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I wish I’d been paying attention to the somewhat obvious fact that “Carnival” is about flesh – as in carnivorous and meaty. I would have gone to one sooner. And I guess it makes sense to celebrate flesh while in the mouth of the bull, that is Bocas del Toro, Panama. I am sure a lot of vegetarians were dancing all night at Carnaval as well, but for the energy demanded, I’m thinking that a diet with some animal protein probably goes well with, and energizes the body appropriately for, a big party that translates as “A celebration of the flesh.” Certainly heat, skin & healthy spirits contribute to a great fiesta of the flesh.

We went to the islands on the weekend of February 12, knowing it was going to be Carnaval there. You either stay far away from the craziness, or embrace the moment. So after our five days of relax in Bastimento (see last post), we moved to the large town of Bocas on Isla Colon where the celebration was taking place. When we got to the area, we were told that Tabou Combo, a band originally from Haiti that has been playing great soca music for forty years, was headlining the festivities.

Roberto has been listening to them for as many years. He knows their music well, and sings and dances to it with his large Caribbean soul. The fact that they, along with The Beachers, a soca band from Bocas that he also loves, would be playing while we were there, was a huge treat for him. We went and got our tickets days before the concert, and after visiting several hotels in Bocas, were able to book an inexpensive hotel room for the Monday night of Carnaval, though the town was already booked up.

Something I discovered on our first trip into Bocas, and continued to enjoy each day we were in the town, were some great Bloody Mary’s at a small seafront restaurant called Sabor Caribeno or Caribbean Flavor, to the west of the main boat dock. The woman there makes the drink with a lot of Panamanian pepper in it and slushes it up with ice. It doesn’t taste like any Bloody Mary I’ve had before, and I’ve had a few, but was excellent in its own right. Super spicy and frosty at the same time – mmmmmmmm – on their patio floating over the waters of the Caribbean, watching the boats coming and going, it was splendor on the sea. We also ate an excellent meal there – a whole fish with coconut sauce that was divine as well as a warm seafood salad. All highly recommended.

Carnaval itself took place over several days but we caught the last two days and nights. The evenings began with the drummers gathering on the street, calling in the people to join them and wind and grind our way together down to the big outdoor stage. Monday’s main event was the big concert with The Beachers and Tabou Combo. There were some other local entertainers as well. We started dancing at about 8 p.m. and kept dancing until we collapsed in our beds at 4:30 a.m.

Like Roberto, I love soca music, but I wasn’t familiar with these bands although I know some of their songs. He, on the other hand, was thrilled to see not only the bands, but special guests who joined them. One of these was Gene Chambers, the Frankie Vallee of Panama. He now lives in Costa Rica but returned to his homeland to sing with The Beachers who he used to play with. This man is 62 years old but looked, moved and sounded like a 40-year-old. I’m not necessarily a fan of high-voiced men singing, but I loved watching him, and was amazed at the falsetto voice that came out of him. I kept looking for the woman singing on the stage, constantly being reminded that it was this handsome man.

We were in the middle of a crowd that kept growing in size and enthusiasm as the night went on. There was a group of wild women beside us who knew all the songs, danced with gusto, kept drinking like sailors, and were truly entertaining to watch. We made our way up through the crowd closer to the stage as the night went on…although there was a lot of boozing going on, and people were obviously getting drunk, we didn’t see any aggression in two nights of fiesta, the only exception being a gringo with a bloody face outside a bar as we walked back to our hotel just before dawn.

The other special guest who joined both The Beachers and then Tabou Combo, was Alfredito Payne, another Panamanian vocalist who has been singing soca for years. He used to sing with Tabou and was back to join them. Tabou Combo is a mix of generations of musicians  – some who have been doing this since the beginning including a couple of the original singers, other younger talented musicians joining to carry on making their music. They are originally from Haiti but are now based in Miami. They started their show asking for a moment of silence to honor their Haitian countryfolk who are suffering from the massive earthquake there, but after that moment of solemn respect, they got down to the business of making us jump. And they perform – they excite the crowd and dance on the stage and welcome the crazy women who jump up on stage to join them and shout out and wave flags and laugh and keep on singing and drumming and moving along with the crowd.

And the crowd keeps up with them. The spirit kept rising and it wasn’t the free flowing and cheap Smirnoff deals that was responsible– it was the energy and joy coming off the stage that kept us all fired up. I guess we must have danced for about seven hours, but it flew by. Needless to say, we collapsed into bed but the truth be known, we probably could have danced for several more hours if the band had kept going.

