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A few weeks ago, when I was up in Monteverde, cold, wet and miserable with fever, I felt the strong urge to write and complain about the rain. Prior to that, I enjoyed three sunny September weeks here in Cahuita of perfect hot, dry weather, but as soon as I ventured out on a trip to San José and up the green mountain, my spirit was soddened as quickly as my clothes. I was caught almost daily in pouring rain, keeping me constantly damp, if not soaked, until I was able to escape inside and change into dry clothes. Eventually I succumbed to “la gripe”, Costa Rican for all that ails you. Last April, after experiencing the desert conditions of Los Angeles in California, I swore I would never speak harshly again about water replenishing our thirsty earth, but it doesn’t take many days of walking about dripping wet and cold to forget one’s best intentions.

At our bush home in Cahuita, we are constantly stoking the cooking fire, and its smoke swirls through the rancho and steeps our hanging clothes like curing sausages. A comfortable odor here, it becomes a foreign acrid smell when you hit the urban life of San José with its fresh scents of soaps and colognes, or the clean but humid mountain air where that smoked chorizo musk follows you like an poor immigrant from the old country.  Note to self: freshly wash all clothes and dry far from the fire before visiting civilization.

In Monteverde, I stayed with the lovely ladies Deb and Barbara, who took great care of me as I sunk deeper in my sickness, and in the end, in a very ungracious-guest-like-manner, I left them both under the same nasty weather. The worst of the whole thing was that I had gone to Monteverde with the intention of spending a few hours each day with the ever-recuperating Wolf, but I only managed to visit him one morning and then didn’t dare return with my germs. I missed a bunch of other events as well, but it was the anticipated Wolf time that I really regretted.

To update Wolf’s continuing medical adventures, he continues on a roller coaster, slowing going up the track of wellness, only to crest and slip down another precarious slope. However, I believe that as of this writing (as per a phone call with his son Benito last night) Wolf is doing okay. He had the first of his cataract operations a couple of days ago. I hope that this will mean that while he is laid up with his other conditions, he will at least be able to read again. Often he has been feeling punk enough not to want to do anything, and he is not a television watcher – indeed, the Guindons don’t even own one. However, once he is feeling better yet is still not very mobile, he can at least amuse himself by reading, something that the cataracts have been making almost impossible. He delayed the operation once while he was recuperating from the pacemaker episode, but now he has at least one eye open and I trust he has a date for the second eye. 

His heart and pacemaker seem to be working well together according to his check-ups. A change in insulin as well as a more rigid regimen of testing his sugar levels will hopefully mean that he will get better control of his diabetes. He has been told, once again, to drink more water to keep flushing his liver and kidneys of all the medication he takes (Wolf is still trying to come to terms with the fact that coffee is not water). A few days before I visited him, Wolf had a bad urinary tract infection. Combined with his chronic prostate issues, it resulted in the placement of a catheter. Although he wasn’t happy about it at the time, he seems to have made some adjustments and now is finally able to eliminate his liquid wastes with less pain and problem than he has had for a couple of years now.

Carambola!  As he told me, a few weeks ago he hit a low point that he thought he wouldn’t return from, but he’s once again feeling like there is a light at the end of the tunnel (not THAT LIGHT), and fortunately his strong spirit is still soaring. Unfortunately, his ever-suffering wife, Lucky, who has become a nurse despite a lifelong desire to never be one, recently took a fall and broke (I believe) a rib, something that is known to be very painful yet seldom fatal. So she has taken at least a couple of bumpy trips down the mountain with Wolf and their son Berto in his car to various medical appointments, no doubt grimacing from the pain but stoically carrying on. Ai yi yi, don’t you think enough is enough for these good folks? 

