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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 I am writing from my familiar perch in Monteverde, Costa Rica. The winds up here on the green mountain are furious as they will be at this time of the year – whipping away the dust that had settled over last year and shaking the trees as we try to imagine what this new year will bring us. Of course in another week or so, the big promise of change in the United States – Mr. Obama and the Democrats – will be blown in, inaugurated, feasted on, and then analyzed to death – and the poor man will have to take the wheel of this crazy ship that is tossing and turning in a very churned up sea.
I have to admit to getting out of touch with the bigger world while here in Costa Rica. I don’t see television or listen to radio very often. Newspapers come to me sporadically. I am happy to re-immerse myself in all things Tico so I generally don’t mind losing touch with the rest of the world. Bad news travels quickly and finds me – I can always find good news from home on the internet when I need the tranquility of old friends and a peaceful snow-covered northern winter scene. The wild winds here keep my head rattled although I know that I’ll eventually get used to them, about the time that they quit in early March or so. It has been two years since I was here in this season, the beginning of the dry period, having spent last winter getting Walking with Wolf to press in Canada, so I’m finding myself all the more affected by the dervish breezes, dancing shadows, clacking branches and fleeting clouds. The wind brings voices through the air that may be real or may just be forest music. It was only six months since I’ve been here but that was in the dead calm of the rainy season (except for the phenomena of the Pacific-influenced hurricane on the day of the book inauguration last May). Thankfully I tend to adjust to changes relatively unscathed so I’ve learned to just let these winds do what they will with me.
I came up the mountain on December 31st and had my first bus accident experience. If you know this road, twisting and turning its narrow self up the rough slopes to the clouds at the top, you’d think that accidents were common. But when the French tourists in a rental car came flying around the gravelly corner and couldn’t pull over in time and the big CRUNCH came, I was actually quite shocked, not just by the impact but by the fact that after eighteen years the obvious had finally occurred. Fortunately nobody was hurt, just the car, and of course the big ol’ Monteverde bus barely registered a scratch on its aged and hardened metal skin. We sat in the middle of the road for about three hours till the insurance guy and transit policeman came, took pictures and measurements, all the while cracking jokes with the very relaxed bus chauffeur. They eventually let us clear the way so the cars that had come along and couldn’t pass could finally get on their way to their New Year’s Eve celebrations. The only highlight was a fruit truck getting caught in the traffic line, which meant we were able to buy some juicy watermelon to sustain us as we waited out the procedure in the hot sun on the side of the dusty road.
I got to Monteverde in time to help my friend Patricia who was preparing for the big Beatles tribute concert at her Monteverde Amphitheatre at Bromelias. I sold tickets at the door, a handy thing, giving me the chance to say hi and pass out New Year’s kisses to a lot of local friends. Over one hundred and fifty people were there, packing the place, and the music was joyful as it should be on such an evening. Robert Dean (on the far right in the pic), a Brit who now lives locally and is known for his book on Costa Rican birds, put together about twenty singers and musicians (backed by the Chanchos de Monte, his local band, as well as a string section and flutes) and they covered a wide variety of Beatles songs in an acoustic set followed by a rocking electric one. Robert’s musical reputation in Monteverde is built on the fact that he toured with Sinead O’Connor as her guitarist and his projects are always impressive. In the case of the Beatles, how can you go wrong? The audience sang along and danced – the spirit was great and it made me very happy to be back in this engaging community.
It all took place outside, under the canopy of the magical amphitheatre, accompanied by a smiling slip of a moon, those seasonal gusty winds and lluvisna – the light misty rain that is as normal in Monteverde at this time of the year as the howler monkey’s roar. It can spit moisture here when there doesn’t appear to be a cloud in the sky and rainbows often seem to come out of nothing more than promises.
The rest of the night was all about dancing at Moon Shiva – with our pal Fish behind the tunes we couldn’t stop till the roosters were thinking about crowing. I’d say that 2009 arrived in perfect style. I happily met up with Wolf first thing on the first morning of 2009…we have plans for a renewal of marketing books, which are selling well. We are awaiting the publication of a couple of reviews, an article and an interview in some Quaker journals this month (Friends Journal and Quaker Life out of Philadelphia; Quaker Monthly out of London) Wolf is well, happy, only a little grumpy about his aches and pains, but always warm and enthusiastic. It always touches my heart, this friendship I have with this wonderful man.
