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Life on the green mountain is sweet – and these days kinda like some strange movie. I guess it is partly due to the season – as Christmas gets closer, there are fiestas galore, special art markets for shoppers, and a proliferation of Santa wannabes. This is the third time I’ve been in Costa Rica for the pre-festive season – the last time was probably twelve years ago – and it seems to me that everything has spun out of control and is starting to resemble the excess of North America more and more.

But I won’t go on about consumerism and commercialism – I’ve spent enough time on this blog in the last few months talking about that stuff. No, no, I won’t be a Scrooge this year. I’m happy to be here and look forward to all the tamales and trimmings (especially the fine art form of tinsel creations I equate this country with) that go with a Costa Rican Christmas, even if some of the traditions have taken on a rather glossy hue. It is a time to spread love and enjoy friends and try not to be a glutton.

Like my new pal, Miel, the spoiled kitty I live with, it is sometimes better just to window shop than to indulge in everything that comes our way…we all need a bell around our neck in this season to remind us not to eat everything in sight.

The evening after I arrived last week, it was the 3rd annual Festival de Luces – not quite a Santa Claus Parade, but something close. I walked from my home here in Cerro Plano, through the gathering marching bands and primping floats, to El Centro, that is downtown Santa Elena. There was already a huge crowd gathered, and by the time the parade passed through a couple of hours later, there were more people assembled on that 100 meters of Main Street than I had ever seen before.

In fact, I’m sure there aren’t this many people living in the town, that alone the surrounding area. Turns out that bands had come from as far away as Puntarenas, Bijagua, Miramar – there were buses full of excited kids in sparkly costumes with their marching band instruments – drums, horns, batons and a great proliferation of vertical glockenspiels! And the bands must have brought their mothers, fathers, uncles, grandmothers – well, I don’t know what the official count was, but there were a zillion people squished into the little downtown core of Santa Elena.

Since it was so crowded on the street, I went up onto the balcony of Bohemias, a lovely restaurant owned by a lovely woman, Arecelly. This gave me a squirrel’s-eye view of the craziness on the street as well as a chance to sip a glass of wine.

It wasn’t long before I was truly wondering if I had stepped into a Fellini film – in the “pre-parade show” the street crowds were entertained by fire stick twirlers, energetic gymnasts, a Mexican dance troupe (with big bright incredibly shiny costumes),

the local police making a pass through in marching formation (I really hope that some of them were from elsewhere, as I hate to think there are this many policia in this town). These performers were all joined by vendors selling blinking Santa hats with out-of-control dogs running everywhere. The full moon had just passed but was still a large presence in the sky, the clouds came and went, the mists spit down from time to time, rock band dry ice shot swirls of fog throughout the area (or was that the smoke from a kitchen on fire?)  

And I’m not sure when devil’s red horns became a part of the Christmas story, but there must have been a post-Halloween fire sale on, for they were everywhere! Half the town was looking kinda diabolical.

And then the parade began. It was heralded in by a local woman, Doña Virginia Zamora, who gets around town in a golf cart – she was all decorated for the occasion. In my photo, she looks more like a visiting UFO, but in all honesty, that night, I’m not sure we would have noticed an alien ship as being out of place.

There were several bands, as I said earlier, from all over. They were all at least good and some were excellent – I particularly liked the band from Bijagua. They all had cute outfits in gold, red, blue or silver (and blinking Santa hats or glowing devil horns.) The parade would move along about twenty feet and then stop, giving each band and float the chance to be admired by each segment of the crowd. This makes for an extremely slow parade. I felt sorry for the last band which was from Puntarenas, because we surely had heard every Christmas carol known to mankind by then, played by glockenspiel and trumpet, and reinforced by very enthusiastic drummers on their snare drums, bass drums and percussion kits, so I don’t think they got the same enthusiastic greeting that the first bands did.

Are you feeling the headache setting in yet?

There was also about ten floats – the most impressive being a backhoe turned into a lit-up dragon – the cutest being a fairy castle filled with princesses and princes – the most “Monteverdian” being a garden of earthly delights accompanied by walking orchids, ladybugs, jaguars, and a variety of flashy birds.

This was all followed by a fireworks display, but I had gone the opposite way and headed home, my festive cup already overflowing. I felt that somehow little Santa Elena and rural Monteverde had turned into a bustling city in the three months I had been in Canada.

The next day I had a meeting with the board of Bosqueterno S.A., to discuss the communications work and history-writing I’m doing for them. All seems good though I still have lots of work to do – creating a power point presentation, setting up a blog for them, finishing the story-telling. It will be much easier to do it here with all the resources around me.

Wolf and I have replenished the many local store shelves with our book for the Christmas shopping season. Walking with Wolf has been selling well, particularly in certain stores. I found out that Alan Masters, who runs one of the CIEE groups (visiting tropical biology university students from all over the US), bought copies for all of his thirty students. Apparently a few had read it and were talking it up – a couple of the students had even chosen to take this course in Monteverde after reading the book. This had happened before I returned, but Wolf had sat and signed all the books one day at the Reserve after he and Lucky gave a talk on the history of the community to the group. I haven’t bumped into Alan yet, but will be giving him a very big hug when I do see him.

I’ve spent many mornings this week with Wolf at the entrance to the Reserve, being bathed in sunshine, visiting my Reserve family, meeting tourists, eating the great sandwiches at the Santamaria’s Family Sodita next door (highly recommended), and discussing with Don Carlos the progress of the Spanish translation.   Progress report – slow, but sure.

One of the coolest new things at the Reserve was that they have installed motion-sensor cameras in the forest. The Environmental Education crew (my good friend Mercedes and Wolf’s granddaughter Hazel) have a camera set up near a tree only a few hundred meters from the reception area where animal scratches had been observed. Mercedes showed me the pictures they’ve taken in the last month – of a puma, jaguarundi, tayra, and peccaries. Incredible, this much wildlife so close to the busy center of the Reserve.

There was also the Christmas Art Fair at the Quaker school – where the phenomenally-talented community artists gather and display and hopefully sell their original creations. Of course there is also lots of food available and all the proceeds help the school. I am not a great shopper and didn’t need anything and don’t want to spend money, so only bought snacks. I could never have made up my mind between all the beautiful things available so just didn’t even bother to think about it. (The photo is Benito Guindon’s pine needle baskets)

Instead it was a day of socializing and oohing and aahing over the art as well as the new babies in town.

Last night was Open Mike at the newly remodeled Bromelias. One of the most beautiful spots in Monteverde, it is the lovechild of Patricia Maynard, who has created a stunning building, amphitheatre and gardens where you can go to hear great music while sitting by the bonfire under the starry sky. It is a little off the beaten track and its location makes it a difficult go for Patri, but anyone who knows the place is always charmed by its special vibe. She has started this open talent night and in this town there is no shortage. Hopefully this will grow into a well attended and magical evening for local and visiting musicians and the rest of us who enjoy the music.

The week took a turn for me when I was contacted by the Canadian Embassy. In October, I received an email from my pal Jose Pablo, the Economic Officer who had helped secure generous funding from the Embassy for the translation of our book last March. He said that he wanted to invite me to an event on Sunday December 13 that had to do with a “senior level” visit.

