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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!
I returned to the Caribbean coast on February 6, 2010, the anniversary of my first night in Costa Rica twenty years ago in 1990. Then, as now, it was the eve of a national election which falls on the first Sunday of February every four years. It was also the celebration of Bob Marley’s birthday, who, if he was alive, would be 65 and no doubt still making music of love and peace in complex patterns that appear simple. Just like true love and world peace – beautifully basic concepts, complicated to achieve and sustain in reality. Bob, known as Tuff Gong for being a street dog who could fight, didn’t necessarily live up to these gracious ideals himself though he sure made great songs about them.
I’ve bought a new laptop which came to Costa Rica in a rather convulated fashion, thanks to my nerd in the Hammer, Brandon Lukasik, and fellow Canadian in Monteverde, Margaret Adelman. I finally got all my files into it, thanks in large part to my hero-of-the-week, José, who fixed things I couldn’t understand and made it all work smoothly. I left my trusty old Toshiba in Monteverde for students to use at the Friends School. The new Dell has an extended battery in it, since we are off the grid here at Roberto’s. The next thing is getting a solar panel and charging system and I’ll be set. As Bob’s voice caresses us, singing abouting ending war and respecting each other, and I’m tap tap tapping away in my bloglife, Roberto is digging the possibilities of this new technology that’s come to his wireless jungle paradise, though he remains totally uninterested in trying to understand it.
I’m in awe of being here in the steamy dripping jungle and working comfortably on a computer. I have all the systems on low energy, and I figure it is better in this humid climate to use it and let the heat dry it out than worry about how much battery is left. Whereas before I would handwrite while I was here, now I can write as fast as I think, quickly skating over the letters on the keyboard. And I can listen to music at the same time. My battery is supposed to last about seven hours – if I’m just typing. With playing music, I will keep track of what the battery can do before having to take it to town to be charged – and how long will that take anyway? There has been a bit of rain, which is good because it has been quite dry here – well, everywhere in Costa Rica pretty much – and Roberto’s moat, the Quebrada Suarez, needs a washout and refill. It’s enough of a drizzle to keep us from going to town to see the Superbowl – really just the halftime show gets my interest – nicer to stay home, listen to the forest, keep a fire going, go to bed.
All night long, the sky dripped. Drops in every language fell, joining together in a percussive experiment. It wasn’t rain by Caribbean standards, just a gentle wet lullabye being hummed throughout the night. Now, morning, and the sky has stopped its crying, but the trees are soggy enough that their melancholy song of teardrops will continue for hours.
The howler monkeys have taken over. There is a family in a tree directly above us, and the moaning, whining and roaring is impressive. It was almost exactly a year ago that we were staying in a cabin in Cahuita town and the howlers put on a concert for days that was unlike anything I’d ever heard before (written about in “The Kukulas of Cahuita” blogpost). The sounds coming from them today is reminiscent of that – makes me wonder what is going on with them at this time of the year? Are they in heat or do they already have young babies who they are either teaching or protecting? Songs of the jungle, along with the morning’s first cup of coffee, how delicious.
The last couple weeks in Monteverde were spent sitting in front of this same laptop, working hard to get the new blog for Bosqueterno S.A. up and running (http://bosqueternosa.wordpress.com) and putting together a power point presentation to share that same history with the community. It’s a part of Monteverde history, the creation of the first watershed reserve, that few seem to remember, if they ever knew it. I went out one day with Wolf, thinking to plant the seed that I’d be returning in March and available to give this talk to the guides, Reserve employees, Friends School, and members of the community at the Monteverde Institute. By the end of the day, I had four dates lined up – people were excited about learning more about the beginning of conservation in Monteverde.
In March, Roberto and I will return to the green mountain to spend a couple more weeks with our little feline friend, Miel, who is now in the tender loving care of Sarah and Priscilla, the teaching assistants for the CIEE course. They moved into the apartment a little over a week ago. It was great to meet them fresh and energetic – Sarah from Minnesota but a former CIEE student in Monteverde, and Priscilla, a Tica who majored in biology from San José. Their students are arriving this week, and their lives will change for the next four months.
Karen Masters and her husband Alan have run the CIEE program(Council on International Educational Exchange) in Monteverde for years. It’s a tropical biology course but there is now a sustainable ecology option as well. Karen happens to also be my adviser in the Bosqueterno work (as she is president of their Board of Directors). Roberto and I bumped into Karen and Alan in San José at the little Caribbean restaurant (La Abuela on Avenida 1/Calle 5 or so) that we discovered back in December. It was sheer coincidence that we ran into the Masters there and great to have a moment before their student groups came and they were lost in their teaching responsibilities for months. Unfortunately, though I would still recommend the restaurant, Roberto’s meal was not good – uncooked fish, cold and tasteless rice and beans – and he knows his rice and beans! The rest of our meals were fine, and the bad food could have been due to the fact that the place was packed, a very busy lunchtime crowd, putting too much stress on the little kitchen.
I celebrated no less than four birthdays while in Monteverde – Tricia Wagner, drama and music teacher extraordinaire; Marlene Brenes, who works in the CIEE office downstairs from the apartment; as well as my pals Alan Calvo and Mark Fenton at Bromelias.
Tricia’s birthday was celebrated with the poetry group which my good friend Patricia Jimenéz is also part of. I’ve spent other evenings with these folks when no poetry is shared, just food, wine and conversation. Other times, they write poetry together and people share their poems. They call themselves the Gatos Pardos and have been getting together and supporting each other’s creative writing for years. As a gift to both Tricia and Walter, another member who had recently had a birthday, Patricia created books with a selection of each member’s poetry, cloaked in a cover of handmade paper of recycled and organic materials that she has been making with another group of women in her home. As Tricia says, Patricia Jimenéz is an inspiration and idol to us all – painter, poet, political analyst, polio survivor and protaganist of a myriad of creative ventures in the Monteverde area. And always a wonderful friend to spend an evening with, sipping wine and talking about life.
