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Here in Monteverde it’s the rainy season, but who said the weather is normal anywhere in the world anymore? The green mountain is no exception – after weeks of December/January type weather (tumultous wind, blowing rain, chilly), we are now in “puro verano”, that is summertime. The sun is shining and hot, the wind is casual, the moisture level at a monthly low. Thank goodness.

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This gorgeous climate has provided some beautiful final days for me. I’ve been squeezing in as many activities as possible before I go – first back to Cahuita for a couple weeks with Roberto and the pleasures of the Caribbean, then home to Canada just in time for our autumnal beauty.

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A couple of weeks ago, a new person walked into my life, one of those cases of the right person arriving at the right time. Caroline Castillo Crimm, a Professor of History at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, came to Monteverde to work on a book that will document the comings and goings in this area – much of which has been recorded in some form or another (read Walking with Wolf) but her book will look at the details of this history, in particular who the original Tico families were, something that is only documented in the government archives in San José.

 Caroline introduced herself to Wolf and me at an event at the Monteverde Institute and charmed us immediately by saying how she had read our book and thought it was “brilliant.” I, of course, immediately thought she was too! Her smile and enthusiasm is contagious. Since then, she has been mentoring me in how to get the book out – convincing me not to put my efforts into finding a distributor or agent, middlemen who will take their percentage while putting the book on store shelves amongst the millions of others. Caroline has written three books herself and knows that the onus will still be on me to publicize the book. So if I don’t mind doing it, she recommends that I spend more time writing to universities, environmental groups, Quaker meetings, etc. and offer my services as a speaker with an interesting presentation and a great book. The catch is I need to charge an honorarium and travel expenses since, as she says, I’m now a professional writer. I’m working on that part. 

So I’ve created an internet announcement that I will send by the thousands when I return to Canada in September. I love to travel and have no problem speaking in public and am, of course, very proud of the book. I’m honored to go out and tell Wolf’s story as well as some of the fascinating history of Monteverde. Caroline has given me a new objective, renewed confidence and a direction that I’m excited about.

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In return, I’ve shared my knowledge of things here with her – over dinner we discussed the Monteverde Music Festival of the 1990s that I was a part of. Last Saturday I took her on a walking tour of Monteverde, showing her where the original families live and telling her some of the background chisma that one can only gather from years of living here and knowing a large variety of people.  We had a beautiful day for this walk, starting out near the cheese factory (where the milks cans were being delivered, some still by oxcart) and walking up towards the Reserve, the “northern” part of the community. I think of the top part of the mountain as “north” since it is inevitably colder than going down to the “southern” part, Santa Elena, where you can find sun and sweat more readily – even though the compass would tell you the absolute opposite.  Maybe it’s a Canadian thing.

plastic house

We stopped for coffee at the gorgeous new home of local biologist, Mills Tandy, another Texan, who is the owner of one of my favorite little abodes, “the plastic house”.  Built with corrugated plastic siding back in the late 1980s, it isn’t any bigger than the modern bathroom in his new home, but for one person, or a very loving couple, it is perfect.  I lived there for a few weeks many years ago and thoroughly enjoyed its remote location in the forest and its very simple layout. Small is beautiful stuff. Mills has recently cleaned it up – because of its deep woods location, it can become a moss-covered relic quickly – and is ready to rent it out again and the place never looked better.

caroline marco

Continuing on to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, we bumped into Marcos, a resident of San Luis, the farming community just below Monteverde, who is an employee of the Reserve and was out doing some road repairs. He is one of the original founders of La Finca Bella project down in the valley of San Luis. Since the 1990s, local families took matters into their own hands and, with some assistance from the Monteverde Conservation League, have worked at creating a sustainable agricultural center for the community, growing coffee and other crops and helping each other survive economically. It has been a struggle but somehow this project, along with other initiatives in San Luis (such as a satellite campus of the University of Georgia), have kept this simple healthy community alive.