 I was happy to be invited and was excited and then I didn’t hear anything else.  A couple of days ago, I emailed him, asking if I was still invited to whatever the thing was. The next day I had an email from him, explaining that Canada’s Governor General, the interesting Michaelle Jean, would be on an official visit to Costa Rica. There had been a plan to have a conservation/green program for her and that is what I was to be part of.  Unfortunately this part of the visit was cancelled, and so, so sorry, maybe next time.  Boo Hoo.

Two email messages later, I opened up an official invite from the Canadian Ambassador to Costa Rica, Neil Reeder, to a formal reception next Monday night for the Governor General at the Official Residence of the Ambassador. No more boo hoo! Great excitement instead…until I realized that I now need a formal costume – dress, shoes, shawl, bag – well, you know, FORMAL! So I’ve spent the last two days wandering around Monteverde, borrowing all the necessities from friends here. I have the dress, the shawl, going to try on a couple of pairs of shoes today – thank goodness that women love to play dress-up! The lovely ladies here on the mountain are looking in their closets and helping me pull this off in a very short time with no money!

My friend Melody came by and cut and hennaed my hair (it got too red this time – as I bought the wrong color – but my dress is red, so it will be okay) and also cut my friend Corrie’s hair. Melody also lent me the red and silver dress that I’m building my costume around.

I will head down the mountain tomorrow to San José to meet my Texas friend, Caroline Crimm, who is finishing up her research down there; to go and enjoy a number of Costa Rican musical groups who are participating in a free outdoor concert in support of the International March for Peace and Non-Violence; to rendezvous with Roberto, who is coming from Cahuita and returning to the mountain with me; and now, to meet the Queen – well, not exactly the Queen, but as close as we get to her in Canada.

Once again, Fellini films fill my mind, and si, la dolce vita es dolcita!

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Guaria Morada, the official flower (orchid) of Costa Rica

I’m back up in my perch at the Caburé Café, one of Monteverde’s finest dining spots.  It also happens to have wireless that Bob and Susana allow us to use for free, no purchase required, though over the last couple of visits to Monteverde I’ve enjoyed a fair amount of their wonderful food, hot drinks and delicate homemade chocolate truffles.  It’s a win/win situation, the great view over the trees to Guanacaste a big bonus.

 

roberto

I only have five days left in Costa Rica before heading home to the famous Hammer of Canada.  Ai yi yi! How does it happen so fast? I just returned from a beautiful week on the Caribbean coast, staying at Roberto’s jungle home in paradise. Fortunately the weather of Monteverde finally changed to summer while I was gone.  Now the sun is hot, the sky is blue with only the occasional fluffy cloud, the winds have just about gone completely.

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I’m taking care of Veronica’s three dogs (refer to former posts from January) and I have to say that they have all matured a little in these last couple months. I take no credit except for being the nanny who told the parent that they were outa control.  Veronica took charge and now we are all happy! Even Betsy the crazy has stopped jumping on me. The Dog Whisperer would be proud. Veronica and her son Stuart headed down to the hot Guanacaste coastline for some beach fun while I was still around to dog/house sit. My sincere appreciation goes to her and her generosity in allowing me to stay at the house these last months – and for the pleasure of getting to know her, Stuart and the puppies.

 

Wolf and I presented Walking with Wolf at the Friends Peace Center in San José about a week ago to a small but very appreciative crowd.  I hadn’t done a talk for a few months so it felt good to get warmed up, which I need to be as I head home and start doing presentations within the first week – to the McMaster University Biodiversity Guild in Hamilton. Then I’m off to the northeastern US and have a number and variety of events lined up in Maine, Philadelphia and New York City. I also will be making the few corrections needed in the book and printing another batch as, miracle of miracles, we are just about sold out!

 

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Wolf, Lucky and I also had the great pleasure of being toured around the INBio – the National Institute of Biodiversity – insect collection by Jim Lewis. Jim has a long history in Monteverde as a nature guide as well as an owner of the Monteverde Lodge and Costa Rica Expeditions. In his retirement, he went to volunteer working at INBio’s scientific headquarters in Heredia. We went there and saw the largest collection in Latin America of various families of insects. Besides the beautiful butterflies and the shiny metallic true bugs, we were aghast at the variety and size of some of the more dangerous ones – particularly the torsalos (botflies) that I wrote about squeezing out of my friend’s butt recently – the biologists were most helpful with information to pass on to Roberto about what to do next time one of these nasties bites him – and the wall full of species of mosquitoes.

mosquitoes

 

 

I mean, we all know there are many, and they are pests, but this wall of containers, each one representing a different species found in Costa Rica, sent chills down us.

 

 

The Spanish translation is well on its way. Wolf’s son, Carlos Guindon, up in New Hampshire, is at least half way through the translating. The Tropical Science Center, administrators of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, is financing that part and will see that it is published. We are searching for funds elsewhere to help the process and some of those will come from the Canadian Embassy here in San José. I’ve been in steady contact with José Pablo Rodriguez, the Economic/Political Officer there, who has been more than helpful. My lunch a month ago with him and Stuart Hughes, the Political Adviser, was extremely enjoyable. I’ve had nothing but great support from them in trying to find a way to use money from an initiative fund to help with the Spanish translation. José confirmed yesterday that the money is coming to pay for the art, index and computer work – and today the contract arrived – and I am very appreciative and loving my country a little more than usual.

editus

 

 

I also have had some great musical moments in the last couple of weeks. While still in Monteverde a couple of weeks ago, I saw violinist Ricardo Ramirez and guitarist Edin Solis of Editus playing with Costa Rican singer Arnoldo Castillo. I have known Editus for years and seen them play with a variety of other musicians but had never heard or seen Arnoldo. It was a lovely night of romantic songs from Costa Rica and Latin America which touched me deeply, being enamored myself these days. Ricardo and Edin played several instrumental pieces as well to a very appreciative local crowd who has supported them since they began playing classical music nineteen years ago. My young house friend Stuart has just taken up playing the violin and was gob-smacked watching Ricardo, as I knew he would be.

 

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Following the concert I ended up at La Taverna in Santa Elena dancing till closing to the Chanchos del Monte, our local rock ‘n rollers, punk etc. band.  Robert Dean (who I’ve written about, former guitarist for Sinead O’Connor) who is known for publishing a bird guide here in Costa Rica, and plays along with a Alan Masters, a university professor, Federico, a professional nature guide, Walter, a taxi driver and Arturo, son of the wonderful Eladio Cruz who we talk a lot about in the book – these guys moonlight as the crazy Pigs of the Mountain and put on a great show of music to jump too.  Allthough I could feel a cold coming on – my belief being that dancing will either cure me or kill me – I was able to go and sweat a lot of it out, though it did continue on to the bad cough that I still have.

 

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I then went to San José for the book presentation and stayed with Edin (of Editus) and his wife Lorena, who always offer me their home and great company when in the city. Lorena is always full of great business ideas and tossed some good ideas at me for fundraising – her motto, think big, act bigger. My friend Leila showed up at the presentation and it ended in time for us to jump in a taxi and head off to see the Tico Jazz Band with my old friend Luis Bonilla, the hottest trombonist in New York City.

