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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.

It’s an overcast morning in Cahuita. While torrential rains saturate the rest of Costa Rica, and perhaps most of Central America, it remains relatively dry here. We can hear the thunder rumbling up in the mountains behind us but that doesn’t mean we are going to get wet down here close to the sea. Dry on the Caribbean still means humid, drippy and lush but we are always warm and if we pay attention to the sky as we plan our day, we won’t get caught in the sparse rain showers as we walk to town or collect wood. If we take the umbrella, it’ll probably be used to shield us from the sun more than the rain.

the rancho from a crocodile's viewpoint

Roberto just saw our occasional neighbor, the spectacled cayman, who comes to hang out in the stream several meters from the rancho from time to time. We now are keeping an eye on the shady wet refuge where it hides. I’ve only seen its eye at night, a big green diamond glaring at us out of the darkness, no doubt annoyed by the flashlight. We found some caca on the edge of the water along with the marks that some animal dug around while depositing it. Now we are more curious than ever, as we can’t imagine that a cayman’s droppings look like that of creatures such as racoons, yet we don’t know what animal would have got that close to the water with a cayman lurking close by. Unless it was the cayman itself who pooped there.

when girlfriends mess with ya

I’m used to being able to google questions such as “what does a cayman’s poop look like?” instantly while online. It feels prehistoric to not have the cyber-gods at my beck and call…alas, you can’t have it all.

with my great friends Bob and Kathryn

Although I didn’t write much on this blog while I was in Ontario in July and August, I did have a lot of fantastic times with friends, heard great music, danced a lot and swam as often as possible in the clear cool waters of both Lake Michigan and Lake Ontario. I took lots of pictures and thought I’d sprinkle them throughout this and the following posts with as little comment as possible. After all, I know people like the pretty pictures as much as anything and it’s a shame to take nice photos and not share them.

the divine Ms Cocky

To report on Mr. Wolf, the news is good. According to his son Benito, who I talked to by phone the other day, Wolf is getting stronger, with more oxygen filling his brain and body, and now the problem will be keeping him from overdoing things. He is, as Benito said, getting cranky with his limitations. He will have to get busy or his caretakers will grow less inclined to listen to him. Wolf is definitely not used to having to sit for too long and it has been several weeks now. You know the man is starting to feel much better when he wants to get out and swing his machete again.

With Cocky and the Trickey clan

There was a great response by people to the Monteverde Friends Monthly meeting request for donations to help Wolf take care of his medical needs. The final bill for the pacemaker operation was well over $12,000 (which doesn’t seem like much by North American standards) and they have collected over $15,000. Wolf will have to continue to return for checkups with the cardiologist and these are expensive, so the money collected will continue to be used for his ongoing care, including the cataract operation that is coming up next. Katy Van Dusen, the clerk of the meeting, sent an update and thank you letter. I expect that some of the readers of this blog may have donated money – if you wish to, you still can by reading the letter on my post “Happy 80th Birthday Wolf” which has the details – and I want to also extend my gratitude to those of you who have been so kind as to help the Guindons with these life-saving expenses. May Wolf walk many more miles with the help of that new pacemaker and a better quality of medical attention.

Lori Yates and her gang

 

The sun has poked through the cloud cover and things are heating up. One of my favorite neighbors here is the kingfisher family – I’ve seen five species on our stream from the tiniest American Pygmy to the large Ringed Kingfisher. One of these big noisy beauties just came by, chatting away about who knows what. That is something about life in the tropical forest – there are a lot of outspoken creatures who live here creating an almost constant cacophony of chatter (like a bunch of almost teenage kids), but it is hard to understand what they are trying to say. If I did, then maybe I wouldn’t miss that google thing so much. I bet one of them would be able to tell us who shit in the woods.

 

 

I’m laying on the daybed, sweating in the high humidity, sheltered from both the intermittent downpours of rain and hot bursts of sun, writing on my trusty little super-duper-battery-powered laptop. Below me is a rather stressed out and very large iguana. While Roberto and I were playing dominos about ten meters away, she decided that she wanted to come into our dry home and dig a hole to lay her eggs.

Roberto returned to the casita first and called to me to come slowly so that I could see her. She was caught red-handed in the middle of the dirt floor – and wouldn’t move, not caring if I had run or crawled towards her. We doubt it’s a good idea that she lays her eggs in our house, considering that she could lay about 30 eggs and they take about a month to hatch. That’s a long time to co-exist with a very large iguana, anticipating the arrival of up to thirty more of them!  We saw the marks under the table where she started digging the hole before we showed up. And now she really doesn’t want to leave.

