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Beautiful Cabure Argentine Cafe in Monteverde, where I have wireless and send email from (and eat and drink…)
I’d like to say that I’m writing this from the balcony of some funky hotel on the coast, watching the pelicans flying in formations and listening to the waves crashing. Instead, I’m back up in Monteverde, listening to the birds waking up and the early shift workers’ motorcycles heading to the dairy plant. However, I am bringing you a story of great success in the big city, getting Walking with Wolf out of customs with a minimum of fuss and a reasonable amount of money. I decided to come back up the mountain Wednesday in the Reserve truck with the books and Wolf. Beto our trusty chauffeur made it all easy once again. As is usual this time of the year, the day is dawning bright and sunny but the rain will move in sometime later, so you have to get your outdoor chores done early or you are going to get very wet.
Wolf and I went down last Sunday on the afternoon bus following the community potluck lunch which is held the first Sunday of every month after the Quaker meeting. It is a great chance to eat really good homemade food and to visit with folks who you may never run into otherwise. We sold some books, filled our bellies and then went in the pouring rain to Santa Elena. Fortunately the bus was a dry one, unlike the older bus that I came up in the week before, where every other seat was under a leak and it was hard to stay dry even though you were inside a bus. It seems that’s a theme of these latest blog posts – the fact that it is being a very wet beginning to a rainy season is impossible to ignore. Staying dry is a challenge but you just have to accept the inevitable – for the first time that I can remember, I bought an umbrella, although much of the time even an umbrella, rubber boots and rain coat aren’t going to keep you completely dry.
We spent the first night at the Casa Ridgeway, known as the Peace Center, run by Quakers, which is Wolf’s base camp when in San Jose. The folks there know him and were all pleased to see the book. It is a spartan little place which I don’t mind – I especially like the monk-like rooms that are painted white with no decoration except a quote about peace stenciled on the wall. My room said: Me, you can kill but you can’t silence justice.
Early Monday we began the process of getting the books. I’m still not sure what that first company we dealt with was exactly – there are a number of hands extended when in the process of paying to get your imported goods. Although we called early in the morning, the papers weren’t ready for us till mid-afternoon. We then took a taxi out to the western part of the city, La Sabana Norte, and there we paid for the permit to release the books and the cost of the books being moved off of the boat and into the customs storage. Once that is done you want to get them out quickly as they cost plenty for each day they are held. We paid our money and received the documents and were told to contact the aduana, the customs broker, Eliezar Alfaro Porras, who helped us through the next step. It was too late to see him but we did make an arrangement to meet at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.
This, of course, meant another trip by taxi and bus and taxi to Alajuela, near the airport. Eliezar was great, meeting us in a convenient place, taking us in his car to his office, trying to explain the process of what was going on, attempting to keep the costs down, going to the bank for me to speed up the process. We spent a few hours with him but they were pleasant ones and I will keep his number to use him again in the future. By 1 p.m. he had confirmation that everything was in order and we could head out to the bodega, the big storage place where the books were being held. We went back into the city by bus and taxi to the Tropical Science Center who had said they would send a vehicle out to pick up the books. By the time we got there, their truck wasn’t around and by 3 it was looking like we wouldn’t be able to get our books that day as the bodega closed at 5 and was at least half an hour away. This was worrisome as you don’t want to stop the momentum once it is rolling. As Wolf kept saying, if we don’t go while we are at the head of the line, who knows how far back they will send us. I have to say that both Carlos Hernandez, the director at the Reserve who has helped and supported us every step of the way, and then Vicente Watson, one of the main scientists at the TSC, were invaluable.
When Vicente realized that we didn’t have a vehicle to pick up the books, he stayed with the problem, gnawing the bone, until it got worked out. By 3:15 we were in a car with Warner Corvajal, an employee there, zipping across and out of the city to Santo Domingo de Heredia where the bodega was. Vladimir Jimenez and the TSC truck was located on its way back from a trip and was rerouted to the bodega. By 4 we had the paperwork done and the last money paid. By 4:30 we were loaded and on our way back to the TSC office in San Pedro. It all happened so quick and with so little fuss, except for the hours of waiting, it is still hard to believe. In the old days, things took a lot longer. But with computers and supportive people who are trying hard to help the process go quickly, well, incredibly, sometimes it does.