I did manage to get over my sickness in time to participate in workshops for the nature guides at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Mercedes Diaz, head of Environmental Education at the Reserve, asked me to repeat the presentation I had given last year on the history of Bosqueterno S.A., the original watershed reserve that the Quaker community had set aside. So I went up to the Reserve and despite technical problems, a lingering fever and rain pounding on the roof, I told the guides this important story of the beginnings of conservation in Monteverde. I finished that last mountain day wrapped in the warmth of my friendship with Patricia Jiménez, aided by dry blankets, hot conversation and healing wine.

The raging Rio Concepcion and a bit of the highway

 

All said and done, I was happy to leave the cold mountain and continue my wandering, challenged by the treachery of the Costa Rican highways during this very wet rainy season. A new highway was opened less than a year ago connecting San José with Caldera on the Pacific coast but due to very poor construction and very adequate corruption, such a terrible job was done that this new and important highway out of the heart of the country has been sporadically closed like a blocked artery constantly requiring surgery. The old highway that passes San Ramon was also closed when a bridge was washed out meaning that both of the main routes west of the central valley were cut off or clogged up. You take your chances moving about a mountainous, overly-underdeveloped country like Costa Rica, especially in the rainy season.

Despite bus delays, I eventually got to visit with people I consider family – the Montero/Martinez gang – one branch having moved from San Carlos to Palmares recently. I also had a chance to visit a different branch of the same family in Sarchi on my way to Monteverde.  A year had passed since I saw some of these folks so it was a wonderful time of catching up and seeing their new or improved homes.

In Sarchi, I was thrilled to see Claudio’s organic lettuce operation and made notes as I think that Roberto and I can use some of his ideas to grow some vegetables here on the Caribbean, something that we struggle with constantly (too much sun, too much rain, too hot, not enough soil fertility, voracious ants, every other bug, etc.).

I spent several days near la Fortuna with Zulay Martinez, and wrote about this in the last post as we spent a day at the CRiterio Film Festival…if you haven’t read it, take a look and try to see some of those documentaries. I love being in that region of Costa Rica and Zulay has been one of my closest Tica friends for 20 years. The sun was shining, it was warm and mostly dry, so the time was completely enjoyable and I was only sorry that it was so short.

Before returning to the east coast, I went to San José for an important meeting with the Editoriales de la Universidad de Costa Rica and the Tropical Science Center. Thanks to the enthusiasm of a few men – first, Carlos Hernandez, the director of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve; secondly Javier Espeleta, the new director of the TSC, and now Julian Monge, the editor at EUCR – the translation of Walking with Wolf should see the light in the first half of 2011. Wolf’s son, Carlos, completed the translation a year ago, but editing etc. is still to be done. However, with the energy and commitment of these men behind us, I believe that Wolf and I will be celebrating Caminando con Wolf in the foreseeable future. His health concerns have helped to push these very busy men into action, a positive side benefit to all of Wolf’s trouble. 

While in the city, I stayed with my good friend Myrna Castro and her new husband Ron, and her talented daughter Veronica. We were all busy, but they provided me with a 6-star hotel, a mother’s care and always interesting chatter while I was there. Vero took me to a bar I’d never been to, Anocheser, in San Pedro, where musicians gather after their gigs and the music carries on through the night. A small intimate place, the night featured a series of singers, strumming guitars to songs that everyone in the place knew and sang along with (except me, of course, who only knew a few of the Spanish lyrics). Note to self: learn more Spanish lyrics.

I went to visit Lorena Rodriguez, a good friend and very talented designer. Although I went to see her just to visit and catch up on life, the day turned into a design-fest. When I told her that I was getting ready to build a little casita on the land I have just purchased here on the Caribbean, she sat me down at her computer and we started turning my ideas into reality. Hours later, the house details that had been brewing in my mind, aided by her extensive experience and creative juices, along with a fantastic computer design program, could be seen in full color, in scale, and we were even able to take a cyber- walk through the casita to make sure it all felt good. Incredible! Once again, I am so appreciative to Lore for dropping what she was doing and helping me (as she did last year when she fussed over my preparations for my visit to the Canadian Ambassador’s house to meet the Governor General).

