with Roberto. It was mostly sunny and wonderfully warm, with a few early morning sprinkles of rain, just enough to make you stay in bed. As always, Roberto would be the first up, starting the fire and bringing me hot blessed coffee. I love being with a man who loves to cook. I’m happy to take my turn, but Roberto is always stirring the embers and happily preparing food. As often as not, whatever the main ingredient, there is the rich flavor of coconut, a bite of thyme, and a Panamanian pepper thrown in just to make you sweat.
While we were enjoying the slow days and ways of the Caribbean, Wolf was steadily making progress in his hospital bed. He has continued to eat well and now we can bring him fresh fruit and juices without problems from the nurses. It is amazing how he craves fruit. I’m sure the cool, fresh flavors with enough sweetness to soothe a diabetic and enough liquid to moisten his lips, mouth and throat are what makes him request melons, papaya, apples, pineapple…the list of available fruit is endless.
About the same time that we were visiting with our neighbor and local shaman, Fausto, the doctors at the hospital started Wolf on a bit of a medicinal cocktail, hoping to find the right combination to keep him balanced, functioning and happy. I noticed on my return that, after a week away, his talking has leveled off, even if his ideas are still somewhat sky bound. So it would seem that something is working properly. I expect that he will remain in the hospital for at least a couple of weeks to make sure that he remains stable before taking him back up the green mountain to home. They are also doing therapy on his hand that has been left quite weak either from being tied too much or possibly from a small stroke.
I was enjoying my own cocktails in Cahuita as well as lots of wandering around the countryside. Roberto and I went for a walk into the hills near us to a place called Carbon (obviously an old coal mining area). We visited an eco-lodge, Casa Calateas, a cluster of beautiful wooden buildings on a private biological preserve that are available for groups to rent.
It was a complete coincidence that I had spent Semana Santa on this same land about fifteen years ago when it was a subsistence farm belonging to a friend, Gerardo, and his family – I specifically remember a very large hog being in the picture, but then most of my stories of the campo in Costa Rica involve large pigs. It turns out that maybe twelve years ago, Gerardo’s mother Maria decided to move closer to town and sold the land to a group of local residents interested in creating a protected area. Years ago we camped on cleared hillsides but they are now covered in forest with spectacular views over the Talamanca highlands.
I was very happy to be able to bring news to Wolf that I’ve been contacted by the person who is editing the Spanish translation of Walking with Wolf. The process has been a lesson in patience, but there is definitely movement. On Wednesday, the day before I head to Guatemala, I have a meeting with the editor to answer questions about the text. When Wolf said that he planned on staying alive until the Spanish edition came out, I figured he wasn’t kidding. Hopefully we will be celebrating its publication soon!
On the other hand, I continue to wait for the land survey to be returned to me for my piece of paradise near Cahuita. It has been several months and some people say it’s suspicious, while others say it happens this way, these legal processes are very slow. Since I’ve been so distracted elsewhere, I haven’t been paying it much mind, but I may have to light a fire under somebody’s belly soon. In the meantime, Roberto is cleaning the land, planting trees, and crotons and hibiscus along the fence line. It is hard not to imagine a little wooden casita popped up like a magic mushroom between the bananas one day.
Roberto’s cat and jungle sidekick, Miel, was happy to see me since I pamper him in ways that Roberto would never do. I did notice, however, that there wasn’t a single lizard, gecko or salamander in the area around the rancho. The only thing I can say that is positive is that at least if the cat is going to hunt everything that moves, he doesn’t waste it – every little bit is eaten.
We spent a morning on the beach with the hopes of snorkeling and fishing, but the sea was rough and too churned up for seeing anything under water. Instead, Roberto came across a fishing net washed up on shore, and as I swam and soaked up the sun, he patiently cut the lengths of rope and colorful floats out of the net. Just like Miel, not a drop was wasted.
The weather was idyllic for being out at night so we wandered the beach as well as the town, visiting with friends on the street and doing a little dancing to the local calypso band. It was a great break from the city where I’ve basically been since the beginning of January.
As I mentioned in the beginning, this will be the last blog written in Costa Rica for awhile. I am headed to Guatemala to renew my visa – first to Antigua where my friends EDITUS are playing a concert, then up to San Pedro la Laguna, on stunning Lake Atitlan to visit my buddies Treeza and Rick and to catch up with that dynamic community that I visited a couple of years ago. It promises to be a swell time in the land of the Mayans. I am thrilled that I’m leaving Wolf in such a strong and upbeat condition, eating well, talking pretty normal, and getting ready to howl at the moon. I’ll come back soon and give him something to howl at! Any news I hear while away, I’ll be sure to pass on to y’all!
A few weeks ago, when I was up in Monteverde, cold, wet and miserable with fever, I felt the strong urge to write and complain about the rain. Prior to that, I enjoyed three sunny September weeks here in Cahuita of perfect hot, dry weather, but as soon as I ventured out on a trip to San José and up the green mountain, my spirit was soddened as quickly as my clothes. I was caught almost daily in pouring rain, keeping me constantly damp, if not soaked, until I was able to escape inside and change into dry clothes. Eventually I succumbed to “la gripe”, Costa Rican for all that ails you. Last April, after experiencing the desert conditions of Los Angeles in California, I swore I would never speak harshly again about water replenishing our thirsty earth, but it doesn’t take many days of walking about dripping wet and cold to forget one’s best intentions.