Wolf and I celebrated with a great Italian meal of very anchovish ceasar salad, authentic pizza and red wine at Pane y Vino in San Pedro. We had spent the better part of the two days together and had lots of time to talk while waiting. If there is something Wolf and I can do it is talk, but at the same time we don’t always have quiet time anymore to do just that. We have either been running around or surrounded by family and friends or so tired that all we can do is smile at each other.
I moved from the Peace Center to my friend Myrna Castro’s house for Monday and Tuesday night. I met Myrna and her daughters Sofia and Veronica when they came to the music festival back in 1999. Her ex-husband, Luis Zumbado, is a great violinist and was playing in Monteverde that year and staying in the house for the musicians which I managed for a couple of years. I’ve remained friends with them and try to visit at least once a year when in the big city. Veronica and I went out Monday night to visit Sonsax, our friends the sexy-saxophonists, who were practicing at the university. I hadn’t seen them for a couple of years. Valerio, Jan, Pablo, Chopper & Manrique the percussionist are five great guys who have played around the world including the Montreal Jazz Festival, where I’ve gone to see them a couple of times. When I first knew them back in the mid-nineties, they were young crazy too-good-looking-for-their-own-good musicians, but they are all maturing (or getting old as Jan said, not me) and now have wives, children and are all busy teaching when they aren’t playing their high energy brand of sax music.
I also went to see Manuel Monestel again, the musical leader and mentor of Cantoamerica who I went dancing to last week. We shared some wine and some stories about the Caribbean community, which we both know and love. Made me want to go to Cahuita, the funky little town I’ve spent a lot of time in on the east coast. He was heading there the next day, so now I await some good gossip back.
While we were in the city, we also talked with the Tico Times, who took the book to read and do a review and we will return for an interview in a week or so. We talked to Marc and John at Seventh Street Books who will carry the book but it isn’t the kind that they distribute. But they are going to be helpful in supplying a list of booksellers in the country where our book may fit in. I will head out on some roadtrips, peddling books to the stores I choose in places I want to go (and return to later).
When Beto arrived on Wednesday morning at the TSC office, we carefully loaded the books, along with a bunch of bedding materials, and triple wrapped everything in plastic and tarps. It poured on us most of the way home but we felt pretty confident that the boxes would be okay. As it turned out they weren’t totally. When Beto and I unwrapped the boxes Thursday morning, the bottom four boxes had water damage – fortunately we only lost about 10 books to a bit of damage, and not so bad that we can’t give them as freebies to friends. But as Wolf said, those books traveled all that way from Montreal to Costa Rica on the sea and were dry, but a little 4 hour trip up the mountain to Monteverde couldn’t keep them that way. I tell you, the moisture in this place would be to die for if you lived in the desert, but I’m back on that mantra again…beach, beach, beach…
So now it is already Friday – I’ve written this in bits and starts. Have been distributing books, making plans, and am truly heading to the beach tomorrow, then back to the big city. Have some presentations lined up at the Reserve for the next week. But I need some more sun and heat then Monteverde is willing to dish out right now. However, one last night out at the new sushi restaurant in Santa Elena, oh so good – and a visit with our friend Marc Egger, multi-lingual guide extraordinaire, who is here from Sao Paolo, Brazil. It’ll be a great night slurping sashimi. Soon I shall return, hopefully with sand in my shoes and solar energy stored in my skin.
New seasons always bring new surprises – I knew that it would be wet here in Monteverde at this time of the year. As I said in the blog yesterday, it has been really wet – although that is very recent, as in the day arrived. The rains came late and they were getting desperate for water here. Hard to believe for a rainforest but true. However, since I’ve been here, I’ve seen much more rain than sun… and I think I’ll be heading to the beach soon. It’s all panchos, hats, umbrellas and rubber boots. I sure wish I had Lori Yates’ flashy red flowered rubber cowboy boots…man, they’d be styling here!