Veronica and her son Stuart, folks from New Jersey who I had met briefly on my last trip here, offered for me to live with them in the house they are renting. It is the Cresson house, one I am very familiar with from my first years in Monteverde when I’d come to the Sunday evening pot lucks held by Osborn and Rebecca Cresson. They were a lovely Quaker couple who have been gone from Monteverde for many years and passed away since. Their son Ozzito, has a small casita next door which I had just moved in to back in September 1990 when I quickly decided to return to Canada – partly because a friend offered me a great contract working on northern forestry issues with local First Nations, partly because I knew something was terribly wrong with my health. Three months later I would be diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease and begin the chemotherapy and radiation treatments that took me out of the forest project and delayed my return to Monteverde, but ultimately saved my life.
Stuart, Kyle & Mark (one of my editors) at the first community potluck of 2009
So coming back to this house is a return to an interrupted dream that I was living at the time – my first year in Monteverde, collecting Wolf’s stories, learning Spanish, falling in love with all things Latino. There are three other residents at the Cresson house now who go by the names of Chiqui, Cutie Pie, and Betsy – three little dogs rescued by Veronica at different times. Chiqui came from the US with her when she decided to move here a few months ago and put Stuart in the Friends School. Cutie Pie really is the sweetest little thing, taken off the streets of Monteverde – and Betsy, found in a box in the middle of the road, is named for her slight resemblance to a Holstein cow, though on very short legs. I am their nanny while Veronica and Stuart head back to the US for a few weeks.
Betsy the lucky dog
It was a serious decision for me to take on the responsibility, as I am a wanderer and generally don’t stay put in Monteverde long before I head off visiting friends in other parts of this beautiful country. But the offer was generous, Veronica and Stuart very friendly and kind, and I love dogs, so I decided quickly that having a commitment to keep me in Monteverde for a few weeks wasn’t a bad thing. It will give me a chance to visit with local friends, work with Wolf on our continuing book-selling efforts, help take care of the belongings of our friends Inge and Andy who are in a struggle with cancer over in Austria, and get started with my next writing project.
In the week before my duties began, I did take advantage to go down to the city with Wolf and get the boxes of books I had shipped out of customs. With our friendly customs man, Eliecer Alfaro, all went well and painlessly (after awhile, the kaching doesn’t hurt so much). We also took more books to the two big book stores in San José that carry them – Seventh Street Books and Lehmans – and I made contact with the company that buys for the airport stores. I had been in touch back in June but then didn’t hear back and had thought that they weren’t interested. I decided to call them to see why that might be. As it turned out, the woman hadn’t received my last email (no doubt lost to the spam gods) giving them the information they needed to place the order, and since I hadn’t followed up, they hadn’t either. I am still learning the fine art of marketing – always follow up on contacts! So we begin the process again and with any luck (and tenacity on my part) I will see Walking with Wolf in the busy gift stores of the Juan Santa Maria airport when I leave the country at the end of March.
While in downtown San José, I took some pictures of more fine examples of Christmas tinsel art – if you will remember from my Guatemalan posts, I am always fascinated with what people do here with a little aluminum foil.
We made a plan to do a book presentation at the Quaker Peace Center in San José on March 12 (who are also hosting a conference in early March on the eradication of depleted uranium weapons – check it out at amigosparalapaz.org). I have also just been talking with our good friend Mercedes at the Monteverde Reserve who thinks we may be able to do a presentation in February to a group of visiting Japanese tourists. Our friend Takako, who accompanied us on the hike to Arenal that makes up the last chapter of the book, is bringing this group and will be available to translate – that could be a very fun evening – hope they bring the sashimi!
I then took advantage of the few days I had before my dog duties began to head to the Caribbean to see my friend Roberto before he leaves for Australia. If you have been reading this blog, you will know the story (East Coast Pleasures; The Power of the Blog). He was working when I bumped into him but decided to follow me a few miles down the coast to Manzanillo for a couple of days to escape the craziness that can be Cahuita. He is still in the middle of the extensive paperwork necessary for a visa to Australia and I’m not sure how it will all turn out. He is older now and the work it takes to travel is much more complicated than the last time he went somewhere (before September 11th happened and security issues created a tiresome worldwide bureaucracy). I gave him another copy of the book, since his was washed away in the flood that took away his home a couple months ago and he had been enjoying reading it. He is slowly rebuilding and, in true Caribbean style, not too worried about anything much.