Now I have a very workable plan for a humble 5 meter by 7 meter casita that I plan on building on my little piece of land just across the stream from Roberto. I’ve had a couple of frustrations with the buying of the land but in the end, all seems to be in order. I know why I’ve waited twenty years to buy land here. However, this is a property with title and no legal problems, and I’ve had a surveyor come and we are now just waiting for the land survey to be completed, and I think all will be fine although I’m expecting each step to involve frustration. The most difficult thing could be that our relatively isolated but very peaceful life here in the jungle could be changing as our road gets busier, land is bought up, buildings are constructed and electricity is soon to come. You can’t stop progress but you can certainly disagree with its definition.

We had a disagreement over the actual property line with the woman who is buying the land immediately next door but hopefully that has been settled. Roberto and I went out the other day and placed a makeshift fencerow along the boundary line as dictated by the woman who sold me the land, and now we wait and hope that we will all be in agreement. Roberto thinks I should erect a proper fence of barbed wire but I can’t stand the idea. Instead I plan on planting a variety of hibiscus, crotons and other colorful fast growing plants to mark the edge of the property. I told him that I would erect a real fence if I felt it was necessary one day – he shakes his masculine head of dreads. As we discuss issues around land ownership, security and building houses, I’m not sure if it is gender issues, personal experiences or cultural issues that cause our differing opinions, but in the end, it’s my property, my money and my problem. And Roberto’s prerogative to say, “I told you so”.

As I wrote at the beginning, I was feeling like complaining about rain, but once I returned to hot and sunny Cahuita, to the trials of land purchasing and house design, to Roberto’s delicious coconut-cooking and Miel’s amusing antics, and to the very low water level of our little stream, well, I decided I didn’t have to whine about wetness anymore. I brought a new simple battery-operated radio (see former post about radio problems) and it has brought music back into our daily lives – as well as a connection to the news of the world, including the amazing rescue of the 33 miners in Chile. They say that a billion people were watching or listening to the rescue operation – what a nice thought, that so many people across the globe would be focused on something that is positive, not warlike, and has nothing to do with sports.

And as I write this from the shelter of the rancho, our first day of east coast rain has come – beginning with a thunderous pouring in the night and lingering as a mellow shower all day long. Our gasping little stream has swelled again, its renewed current rushing along its banks, washing nature’s refuse back out to the sea, the moisture triggering a brighter twinkle in the green eye of the forest,  and cleansing our sun-baked souls. Ah, what a sweet rain it is.

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I’m back down in the hammock in Cahuita sharing my last weeks in paradise with Roberto. We are in talks with the neighbors about buying the property across his moat, the Quebrada Suarez, a process that is a little confusing, a little frustrating, but we survive knowing that in the end whatever happens, we’ll be fine. I returned to the Caribbean last week after close to three weeks in Monteverde, taking care of the apartment and Miel the cat, spending time with Wolf, and listening to as much music as that prolifically melodic mountain could provide.

When I first arrived in Monteverde in 1990, I lived for a few months with the Villegas family – Yolanda and Mario and their kids Sylvia, Johnny, Diña, Dana and Daniel – even though half of them weren’t born yet -as they were beginning to build their Pension Manakin in Cerro Plano. This year, I needed a place to stay for a few nights before the apartment was ready, so I got a room at a great rate and witnessed firsthand what the family has done in twenty years of work.

The Manakin Lodge is a friendly modern large-roomed pension, with one balcony facing the forest, another facing the community where one can witness what has grown up around it in these last two decades. Their prices are very reasonable and the family continues to offer warm service, delicious breakfasts and a comfortable ambiance. Why anyone would stay at the large Hotel Establo when they can stay in a cozy family-run lodge I will never truly understand. The Establo has spread like an out of control disease up the hillside and you can now see its lights burning all night from as far away as the Pan American Highway. It has four restaurants within its borders – as close to an all-inclusive-type resort as Monteverde will ever get I hope. It doesn’t feel like sustainable tourism to me. 