 

luis

 

 

Luis played at the Monteverde Music Festival in 1999 when I was taking care of the house where the musicians stayed. We spent three days and nights having fun – him and his wife Luz and the other Costa Rican musicians he had put together for the three nights of concerts – Luis Monge, pianist, Kin Rivera, drummer, and Danilo Castro, bassist. They were the hottest jazz quartet possible and each night they just got tighter and wilder though they had only been playing together for a couple of days. Luis’ energy is through the roof and his playing is impeccable.  We also did some wicked dancing following the concerts – these were three of the best nights of positive energy that I had in two years of working the seven week long music festival of Monteverde.

 

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So to see Luis again after ten years and see that the energy hasn’t diminished, his enthusiasm for the music and improvising with other musicians is still hot and his joy still radiates made me laugh endlessly through the concert. The Tico Jazz Band is made up from young to old musicians and they shone as well. I’m going to go and see Luis when I take Walking with Wolf to New York City at the end of April where he plays regularly at the Vanguard Jazz Club. Danilo,from that hot jazz quartet who I have bumped into in the past few years, was also there, as well as Marco Navarro, another great bassist in the country who I haven’t seen in several years as he’s been in South America playing. He’s back in Costa Rica and playing bass with the Tico Jazz Band. It was a hot night of great jazz and a warm night of meeting up with old friends.

 

the-moat

 

All that city fun was followed by several days in the jungle. The creek (sometimes river) that flows like a moat around Roberto’s rancho was just the perfect temperature for a Canadian.

 

 

howler

The howler and white faced monkeys came regularly and kept us company. I had brought some cuttings, roots and seeds from my friend Zulay’s in San Carlos and we planted what will hopefully be a nice garden. Roberto had doubled the size of the rancho in the couple weeks I was away by adding a roof over the woodfire and kitchen table. The jungle was welcoming and it was hard to leave.

 

caspar-11

 

We returned to the sloth center and delivered some books to Judy Aroyos, the owner, who was very enthusiastic about the book, having her own long history of conservation in Costa Rica. She thought they would sell well as they have a lot of cruise ships come to them from the Port of Limon. I will take any excuse I can to return to this beautiful sloth rehabilitation center (see Kukulas of Cahuita post) and visit with this very friendly woman as well as see the peaceful little furry creatures who are recuperating there. She showed me the babies in the incubators hidden away in their private quarters, each one with its personal story. And we saw Casper, the baby sloth that Roberto’s daughter Gabriella had found and taken to the center back in October. The friendly ghost is doing just fine.

 

trees

So now I’m working against the clock to get everything done before I leave next Wednesday. It will be harder than usual to leave. I always enjoy being with Wolf, taking care of book business as we have been doing for so many years now, and now Roberto has given me more reason to stay in this country. But my life takes me home to Canada, on the road to spread the news of the book in the United States in April, and book responsibilities will keep me there until sometime next fall. I may have to return before to deal with the translation – I won’t mind at all.

 

hammock

 

But my little mind is already thinking of the next book I want to write and the idea of writing it from the Caribbean coast, while listening to the frogs and chatting with the monkeys from a hammock swaying beside that meandering brook- these images will keep my dreams sweet and my focus on the future.

windy-k 

I am back in the wind, but it is a warm sleepy breeze here in Cahuita rather than the wild winds of Monteverde. The air and the water are both balmy. There’s no wireless connection in this town so I’ve become a little less connected with the bigger world this past week. That’s fine with me. My existence here is basic but rich, slow but always winding my way toward the horizon where the sky and sea meet.

 

 

 

ccahuita 

Costa Rica’s beaches cover almost every imaginable variation. A week ago I was in Manuel Antonio on the central Pacific coast – one of the first beaches to be developed for tourism and definitely one of the busiest. Now I’m in Cahuita on the Caribbean and its charm for me lays in the fact that it hasn’t changed all that much since I first came in 1990. I tend to gravitate to less populated places with a high relax factor and so I fit in well here.

 

 

jeff-at-night

On the other hand, and coast, Manuel Antonio sits at the end of an action-packed seven kilometer road that starts in Quepos, once a fishing village now a busy town handling the commercial side of the tourism trade. The road crawls up and over the rocky cliffs to the beach of Manuel Antonio and its National Park and is filled with hotels and restaurants that can be seen gracing the pages of Architectural Digest or Conde Naste magazines. I’ve managed to stay at a couple of these places over the years just because someone I know knew someone who could get us a great deal, but otherwise I could never afford any of them. The best I can do, as I did with my friends on Valentine’s Day, is walk the road and stop in for a drink in different establishments just to get the feel of their atmosphere and design.

 

 

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Manuel Antonio’s beaches are beautiful – the large white sand beach that fronts the little town, where people can swim but there is also enough wave action for surfers – and the smaller beaches that you must enter the National Park to access. Even though there are a lot of tourists around, you can walk the paths and arrive at the more secluded beaches – passing silent sloths, raucous white-faced monkeys and the rare little squirrel monkeys playing in the trees – the forest that you walk through is alive and diverse.

 

 

sunset

The majority of the tourists seem to like to gather with all the others on the main beach where umbrellas and lounge chairs can be rented. The last time I was in MA it wasn’t like this. But then I never was one to be here often and several years have passed and if there is one thing I know in Costa Rica, it is that change comes fast and furious. Everyone in the area steps up to try to make a living off the tourists – working in restaurants, hotels or tour and souvenir shops or selling their wares illegally on the sidewalks and beach stalls (the vendors all scatter when word spreads that the police are on the way to check their permits.)

 

fruit-girl

 

 

 

Pretty young girls learn how to carry pots and plates on their heads at very early ages and walk the beach selling fruit and snacks until they are beautiful young women doing a good business. And the guys with the great personalities become the great bartenders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

k-in-sarongs

Although tourists coming to Costa Rica are warned about being robbed – definitely a caution not to take lightly – this has actually only happened to me twice in the nineteen years of coming here.  And both situations were identical – I left shoes outside at night and someone picked them up. The first time was at a different beach many years ago, outside of a tent I was sleeping in when the thief left my brand new $100 Birkenstocks but took my friend’s used but nice running shoes. This year I left my sarong and sandals outside of the condo I was staying in and next morning they were gone. Lesson learned (again) – fortunately I was quickly distracted from my loss by a pair of pygmy owls nesting in the tree next to our room – and was able to cheaply replace both the shoes and the sarong.

 

mar-y-sombra

Soak-in-the-sea-days, great food, and nights spent dancing – thus went the days at Manuel Antonio. I spent this little beach vacation with my pals Jeff the crooner (if you throw him a line he’ll have to sing you a verse…)

 

 

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and Randy One-Flop from Hamilton,

 

 

 

 

 

 

kevin

 and Special KKKK-Kevin from New Brunswick. Wonderful men are they all and we had fun. Kevin stayed on in steamy Quepos while Jeff and Randy and I went up to the cool climate of Monteverde.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We spent a beautiful sunny day in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve walking with Wolf. When the sun shines in the cloud forest, you can’t help but feel blessed. Wolf was in good form, taking a new painkiller which makes his walking easier.  He’s been suffering from worn out knees (including a new one) for years.

 

 

 

 

 

boys-on-trail

The day started a little drizzly but turned into a blue sky glimpsed behind the sparkle of the sun on the wet leaves of the forest canopy. We met up with a couple of guys from the United States and ended up selling a couple of books – I tell ya, I’m always working. After Wolf went home for lunch, Randy, Jeff and I continued wandering the trails through the Reserve, glimpsed a quetzal, went out to the red swinging bridge named in honor of Wolf, and onward to the ventana or window with spectacular views east over the Peñas Blancas valley and west over the Nicoya Peninsula.

