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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!

ON TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN

 

Last night was the apex moment for Walking with Wolf. We’ve hit the summit and start down the backside now. What a night!  Actually what a couple of days before what a night! Global warming causing extreme weather brought near hurricane turmoil to Costa Rica at a time of the year when you just don’t expect this weather. We thought it was going to ruin the celebratory book launch, but in fact it was all perfect, including a last-minute change in the weather. 

 

 It is normally quite still here at this time of the year, unlike November till March when the winds can be ferocious and, minimally, are constant.  But starting Wednesday afternoon it got real blustery, adding extra kick to what was already curtains of rain. Incredible! Wolf, Lucky & I spent the morning hunched around the woodstove, wondering how many people would possibly make their way out at night in this nasty weather. I said that the only people we could count on were the forest guards and the maintenance guys from the Monteverde Reserve since this is just what they do – go out in whatever the conditions are. So coming through the storm to the presentation, to eat bocitas and drink coffee all the while staying in a dry warm building, is easy for them.  As it turned out, they were the one group who didn’t show up.

 

 The rain was coming horizontally with such force that you just can’t stay dry unless you are completely covered in rubber. The old jeep we were using to carry the books from the house down to Bromelias Music Garden was almost as wet inside as out, the water entering wherever it could. Antonio Guindon’s wife Adair was driving me and the books down at 2 p.m..  At 12:30 water was everywhere – puddles consolidating into rivers, a downpour of rain that was also a sidepour, and the humidity hovering as a heavy mist that kept things wet even when the faucet turned off for a few minutes. I was thoroughly soaked just running out to the barn. I wrapped the three boxes of books in plastic and kept hoping that the rain would subside when it was time to go.  And, miracle of miracles, it did!

 

At about 1 p.m. as we took the bagged boxes out to the vehicle and wrapped them in a dry tarp inside the jeep, the frequency of the raindrops definitely lessened.  By the time Adair and I got to Bromelias and unloaded the boxes shortly after 2, we were only working in heavy mist.  By the time people started coming around 5, even the mist was lighter. The winds stopped sometime mid-afternoon and by evening, it was just a thin fog that was blurring the night air, deadening the sounds, bringing serenity.

 

It had been such bad weather that roads were washed out, people’s houses shifted – the newspaper was filled with stories of landslides and flooding throughout western Costa Rica. So even with the change in weather, many people wouldn’t be heading out after such a harsh day. However about seventy-five did and together we enjoyed a warm and cozy night in beautiful Bromelias.       

 

My friend Mercedes at the Reserve helped me put together about 180 photos that we projected from my laptop – those from the book, other old pictures I had scanned that didn’t make the book, pictures from our hikes, many of Wolf, a few from Canada or the beach thrown in.  These ran constantly as a backdrop through the evening. Russell Danao played his beautiful vibraphone – high-end marimbas. He played at the Havana Jazz Festival this year. He kindly accepted our request to grace the evening with his music. As people came out of the fog and into the amber light of the room, they took their seats and watched the slideshow and listened to Russell’s jazz-toned and classical vibras. 

 

People brought bite-size food and sweets, we had coffee and juice prepared, and Patri had the bar open, though this wasn’t a drinking crowd. We set up a table with a buncha books, it looked great, all those little Walking with Wolfs piled there. To introduce the evening, I had asked Mark Wainwright, our friend who read an early draft of the book and gave me valuable editorial comments. He is an artist, biologist, teacher and writer himself – and in many ways has mentored me (younger pup that he is). It meant a lot to me that he would introduce the evening.  He didn’t really want to do it – doesn’t like being on stage though he is great – and had very firm plans to go off onto the trails looking for the elusive golden toad or any other amphibian he could find.  Since the rains started, it is prime frogging season and Mark is a frogger who has already found two missing species thought to be extinct. So he wasn’t going to be able to be at the presentation. Then due to the extreme weather, he didn’t go into the forest. Mark did a wonderful, funny and super kind introduction to the book, Wolf and myself.  Then Gary Diller, one of the story tellers in Walking with Wolf, read a poem about Wolf that he had been inspired to write yesterday in all that rain. It was a nice addition to the evening.

 

Wolf got up and very emotionally talked about the beginning of the concern in the community for the forest.  He reiterated the thought that “all those who wander are not lost,” his mantra. I was amazed how well he got through talking, as I knew he was fighting those ever-ready Guindon tears. He then passed the microphone to me and I said my little piece – that we hoped to have a Spanish translation in the works, and I apologized for any discrepancies with how community people remember the events we discuss, and I thanked people who were there for their contributions – then I read some pages from the book. It all felt real good, the people were wonderful, and the whole night just rolled out smooth as pie dough.

 

We sold about sixty books and I knew there were many people missing who have said that they would buying in quantity. Mary Stuckey Newswanger bought ten books and then handed me a copy of a book that she has been working on with her brother – she and I have spent a lot of time at the side of the road talking about our books over the past couple of years. At the end of the evening, people were able to walk out into the misty night air without getting soaked.  Patri and I went to Moon Shiva, our pal Nir’s place, for dinner.  Great new chef there, loved loved loved the food – Nir has always run a beautiful restaurant – has for about five years now – but when the chefs change so does the food.  Three guitar players were playing – Irish ex-pat Robert Dean who toured with Sinead O’Connor before moving to Monteverde, and Andres and Bernardo, hot local talent – it was great music and a bit of dancing. Off to Fish’s new bar for some more dancing. Through the night it would hit me every once in awhile – this was the climax of eighteen years of a certain thought, a vague plan, a lasting commitment, our book.

 

 

To finish this hugely long story, the reason the forest guards weren’t at the presentation, considering how much they would have wanted to be there to support their mentor Wolf, was that they were doing what they had to do – that is, go out to help a group of people who were down in Penas Blancas and needed to be assisted to come out of the forest. The vague details are that the guards and maintenance crew had to head out early in the morning in the worst of that bad weather, through the torrential rain and dropping branches, around the mudslides and over the raging streams. They escorted the group across the streams with cables, cleared away tree falls, and carried their packs through the pouring rain and thick mud. They didn’t get out of the forest until after 7 p.m. so they missed the celebration.

 

A few years ago, Wolf wouldn’t have made it to his own book launch – he would have been with the other men doing their job – making jokes, ignoring the brutal weather, helping troubled hikers to get back to civilization, no doubt filling them with hot coffee before they got started. The forest guards are the jungle version of fire fighters – heading into what most people walk away from. I was so sorry they weren’t there, but find the reason quite poetic.     

July 2020
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