At our bush home in Cahuita, we are constantly stoking the cooking fire, and its smoke swirls through the rancho and steeps our hanging clothes like curing sausages. A comfortable odor here, it becomes a foreign acrid smell when you hit the urban life of San José with its fresh scents of soaps and colognes, or the clean but humid mountain air where that smoked chorizo musk follows you like an poor immigrant from the old country. Note to self: freshly wash all clothes and dry far from the fire before visiting civilization.
In Monteverde, I stayed with the lovely ladies Deb and Barbara, who took great care of me as I sunk deeper in my sickness, and in the end, in a very ungracious-guest-like-manner, I left them both under the same nasty weather. The worst of the whole thing was that I had gone to Monteverde with the intention of spending a few hours each day with the ever-recuperating Wolf, but I only managed to visit him one morning and then didn’t dare return with my germs. I missed a bunch of other events as well, but it was the anticipated Wolf time that I really regretted.
To update Wolf’s continuing medical adventures, he continues on a roller coaster, slowing going up the track of wellness, only to crest and slip down another precarious slope. However, I believe that as of this writing (as per a phone call with his son Benito last night) Wolf is doing okay. He had the first of his cataract operations a couple of days ago. I hope that this will mean that while he is laid up with his other conditions, he will at least be able to read again. Often he has been feeling punk enough not to want to do anything, and he is not a television watcher – indeed, the Guindons don’t even own one. However, once he is feeling better yet is still not very mobile, he can at least amuse himself by reading, something that the cataracts have been making almost impossible. He delayed the operation once while he was recuperating from the pacemaker episode, but now he has at least one eye open and I trust he has a date for the second eye.
His heart and pacemaker seem to be working well together according to his check-ups. A change in insulin as well as a more rigid regimen of testing his sugar levels will hopefully mean that he will get better control of his diabetes. He has been told, once again, to drink more water to keep flushing his liver and kidneys of all the medication he takes (Wolf is still trying to come to terms with the fact that coffee is not water). A few days before I visited him, Wolf had a bad urinary tract infection. Combined with his chronic prostate issues, it resulted in the placement of a catheter. Although he wasn’t happy about it at the time, he seems to have made some adjustments and now is finally able to eliminate his liquid wastes with less pain and problem than he has had for a couple of years now.
Carambola! As he told me, a few weeks ago he hit a low point that he thought he wouldn’t return from, but he’s once again feeling like there is a light at the end of the tunnel (not THAT LIGHT), and fortunately his strong spirit is still soaring. Unfortunately, his ever-suffering wife, Lucky, who has become a nurse despite a lifelong desire to never be one, recently took a fall and broke (I believe) a rib, something that is known to be very painful yet seldom fatal. So she has taken at least a couple of bumpy trips down the mountain with Wolf and their son Berto in his car to various medical appointments, no doubt grimacing from the pain but stoically carrying on. Ai yi yi, don’t you think enough is enough for these good folks?
I did manage to get over my sickness in time to participate in workshops for the nature guides at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Mercedes Diaz, head of Environmental Education at the Reserve, asked me to repeat the presentation I had given last year on the history of Bosqueterno S.A., the original watershed reserve that the Quaker community had set aside. So I went up to the Reserve and despite technical problems, a lingering fever and rain pounding on the roof, I told the guides this important story of the beginnings of conservation in Monteverde. I finished that last mountain day wrapped in the warmth of my friendship with Patricia Jiménez, aided by dry blankets, hot conversation and healing wine.
All said and done, I was happy to leave the cold mountain and continue my wandering, challenged by the treachery of the Costa Rican highways during this very wet rainy season. A new highway was opened less than a year ago connecting San José with Caldera on the Pacific coast but due to very poor construction and very adequate corruption, such a terrible job was done that this new and important highway out of the heart of the country has been sporadically closed like a blocked artery constantly requiring surgery. The old highway that passes San Ramon was also closed when a bridge was washed out meaning that both of the main routes west of the central valley were cut off or clogged up. You take your chances moving about a mountainous, overly-underdeveloped country like Costa Rica, especially in the rainy season.
Despite bus delays, I eventually got to visit with people I consider family – the Montero/Martinez gang – one branch having moved from San Carlos to Palmares recently. I also had a chance to visit a different branch of the same family in Sarchi on my way to Monteverde. A year had passed since I saw some of these folks so it was a wonderful time of catching up and seeing their new or improved homes.
In Sarchi, I was thrilled to see Claudio’s organic lettuce operation and made notes as I think that Roberto and I can use some of his ideas to grow some vegetables here on the Caribbean, something that we struggle with constantly (too much sun, too much rain, too hot, not enough soil fertility, voracious ants, every other bug, etc.).
I spent several days near la Fortuna with Zulay Martinez, and wrote about this in the last post as we spent a day at the CRiterio Film Festival…if you haven’t read it, take a look and try to see some of those documentaries. I love being in that region of Costa Rica and Zulay has been one of my closest Tica friends for 20 years. The sun was shining, it was warm and mostly dry, so the time was completely enjoyable and I was only sorry that it was so short.
