I somehow find myself in my last week in Costa Rica. No matter how long I’m here, whether two months or six months, the time flies by. I never get to everything I want to, I don’t see everyone I want to, but I always seem to manage to experience a new part of the country and see some old friends who I missed the last time around. This year has been no exception – what has been exceptional has been the addition of Walking with Wolf in my life and now it is in the community and the country.
A book has a long life and so what I have missed in promoting it this time I will get to the next time. Wolf and I are still waiting for the interview that we did with Alex Leff of the English paper the Tico Times to appear. A month has passed and it hasn’t shown up, yet it was a great interview we thought. When I contacted Alex a couple of weeks ago about the state of the article, he admitted to me that he was still working on it but was having a problem interpreting Wolf from the taped conversation that we had. He said, ”I have a renewed appreciation of just what was involved for you in writing this book”. As in, how did I understand Wolf? Let’s just call it a sixth sense, luck and determination. So there is now only one Friday left, the publication day for Tico Times, before I leave. Who knows if the story will be there. I will start it all up again when I return next winter so am not worried.
The negotiations for the Spanish translation have also been stalled as we awaited word from Wolf’s son, Carlos, who lives and works in the northeastern USA. I just got word from him that he can’t come up with a price but does want to do the work. So before I leave, perhaps we’ll have a chance for one serious conversation with the Tropical Science Center who is interested in financing it, otherwise thank goodness for the internet and cheap long distance phone plans. This too will happen when it should.
The book is in many bookstores and selling. And those who have read it seem to really like it and appreciate the history it relates. For this, I am most grateful.
I have returned to San Carlos, to the base of Arenal Volcano, to be with my friends, the Martinez family, for a few days before I go. The last week I experienced a number of strange health issues. I had a twenty-four hour virus in Monteverde that felt like I had been hit by a truck, every bone and muscle, particularly my neck, very painful. It passed, but the sore neck part of it returned the day I got here and I’ve been receiving nightly neck massages which have helped. The virus didn’t affect my stomach or give me a headache, so I think that it isn’t dengue. One never knows around the tropics.
The other problem is the continuing saga of a bug bite that I got while on the Caribbean, that the folks here are quite sure is a nasty little number called papalamoya. Most Ticos I know, especially the ones who have lived part of their lives in the country, have big scars (usually round patches of rippled skin) from this bug that gets into their blood and takes forever to cure. The treatment usually involves injections of something nastier than the bug venum. In my eighteen years coming to Costa Rica, I’ve been waiting on two things – a scorpion bite and papalamoya. So far, I’ve evaded the scorpion bite, but I may finally have been caught by the bug that causes the other. I’m not really sure if it is a botfly or a sand fly or what it is (I’ve heard many versions) but I know the scar. So I am now using a country treatment – I’m using a cow drug called sulphatiasol ground up with fresh nutmeg and some of my own saliva which I plaster on the bite. Slowly but surely the big wound is shrinking in size and doesn’t look as nasty, but the new tough skin that the treatment forms must be softened and washed off a couple times a day and more guck put on and, well, it’s a process. The good news is that it hasn’t erupted anywhere else in my body, meaning that the venom hasn’t traveled in my bloodstream – she says hopefully. If I end up with a small scar on the back of my leg from this, well, it only makes me more Tica, something I am already in my heart and soul. In which case I will wear it like a badge of honor.
The final piece of bad news before I get to some good, is that last night, after we arrived back from our day spent on the beautiful Rio Celeste, we received the horrible news that Zulay’s nephew, Victor, who was just here with us up until a couple of days ago, had been shot by robbers trying to steal his motorcycle in the city of Alajuela. Unfortunately this is a more common occurrence here now. In fact, people say that they, los ladrones, will shoot you for a cell phone. I refuse to be overrun with fear and I’m not convinced that Costa Rica has become more crime-riddled than anywhere else, but I do know that the difference of rich and poor in this country has grown and the influx of serious drug-related activity has increased and this all means that it feels at times like there is a general air of lawlessness. My great sadness for the whole country is the amount of fear that people live with here. If they watch the news in the evening, they go to bed with these images of robberies and assaults on the streets in their heads. It reminds me of when I was young, living in the very safe suburban city of Burlington in southern Ontario, but we watched the Buffalo, New York, TV stations. It became very obvious over the years that some of these stations started their newscasts with all the street crime and police reports and so we were assaulted nightly with images of killings and armed robberies – as a kid I got very nervous, but sooner or later we realized that this was affecting us and we stopped watching those stations. And the news wasn’t even about our locality, where this stuff seldom happened, but it made us feel unsafe as well.
Now here in Costa Rica, people are living with this fear everywhere, in some places much more justified than in others. And when crime hits a family personally, as it just has this family, then it only reinforces the terrible possibilities. Victor, who is only 19 years old, as well as two of his brothers, has been assaulted before (while being robbed), and the story right now about last night is that he refused to give the motorcycle to the guys, who shot him in the lung, and then fled – well, my dear Victor, hand over the bike, please. But who knows what passes in the mind at a moment such as that? Anyway, I believe he is going to be okay, even if he loses his lung (and as this is published, he is past the danger). At least he is alive. And he kept his motorcycle. But a very troubling day for this family.
Before this tragedy yesterday, ten of us piled into two cars and drove fifty kilometers north of here to the town of Guatuso. Another fifteen kilometers or so, down a rough rocky road, took us to the entrance to Tenorio National Park and the magical Rio Celeste. I only started hearing about this place about two years ago, when it captured my attention and imagination, and find that it now shows up more and more in articles in tourist guides and newspapers. I know that as word gets out, people will go there, and am always happy to be there before the crowds, although there were several Ticos visiting, being the end of a 2 week school holiday. What a beautiful place.
The deep turquoise color of the river is caused by the convergence of two rivers which carry certain minerals – you can smell the sulphur – on which studies are being done to determine just what chemical reaction is occurring. We entered the area from the ”backside”. There is another entrance into Tenorio National Park from a place called Bijagua, from which I think the hike is longer. From our entrance, we hiked on very beautifully maintained wide muddy trails (remember, I know what rough trails in these mountains are).
You can walk to the teñidoras, the convergence of the two rivers where you see a grey-green river mixing with a yellowish river and very distinctly, at a line, becoming this brilliant blue. We walked in pure jungle, with twittering birds and a large variety of tropical plants and trees hanging over us, along with the occasional roar of Arenal Volcano but more often the loud cracking of thunder. Somehow we didn’t receive more than a drop of water on us, even though the thunder around us was ominous.
The trail was only maybe four kilometers long to get to everything – the convergence, the waterfall, the hot springs as well as a lookout and blue lagoon – unfortunately we didn’t make it to the last two because of time and that increasing threat of a big storm. The waterfall was out of the movies, the shady path along the cascading blue and white water was inviting, the meandering turquoise like a liquid jewel, and the hot springs were super hot. As in, you couldn’t put your hand into the water in places, it was boiling hot. In other places the cool mountain water flushed the hot water and created very comfortable pools to sit in, but if you happened to move out of the cool current and touch the hot mineral water, it scalded. Incredible.
We spent about four hours hiking and playing in the waters until the threatening storm sent us back to the car – and sure enough, we were just back on the road when the downpour came. Driving back from Guatuso we were facing Arenal Volcano which went in and out of clouds all the way, and lightning appeared and disappeared in various parts of the sky all the way home providing a light show of special effects. It is places like this and days like this that make Costa Rica the phenomenally intriguing place that it is – sadly, the spell is broken when you return home to bad news, but the splendour of the day isn’t negated, only temporarily replaced by life’s reality checks.