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An amazing opportunity came my way last month. It started with a simple email, “Hello, Kay, my name is Don Duchene” and segued into a week-long Costa Rican adventure with a vanload of fellow Canadians, a friendly film crew from Nova Scotia.
isla chira shore
That first email arrived without fanfare on a Friday, providing little more than a simple introduction to Don’s documentary project and a request to meet when he and his entourage would eventually land in Monteverde sometime the following week. I mentioned it to a couple of people, Lucky Guindon for one. “In case anything comes of this Lucky, maybe you and Wolf would be available to talk to them?” I asked her. “I’m not sure what their interests are, but the documentary is called Ocean Voices, and you have both interesting voices as well as a great view toward the Pacific.” She agreed to meet them, but then reminded me that Tuesday morning is coffee at Mary Rockwell’s so it couldn’t be that day. Hollywood has no special status in Monteverde.

Tuesday morning, I was still in bed, savoring my morning coffee, slowly turning the final pages of the book I was reading, when the phone rang. It was Wolf and Lucky’s son Ricky, a guide at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, calling to say that there was a group of Canadians staying there, having arrived just the evening before, and they were hoping to meet me. Could I come to the Reserve this morning, the sooner the better?

I was reluctant to put down my book, but I’m well versed as an extra on movie sets, understanding that for a director “soon” means “now” or they are likely to lose interest and move on – I know Hollywood, move fast then wait. Expecting things might get interesting, I jumped out of bed, took a quick shower, and hiked the three kilometers up to the Reserve, thinking as I walked about who and what may lie ahead, perhaps a morning of wandering through the cloud forest which is always a treat.

As it turned out, meeting Don, Art, Bud, Everett, and Kirsten would be one of life’s door prizes that you win when you didn’t even know there was a door. Within minutes of greeting Don, I recognized a shared spirit complete with sense of humor, a kind man with a mission that I could relate to. He found me through the Tropical Science Center who had generously allowed the crew to stay in the lodging at the Reserve while filming. Someone there had passed Don my book, Walking with Wolf, and suggested that he look me up while in Monteverde. I owe that person a hug (and a drink) for making the connection.
at reserve
We sat surrounded by the sparkling not-so-cloudy forest, on the back porch of the restaurant at the Reserve, the crew preparing the equipment as Don and I got comfortable talking. We kept moving our bench across the deck, out of the glare of the strong morning sun that constantly shifted and threatened the lighting in the shot. Don began explaining his project to me by saying that he had been in Monteverde before.

 
“I made a documentary, “Rainforest-A Report from Costa Rica,” on the economics of rainforests back in the 1980s,” he explained. “I fell in love with Monteverde then and have returned many times to Costa Rica. This is my chance to fit this community that constantly fascinates me into yet another story. Ocean Voices is to be a collection of points of view of the various stakeholders concerned about the future of the oceans…which is all of us of course, but as a director of an hour long documentary I have to narrow it down.”

“I want to make a film that isn’t just for the choir and the converted, those who are already paying attention in some way, but rather open a conversation that can bring more people into the discussion. Help people understand the role they must play in protecting the future of our vast mysterious, unexplored oceans. I think that Monteverde is a good example of a community who goes about its business with mindfulness and a respectful purpose. I like the approach the Quakers and biologists here take to caring for the land. We will show this type of stewardship of the land, an engaged community, and draw the link between land practices, peace, and the health and future of the oceans.”

Obviously there was much to talk about, so while Bud’s camera rolled and Art’s furry microphone hovered like a gentle sloth in the air above us, Don and I carried on a meandering conversation that moved from Canada’s coastal beauty to Costa Rica’s biodiversity, to consumerism, capitalism, democracy, peace, to making connections.
ra-river crossing
When we stopped for lunch, before we headed out to find other possible filming locations in Monteverde, Don asked me if I would like to go with them to Rara Avis, a thirty-year old nature preserve on the Atlantic side of Costa Rica, a mysterious place that I have often heard of and always been interested in visiting but never made it to. The legend of getting to this place – apparently slogging up a “road” by tractor & wagon or horse for several hours – is almost bigger than the legend of the Monteverde road (a tale that is soon to be updated with the anticipated paving of the Monteverde road set to begin in 2014).

Turns out they were heading first to Isla Chira, another well-known but little visited spot in Costa Rica, here on the Pacific side, an island that we can see from Monteverde floating down there in the Gulf of Nicoya. I’ve heard of this place too, stories of a strong women’s community and a fishing cooperative, and it was another place I wanted to visit, but enough out of the way that I never made the trip…until now.

Another member of the crew was Isabel, a Swiss who has been living many years in Costa Rica. She was the logistics person, researcher, chauffeur and translator on this, her first excursion with a film production. It was an eye-opening experience for her. She was set to leave the group once we got to San José for other obligations. As the time approached, I spoke up, saying I would be happy to drive, knowing the country well, I can translate and carry equipment. Don was happy to have someone who was comfortable driving and familiar with the roads to take over so he wouldn’t have to.
at wolf's
While still in Monteverde, we spent a magical morning with Wolf and Lucky. Ricky and I were both quite impressed with Wolf’s clarity and focus – Wolf was never known for his direct thinking or clear speaking, and in the last couple of elderly years he has definitely lost some ground. But this day, he told some stories and answered Don’s questions rather sweetly, almost succinctly. I found out later that most of the crew hadn’t understood much of what he said. When I told Ricky, we both laughed, thinking that to our ears it had been such a good day! Don spent a lot of time with Lucky, asking about pictures in the photo album and listening to her eloquent tales, told with humility and humour, of the early pioneering days. The Canadians, myself included, felt blessed for this time together.
at wschool MV francisco Before leaving Monteverde, we also filmed at the new Foresta art gallery in Cerro Plano. Featuring beautiful original creations from artists in the Monteverde area, it was worth some footage. Then we went to see local painter and luthier Paul Smith, who I recently started a writing project with. Paul entertained the east-coasters with his great irreverence and charm, sharing his passion for creating art and his frustration that there isn’t more teaching of art and music happening here in Monteverde. That led us to talk with Francisco Burgos, the director at the Monteverde Friends School, who told Don about his desire to increase the arts programs, hopefully with the participation of local mentors and teachers, to make both the enjoyment of and the learning of specific arts more accessible to local children and adults.

costa de pajaros

 

The following morning, despite our 5 a.m. departure, I was very excited about our trip to Isla Chira. We made it to Costa de Pájaros well ahead of the launcha, so we waited with the fishermen, watching boats coming and going. A few of the Fuerza Pública were there, local police on their way over to the island, along with men cleaning fish, others repairing shrimp nets, birds swooping in to raid the shallow waters as the tide went out, and dogs lounging like they all had hangovers. I have always loved boat communities, where the rhythm of the water – be it ocean tides, lake waves or river currents – is what everyone moves to. What with my propensity for cool water, raw fish and seaweed, I’m sure I was a seal in a former life.

isla chira
We were received warmly by the women and men of Isla Chira, along with members of Mar Viva, an organization dedicated to the sustainable resource management along the Pacific coastline of Costa Rica, who explained the project. In 2000, the Women’s Association of Isla Chira was established to create alternative sources of income for the women of Chira, who traditionally made their living from fishing but recognized that their catches were diminishing and so was the economic viability of living off this resource. They now dedicate themselves to maintaining and making sustainable use of the island’s natural resources, protecting the mangroves and raising an “artisanal fishery” of small mollucks called pianguas. Their example influenced the men who also have a sustainable fishery program. For me, arriving on the island was a lovely step back into a simpler Costa Rica, watching the community working together to overcome economic and environmental challenges without the rush, pressure and competition of tourism yet taken hold. Filming continued over a shared lunch, through a tour of the mangrove nursery and into the small boat that took the crew to the building on the sea where the women cleaned the pianguas.

 

is chirita boat

Like the seal I am, I took the opportunity to slip into the sea and therefore missed the boat. The tide was out, and I swam in still, shallow, salty, sun-kissed water, staying far from the areas where crocodiles may lurk. Now that I have been there, and understand the route, I know that I will return again to the warm embrace and interesting community of Isla Chira.

We only spent the morning on the island before heading back to the mainland. We made it by dusk to San José, and with much fuss and further ado, we found lovely rooms at Kaps Place, a small guest house across the road from the Hotel Aranjuez where Don’s crew had stayed a few days before but since the hotel was overbooked, they didn’t honor Don’s reservations, apparently a common hazard with this popular hotel. In a moment of panic, with a tired crew and no beds available at the inn, Kaps Place provided a lovely alternative and will remain on my list of “places to recommend” in San José. I was added as a driver to the rental contract, we said goodbye to Isabel, dined on pizza and wine, and headed to our beds. We were prepared to get an early start, have breakfast with Amos Bien, the founder of Rara Avis who would accompany us, planning on leaving the city before the morning rush hour heading up Highway 32 towards Limon. Even following a good night’s sleep, heeding all the warnings and with our own great anticipation, we still weren’t prepared for the long road into Rara Avis.
ra tractor

 

It starts off quaint enough – after wrapping our backpacks and equipment in big plastic bags, piling into the utilitarian wagon, the tractor pulls out of the damp yard in Horquetas de Sarapiquí and winds through the puddled streets heading out of town, a quick stop at the pulperia for some junkfood…

 

 

ra-bridge

 

 

Rumbling across bridges with big PRECAUTION-PELIGRO-DANGER signs, so we get off the trailer and walk while Eduardo steers the tractor to safety on the other side…..

 

ra-countryside

 

We slowly rise in altitude through agricultural lands, past the familiar pretty wooden houses scattered across Costa Rica’s rural landscape, glimpsing small herds of cattle, as the gravel-patched roads of town slowly change to a ruddy mud, the gravel itself becoming pebbles, then larger stones, then ginormous boulders.

 

 

ra-road
The cameras were always rolling, so what could be done on a good day in less than four hours took us about twice that. We constantly stopped for another shot, Bud and Everett running ahead with their cameras to film the tractor approaching, but we also had to disembark from the wagon when the tractor couldn’t move any further, held in place by yet one more cliff-like boulder and a deep soup of mud. Eventually, with a lot of rubber action, rocking and rolling, Eduardo was always victorious – in my mind, he was the hero of this journey, for without him we would have been on foot, slogging up and back those fifteen kilometers in our rubber boots in the pouring rain. He reminded me of a cowboy constantly trying to tame a bull that was all piss and vinegar, and although there was some kind of romance to the whole affair, we were definitely no longer in Hollywood.
ra-roadwalking
Three-quarters of the way, we took a brief refuge at the Estacion Biologica Selva Tica, two thousand acres of private rainforest preserve administered by my Monteverde friends Susana Salas and Bob Carleson. The caretaker, Juan, spends his days in the peace of this lonely outpost waiting on the occasional arrival of biologists and students, infrequent visits by tapir and jaguar, the balconies wrapped in silky webs housing significant numbers and sizes of wood spiders. After that short break and three kilometers more on the wagon, banging against the sides of a mud tunnel, sloshing through the water collected in the wheel grooves as the inevitable rain falls – about 300 inches of rainfall a year keeps things very wet. We were mostly in heavy drizzle, though we had a downpour or two before we were done, and we made it to Rara Avis just as the shadows gathered into complete darkness.
ravis
Amos started this project thirty years ago. Built as a working example of an eco-lodge, a place to bring students, biologists, bird watchers and interested tourists to experience remote rainforest and study its wonders, the place itself is very welcoming, especially considering the effort made to get there. There is a two-story lodge with tidy rooms each with its own bathroom, hot shower, and private balcony with hammock patiently waiting.