 

pb-valley

We finally walked home along the Nuboso trail built with wooden “cookies” and block steps through the elfin forest and back to the entrance on the newly-made accessible part. A perfect day spent in the Cloud Forest Reserve.

 

 

That night I finally met up with Leila Trickey – the daughter of my friend Jean who I have written about in earlier blogs (K-Stock and Not So Scary After All). We’ve been playing email tag but finally ended up in the same physical place – Santa Elena. I’ve known Leila since she was about a year old and it has been great spending time with her down here.  She is at the start of a long solo trip through Central America but being a new traveler was glad to touch base with “a local”.

 

leila

Leila is afraid of heights (and I have to say I enjoyed traveling down the mountain in the bus with her more than anyone I’ve journeyed with before – she could barely look out the window at the steep hillsides we were descending without squealing and jumping back in her seat but fought her fear and kept on taking pictures.) Nor did her fear stop her from going out and doing the canopy tour – specifically at Selvatur, your one-stop eco-experience-shopping-mall on the far side of Santa Elena (with one of the best bug collections in the world.) Randy and Jeff headed out in the morning to do the ziplines as well, Randy also prepared to face his fear of height. They all loved it though (that facing-your-fear-and-surviving thing is empowering) and would have gone again if they had the time.

 

volcano

 

We took a taxi a few kilometers further (you can always work a good deal with the taxi drivers around here) just to see the view over Arenal volcano and lake from El Mirador de San Gerardo.  This is one of the most stunning scenes in Costa Rica I think. Yet few people make it out this way to see it or even know about it (or are too busy with all the other Monteverde activities or the weather isn’t conducive to seeing anything but clouds and fog). To have a perfectly clear sunny day to witness this beauty was another gift. Stephen Spielberg, eat your heart out.

 

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We then took a wine and cheese picnic out to the bullpen (a magical pasture that I’ve written about before.) We stayed on until the shadows lengthened and then headed to one of the best sunset spots in Monteverde, the Fonda Vela Hotel. They have a great outdoor balcony that looks out to the horizon. There have been many concerts at the Fonda Vela over the years and when planned well, the musical intermission would be right when the sun was setting. The second half of the concert would be by candlelight in the high ceilinged dining room.

 

leila-pool

 

 

 

 

Now there is a pool table out on the balcony to play on while watching the sun go down.  Just adds to an already great place. (Ms Costa Rica, Leila, in one of her brother Ethan’s designed shirts – check out www.miolacooperative.com)

 

 

 

 

 

sunset-2

We finished our tour of Monteverde tasting a bit of nightlife at Chancho’s Bar in Santa Elena – Randy and I happy to do the dancing, Leila and Jeff soaking up the local culture – the perfect day turned to perfect night by the outdoor fire outside Chancho’s funky little bar. Monteverde shone like a star for us over these days.

 

tree-frog

 

Leila wanted to see the Caribbean so I left my Pacific pals behind and brought her to Cahuita. And here I stay. Always working. Uh-huh. Until next time…   

 

 

 

 My home and the natives’ land, Temagami

 I am once again writing from the lowlands. I’ve come to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.  Before I talk about sand and surf however, I want to acknowledge the fact that I missed Canada Day on July 1st.  I’m not a flag-waving patriotic type, but I am happy and thankful to be Canadian and remember that no matter where I am, just not necessarily on THE DAY. There have been things that have reminded me however – the odd Canadian flag here in Puerto Viejo, the picture of Tom Wilson on the hamilton365.com website that I follow (Larry Strung’s daily photographic diary of Hamilton (my hometown) people in 2008 – I am featured on February 26) If I were to choose a Canadian singer-songwriter who speaks for me of where I live, it would be Tom. He’s all attitude, talent, irreverent, and a great entertainer/singer/guitar player/composer. So Larry’s choice of him as the Canada Day portrait on his website struck a huge chord with me, one that sounded a lot like the beginning of “Oh Canada”…but I digress (and also stopped writing this…)

 

 

More than a week has gone by, and a warm wonderful week it was. I arrived back in Monteverde last night on the bus – amused by the reaction of a couple from New York sitting beside me to the never-ending road. We went up in darkness but you could still see the steep precipices that dropped off to the sides in the shadows. The woman looked horrified – when we got to Santa Elena, I told her to be sure to leave on the 6:30 a.m. bus when they were ready to go, as that is the most beautiful ride back down the mountain. The sun will be coming over the mountain and glimmering on the waters of the Gulf of Nicoya and lighting up the flatlands of Guanacaste – the clouds will be at play all around you, drifting up from the valleys, hovering in the mountains, and tumbling across the lower landscape.  And she will truly see what she couldn’t in the darkness – the narrow winding road that we just crawled up, alive with milk trucks, tourist buses and other early morning machinery – the whole effect tends to wake you up very quickly. I have noticed this year that there is even more traffic on the roadway and on each bus trip there have been numerous occasions that the bus had to back up to make room so that it could clear the sides of a passing transport truck, or pull off as far to the edge (whatever you do, don’t look!) so that some other large vehicle could pass. I’ve been on the bus much more this year than any other but this is a new phenomena, a sign of the great increase in business and vehicular traffic in Monteverde.

 

Fortunately the weather up here has been beautiful they tell me. The rains have come as they should, a little downpour each afternoon, but otherwise it is sunny and hot.  Bodes well for the beach babe recently returned – it is hard to leave the beach when you like sun and water and lazy days, and returning to cold, wet, windy and busy Monteverde can be a harsh shock. So I appreciate that I can walk out this morning in summer clothes and perhaps not have to think about my rubber boots, umbrella and raincoat till later in the day.

 

My week on the Caribbean was made up of reunions with three friends, two of whom I hadn’t seen in years, hours spent floating in the warm sea and wandering through the shady jungle, a great book (End of the Spear by Steve Saint), and a lot of fish and fresh fruit. The bus ride from San José to Limón and then down the coastal highway to Puerto Viejo was very smooth. You get used to the fact that in Costa Rica the state of the road changes quickly. They get fixed and freshly paved but it doesn’t take long before the pavement is washed out and huge potholes appear, forcing vehicles to wind their way slowly around the obstacles. This route had obviously been recently done as we practically flew on a very smooth flight.

 

You leave the city and go up over the mountain range of Braulio Carrillo National Park where it is always cool and often wet and windy but with spectacular views over the protected forests. The road winds down near Guapiles and from there heads straight and flat across the lowlands, passing over wide rivers and past the endless banana plantations along with the acres of trucking containers that transport the bananas for Dole, Del Monte and Chiquita to places throughout the world. The foliage and landscape change to something mossier and drippier in a different shade of green than the western side of the country. The light is different as well. Coming over the mountains to the Atlantic side of the Costa Rica is like coming into another country without a border crossing.  Even the color of people’s skin turns a darker brown – this is the Afro-Caribbean province and there is also a noticeable population of indigenous – Talamancas and Mestizos especially.