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It may be inevitable that tourism is going to replace agriculture eventually – the pressure to move into a tourism-based economy is too strong and the difficulties of a farm-based economy too real – but the families of San Luis continue to face the future with a communal concern and intelligence. They have the volcanic growth of the communities above them – Santa Elena, Cerro Plano and Monteverde – as a good example of what happens if you don’t plan and control the development that comes with the influx of new people and the demands of tourism.

wolf and lucas

Wolf & Lucas Ramirez, former Reserve employee at U of Georgia campus, San Luis

Many of the employees at the Reserve have come from San Luis. I remember being astounded in 1990 at the fact that most of these young men (and a woman or two) walked up from the valley. I’m not sure how many kilometers that is, but I can tell you it is a long, very steep climb. They worked all day at the Reserve and then walked back down at night.

geordy caro luis

Caroline with Yory Mendez and Luis Obando – who I remember walking up from San Luis since 1990

I decided back then that there is a genetic fortitude to the people of San Luis and my enjoyment of this, along with their humble manner and warm smiles, has made it a great pleasure to know many of the families – with names such as Leiton, Vargas, Brenes, Cruz, Ramirez, and Obando. 

hammock

 

Caroline and I visited with friends at the Reserve before continuing our tour by passing through the beautiful bullpen, which worked its magic on her as it does on all, for a quick visit with Wolf and Lucky. Lucky was in the middle of a terrible virus, so we didn’t linger. Wolf was relaxing in the hammock that he hung recently out on their wrap-around veranda overlooking the goats in the field and the Gulf of Nicoya in the distance.

 

ciee

 

We then went back down to the Friends’ school to catch the end of the CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange) group’s final presentations at the end of their two month’s program here. Their professor, Karen Masters, also happens to be my “boss lady” in the Bosqueeterno S.A. work I’ve taken on, and her husband, Alan, who co-runs the course with her, is also the excitable and talented keyboardist/singer in the group Chanchos de Monte, our local British rock band that I’ve written about before (and went to dance to that night).

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We hungrily ate lunch with them and then walked out to the Rockwell corner of Monteverde, past the controversial pig farm that supplies the cheese plant with their pork products, and to see the stunning vistas from that corner of the community. We had a quick visit with Mary Rockwell, another of the original Quakers who arrived in 1951 with her husband Eston. In a matter of minutes, Mary had us intrigued by her many stories. Caroline truly saw for herself the beauty that is Monteverde.

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We ended our tour back at the meeting house to discuss the flower decorations for the wedding that we were all attending the next day. Caroline and I, along with Wolf’s son Alberto and his wife Angelina, offered to take care of that – very pleasant work but someone had to do it.   I am truly appreciate of the help that Caroline has given me – as I said, she arrived just as I needed a new inspiration for getting Walking with Wolf out in the world. She is someone who will only add to the beauty which is Monteverde.  It is all around us, every day. I’ll keep with this theme in the next episode of …………

 

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windy-k 

I am back in the wind, but it is a warm sleepy breeze here in Cahuita rather than the wild winds of Monteverde. The air and the water are both balmy. There’s no wireless connection in this town so I’ve become a little less connected with the bigger world this past week. That’s fine with me. My existence here is basic but rich, slow but always winding my way toward the horizon where the sky and sea meet.

 

 

 

ccahuita 

Costa Rica’s beaches cover almost every imaginable variation. A week ago I was in Manuel Antonio on the central Pacific coast – one of the first beaches to be developed for tourism and definitely one of the busiest. Now I’m in Cahuita on the Caribbean and its charm for me lays in the fact that it hasn’t changed all that much since I first came in 1990. I tend to gravitate to less populated places with a high relax factor and so I fit in well here.

 

 

jeff-at-night

On the other hand, and coast, Manuel Antonio sits at the end of an action-packed seven kilometer road that starts in Quepos, once a fishing village now a busy town handling the commercial side of the tourism trade. The road crawls up and over the rocky cliffs to the beach of Manuel Antonio and its National Park and is filled with hotels and restaurants that can be seen gracing the pages of Architectural Digest or Conde Naste magazines. I’ve managed to stay at a couple of these places over the years just because someone I know knew someone who could get us a great deal, but otherwise I could never afford any of them. The best I can do, as I did with my friends on Valentine’s Day, is walk the road and stop in for a drink in different establishments just to get the feel of their atmosphere and design.

 

 

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Manuel Antonio’s beaches are beautiful – the large white sand beach that fronts the little town, where people can swim but there is also enough wave action for surfers – and the smaller beaches that you must enter the National Park to access. Even though there are a lot of tourists around, you can walk the paths and arrive at the more secluded beaches – passing silent sloths, raucous white-faced monkeys and the rare little squirrel monkeys playing in the trees – the forest that you walk through is alive and diverse.