 

ravis-don
A large open-air dining room and kitchen is one of the common spaces, along with a classroom and some smaller buildings, but the real gathering spot is the surrounding forest, laced with trails, dissected by a river and a series of extravagant waterfalls, with the promise of endless green wet adventure. There is an in-house nature guide whose job it is to introduce people to the plants, birds, insects and biodiversity of this lush world.
ravis-waterfall
It is advised that when you go there you should stay at least a couple of nights – a week or more would be even better considering the effort that the journey requires – but as the film crew was on a tight schedule, we only stayed for one night. In the morning before leaving we filmed Amos discussing ecotourism, the continuing need for education about and immersion in the world’s wild spaces, the struggle to maintain this place as the road washes away and the termites feed on the wooden buildings. Rara Avis is a dream, but between today’s economics and Amos’ passing years, it is in need of a new force, a young vigor to raise the funds that will maintain it, bring in the ever more discerning tourist, and oversee its future.
ra-roadtractor

It was already getting late when we reluctantly left for a slightly shorter tractor-wagon pull out to civilization, following the tractor’s headlamps down the tunnel of light through the green ferns, the mud walls, and the insistent rain. We were all the way back to the gravelly roads near Horquetas before we finally saw a few stars peeking out from nocturnal clouds. By midnight, the pavement had led us back to San José, where we fell into hot showers and clean beds, still feeling the rattle and roll of the wagon as it wound its way from heaven back to the lowlands.

A week spent with five strangers traveling by van, boat, tractor-wagon, and rubber boot could have gone so horribly wrong, but it didn’t because of the professional attitude of the crew Don, Art and Bud – all experienced with working in the field under deplorable conditions and in unfamiliar cultures – and the tough, keen young cameraman and production assistant, Everett & Kirsten. I fit in well with these Canadians of like mind who appreciated my knowledge of Costa Rica, my steady hand at the wheel, and my willingness to help them in whatever way I could.
sj-solis victory
As a bonus to the door-prize, our return to San José coincided with the second vote for the new president of Costa Rica. The general election in February had not resulted in the necessary 40% for a single candidate, so the top two were contested again on April 6th. We followed Amos and his emotion-filled daughter, Samantha, to their busy polling station at a school in Sabanilla, the camera allowed to follow them right in to the voting booth. It was expected, baring a big surprise, that Luis Guillermo Solís would win, the candidate from the “yellow” side, the colour that represents the left-leaning parties in Costa Rica. It was a very festive, social scene that surrounded us as we talked to many people on camera about their feelings, their hopes, and their concerns for the new president. I felt that wonderful flush of joy that comes when you are with people who are asking for and seeing change – and still believing in it. After twelve years of the verdiblancos, a different party is taking over. Without going too far into it, one of the things that I find encouraging about Solís is that several years ago he quit the Partido Liberación Nacional, the party who held power for the last twelve years and was now defeated, in rebellion against the corruption that has been endemic to the government of Costa Rica over the last decades of growth and corporatization. That night we joined with the celebrating thousands, shouting, dancing and waving flags representing both their new president and a new direction for their country. For many Costa Ricans, that means returning to a former simpler, more honest time.
rainbow
So may this new president stand up to a system whose tangled roots run deep and renew the Ticos’ faith in their democracy. May the nature preserves of Costa Rica, and around the planet, continue to protect the life mass that is vital to our future. May people of all cultures continue to successfully find ways to balance food needs, economic needs, spiritual and communal needs. And may Don Duchene make a powerful film that helps spread light in our world and allows the Ocean Voices to speak.

Seems I’ve been too busy to write, but since 2012 is the year that ends the sacred Mayan calendar and has us all wondering about our future, I think procrastination may be an appropriate response to the season. Faced with this projectile that is hurling us toward the total destruction of the earth, well perhaps delaying our demise by a few centuries isn’t such a bad idea. Besides, things seem so overwhelming these days, surely it is understandable to want to participate in avoidance for awhile. So in solidarity with the future of our planet and life as we know it, I’ve been practising procrastination, but have returned to the blogosphere just long enough to let you know I’m still alive.

Looking over my pictures I’m remembering the wonderful moments of the past few months that I hope to have the chance to repeat one day, but I’m also reminded of the much harsher realities that I’ve witnessed in my travels.

Lake Atitlan in Guatemala is a cauldron of an endorheic lake (one that does not flow to the sea and has no natural outlet) – ringed by volcanoes and Mayan communities – whose waters have been steadily on the rise for the last few years. Around the lake, people are losing their homes to the ever-expanding shoreline, including my good friends Rick and Treeza in San Pedro. Many buildings are already under water, while elsewhere people are still sitting on their balconies watching the waters rise around them. After the last rainy season ended, the water receded enough that many were granted a year’s reprieve, but when the rains start again in the following months and continue through to the end of 2012, chances are good that the thirsty lake will swallow up many more homes.

Considering this is Mayan territory, this is 2012, and there is such a disastrous finality for so many good people living quiet peaceful lives on the shores of this magical lake, the divine providence of it is alarming. All one can do is hope for a dryish rainy season.

 

All things being equal, I had a fabulous time in San Pedro in February, visiting wonderful friends, eating incredible food (highly recommended are D’Noz fish menus on Friday; Ventana Blues’ green goddess cocktails; and Smoking Nestor’s BBQs on Sundays at La Piscina – if it is still there after the next rainy season), as well as hanging in this beautiful little apartment which is rentable for just $5 a night – if it is still there.

A few nights before I left, a heavy gust of wind blew a small brush pile fire up into a pasture and the flames took off, taking out electrical poles and transformers and leaving San Pedro and San Juan without electricity for several days. There was an unusual hush across the town – the loud speakers of the many evangelical churches were silenced – broken only by the hummm of generators from time to time. No doubt a great amount of meat went wasted (or stomachs were poisoned) as freezers thawed and businesses suffered without power, but it was wonderfully quiet while hiking on the hillsides above the town or sitting on the shores of the lake, listening to the ominous lapping of the waves.

It seems to happen everywhere that when politicians are elected – be it a president of a country or a town’s mayor – the first thing they want to do is fix roads. I think it is an elixir designed to keep the population subdued…if the highways are getting worked on, gravel roads paved or bridges built then surely progress must be happening. Maybe you won’t notice – or at least won’t rise up – when your health, education and welfare systems are crumbling. Guatemala elected a new president just a month before I was there and the road construction was everywhere – watching the men pulling their simple floats across the miles of concrete flowing down the Panamerican highway seemed somehow metaphoric if futile to me.

Back in Monteverde, the arts continued to shine – and this will be the theme of the next book I’ve actually started working on. With the main protagonist being Paul Smith – luthier, musician, painter, bohemian – the possibilities of what to reflect on in a narrative discussing Monteverde as the artist’s muse are endless. We have started the work here, but I will be spending much of my summer in eastern Ontario staying with old friends and continue to work with Paul whose Canadian home is nearby. We are curious as to where this muse will take us.

The latest art form to rise like a full moon over Monteverde is dance. The Quaker community has been holding square (also Contra and English) dancing on Saturday evenings here for probably as many years as they have been playing Scrabble on Friday afternoons (60+?) while salsa and merengue have kept the locals twirling on dance floors for just about as long. Now a more modern artistic approach to dance has sashayed its way up the mountain. Last year it arrived in the form of Marie Chantal Nadeau’s FuzionArteDanza, a show that the lovely Marie singlehandedly choreographed while guiding a crop of new dancers through to amazing performances. This year it’s been the University of Costa Rica dance company who came and held workshops over several weeks for anyone interested, a project that culminated in an evening of modern dance put on by all the participants. The performances were thrilling and once again the community on the green mountain showed its vast array of talent which always seems inspired by  the enthusiastic mentorship of other artists, the non-judgmental support of the community, and the natural beauty of our surroundings.

Margaret and Jennette

I’ve benefited from the friendship of many truly remarkable people here, including a group of women of diverse ages who, like me migrate each year from our homeland, Canada, and make Monteverde our winter home. We are all friends as well as artists, teachers, volunteers or mentors, and I am so happy to see them whenever our paths cross. Monteverde grows with the influx of many sub-groups, and Canadian women seem to be creating a culture of our own here.

Speaking of great women, two of the most important women in my life came to Costa Rica this year and we had ourselves a lot of fun. Having my friend Cocky, and later my sister Maggie, visit meant the world to me. Cocky and I spent a lot of time hiking and, as is our desire, even more time dancing.

I know a highlight of Cocky’s time in Monteverde was having a gloriously deep massage by the amazing Janet Jenkins. Janet and her husband Michael arrived in Monteverde back in the 90s as the hosts and foodsmiths of the Hira Rosa Restaurant. They moved on to massage and yoga and opened Rio Shanti a few years ago. In the cosmic nature of 2012, they are about to make a change and take a break from their business and the community and return with their daughter Elan to the US for a while. Even though Rio Shanti is to continue under the loving care of a new family, the Jenkins will be truly missed here. Janet has these strong healing hands and this huge heart – I’m so glad that Cocky (and I) had the opportunity to experience the positive power of her talents while she is still here. I wish them wave upon wave of peace, love and joy on their new path and trust that it will lead them back up the green mountain soon.

Cocky also had a chance to go walking with Wolf in the Reserve. Wolf has been in good form for the most part, our book has been selling very well, and it is only the lack of progress on the publication of the translation that frustrates me these days. We continue to wait for word from the Editorial de la Universidad de Costa Rica on whether they will publish it. We are running out of time if there is any hope to get Caminando con Wolf finished in time for the 40th anniversary of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in October. It would be a huge climax to celebrate at the end of 2012 but is only going to happen if we are blessed with a miracle at this point.