While in Monteverde, I did four slide presentations for the community about Bosqueterno S.A. I was honored to play a part in sharing this incredible history of what I believe is the first nature reserve in Costa Rica, (http://www.bosqueternosa.wordpress.com), a country now internationally known for its national parks, biological preserves and wildlife refuges. In many places, this little country seems to be a great big untamed jungle and it feels that perhaps there is still land that doesn’t “belong” to anyone; however, as Roberto and I work out the deal with the neighbors here, one is reminded that every inch of this earth is “owned” by someone who probably has plans for it. The family who is selling their inherited land next door told us that another big chunk of their property, just a couple hundred meters away from Roberto’s isolated homestead, is expected to be bought by a man who wants to put in a large hotel and golf course! Karamba! That’s a scary thought. They paved paradise…and we all know the rest of that song.

 If you’ve been reading this blog, then you know that I indulge in as much live music as I can manage. Everywhere I live, everywhere I go, music is there. From a community stage in a shady park, to a smoky room with tortured souls uttering sorrowful lyrics, on the streets of a foreign town of gyrating dancers, or in fine halls echoing with hundreds of years of choruses of hallelujahs – it doesn’t matter, music is alive and well and keeping us connected. The last month in Monteverde, I was blessed with a huge array of great music and lots of opportunities to dance.

It was the season of the Monteverde Music Festival. The community always made its own music and supported visiting artists – the Trostle family built the Casa Sunset and intimate gatherings were held there. The Music Festival began as a community-run event back in 1992 when Margaret Adelman (a multi-artistic Canadian with many years living in Monteverde) began a four-month festival, bringing classical musicians from San José to the Villa, a building with a stunning view over the Nicoya. Three nights a week the music-loving community would make the trek up the steep hill to hear these concerts and watch the sunset. The next year, Margaret moved the concerts to her nephews’ hotel, the Fonda Vela, where it stayed for a couple of seasons. As the years went by, different people took over the management of the festival and the venue continued to change. Any money gained from the festival was used for music programs and instruments in the area’s schools.

Patricia Maynard and her son Mark

In ‘98 and ‘99, Patricia Maynard took over the direction of the festival and brought in a wider range of music, reflecting the tastes of Costa Ricans and younger foreigners who weren’t as interested in classical music. The concerts were held in the Monteverde Institute’s new building. I worked with Patri for those two years, managing the home that housed the musicians. We ran close to seven weeks of nightly concerts each year. I describe my job as doing everything or anything for the musicians during the 22 hours that they weren’t on stage – then I could just enjoy the music. It was a lot of work, but also the best investment in volunteer hours I’ve ever given. I became friends with many of the talented musicians and their families and feasted on a wealth of delicious music – both Costa Rican and international. One of the highlights was when Ruben Blades came up the mountain with Editus – an interesting, dynamic man with a gift for gab, a sharp political mind, and a soul for salsa – and he did his own dishes!

In 2000, the Monteverde Music Festival ended up in the hands of a committee organized by the Monteverde Institute and eventually petered out. In the early years of the new millenium, Gloria Waissbluth., a former director of the Costa Rican symphonic youth orchestra now living in Monteverde, held concerts in the Galerón Cultural Centre, a small hall in Cerro Plano. At the same time, Patricia Maynard built Bromelias Café and Amphitheater, an outdoor acoustically-lovely stage set inside the flower of a bromeliad’s bloom, and continued holding concerts as well. She also has an intimate indoor stage in the cafe. The Galerón is now closed, but the Amphitheater continues to burst with live music. So the Monteverde Music Festival continues – even though its direction may change, its purpose of bringing top quality music to Monteverde remains.