After I took a couple of photos, Roberto tried “to run her” by tossing things at her, but all she did was furiously whip her meter-long tail about. It reminded me of the devil-stick playing that we watched in Bocas at Carnaval in February – though this wasn’t being done for entertainment and Ms Iguana was quite serious. Roberto took a stick and rope and caught her, hoping to take her across the river, but she twisted and turned and struggled and got free – and still didn’t leave. Instead she ran under the daybed and there she has stayed for the last hour or so. Neither of us wants to hurt her, we just don’t think it’s a good idea for her to lay – excuse me, she has just moved out from under the daybed into the middle of the room….

So she made her move and after a couple of serious tail-lashings, perhaps realizing that we were as serious about evicting her as she was about staying, she scurried to the river edge and dove down into the water. She is now resting on the pebbly shore, no doubt wondering what to do next. She must really like the idea of our dry dirt floor for her egg hole. I’m afraid that if we leave to go to town, she’ll have taken up permanent residence here before we get back.  That would be one big iguana problem. How could we possibly throw out a mother nesting on up to thirty little ones? She must trust us, appreciating that we have no desire to hurt or kill her, unlike many who would happily take her for her tasty meat.

I remember being on the other coast of Costa Rica many years ago and going iguana hunting with some local men. I didn’t fully understand what was going to happen, and went along to take pictures, not actually participate in the hunting. The men ran an iguana up a tree and then surrounded it, sticks in hand – I hate to think what the death scene would look like. They proceeded to throw stones at the poor thing until it felt sufficiently harassed and decided to leap from the tree. I’ll never think an iguana isn’t smart, as that scared creature took a look around before jumping and saw the weak point in the encroaching stick-wielding gang, and jumped directly my way and ran like the wind past me, its tail brushing my ankle. Of course, I also jumped and yelled, “Go, go, go…”, while the men looked on with a mixture of amusement and disgust as their meal disappeared. I was never asked to go iguana hunting again.

I’m not sure what species our mama iguana is – she isn’t at all green, more a dark reddish-golden color with a speckled head and a large beard, with red-tipped spines running along her back and a very long striped tail, although I suppose she could just be a Green Iguana wearing a different shade of camouflage (except for her girth, she blends quite nicely with the dirt floor).

Life in the jungle. Now the howlers are all talking in the trees, moaning and groaning about the poor iguana. They’re moving in closer, leaping from low branch to low branch, perhaps also drawn to the comfort of our little dry rancho as another aguacero starts to flow from the sky. There is a sloth in a small tree behind us, lazily chewing on leaves with one eye regarding the scene. The smaller reptiles who regularly live with us – the Central American Whiptail, the Emerald Basilisk, the Four-striped Whiptail and the Yellow-headed Gecko – are sitting on their perches, keeping an eye on this big mother of a dragon, perhaps making bets between them on who will win the struggle. But for now, the party is over, and once again, man thinks he has won…

It has been a glorious autumn here in Ontario. I wasn’t here in the summer, having been down in Costa Rica, but by all accounts it was literally a wash-out. Autumn’s warm sunny days, served up with a minimum of moisture, have helped to bring a bit of balance to 2009. In just over a month, we’ll be in 2010 and though I guess I shouldn’t be counting my chickens before they hatch, I can already hear a busy year crowing.

This is my last weekend here – Monday I’m on a plane bright and early and by mid-afternoon I should be sweet and deep in the arms of Roberto in San José. A few days to chill in the hammock in Cahuita, to check up on the state of the papayas I planted in July, to get my calypso mojo working. Then I’ll be up in Monteverde, working on the history of Bosqueeterno and waiting to hear the first CO-CO-RI-CO of the new year (no doubt supplied by Mr. Wolf.) 2010 is a World Cup year but unfortunately Costa Rica lost her chance to play soccer with the big boys in South Africa. She’s a bit of a deflated hen, her tail feathers dragging. There’ll be some serious consoling to do.

the divine Lori Yates

As I’ve been preparing to leave my Canadian home for about six months, I’ve gone out to hear as much local music as I could fit in, most of it within walking distance of my house. At The Saint’s Tuesday night singer/songwriter gathering last week, my good pal Lori Yates gave an impromptu thirty minutes of new and old songs with an inspired, hilarious monologue. It was perhaps the best half hour of performance that I’ve seen this year.