Before returning to the east coast, I went to San José for an important meeting with the Editoriales de la Universidad de Costa Rica and the Tropical Science Center. Thanks to the enthusiasm of a few men – first, Carlos Hernandez, the director of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve; secondly Javier Espeleta, the new director of the TSC, and now Julian Monge, the editor at EUCR – the translation of Walking with Wolf should see the light in the first half of 2011. Wolf’s son, Carlos, completed the translation a year ago, but editing etc. is still to be done. However, with the energy and commitment of these men behind us, I believe that Wolf and I will be celebrating Caminando con Wolf in the foreseeable future. His health concerns have helped to push these very busy men into action, a positive side benefit to all of Wolf’s trouble.
While in the city, I stayed with my good friend Myrna Castro and her new husband Ron, and her talented daughter Veronica. We were all busy, but they provided me with a 6-star hotel, a mother’s care and always interesting chatter while I was there. Vero took me to a bar I’d never been to, Anocheser, in San Pedro, where musicians gather after their gigs and the music carries on through the night. A small intimate place, the night featured a series of singers, strumming guitars to songs that everyone in the place knew and sang along with (except me, of course, who only knew a few of the Spanish lyrics). Note to self: learn more Spanish lyrics.
I went to visit Lorena Rodriguez, a good friend and very talented designer. Although I went to see her just to visit and catch up on life, the day turned into a design-fest. When I told her that I was getting ready to build a little casita on the land I have just purchased here on the Caribbean, she sat me down at her computer and we started turning my ideas into reality. Hours later, the house details that had been brewing in my mind, aided by her extensive experience and creative juices, along with a fantastic computer design program, could be seen in full color, in scale, and we were even able to take a cyber- walk through the casita to make sure it all felt good. Incredible! Once again, I am so appreciative to Lore for dropping what she was doing and helping me (as she did last year when she fussed over my preparations for my visit to the Canadian Ambassador’s house to meet the Governor General).
Now I have a very workable plan for a humble 5 meter by 7 meter casita that I plan on building on my little piece of land just across the stream from Roberto. I’ve had a couple of frustrations with the buying of the land but in the end, all seems to be in order. I know why I’ve waited twenty years to buy land here. However, this is a property with title and no legal problems, and I’ve had a surveyor come and we are now just waiting for the land survey to be completed, and I think all will be fine although I’m expecting each step to involve frustration. The most difficult thing could be that our relatively isolated but very peaceful life here in the jungle could be changing as our road gets busier, land is bought up, buildings are constructed and electricity is soon to come. You can’t stop progress but you can certainly disagree with its definition.
We had a disagreement over the actual property line with the woman who is buying the land immediately next door but hopefully that has been settled. Roberto and I went out the other day and placed a makeshift fencerow along the boundary line as dictated by the woman who sold me the land, and now we wait and hope that we will all be in agreement. Roberto thinks I should erect a proper fence of barbed wire but I can’t stand the idea. Instead I plan on planting a variety of hibiscus, crotons and other colorful fast growing plants to mark the edge of the property. I told him that I would erect a real fence if I felt it was necessary one day – he shakes his masculine head of dreads. As we discuss issues around land ownership, security and building houses, I’m not sure if it is gender issues, personal experiences or cultural issues that cause our differing opinions, but in the end, it’s my property, my money and my problem. And Roberto’s prerogative to say, “I told you so”.
As I wrote at the beginning, I was feeling like complaining about rain, but once I returned to hot and sunny Cahuita, to the trials of land purchasing and house design, to Roberto’s delicious coconut-cooking and Miel’s amusing antics, and to the very low water level of our little stream, well, I decided I didn’t have to whine about wetness anymore. I brought a new simple battery-operated radio (see former post about radio problems) and it has brought music back into our daily lives – as well as a connection to the news of the world, including the amazing rescue of the 33 miners in Chile. They say that a billion people were watching or listening to the rescue operation – what a nice thought, that so many people across the globe would be focused on something that is positive, not warlike, and has nothing to do with sports.
And as I write this from the shelter of the rancho, our first day of east coast rain has come – beginning with a thunderous pouring in the night and lingering as a mellow shower all day long. Our gasping little stream has swelled again, its renewed current rushing along its banks, washing nature’s refuse back out to the sea, the moisture triggering a brighter twinkle in the green eye of the forest, and cleansing our sun-baked souls. Ah, what a sweet rain it is.
Each night the owls circle our rancho. While we sit quietly or lay in bed, we hear the low swoosh of their wide wings as they move from perch to perch. All night, every night, we hear their call, sounding as a thin sheet of aluminum does when you slowly shake it. Throughout the night we hear them – with a multi-layered background of insects’ electric choruses, toads’ trills, the occasional grunts and whimpers of the monkeys as they reposition themselves, the crazy cackle of the more colorful creatures, leaves and seeds dropping like ammunition on the roof. That owl’s quiet, regular whoo-whoo-whoo haunts us and reminds us that there is a hunter out there.
There is usually only one owl but sometimes two and they are Spectacled Owls. They may be perched close to each other and chant in unison, but usually the calls come from different spots as if two fugitives are sending signals out of their dark hiding places to each other.