I hadn’t been to Manzanillo in years and expected changes, but except for several new cabinas and an expanded restaurant at Maxi’s, the business at the heart of the community, Manzanillo was pretty slow and peaceful like I remembered it. Maxi’s has a roaring business in the day and evening – they make great food served generously on big platters – rice and beans with fish or chicken in coconut-rich sauces, refreshing ceviche, rich flan.
At night the place was very quiet in comparison to Puerto Viejo and Cahuita, both hot night towns. Nonetheless we got in some great soca dancing – and the days were spent on that beautiful Caribbean Sea, soaking up the sun, floating in the embryonic turquoise waters, talking life with my Rasta friend.
On the day that I left San José, headed for the coast, I left Wolf in the city with his plan to head to the bus station to catch the Monteverde bus at 2:30 in the afternoon. I was a couple days at the beach before I heard the catastrophic news that there had been a major earthquake (6.2) just outside of San José and Alajuela at 1:20 that day. Bit by bit the news filtered to Manzanillo, the newspapers showing the tremendous landslides that took the lives of no less than thirty people. When I realized the timing and proximity, I called Wolf’s house and Lucky assured me that he was fine, but had certainly seen the buildings move around him while waiting for the bus. As of today, five days later, they say that eighty-two people are still missing and dozens are injured. The pictures show the extent of the damage, particularly a powerful series in one paper showing the exact same scene of the Catarata de la Paz (Peace Waterfalls) at Poas a few days before and a day after; a small restaurant, the Soda de la Campesinita, standing humbly but proud a week ago, now all gone except for a couple of poles that were the doorway.
It is tremendous, the force of the earth, the fragility of life, the heart-wrenching immediacy of disaster in people’s lives. In a moment, change comes. And in so many other ways, change takes forever. Or is it that bad change happens quickly and good change demands time and effort? The wind blows it all past our door, leaving us shaken in its wake, sometimes in celebration, other times left to pick up the plastic garbage impaled on the bushes, wondering where in the world all this stuff comes from, and what are we meant to do with it anyway?
Beautiful Cabure Argentine Cafe in Monteverde, where I have wireless and send email from (and eat and drink…)
I’d like to say that I’m writing this from the balcony of some funky hotel on the coast, watching the pelicans flying in formations and listening to the waves crashing. Instead, I’m back up in Monteverde, listening to the birds waking up and the early shift workers’ motorcycles heading to the dairy plant. However, I am bringing you a story of great success in the big city, getting Walking with Wolf out of customs with a minimum of fuss and a reasonable amount of money. I decided to come back up the mountain Wednesday in the Reserve truck with the books and Wolf. Beto our trusty chauffeur made it all easy once again. As is usual this time of the year, the day is dawning bright and sunny but the rain will move in sometime later, so you have to get your outdoor chores done early or you are going to get very wet.
Wolf and I went down last Sunday on the afternoon bus following the community potluck lunch which is held the first Sunday of every month after the Quaker meeting. It is a great chance to eat really good homemade food and to visit with folks who you may never run into otherwise. We sold some books, filled our bellies and then went in the pouring rain to Santa Elena. Fortunately the bus was a dry one, unlike the older bus that I came up in the week before, where every other seat was under a leak and it was hard to stay dry even though you were inside a bus. It seems that’s a theme of these latest blog posts – the fact that it is being a very wet beginning to a rainy season is impossible to ignore. Staying dry is a challenge but you just have to accept the inevitable – for the first time that I can remember, I bought an umbrella, although much of the time even an umbrella, rubber boots and rain coat aren’t going to keep you completely dry.
We spent the first night at the Casa Ridgeway, known as the Peace Center, run by Quakers, which is Wolf’s base camp when in San Jose. The folks there know him and were all pleased to see the book. It is a spartan little place which I don’t mind – I especially like the monk-like rooms that are painted white with no decoration except a quote about peace stenciled on the wall. My room said: Me, you can kill but you can’t silence justice.