When my sister Maggie came, we also had a great day out walking with Wolf and Lucky in the Monteverde Reserve. We are now constantly joined by little Winky, Blinky or Twinky – the now two month old orphaned sloth that Benito was mothering until he went off to Africa for two weeks and left Lucky in charge. So Blinky goes wherever Lucky goes and it is quite noticeable that, like the rest of us, he/she is happiest when in the forest.

Maggie and I also spent time with our friend Zulay in San Carlos and down in Cahuita with Roberto. The Caribbean Sea was once again too rough for fishing but was warm and wonderful for swimming and floating.

Roberto has a new shack that he built on stilts that will hopefully survive the river when it rises in the inevitable heavy rains when they come. The waters seem to be threatening everywhere and one has to wonder what the rainy season of 2012 will bring to many places.

Whereas Cocky and I focused on dancing, Maggie and I indulged in as many games of Scrabble as we could. We played in many lovely places, including the wonderful third balcony of the Hotel National Park at the entrance to Cahuita National Park. This is my favorite little hotel in Cahuita these days – $45 gets you a private room and bath with great balconies and views – and the most important thing I can think of at the beach, a refrigerator!

Unfortunately, the government of Costa Rica is attempting to make good on its promise to tear down buildings that are part of the Maritime Zone Law, a law passed in 1977 stating that nobody can build within 50 meters of the high tide. It is frightening to see how many family-owned businesses and homes could be taken down –before the end of 2012 – if the government fulfills its promise along both the Pacific and Caribbean coastlines. Most of the towns of Cahuita and Puerto Viejo were built within that zone, long before the existence of the law, by the early Afro-Caribeños without the assistance of the government while establishing their communities. They built by the water to avoid the inhospitable swamps immediately inland. It breaks my heart to see the kind of destruction that could happen, the huge loss of tourism revenue, and the disappearance of family homes and lands. All these coastal towns will change dramatically and there will be great waste in the de-construction of the coastline. The people of these communities are rising up to fight for their future. In the meantime, if you get to Cahuita, I would recommend the National Park Hotel – enjoy those amazing balconies while you can.

When not rambling, I’ve been house-sitting here in Monteverde in a beautiful little hobbit house, but I am about to leave – off to Colombia for a week then back for a few weeks of nomadic life in Costa Rica before heading north to Canada for the summer. I plan on returning to Monteverde before the end of 2012, whatever that will mean for us all. Cocky and I have a trip to New Orleans planned for September – another community whose existence was turned upside down by rising waters – and I’m hoping to be in Monteverde in early October for the events surrounding the 40th anniversary of the Monteverde Reserve – right in the middle of the heaviest part of the rainy season! I don’t anticipate floods here, but these days, one never knows what might happen.

At the rate we are going, Noah’s Ark is going to be one busy ship in the following months, gathering us all in, two by two. Hopefully the waters will recede and leave our homes standing and we will survive. May love be our flotation device of 2012.

Last Friday night, in a massive show of respect and appreciation, more than thirty thousand Costa Ricans gathered to remember the musical legacy of the late Fidel Gamboa. Fidel died suddenly of a heart attack in August at the frightfully young age of 50. His brother Jaime and the group of talented musicians who, together with Fidel, formed the group Malpaís were overcome by his loss and recently announced that they would disband. As Jaime explained, they have been on a wonderful road together for these last twelve years, but there is no doubt that Fidel was their musical leader and visionary and the others were following him down that road. Without him, the way isn’t so clear and the going too difficult. Malpaís decided to hold one last gathering for fans and friends at the Estadio Nacional, a venue big enough to hold as many as could come. Drawn together by Fidel’s music that evokes the richness of the history, landscape and culture of Costa Rica, it was an intimate family affair of mourning Ticos – and at least one Canadian cousin, a huge admirer of Fidel Gamboa’s music since I first heard it about seventeen years ago.

In the early 90s, violinists Iván Rodríguez (who is now the Costa Rican Vice-Minister of Culture) and Gerardo Ramírez, percussionist Tapado, along with a cellist and a vocalist, came to play at the Monteverde Music Festival as the Probus String Ensamble. They played an eerily breathtaking music composed by Fidel Gamboa. It was emotionally captivating and, just like life, at times discordant, for the most part intricately instrumental except for the moments of ecstasy when the female voice soared out of the comfort of the strings to send shivers along your spine right to your soul.  It was reminiscent of a group I loved from northern Quebec in the 70s called Conventum but nothing like I had heard since. I was broken-hearted when the musicians stopped performing as Probus because I thought I would never hear anything so beautiful again.

I soon realized that almost every Costa Rican group I listened to during the years of the Monteverde Music Festival was playing at least one of Fidel’s compositions and it was usually the piece that touched me the most, unique melodies with sweet names like Barco y Alma (Boat and Soul) and Viento y Madera (Wind and Wood).  According to Costa Rican musical lore, the phenomenally talented Fidel was very shy and it took his brother Jaime, their friend Iván, and other musical accomplices – pianist and now Minister of Culture, Manuel Obregon (in this pic), and percussionist Carlos “Tapado” Vargas (also including drummer, Gilberto Jarquín, and Iván’s daughter, singer Daniela Rodríguez) – a long time to convince Fidel to join them on stage to sing his many compositions as only he could do. It seems he prefered to compose behind-the-scenes for orchestras and soundtracks (Se quemo el ciel, Of Love and Other Demons etc.)  In 1999, the ‘supergroup’ Malpaís washed across the country like a rainstorm after a drought and Ticos raised their faces to the sky and drank in Fidel’s stories celebrating the simplicity of their collective past and rejoicing in the unique bounty of the Costa Rican landscape.

Though rain threatened earlier on Friday evening, not one drop fell on the sea of the Fidel faithful. Instead we were intermittently dampened by our own tears, brought on by the finale of Malpaís, the tragedy of Fidel’s passing and by the powerful sentiment of his music. It was clear to the members of Malpaís, to the Philharmonic Orchestra who accompanied them, to the musical friends who performed his songs as well as to those of us who were pressed together as one in front of the stage, that Fidel’s spirit was there, magically represented by a single bright star that shone directly above us in an otherwise cloudy sky. The emotion of the evening was overwhelming, as seen in the glistening eyes of people in the crowd and heard in the broken voices of those on stage.

Bernardo Quesada

Costa Ricans Marta Fonseca, Arnoldo Castillo, Bernardo Quesada, Humberto Vargas and others provided the voices, constantly accompanied by a chorus from the audience who knew the lyrics and sang along with the same reverence with which they would recite prayers at a funeral. An audible gasp, followed by cheers and more tears erupted from the audience when a video of Fidel singing Más el norte de recuerdo joined the others on stage.

Fidel’s uncle, Max Goldenberg, sang a number of the more traditional Guanacasteco numbers like La Coyolera. Argentinean Adrián Goizueta powerfully performed Presagio, tempting the gods to bring on the rain – “una gota de agua, una gota de agua” – an anthem of brewing storms, hope and renewal. In a grand show of solidarity and respect, Panamanian Rubén Blades took the stage and sang Paisaje, a song that Rubén recorded with Editus’ on their CD Decado Uno.

Edin Solis and Ruben Blades

Edín Solis, the guitarist of Editus, was on stage all night with his beautiful guitar-playing, helping to fill the void of Fidel’s musical absence. At times overcome by emotion, Marvin Araya conducted the Philharmonic Orchestra. All of the musicians on stage shared the depth of their loss in the pain etched across their faces, in the few words they were able to speak, in the passion of their playing.

Brilliant music both touches and teaches us. Fidel and his brother Jaime, who co-wrote many of the songs, remembered the lessons of their abuelos, understood the experiences unique to this tiny nation squeezed between two oceans and two powerful continents, and captured the glory of the natural biodiversity that flies, crawls, grows, climbs and swims across the many eco-systems here. Their music arises out of the arid plains of the northwestern lands of the Chorotega and Pamperos, where the distinctive umbrella-like Guanacaste tree provides shelter from the searing sun and pounding rains, drops their curly ear-shaped seed pods obviously designed as percussive instruments for humble musicians, and spreading their roots in an attempt to hold back the shifting sands of time.

Perhaps in the eastern province of Limon, where the Afro-Caribbean culture, landscape, and history are quite different, there isn’t an appreciation for the Gamboa musical story, much like in Canada where there is a cultural division between French-speaking Quebec and the rest of the English-speaking country. I expect that many Limonense have not even heard the music of Malpaís. For one thing, the Caribbean has its own wealth of calypso, soca and reggae music, but for another the local radio stations don’t generally support national music. Here in Cahuita, we listen daily to the radio stations that we can receive (including Radio Dos and Radio Columbia) and it is very rare to hear any of the great music that is being composed and performed by Costa Ricans around the country although, in fairness, there is a new crop of radio stations – Radio U, Radio Malpaís, and Radio Monteverde – dedicated to sharing national music. It often takes a commitment on the part of a country’s government to support its national artists before the wealth and excellence of their work will be truly appreciated and distributed.

It is ironic that Malpaís never played at the Estadio Nacional until this final concert. Last March, in the week of inaugural celebrations for the new soccer stadium, they refused to play as part of the concert that featured national Costa Rican music. They wrote a public letter explaining that they didn’t agree with the organizer’s proposition to pay the national performers less than they would usually get for a performance while at the same time paying a huge amount of money for the international star, Shakira – a plan that eventually backfired when the amount of spectators that they had hoped for the Columbian superstar didn’t materialize.

Apparently Malpaís was considering playing at the stadium in 2012 but, alas, this is not to be. Instead, as a way to say farewell to Fidel, they brought together one of the biggest audiences ever assembled in Costa Rica – charging an affordable admission – and proved that a national band playing original music could accomplish such a feat. I doubt that there is anyone who was there on Friday night who went away disappointed.  Instead I expect that most went away feeling great pride in the musical heritance that exists in their humble country and joy in having been part of this family-like gathering even with the sadness that surrounded the night.

Ruben Blades and Ivan Rodriguez

Fidel’s music is referred to as “Nueva Cancion”. It is quite amazing that Malpaís, a group of mostly older classically-trained musicians, playing rhythms that mix jazz and folkloric, classical with traditional, Latin and indigenous, campesino with urban, could touch so many so profoundly – particularly such a very young audience. The lyrics are steeped in a respect for the past, for family and community – a much more innocent and peaceful time in this exploding country- as well as hope for the future, with a consciousness of environmental responsibility and appreciation for the wonders of the natural world. Despite the immense changes that have come with development in this country, these remain the values that Ticos recognize as the roots of their family tree.

Long before Guanacaste became a tourist destination, there existed the natural rhythm of the winds and the rains and country folk raised on corn tortillas cooked on an open fire – Fidel reminds people of that beauty and simplicity. He understood that you must look back to know where you come from and only then will you know where you should be going. Rubén Blades remarked that death comes only when one is forgotten and with Fidel Gamboa, this will never happen. He has left behind a nation of loyal followers who will continue, in times of spiritual or patriotic drought, to absorb nourishment from his extraordinary, truly Costa Rican music.