Roberto says they have been this verbal since Miel, our young cat, moved in a few months ago. Roberto believes the owls are calling for the cat to come out. Maybe Miel understands the danger as he doesn’t venture outside of the safety of the rancho during the night. He spends hours in the day bouncing about like a happy kid in a safe playground, hunting lizards, spiders and large grasshoppers. We can hear him chasing the shadows within several meters in the dark of evening when we are still awake and close by. He’ll hunt and catch rodents and amphibians at night in the shelter of the rancho, but we watch him listening to jungle sounds coming out of the dark forest and he knows to stay home.
There was one morning when Roberto went outside just after daybreak and there was no sign of Miel – not on the bag in the corner where he often sleeps, not on the covered daybed, not in any of his usual places. I woke up, sensing that Roberto was searching for something.
“The cat is gone,” he said with a sad voice. I got up and with some trepidation we both looked around the immediate area, wondering if we were going to see tuffs of his white and golden hair stuck to a tree or the remains of his body dropped on the bank of the stream. It felt like inevitability had come to call.
We aren’t worried about any other creature getting the cat, at least while we are at home, but the constant calling of the owl has been unnerving to say the least. Roberto has told me on more than one occasion how the owls will grab their prey with their big talons, and rip its eyes out with their lethal beaks. Not a nice image to be considering on a beautiful sunny morning.
I’ve been certain that the young tomcat (which will never be fixed according to Roberto’s rules of live and let live) will disappear when it gets old enough to hear the sound of the feline sirens in the neighborhood. The closest cats live through the bush and across the highway. Despite the owls and snakes, I think that dogs, cars and Miel’s own animal impulses are the biggest threats to a long life for our kitty.
As it was, about the time the sun was on the rise and we were on our first cup of coffee, a white and gold streak came flying up the path from the road, meowling and leaping like it had just dodged the Animal Control truck. We don’t know where Miel went, what took him there, and how many hours he was gone, but we have no doubt that something scary happened to him out there. He didn’t stop ranting, jumping, scampering up and down trees, and visibly shaking in his puss-n-boots, for most of the morning until he finally crashed and slept the rest of the day. And he has never gone missing since.
My guess is that, whatever it was that caught his attention and made him venture out that night, he must have been faced with some danger when he was out in the dark. Perhaps he had to wait, hiding in a safe place till dawn made it safe to make his way home. And my guess is that it could very well be those owls that scared him so.
Yesterday began as another beautiful sunny day. Roberto was across the stream, on what is the land I’m in the process of buying, gone to collect firewood. He returned and told me, “There is a dead owl over there.”
I followed him and sure enough, not fifty meters from here, we came across the still very preserved body of one of the owls with the wobbly-aluminum cry. We couldn’t make out what had killed him except maybe that he had broken his neck. It had been a recent death, as nothing was eaten away nor were there ants crawling on him.
His talons were exceptional – I shiver thinking how they could easily pick up little Miel and hold him steady while his big beak did the rest. As I said, the thought makes me shiver even as the hot sun makes me sweat. But what a magnificent creature he was.
This week we celebrated Costa Rica’s Independence Day. Along with most of the other Central American countries, they became independent from Spain in 1821. They celebrate this on the September 15th with annual traditions. On the evening of the 14th they have marches with torches and lanterns through their communities. This represents the way a woman spread the news 189 years ago – by walking all night with a lantern, she managed to get the people out to vote for independence the following day.
We went into Cahuita to see all the paper lanterns and hear the drummers. There were hundreds of people in town for the event which seemed to take forever to start and then ended quite quickly. There was grumbling by Roberto and his contemporaries about how things had changed since they were young. “In those days,” went the stories, “they would march in line and sing the national anthem and other patriotic songs. No one is singing now,” they complained.
It was my first Independence Day, so for me it was nice to see all the families out and recognize the work put in the lanterns. There are a lot of beautiful people in Cahuita, I must say. We didn’t make it back the next day for the morning parade. It’s only about a 25 minute walk into town, but we don’t always want to leave here. The daytime is beautiful here, and without electricity, you need to do everything before dark.
When the lights go down (by 6 p.m. we are in the dark now), and the night sounds swell up, it is magical. But we don’t go wandering in the forest much at night, unless we are just returning from town. Right now the moon is up in the sky early in the evening and growing from a slice into half a pie, and so the forest is well-lit. The variety of shadows in the moonlight, with the cacophony of the night choir, makes it very beautiful.
We only have a battery-operated radio as our entertainment but the humidity of the place messes up the radios. Roberto has gone through a few radios. The new digital ones don’t like it hear at all. I have brought a solar-powered radio but that didn’t last long and we’ve gone through a couple of crank radios. As you can see by the photo, between turning the crank and holding the antenna wire up, it is a real participatory stereo system.
I crank out a few songs every night. But it is just as nice to talk and listen to the forest. That is where you hear the sounds of life and death.
It’s an overcast morning in Cahuita. While torrential rains saturate the rest of Costa Rica, and perhaps most of Central America, it remains relatively dry here. We can hear the thunder rumbling up in the mountains behind us but that doesn’t mean we are going to get wet down here close to the sea. Dry on the Caribbean still means humid, drippy and lush but we are always warm and if we pay attention to the sky as we plan our day, we won’t get caught in the sparse rain showers as we walk to town or collect wood. If we take the umbrella, it’ll probably be used to shield us from the sun more than the rain.