Early Monday we began the process of getting the books. I’m still not sure what that first company we dealt with was exactly – there are a number of hands extended when in the process of paying to get your imported goods. Although we called early in the morning, the papers weren’t ready for us till mid-afternoon. We then took a taxi out to the western part of the city, La Sabana Norte, and there we paid for the permit to release the books and the cost of the books being moved off of the boat and into the customs storage. Once that is done you want to get them out quickly as they cost plenty for each day they are held. We paid our money and received the documents and were told to contact the aduana, the customs broker, Eliezar Alfaro Porras, who helped us through the next step. It was too late to see him but we did make an arrangement to meet at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.
This, of course, meant another trip by taxi and bus and taxi to Alajuela, near the airport. Eliezar was great, meeting us in a convenient place, taking us in his car to his office, trying to explain the process of what was going on, attempting to keep the costs down, going to the bank for me to speed up the process. We spent a few hours with him but they were pleasant ones and I will keep his number to use him again in the future. By 1 p.m. he had confirmation that everything was in order and we could head out to the bodega, the big storage place where the books were being held. We went back into the city by bus and taxi to the Tropical Science Center who had said they would send a vehicle out to pick up the books. By the time we got there, their truck wasn’t around and by 3 it was looking like we wouldn’t be able to get our books that day as the bodega closed at 5 and was at least half an hour away. This was worrisome as you don’t want to stop the momentum once it is rolling. As Wolf kept saying, if we don’t go while we are at the head of the line, who knows how far back they will send us. I have to say that both Carlos Hernandez, the director at the Reserve who has helped and supported us every step of the way, and then Vicente Watson, one of the main scientists at the TSC, were invaluable.
When Vicente realized that we didn’t have a vehicle to pick up the books, he stayed with the problem, gnawing the bone, until it got worked out. By 3:15 we were in a car with Warner Corvajal, an employee there, zipping across and out of the city to Santo Domingo de Heredia where the bodega was. Vladimir Jimenez and the TSC truck was located on its way back from a trip and was rerouted to the bodega. By 4 we had the paperwork done and the last money paid. By 4:30 we were loaded and on our way back to the TSC office in San Pedro. It all happened so quick and with so little fuss, except for the hours of waiting, it is still hard to believe. In the old days, things took a lot longer. But with computers and supportive people who are trying hard to help the process go quickly, well, incredibly, sometimes it does.
Wolf and I celebrated with a great Italian meal of very anchovish ceasar salad, authentic pizza and red wine at Pane y Vino in San Pedro. We had spent the better part of the two days together and had lots of time to talk while waiting. If there is something Wolf and I can do it is talk, but at the same time we don’t always have quiet time anymore to do just that. We have either been running around or surrounded by family and friends or so tired that all we can do is smile at each other.
I moved from the Peace Center to my friend Myrna Castro’s house for Monday and Tuesday night. I met Myrna and her daughters Sofia and Veronica when they came to the music festival back in 1999. Her ex-husband, Luis Zumbado, is a great violinist and was playing in Monteverde that year and staying in the house for the musicians which I managed for a couple of years. I’ve remained friends with them and try to visit at least once a year when in the big city. Veronica and I went out Monday night to visit Sonsax, our friends the sexy-saxophonists, who were practicing at the university. I hadn’t seen them for a couple of years. Valerio, Jan, Pablo, Chopper & Manrique the percussionist are five great guys who have played around the world including the Montreal Jazz Festival, where I’ve gone to see them a couple of times. When I first knew them back in the mid-nineties, they were young crazy too-good-looking-for-their-own-good musicians, but they are all maturing (or getting old as Jan said, not me) and now have wives, children and are all busy teaching when they aren’t playing their high energy brand of sax music.
I also went to see Manuel Monestel again, the musical leader and mentor of Cantoamerica who I went dancing to last week. We shared some wine and some stories about the Caribbean community, which we both know and love. Made me want to go to Cahuita, the funky little town I’ve spent a lot of time in on the east coast. He was heading there the next day, so now I await some good gossip back.
While we were in the city, we also talked with the Tico Times, who took the book to read and do a review and we will return for an interview in a week or so. We talked to Marc and John at Seventh Street Books who will carry the book but it isn’t the kind that they distribute. But they are going to be helpful in supplying a list of booksellers in the country where our book may fit in. I will head out on some roadtrips, peddling books to the stores I choose in places I want to go (and return to later).