Carolyna Loveless, Rae Billings, Greg Briscoe, Paul Reimens, Lori Yates

The other singer/songwriters who were out that night – our affable host Paul Reimens, Rae Billings, Shelley Adams and Carolyna Loveless – also rose to the bar Lori set. It was my first time hearing Carolyna and she kicks it. After having a conversation with her over lunch a few days later, I realized that not only has she got big talent but she’s also got this outrageous energy and over-active mind -she could probably take over the world with if she was so diabolically-inclined. I’m ready to see more of her – maybe even in the 11th hour Sunday night when she is performing again at The Saint. Trying to convince myself that I can go out and still get up at 4:30 Monday morning to get to the airport. I can always sleep on the plane. 

Another night I headed out with friends to see local blues guitarist Steve Strongman in a new venue outside of town known as The Barn. Music producer and drummer, Dave King, built this as a place for him and his friends to play and record music and now he has started a concert series. Steve was the first show and it was an beautifully intimate place to see a great performer. The backdrop for the stage is one of the phenomenal metal creations by local artist, Dave Hind.

Mike McCurley

We finished off that night with a trip back to our local pub, Fisher’s, who was celebrating their 16th anniversary with the regular band, the Sugardaddies. It’s lucky to have such a friendly crowd and hot band guaranteed for dancing only two blocks from home.

Dallas Good

 

 

The grand finale to these rocking episodes of local music happened last night when I went to see a band from Toronto, the Sadies. The Sadies are in part the sons of one of my favorite bands from many years ago, The Good Brothers. The fathers, uncles and friends played a high-energy bluegrass and I spent a lot of time as a teenager at local bars and festivals dancing to them. The next generation has moved the bluegrass into a punky rockabilly lotsa riffs and a rock wall sound. I can see that the Good family’s musical genes haven’t been lost, just amped up.

Andre Williams, Trevor Good

In 1999, the Sadies recorded an album, Red Dirt, with a cat from Alabama,  André Williams. Mr. Williams has been making music since the fifties, R & B, punk blues and something called sleaze rock. He’s in his 70s and still has a cool stage presence. His stylin’ shiny blue suit and shoes fit the Sadies’ metallic blues that accompanied him. They performed songs together from several decades, including some great raw numbers from the 40s. I doubt that a song called Jailbait, one of Williams, is politically correct these days, but the men in the crowd seemed to identify as Andrew growled out the lyric about the temptations of the forbidden underage fruit. It was a night to shake yer money-maker and I did.

I spent a couple of days down in the Kingston area. I took Walking with Wolf to the Kingston Field Naturalists and had a wonderful evening with them. Told Wolf’s story to an interested crowd, sold a few books, was treated to a beautiful dinner at Aroma’s Café (highly recommended) and visited some friends in the area.

It’s necessary for me to get out in the Canadian countryside, balancing out the gritty urban life of my home in the industrial wasteland.

James Isaac Hendricksen

Here in the Hammer, I ran into my friend, Isaac Hendricksen, a musician from the Caribbean island of Nevis who lives locally. We had coffee one afternoon with Larry Strung, the brilliant photographer behind the Hamilton 365 project that I have written about before – he shared with me this photo that he took of us. Isaac writes songs of peace and love, lullabies for the soul. It was wonderful to see him, and absorb some of his wisdom regarding the intricacies involved in balancing the cultural weights in my relationship with Roberto. It’s a challenge to put together two genders, two histories, two cultures, and make it stick, even with the soldering glue of love. But I gotta tell ya, I’m anxious to be taking up that challenge again soon.

The three months since I returned here have gone by quickly. What a beauty season too – the glorious fall, the finale of the year. The Hammer continues to amuse – the music scene expands, the James Street North art crawl explodes, a new creative energy has taken over from the dying steel pulse that has driven this city for a century. I have a lot planned for the coming months in Costa Rica, but hope to spend next summer here in my home, in the fiercely proud north end of Hamilton. I’ve got to get control of the jungle that has consumed my yard during the last two summers . While I’ve been hanging out with the monkeys and the Rasta and the Wolf in Costa Rica, the vines have taken over. Even though I hate leaving my Tico friends behind when I get in that northbound plane, thank goodness I don’t ever mind returning here. If the key to a good life is finding a happy balance, then smokestacks and strangler figs, black leather and brown skin, punk guitars and tribal drums – these are but a few of my favorite things, all taken in equal measure.

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