That night ended at the Mata ‘e Caña where Las Nómadas were playing – Andres, Diego and Cristian, guitar and percussion (along with saxophonist Richard Trostle), singing and drumming out the sweet beats of cuban salsa along with a little of this and that. There are some good bands these days in Monteverde – and you can catch at least a couple of them every week at the Mata, formerly la Taverna as it was known to thousands for more than twenty years. It’s now run by Shannon Smith who oversees the place like the charismatic, buxom red-headed madam of a saloon in the wild west – although the place looks more like New York City than Laredo. Due to her consistent booking of fine musical acts, I spent alot of nights dancing there in the last couple months in Monteverde.
The other sweet spot higher up the road on the mountain is Bromelias. Patricia Maynard has done some more remodeling (she has more ideas than money) and is gearing up for her Music Festival – three top quality groups each weekend for four weeks beginning mid-February. I went there for her son Machillo’s 21st birthday which we celebrated the same day as her employee and our friend, Alan Calvo’s. These last couple of weeks in Monteverde have been windless, starry-skied nights, warm and magical. Bromelias is enchanting when the fire is blazing outside under the sparkly night sky, and there is always some variation of music in the restaurant or in the amphitheater.
The National Theater of Costa Rica put on a play there this last week – called Canto de Ballenas (Whale Singing) – which was a rather melancholy four-character, one-act play whose message seemed to be “sometimes, it’s better just to forget”. It starred the lovely Alejandra Portilla and played out under a calm warm night in Bromelias Amphitheater. They were going to be having a big reggae, rice and beans celebration at Bromelias for Bob Marley’s birthday, but I left Monteverde to meet up with Roberto and return here to our jungle home.
At the last minute, we decided to go spend my 20th anniversary and Bob’s birthday in Puerto Viejo. Sadly, the live band wasn’t playing at Maritza’s bar, where we like to go dancing, but we still got some dancing in by bar-hopping throughout the night. Bob’s music was everywhere, sang live by Memo and his hot band Plan B at the corner bar, pounding at Johnny’s disco on the beach, rippling out of almost every doorway.
Our new place to stay in Puerto is La Dolce Vita. In November, we stayed in a room with shared bath for $15 near the communal kitchen; this time for 15,000 colones (about $25) we had a private bath in a very comfortable room – the place is secure, super clean, colorful and close to downtown, but still very quiet.
Now Roberto’s jungle home is the place to be, surrounded by the sweet sounds of the jungle. Listening to the radio this morning, Roberto reported to me that the New Orleans Saints won the Superbowl. I’m glad that something good happened for that city…where just five years ago the homeless and traumatized survivors of Kratina were being housed in the stadium that the now victorious football team calls home.
He also told me that Laura Chinchilla became the first female president of Costa Rica last night continuing the reign of Oscar Arias’ Liberación Nacional party. As I wrote at the beginning, there is a lot of apathy, disillusionment and disgust in this country for their politicians these days. Twenty years ago, when I first came here, they were so proud of their democracy that they would walk proudly in the streets showing off the purple thumbs that proved that they had indeed participated in the vote. Now, just six electons later, many people can’t be bothered to vote. They don’t believe the propaganda and election promises. It is a sad tendency in many democracies these days – certainly in Canada, where disgust is at an all time high with the minority Conservative government who just took a long extended parlimentary vacation, and the U.S., where the aftermath of Obama’s election isn’t meeting the high expectations of hope and change.
Costa Rica has bathed for years in a special light, but the truth is often far from its pacifistic, green reputation. May the new government bring some honesty and truth and intelligent foresight back, before the possibility of eternal environmental health and a comfortable and secure standard of living is lost to a much darker reality. It is something that in such a machista country, that a woman has been voted in as president, but it certainly doesn’t ensure that her policies will change from those of the old boys’ club (aka Margaret Thatcher).
Long after his own life passed, Bob Marley’s songs continue to ring throughout the world, with a chorus of love and peace amid verses of unity and respect. He grew up in poverty with a mother who bestowed on him her own talent for singing – he joined with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer to create a music that transcends languages and borders and deeply touches almost everyone who hears it. His songs can change the world – they are some of the sweetest ever written. That special light shone down on this soul too and he rose to meet it, at least in music and message. Thank you Bob, rest in that same peace that you sang so beautifully about.
PS – I’ve written, listened to music, or gone on to my computer for some thing or other for about five and a half hours – and it tells me there is still 25% of the battery left! Cool! Off to town, Roberto will do some fishing, me some swimming and then go charge up the battery and go online to post this. Ah, the sweet life….
PPS – Posting this in Bastimento, Bocas del Toro, Panama – may never return…love this place.
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.
It seems I’ve only had minutes here in the Hammer before it’s time to head out again. I truly lucked out in having a week of glorious summer weather since arriving from Costa Rica. The blue skies and sunshine just won’t quit. I’ve unpacked and am now repacking to go to the northeastern US for a couple days – heading to a Quaker retreat in Vermont on a lake, so I sure hope this weather will follow me there and make the lake swimmable. Will then visit again with Cocky and Peter on the coast of Maine and stop in to see Carlos Guindon, who is moving forward with the final details of the Spanish translation of Walking with Wolf.
Between preparing to head out, juggling my book event schedule (have just added a talk on November 19 for the Kingston Field Naturalists), and meeting up with friends who I haven’t seen for a few months, this week has flown by as quickly as the planes that keep appearing above my house as part of the Hamilton Air Show. As is usual when I’m here in the Hammer, I’ve managed to catch a lot of live music this past week.