Roberto just saw our occasional neighbor, the spectacled cayman, who comes to hang out in the stream several meters from the rancho from time to time. We now are keeping an eye on the shady wet refuge where it hides. I’ve only seen its eye at night, a big green diamond glaring at us out of the darkness, no doubt annoyed by the flashlight. We found some caca on the edge of the water along with the marks that some animal dug around while depositing it. Now we are more curious than ever, as we can’t imagine that a cayman’s droppings look like that of creatures such as racoons, yet we don’t know what animal would have got that close to the water with a cayman lurking close by. Unless it was the cayman itself who pooped there.
I’m used to being able to google questions such as “what does a cayman’s poop look like?” instantly while online. It feels prehistoric to not have the cyber-gods at my beck and call…alas, you can’t have it all.
Although I didn’t write much on this blog while I was in Ontario in July and August, I did have a lot of fantastic times with friends, heard great music, danced a lot and swam as often as possible in the clear cool waters of both Lake Michigan and Lake Ontario. I took lots of pictures and thought I’d sprinkle them throughout this and the following posts with as little comment as possible. After all, I know people like the pretty pictures as much as anything and it’s a shame to take nice photos and not share them.
To report on Mr. Wolf, the news is good. According to his son Benito, who I talked to by phone the other day, Wolf is getting stronger, with more oxygen filling his brain and body, and now the problem will be keeping him from overdoing things. He is, as Benito said, getting cranky with his limitations. He will have to get busy or his caretakers will grow less inclined to listen to him. Wolf is definitely not used to having to sit for too long and it has been several weeks now. You know the man is starting to feel much better when he wants to get out and swing his machete again.
There was a great response by people to the Monteverde Friends Monthly meeting request for donations to help Wolf take care of his medical needs. The final bill for the pacemaker operation was well over $12,000 (which doesn’t seem like much by North American standards) and they have collected over $15,000. Wolf will have to continue to return for checkups with the cardiologist and these are expensive, so the money collected will continue to be used for his ongoing care, including the cataract operation that is coming up next. Katy Van Dusen, the clerk of the meeting, sent an update and thank you letter. I expect that some of the readers of this blog may have donated money – if you wish to, you still can by reading the letter on my post “Happy 80th Birthday Wolf” which has the details – and I want to also extend my gratitude to those of you who have been so kind as to help the Guindons with these life-saving expenses. May Wolf walk many more miles with the help of that new pacemaker and a better quality of medical attention.
The sun has poked through the cloud cover and things are heating up. One of my favorite neighbors here is the kingfisher family – I’ve seen five species on our stream from the tiniest American Pygmy to the large Ringed Kingfisher. One of these big noisy beauties just came by, chatting away about who knows what. That is something about life in the tropical forest – there are a lot of outspoken creatures who live here creating an almost constant cacophony of chatter (like a bunch of almost teenage kids), but it is hard to understand what they are trying to say. If I did, then maybe I wouldn’t miss that google thing so much. I bet one of them would be able to tell us who shit in the woods.
After arriving on the bus last night in Monteverde, I let myself into the spacious apartment where I’ll be based for the next two months. I’ve never been in here so I had to search for light switches. Before I found any, the remnants of the full moon broke out from behind a large nocturnal cloud and illuminated the scene for me. The main room has three walls of windows gazing out on the tops of trees, close enough to touch. In short order I settled down on the couch to finish the book I’ve been reading and fell into a cool slumber.
The first thing my eyes gazed on this morning was the busy life in those tree tops around me. No less than a dozen varieties of birds were almost lined up on a branch, peering in on me – multi-hued euphonias, lime-green chlorophonias, shiny blue dacnis, motmots, tanagers – an incredible smorgasbord of winged delicacies, all so close I could count their feathers. The main attraction for them, and in turn for me, is the Ficus pertusa tree, full of ripening small red fruits. Welcome home to Monteverde!
I was just as excited when I walked out of the airport last week in San José and saw not only my lovely Rasta-bird Roberto waiting in the crowd with open arms, but also my friends Zulay and Hilda Martinez. Zulay’s husband Keith happened to be on the same plane as me, returning after several months in Canada to his San Carlos home. It was a surprise to see him walk down the aisle on the plane in Toronto and take his assigned seat right next to me! We had a chance to visit and then I had a little time upon arrival to talk with Zulay and her sister. Tucky, the sister of another friend in northern Ontario, was also on the same plane. I always say that Canadians in Costa Rica have only three degrees of separation, unlike the American six! This plane ride seemed to illustrate my point.
Roberto and I spent the week on his land outside Cahuita on the Caribbean. The three months’ separation passed like it had never been. It was both sunny and wet, hot and at times a little cool. A year ago, there was so much rain on the Caribbean that Roberto lost his home to a tidal river wave that washed it all to sea, but this year the rains both there and up here on the mountain have been minimal…which is not good for a rainforest but nice for sun worshippers.
There was enough rain while I was there one day to watch the Rio Suarez, what I call the moat, rise up by a couple feet. Each time this happens, the banks erode a little, the sandbars shift, and the river takes a slightly altered course. This season, a wonderfully deep and wide swimming hole has been created and I took advantage to bathe and soak up the sun on the new sandy beach that now exists. That will all have changed by the time I return there in a couple months. Being at Roberto’s is always full of surprises.