Machillo and Ricky

Alan Calvo

 

This year, Patricia had a great roster with a variety of musical genres. She was aided by her son, Mark, home for a few  months from studies in Argentina and his friend Ricky. I’ve watched Mark grow from a little kid and always been impressed with his ability to help…he is now a young man with the ability to multi-task while smiling and has become a stage technician not only for his mother but for large concerts held in the big city. The sound team for the festival was mainly Mechas (a musician who plays regularly in Monteverde) and another guy. Patri also gets perennial help from her sidekick Alan Calvo, another sweet human being who can do just about anything and maintain that smile on his face.  

Kumary and Johnny

From Miami, our rasta friend Johnny Dread returned with his Tico-musical friends and brought some roots reggae back up the mountain. It was a windy cool wet night, but Johnny warmed us all with his sweet soul and truth speaking. Kumary Sawyers, the singer from Costa Rican reggae band, Kingolovers, and Sergio Camacho of Unity joined him as they have before.

I had a chance to see Martha Fonseca, a singer with a large repertoire, who has traveled the world and sang with many. As with so many of the Costa Rican musicians, she has a Tico humility about her with a voice as diverse as the land. Nice woman, lovely voice. 

My friend Veronica Zumbado came with the group Alma Gitana – flamenco guitar, sorrowful lyrics, contagious hand clapping and Alejandra, the sharp-heeled flamenco dancer. A hot night that brought your blood temperature up. The neighbours told me that they didn’t hear the music, but the staccato sound of the dancer’s shoes kept their hearts pounding.

A couple of nights later was a show with Humberto Vargas followed by the Latin-American Idol runner-up, Maria José Castillo.  I’ve met Humberto before – he is a humble, amusing, and talented singer-songwriter as well as guitarist. He played with percussionist Chinny, charming the audience and reminding me of why I like him. The amphitheatre was full this night, testament to the commercial appeal of Latin American Idol just like the big brother Idol in the north. I can’t say I was overly impressed with Maria José – she sang with a soundtrack, not live musicians, and only brought four songs to Monteverde – then when the crowd demanded an encore, she was at a loss for what to do. Of course, I think she’s only eighteen.

Humberto joined her for the last song of the evening which was a well known song though not by me – he played it on the guitar and she sang and finally I saw a bit of her natural talent, unfettered by production. The machine of the monster called Idol was apparent, but it brought the local Ticos to the show, and if that’s what the people want….

Me, Milton and all

There were many concerts that I didn’t get to see but the last two of the series were both spectacular. One was Maestro Milton Mascriadi – a professional contrabassist from the University of Georgia who plays internationally and was visiting Costa Rica. He arrived with a professor from the University of Costa Rica and eight of their students from both schools. It was magical seeing eight huge double basses on the stage – one of them a 320-year old beauty from Italy. El Maestro was charming and very talented, his fingers playing over that big bodied bass as if it was a tiny violin. The encore of the show was a piece for bass and violin, played by two of the students, and it was memorable. The night was gorgeous, though a little damp for the stringed instruments, with mists wafting through the open amphitheatre. Pure magic.

That evening the music continued inside with Parque en el Espacio, the acoustic version of a latin rock band. With a bonfire outside, Bromelias is a great place to spend an evening, especially when the music is fine. The highlight of Parque for me was the “hang”, the inverted steel drum instrument from Switzerland – I heard them played in a back alley in Barcelona last year – a haunting sound with a versatility that relies on the player’s prowess. 

The last night of the Festival was Costa Rica’s Celtic band, Peregrino Gris. Frequent visitors to Monteverde over the years, these multi-instrumentalists never fail to move the crowd. They are extremely likeable gents with big talent on a variety of instruments. Rolando, their violinist, was out of the country, but Rodrigo, Carlos and Eduardo with his bagpipes played their jigs, reels and soulful instrumentals with the same heart as always.

Costa Rica has a wide range of music and the Monteverde Music Festival has always been a great showcase for it. The schools have benefited both from the festival and from the arrival of excellent teachers who bring their talents with them. Right now there are three teachers at the Friends School – Jonathan Ogle, Heather Gosse & Tricia Wagner – who have added to the musical celebration through theatre, music and dance. Tricia’s latest big production was the musical Grease, performed by the Grade 7 and 8s at the Friends School, but she can be heard singing and playing guitar and reciting poetry all over the community, including at Bromelias open mic nights.