The big surprise for me though was the delicate gossamer beauty of a termite’s wings. For most, termites is only a real big problem. Such as at Wolf’s house. In the chapter of Walking with Wolf, All Trails Lead to Home, you will read about Wolf and his termite problem in his house…well, basically waiting for them to bring the house down before he gets around to fixing it. So now his son Antonio is building them a new apartment (a barn penthouse I call it) over top of the barn. Once it is finished and Wolf and Lucky move there, they may fix up the house they have been living in for 40 years or they may just let the termites finish with it. In many places the wood is paper thin, cleaned out internally by the little pesks. What looks like wood planks and posts are now hollow paper beams. So there is a push on to finish the new living quarters before the walls literally come tumbling down.
In the meantime, as the rains begin, the termites come out and fly about and mate and lose their wings and die and….well, I don’t know what all…but I can tell you that last night as a bit of sun broke through the clouds at sunset, the sky filled with clouds of winged termites. Lucky systematically emptied her beautiful blue, green and gold glass bottle collection out of her windows and vacuumed up the termites that were resting on the ledges. I walked into my room, which has a skylight, and saw all these delicate floating petals – termite wings, tiny translucent feathers floating down from the ceiling. They were landing all over my clothes and I actually found the whole effect quite magical…but then, this isn’t my house that is hosting the hungry little critters. I doubt many people here find them delightful, but I’m trying to think up an art project that could use their shimmering beauty as a detail. Termite wings, who knew?
Rain is pounding down on the zinc roof of Wolf and Lucky’s house, making conversation difficult, but finally giving me a chance to write from Monteverde. Aah yes, the cloud forest in the rainy season – not for the faint of heart but paradise for those with webbed feet. Actually it has been so dry here that water was being rationed in the community up until the rains started in earnest about a week ago. Looks like I got here right on time. The humidity has cranked up the clamminess, the landscape is a collage of intense greens, and the dirt roads are slowly becoming water-filled ditches supporting small gravel islands.
I was so busy with getting the book ready and preparing to leave my home and garden for a couple of months, that I wasn’t thinking so much about where I was going, other than to Wolf’s house to present him with his book. But in very short order, upon my arrival in Costa Rica, my heart has filled with the warmth of the Guindon family, the anticipation in the community for Walking with Wolf, and the enchantment of the place. The last time I was here in this particular season, the beginning of the rainy season, was 1990, my first year here. I had forgotten how the view from up on the mountain in May, looking over the Nicoya peninsula to the Pacific, is this magical world of clouds, mountains, water, and sky – these elements merge and mingle and seem to get turned upside down, in a way that even Stephen Spielberg couldn’t capture with an arsenal of special effects. When I woke up on Thursday morning, just as day was breaking, and looked out the windows to the west, my breath was taken away by the layers of color and shadow suspended on the shifting horizon. I grabbed my camera and went out to try to capture it (a picture here isn’t worth the thousand words it would take to describe the scene) – I startled two masked tityras, beautiful white birds with pink and black facial markings, who were feeding in a guayaba tree and didn’t notice me right away. They fluttered about grabbing the small fruit, only five feet from me, until they realized that I was there and flew off.
Welcome back to Monteverde…
The flight down was fast (those individual TV screens on the planes are great – two movies of your choice and you’re here); the books arrived safe and sound (did I mention how expensive they were as extra baggage? – Kaching); customs didn’t look once at me that alone twice; and as soon as I got through to the wall of windows at the exit, there were Lucky and Wolf, smiling and waving. As promised, the Reserve’s four-wheel drive, army-fatigue-green, Toyota crew cab truck-limo, complete with Beto the chauffeur, had come to pick me and the books up. We waited until we were in a restaurant to unveil the books – and, as hoped, Wolf and Lucky were very excited and pleased. We had our first moment of celebrity – the waitress saw the cover and looked at Wolf and asked if that was him – and then saw my photo on the back – and was thrilled to be serving two such important people! HA! Not like we got a free meal or anything, but it was fun for all of us nonetheless.