When Beto arrived on Wednesday morning at the TSC office, we carefully loaded the books, along with a bunch of bedding materials, and triple wrapped everything in plastic and tarps. It poured on us most of the way home but we felt pretty confident that the boxes would be okay. As it turned out they weren’t totally. When Beto and I unwrapped the boxes Thursday morning, the bottom four boxes had water damage – fortunately we only lost about 10 books to a bit of damage, and not so bad that we can’t give them as freebies to friends. But as Wolf said, those books traveled all that way from Montreal to Costa Rica on the sea and were dry, but a little 4 hour trip up the mountain to Monteverde couldn’t keep them that way. I tell you, the moisture in this place would be to die for if you lived in the desert, but I’m back on that mantra again…beach, beach, beach…
So now it is already Friday – I’ve written this in bits and starts. Have been distributing books, making plans, and am truly heading to the beach tomorrow, then back to the big city. Have some presentations lined up at the Reserve for the next week. But I need some more sun and heat then Monteverde is willing to dish out right now. However, one last night out at the new sushi restaurant in Santa Elena, oh so good – and a visit with our friend Marc Egger, multi-lingual guide extraordinaire, who is here from Sao Paolo, Brazil. It’ll be a great night slurping sashimi. Soon I shall return, hopefully with sand in my shoes and solar energy stored in my skin.
I’ve moved into my friend Mark’s house while he is out searching for the missing golden toads. Now that the rains have come, he has great hopes he’ll find them, or maybe some other missing toad. As I said in the last post, he has already found two species that were thought to be extinct. I wish him well, am very appreciative that he was around to do the introduction at the book launch, and am thankful to have his little cabin in the wet forest, even if I’ve already killed three scorpions!
I have this thing about scorpions…I’ve been coming to the tropics for eighteen years and, touch teak, I have yet to be stung by a scorpion. They seem to disappear once the rains begin – they come into the houses in dry season, but here in the House in the Hole, the scorpions don’t seem to have cottoned on to the change in season yet. Mark said that this year was a ridiculous year for them – he was killing two or three a day – but he hadn’t seen any since the rains began last week. Well, I guess he missed the three I got yesterday! Makes you a little nervous each time you put your hand in a bag or grab a towel or piece of clothing – I truly feel it is just a matter of time till one of them gets me, and I’m tempting fate by living in a house such as this one.
The slow boat to Costa Rica that was bringing our books turned out to be a fast boat and the books are already here in the country. Wolf and I are heading down the mountain to San José tomorrow to start the process of getting them released from customs purgatory. The paperwork and run-around will probably take several days. So we will go visit the Tico Times, the English newspaper, who has already put something on line at http://www.ticotimes.net about the book. They want to do a review and an interview. We will also talk to 7th Street Books, the English bookstore/publisher in the city, about distributing the books around Costa Rica. And then there is beginning discussions with the Tropical Science Center about the Spanish translation. Carlos Hernandez, the director of the Monteverde Reserve, sounds very serious about it. We are hoping that Wolf’s son Carlos will do the actual translation. But we are just starting with that issue. No doubt I’ll visit friends and go out to hear some music and do some dancing while down in the big city.
And then I’m going to the beach. Enough of this rainforest stuff, I need some sun. Today is actually dawning with a very blue sky here on the mountain, and the sun will no doubt be warm and wonderful, but I want some real heat! So once the city business is done, I’ll make my way to one of the beaches, which I’ll decide on by the weather – wherever there is the most sun and heat, I shall go. There are so many great beaches in Costa Rica that one doesn’t need to be limited. Best swimming – Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste. Best relax – anywhere on the Caribbean. Beauty walking across sandy beaches and rocky outcrops and swimming in cool streams – Playa Moctezuma. Ai yi yi – decisions! I may disappear from bloglife for a few days but will write again when I’m on a good computer. Ciao chicos!
PS: A fine gentleman, Nicholas Goodwin from Minnesota, just helped me get the system down for posting photos. I like to think that it’ll be easy now….as long as someone nice guy like Nicholas is sitting close by. Or maybe I’ll manage it solo one of these days….
ON TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN
Last night was the apex moment for Walking with Wolf. We’ve hit the summit and start down the backside now. What a night! Actually what a couple of days before what a night! Global warming causing extreme weather brought near hurricane turmoil to Costa Rica at a time of the year when you just don’t expect this weather. We thought it was going to ruin the celebratory book launch, but in fact it was all perfect, including a last-minute change in the weather.