 

When I got to Puerto Viejo, I went to the home of my old friend Susana Schik, who appears on one of the last pages of Walking with Wolf, but who hasn’t appeared in my life in probably eight or ten years. She used to live in Monteverde, teaching natural history courses, but now does that down in Puerto. She is married to a lovely man, René, and has a very sprightly four-year-old daughter named Hannah. Once Hannah got over her initial shyness with me, our time was spent trading wild cat screams and responses – and this girl can roar! Susana and René care-take some vacation houses along the Black Sands beach on the north side of Puerto and they offered that I could use an apartment that was empty in one of these houses.

Beautiful! I spent three nights with a great balcony, cable TV, phone and very hot shower – more than I’ve had in most places I’ve stayed. The only head-shaking part was the amount of locks and barriers involved – every window not only had heavy wooden shutters but iron grates and locks. The doors had deadbolts, the iron grates were double locked. And even then, there were signs that someone had been trying to hack their way past the deadbolt in the few days since Susana had last visited there. She told me not to leave the house less than thoroughly locked up even if I only leave for a few minutes to go to her place or to the store – someone will surely break in. The signs of people trying to get at whatever they can, to share illegally in the obvious wealth that exists for some in Costa Rica, are omnipresent.

 

I took the local bus through the now-almost-city of Puerto Viejo, full of surfers, rastas, university students on vacation, and locals working in the bustling service industry, to quieter Punta Uva, a few kilometers down the coast. My friend Sarah Dowell, prolific and extraordinary artist, lives there. We have been friends since I came to Monteverde in 1990. She lived in a great funky house with its artistically displayed shell collection (Sarah commented that they collected these shells a few years ago but now have a hard time finding many of these shells – they want to donate this as an exhibit somewhere in the town) up on the mountain. I would go and visit while she painted. This is how she makes her living and so she is quite disciplined about the time she spends painting each day. She works from photographs – of nature, animals, flowers, and various human models she’s collected images of. I was a model for her many years ago and get a thrill each time I recognize some part of my anatomy, if not all of me, in a painting. Her paintings are for sale at the Hummingbird Gallery here in Monteverde, where I once worked, and I often stop and visit with the owners and look at the fresh crop of Sarah’s water colors. They range from very green jungle scenes with nudes running through the foliage, to underwater sea life, to vibrant exotic flowers. Simply beautiful. Sarah gave me a painting that my likeness is in, standing in a pool at the base of a waterfall along with a nude man (the model was Bill Kucha, another artist). I have shown the painting to a couple of people and they knew that it was me and also know that I would happily be standing nude in a pool of water at the base of any waterfall.  So thank you Sarah, for that gift.

Sarah’s home and gallery in Punta Uva

 

Spending several hours in Sarah and her partner Mel’s open-air home (a beach version of her Monteverde home) and studio, with her paintings, great coffee, and birds singing and howlers chuckling around the large open windows, talking about anything and everything we could in our attempt to catch up, was time spent in pure enjoyment. At some point, Sarah’s grand-daughter, Ashanti, joined us. She is another enchanting four-year-old. We walked down the path to the beach and played in the water. It is always fun to be with a child just learning to swim and who is confident enough to take chances – the only way to learn. Sarah lost her own son, Singer, in a car accident a couple of years ago. She is finally recovering and there is no doubt that having Shanti close by, and the child’s mom Connie (who gave me a fantastically relaxing massage on the beach), helps.  To have a bit of her son alive in this funny, smart, energetic little girl is another gift.  

 

Sarah and Shanti on the beautiful beach at Punta Uva

                                                                                                                                                                                              We saw a sloth. This is my favorite animal here and this was the first of many I saw this week. I’ve had many great sloth experiences.  The first one I saw my first year here was on this coast, a dead one, washed up after a few days of terrible rains that had no doubt knocked down the tree that the sloth was in and washed the poor animal out to sea. My Tico friend, Macho, and I came upon it, this peaceful looking creature seemingly asleep on the beach, curled up like a baby, all covered in a fine coating of green – these animals live their lives in the trees, and are basically mammalized containers of chlorophyll. This poor little guy was very dead – I wanted to take pictures, they would have been beautiful, but Macho was appalled that I would take pictures of the dead, even an animal, and so we moved on (as I recall, it also involved returning to the cabin to get my camera – which was more of a problem than his reluctance). 

 

Another time I protected a sloth as it slowly ran through downtown Cahuita very late at night.  While the fiesta rages on in the bars, the sloths often make their way through town, holing up in the trees of the park, then making a “run” for it to get to the next bunch of trees. Well, if you have ever seen a sloth move, you want to pick them up and help them along. It is a silent movie slowed down to almost pause. But I can always imagine the inside of their little leaf-filled brains screaming, “run, man, run – I’m outa here”, even as their long arms and legs slowly move them along the ground. That particular night, I fended off the drunken boys who wanted to harass the poor creature, and walked with him till he got safely back into the shadows. Gary Larsen, the cartoonist, has a great drawing called “what sloths do when no-one is around” – which shows a very happy sloth boogie-ing on the ground to the music from a boombox – and I identify with that. We tend to have ideas of how others live by how they appear – and we never really know what happens when the doors are shut, the lights are off, and there is no one else around.    

 

These are turtle tracks, the mama come out of the sea to lay her eggs…could be tractor tracks come to dig up the beach…we spent awhile raking the tracks away so noone would find the nest and steal the eggs.

 

The amount of growth in Puerto Viejo is staggering – as in so many parts of the country. The issue of concern now is the proposal to build a large marina. The original concept was for 400 slots! That would bring an immense amount of traffic off the seas into this already bursting town. They have downsized it to one hundred berths and even that will make a disaster of the reef, the sea, and the community. I didn’t spend a lot of time investigating this – I just look at development as it has occurred in so many parts of this little country and see that the planning has been haphazard, the execution swift, and the result often devastating to many, while obviously profitable to others. Of course, there is that idea of not stopping progress, but there is also that big question “is this really what you call progress?” Hmmmmm…

 

I left Puerto and went half an hour up the road to my old stomping grounds of Cahuita.  There has always been a huge difference between these two neighbouring communities.  People tend to be either a Cahuita person or a Puerto person (like red and black beans I guess). Back in 1990 I spent a week in Cahuita and fell in love with it – and then traveled down to Puerto for one night before quickly returning to Cahuita. Whatever the differences were then, they are more obvious now – Puerto Viejo has grown immensely and stretches over a large area and it is busy with a surfer-dude subculture due to the legend of the Salsa Brava wavebreak (even though I think it was negatively affected by an earthquake years ago that shifted the coral reef) – Cahuita is smaller and more laid back with an older crowd moving slower. In Cahuita everything takes place in a very small area – the two main bars for beer or dancing are beside each other and the beautiful white sandy beach and National Park is two blocks away. You can stay in a pension, walk two minutes to any restaurant for Caribbean food, dance, shop, and walk along the shady path that follows the beach until you get to the quiet waters where you can float or swim lazily. I always spend a lot of hours on that beach in the shade of the trees when I’m not afloat in the warm water of the Caribbe.