To recuperate the next day, we took a boat ride two minutes over to the little Isla Careneros. This was apparently where Columbus had a shipyard for his boats – they would be hauled up and put on their side to be repaired. It had some pleasant little beaches where we soaked up some restorative solar energy and these beautiful trees – I’m not sure if they are a type of mangrove tree (couldn’t find any information about them) but  it was an eerie yet magical part of the little island.

On all of the Bocas islands, the colors, the details, and the woodwork was gorgeous. Not because of money, but because of effort, skill, and years of loving care. Amidst the older buildings, constructed when wood was super available and cheap, are newer structures that I’m sure cost much more to construct and bring in influences that come with the foreigners now living there. In general, there was a pride of place throughout Bocas, simple homes with attention to detail and love of joyful color.

Life by the sea has its own magic. Bocas has a great mix of the old and new, natural and manmade beauty, indigenous and foreign.

Tuesday night, the actual day of Carnaval, began with the attack of the diablos. The story behind this remained a mystery to us, but was a tradition that people love. Young men and boys were dressed up in black and red quite ornate costumes as devils, monsters and mythical creatures, and took to the street with whips and sticks. The crowd gathered around them and brave, crazy or inebriated other young men, as well as kids, went running into the melee to grab the sticks off the diablos.

Some of these characters were truly frightening and though at first we thought that the whips only sounded harsh, we soon saw the scars and blood on the legs of the boys who had been fighting with the diablos, trying to take the sticks away from them. We think that the diablos stood for the slave masters and the boys who went after them represented slaves trying to escape and take away their power, standing up for their rights, bravely fighting for their own justice. That was our interpretation, but I don’t know that that is what was happening.

I do know that lovely Roberto seemed to have a strong resemblance to the diablos – between his long dreads and the color of his clothing that evening, he fit right in. I have to say that although I’ve known him for over sixteen years, having spent lots of time around him in his hometown of Cahuita – where everyone knows him – as well as in Puerto Viejo, San Jose and Monteverde, I’ve never seen people react to him like they did in Bocas. People were constantly yelling “Cool, rasta, respect man” and others would come up asking for a photo with him. It was like being with a celebrity and it was impossible to be anonymous while by his side! Everywhere we went in that week on the islands, people were super friendly and very animated in their approach.

Men, women and children must have spent a lot of hours having their hair done for this big week of festivities. We saw so many extreme braids, joined by flashy ornaments, multi-colored dyes and boys had a bleached hair thing going on and shaved designs on their heads. It all just added to the spectacle.

When the daylight faded, the diablos went away and then the local drumming bands and their dancers started getting ready for the big finale, the parade of drums, shakers, whistles and bodies leading the dancing crowds down the street for the final night of fiesta. The next generation of kids were already showing their genetic ability to shake and move their batty.

As I wrote about in the last blog, we had watched the community of Bastimento preparing for this during the previous week. Now we joined with them and the other four bands from other communities, jumping and chanting and swaying and rumbaing our way down the main avenue. The Bastimento drummers and dancers were definitely the best – and they had a song that people sang along with – part of which said that they were proud Panamanians and loved their soca, but “Rockeros – NO!” went their song. Then the Beachers came on the stage again for another couple hours of great soca music. The party carried on, but once the live bands stopped, we went home, our legs tired, our feet hurting, exhausted but with big smiles on our faces.

Bocas del Toro welcomed us with drums, smiles,bright colors, tradition, laughter, warmth and rhythm – si dios quiere, we will be back there next year. We’ll go back and see Francis and Louie in Bastimento, eat the delicious food at Roots Restaurant, drink Bloody Mary’s at Sabor Caribeno in Bocas, and join in with the music, that, no doubt, will still be shaking the place. Then we’ll collapse in the hammocks and watch the boats go by.

 

Off the northern Caribbean coast of Panama is an archipelago of islands called Bocas del Toro. It means mouth of the bull, supposedly referring to a waterfall and was named by Columbus when he saw the resemblance. Today, perhaps the name would refer to the opening up of that wild creature known as tourism – it’s been a slow yawn so far, but once that mouth is wide open, it usually means there’s no shutting it up, or taming that bull.

I read on a website that Bocas has the distinction of being the only place in the world that all the different global variations of the big reality show “Survivor” have filmed at. I remember that the American version was around there years ago and it worried me that the place would never be the same again (as it was already on my list of unique places I wanted to visit while they remained unique). Then I read that every language version of Survivor has used the area, and I wondered if I’d arrive to a street with Survivor paraphenalia shops and every other T-shirt would say “Outwit, outplay, outlast.” I’m glad to report that I didn’t hear a word about the show while there, nor did I see a thing that reminded me of it except for windswept beaches ringed with palm trees.