It is normally quite still here at this time of the year, unlike November till March when the winds can be ferocious and, minimally, are constant. But starting Wednesday afternoon it got real blustery, adding extra kick to what was already curtains of rain. Incredible! Wolf, Lucky & I spent the morning hunched around the woodstove, wondering how many people would possibly make their way out at night in this nasty weather. I said that the only people we could count on were the forest guards and the maintenance guys from the Monteverde Reserve since this is just what they do – go out in whatever the conditions are. So coming through the storm to the presentation, to eat bocitas and drink coffee all the while staying in a dry warm building, is easy for them. As it turned out, they were the one group who didn’t show up.
The rain was coming horizontally with such force that you just can’t stay dry unless you are completely covered in rubber. The old jeep we were using to carry the books from the house down to Bromelias Music Garden was almost as wet inside as out, the water entering wherever it could. Antonio Guindon’s wife Adair was driving me and the books down at 2 p.m.. At 12:30 water was everywhere – puddles consolidating into rivers, a downpour of rain that was also a sidepour, and the humidity hovering as a heavy mist that kept things wet even when the faucet turned off for a few minutes. I was thoroughly soaked just running out to the barn. I wrapped the three boxes of books in plastic and kept hoping that the rain would subside when it was time to go. And, miracle of miracles, it did!
At about 1 p.m. as we took the bagged boxes out to the vehicle and wrapped them in a dry tarp inside the jeep, the frequency of the raindrops definitely lessened. By the time Adair and I got to Bromelias and unloaded the boxes shortly after 2, we were only working in heavy mist. By the time people started coming around 5, even the mist was lighter. The winds stopped sometime mid-afternoon and by evening, it was just a thin fog that was blurring the night air, deadening the sounds, bringing serenity.
It had been such bad weather that roads were washed out, people’s houses shifted – the newspaper was filled with stories of landslides and flooding throughout western Costa Rica. So even with the change in weather, many people wouldn’t be heading out after such a harsh day. However about seventy-five did and together we enjoyed a warm and cozy night in beautiful Bromelias.
My friend Mercedes at the Reserve helped me put together about 180 photos that we projected from my laptop – those from the book, other old pictures I had scanned that didn’t make the book, pictures from our hikes, many of Wolf, a few from Canada or the beach thrown in. These ran constantly as a backdrop through the evening. Russell Danao played his beautiful vibraphone – high-end marimbas. He played at the Havana Jazz Festival this year. He kindly accepted our request to grace the evening with his music. As people came out of the fog and into the amber light of the room, they took their seats and watched the slideshow and listened to Russell’s jazz-toned and classical vibras.
People brought bite-size food and sweets, we had coffee and juice prepared, and Patri had the bar open, though this wasn’t a drinking crowd. We set up a table with a buncha books, it looked great, all those little Walking with Wolfs piled there. To introduce the evening, I had asked Mark Wainwright, our friend who read an early draft of the book and gave me valuable editorial comments. He is an artist, biologist, teacher and writer himself – and in many ways has mentored me (younger pup that he is). It meant a lot to me that he would introduce the evening. He didn’t really want to do it – doesn’t like being on stage though he is great – and had very firm plans to go off onto the trails looking for the elusive golden toad or any other amphibian he could find. Since the rains started, it is prime frogging season and Mark is a frogger who has already found two missing species thought to be extinct. So he wasn’t going to be able to be at the presentation. Then due to the extreme weather, he didn’t go into the forest. Mark did a wonderful, funny and super kind introduction to the book, Wolf and myself. Then Gary Diller, one of the story tellers in Walking with Wolf, read a poem about Wolf that he had been inspired to write yesterday in all that rain. It was a nice addition to the evening.
Wolf got up and very emotionally talked about the beginning of the concern in the community for the forest. He reiterated the thought that “all those who wander are not lost,” his mantra. I was amazed how well he got through talking, as I knew he was fighting those ever-ready Guindon tears. He then passed the microphone to me and I said my little piece – that we hoped to have a Spanish translation in the works, and I apologized for any discrepancies with how community people remember the events we discuss, and I thanked people who were there for their contributions – then I read some pages from the book. It all felt real good, the people were wonderful, and the whole night just rolled out smooth as pie dough.