 

I have known many characters in this town – some pretty unsavory, others classic Caribbean. I won’t get into what I have seen and witnessed over the years, for without explanation I know it all sounds rough. But being on the Atlantic is a very different culture than in other parts of Costa Rica – one that is very laid back up until there is a problem between people, then it can be very aggressive. As long as you don’t put yourself in the middle of anything, you have no worries. The drug trade has affected this coast perhaps more than other parts of the country (though all of Costa Rica has become a clearing house for Columbian cocaine and marijuana). It is not far across the sea from South America to this coastline and people work at making money in their nefarious ways. Unfortunately, you also see the affects on the people themselves of a poor economy mixed with cheap drugs and the opportunity to make a fast buck. I’ve seen the result on many friends on both coasts who have fallen to the constant fiesta. But these temptations are part of life all over Costa Rica, as well as in many other parts of the world. And you can either focus on that and reject the place, or appreciate the other aspects of the Caribbean culture, the warmth of the people, the spice of the food, the relax of life stewed in coconut juices.

 

In short order, I bumped into my old friend Roberto. We go way back, a history of love, friendship, and conversation. There is a famous song written by a Cahuitan calypsonian, Walter Ferguson, called “Cabin in the Water.”  My friend Manuel Monestel and his group Cantoamerica play and have recorded this song (Walter himself recorded it, finally, at the age of 83) – it tells the story of Bato, a man who built himself a simple cabin in the water off of the beach and was living there when Cahuita National Park was created. The administrator of the park came and told him, “Bato, you can’t live here, this is now a National Park.” He held his own for a long time but eventually moved up to another beach. Bato was a very interesting man. If you came across him in his hammock on the beach, you’d think he was just the marine equivalent of a street person – but he was actually a very intelligent, poetic philosopher. He knew what was going on in the world. I knew Bato through the 90s when I spent a lot of time here (he died about six years ago) and would go and sit and visit with him. Even as an old man, he never lost his ability to attract females, even young ones, and was quite the charmer. But my business with him was talking – listening to his tales and his ideas, told in his lilting Caribbean patois. I was always amazed how his home changed – one year I would arrive and his house would be a construction as big as a castle, built by driftwood, flotsam and jetsam that had washed up from huge storms. He would have walls, roof, tables, bed (although still sleep in his hammock) and decoration. The next time I came, the sea would have taketh away, and he was back to the simplicity of his hammock, maybe starting with another table assembly from fresh driftwood. He was a man who chose to live life with little money and less possession, but still lived. He wasn’t always a nice man, but he was an interesting one. And my friend Roberto is his son.

 

Roberto Levey grew up in Cahuita, was on his own by the time he was fourteen years old, and moved to San José where he became a shoemaker. He came back after twenty years to Cahuita and lived in a little casita a few minutes walk from town. When I met him in 1994, he was a fisherman and sold organic fruits from the trees on his land. A rasta with a life time growth of dreads on his head, he lived a very earthy life by the sea. I was charmed by his kindness and his positive energy and his humor, but truly impressed with his intelligence. He sang in local reggae and calypso bands and wrote poetry. His house had his own graffiti all over it. He was a friend to me and my old boyfriend, Macho, and we often camped in his yard and he fed us breadfruit and akee. Nothing was sweeter in Cahuita than lounging in his hammock and listening to him reciting poetry or talking politics or explaining the Caribbean culture which was very different from anything I knew. As I got to know his father, I could see the genetics, even though Roberto had never lived with him. He inherited his father’s way of viewing the world and living his life, with a minimum of money and a whole lot of interest in what made the world go around and a great sense of humor about even the ugliest of human behavoir. 

 

Women easily fall in love with him, as I did, and he has children on three continents. The phenomena of foreign women coming to exotic places and getting pregnant by, sometimes marrying, perhaps taking the local boys home is easy to criticize but more complicated in its effect on both the beach men and the foreign women. Roberto is not happy that he has five children who live far away from him – as they get older, they will no doubt reappear in his life, or at least some probably will. In the meantime, their father continues to live his life just as his father before him did, under the shade of tropical trees, to the rhythm of the calypsonians, holding on to the idea that love and peace are worthy goals. I saw Roberto a couple of years ago and he was in a very hurting state, his heart once again broken and so he was surviving by medicating himself – at the time I could only admonish him, tell him that he was worth so much more, plead with him to get it back together, and leave him with the hope that he would come through this horrible period. When I arrived this year, I knew that he was back to himself, smiling, thinking, warm and relaxed. He had bought a little piece of jungle a short walk out of Cahuita and was living, just like his father, off the land, making just enough money by selling produce when he needed to, and living in his own peace. 

 

I told him that I’d like to give him a copy of Walking with Wolf as long as he’d read it and he said he was very interested. So as I floated in the sea, I’d look up and see him reading and when I came out of the water, he’d talk about what he had been reading, asking questions and expressing his own take on some line I’d written or statement of Wolf’s. It was as pleasant of an intercourse about the book as I’ve had with anyone. If you saw Roberto, his heavy head of dreads tied up over his 55-year-old face with white beard, his clothes smelling of the wood stove he cooks on, and his poverty obvious, you’d probably assume he was just another pothead with too much party going on and little to live for. And once again, you’d have judged the man quite differently from his reality. I spent a morning sitting by the stream outside his jungle shack and the conversation never bored or stalled. I felt privileged to have been invited to  Roberto’s home in the jungle.

 

Sarah Dowell is anxious to return to Monteverde, in a large way because of the level of thinking and depth of conversation that exists throughout this community. She repeated a line from a Bill Bryson book that says “the cheery vacuity of beach life”, and she is dying from that particular virus. But in my week on the beautiful sands of the Caribbean, spent with Sarah, Susana and Roberto, I never lacked for intelligent conversation and intriguing analysis of life and society. Maybe I’m just lucky in the people I know, yet often they are not at all what they appear to be. Fortunately I’ve learned to look past the color or state of the paint on peoples’ houses and that ability has led to some of the richest experiences of my life.

I am writing this as the mist swirls – the day started out sunny, but it’s feeling like rain could move in.  That’s okay with me because I’m headed to the beach.  The Caribbean this time – Cahuita, Puerto Viejo and Punta Uva – check up on friends, get some sun, do some swimming, do a little reggae dancing and eat fish cooked in coconut – they way they prepare it on the Atlantic coast.

 Looks like a leguminous plant to me

But I’ve had a great few days here in Monteverde.  I’ve been sleeping around – no, don’t get excited, one way or another – I mean that I’ve been staying in a series of houses – since I came back from the city, I spent a night with Wolf and Lucky, then a night with Canadian Margaret Adelman in her beautiful house (where I’m going to take up residence when I return next week), a night with Patricia Jiminez in Santa Elena, and a couple nights in the apartment at Patricia Maynard’s Bromelias.  I’ve finally consolidated all my various bags and stuff to Margaret’s house while I’m gone. I’ve had some great evenings with friends, chitchat, music and dancing – and a wonderful day down in San Luis, the community that sits directly below Wolf Guindon’s farm. 

On Wednesday evening, at Margaret’s house, Wolf’s son Benito came over to play the recorder.  Well, I can read music and learned the recorder back in about Grade 7, and haven’t played in probably twenty years, but said I’d give it a try.  The photo shows the fear in the my face – although it wasn’t that bad – and the other photo shows the bit of biology that was taking place at our feet – a spider had a scorpion spun in her web and we watched this little drama as we played, trying to remember to keep our feet away from the base of the music stand so we didn’t get either in the way of the spider or too close to the angry but doomed scorpion. Benito and Margaret told me that they started with a group of about fourteen recorders a few years ago but it has dwindled down to the two of them.  And when they play, they just keep moving quickly through the music for duets, not repeating or trying to work out anything to sound a bit better (Margaret is a very accomplished pianist as well as artist and writer; Benito is accomplished in everything he does).  However, my thing was to play a piece at least a couple times to try to  make it sound like something – so we actually played one or two pieces not badly.  I’d say it was great, considering how long since I played or even read music and was actually quite the physical workout.