Having been in Costa Rica about three months, it was time to leave the country for 72 hours and renew my visa so Roberto and I headed to these sweet Caribbean islands. For Roberto, it’s been ten years since he was there. This is where his father was from and Roberto can feel the pull of his roots, like a tidal current drawing him further out to sea.

It takes about three or four hours to get there from Cahuita. A bus ride to Sixaola, a walk across the rickety rackety old bridge over the Rio Sixaola which is the frontier between Costa Rica and Panama. A quick visit with the border guards. Then a bus or taxi to the port town of Almirantes and a water taxi over to the town of Bocas. We decided to head to the little town of Bastimento on a different island where Roberto had been and remembered it as a quiet place. The weekend of February 13 was the beginning of Carnival in Bocas and other places in Panama just as it would also be unraveling in Brazil and New Orleans. It was a good idea to get there early in the week and get ourselves a peaceful room before the fiestas began.

I love being in a water-based community, where yer horses are boats and everyone is paying attention to the clouds to read the upcoming weather. We had a combination of hot sun and some drizzly days. The sea breezes meant that it got a little cool once or twice.We chose not to take a boat trip out to a distant beach and through the National Marine Park where you can see dolphins because the waves looked like they’d take too much energy from us. Next time. We fell in love with the place enough to know that, si dios quiere, there will definitely be a next visit to Bocas del Toro.

We stayed in a very inexpensive room – $12 with private bath and a communal kitchen right on the water – at the Hospedaje Sea View. A simple wooden walkway connected the building to the covered dock where we spent hours swinging in the shaded hammocks, watching the boats come and go. Bocas area is the biggest touristic draw in Panama, after the Canal Zone, but in little Bastimento, you knew that the locals outnumbered the tourists by a large margin. The busiest sign of tourism is in the form of water taxis and tour boats.

And there were no mosquitos!

The island of Bastimento is quite big. There are different trails that lead you around the shoreline or up and over the higher land in the middle of the island. Everyone heads at some point over to Wizard Beach, a big sprawling, windswept beach with a good surf. There is a lot of tropical forest left standing all over the island, so you get the feeling of being in a muddy jungle for a few minutes before emerging on the beach.

You then walk through sand, swamp, mud and rock until you emerge on another smaller beach. You can continue doing this for a couple of more hours, through beautiful jungle, a breadfruit tree plantation, a topless beach (‘women only’ said the sign to noone there), and arriving at Red Frog Beach where there is a small bar and the beginning of a bit of new civilization. The beach is named after the little red frogs that are the poster boys of the place, getting scarce but apparently being bred for survival.

The only major sign of development that we came across on the island was the beginning of a resort with building lots divided up in this area where the red frogs live.When I googled Red Frog Beach, there is an amazing amount of people selling this island land out from the indigenous and local community – and it is scary to see what will become of the area.  After walking for a couple of hours to get there, we opted to take a $3 water taxi back to the town. There is a parklike atmosphere with manicured trails and gardens that links the boat dock with the beach. We had hardly seen a soul on our walk there and we arrived to few people at the beach. But in short order many must have been dropped off by boats, because all of a sudden there were dozens of people around.

There were also a lot of children from the local community of Ngobe bugle – the indigenous settlement on that part of the island. We couldn’t figure the kids out but got a bad feeling about what all this new development and influx of foreigners was doing to the place. These young kids – from between four and eight years old – would approach the foreigners in silence. A couple of the older boys brought a little can with a red frog in it, and seemed to quietly be offering something in exchange for a dollar. But the others were almost mute, shy, and we didn’t know if they were under orders to go and beg but with no instruction. Or were they just curious? Groups of them would surround one or two tourists – they seemed to like the university-age white girls who maybe were friendlier or less threatening. But they wouldn’t ask for anything, just stare and not go away.

We bought a drink for one very quiet little boy, but other than that they left us alone – probably, as Roberto said, because they didn’t expect a black man to have money or were respectful of us as a couple while we were laying on the beach. These kids were not starving and their clothes were in good condition and clean and they’d happily play soccer when a tourist pulled out a ball. Maybe they are just passing their time, amusing themselves at the beach – but it did seem that they were wanting money, they just didn’t want or know how to ask. And they did speak Spanish as well as their own tongue and probably some English. This remains one of the unanswered mysteries that we left with.

Old Bank, the original name for the town of Bastimento, is built on the sheltered side of the island. Many of the hotels and restaurants are right on the water, built on stilt legs with long docks that steadily receive boat traffic. It is like a courtyard where everything is right at hand. There are no roads or cars or motorized vehicles – a wide concrete path wanders through the town with some other smaller dirt paths heading off to houses and a lot development on a hillside behind the town. It didn’t take long walking along that path to have met many of the locals and found our bearings.