We sold about sixty books and I knew there were many people missing who have said that they would buying in quantity. Mary Stuckey Newswanger bought ten books and then handed me a copy of a book that she has been working on with her brother – she and I have spent a lot of time at the side of the road talking about our books over the past couple of years. At the end of the evening, people were able to walk out into the misty night air without getting soaked. Patri and I went to Moon Shiva, our pal Nir’s place, for dinner. Great new chef there, loved loved loved the food – Nir has always run a beautiful restaurant – has for about five years now – but when the chefs change so does the food. Three guitar players were playing – Irish ex-pat Robert Dean who toured with Sinead O’Connor before moving to Monteverde, and Andres and Bernardo, hot local talent – it was great music and a bit of dancing. Off to Fish’s new bar for some more dancing. Through the night it would hit me every once in awhile – this was the climax of eighteen years of a certain thought, a vague plan, a lasting commitment, our book.
To finish this hugely long story, the reason the forest guards weren’t at the presentation, considering how much they would have wanted to be there to support their mentor Wolf, was that they were doing what they had to do – that is, go out to help a group of people who were down in Penas Blancas and needed to be assisted to come out of the forest. The vague details are that the guards and maintenance crew had to head out early in the morning in the worst of that bad weather, through the torrential rain and dropping branches, around the mudslides and over the raging streams. They escorted the group across the streams with cables, cleared away tree falls, and carried their packs through the pouring rain and thick mud. They didn’t get out of the forest until after 7 p.m. so they missed the celebration.
A few years ago, Wolf wouldn’t have made it to his own book launch – he would have been with the other men doing their job – making jokes, ignoring the brutal weather, helping troubled hikers to get back to civilization, no doubt filling them with hot coffee before they got started. The forest guards are the jungle version of fire fighters – heading into what most people walk away from. I was so sorry they weren’t there, but find the reason quite poetic.
Rain is pounding down on the zinc roof of Wolf and Lucky’s house, making conversation difficult, but finally giving me a chance to write from Monteverde. Aah yes, the cloud forest in the rainy season – not for the faint of heart but paradise for those with webbed feet. Actually it has been so dry here that water was being rationed in the community up until the rains started in earnest about a week ago. Looks like I got here right on time. The humidity has cranked up the clamminess, the landscape is a collage of intense greens, and the dirt roads are slowly becoming water-filled ditches supporting small gravel islands.
I was so busy with getting the book ready and preparing to leave my home and garden for a couple of months, that I wasn’t thinking so much about where I was going, other than to Wolf’s house to present him with his book. But in very short order, upon my arrival in Costa Rica, my heart has filled with the warmth of the Guindon family, the anticipation in the community for Walking with Wolf, and the enchantment of the place. The last time I was here in this particular season, the beginning of the rainy season, was 1990, my first year here. I had forgotten how the view from up on the mountain in May, looking over the Nicoya peninsula to the Pacific, is this magical world of clouds, mountains, water, and sky - these elements merge and mingle and seem to get turned upside down, in a way that even Stephen Spielberg couldn’t capture with an arsenal of special effects. When I woke up on Thursday morning, just as day was breaking, and looked out the windows to the west, my breath was taken away by the layers of color and shadow suspended on the shifting horizon. I grabbed my camera and went out to try to capture it (a picture here isn’t worth the thousand words it would take to describe the scene) – I startled two masked tityras, beautiful white birds with pink and black facial markings, who were feeding in a guayaba tree and didn’t notice me right away. They fluttered about grabbing the small fruit, only five feet from me, until they realized that I was there and flew off.
Welcome back to Monteverde…
The flight down was fast (those individual TV screens on the planes are great – two movies of your choice and you’re here); the books arrived safe and sound (did I mention how expensive they were as extra baggage? – Kaching); customs didn’t look once at me that alone twice; and as soon as I got through to the wall of windows at the exit, there were Lucky and Wolf, smiling and waving. As promised, the Reserve’s four-wheel drive, army-fatigue-green, Toyota crew cab truck-limo, complete with Beto the chauffeur, had come to pick me and the books up. We waited until we were in a restaurant to unveil the books – and, as hoped, Wolf and Lucky were very excited and pleased. We had our first moment of celebrity – the waitress saw the cover and looked at Wolf and asked if that was him – and then saw my photo on the back – and was thrilled to be serving two such important people! HA! Not like we got a free meal or anything, but it was fun for all of us nonetheless.