 

 

sunset

The majority of the tourists seem to like to gather with all the others on the main beach where umbrellas and lounge chairs can be rented. The last time I was in MA it wasn’t like this. But then I never was one to be here often and several years have passed and if there is one thing I know in Costa Rica, it is that change comes fast and furious. Everyone in the area steps up to try to make a living off the tourists – working in restaurants, hotels or tour and souvenir shops or selling their wares illegally on the sidewalks and beach stalls (the vendors all scatter when word spreads that the police are on the way to check their permits.)

 

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Pretty young girls learn how to carry pots and plates on their heads at very early ages and walk the beach selling fruit and snacks until they are beautiful young women doing a good business. And the guys with the great personalities become the great bartenders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

k-in-sarongs

Although tourists coming to Costa Rica are warned about being robbed – definitely a caution not to take lightly – this has actually only happened to me twice in the nineteen years of coming here.  And both situations were identical – I left shoes outside at night and someone picked them up. The first time was at a different beach many years ago, outside of a tent I was sleeping in when the thief left my brand new $100 Birkenstocks but took my friend’s used but nice running shoes. This year I left my sarong and sandals outside of the condo I was staying in and next morning they were gone. Lesson learned (again) – fortunately I was quickly distracted from my loss by a pair of pygmy owls nesting in the tree next to our room – and was able to cheaply replace both the shoes and the sarong.

 

mar-y-sombra

Soak-in-the-sea-days, great food, and nights spent dancing – thus went the days at Manuel Antonio. I spent this little beach vacation with my pals Jeff the crooner (if you throw him a line he’ll have to sing you a verse…)

 

 

randy-food

 

 

 

 

and Randy One-Flop from Hamilton,

 

 

 

 

 

 

kevin

 and Special KKKK-Kevin from New Brunswick. Wonderful men are they all and we had fun. Kevin stayed on in steamy Quepos while Jeff and Randy and I went up to the cool climate of Monteverde.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We spent a beautiful sunny day in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve walking with Wolf. When the sun shines in the cloud forest, you can’t help but feel blessed. Wolf was in good form, taking a new painkiller which makes his walking easier.  He’s been suffering from worn out knees (including a new one) for years.

 

 

 

 

 

boys-on-trail

The day started a little drizzly but turned into a blue sky glimpsed behind the sparkle of the sun on the wet leaves of the forest canopy. We met up with a couple of guys from the United States and ended up selling a couple of books – I tell ya, I’m always working. After Wolf went home for lunch, Randy, Jeff and I continued wandering the trails through the Reserve, glimpsed a quetzal, went out to the red swinging bridge named in honor of Wolf, and onward to the ventana or window with spectacular views east over the Peñas Blancas valley and west over the Nicoya Peninsula.

 

pb-valley

We finally walked home along the Nuboso trail built with wooden “cookies” and block steps through the elfin forest and back to the entrance on the newly-made accessible part. A perfect day spent in the Cloud Forest Reserve.

 

 

That night I finally met up with Leila Trickey – the daughter of my friend Jean who I have written about in earlier blogs (K-Stock and Not So Scary After All). We’ve been playing email tag but finally ended up in the same physical place – Santa Elena. I’ve known Leila since she was about a year old and it has been great spending time with her down here.  She is at the start of a long solo trip through Central America but being a new traveler was glad to touch base with “a local”.

 

leila

Leila is afraid of heights (and I have to say I enjoyed traveling down the mountain in the bus with her more than anyone I’ve journeyed with before – she could barely look out the window at the steep hillsides we were descending without squealing and jumping back in her seat but fought her fear and kept on taking pictures.) Nor did her fear stop her from going out and doing the canopy tour – specifically at Selvatur, your one-stop eco-experience-shopping-mall on the far side of Santa Elena (with one of the best bug collections in the world.) Randy and Jeff headed out in the morning to do the ziplines as well, Randy also prepared to face his fear of height. They all loved it though (that facing-your-fear-and-surviving thing is empowering) and would have gone again if they had the time.

 

volcano

 

We took a taxi a few kilometers further (you can always work a good deal with the taxi drivers around here) just to see the view over Arenal volcano and lake from El Mirador de San Gerardo.  This is one of the most stunning scenes in Costa Rica I think. Yet few people make it out this way to see it or even know about it (or are too busy with all the other Monteverde activities or the weather isn’t conducive to seeing anything but clouds and fog). To have a perfectly clear sunny day to witness this beauty was another gift. Stephen Spielberg, eat your heart out.