There is a new music venue that opened up while I was in Costa Rica, just a two minute bike ride from my house. I can see myself becoming a regular here when in the city. What used to be the old Copperhead Bar on James Street North (or the Copper John or Copper Corner or something like that – a place I’ve passed for years but never really taken notice of) has been given a new life as “This Ain’t Hollywood” – more affectionately known as The Saint. Hammerheads Lou Molinaro, Glen the Hamilton Kid and Gary Daly have taken over this ancient beer hall (slinging beer since 1893), done a few smart renovations and added a big sound system. The new stage is filling with rock, punk and alternative acts passing through the area as well as regular open mic nights where local musicians and their friends and fans gather.
Local singer-songwriter-music producer, JP Reimens, has organized a songwriters’ soiree at The Westtown over on Locke Street for a few years, but last week moved his Tuesday night gathering to The Saint. I’ve managed to catch the shows. It is a real nice room to see musicians play with good sightlines and there is a full clear sound. There is so much great talent around and you never know who will show up to perform or just drop by to see what’s going on: from the sultry sirens Ginger St. James, Lori Yates and Buckshot Bebee to guitar wizards Brian Griffith and Dan Walsh to the city’s songwriters with attitude Tim Gibbons, Linda Duemo and Dave Rave.
Last weekend was “the biggest Ribfest in the country” on the Burlington waterfront. With my friends Jeff (no last names please – the CIA is watching) and Heather, we went over to hang out on the beach in the late afternoon and have a barbeque, waiting for the sun to go down before heading up to the biggest pig-out in the land.
It’s a very different beach than the Caribbean shore in Cahuita I just spent the last two weeks on – chilly Lake Ontario sipping at its sand, just as often lashing it with serious waves. But the lake was calm and the full moon was rising and the city startled to sparkle as a gorgeous night came on.
We rode our bikes up the waterfront path to the big rib-affair to see Tom Wilson, another of my favorite musical beasts of Hamilton, along with some great musicians, including Jesse O’Brien, keyboardist extraordinaire.
Tom’s son Thompson and friends have a band – Harlan Pepper – as well as a big self-promoting father who gets gigs and press, so these four young guys are getting some exposure (opening for Tom’s show as they did on this night.) Some talent, some good songs, but still young and could do with some attitude. But the papa-musician, Tom, rocks as always and is guaranteed to be playing with hot talent no matter who he is at the moment – Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Junkhouse, Lee Harvey Osmond, or he himself with an assembled band.
That big full moon continued hanging over us the next night when I went to Sonny Del Rio’s birthday party. Sonny’s the father of the sax here in the Hammer – been playing forever and at 66 is playing more than ever and loving it.
There was a backyard full of musicians and they stepped up to the mic, including Gord Lewis of Teenage Head who played a few with Sonny and friends. It was a real nice evening spent with my good friends Mike and Freda as well as Dean and Gary Duncan and his brother Randy, folks I love but I don’t get enough chances to see.
It is so great to come back to this happening little city where good friends reside and I never need be bored – not a word in my vocabulary anyway. Yet it is all on a scale that makes you look at the central core of Hamilton as truly down-town, as in the backbeat of a town, not the staccato of a big city.
Now I’m hanging my sign on the door of this blog:
GONE ON ROADTRIP…THE DOOR’S OPEN…MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME…BACK SOON
It is now September and, totally off my usual migratory schedule, I’m back in the north. Home in the Hammer, enjoying brilliant blue skies – even Hamilton Bay, the maligned body of water that shares its shores with steel companies and suburbia, has an aqua shine to it these days. I couldn’t ask for a better homecoming. My buddy with a bosom, Cocky, was at the airport to meet me, after her own month of travels. A treat to come home to, but now she’s gone too. I may get a chance to go for a sail on that same water if this weather holds for the Labour Day weekend which it is supposed to.
My last two weeks in Costa Rica were spent down in sweet calypsolandia, Cahuita. Although it rained lots in July on the Caribbean coast just as it had been up in Monteverde, I ended up being followed by beautiful weather from the green mountain to the seashore. There were some casual showers of course, and maybe one night of insistent rain, but the month of September in Cahuita means dry weather. Hard to fathom how, when it is hurricane season just to north, but I stopped trying to figure out weather a long time ago.
We got a lot of hot sunny days that sent us to the beach, but we mostly stayed at home. It was glorious to be back basking under those big trees, bathing in the cool water, being serenaded by the howlers and bailando with Roberto. I was amazed at how much the papaya seedlings we had planted in July had grown in the four or so weeks I was away. But then the growth of vegetation in Costa Rica always unnerves me a bit – you just don’t want to sit in one place too long if there is a vigorous-looking vine nearby.
One afternoon we went up to the Port of Limon, a place I really only have known as a bus-changing town. We walked around the ‘malecon’, the boardwalk that follows the seaside. Limon is one of the oldest cities in the Americas, having been visited by Christopher Columbus in 1502, so if it seems a little worn that should be understandable.
Development in Costa Rica by the Spaniards took place from the Pacific side, and so the Atlantic coast was left to fend for itself against all that crazy rainforest vegetation. In the mid-1800s the government decided to build a railroad and connect Limon (particularly its port) to the rest of the country. They brought in Chinese and Jamaican workers to build the tracks and thus the Caribbean coast is very much an extension of Afro-Caribbean culture with lots of chop suey houses around.
There is no denying racist elements that existed (and unfortunately still do.) When the railroad was finished and the banana plantations became a major employer, the black population provided the workforce. They weren’t encouraged to travel throughout the country, couldn’t afford it anyway, and the fact that they were foreigners themselves made it able to control their movements through their documents. Eventually they went to work in other parts of Costa Rica as laborers were needed and Afro-Caribbean families settled elsewhere in the country. But the heart of the calypso-blooded community will always be Limon.