Folks sat on the balconies and verandas, hanging over the railing, greeting each other. For such a small place, it was interesting that there were four languages being spoken by the locals – English, Spanish, the indigenous tongue and Guati, the local name for the Caribbean patois. People told us that the community is still very tight, holding on to the unity that they have, trying to hold on to their culture and keep tourism under control. One of the main signs of this is that footpath that links them all, people strolling up and down, deliveries coming in by boat, no motors heard on dry land. But once that toro’s mouth is open, quien sabe? 

At Sea View, we shared the kitchen and hammock space with two other couples – a Portuguese/British couple, Shannon and Brett, and an Australian/Austrian pair, Paul and Lisa. I have to say that Paul and Lisa were particularly great folks to share a space with as they had just come from a coffee plantation tour and had a big bag of fresh coffee – unlike Costa Rica where there is lots of great coffee, we didn’t get such fine roast easily in Panama. They also shared chocolate cake that they got busy and baked one day. The last night together, which was Valentine’s Day, we all shared in making pizzas (thanks to Paul’s great dough-making) and were serenaded by Francis, the owner of the hotel, strumming his guitar and singing us love songs. He was a very gentle, humble host and we’d be happy to go and stay there again. There were a number of nice little hotels, many inexpensive and none horribly expensive, some on the water as we were, others up the hillside of the town, no doubt with great views over the bay.

For eating, the best food was next door at Roots Restaurant, which was always playing soca or reggae music that kept us rocking in our hammocks. We had delicious coconut-cooked fish and chicken there along with patacones (fried plantain). We liked having breakfast in the little waterfront restaurant called Alvin’s. The woman who ran the place was very friendly and funny and although she seemed casual about the place, she definitely knew her business.  

We also made friends with one of the boat chauffeur’s, Louie. His family owns the Caribbean View Hotel in town, and he was always taking people on tours, but was friendly and came around often to talk, make sure we were okay. A beautiful young man with dreads and strong opinions, he could have been Roberto’s son. I didn’t get a good picture of him, but would recommend to anyone that you look up Louie at the Caribbean View…., and tell him the rasta from Cahuita and his Kween sent you.

As is too often the case, garbage was an issue – it was floating in off the sea, not properly taken care of in town, and they are no doubt incinerating it somewhere. In the bigger town of Bocas, I read that they were trying to recycle but people weren’t cooperating and those responsible for the program were running out of patience to keep doing it. Roberto will say to me that this is cultural, that he wasn’t taught to throw things in garbage cans. But my experience is that it is a lesson that comes with a little affluence and all the stuff that comes with it. Once a community starts receiving lots of products to sell, all of them in plastic wrapping or tin cans or…, then garbage starts becoming an issue. Twenty years ago, most of the refuse would be organic. People would buy in their own containers. Now everything is wrapped in single serving sizes as that’s all that many people can afford. And they triple wrap things like cookies as one little hole will invite a whole bunch of ants, quickly. And people start acquiring things that break or run out. And garbage becomes an issue that sooner or later, people who live together have to deal with.

We watched the garbage scow come and pick up the garbage left at the end of the docks. We watched the birds and dogs scavenging and pulling the garbage out to scatter it further. As humans, we seem to have a real bad habit of creating garbage – and wildlife have become addicted to it as well.

It was an hypnotic five days and nights in Bastimento, intoxicated by the sea, swinging hammocks, Caribbean food, lots of walking, friendly people. Each evening, we would hear a multitude of drums, the sound traveling to us from somewhere in the town. The second night, we wandered up the path to the sea-overlook which is the center park of town, and there we came across dozens of members of the community. The men and boys were drumming, the young women were choreographing a chant and dance, hips and arms pumping. The little park was filled with old men talking, kids playing, pregnant women resting in the cool breeze of the evening.

We found out that they were practising to take part in Carnaval, the big event coming up on the weekend in Bocas town. In Bastimento, there was always a lot of music around us – coming out of houses, boom boxes and restaurants – and we would have the chance to hear plenty more at Carnaval in Bocas.

Bastimento is a place that I could easily find a cheap rental and stay for a couple of months. Food was cheap and excellent, transportation was easy, rooms were inexpensive. People were kind and had a great energy. I could see living there and doing some writing – Roberto could probably spend the rest of his life in a hammock on the sea, rocking his roots. It was enchanting. We left this quiet refuge on the sixth day, and headed to Bocas,where Carnaval had started. We managed to secure a room for ourselves, and in the end stayed two nights, longer than planned. I’ll write about the music and fiesta of Bocas next time. The energy level went up, and so it must for me before I can put my thoughts in writing.

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 2020
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