I’m coming to you from Hamilton Ontario, my northern nest that’s woven together with maple leaves and pine needles. I’m running around like a squirrel trying to remember where she stored all her nuts months ago. Everything seems familiar and
though I haven’t quite acclimatized yet, I can see that it’s all coming back to me (or the nuts are starting to reveal themselves).

SAN JOSE ON FIRE!

Each day I meet up with my Canadian friends, great people I missed during my ten months in Costa Rica. Now it’s tropical breezes that blow through my mind and my Costa Rican loved ones take their turn licking my heart. I’m still starting my sentences with “bueno”, and I’m missing fresh sweet mangoes and the seductive smell of coffee being roasted, not just brewed. Waiting until after 9 p.m. for the sun to set and the sky to darken seems unnatural after a 6 to 6 light/dark ratio that has barely changed in ten months. I always find that day/night transition difficult when I return to the north.

 

 

I’m thinking of my southern friends, those left to fend in the rainy season – Roberto in
Cahuita where the rains are warm and the river is known to rise; Wolf in Monteverde, no longer able to set out on muddy trails through the soggy forest, but still holding his own against sudden storms; Lorena and Edín in San José, shiny happy people making music and cupcakes that will keep people smiling despite the cloudy skies and grey days of a Costa Rican winter.

 

 

 

Along with these and so many more two-legged friends, I also miss my four-legged friends, of which there are
a few. I’ve become very attached to the five felines in the city apartment, to
the semi-wild Miel in the jungle rancho, and the mellower Miel and his sidekick Olly at the Monteverde Study Center.  There is also the lovely white husky Tyra and the old farm dogs on the Guindon farm.

My favorite canine of course is Wolf. After all these months of poor health and our vigils at his hospital bedside, I feel very secure in leaving Wolf for a few months. He seems to be stronger every time I return to Monteverde, and I know that he had very good reports when he visited his doctors last week. I trust that he will be okay until I get back there.

A few days before I left the green mountain, in a room packed full of scientists and students, there was a very touching tribute to Wolf. On the occasion of
celebrating the International Day of the Environment, the Costa Rican chapter
of the Mesoamerican Society of Biology and Conservation thanked three men for their contribution to conservation and the advancement of scientific knowledge in Costa Rica. Besides Wolf, they acknowledged Dr. Richard LaVal, who lives in Monteverde and is the Batman of Costa Rica, a living encyclopedia about those flying mammals; and Dr. Jorge Cortés for his work with mangroves.

 

The present Director of the Monteverde Reserve, Carlos Hernandez, brought tears to many eyes as he thanked Wolf for his leadership, inspiration and dedication. Don Carlos expressed how he learns something new about the forest and the history of the community in every conversation he has with Don Wolf. He also expressed for the many employees of the Reserve how Wolf will always be their spiritual leader. There were many university students who were deeply touched by meeting the grandfather of Costa Rican conservation as we all have been upon our first meeting with Wolf. It is wonderful to see Wolf’s commitment and contributions being celebrated especially at a time when he is feeling like his usefulness is diminishing. In his lifetime, Wolf has contributed more than most to the country he adopted, the community he helped develop and the forest that he dedicated himself to protecting. Although he is entitled to a rest, Wolf’s restless nature is frustrated within his worn down body – hopefully he will find some activity that will engage him and satisfy his altruistic soul.

The Spanish edition of our book – Caminando con Wolf – should be in the hands of the editor at the Editorial de Universidad de Costa Rica. I wish I could push the process forward, but now I must wait with patience and Wolf must get stronger while he waits. As I said, I think Wolf will be okay, even though life isn’t necessarily easy for him and the family, but he is determined to see the book in Spanish and that helps him stay focused on doing the things that he needs to do to get better.

 

As for the English version, Walking with Wolf, I took a third order of books to the Café Britt headquarters the day before leaving Costa Rica. Juan Diego, the buyer for the company, came down to the receiving desk to see me and told me that the book was doing very well at the airport stores.

 

 

When I went through the San José airport on my way to Canada it was the first time I was in
the airport and saw our book there. I went in one of their stores and saw the book sitting proudly in a center book display. I took a picture with the young clerk and was satisfied that the book was given a prominent position on the shelf. I then visited the bigger of the Café Britt stores that was closer to my departure gate and was thrilled to see that familiar picture of Wolf wrapped in the big leaf staring down from the Best Sellers wall! Walking with Wolf was number five on their most sold list, after The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series but above a book titled “I Hope They Sell Beer in Hell”.

 

 

I spoke with the staff who seemed as excited to meet a real life author as I did to see my book on that wall! Of course we took more pictures and made quite a commotion. It was a super way to leave Costa Rica.

 

 

 

 

Those ten months in paradise unfolded in ways that I couldn’t predict. I didn’t expect to spend months helping to care for an ailing Wolf; I thought I’d get the papers for my property in Cahuita together quickly, but only just managed to get everything in order before leaving; I had planned on building a small house on that property but between being distracted by Wolf’s situation and not having the legal papers in my hand, I put that off.

 

 

 

Roberto was very supportive and patient with the fact that I was busy elsewhere most of the
time. I’m sure he thought that when I bought the property I would be staying closer to his home but things didn’t work out that way. Well, when you love a gypsy, what do you expect? When I was there we enjoyed the sea, the monkeys, coconut-flavored food and as much dancing as
we could squeeze in.

 

 

I also hoped that the Spanish edition of the book would be released, but that didn’t happen –
yet it is bound to be soon! I made a new friend with Lester, the editor of the Spanish translation. I certainly didn’t expect to spend months living in San José and if I had been planning on it, I would still have been surprised as to how much I enjoyed life in the big city especially that time I spent with Lorena
and Edín and the cats.

 

 

 

 

They were generous and kind and constantly creative. We talked life and politics and music, and the power of kindness, the craziness of life – laughed until we cried and cried until we had to laugh.  I tried to repay their good hearts by cooking and helping wherever possible. I can’t thank them enough for giving me an urban home and family.

 

It was a very emotional ten months, with super highlights like my trip to Guatemala with EDITUS and the Dance Fusion show in Monteverde. I will never forget Wolf in his mania talking non-stop for a month, nor the love of his family rising like soft bread dough around him in his time of need. I will miss so many friends, and special ones like Barb and Deb in Monteverde who are two of the most loving spirited gals on the planet. And always look forward to returning to see Zulay and her big family in every corner of that little green country.

 

 

 

So I dedicate this blog to all those, big and small, furry or not, who have become my family
in Costa Rica. I expect to be back by November, but if Caminando con Wolf is released sooner, there I will be for the fiesta!  In the meantime, I’m loving my
Canadian home and friends and forest. Maple trees, palm trees, no matter what
the leaf – as long as there is love in the soul, food in the belly, and friends
under the sun, life is a gift.

For the past two years, a crew of Chinese workmen has been building a big new shiny spaceship for soccer fans in a western neighbourhood of San José, Costa Rica. The $100 million dollar engagement ring between these two countries is known as “the jewel of La Sabana” which is the name of this area in the city that includes a huge park with green space, playgrounds, lakes and art galleries. Since March 27 the inauguration festivities have gathered sports, music and happy-to-fiesta fans for more than a week of special events.

This “gift” of the Chinese government apparently came about thanks to Costa Rica’s twice ex-president, Oscar Arias, who started the process of signing a free trade agreement with the largest world nation, and second largest world economy, back in 2007. There are many people in Costa Rican still wondering what this little country will have to pay for this “gift”, as we all know that you don’t get something for nothing in this world…well, there are exceptions, like long prison sentences for possessing almost no pot and fatal diseases through no actual fault of your own, but we don’t need to go there right now.

The stadium, like all newly-designed big structures, has a grand presence both from street level and viewed from any high building or elevation around the city, day or night. It looks like a big crown or, as I said earlier, a spaceship. It is very open to the sky, and thus the elements. In Canada, most major sports stadiums are now built with retractable roofs that allow for relative comfort against the elements in extended sports seasons (have these seasons gotten longer, running into each other to fill up the whole year, or is this just my imagination?) Since there are several months here in Costa Rica when the rain will pour down, it would have been a more generous gift if the Chinese had added one of those sliding roofs, but beggars can’t be choosers and fans and players alike will just continue what they’ve always done – come to the game and get soaked until the possibility of a mass drowning finally gets the game called off and sends the wet puppies scampering home.

This stadium was also built to host major international music events, the first one being Columbian superstar Shakira, scheduled to rock the place next Sunday, closing out nearly two weeks of festivities. Once again, pouring rain would really put a literal damper on these concerts, and with the changing weather patterns present here, as all over the world, I can only imagine that it is hard to predict when one can safely plan a concert here, hoping for more than 35,000 fans to fork over the maybe $100 or more to see their idols only to get a free bout of pneumonia in the process.

The night of the grand opening, CR President Laura Chinchilla, ex-President Oscar Arias, and Chen Changzhi, the vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China, all put their patriotic political spin on things. Then lithe Chinese dancers performed, a few fireworks burst in the sky, and the first fútbol match was played between La Selección, Costa Rican’s national team, and the Chinese national team. It ended in a tie because of a goal scored in the last couple minutes by the Chinese, who may have given Ticos the stadium, but ultimately took away their glory…hopefully not a sign of things to come.

I spent that night in a beautiful home in the Escazu hills with my friends Edín and Lorena, our colourful hosts Raymond and Jerry, and a joyful mix of Ticos and ex-pats. We ate glorious food and drank nice wine while we watched the ceremony and game on the television screen, and the light show and fireworks off the sweeping balcony with the million dollar view over the city. I’m neither a big sports fan nor a supporter of the excessive amounts of money spent in the sports and entertainment sectors, but I’m always keen for a celebration! And when in Rome….

I am, however, a very huge fan of music of all kinds and especially the music and musicians I know here in Costa Rica. There were several music events at the stadium, covering all different tastes. Apparently the National Symphony put on a beautiful program one night to a huge crowd – who said classical and opera wouldn’t bring in the masses? There was a night when all the top dance bands in the land played to the biggest dance floor ever assembled – salsa, meringue, cumbia, the works – and people of all ages swirled and twirled together. And thanks to Edín, we had passes to get into the stadium on the day when 27 music groups of Costa Rica performed in a flawlessly executed show on the big stage. There are four large screens to amplify the images for the crowd, with two of the screens serving as front drops on the stage. One rises to reveal the next band which is already to play as they have been setting up behind the other big screen. The ten hours of show went off without a hitch – very professional, great sound, excellent music – definitely a world class festival of contemporary Costa Rican music. Lorena, her friend Vicki, and I only stayed for Edín’s band EDITUS 360 and a couple of other performances, and we wandered around, taking pictures and looking at the mammoth structure.