The city developed once the railroad took off, but government money was never pouring their way. In the last year or two, there has been a move by the Costa Rican government to bring economic development to the area although people are waiting to see the proof. There was an attempt at revitalizing the waterfront of Limon several years ago, but earthquakes and storms destroyed much of the expanded boardwalk as well as what must have been a great little outdoor concert theatre in its short life. As Limon grows into a bigger cruise ship port (it is already a large commercial harbor and a popular cruise ship stop) hopefully some of the wealth that visits its shores will be spread in the area. Although Limon is known for its poverty, its richness of spirit and culture is as much a part of life there. The biggest threat to that, after poverty, is the drug trade which feeds on the poverty and changes the spirit.
The city has a funky flair to it and lots of local color, from the bright hues of the buildings to the cacao skin of the residents. When you take the highway east of San José, over the mountains of Braulio Carillo National Park, and through the miles of flat banana and pineapple fields, over the wide rivers coming out of the mountains and arrive in Limon province, you know you are in a different culture than in the rest of Costa Rica. The food changes – instead of arroz y frijoles, you are now eating rice and beans cooked in coconut milk; the music changes – from salsa and merengue to calypso, soca and reggae; and the language is English-based Limonense-Creole rather than Spanish. It seems that most people are fluently tri-lingual – speaking Tico Spanish and British English as well as their own Caribbean-tongue. It is a disappearing language as are many of the indigenous languages that are being used by less and less natives of Costa Rica. My experience being there with Roberto is that every plant, bird and insect has a different name in Limon than elsewhere in the country. The words are English-based, but the names are distinct to this region. I can get very lost trying to follow the lilt and tilt of the language used in Cahuita.
We had some beautiful days and were out on the ocean as often as we could force ourselves to go for the walk through the forest to the beach. There was another hot night spent in Puerto Viejo, which has a number of bars that cater to different crowds - we go to Maritza’s, which has a live band on Saturday nights and always plays a great variety of music for dancing from soca to salsa.
In the middle of all this it was my birthday and Roberto promised to go out in the sea and get me lobster for dinner. So we spent two fine mornings on the beach under a big sun, the sea a calm shiny turquoise stone. Roberto used to be a diver (snorkeler) and caught and sold octopus, fish and lobster, but quit a number of years ago as he saw the population of these sea creatures diminish. The banana plantations in the area have caused lots of pollution – from their chemical effluent to the silt run-off to the plastic bluebags that they put over the banana bunches – all this stuff ends up in the ocean and, along with a bad earthquake or two, things have never been the same.
But it didn’t take him long to get four nice-sized lobster for dinner and we were thankful for the bounty. We were blessed with the warmth of the sun and the beauty of the sea and took advantage to walk through Cahuita National Park’s shady trails, sharing our time with the monkeys.
Cahuita’s beaches are stunning and the National Park is one of the most beautiful in the country. Between the white sand beach, the reef off the point, the hours of hiking, the constant presence of birds, insects and animals, and the fact that you can enter for a small donation from the town access point, it makes for one of the nicest parks to visit in Costa Rica. They have built bridges over some of the swampier areas (where before there were submerged wooden walkways), using the same recycled-plastic material that the Monteverde Reserve has been using on its trails and signage for a few years now. It was interesting that we could smell the plastic off-gassing in the very hot sun – something that I’ve never noticed up in the cooler cloud forest.
We also continued taking care of Roberto’s little farm. We seeded corn and within three days it was two inches out of the ground – when I head back there in November I should be eating elotes, the young corncobs.
Roberto climbed up his castaña tree, the glamorous cousin of the breadfruit, to chop off the top limbs before it gets too tall and he won’t be able to harvest the fruit.
This tree is also growing on the bank of his stream and, knowing that it will fall one day, he has been concerned that if it is too tall it will fall on his casita. So I took pictures as he shimmied up the trunk and took his machete to the big elegant leaves and chopped off the top.
Afterward he said he was getting too old to do this stuff – between the possibility of falling, wasps, snakes, and other risks he felt lucky to get the job done in one piece - but my guess is he’ll keep climbing and chopping as long as he needs to, for as long as he is truly able. His age is just making him realize how vulnerable he is and that when it hurts, it hurts harder.
We went back through the mountains to San José for my last two days in the country. There was a full day of music awaiting us and we took advantage.
Wandering around the city, we caught the Lubin Barahona orchestra outside of the National Museum. It was big band music and boleros being sung by old timers.
The crowd was mostly older couples who were happy to be dancing on the street while the music played on and the rain held off. Like in most cities, there is live music playing for free to be found most weekends.
We then caught a gospel concert in the Melico Salazar Theatre at night – a contest between three local gospel choirs (won by the University choir) with Master Key (a five man acapella group from Costa Rica now working in the US)
with Manuel Obregon, a musician I’ve known for years in Monteverde (and seen him play here in Toronto twice). He’s one of the most experimental composers in the country – here he was playing gospel with our friend Tapado, the country’s top percussionist, at his side. Manuel never fails to amaze me with where his music takes him and he takes alot of other musicians along for his musical rides. The Let It Shine concert was presented by a gospel choir group and held to celebrate Black Culture Day, August 31. It was a great way to extend my time in the cultural richness of the Afro-Caribbean community.
The inevitableness of leaving woke me up early on the last day of August and when it is time to go, it is time. It makes saying goodbye easier when you know you are going to return within a couple of months (si dios quiere.) Heading to my happy home in the Hammer also makes things easier. I can still feel the Caribbean sun on my skin and if I listen hard enough, the gentle arrival of the waves lapping the beach and gently rocking my soul.