I once said to Heather that she probably never imagined when she took the job teaching here in Costa Rica that she would have such a big opportunity to play her violin with a variety of professional bands. With her husband, Jonathan, a cellist, she can be found not only playing, conducting the Kitchen Sink Orchestra, and singing, but the two of them have led the English country dances on alternate Saturday nights when it isn’t square dance night at the Friends School. I grew up square dancing but these elegant dances with delicate steps and lovely movements were new to me. Following the very organized and clear instructions of Jonathan and Heather brought order to a room full of many debutantes and brought a whiff of Jane Austen to the room. Jonathan also proves that you can keep order by speaking in a “small voice” – everyone stays very quiet just to hear you – a technique I need to try some day.

It isn’t unusual for Monteverde to be visited by touring groups and choirs, and Yale University has supplied a few of these over the years. This year is was a female acappela group called Proof in the Pudding who gave a couple of performances for the community. The chance to travel up that beautiful green mountain and perform for very appreciative audiences must be as great a pleasure for the visitors as it is for those of us receiving them.

Doug, Tucky, Ron and Arden

And lastly, there was the flowing of honey while I was in Monteverde. I was visited by my friend Tucky, whose daughter is married to a man named Honey in Canada. I was also visted by my friend Ron Honey and his wife Arden and their friend Doug – we all had a great time, and the two Canadian Honey families were joined over dinner, trying to make connections around this rather unique family name though they aren’t sure what the relation is. The next night, Martha Honey, a journalist (famous for a book written with her husband about La Penca bombings in Nicaragua back in the 80s) and expert on eco and sustainable tourism, arrived to show a couple of short documentaries on the perils of corporate tourism on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

I enjoyed spending time with all these Honeys – and appreciated the underlying message that Martha brought with her – as in so many other things in life, small is beautiful, community is sacred, a healthy environment is irreplaceable. Costa Rica still has it all, I hope they never lose the green magic nor the music that is a big part of that.

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.

The blog life is certainly not the blaaaahg life…time goes by so quickly I’m mildly shocked when I look and see that close to two weeks have passed since my last post. Perhaps I should be making excuses, but really there are only two – I haven’t sat down and written – Just Do It! goes the post-new-year dieter’s mantra – and I’ve been preparing for the birth of a second blog which I got up and running today. May seem a bit traitorsome to some, a little narcistic to others (I mean, how much more could I have to say), but the second blog, at http://bosqueternosa.wordpress.com is the culmination of a writing project I’ve been working on for a few months for the Bosqueterno S.A. organization here in Monteverde.

Rather than explain that too much (since I have spoken about Bosqueterno and my writing job numerous times on this blog) , I’ll ask you to go there and check out the sweet newness of it, the innocence, the hope lingering in its postlessness. And, as the first little communique pleads, make a comment, ask a question, request something – anything! It’ll be so exciting for those of us behind the wordpress dashboard to get an early response.

I’ve been getting all my little cloud forest ducks in a row waiting to put together the blog – write the script, get approval from the Bosqueterno board, find the pictures, focus, sign up for blog (with its many design decisions to be made) – the next step is to keep filling it in with all that approved written fodder, and then to prepare a powerpoint presentation. This is meant to accompany the blog, teaching local guides, teachers and Monteverde Reserve employees about the unique history of the Bosqueterno S.A. land that has been left in the wet dust of the Bosqueterno de los Niños, a more well-known local reserve owned by the Monteverde Conservation League, and the big Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve that leases the Bosqueterno land. Now that I’ve got lots of photos digitalized, the rest is just writing, posting and editing, and eventually speaking, which is the easiest part for me.

In the meantime….