EDITUS, who I’ve written about so many times before (most recently when I went to Guatemala with them), presented their show they call Latinamerica 360. It is the main three musicians of EDITUS along with a bass player and keyboardist as well as a cello and second violinist. They play electronic world music that you have to move to, with a backdrop of mesmerizing images. It was amazing to see the hundreds or thousands of people in the stadium, mostly youth with Megadeath t-shirts, mohawk haircuts, and attitude yet obviously fans of these superstars of Costa Rican music. It is a very long way from the days when Edín and Ricardo were a classical violin/guitar duo playing in the salons of Monteverde – which they still do. It is great to see them continue to be enthusiastic about music as they constantly switch up their playlist and musical colaborators.

As is the case with all mega-events, there was corporate advertising everywhere – mostly Coca Cola, Taco Bell and BCR (Bank of Costa Rica) – and corporate litter everywhere as well. Taco Bell (or BeatBell as they call their rock concert alter ego), BCR and Kolbi (taking over Central America’s cell phone service with a cute green frog as their logo), had to do that thing where they give everyone a free plastic blow-up tube to play with and ultimately toss away – all quadrillion of them end up on the floor, or the street, after. All those poor lost little green frogs.  As long as marketers believe that plastic throw-away garbage with their logo on it somehow increases sales, this scourge will continue. It drives me crazy – this rampant disposable advertising in exchange for corporations supporting cultural activities.

There were several controversies around the festivities that arose throughout the week. One involved the arrival of Argentina’s soccer team who came to play a friendly match against the Costa Ricans. One of the top teams in the world, it is also the birth-team of the hottest player in the world, Lionel Messi. Just the possibility of seeing this great player playing on the new concha had thousands of people lining up to buy pricey tickets to this game. My boyfriend Roberto said weeks ago that Messi would never play in this game, as he is a very expensive and important player for Barcelona and has some big games coming up for his cash-parent team in the next weeks. His owners wouldn’t allow that he take the possibility of getting injured in a silly little game in silly little Costa Rica. Roberto was right.

Messi came, I’m not sure why, since he never got off the bench. What did happen is that Costa Rican fans, hungry for even a few minutes of his renowned footwork, having paid the price of admission with that possibility in mind, booed every time Messi’s face was caught on camera and flashed on the big screen in the stadium. Perhaps not very polite behavior on behalf of the Ticos, but neither was the way they were sold the idea that if they paid the price, they would see the great one play. There was rumors that he had a mild injury, but I’ve also read that wasn’t true. Once again, the Costa Rican team only managed to tie Argentina 2-2, but that was a win for the Ticos, considering the strength of the Albicelestes.

One of the biggest events of the week was when Costa Rican female boxer, Hanna Gabriel, did her thing and held on to her world middleweight championship fighting against US opponent Melisenda Paris in front of a huge crowd at the stadium. I’m not a fan of fighting, wrestling or boxing, but I do find this woman beautiful and very gracious, and I have no doubt there is a huge pride on the part of her family, community and country. And that one woman did what all those male fútbol players couldn’t manage – to win!

The organizers of the inaugural events and the publicity surrounding them made a few errors, intentionally or not, by promising big names when they shouldn’t have, with the obvious intention of selling tickets. Another small scandal erupted weeks ago when the day of national music was being planned and the organizers used Malpais (one of the country’s most popular groups that includes Minister of Culture Manuel Obregon as their keyboardist) as a selling point for tickets before they had reached an agreement with the group itself to play.

Malpais refused to play when it was revealed that the organizers wouldn’t pay them what they normally get for a concert. They were asked to take less money as some kind of patriotic donation, while massive amounts of money went to bringing in Shakira, the international superstar. Musicians and artists here, as everywhere, struggle to survive financially but also struggle to receive the proper respect and remuneration for the talent and art that they bring to the big social table – without their music, words and images we would live much less enjoyable lives. Malpais made a public statement about their refusal to play. Other bands chose to play – many craving the exposure, others, such as EDITUS, simply feeling it was important to be part of this national event yet supportive of the statement Malpais was making.

Manuel Monestel, who recently received two national awards for his music and work, and his group Cantoamerica also didn’t play and, knowing Manuel and his politics, I can imagine he not only agreed with Malpais but also didn’t want to support the extravagance of the stadium. So many other aspects of society in Costa Rica are suffering by cutbacks to social programs, poverty and poor infrastructure in a quickly developing nation. I have no doubt that he questions, as do the activists who were demonstrating politely outside the stadium, the price to be paid by Costa Rica for this “gift” from China. He and those activitists, as their sign states, love their country as much anyone who was inside praising the new stadium.  Considering China’s poor human rights, health and environmental record, it is scary to think what the free trade agreement will lead to for little Costa Rica with its faded green party dress and schizophrenic spirit mixing ecology with development.

Sports and entertainment are very important elements of society – a place to learn teamwork, be creative, to relieve stress, to enjoy yourself, etc. People work hard and at the end of the day deserve to be entertained. I agree with that, yet I also agree with those that see the attention on sports and other forms of mass entertainment and scandal used as a distraction from the real issues. And the money involved always astounds me to create these megastructures. I would propose that people living with good health care, education, safe infrastructure and roads, and less crime, at the end of the day would come home happier and would still enjoy a game or a movie. It all seems hopelessly out of whack to me.    

At the inauguration, Oscar Arias spoke of the relationship of Costa Rica and China as “a young bonsai tree creating a bridge over the Pacific Ocean”. I love these delicate dwarfed living sculptures as much as the next person, but considering they are created by cutting roots, trimming healthy branches and keeping the poor little things stunted in a rather unnatural environment for years, I’m not sure that it is such a healthy image for the future of Costa Rica.

The symbol over the entrance to the National Stadium…don’t know what it means, but it looks like it says that Costa Rica and China are intrinsically linked for life….or maybe it says what’s yours is now ours…

I’m still here in Chepe (San José in Tico talk). It would seem that I’ve just about moved in with Edin and Lorena and their pride of cats – a lovely family to spend time with but I hope I’m not overstaying my welcome. I’m constantly amazed by Edin’s flowing creative process, Lore’s generous spirited companionship, and the dynamics between the five felines. We had a concern a week or two ago that I was developing an allergy as I was sneezing uncontrollably when Frijolito, the blank panther, would come and curl up beside me. In the end, it must have been something else, thank goodness, as he is purring beside me as I write this and I haven’t sneezed in days. I love animals too much to have to avoid them.

I am very happy to report, for those of you following the story, that Walking with Wolf has sold like fireworks on the fourth of July at the airport here in Costa Rica! We were only about twenty days into a thirty day trial when Café Britt sent me another order for books! So if anyone reading this bought a book at the airport in these last weeks, or suggested someone do that, thank you very much! I only know of one person, my friend Raymond, who not only bought a book but made quite a scene regarding the value of the tomb to fellow shoppers, so it makes me even happier thinking that perhaps it was strangers (not planted buyers) who went into that big bright souvenir store and chose to spend a few of their precious dollars on our book! We are very pleased.  

Meanwhile Lester, the editor of the Spanish version of Walking with Wolf, and I have been working together at least a couple of days a week…I wish it could be more often but he is too busy. When we do get together, we work for many hours and so have made our way through half of the book and hope to finish this week. I am learning more intricacies of Spanish as we go but I suspect that I am like nails-on-the-chalkboard of his linguistic mind for poor Lester with my funky use of the language.

I can happily report that Wolf just keeps improving. I talk to him and Lucky regularly and will be going up to Monteverde next week to see for myself. Apparently he is walking, perhaps not as far as he would like, but steadily. I know that he has managed to get out to the Ventana, the famous lookout a few kilometres into the Monteverde Reserve. His pal Jim Richards took him up and the Reserve drove him out in one of the vehicles, but he must have walked a ways too. Our friend Wolf is a miracle machine…he always was, as anyone can attest who has tried to keep up to him on the trail. But now he is arm wrestling with the future….and winning!

The other project I’ve taken on is getting some dental work done. Costa Rica is getting known for “medical tourism”…people like myself, without insurance, coming to have various treatments or operations that are available at a more reasonable cost here than in our homelands. In my case, I’ve been aware for some time that I need some crowns and so finally bit the bullet (well, not literally or I’d have even more broken teeth) and took the ol’ proverbial gondola down the root canal. My question is…when did they start making this stuff painless? I have had one tooth done (waiting for the permanent crowns till all 4 teeth are ready) and haven’t suffered at all. I would recommend my dentist (Edin’s niece) to anyone and the price is soooo right.

Needing to recover (?) from my first tooth challenge, last week I went up to the hot province, Guanacaste, to see my friends from Canada, Patti, Leo and his sister Tucky. Tuck has been living in Costa Rica about a year and has a lovely little casita not too far from the beach in the small community of Playa Hermosa on the Pacific Ocean.

This beach has always been one of my favourite sunny spots in Costa Rica. One of the reasons I love it is that it is in a bay that gives you very protected water. You can swim and float without getting knocked over by waves, though there are big enough swells to body surf when the tide is coming in. We were there a week after the Japanese tsunami and during the days of the “super moon” and the waves were enormous, bigger than I’ve ever seen on Playa Hermosa. A boat trying to land on the beach almost killed a man when it was carried higher and further than anticipated by the huge waves. The man, a beach vendor, had the wherewithal to dive under the boat and survived almost unscathed. Swimming was out of the question during high tide.

The beach and community are not very big and up until recently have maintained a very laid back and undeveloped character. I’ve visited a lot of places in Costa Rica over twenty-one years and seen communities change, sometimes so much that you hardly recognize the place. Up until this year, I felt that Playa Hermosa was avoiding what seems to be the inevitably big transformation that comes with development despite being the closest beach to the Liberia International Airport. I suppose the retarded “progress” is due to the limited size of the beach and the restricted availability of water. Guanacaste is a desert in the dry season and the huge neighbouring developments of Papagayo, Riu Guanacaste and others have taken more than their share of water and utilities. Residents and businesses in P. Hermosa and surrounding communities have had their water shut off at times so that these big resorts can have a steady supply. This injustice has created tension between locals and the corporate hotels and one can only wonder what the future will hold.

I am always blown away when I see the size of the houses being built  – each one loaded with air conditioners and bathrooms and surrounded by lush green gardens and sporting a swimming pool – covering the tinderbox hillsides along the Guanacaste coastline. People want views, they want sun, they want the sweet life – in a totally unrealistic world where water is only going to become more limited and electrical demands need to be met somehow. We search for answers to the most recent round of nuclear-fears while conservation and solar power are treated like remote possibilities by so many. I have always stayed in small hotels that are right on the beach and could only see the development when I’m floating in the ocean and looking back beyond the palm trees, up into those cactus covered hills.