The mellowness of life in the jungle and on the sea exists in stark contrast to the busyness of my life back here in the city as I prepare for a trip to the northeastern US, continue overseeing the Spanish translation of Walking with Wolf, work on the historical record of Bosqueeterno S.A., and catch up with my northern friends.
Stay calm, Kay, stay calm – but keep that ball rolling, there is lots to do.
Here on the green mountain, beauty is all around us. Some of this is just the sheer natural splendor of the place – the misty-erios cloud forest, the tall, twisted, bromeliad-filled trees, the dripping emerald canopy, the rolling pastures with pretty-faced Guernsey cows. Then there is the minute glory, from the delicate orchids to the flashy beetles to the exotic fungi. But beauty is also found in the people here and I think this comes from how they collectively live relatively healthy lives – not all, not always, but compared to the faces of urban sprawl, the inner city and the poverty of spirit one can often find elsewhere, one has to be happy to have landed here.
I spent two days last week celebrating exactly these riches. Last Sunday, there was a wedding at the Friends Meeting House – the director of the Monteverde Institute, Jannelle Wilkins married her man, Rick Mera in a peaceful ceremony, surrounded by their friends and neighbors. I was part of the little group who decorated the room for them – we hung calla lilies in the windows and strategically placed tables to hold the various bouquets of garden flowers that were brought by folks from the community. Calla lilies are also known as peace lilies and they couldn’t have been more appropriate for the occasion. My new friend Caroline Crimm provided many of these lilies and more were donated by others, enough that we were able to hand them out to guests as they arrived. The room was simple and serene.
The Trostle family
As at all weddings, the guests arrived looking their best, with smiles on their faces, and that makes for a good-looking assembled crowd. I snapped lots of photos and share several here – perhaps you will recognize some of the faces – weddings tend to bring out hope and joy in people, and this wedding was no exception.
Jannelle & Katy Alberto Guindon & Angelina
At the Quaker meeting, the wedding ceremony is as thoughtful and personal as Sunday meeting. Friend Katy Van Dusen nicely explained what would happen – we would sit in silence and await the arrival of Jannelle and Rick. When they came, we sang a song together – “Simple Gifts” – to the guitar accompaniment of Tricia Wagner, who herself has a beautiful voice. As the song says… “when we find ourselves in the place just right, it will be in the valley of love and delight.” And it was. Or at least on the mountain of…
Rick & Jannelle with Saray & Melvin Leiton
When they were ready, the couple exchanged their vows, looking in each other’s eyes, only the two of them. In between each part of the ceremony, there was silence, time to reflect and appreciate the moment. Jannelle and Rick signed the wedding papers and shortly after people stood one by one and shared their thoughts. This couple was blessed by the warmth of the community.
Jannelle’s sister Darlene and daughter Natalia The Jenkins family
The members of their families who had come for the wedding were very moved by the occasion. Someone expressed how people often feel that this simple Friends ceremony, where guests are encouraged to share their own thoughts, is one of the most beautiful wedding ceremonies they have been to – the couple say their vows directly to each other, in the presence of their friends, not to a priest or pastor or minister. And the wishes extended by their family and friends are thoughtful and wise and filled with loving concern.
Afterward we all walked a little ways up the road to the Hotel Fonda Vela, where there was a huge spread of wonderful food, accompanied by songs of love sang by Tricia Wagner and Robert Dean. A marimba band played outside where meat was roasting on the barbeque. The sun set in a furious explosion of brightness behind the head table while more words of support were expressed. It was a beautiful gathering of friends, surrounded by love and the hope of a joyful future for Jannelle and Rick.
A couple days after that, I took to the woods with Wolf’s son Ricky Guindon. In my job with Bosqueeterno S.A., where I’ve been challenged to write a history of this watershed reserve set aside by the original Quakers in 1951, I will also include a natural history of the 554 hectares – describing the primary forest and its inhabitants, the use of the land and the various biological studies that have taken place there over the years.
Ricky has been a field assistant with a number of biologists and was the perfect guide for this hike. We had originally thought that we would head out the trail that starts near the entrance to the Reserve and goes to El Valle and then turn and follow the boundary line of the property. We knew that the maintenance crew had recently cleared it but also knew that it would still be much more challenging hiking than any of the trails as these carril lines are not designed for easy walking.
On my way up to the Reserve to meet Ricky, I ran into Dan Perlman, a biologist from the U.S. who has spent years here studying ants. When he heard where I was going, he told me that he had with him a 360-degree camera and would love to tag along. He would take photos along the way that we could then use on the Bosqueeterno webpage when we get to doing that. I haven’t seen these photos, but can imagine they are incredible. He would stand in one place and the camera would record all around it, along with a couple minutes of sound. This will be a wonderful feature to share on the internet.
Gelatinous stalked puffball
Ricky, Dan and I started out and moved so slow – looking at each precious little bug, leaf, orchid and bird then stopping to stare at the magnificence of the tree-covered mountainside under a cloudy but bright sky – that we had to change our plans. Dan stayed with us for awhile and had to head back, and Ricky and I decided that instead of trying to move faster and cover a great deal of ground, we would stay on the trail that would lead us to Cerro Amigos. This is one of the highest peaks in the area and it is where there are several communication towers.
I’ve been up there with Wolf a couple of times, always approaching it from the community side on gradually climbing trails. We were now coming from the backside which meant climbing up a very steep trail, “like climbing up tree limbs,” said Ricky.
Along the way we went past the water pipes where the community draws its water from the Quebrada Cuecha. We were so lucky not to have a drop of rain, only the usual moisture on the Atlantic side of the cerro where the clouds hit the peak and deposit their moisture. Ricky was a wonderful person to be with, full of knowledge of the birds, the plants and the insects, and as content as I was to be out in this unique piece of wilderness.