Went and saw Costa Rican rocker Pato Barraza – at our new fav bar Mata ‘e Caña – was a good night of latin rock, a bitta reggae, seeing some friends…will head out again tonight, after I finish this, to do some salsa dancing with Roberto and the local band, Los Maletines – who play a very sweet Cuban salsa and more. Roberto is still here, tho we keep talking about him leaving, but now that the weather on the mountain has got calmer, hotter, and sunnier, he’s loath to go…but the day will arrive soon. In the meantime, bailamos!

I spent a wonderful evening at my friend Turid Forsyth’s with two German friends of hers, Sepp and Reto. They are keen hikers and so I shared some of my hiking knowledge of the area, made some recommendations on how to get over to the volcano Arenal by foot – if you have a few days and the equipment, you can walk the Tapir Trail that Wolf created (which appears in the last chapter of Walking with Wolf); or you can go over to the Monteverde Conservation League’s San Gerardo Research Station, spend the night keeping an eye out for a good nocturnal lava-lit eruption from the volcano, and then keep walking down to Lake Arenal, but permission from the League is necessary – you pay for your room and board at the station which is inexpensive. The problem arises when the League insists that you have two guides to accompany you on your hike through their land to the lake. When Sepp and Reto went to set this up, there weren’t two guides available and the League wouldn’t allow them through without.

So option three is to go to the Mirador, on the far side of Santa Elena, and hike on the horse trails there. Which is what they did in the end, making the trip down to the lakeside in five hours. If the weather is good like we’ve had these days, you are blessed with a spectacular scene, the lake and volcano right in front of you all the way.  

Over the years, the volcanos here in Costa Rica have done some damage, and there have been some nasty earthquakes as well, but while this sweet world spins around us with a minimum of pain these days, elsewhere people are really suffering. That incredibly destructive earthquake hit Haiti this last week – not just one assault, but a few – and so for a few short moments, the world’s sympathy, money and thoughts are with the Haitians. One must ask how one half of a small island could sustain such injury while the other half, the Dominican Republic, could  escape basically unscathed. One must ask how much more pain and destruction one colony of people can survive – even a people as strong as the Haitians – descendants of slaves who stood their ground against the huge powers of the time (France, Spain, Britain, the US) to become the first independant black nation in the western world.  And one must ask if there is any justice, truly, in this world.

I’ve been following on the internet (since we live without television – only Costa Rican papers, which tend to be rather lightweight, and radio, which Roberto feeds on) – and I have to say I’ve learned a new appreciation of Facebook – which can be seen as an addiction, a kind of social drunken cyber-cocktail party without the juice, as a never-ending game of mind-wasting solitaire, as many things –  but what it has shown me lately is that it is an agent for sharing information – especially the kind that the mainstream media doesn’t indulge in. Marshall McLuhan, famous Canadian media theorist from the days when the reality of what television would really mean one day was just  mist on the horizon, said that the medium would be the message… and that what we were fed and how we were fed it would influence our collective thinking. That has definitely come to pass, and now the Facehood, amongst other cyber-social-networking schemes, has brought us the ability to share information that the powers don’t want to necessarily give us, which the media isn’t telling because they are owned by corporations with agendas. Alternative media may not be the absolute truth all the time either, but it gives us the sensation of a little thorn in our sides, poking, making us question – just what the hell is going on? And giving us the opportunity to dig deeper, just like the old Mother Jones, New Internationalist, and Utne Reader mags of yesteryore.

Some of us are drawn there naturally, some of us have to be provoked. As long as we continue to question authority, at least we might arrive somewhere where truth prevails. Not necessarily, because truth can be ethereal at times, but we each have the ability, and the source, in our hearts to search for it.  And from there, if we are paying attention, and have the luxury of choice in our lives, we can choose to follow the road that feels right – or turns left. Hold on to the light, Haiti, hopefully the help that is coming your way will be without strings or strong ropes attached and will help you not just rebuild, but be stronger than ever before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you feeling the headache setting in yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 2018
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