This time I stayed with my friends in a small cluster of casitas at the base of the hills that are surrounded on all sides by development. On our way to the beach, we would pass two “high-rise” condo buildings built since I was there four years ago. We also walked past several buildings – condos and fancy strip-type malls – that were stuck in mid construction or just sitting completely empty. Beyond its gorgeous sandy beach and established inns, Hermosa has taken on a look of decaying decadence.

On the beach itself, the government came a couple of years ago to deal with the 50 meter law…which states that all building on the coastline of the country is, by law, required to be back 50 meters from the high tide line. Everywhere in Costa Rica this law has been broken with seaside hotels, restaurants and homes sitting as close to  the water as physically possible. In Hermosa, the government got busy and had buildings, pools, gardens and fences removed that had sat for decades within that limit. That has made a major change on the beach. There is now a palm tree lined path to walk along at the top of the sandy beach and properties have shrunk. Years ago we stayed at the Playa Hermosa Inn with its pretty garden and small swimming pool, and now there is no pool and only a remnant of the garden remains (along with Gladys, the last of the employees who ran the place, as economic times have been very tough in P. Hermosa – she now does the work that used to be done by three).

We had a fantastic dinner and a great night of music at the Hotel Villa del Sueño. Owned by some talented musicians who came years ago from Quebec, they have got the fine art of hospitality down. Our dinner was excellent, the service impeccable, but the best part of the evening was the band – beginning with a Costa Rican guitarist and singer sweetly crooning Latin love songs and growing into a seven- piece band playing some great arrangements of covers of Latin, reggae and rock songs…with enthusiasm and joy. Excellent musicians. Highly recommended!

The other place I can’t get enough of is Ginger Restaurant. Patti, Leo and I went there four years ago when we were together at Hermosa. We went back with Tucky and friends Ed and Rhena for what will remain one of my favourite meals in Costa Rica this year. Ginger is about small portions of creative cuisine that you can share, not big plates of rice and beans with a honking big piece of meat on the side. Although it can be called a tapas restaurant, it is much finer than the tapas I had when in Spain a couple of years ago and much more international. Many ginger infused dishes, por supuesto, with vegetarian options and lovely plates of delicate protein. The restaurant itself is mostly outdoor treetop patio dining with an open bar and twinkly lights. I suppose the menu wouldn’t satisfy someone looking for Texas-size portions, but for those who love to try different flavours presented with charm, this is a must. I can’t wait to go back to Hermosa just to eat at Ginger.

As much as I loved being on the beach and under that beautiful hot tropical sun, my pleasure was as much about being with friends as anything. Patti and I have been amigas since high school. We both went to live in the bush of northern Ontario and so were neighbours (within a 200 mile neighbourhood, Canadian-style) since the early 80s. She and her husband Leo have just completed building a straw bale house that I can’t wait to see when I return to Canada this summer.

Leo and his sister Tucky are two super laid back folks who are willing to do anything, eat anything (except cilantro says Leo) and laugh over anything. Their cousin Rhena and her husband Ed were also good company, full of stories. Great folks to hang with at the beach. Tucky has taken on the care of a half wild cat (quickly becoming comfortable with the domestic world) she calls Minette. The cat lived with a woman who used to live in the house and, when she moved, she took Minette with her to her new home about 10 kilometers away.  I guess the cat didn’t like the change, because she made her way back to her old home (no doubt avoiding coyotes, cacti, and cars) and adopted Tucky as her caregiver. She is one of those cats who seemed very independent up until the neighbours told Tucky that when she was out at night, the cat wandered from house to house complaining loudly. You gotta love cats.

All in all it was a wonderful week at the beach. It was so nice to be with old friends, fellow Canadians, as well as with the other nice folks who own the Papagayo Village (not to be confused with the Papagayo Resort), who happen to be from Washington State where my sister lives. We shared in a big fish feed one night and seemed to talk food a lot. Tucky is a great example of someone living life in a gentle way, trying to be very careful about how she uses water in the house, working on her Spanish so she could get to know more Costa Ricans – you know, the kind of nice woman who cleans the house before the cleaning lady comes. You have to love her. Thanks Tucky, Leo and sweet Patti for everything. Nos vemos a Canada!

My mantra of late is “patience, KKKKK, patience.” The fine art of patience served me well twenty years ago when I was struggling against cancer, and so I call on the virtue again to ease me through these days. I am not suffering any great hardship, just being tested by the bureaucracy of business in a new land and the sometimes harsh realities of life.  As I look at the explosive movements erupting around the world – from Egypt to Libya to Wisconsin – I think of communities of people who have run out of patience, finally, after years of oppression and social injustice….and I wish them strength.

Closer to home, Wolf is back on the farm and now there is much patience needed by all as he works at recovering his strength. He won’t fade away to nothing, as he is eating like a couple of work horses, even if all his food still needs to be in liquid form (because he is not patiently chewing it all up – gallo pinto shake anyone?). From the moment he rises till the hour he lays back down to sleep, he is asking for food – and so his family requires patience as they care for him and try to meet his many demands, nutritional and otherwise, serving it all up in a digestible form.

It would appear that the doctors have found a good cocktail of drugs to stabilize Wolf’s mind and emotions. He is very positive, with lots of plans for the future. He is talking quite calmly and rationally, but he needs to have patience as he can’t walk yet nor do much on his own, that alone oversee a major renovation of the house or go on an epic journey to visit his French Canadian roots in Vermont and eastern Canada, just some of the many inspirations rolling out of him.

Instead, he is religiously following his daily physical therapy routine, cheered on by nurse Stefany and all the clan, working to recover the use of his right hand that was damaged during his stay in the hospital (either from weeks of being tied to the bed or perhaps some neurological damage) and to begin walking again. Two months laid up has left him much weaker than before. In his mind, Wolf is ready to resume his active life, but his body has quite a ways to go to catch up. So have patience, Wolfcito, patience (and to his ever-loving family as well – patience, Guindonsillos, patience).

While Wolf is up on his beautiful green mountain, I’m back in bustling San José, working at the Tropical Science Center with Lester Gomez, the man who is editing the Spanish version of Walking with Wolf. Lester called on me to assist him in understanding words, sentences and concepts in Carlos Guindon’s translation that he just couldn’t quite comprehend. I’ve now worked three long days with him and it takes a lot of discussion and much patience between us to get to the point where Lester can find the proper words or sentence structure to convey the message as it was meant to be shared. I am really enjoying working with him – he is a very calm and intelligent young man with a respect and appreciation for the project. He is also very busy with his other responsibilities, so it is taking a lot of patience on my part to work only on the days that he can devote to this and make my plans around his schedule without pushing him too hard even though I’m biting at the bit to get this done.

I went to Cahuita last week (and am heading back there tomorrow). Besides going to see a very patient Roberto, I’m trying to finish up the paperwork for the property that I have bought there. When the topographer in Limon said the land survey was in order and ready to be picked up, we were thrilled – until we took the plan to the municipality office and found out that the topographer had made a mistake and that the people selling the land owe back taxes. So we had to return to Limon once again to get the survey fixed and also ask the venders to pay the taxes so I can register the property. Hopefully things will be taken care of when I get back there tomorrow. A process started back in August, this is definitely trying my patience.

While in Cahuita, I finally witnessed our little stream rising into a raging river. It had rained throughout the night, and in the morning, when I went out to relieve myself at 5 a.m., I looked around and saw that there was water at ground level crawling like a wet snake all around me! It was an incredible sight. Roberto lost his casita to this river over two years ago and his rancho is now built on higher ground. As he says, the water only rises like this once, maybe twice, a year so don’t worry. This time the water took away the tree trunk that has served as his bridge and we had to wait, patiently, for several hours till the river went down enough to safely cross it.

And patience served me well as I persevered, attempting to dot all the “i’s” and cross all the “t’s”, and got the book into the Café Britt stores at the airport. It took three attempts (by myself, my wonderful friend Lorena Rodriguez here in the city and Deb Hamilton up in Monteverde) to deliver one box of books with a correctly-completed legal invoice – how difficult can that be???? – but after a couple of very expensive taxi rides out to the warehouse, and a lot of frustration, Lorena and I finally got it right and passed over the books to our receiving buddy Sergio, for their thirty day trial at the San José airport.

So once again, I ask – no patiently beg – of any of you with friends or family heading through the Juan Santamaria airport this month to consider buying a copy of Walking with Wolf there. If we manage to sell enough copies of the book (we don’t know what the magical number is, but the more the merrier) then Café Britt will place a bigger order and carry Walking with Wolf in their country-wide stores. Although we receive much less money per book from them, it is a great opportunity to spread Wolf’s inspiring philosophy and history to thousands of people who haven’t been to Monteverde or necessarily know about Quakers, pacifism, conservation of the cloud forest, or that amusing wonderful friend of ours named Wolf Guindon.  We now wait patiently to see how we do in this month-long trial. Paciencia, geduld, strpljenje, tålmodighed,pazienza,cierpliwość – in whatever language, all we need is a little…..

I am very happy to tell you that Walking with Wolf  has just been given a chance to spread further and fly higher.  After two years of trying to make the connection, and now with the help of my friends Edín and Lorena, I’ve finally made contact with the buyer at Café Britt. This is the coffee company that many people tour when they come to Costa Rica, but it is also the company that owns the souvenir stores in the airports and some of the bigger hotels in the country.

So, starting next week, Walking with Wolf will be given a thirty day trial in the two Café Britt stores at the Juan Santamaria (San José, Costa Rica) airport. The company has ordered thirty books for the thirty day trial. Our book will sit pretty on the shelves with the many other books about Costa Rica, but having just checked it out when leaving for Guatemala, it is really the only book of it’s kind – a narrative non-fiction about the pacifistic and ecological community Monteverde and our walking hero, Wolf Guindon.

My big request to all those following this blog is this: IF you know anyone traveling to or from Costa Rica in the next month and IF they would be so kind, would you PLEASE ask them to stop and purchase a copy of Walking with Wolf – the truth is, it will be selling cheaper there than even I sell it or any other stores (but after this month of push, it won’t be in competition to the other stores, as it would be a last minute purchase at the airport before leaving the country.) Of course we make less money per copy on the book but the opportunity to sell at the airport is huge as far as possible sales. They are going to sell it for $17.99. I believe it is a great souvenir that can spread a positive and interesting story.

I’m thrilled that this is finally happening – I now keep my fingers crossed that it will sell well in this trial period and Café Britt will make a larger order and carry it in all their stores. I thank the company for the opportunity – I’ve seen many of their products here in the mountains of Guatemala – and they are actually cheaper here than in Ticolandia!