The huge higueron that hovers over the rancho and supports the hammock was absolutely full of fruit. Its little green figs were more abundant this year than Roberto has ever seen. They started dropping just before I got there but the whole week we were being bombed by these little green missiles. They’d drop like a metal shot on the zinc roof in the middle of the night awakening us and each morning we’d have to rake the pathways or you’d feel like you were walking on ball-bearings. Literally thousands fell – neither of us were directly targeted but we seriously questioned if you couldn’t be struck down in the event of a direct hit. The monkeys and oropendulas were having a hay (Hey!) day up there. When the wind rustled the treetops the bombing increased. By the time all those figs come down, I’m sure the count will be approaching a million or quadrillion, whichever comes first.
We were visited by the usual vast array of bugs and amphibians. My little friends the green and black dart frogs were hopping about each day, as well as the geckos, lizards and salamanders. Due to the season, there were more pesky insects like mosquitoes, bush lice, sand fleas and who-knows-what-else than usual. Life in the jungle can’t always be fun.
Throughout the week I was reading the book, Warriors of the Rainbow – A Chronicle of the Greenpeace Movement by Robert Hunter. I met Bob in 1989 on the blockade in Temagami where he came as both a supporter of the cause as well as an environmental reporter based in Toronto at the time. Bob was one of the founders of Greenpeace back in the 1970s on the west coast of Canada, a true warrior for the planet who put himself in danger multiple times to fight the mass insanity while maybe going a little insane himself. He also used his journalistic skills to make media waves around the world and bring attention to the crimes of nuclear proliferation, bomb testing, and the slaughter of whales and seals. I tell a story in Walking with Wolf about the discussion he brought to our fire circle on the blockade. What are you willing to do in defense of the defenseless in this world? What kind of activist are you going to be?
Reading this book while floating in the hammock in the peaceful jungle meant that I could stay calmer than I would have been if I was reading this book amidst news reports back in Canada – including the preparation of people heading to Copenhagen for the climate talks this month. Yes, we continue to make bits of progress, but at this point, with all the information known about the dangers inherent in the nuclear industry, about the futility of war, the disappearance of species and natural habitats, the earth’s very struggle to survive as the beautiful organism that it is – it is hard to fathom what the hell is taking us so long to get our collective act together and change the course we are on before we fall off the cliff. Actually, not so hard to fathom – it mostly comes back to the greed of the wealthy few, desperation of the poor masses and the apathy of the rest.
Roberto and I had a conversation about Greenpeace last year. He said that he thought that they were racist (though he’s not inclined to condemnation usually) or else why have they never taken up some of the issues directly affecting the equatorial countries in Africa and Latin America…specifically we were talking at the time about the big fruit corporations that run the banana and pineapple plantations (Dole, Del Monte, Chiquita) and have been leveling the forests, polluting the waters and poisoning the earth and its poor inhabitants for a bunch of fresh bananas for decades. I still have no answer for that, except that I always imagined that Greenpeace took on what it could and with a world so full of major insanity, it couldn’t take on everything. It was started by people in the northern hemisphere and seemed to radiate over the oceans going where nuclear tests were being conducted and whales were trying to survive. I don’t know what Greenpeace is today and which major struggles it continues with, I only know there has never been a shortage of issues to choose from.
Warriors of the Rainbow is an emotional account of activism of a serious kind in the 70s. I was starting on my own road of shit-disturbing at the time. Unfortunately so much hasn’t changed. Each decade, the activists, the environmentalists, the poets and the radicals claim that there is a new wave of commitment and real change coming. And yet the real changes have been small, the biggest waves remain that of consumerism and disrespect and greed – reinforced by the media, profited and advertised by corporations, allowed and bought into by the rest of us. I will never believe that social struggle is useless – lots of wrongs do get righted – whether it comes in the form of eco-warriors throwing themselves between the harpoon and the whale, angry youths taking to the streets, mass meditation striving for a new global emotional and spiritual health, or a simple man such as Wolf Guindon wandering for years through a forest that actually managed to get protected. There is room in this world for all kinds of activism – it is more important to do something, anything, than to do nothing. Even old Greenpeacers criticize the very organization that they founded with so much heart and anger, claiming it gives people something to appease their consciences if they make a donation. But one has to sincerely wonder just how close to that cliff we have to get before we truly start rising to the challenge and living in a way that will bring health and sanity and security to all the species including our own. I wish all those committed individuals and collective forces much luck over there in Copenhagen.
Just a quick update on Mr. Wolf – I spent yesterday with him. He seems to be coming around to the fact that he has to really watch his water intake and his diet and his energy output if he wants to not be having the “episodes” that have been plaguing him. His spirit is strong as usual. It is wonderful to be here with him as we prepare for the publication of the Spanish edition of Caminando con Wolf and he prepares to have his second knee operated on in a few months. The translation has been done and is now in the hands of the Tropical Science Center…Wolf and I see it as our task to keep them focused and keep the push on.