When we got to the towers there was too much cloud to see Arenal volcano behind us (which I know from past experience sits like a huge grey cone and feels close enough to fall into), but it was clear enough to see the community below us. There is a road that heads almost vertically straight up the hill which is used by the men who live up there (a man stays for 15 days then has 15 days off); we watched a man bringing a bundle of materials up on his shoulder, slowly climbing up this steep dirt track.
We went down by way of the trails that exist for students at the Canadian Biological Station, a much more pleasant way of descending. We were shortly out of the clouds and in bright sunshine – which is where we met our only little cloudburst. We were refreshed by some gentle rain, even though it was hard to find the cloud above us in the aqua blue sky.
We had walked for about seven hours, through the rain forest at the entrance to the Reserve, up to the elfin forest near the towers, and back into the gentile pastures of Monteverde. Stunning, magical and very, very green.
I guess a week of beauty isn’t complete without a trip to a salon. Alberto Guindon’s step-daughter, Melody, is a very talented hair stylist and make-up artist who came from San Diego a few months ago to be near her mother and give her son, Jaden, some schooling in Monteverde. She worked for years as a photographer’s assistant and enjoys prepping people for a photo shoot. She asked me if I’d like her to do my make-up and hair. I’ve never been a cosmetic person except for Halloween and when playing dress-up but was willing, so spent an evening being primped and then she took many pictures. Some of them were great, and we both enjoyed the experience. I still wouldn’t wear make-up, but had fun playing model for an evening.
Here in Costa Rica, August 15 is Mother’s Day. My mother died in 1998 and I miss her. I had the chance to wish Lucky Guindon a Mother’s Day, having arrived at her house with her daughter, Melody, who gave her mom a bouquet of flowers. The love that comes from your mother is one of the most beautiful things in the world, even long after she has gone.
On Sunday I gathered with the Guindons to celebrate Wolf’s 79th birthday. It was my last evening in Monteverde for this tour and a very special one. Wolf is slowly feeling better as his medications get straightened out but it has been a difficult couple of months. I hope that we will all be together to celebrate his big 80th next August 17. In the meantime, I’m down in Cahuita with Roberto and the monkeys and the waves and the sweet sounds of calypso. Life is truly beautiful. Hasta la proxima….
Here in Monteverde it’s the rainy season, but who said the weather is normal anywhere in the world anymore? The green mountain is no exception – after weeks of December/January type weather (tumultous wind, blowing rain, chilly), we are now in “puro verano”, that is summertime. The sun is shining and hot, the wind is casual, the moisture level at a monthly low. Thank goodness.
This gorgeous climate has provided some beautiful final days for me. I’ve been squeezing in as many activities as possible before I go – first back to Cahuita for a couple weeks with Roberto and the pleasures of the Caribbean, then home to Canada just in time for our autumnal beauty.
A couple of weeks ago, a new person walked into my life, one of those cases of the right person arriving at the right time. Caroline Castillo Crimm, a Professor of History at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, came to Monteverde to work on a book that will document the comings and goings in this area – much of which has been recorded in some form or another (read Walking with Wolf) but her book will look at the details of this history, in particular who the original Tico families were, something that is only documented in the government archives in San José.
Caroline introduced herself to Wolf and me at an event at the Monteverde Institute and charmed us immediately by saying how she had read our book and thought it was “brilliant.” I, of course, immediately thought she was too! Her smile and enthusiasm is contagious. Since then, she has been mentoring me in how to get the book out – convincing me not to put my efforts into finding a distributor or agent, middlemen who will take their percentage while putting the book on store shelves amongst the millions of others. Caroline has written three books herself and knows that the onus will still be on me to publicize the book. So if I don’t mind doing it, she recommends that I spend more time writing to universities, environmental groups, Quaker meetings, etc. and offer my services as a speaker with an interesting presentation and a great book. The catch is I need to charge an honorarium and travel expenses since, as she says, I’m now a professional writer. I’m working on that part.
So I’ve created an internet announcement that I will send by the thousands when I return to Canada in September. I love to travel and have no problem speaking in public and am, of course, very proud of the book. I’m honored to go out and tell Wolf’s story as well as some of the fascinating history of Monteverde. Caroline has given me a new objective, renewed confidence and a direction that I’m excited about.
In return, I’ve shared my knowledge of things here with her – over dinner we discussed the Monteverde Music Festival of the 1990s that I was a part of. Last Saturday I took her on a walking tour of Monteverde, showing her where the original families live and telling her some of the background chisma that one can only gather from years of living here and knowing a large variety of people. We had a beautiful day for this walk, starting out near the cheese factory (where the milks cans were being delivered, some still by oxcart) and walking up towards the Reserve, the “northern” part of the community. I think of the top part of the mountain as “north” since it is inevitably colder than going down to the “southern” part, Santa Elena, where you can find sun and sweat more readily – even though the compass would tell you the absolute opposite. Maybe it’s a Canadian thing.
We stopped for coffee at the gorgeous new home of local biologist, Mills Tandy, another Texan, who is the owner of one of my favorite little abodes, “the plastic house”. Built with corrugated plastic siding back in the late 1980s, it isn’t any bigger than the modern bathroom in his new home, but for one person, or a very loving couple, it is perfect. I lived there for a few weeks many years ago and thoroughly enjoyed its remote location in the forest and its very simple layout. Small is beautiful stuff. Mills has recently cleaned it up - because of its deep woods location, it can become a moss-covered relic quickly – and is ready to rent it out again and the place never looked better.