I know that Wolf is also very happy that I finally managed to make this happen. Of course, he will be even happier when the Spanish version comes out…and just before leaving for Guatemala last week, I spent five hours with the editor of the translation, and upon my return I’ll continue over several more days to help him correct Carlos Guindon’s work. That publication is many steps closer to a reality and I know that Wolf, more than anyone, will be very emotional when he is able to give the book to his Spanish-speaking colleagues and friends.

So, once again, if people can spread the word to  visitors heading to Costa Rica or Costa Rican residents leaving – the book at the airport is only available in English, but I’m hoping that if it does well, they will also purchase the Spanish edition when it is available. Happy happy day! Gracias por su apoyo!

It has been a week of very sad, strange events on both sides of Costa Rica.

Up in Monteverde, with that beautiful view west over the Nicoya Peninsula and Pacific Ocean, Wolf Guindon returned home (along with his sons Berto and Benito) after forty-eight hours in the Calderon Guardia Hospital emergency room in San José. It was finally determined that he had a blocked catheter, causing a serious urinary tract infection, along with dehydration. They didn’t keep him (except waiting in the waiting room) or do much besides giving him the antibiotics that he needed along with some sleeping pills. It was a most frustrating hospital visit, the family hoping he would be interned and helped on a more sustained level.
They all came back to Monteverde exhausted, Berto now sick with pneumonia, something he is susceptible to. Lucky and I had been pretty relaxed for the few days they were all gone, yet her own bronchial/possible heart issues didn’t really subside. She was still feeling punk when the house filled up and Wolf’s necessities took over again.

From his return on Wednesday, poor Wolf continued to have a hard time eating, always followed by vomiting, and everything tasted metallic, including the water he needs for the several pills he has to swallow. Even though he was trying to follow doctor’s orders, it was a challenge for him to keep anything down and he was beginning to give up on eating altogether. It was hard to know what pills had a chance to be absorbed in his system by the time he was throwing the rest of his stomach contents into a bowl. He had a number of visitors, all received warmly, as friends and family are more appreciated as the days get harder. One of the highlights early in the week was a visit from Wolf’s cousin Sue Roth, her daughter Brenda, her son Dennis and his wife, Adele. I met Sue on other occasions in the US and it was wonderful to spend time with her and her fun family. Fortunately they managed to catch Wolf on a pretty good day before things changed. By Friday afternoon, Wolf’s family decided to take him to the local clinic and insist he get some IV fluids or he was going to become dehydrated again. His inability to eat was very worrisome, particularly when you gave him a hug and felt his bones.

Ricky Guindon and brenda, Sue, Adele, Dennis Roth

Melody and I took Wolf to the clinic where he received an IV bag laced with Gravol. It was a different man that walked (well, kinda stumbled along on Melody’s arm) out of the clinic a couple of hours later. When we got home he was able to eat and keep things down, the metallic flavor was gone and he even sat up and played dominoes for awhile with Lucky and me. He spent Saturday in fine form, eating, joking, telling tales, and we all went for a short shopping excursion to Santa Elena. We thought that he was going to have some good days.

I had to leave on Sunday morning and am now back in Cahuita. Roberto and I have a trip to Panama coming up for my visa requirement of 75 hours outside of Costa Rica every 90 days. I left the family all recovering, even Lucky feeling a little better. My final night in Monteverde was spent at the Friends House dancing the stately yet somehow slightly provocative English dances. Led by Jonathan and Heather, two very talented teachers at the Friends School, we stepped and swirled to their instructions and their taped music library that covers several centuries of traditional (and recently written but sounding old) music for English dances. It’s always a pleasure to tickle my bit of British blood and join with a mixed crowd of Monteverdians, young and old, community founders and visitors, and dance like a character in a Jane Austen book, without the hoop skirt. Doing the dances, you appreciate the moments when the young sons and daughters of a proper class, normally expected to maintain a decent social posture, could have found a chance to flirt, gossip and make illicit plans while sashaying past each other.

It is now Monday and I phoned Lucky to see how things are. Unfortunately the stabilizing effect of the Gravol seemed to wear off right in the middle of Sunday Quaker meeting’s hour of silence. Within a few hours of my leaving, Wolf was unable to eat again, burping up the metallic taste and raising the flag of concern once more. I guess they took him back to the clinic but since he didn’t respond to the IV as well this time, the family is considering the next step, probably involving a trip back to San José.  Poor Wolf and Lucky that alone all the Guindons.

In a week or so, I’ll go back to Monteverde to stay with them and do whatever I can, specifically while Benito goes to a conference of traditional peace churches in the Dominican Republic. Central America could use as much peaceful influence and conflict resolution as possible while relations between Nicaragua and Costa Rica break down and the rhetoric gets nastier. I’m curious about how much the rest of the world is watching what has recently blown up from a relatively simple breach of border etiquette into what is now considered an invasion by Nicaragua on Costa Rican soil.

This conflict began two weeks ago with the dredging of the San Juan River by the Nicaraguans in the extreme northeast corner of Costa Rica to make river navigation possible. There is a piece of land known as Isla Calero, 150 square kilometers sitting between the mouths of the mostly-Nicaraguan controlled San Juan River and Costa Rica’s Rio Colorado. Until recently it was a neglected zone, home to poor fishermen and their families living a peaceful, if subsistence life.  As the story of the illegal dumping of the bottom sludge onto Tico territory, along with tree cutting and subsequent environmental damage, played out in the media, it seemed like both the government and the press were sensationalizing the seriousness of the situation in a war of words. It appeared to be the kind of distraction used to take minds off of more serious issues and to get patriotic blood boiling on both sides of the border.

Now the radio, newspapers and no doubt television is filled with the language of war and images of military and police movement. Politically, the countries that are aligned with Nicaragua share anti-American leaders as well as much deeper interests – Venezuela and Iran are both involved with Nicaragua in a long-held dream to construct a canal from the Caribbean to the Pacific Ocean, along the San Juan River basin, to rival the Panama Canal. On the other hand, the Organization of American States (OAS), with minimum exceptions amongst its members, has backed Costa Rica’s ownership of Isla Calero which is ground zero for the conflict. Swords are sharpening in all camps while diplomacy and negotiations struggle along to avoid military action.

As tensions build, you have to wonder what the larger interests are here, besides that of the canal-builders from oil-rich countries. Daniel Ortega, once a Sandinista savior of the campesinos against the powerful interests of the corrupt Somoza regime, is now considered by most as an equally corrupt, power-hungry despot. He is coming up to an election and somehow starting a war, they say, is good for vote-getting. As the country has been embracing tourism and foreign investment, quite successfully, it is hard to imagine how turning it back into an unstable region of military conflict is going to win him votes although raising nationalistic ire always seems to be considered politically astute. Here in Costa Rica we aren’t hearing many of the voices of the people of Nicaragua, only the politicians and military.

Peace LilyRecently Ortega charged Costa Rica and the countries (Columbia, Panama, Mexico, US, etc.) that support her with being corrupted by the interests of the Narco-traffickers – particularly Columbia, where much of the cocaine trade originates before it makes its way to the drug-thirsty US of A. Although I don’t understand what this has to do with anything on tiny Isla Calero, he has touched a nerve. Costa Rica has certainly been affected in negative ways by the movement of international drug cartels (I would add they have been affected by the movement of international pharmaceutical companies too, but that is a different drug and a different story.) There are few here who wouldn’t agree that there has been a significant increase in crime within her borders, much of that related to heavy-handed, serious business drug running (as well as increasing poverty and the gap between the rich and poor, but once again, a different story….) I doubt that any of these governments are innocent of profiting from the spoils of the drug and, subsequent, arms trade.

Columbia herself can’t say much about such a charge, but their interest perhaps lies more deeply in a continuing struggle with Nicaragua over San Andres Island. Like most islands throughout the Caribbean, San Andres changed hands at different times between England and Spain but it was Nicaraguan territory when, in a treaty written in 1922, it was passed to Columbia. Nicaragua wants it to be returned, and Ortega has raised patriotic fervor while talking about the desire to regain San Andres along with some other islands in the area. Columbia wants the OAS to support them in the case of a more militant demand by Ortega. And it is because of their own lack of an army that Costa Rica is turning to other nations to help them if Ortega refuses to back off and military action is deemed necessary.

Here in Costa Rica, there has been a steady influx of Nicaraguans for decades. The migrants from the north do much of the low paying and hard labor here. There is no denying the negative opinion that many Ticos hold towards the “Nicas”. While the Ticos have been justifiably, but almost arrogantly, proud of the fact they abolished their army in 1948, their neighbors were engaged in civil war and struggles that has produced at least two generations with both a more aggressive nature and a more politically-engaged mind. As long as I’ve been coming to Costa Rica – twenty years – I’ve heard Ticos say that any particularly nasty crime “must have been committed by a Nica.” Sometimes they are, but, of course, not always.

Now, in 2010, Costa Rica is filled with Nicaraguans, too often considered a lower class and barbarian, and as the tensions rise, there are increasing reports of racist and xenophobic behavior on the part of Costa Ricans against Nicaraguans in their communities. A Molotov cocktail was thrown at the Nicaraguan Embassy in the city. A soccer player, originally from Nicaragua but with years of playing and living here in Costa Rica, was verbally abused by spectators, in a very hateful manner, when he made a poor play in a futbol game. It’s amazing how quickly human nature plummets to a pack mentality when given the opportunity.

As Roberto says, the media here is using a language that provokes these kinds of tensions, speaking disrespectfully of Nicaraguans. Costa Ricans listen to these verbal attacks and those with their own tendencies for violence and stupidity are reacting in the streets – and thus acting no better than the brutish behavior that they so quickly accuse the Nicaraguans of.

 It is very hard to imagine that armed conflict is going to break out just a couple of hundred kilometers north of here, but as the days pass, it feels like it may be a reality. It is hard not to get caught up in the rhetoric that screams from the daily headlines of the newspapers and believe that these two small countries are going to come to serious blows. It is hard to imagine that a war could begin that could involve any number of nations with their own agendas and affiliations to protect. As we head down to Panama, I’m very grateful we are going south, not north, but it doesn’t make me feel any better about what is happening to this beautiful area of the world that has managed to stay out of serious military conflict for many years. 

It is equally hard these days to know what my great friend Wolf is going to have to endure. I feel that his main problem now isn’t strictly with organic physical issues but rather is drug-induced, and the combination of meds is wreaking havoc with him. Drugs may be close to the heart of both of these conflicts, but the struggle of greed and power versus the struggle of one man to survive is distinct. Please join me in holding Wolf in the light, and let’s collectively work and pray for peace.