In the meantime, I’m off to a meeting with the board of Bosqueterno to discuss the history I have been working on for them. I’m enjoying this apartment with the singing colorful birds outside its windows – it will be even nicer when Roberto comes up to join me next week – there is a big open kitchen for him to work his culinary magic in. As I have said so many times in this blog, it is while surrounded by the simple beauty of our natural world and the love of friends, family and like-minded people (and good food and music) that I feel truly blessed and richly alive – even if at other moments I fear we are living in one big earthly insane asylum, quickly watching the planet fade to the washed-out green of our attendants’ uniforms.
A few days ago I returned to Cahuita. While in Monteverde I went to my favorite library in the world, the funky little one at the Friends School, and took out some books. One of these is a 2005 publication – “They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan” – a disturbing, raw account by three young men about their experiences starting life in southern Sudan where all hell was about to break out. As young boys, they survived the world’s longest war on foot, moving from place to place, trying to stay one step ahead of the fighting but suffering just about every other indignation to humanity. They finally ended up in a refugee camp in Kenya which kept them safe from the war but not famine and human desperation. Their stories began in the late 1980s and continue until these boys, now young men, safely arrived in the USA and were able to record them in this beautiful book.
Reading first hand accounts of lives lived is usually interesting, often thought-provoking and sometimes soul-shattering. Having just published a true-life book, Walking with Wolf, we have hoped that Wolf’s often humorous tales of a life lived in a mostly positive and productive way will bring joy and inspiration to people.
A book like They Pour Fired can’t possibly bring you joy although you certainly feel relief that these boys survived the horrors. There is a great warmth that fills me in knowing they are alive and working towards their dreams of being educated and sharing the truths with the world of what is going on back in their homeland, Sudan, by telling their incredible tales in such a direct and honest way. Just the phenomenal strength of the human spirit has to be celebrated. But the accounts of injustice, desperation, greed and the war that still rages on – that these children neither understood or caused or benefited from, only suffered through – that’s another thing. They fill my heart with disgust at the forces in this world that continue to insist that another war is going to bring better conditions to the masses when the majority of wars bring more of that thing now so casually referred to as “collateral damage”, with horrors so traumatizing that for many death is the easier way out.
And worse, there is inevitably a group of people making immense wealth off of all this and so war, under whatever excuse or guise, carries on. There are things on this planet that are hard to swallow, the bitter pills of life, but we can’t remain totally ignorant either.
Finishing this book the other morning struck me down from my pleasant perch, made me sad and that eventually moved into melancholy. Roberto began one day last week in that space as it was his 56th birthday and well, birthdays will do that to you. Although we had plans to go to town to celebrate, a steady rain started around 5 p.m., finally washing this dry earth, and it lingered through the evening until we decided to miss the wet walk and stay home. Instead I let him beat me at dominoes, it being his birthday and all.
As it goes with melancholy, his passed quickly enough, as has mine. A troop of howler monkeys moving into the trees directly above the hammock has helped. They inevitably make me joyful with their family-style living, raucous jumping and expressive voices. As I was watching them I realized that I was also looking up at a sloth. I’m guessing she’s a very pregnant female as she is quite big and round. I haven’t been able to see her feet to count her toes so don’t know what kind she is, but I’m filled with happiness knowing she is above me and will probably stay around for awhile. I love these neighbors we have.
Roberto had his big joy a couple days ago when Costa Rica whipped the tail of the US soccer team in an important game on the road to next year’s World Cup in South Africa. The US was in first place in the section but Costa Rica took over that spot with this game (and then reinforced it by winning against Trinidad/Tobago a couple days later.) You could feel the smile of this country spread across the radio waves as we were listening to the game.
A howler above me just let out a huge roar, making me jump, and reminding me to pay attention as he may be moving into peeing-down-from-the-sky range. Which brings me back to “They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky”, as I watch how nature has given traits to the sloths and monkeys so that they can co-exist in forests, sharing the food that is available, having their leaf preferences so there is plenty to go around. I can hear a male from a different troop chanting not far from us and another a little further away still. Of course if the trees were cut down, their habitats and food destroyed, theses creatures would have to compete and suffer and die over what little resources are left for them. As is what has happened to the innocent sons and daughters of Sudan.
I highly recommend that you find this book. It is beautiful to read though it is a retched story to consume but this never-ending war in Sudan needs to be understood by those of us living our sweet lives elsewhere.
As for co-existing with those monkeys, that male just about peed on me, but fortunately, his aim was poor! Maybe next time.
A few days after writing this, Roberto and I slashed our way through his plantain and banana plants, under the cool shadiness of the old cocoa bushes and to the base of a tree a little ways from where we had first seen the sloth. She was now moving quietly through the leafy branches, her newborn baby gripping her belly. The sweet side of life.
I’ve started writing this while laying in the hammock – it’s early morning and the heat is beating down the slight coolness that accompanied us in the night. If I try to count the number of types of leaves I can see without moving my head, face turned skyward, I reach twenty shapes and quit counting, the effort a little too much. Or if I try to isolate the sounds – the voices of the creatures, the frogs, the morning birds, the cicadas – what are all those other insects anyway? – and the sound of a big bushman chopping firewood to get the coffee brewing – well, I get lost in the various layers of songs coming out of this steamy, verdant landscape. The only sound that could be deemed intrusive is the occasional passing of a vehicle on the highway a couple hundred meters through the bush. No matter how jungle-bound one may feel, civilization is never really that far away.