On Thursday evening, I visited with my friend Patricia Jiminez in the big city of Santa Elena.  She is another phenomenal artist as well as a poet.  Her friend Sandra came over for dinner – it was supposed to be poetry night but other members of their group didn’t show so we just talked about things women talk about – men, writing, men, love, men, politics, women.  It was a great evening which must have left several men’s ears burning somewhere in the world.

The next day, I took a book over to the lovely Miss Martha Moss – 88 years and glorious.  I came upon her laying down with her three kittens. She has been the human mother to many cats and kittens over the years and has a theory that the cats she has shared her house with are related to wild cats that have become domesticated.  She is putting together an article to send to the National Geographic or the NY TImes (I don’t remember which one) who has featured stories on these cats from around the world – hoping that the magazine will take interest and maybe send somebody to come and check out her cats’ DNA.  Nothing would surprise me.  Martha has written books for children as well as others – at 88 she is going strong, but needs to take rests, so you must drop in when it isn’t her nap time.  I had heard that she wanted a copy of Walking with Wolf, so I took one to her and signed it with – “For Martha – you have been inspirational, informative, entertaining and a great pleasure to know – I hope this book is some of that for you”.  It is so true about Martha – any of us that have had the great privilege of knowing her are indeed fortunate.

Wolf and I spent Saturday down in San Luis with our friend Luis Angel and Rosario the chauffeur from the Reserve.  We wanted to go and visit Dona Alicia, the widow of Miguel Leiton, who we talk about frequently in the book and there is a picture of him with Wolf that I took about a year before he died.  I can remember the day I took that picture, outside the beautiful new house they were then building and that Dona Alicia is now living in.  Wolf and Don Miguel, both in their seventies and slowed down due to illness from the speed that they lived their earlier lives at, talked like a couple of teenagers about their adventures in the forest – and kept urging each other to get back out on the trails – VAMANOS! It was the last time I saw Miguel who died a year later from cancer – and a wonderful memory for both Wolf and I.  Having the picture in the book has received great reaction from people in this community.

Dona Alicia and Luis’ sister Cristina served us rice pudding and rich San Luis-grown coffee and we talked about Miguel and the beauty of his passing – that he had his many children and grandchildren around, there was much love for him, not just from his family but from people all over the area.  He was a well-liked and well-respected man.  Unfortunately, on Friday, the night before we headed down to San Luis, there was a murder in Santa Elena – one of the first anyone can remember. A nineteen-year old boy (the son of friends of mine) stabbed and killed a girl who he was jealous of.  It seems to be not really a crime of passion, but more of obsession and jealousy and I can only think that he just lost it.  A very very sad occurrence here in this small community – and I know his parents, who I haven’t gone to see since this, must be beyond devastated, as would be the family of the poor girl.  Down in San Luis, we talked about the different ways we die, and what luck and privilege it is to die peacefully with those we love and who love us around.  Otherwise, there is often too much sadness.

These pink bananas aren’t for eating – when they are mature, they open into this beautiful ball of white seeds and flesh that the birds love…the flesh tastes like very unsweet and less flavorful bananas.

We went down to the Reserve’s Biological Station in San Luis and visited with Edgar and Betelina who stay there.  Luis, Edgar and I walked down to the river where Edgar showed me a sunbittern’s nest they were monitoring.  We had the great fortune of having a beautiful sunbittern fly across the road in front of us just before we got to the station – with its intricate wing design spread out in full, we had a perfect view as it glided past us.  What luck!  We stayed for lunch while it poured rain outside and then we headed back up the mountain to get Wolf back home as they had visitors coming from the US, arriving that afternoon, and Wolf was going to be in trouble if he didn’t get back to help Lucky with preparations.  It was a perfect day in San Luis. I’ve never lived down there but am very tempted to take up the different offers I’ve had to stay and work for awhile.  This tiny little farming community is growing – the University of Georgia now has a small satellite campus there – but so far it feels much like it always has – rural, humble, friendly, surrounded by stunning scenery. 

 

 

 

 

 Wolf with Betelina and Edgar at their home in San Luis

 

Friday and Saturday night I helped my friend Patricia Maynard prepare food for a group of twenty-five students.  Her place, Bromelias, which has been a series of things over the years from a beautiful art gallery to a store to restaurants as well as a concert venueand finally her home – I’ve had the use of an apartment in the tree tops there for many years – is still beautiful although she has less going on after moving her store to Santa Elena and changing its name to Ritmos, where she sells a great selection of music and books.  We prepared vegetarian lasagna, vegetables in vinegrette, garlic bread and arroz con leche – even though I blew a fuse in a major way putting the microwave and toaster oven on at the same time (this is what we were cooking all the food in) and we lost all power in the kitchen and had to move the microwave to another room – we still managed to get the food out to the crowd.  Then Eduardo and Chela, a couple of Argentinians who have lived here for about eight years, came with some friends form Uruguay, and drummed and fire-danced and got this group from Long Island University in New York up on their feet.  We danced and sang and clapped around the fire – it was a beautiful night, no wind, no rain, just abunch of stars in the sky and happy people on the ground.

Luis invited me to participate in the bird count that they will be conducting down in San Luis on Monday and Tuesday – he was so kind to arrange to take Wolf and I down, and I’m sorely tempted to go play in the forest of San Luis again – but I’ve got the beach on my mind, and my time here is going by fast, and there are many things yet to do…so the birds will have to wait, but the sun can come out tomorrow as I head out to the Caribbean.

Well, I finally got off the rainy mountain top and went to the beach. The rainforest is a beautiful place, as is Monteverde in general, but I left my home in southern Ontario in the middle of summer and was definitely in need of some summer sunshine.  It has been doled out in small portions since I got here – when the sun does shine, it is always gorgeous, but too much rain was dampening my spirits.  From up here on the Pacific side of the Tilaran Mountains, the view west over the Nicoya is incredible and the storms that have been whipping around the skies have provided a great light show.  So I decided to go to Montezuma, where I’ve seen some of the best thunderstorms in my life – that alone done some great hiking, beaching and dancing.

 

Before leaving we had a celebratory sushi night – real great new sushi restaurant here in Santa Elena.  Our good friend Marc Egger, who used to live here and owns the House in the Hole where I sometimes stay but who now lives in Brazil, surprised us and came into town.  With my friend Patricia Maynard, her ex Mark Wainwright, their son Kyle, another friend Jim Wolfe, and Marc, we went and feasted.  A good omen about seaside things to come.