We didn’t make it up the mountain to Monteverde, normally about a three to four hour trip from the airport, until 9 that night. They were putting in a culvert on the highway and there was only one lane open and they were letting the traffic going to the city pass much more frequently than those of us heading to the country. We spent close to three hours inching forward in fits and starts, Lucky playing old tunes on the harmonica, Beto and I getting out to tempt fate with the oncoming traffic, Wolf picking up the book from time to time, checking to see if it was real. By the time we got up the mountain, there was nothing left but sleep. But we were very, very happy.
On Thursday morning we took the book up to Carlos Hernandez, the director at the Reserve. He insists that the Tropical Science Center (who owns and administers the Reserve) is serious about wanting to finance a Spanish translation. I told him that although I think this is wonderful, I don’t want to give up the rights to the book and also want to control the translating process (new little control freak that I’ve become – makes me wonder just what kind of parent I might have been after all…). I believe he is on Wolf’s and my side in this – he took copies to give to the members of the board of the TSC. I suggested that he have someone who is fluent in English read the book first and make sure they are still interested. He suggested that I check out how much the translation itself might cost and who we might employ to do it. We will proceed from there. But my immediate feeling was a good one, that he understands how personal the project is for Wolf and I, and that he will represent us well to the board.
We made our rounds showing off the book (one last baby comparison – the book’s cover really is soft like a baby’s bum, I swear). Our friends Mercedes Diaz and Luis Angel Obando, who show up in the last chapter of Walking with Wolf, were thrilled to finally get their copy – immediately plans were started for the fiesta, la presentacion del libro, and we started selling books. Lucky began reading and her reaction has been wonderful (although she did find an error deep in the book – a factual one, not just a difference of memory from her husband – I think I will leave it ambiguous and see how many people catch this error….hopefully not too many more will be found).
Leaving Wolf and Lucky with the book safely in hand, I jumped on a bus on Friday morning and returned to the big city of San José to meet up with my friend Patricia Maynard. She was taking a group of Latin American literature students from the University of Georgia around town to a variety of cultural events. I sat in on talks by our musician friends Edin Solis of Editus and Jaime Gamboa of Malpais on the historical context and present day reality of Costa Rican music. They both tried to convince the American students, who listed reggaeton as one of their favorite genres of music, that songwriting which includes poetry and composition that is more than three chords is of more value than easy, commercial music – I’m not sure if they convinced the students, but Edin and Jaime spoke with such passion that I would hope they at least made them think. We had a great meal at the Café Arco Iris and watched Alejandro Toceti – now a kind of Cultural Attache with the government, but who we’ve known as a beautiful dancer, whose every muscle speaks even when he stands still – tell stories with his body. We finished our day with a night of hot dancing at Jazz Café in San Pedro – Manuel Monestel and his ever-changing Afro-Caribbean band, Cantoamerica, kept us jumping to salsa, calypso and reggae. Since my years involved in the music festival in Monteverde, all these musicians have remained great friends and a night of hearing them play only whets my appetite for more.
The next day we had the great privilege of a visit with Daniel Villegas, one of the top authors and playwrights in Costa Rica. He studied years ago in Europe as well as Los Angeles and New York City at The Artists Studio. Not only was his conversation colorful and informative, but for me, the new young author that I be, it was very touching. When he spoke about how he found inspiration, how stories can be told, and the most important thing being to write honestly and about what is real in your life – well, I like to think that I have tried to do that with Walking with Wolf. I humbly gave him a copy of our book. He accepted it graciously, though who knows if he will ever read it. But it was the first instance where I presented myself as an author with a book I am proud of and wasn’t embarrassed to share it with such a distinguished writer.
I came back up the mountain in time for the Quaker meeting on Sunday. After the hour of silence, when it came time for introductions by visitors and announcements, I confirmed the rumors to those present, that I had indeed returned with the book in hand (I had left last May stating I wouldn’t return until the book was truly a book). I invited everyone to the celebration to be held later this week at Bromelias Café, on Thursday, May 29th at 5 p.m. I then presented Jean Stuckey, the head of the Monteverde library committee, with a signed copy of Walking with Wolf. The dedication reads:
“For the Monteverde Friends Library, my favorite library in the world. It is with the greatest pleasure that we give you our book to be placed on your musty shelves. With love, Kay and the Wolf”.
I’m on my way there now to help catalogue it and place it on the shelf!