Continuing on to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, we bumped into Marcos, a resident of San Luis, the farming community just below Monteverde, who is an employee of the Reserve and was out doing some road repairs. He is one of the original founders of La Finca Bella project down in the valley of San Luis. Since the 1990s, local families took matters into their own hands and, with some assistance from the Monteverde Conservation League, have worked at creating a sustainable agricultural center for the community, growing coffee and other crops and helping each other survive economically. It has been a struggle but somehow this project, along with other initiatives in San Luis (such as a satellite campus of the University of Georgia), have kept this simple healthy community alive.
It may be inevitable that tourism is going to replace agriculture eventually – the pressure to move into a tourism-based economy is too strong and the difficulties of a farm-based economy too real – but the families of San Luis continue to face the future with a communal concern and intelligence. They have the volcanic growth of the communities above them – Santa Elena, Cerro Plano and Monteverde – as a good example of what happens if you don’t plan and control the development that comes with the influx of new people and the demands of tourism.
Wolf & Lucas Ramirez, former Reserve employee at U of Georgia campus, San Luis
Many of the employees at the Reserve have come from San Luis. I remember being astounded in 1990 at the fact that most of these young men (and a woman or two) walked up from the valley. I’m not sure how many kilometers that is, but I can tell you it is a long, very steep climb. They worked all day at the Reserve and then walked back down at night.
Caroline with Yory Mendez and Luis Obando – who I remember walking up from San Luis since 1990
I decided back then that there is a genetic fortitude to the people of San Luis and my enjoyment of this, along with their humble manner and warm smiles, has made it a great pleasure to know many of the families - with names such as Leiton, Vargas, Brenes, Cruz, Ramirez, and Obando.
Caroline and I visited with friends at the Reserve before continuing our tour by passing through the beautiful bullpen, which worked its magic on her as it does on all, for a quick visit with Wolf and Lucky. Lucky was in the middle of a terrible virus, so we didn’t linger. Wolf was relaxing in the hammock that he hung recently out on their wrap-around veranda overlooking the goats in the field and the Gulf of Nicoya in the distance.
We then went back down to the Friends’ school to catch the end of the CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange) group’s final presentations at the end of their two month’s program here. Their professor, Karen Masters, also happens to be my “boss lady” in the Bosqueeterno S.A. work I’ve taken on, and her husband, Alan, who co-runs the course with her, is also the excitable and talented keyboardist/singer in the group Chanchos de Monte, our local British rock band that I’ve written about before (and went to dance to that night).
We hungrily ate lunch with them and then walked out to the Rockwell corner of Monteverde, past the controversial pig farm that supplies the cheese plant with their pork products, and to see the stunning vistas from that corner of the community. We had a quick visit with Mary Rockwell, another of the original Quakers who arrived in 1951 with her husband Eston. In a matter of minutes, Mary had us intrigued by her many stories. Caroline truly saw for herself the beauty that is Monteverde.
We ended our tour back at the meeting house to discuss the flower decorations for the wedding that we were all attending the next day. Caroline and I, along with Wolf’s son Alberto and his wife Angelina, offered to take care of that – very pleasant work but someone had to do it. I am truly appreciate of the help that Caroline has given me – as I said, she arrived just as I needed a new inspiration for getting Walking with Wolf out in the world. She is someone who will only add to the beauty which is Monteverde. It is all around us, every day. I’ll keep with this theme in the next episode of …………
One of the most constant, fascinating and sometimes frightening realities of life in Costa Rica is the presence of bugs – and I immediately must clarify that I mean the general word used for insects rather than the specific classification of the true bug – the Hemiptera - which is, of course, equally well represented here. I have had many friends visit from the north country who swear that they’ll never be able to deal with the spiders or scorpions or army ants, but they tend to get caught up in the exotic extremeness of it all and before you know it, they are drawn into bug-watching.
Having been a bush-living Canadian, I’m used to our own serious bug situation – as in a season that comes on strong in May with annoying mosquitoes, followed soon by clouds of black flies, with localized deer and horsefly outbreaks throughout the summer (personally I think we should be calling the largest of them the “moose fly”.) Then there are the big green horned worms on the tomatoes, the nasty little earwigs that get everywhere, and other garden-variety (and -centric) insects who fill out the non-frozen season. We don’t need to think so much about these things between September and April except for a few indoor creatures like spiders and cockroaches.
Then there is Costa Rica. The little isthmus with the mostest for biologists of all kinds, it particularly feeds the needs of the entomologists. At the University of Guelph in Ontario Canada, where I studied horticulture, the most enthusiastic prof I had, bar none, who drew us all in with his love of the subject, was he who taught us about the fascinating world of insects and the huge role that they play in our lives. Except for a general awareness of the fleeting beauty of the monarchs, the gentle crawl of the daddy-long-legs, and the constant chorus of the crickets, I just wasn’t paying that much attention to the insect world. But since having my eyes and mind opened by this bug freak (I’m sorry, the name escapes me – Second Year Entomology, U of Guelph, 1982 – great guy), I have a much greater respect for the winged and wingless, 4- or 100-legged, often camouflaged, and always outrageously designed phenomena known as bugs.
Monteverde draws in many biologists because of its great biodiversity and welcoming atmosphere for researchers. It is hard not to get caught up in the interest and knowledge that abounds out of these maniacs, I mean scientists. A social gathering here starts with guests walking in the door barely able to control their excitement, shouting, “Hey, you’ll never believe what creature we saw on the way here”, and at some inevitable point in the evening, everyone gathers at the window, identifying the hundreds of flying insects drawn by the interior lights. Costa Rica is one big cocktail party of creepy crawlies.