Mark Wainwright, son Kyle and Marc Egger over sushi

 

 

Patri and I then drove down to the coast last Saturday to see the group Editus playing at Jaco beach also on the Pacific.  Editus started out close to twenty years ago as a duo – Ricardo Ramirez, virtuoso violinist, with Edin Solis, classical guitarist.  They were known for playing classical pieces and soft sophisticated covers of well-known songs with a latin edge.  In the early nineties, they brought in ‘Tapado’, Carlos Vargas, one of the best percussionists I’ve seen in my life. Watching him play his large collection of percussive devices is like watching a stream flow over multi-colored rocks – he is so fluid that he barely moves yet the rhythm and strength of his playing is fierce. The three of them, Editus, have performed steadily and their music moved from classical to original jazz-flavored, interpretive, atmospheric swelling vistas of composition.  All three of these musicians are extremely talented. In the late 90s, they played with Panamanian salsero and politician, Ruben Blades (also known in North America as an actor in movies), for which they won three Grammies for two separate CD recordings.  A few years ago they opened a music academy in San Jose where they teach music and bring together musicians for a variety of projects. They also have held concerts with a large number of their musical friends and influences – great shows where Editus plays behind well-known singers, songwriters and rockers – always touching and dynamic shows.

 

Well, in the last year they have joined forces with a bassist (forget his name) and Zurdo, a great rock-style keyboardist and now they call this new configuration Editus 360, since they have moved 360 degrees from where they started.  They have upped the light show and the tone of the music and now play a variety of world music with synthetized backdrops and recorded vocals on some pieces.  I hadn’t seen this new version of Editus but have always loved the group and know the guys and truly appreciate their talents. Editus 360 is a rocking show, with lights and smoke and a mosaic of rhythms – I know that many of their original fans who loved the quiet classical content of their work will not enjoy this but for those of us who do, wow.  And as importantly, you can tell that they are enjoying playing the music themselves – they needed a change and are all excited about this new version of themselves.  They have a 33-concert, 2 month tour in Japan planned for August & September.  As Tapado told me, all the years he’s been drumming with Editus, he never broke a sweat – as I said, he is as fluid as water and it all seems so effortless – but now he is sweating in each show as he rocks out on the drums.  He’s as skinny as a weed tree, that boy, and will no doubt melt away to a toothpick in Japan. It was a great show in Jaco last Saturday night and great to see these guys having fun – and for the first time, I think, I danced at an Editus show.

 

 Fire dancer at Editus show

 

My friend Patri’s son Machillo had his first gig helping the sound guys at this show – one of the reasons we went to check it out and support him.  Machillo grew up helping out at the music festival in Monteverde when his mother ran the concert series which I also worked on. I always knew I could trust on Machillo to do whatever you asked him – he’s always been a great kid and now he’s getting the chance to move into being part of the very accomplished sound and light team behind Editus.  Looks good on ya, Mark. I think nothing will make Patri happier than having a son who can do the backstage production of the shows she’ll always continue to produce here in Monteverde and elsewhere.  A very talented, music-loving family.

Mark Fenton, el Machillo

 

I left them on Sunday and went off to Montezuma, a beach where I spent a lot of time in 1990. I return every few years to check up on the folks I know there and to indulge in the beautiful landscape that exists on the south end of the Nicoya Peninsula.  You get there from the main part of Costa Rica by going to the port city of Puntarenas – a much maligned dirty seaside city that I’ve always found very interesting. And I have to say that they have been working at cleaning it up.  There is much evidence of growth and progress and the funky old hotels and buildings that sit along the 11-mile long, half-mile wide sandspit that the city is built on were all looking more quaint than debilitated.  Places change drastically here in Costa Rica, sometimes for the better tho not necessarily.  I’m giving poor little Puntarenas a thumbs up on  effort.

 

From Puntarenas you take an hour long ferry ride across the Gulf of Nicoya (part of the Pacific) to the town of Paquera on the Nicoya Peninsula. I’ve taken this ride dozens of times and always love it – the waters are tranquil and the sun is hot and on the boat you can find shade or get sun, or even go inside the air-conditioned lounge on the newer ferry. That little boat ride makes you feel like you’ve gone somewhere special.  From Paquera it’s a one to two hour bus ride to Montezuma.  The road has finally been paved most of the way so the trip is very smooth up until the last few kilometers into town.

 

Montezuma itself continues to change – very European, but with a strong environmentally-concerned community.  But growth doesn’t always feel like progress and the change in the soul of this community always bothers me.  I suppose it is providing economic well-being for many, but I visit my old friends there who have been negatively affected by the constant fiesta and the high price of everything.  That is what I tend to find in most of the beach communities in Costa Rica – those beaches which have grown radically, become very popular, changed drastically are maybe great destinations for tourists but the change of the lives of the local people is incredible.  In 1990, this little town was a sleepy fishing village with a good nightlife – now it runs day and night on tourist dollars.  The local families are in competition with each other and many of the locals either stay hidden in their homes away from the crowds and the scene or are very messed up in the middle of it.  To be fair, many make a living and no doubt love their lives, but it is questionable as to how many people have truly fallen into a better life in Montezuma.

 

The long stretches of sandy beaches and the rocky outcrops that separate each beach, along with the fresh water streams that flow down through the forest (including the famous Montezuma waterfalls) is what continues to make Montezuma a stunning place.  I spent each morning going about a twenty minute walk down the beach to the Quebrada Colorada, where there is a soaking pool of cool fresh water.  The coloured pebbles shine in the sun and the ocean waves crash in just fifty feet away.  I passed this soaking time with a friendly and interesting couple, Russell and Margaret, from Asheville, North Carolina who live in nearby Cobano.  On any trip, it is always nice to come away with at least one special meeting with new friends.  We met each morning and talked about the world as we soaked up the sun while floating in the stream.

 The floating pool at Montezuma

 

 

One of the most bizarre things of this time in Montezuma was the super high tides that rose to the top of the beaches.  It meant that our little fresh water pool was salty half of the time.  But more shocking was the amount of refuse that the ocean kicked out with each tide.  Montezuma’s beaches are basically white sand and clean. Even back in 1990, the tides would bring in garbage that the locals claimed came from nearby Puntarenas, and you would find strange plastic toys and, of a less innocent nature, medical supplies, washed up with the tide.  But this week, with the extremely strong sea, the amount of garbage – plastic baubles, metal cans, broken glass, pieces of trash – that littered the “pristine” beaches was mind-boggling.  I saw a guy with a large trash can out there trying to clean up in front of one of the beachside hotels – I wished him well, as his can was already half full and he had barely made a dent in the pock-marked sands.  Russell told me that friends have told him that this is the nature of oceans and beaches around the world now – that the angry seas are throwing back the trash everywhere in the world.  I’m sure that proximity to large populations and the direction of currents has alot to do with which beaches receive what, but it was truly impossible not to gasp at the amount of garbage that was on that beach – and unfortunately not hard to imagine that many other beaches would also be getting their fill.  There is just way too much garbage out there in the world and it only makes sense that it will fill even paradise if we aren’t more diligent in reducing packaging, handling our trash, and minimizing our social addiction to junk.

 

 Quebrada Colorada – beautiful colored natural debris, not garbage

 

So I got sun, met nice people, danced at Chico’s Bar a couple nights, broke a toe (well, maybe just bruised it bad), ate great food, left a couple of books at Topsy’s Bookstore, and came back up the mountain.  Fortunately, the rains have subsided to a reasonable mist by day and some rainfall by night. Thursday night, when I arrived around 8 p.m., was gorgeous – a quadrillion stars were in the sky, clouds  went floating by in the light of the new slice of moon, and it was a warm temperature.  Happy to be back in Monteverde, thankful that the weather has changed.  Back to work.

 

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. 

 Vicente Watson and Wolf

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. 

 YAHOO – we have the books (and a glass of wine)

 

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… 

The dark skies over Monteverde

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.

 

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