I returned to the Caribbean coast on February 6, 2010, the anniversary of my first night in Costa Rica twenty years ago in 1990. Then, as now, it was the eve of a national election which falls on the first Sunday of February every four years. It was also the celebration of Bob Marley’s birthday, who, if he was alive, would be 65 and no doubt still making music of love and peace in complex patterns that appear simple. Just like true love and world peace – beautifully basic concepts, complicated to achieve and sustain in reality. Bob, known as Tuff Gong for being a street dog who could fight, didn’t necessarily live up to these gracious ideals himself though he sure made great songs about them.

I’ve bought a new laptop which came to Costa Rica in a rather convulated fashion, thanks to my nerd in the Hammer, Brandon Lukasik, and fellow Canadian in Monteverde, Margaret Adelman. I finally got all my files into it, thanks in large part to my hero-of-the-week, José, who fixed things I couldn’t understand and made it all work smoothly. I left my trusty old Toshiba in Monteverde for students to use at the Friends School. The new Dell has an extended battery in it, since we are off the grid here at Roberto’s. The next thing is getting a solar panel and charging system and I’ll be set. As Bob’s voice caresses us, singing abouting ending war and respecting each other, and I’m tap tap tapping away in my bloglife, Roberto is digging the possibilities of this new technology that’s come to his wireless jungle paradise, though he remains totally uninterested in trying to understand it.

I’m in awe of being here in the steamy dripping jungle and working comfortably on a computer. I have all the systems on low energy, and I figure it is better in this humid climate to use it and let the heat dry it out than worry about how much battery is left. Whereas before I would handwrite while I was here, now I can write as fast as I think, quickly skating over the letters on the keyboard. And I can listen to music at the same time. My battery is supposed to last about seven hours – if I’m just typing. With playing music, I will keep track of what the battery can do before having to take it to town to be charged – and how long will that take anyway? There has been a bit of rain, which is good because it has been quite dry here – well, everywhere in Costa Rica pretty much – and Roberto’s moat, the Quebrada Suarez, needs a washout and refill. It’s enough of a drizzle to keep us from going to town to see the Superbowl – really just the halftime show gets my interest – nicer to stay home, listen to the forest, keep a fire going, go to bed.

 ******

 

 

All night long, the sky dripped. Drops in every language fell, joining together in a percussive experiment. It wasn’t rain by Caribbean standards, just a gentle wet lullabye being hummed throughout the night. Now, morning, and the sky has stopped its crying, but the trees are soggy enough that their melancholy song of teardrops will continue for hours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The howler monkeys have taken over. There is a family in a tree directly above us, and the moaning, whining and roaring is impressive. It was almost exactly a year ago that we were staying in a cabin in Cahuita town and the howlers put on a concert for days that was unlike anything I’d ever heard before (written about in “The Kukulas of Cahuita” blogpost). The sounds coming from them today is reminiscent of that – makes me wonder what is going on with them at this time of the year? Are they in heat or do they already have young babies who they are either teaching or protecting? Songs of the jungle, along with the morning’s first cup of coffee, how delicious.

 *******

 

 The last couple weeks in Monteverde were spent sitting in front of this same laptop, working hard to get the new blog for Bosqueterno S.A. up and running (http://bosqueternosa.wordpress.com) and putting together a power point presentation to share that same history with the community. It’s a part of Monteverde history, the creation of the first watershed reserve, that few seem to remember, if they ever knew it. I went out one day with Wolf, thinking to plant the seed that I’d be returning in March and available to give this talk to the guides, Reserve employees, Friends School, and members of the community at the Monteverde Institute. By the end of the day, I had four dates lined up – people were excited about learning more about the beginning of conservation in Monteverde.

 

 In March, Roberto and I will return to the green mountain to spend a couple more weeks with our little feline friend, Miel, who is now in the tender loving care of Sarah and Priscilla, the teaching assistants for the CIEE course. They moved into the apartment a little over a week ago. It was great to meet them fresh and energetic – Sarah from Minnesota but a former CIEE student in Monteverde, and Priscilla, a Tica who majored in biology from San José. Their students are arriving this week, and their lives will change for the next four months.

 

Karen Masters and her husband Alan have run the CIEE program(Council on International Educational Exchange) in Monteverde for years. It’s a tropical biology course but there is now a sustainable ecology option as well. Karen happens to also be my adviser in the Bosqueterno work (as she is president of their Board of Directors). Roberto and I bumped into Karen and Alan in San José at the little Caribbean restaurant (La Abuela on Avenida 1/Calle 5 or so) that we discovered back in December. It was sheer coincidence that we ran into the Masters there and great to have a moment before their student groups came and they were lost in their teaching responsibilities for months. Unfortunately, though I would still recommend the restaurant, Roberto’s meal was not good – uncooked fish, cold and tasteless rice and beans – and he knows his rice and beans! The rest of our meals were fine, and the bad food could have been due to the fact that the place was packed, a very busy lunchtime crowd, putting too much stress on the little kitchen.

 

Marlene Brenes

 

 

I celebrated no less than four birthdays while in Monteverde – Tricia Wagner, drama and music teacher extraordinaire; Marlene Brenes, who works in the CIEE office downstairs from the apartment; as well as my pals Alan Calvo and Mark Fenton at Bromelias.

 

 

 

 

Gatos Pardos

 

 

Tricia’s birthday was celebrated with the poetry group which my good friend Patricia Jimenéz is also part of. I’ve spent other evenings with these folks when no poetry is shared, just food, wine and conversation. Other times, they write poetry together and people share their poems. They call themselves the Gatos Pardos and have been getting together and supporting each other’s creative writing for years. As a gift to both Tricia and Walter, another member who had recently had a birthday, Patricia created books with a selection of each member’s poetry, cloaked in a cover of handmade paper of recycled and organic materials that she has been making with another group of women in her home. As Tricia says, Patricia Jimenéz is an inspiration and idol to us all – painter, poet, political analyst, polio survivor and protaganist of a myriad of creative ventures in the Monteverde area. And always a wonderful friend to spend an evening with, sipping wine and talking about life.

 

 

 

 

 

 That night ended at the Mata ‘e Caña where Las Nómadas were playing – Andres, Diego and Cristian, guitar and percussion (along with saxophonist Richard Trostle), singing and drumming out the sweet beats of cuban salsa along with a little of this and that. There are some good bands these days in Monteverde – and you can catch at least a couple of them every week at the Mata, formerly la Taverna as it was known to thousands for more than twenty years. It’s now run by Shannon Smith who oversees the place like the charismatic, buxom red-headed madam of a saloon in the wild west – although the place looks more like New York City than Laredo. Due to her consistent booking of fine musical acts, I spent alot of nights dancing there in the last couple months in Monteverde.

The other sweet spot higher up the road on the mountain is Bromelias. Patricia Maynard has done some more remodeling (she has more ideas than money) and is gearing up for her Music Festival – three top quality groups each weekend for four weeks beginning mid-February. I went there for her son Machillo’s 21st birthday which we celebrated the same day as her employee and our friend, Alan Calvo’s. These last couple of weeks in Monteverde have been windless, starry-skied nights, warm and magical. Bromelias is enchanting when the fire is blazing outside under the sparkly night sky, and there is always some variation of music in the restaurant or in the amphitheater.

Alejandra Portilla

The National Theater of Costa Rica put on a play there this last week – called Canto de Ballenas (Whale Singing) – which was a rather melancholy four-character, one-act play whose message seemed to be “sometimes, it’s better just to forget”. It starred the lovely Alejandra Portilla and played out under a calm warm night in Bromelias Amphitheater. They were going to be having a big reggae, rice and beans celebration at Bromelias for Bob Marley’s birthday, but I left Monteverde to meet up with Roberto and return here to our jungle home.

 

 

 At the last minute, we decided to go spend my 20th anniversary and Bob’s birthday in Puerto Viejo. Sadly, the live band wasn’t playing at Maritza’s bar, where we like to go dancing, but we still got some dancing in by bar-hopping throughout the night. Bob’s music was everywhere, sang live by Memo and his hot band Plan B at the corner bar, pounding at Johnny’s disco on the beach, rippling out of almost every doorway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our new place to stay in Puerto is La Dolce Vita. In November, we stayed in a room with shared bath for $15 near the communal kitchen; this time for 15,000 colones (about $25) we had a private bath in a very comfortable room – the place is secure, super clean, colorful and close to downtown, but still very quiet.

 

 

Now Roberto’s jungle home is the place to be, surrounded by the sweet sounds of the jungle. Listening to the radio this morning, Roberto reported to me that the New Orleans Saints won the Superbowl. I’m glad that something good happened for that city…where just five years ago the homeless and traumatized survivors of Kratina were being housed in the stadium that the now victorious football team calls home.

 He also told me that Laura Chinchilla became the first female president of Costa Rica last night continuing the reign of Oscar Arias’ Liberación Nacional party. As I wrote at the beginning, there is a lot of apathy, disillusionment and disgust in this country for their politicians these days. Twenty years ago, when I first came here, they were so proud of their democracy that they would walk proudly in the streets showing off the purple thumbs that proved that they had indeed participated in the vote. Now, just six electons later, many people can’t be bothered to vote. They don’t believe the propaganda and election promises. It is a sad tendency in many democracies these days – certainly in Canada, where disgust is at an all time high with the minority Conservative government who just took a long extended parlimentary vacation, and the U.S., where the aftermath of Obama’s election isn’t meeting the high expectations of hope and change.

Costa Rica has bathed for years in a special light, but the truth is often far from its pacifistic, green reputation. May the new government bring some honesty and truth and intelligent foresight back, before the possibility of eternal environmental health and a comfortable and secure standard of living is lost to a much darker reality. It is something that in such a machista country, that a woman has been voted in as president, but it certainly doesn’t ensure that her policies will change from those of the old boys’ club (aka Margaret Thatcher).

 

Long after his own life passed, Bob Marley’s songs continue to ring throughout the world, with a chorus of love and peace amid verses of unity and respect. He grew up in poverty with a mother who bestowed on him her own talent for singing – he joined with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer to create a music that transcends languages and borders and deeply touches almost everyone who hears it. His songs can change the world – they are some of the sweetest ever written. That special light shone down on this soul too and he rose to meet it, at least in music and message. Thank you Bob, rest in that same peace that you sang so beautifully about.

PS – I’ve written, listened to music, or gone on to my computer for some thing or other for about five and a half hours – and it tells me there is still 25% of the battery left! Cool! Off to town, Roberto will do some fishing, me some swimming and then go charge up the battery and go online to post this. Ah, the sweet life….

PPS – Posting this in Bastimento, Bocas del Toro, Panama – may never return…love this place.

July 2017
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