It has been about a week since I last wrote (now two I admit as I finish this), thus my blogological clock is ticking and telling me to write. The time has gone by in a haze of lazy jungle love. From the moment I saw Roberto’s tall dark silhouette outside the airport doors, I felt myself breathe deeply again and knew I had come back to where I should be. When we arrived in Cahuita the next day and walked up the bush road, down the jungle path, crossed the now quiet (yet often fast-flowing) moat that encircles the place, and settled into his rancho nestled beneath the tall Guanacaste trees, I felt like I had come home.
We’ve barely left the place except to get food and to go dancing a couple of nights. The Quebrada Suarez, the twisting stream, provides enough sunning and cooling time that even taking the twenty minute walk to the beach seems like too much work.
A woman moving into a man’s domain always shakes things up, so we’ve been “remodeling” – making space for my things, increasing the comfort level, Roberto building rustic furniture as we sense the need – assemblage art it would be called back in Canada.
I brought a minimum of “stuff” with me, being very selective, simple living being one of the things that I truly appreciate about this place. The two most important things are my coleman stove which needs a different connection for the gas tanks here - in the soggy tropical forest cooking with wet firewood can be a full-time affair, not always a bad thing but often a frustrating one - and the components to hook up a solar system. My pal Chuck lent me a small solar panel and I bought the power inverter and now just need to buy a boat battery to get it all working. With a bit of effort , a few dollars, and a little luck, I should soon be able to write directly on my laptop being powered by that free and easy big ol’ sun, the same beast that keeps us moving slowly and conserving our own energy – unlike the bustling hummingbirds who are zipping about me and the butterflies of all colors who don’t stop their fluttering all day long.
However, we haven’t got around to getting the stove or the solar stuff working – as I said, it’s been hard just getting out to buy food.
Instead we’ve been watching the howler monkeys fearlessly leaping about the tops of the fifty meter high trees. There are moments here – mostly at daybreak and sunset – when the cacophony of jungle life swells to a crescendo before settling back down to a background buzz. It is often the male howler monkey who officially starts the day with his lazy roar – if he is in one of the closest trees it is as subtle as the engine of a Harley Davidson revving outside your bedroom window.
A pair of green and black poison dart frogs lives in the hammock tree (along with at least four different kinds of herps – geckos, lizards et al.)
Other constantly noisy neighbours are the oropendulas, tropical relatives of the orioles. Like ecstatic percolating coffee pots, they bubble away while getting food in the treetops and building their long dangling nests. The last couple of days the squawking parrots have taken over – it seems to me that there is a domestic dispute going on high up in the trees and those loud green birds are really having issues with each other. Not everyone can be so content in the jungle it would seem.
The other afternoon we spent time watching a King Vulture, a strange sight here in the vibrant green forest – they are more usually seen around open places or where there is rotting food of some kind or circling high in the sky. This guy came and sat down on a branch in the cool jungle, as if pretending to be an exotic quetzal seeking a quiet refuge from its adoring fans. We were laying in the hammock watching him watching us when a weak rope holding Roberto and I finally gave out and sent us to the ground. I swear that vulture had a smile on his waiting beak, always happy to see an accident in progress.
As it turned out, he had his eye on the corpse of a large toad, laying dead in the foliage on the far bank. Who knows what killed it or when, but that vulture knew its worth and struggled to lift it up. This was one of those big cane toads, big enough to fill a coffee pot. It was a fight for the vulture, and he was under pressure when he realized that I was chasing him with my camera, but he managed to get that big carcass up and away before I could get a decent picture.
The humidity has been building around us, night skies are filled with lightning and thunder rumbles in the distance, but not more than a drop of rain has fallen in the now two weeks I’ve been here. The rest of Costa Rica has had wild storms and deluges – the one night we went half an hour down the coast to Puerto Viejo to go dancing where it was pouring – but it remains dry and hot and steamy in Roberto’s piece of jungle paradise.
The country is waiting in anticipation of a big earthquake on the Pacific side and last night the Caribbean coast of Honduras suffered a significant earthquake. One never knows what one will be dealing with here in the tropics – it isn’t all pretty.
I’m now in San Jose with Wolf, awaiting the arrival of the shipment of the second printing of Walking with Wolf – we have all our ducks in a row, the Reserve truck is coming to get us, the money is in the bank, our customs man, Eliecer, is on the job – and the books seem to have got hung up in the same highway closure I did last night on my way here from the Caribbean. So our ducks are about to get scattered again and we will all be winging it.
As I made my way to the city yesterday, having left on the 11:30 a.m. bus, the highway from Limon was closed for several hours, the result of at least ten landslides from the heavy rain. The workers wouldn’t clear the rocks and earth and trees while the rain was still pouring down and so the traffic sat – me in a dry bus so in no discomfort – but we pulled into the city about five hours later than usual, at 8 p.m. in the dark. And I expect that is what happened to the books – slowed down by the forces of nature. Like our ducks.
Once we have those books we’ll be heading up the green mountain and I’ll stay a few days in Monteverde talking book business and visiting friends. It’s nice to be out of the mosquitoes and humidity, but I am already looking forward to getting back down to the jungle next week. After all, love awaits and that is worth a little sweat.