 

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We then took a wine and cheese picnic out to the bullpen (a magical pasture that I’ve written about before.) We stayed on until the shadows lengthened and then headed to one of the best sunset spots in Monteverde, the Fonda Vela Hotel. They have a great outdoor balcony that looks out to the horizon. There have been many concerts at the Fonda Vela over the years and when planned well, the musical intermission would be right when the sun was setting. The second half of the concert would be by candlelight in the high ceilinged dining room.

 

leila-pool

 

 

 

 

Now there is a pool table out on the balcony to play on while watching the sun go down.  Just adds to an already great place. (Ms Costa Rica, Leila, in one of her brother Ethan’s designed shirts – check out www.miolacooperative.com)

 

 

 

 

 

sunset-2

We finished our tour of Monteverde tasting a bit of nightlife at Chancho’s Bar in Santa Elena – Randy and I happy to do the dancing, Leila and Jeff soaking up the local culture – the perfect day turned to perfect night by the outdoor fire outside Chancho’s funky little bar. Monteverde shone like a star for us over these days.

 

tree-frog

 

Leila wanted to see the Caribbean so I left my Pacific pals behind and brought her to Cahuita. And here I stay. Always working. Uh-huh. Until next time…   

 

 

 

treetop

 

I’ve settled into my life as a dog nanny here in Monteverde. I’m sure that the three dogs, Chiqui, Betsy and Cutie Pie, must know I’m a dog lover, they can sense it, but they also must wonder once in awhile just who this crazy woman is that their family left them with. Bless their little muddy paws, they have driven me to the point of verbal insanity on too many occasions. I have taken it as my duty to add a little discipline to their lives and have made it my goal to break some of their bad habits by the time Veronica and Stuart return.

roberto-la-negrita 

Cutie Pie, aptly named though I’ve taken to calling her La Negrita, is both a champion football player and a chronic chewer. Whereas the other dogs can be trusted to sleep in the bedroom at night, on their doggie beds, Cutie is confined to the main room of the house where most chewable things have been removed or already chewed up. In the exactly three minutes I helped Veronica carry her suitcases to the driveway to meet the car coming for her when she left last week, Cutie had managed to chew a corner of the wooden arm of the chair she sleeps in.  So then I felt that I had to take the whole chair out of the room, along with everything else. This just seems crazy to me. A dog, even a very cute one, can certainly learn better habits. So I keep a keen eye on her and am all over her when I see her chewing. I also smeared hot chili all over the arm of the chair to deter the behavior. She seems to like it.

 

Betsy, the youngest of the three, maybe seven months old, is a barker and a sharp one at that.  If something gets her started, the barking goes on till I wanna scream which, of course, only adds to the noise. So I keep trying the dog-whisperer techniques (a show I’ve watched when in houses with cable TV), and bit by bit Betsy is understanding that she can do a bit of barking but when I get that crazed look in my eyes and my voice rises, it is time to stop.

chiqui1 

Being a pack of three, if one gets going, they all do. La Negrita is the first to stop, and the elder, Chique, is older and wise enough to back off quickly, but Betsy, well, let’s just say that I hope she ages a lot in the next few weeks. I don’t want to insinuate that I don’t love these little dogs – they greet me with all that canine love when I walk up the path, they look at me with as much tenderness as any man I’ve ever known (well, maybe), and they are quite entertaining when not chewing and barking and jumping up so they can drag their claws down my now-bruised thighs.

 

My best investment in 2009? A thousand colones ($2) for a water spray bottle. Appropriate technology – the only weapon I’ve used in the struggle to great effect.

gerardo-dogs 

Fortunately I’ve had company here – Marilyn and Gerardo from San Ramon/Sarchi were here for a couple days and then Roberto came up from the Caribbean to see Monteverde. I’ve decided that it is a tribal thing going on here – when the dogs outnumber me, they have the definite cultural advantage. However when other humans are here, we collectively have more power.  Bit by bit, the dogs are learning some manners. Less things are being chewed, the barking is slowing down. We’ve all joined in playing soccer with them – La Negrita is a great ball handler and Betsy is nothing if not enthusiastic and will actually bring the ball back once in awhile. An hour of soccer helps to wind these little energizer-bunnies down.

 

trail-tree

When not at home doing the canine shuffle, I’ve been doing the book selling thing all over the area – the local stores all needed more copies of Walking with Wolf. Wolf and I can sell well if seated at the entrance to the Reserve when the tour groups come out of the forest mid-morning. It is fun to sit in the often drizzly, windy weather (we retreat to one of the restaurants when it is really bad) and even nicer on the sunny days under the beautiful tree canopy, with a variety of bird and animal sightings ranging from black guans and quetzals to pizotes, monkeys and olingos. We’ve had wonderful conversations with interested tourists and I’ve made some great contacts for possible future presentations of the book in North America.