I’ve been waiting for 19 years to be struck by a scorpion in Monteverde. I’ve lived in houses here notorious for these hidden, hot-tailed alacrans, have seen many, even taken a mother with her brood of babies on her back home with me to Canada (by mistake) one year, but despite my expectations have yet to be strung by a scorpion. I’ve watched an assassin bug drag a tarantula across the road, drank tea with a woman friend as regiments of army ants marched their way across our ceiling, and been bitten by something hidden in a bag that made my finger throb for hours. I’ve also been bitten by many ants, fleas, bush lice, no-see-ums and sand flies, the thing that gave me papalomoya. Of course there are the mosquitoes which I find much less ferocious here than in the north (laid back like the people) though they can carry a powerful punch of malaria or dengue. And then there was the squeezing of the botfly larva out of my boyfriend’s butt (see Kukulas of Cahuita and…)…I’ve had my share of bug-related moments.
A year ago I wrote about being at Wolf and Lucky Guindon’s house when the termites erupted and for several days the house was filled with gossamer wings. A couple of weeks ago, Roberto and I returned to Cahuita, arriving in the late afternoon. We were nervous about what we would find – perhaps someone would have come and robbed the place or some natural disaster would have left trouble behind. Fortunately, all was in order and we could just sit down and relax, make coffee, do a little dancing in the fading daylight to the calypso music on the radio. We started to notice a few flying critters in the air and soon it was hard to ignore them. In short order there were clouds of termites, that they call ‘duck ants’ on the Caribbean, encircling us, darting into our eyes, getting tangled in Roberto’s dreads, making serious pests of themselves. The clouds were thickest right around the casita as the termites were probably erupting out of the old wood that was used in the structure and for firewood. We moved our dancing down the path a ways but they quickly followed, drawn by our movement and body heat I guess.
Now seriously annoyed, we decided to go lay on the bed where we would be safe under the mosquito net, but no, they were too attracted to us. Somehow their not-so-small bodies were able to stick through the fine netting and in no time they were crawling on the bed, through the sheets, over and under our bodies, dropping their wings, not biting but menacing nonetheless. We finally gave up, changed our clothes from those littered with discarded wings and tiny black bodies, and went to town. When we returned hours later there were no more flying critters in the dark, but the mosquito net was dark with their little carcasses and shorn wings. Fortunately that has been the only night that the termites came to town.
I’ve grown used to shaking out my shoes and clothes in case of intruders, and that just becomes habit as many stories I’ve heard from people being stung by scorpions were attacked from within their clothes. At Roberto’s I am now paying closer attention to everywhere I put my body. Besides the fact that a snake could have moved under the bed at any time, there is also the impressive and somewhat unsettling variety of spiders – large, colorful and quick. It could get ugly if you put your foot right on them as they crawl across the end of the outdoor daybed.
On our way to Cahuita from Monteverde, we passed through San Carlos, near Arenal Volcano, and stayed a few days at my friend Zulay’s. The area is on the Atlantic side of the Continental Divide and though many miles inland, the vegetation is very similar to the Caribbean.
I stopped to visit Gerardo, a friend from my first year here in Costa Rica. He was always a talented musician as well as an artist with wood. A couple years ago he opened a Wood Art Gallery on the road to La Fortuna’s waterfall where he displays his own sculptures, done out of fallen wood, as well as the work of other artists.
This stunning collection of wooden creations is displayed with the majestic volcano as a backdrop. The big beast has been belching a lot lately – they had to vacate the National Park once again because of activity. For forty years, Arenal has been an active volcano and that gives it the record for the longest-running active volcano in the world. And she doesn’t disappoint! Unless, of course, she is shrouded in clouds. Zulay and I brought home a variety of heliconia plants from Gerardo’s ever-expanding garden. By the time Roberto and I left Zulay’s for Cahuita, we had a bag full of cuttings, roots, seeds and branches which we planted following the full moon that was upon us.
The yard around the casita is becoming more and more diverse with our combined enthusiasm for gardening – Roberto mostly concerned about food crops, me adding a few flowers and colorful leaf varieties like the crotons. Since we recently left again for about a month (back up here in Monteverde), we no doubt will head home in August wondering if not only the house is okay but if all these plantings have survived in our absence.
I’m appreciative that, while we are out gallivanting about, there are bats, flycatchers and kingfishers on guard back there, doing their part to keep the insect masses in check.
That alone the lizards, salamanders and geckos, when they aren’t busy eating each other.
We aren’t that concerned about the new plantings getting water as July is a rainy month on the Caribbean and we have already seen great regular downpours. I’ve been digging trenches trying to direct the water away from our living space, but the paths fill quickly. It is something to watch the little benign Quebrada Suarez rise into a heavily flowing river in a matter of an hour, especially having the knowledge that it rose so high last November that it wiped out Roberto’s former rancho and swept all his belongings closer to the sea.
We won’t start thinking about all the possible calamities awaiting us in Cahuita until we get closer to heading back. Instead we’ll enjoy our time here in Monteverde where mosquitoes are rare (we don’t have to sleep under a mosquito net) but scorpions could be lurking…anywhere…
And a quick word on the Wolf. He is doing okay, although he is now injecting insulin rather than regulating his diabetes with pills. I think that will help to get him regulated although he still has a way to go in keeping his diet under control. He is presently in San José being equipped with a 24-hour monitor as a follow up to tests that were done a month ago. He told me on the phone (where he sounded strong and fine) that he has still had episodes – I’m prone to think that the combination of medications that he is taking, and the inevitable changing of them, is what is messing with him. Wolf will be turning 79 on August 17 – age is no doubt a factor, but don’t we know that drugs, and the unknowns involved when you combine them, can mess with your mind and body…Wolf just walked in to Cafe Cabure where I am working and said that except for low blood pressure that he experienced, there are still no answers. But he looks very alive to me – and is asking for coffee, so all is normal.
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.