We didn’t make it up the mountain to Monteverde, normally about a three to four hour trip from the airport, until 9 that night. They were putting in a culvert on the highway and there was only one lane open and they were letting the traffic going to the city pass much more frequently than those of us heading to the country. We spent close to three hours inching forward in fits and starts, Lucky playing old tunes on the harmonica, Beto and I getting out to tempt fate with the oncoming traffic, Wolf picking up the book from time to time, checking to see if it was real. By the time we got up the mountain, there was nothing left but sleep. But we were very, very happy.
On Thursday morning we took the book up to Carlos Hernandez, the director at the Reserve. He insists that the Tropical Science Center (who owns and administers the Reserve) is serious about wanting to finance a Spanish translation. I told him that although I think this is wonderful, I don’t want to give up the rights to the book and also want to control the translating process (new little control freak that I’ve become – makes me wonder just what kind of parent I might have been after all…). I believe he is on Wolf’s and my side in this – he took copies to give to the members of the board of the TSC. I suggested that he have someone who is fluent in English read the book first and make sure they are still interested. He suggested that I check out how much the translation itself might cost and who we might employ to do it. We will proceed from there. But my immediate feeling was a good one, that he understands how personal the project is for Wolf and I, and that he will represent us well to the board.
We made our rounds showing off the book (one last baby comparison – the book’s cover really is soft like a baby’s bum, I swear). Our friends Mercedes Diaz and Luis Angel Obando, who show up in the last chapter of Walking with Wolf, were thrilled to finally get their copy – immediately plans were started for the fiesta, la presentacion del libro, and we started selling books. Lucky began reading and her reaction has been wonderful (although she did find an error deep in the book – a factual one, not just a difference of memory from her husband – I think I will leave it ambiguous and see how many people catch this error….hopefully not too many more will be found).
Leaving Wolf and Lucky with the book safely in hand, I jumped on a bus on Friday morning and returned to the big city of San José to meet up with my friend Patricia Maynard. She was taking a group of Latin American literature students from the University of Georgia around town to a variety of cultural events. I sat in on talks by our musician friends Edin Solis of Editus and Jaime Gamboa of Malpais on the historical context and present day reality of Costa Rican music. They both tried to convince the American students, who listed reggaeton as one of their favorite genres of music, that songwriting which includes poetry and composition that is more than three chords is of more value than easy, commercial music – I’m not sure if they convinced the students, but Edin and Jaime spoke with such passion that I would hope they at least made them think. We had a great meal at the Café Arco Iris and watched Alejandro Toceti – now a kind of Cultural Attache with the government, but who we’ve known as a beautiful dancer, whose every muscle speaks even when he stands still – tell stories with his body. We finished our day with a night of hot dancing at Jazz Café in San Pedro – Manuel Monestel and his ever-changing Afro-Caribbean band, Cantoamerica, kept us jumping to salsa, calypso and reggae. Since my years involved in the music festival in Monteverde, all these musicians have remained great friends and a night of hearing them play only whets my appetite for more.
The next day we had the great privilege of a visit with Daniel Villegas, one of the top authors and playwrights in Costa Rica. He studied years ago in Europe as well as Los Angeles and New York City at The Artists Studio. Not only was his conversation colorful and informative, but for me, the new young author that I be, it was very touching. When he spoke about how he found inspiration, how stories can be told, and the most important thing being to write honestly and about what is real in your life – well, I like to think that I have tried to do that with Walking with Wolf. I humbly gave him a copy of our book. He accepted it graciously, though who knows if he will ever read it. But it was the first instance where I presented myself as an author with a book I am proud of and wasn’t embarrassed to share it with such a distinguished writer.
I came back up the mountain in time for the Quaker meeting on Sunday. After the hour of silence, when it came time for introductions by visitors and announcements, I confirmed the rumors to those present, that I had indeed returned with the book in hand (I had left last May stating I wouldn’t return until the book was truly a book). I invited everyone to the celebration to be held later this week at Bromelias Café, on Thursday, May 29th at 5 p.m. I then presented Jean Stuckey, the head of the Monteverde library committee, with a signed copy of Walking with Wolf. The dedication reads:
“For the Monteverde Friends Library, my favorite library in the world. It is with the greatest pleasure that we give you our book to be placed on your musty shelves. With love, Kay and the Wolf”.
I’m on my way there now to help catalogue it and place it on the shelf!