 

motmot-top

People report seeing quetzals in the forest but the blue-crowned motmots have been here, there and everywhere. They are a beautiful, simpler alternative to the elegant, elusive quetzal, being one of the friendlier and consistent birds around.

mot-mot

I’d really have to say they are more deserving to be designated the Monteverde mascot than any other bird.

 

I was at a local restaurant to see the inauguration last Tuesday but had to meet the bus at the same time so I missed Obama’s speech (but not the fashions – loved Michelle O’s dress & Aretha’s hat). I’ve seen some lines from it which made me think it was a beautiful beginning to the next stage of life in the USA and thus the world. I’m actually glad I’m not in North America during this period – here on the green mountain I miss so much of what is going on internationally by not having steady access to media and I would just as soon believe that things are going well and not know the details. I’ll be back in the thick of it again soon enough.

 

bullpen-tree

Instead I’ve been wandering around the dusty roads and back trails of Monteverde, filling my soul with the magic of the woods while showing my visitors some of the local highlights. My spiritual center here is the bullpen up on Campbell’s land, a medieval St. Augustine pasture hidden in an open forest where the gigantic trees left standing can stretch their branches wide. Roberto appropriately renamed it the wolfpen when I explained that Wolf had been the main traveler over the years through this hidden park-like land.   

 

The other day Wolf and I stopped in at Historica  Monteverde. This was the dream of Lindi, his former daughter-in-law who passed away two years ago after a long battle with health issues, cancer being the ultimate victor. We talk about Lindi in Walking with Wolf – she was married to Tomás Guindon, Wolf and Lucky’s second son, and was always a strong presence in the Monteverde community. I knew her from early in my time here, and got to know her better when I lived with a university group from Evergreen College in 1995 and she was the Spanish and culture instructor. Lindi was a tall statuesque woman whose robust physicality didn’t suit her chronic illnesses.

mv-map 

The last time I visited with her was a few months before her death, before I returned for Canada, and she was still fighting but already at peace with whatever eventual ending was being designed for her script. Since I had had cancer, she appreciated the frankness with which I spoke (being quite direct herself), but of course, I’m a survivor. It was already clear that she probably wasn’t going to be much longer. One of the things that held her interest until the end was the idea of building this museum of Monteverde artifacts on a corner of her property. Although she didn’t live to see its completion, her daughter, Kayla, saw that it was finished and went on to celebrate its opening at the end of August this past year.

 

At the time, I had a beautiful email from my friend Mary Stuckey Newswanger about what a wonderful day it was, despite torrential rains, when the community gathered to honor the completion of Lindi’s dream, the history of this special place, and the spirit that keeps Monteverde whole. One of the highlights that day, as well as for me on this one, was the very large model map of Costa Rica, apparently the largest in the country. It sits in a pool of water, representing the oceans, surrounded by a fence that spectators can gather up to. A slide show with images collected from all over this beautiful land is punctuated by lights on the topographically-correct map that show where the images are located.

 

volcano-map

 At the end of the show the map’s volcanoes, those magical cones of fire and brimstone that wander down the spine of Central America, are lit up like flowing lava and smoke gushes out. When a door was opened to help clear out the smoke, the haze lifted and swirled and flew off to the horizon, just as you could watch sitting in La Fortuna after the rumble and roar of the Arenal volcano has passed.

 

So good for you, Lindi, but also for Kayla and Robin and everyone else who helped bring this dream to its completion. As someone said to me recently, the fifty-plus year history of Monteverde is expansive, covering about 200 years of progress – it was very much a pioneering community being cut out of the forest in 1951 and is now a pretty modern one regularly receiving international guests and linked worldwide through technology in 2009. 

lecheria

The other day I took this photo of the various methods used for transporting milk to the dairy plant each morning – from the original oxen and cart to the big shiny modern tank truck, all lined up, waiting their turn to unload the stainless steel jugs of fresh milk.

 

cow-jam

Fortunately you can still get held up in a bovine traffic jam in downtown Monteverde. Even with all the changes that have come to the mountain and the immense pressures put on the community by development, Monteverde holds it own when it comes to its charms.

 

leaning-tree

marilyn

Learning how to get along, adapting to change, realizing dreams and appreciating the beauty around us – and bringing a little order to the chaos – the continuing themes of life as it plays out on the green mountain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 2019
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