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I’m still here in Chepe (San José in Tico talk). It would seem that I’ve just about moved in with Edin and Lorena and their pride of cats – a lovely family to spend time with but I hope I’m not overstaying my welcome. I’m constantly amazed by Edin’s flowing creative process, Lore’s generous spirited companionship, and the dynamics between the five felines. We had a concern a week or two ago that I was developing an allergy as I was sneezing uncontrollably when Frijolito, the blank panther, would come and curl up beside me. In the end, it must have been something else, thank goodness, as he is purring beside me as I write this and I haven’t sneezed in days. I love animals too much to have to avoid them.

I am very happy to report, for those of you following the story, that Walking with Wolf has sold like fireworks on the fourth of July at the airport here in Costa Rica! We were only about twenty days into a thirty day trial when Café Britt sent me another order for books! So if anyone reading this bought a book at the airport in these last weeks, or suggested someone do that, thank you very much! I only know of one person, my friend Raymond, who not only bought a book but made quite a scene regarding the value of the tomb to fellow shoppers, so it makes me even happier thinking that perhaps it was strangers (not planted buyers) who went into that big bright souvenir store and chose to spend a few of their precious dollars on our book! We are very pleased.  

Meanwhile Lester, the editor of the Spanish version of Walking with Wolf, and I have been working together at least a couple of days a week…I wish it could be more often but he is too busy. When we do get together, we work for many hours and so have made our way through half of the book and hope to finish this week. I am learning more intricacies of Spanish as we go but I suspect that I am like nails-on-the-chalkboard of his linguistic mind for poor Lester with my funky use of the language.

I can happily report that Wolf just keeps improving. I talk to him and Lucky regularly and will be going up to Monteverde next week to see for myself. Apparently he is walking, perhaps not as far as he would like, but steadily. I know that he has managed to get out to the Ventana, the famous lookout a few kilometres into the Monteverde Reserve. His pal Jim Richards took him up and the Reserve drove him out in one of the vehicles, but he must have walked a ways too. Our friend Wolf is a miracle machine…he always was, as anyone can attest who has tried to keep up to him on the trail. But now he is arm wrestling with the future….and winning!

The other project I’ve taken on is getting some dental work done. Costa Rica is getting known for “medical tourism”…people like myself, without insurance, coming to have various treatments or operations that are available at a more reasonable cost here than in our homelands. In my case, I’ve been aware for some time that I need some crowns and so finally bit the bullet (well, not literally or I’d have even more broken teeth) and took the ol’ proverbial gondola down the root canal. My question is…when did they start making this stuff painless? I have had one tooth done (waiting for the permanent crowns till all 4 teeth are ready) and haven’t suffered at all. I would recommend my dentist (Edin’s niece) to anyone and the price is soooo right.

Needing to recover (?) from my first tooth challenge, last week I went up to the hot province, Guanacaste, to see my friends from Canada, Patti, Leo and his sister Tucky. Tuck has been living in Costa Rica about a year and has a lovely little casita not too far from the beach in the small community of Playa Hermosa on the Pacific Ocean.

This beach has always been one of my favourite sunny spots in Costa Rica. One of the reasons I love it is that it is in a bay that gives you very protected water. You can swim and float without getting knocked over by waves, though there are big enough swells to body surf when the tide is coming in. We were there a week after the Japanese tsunami and during the days of the “super moon” and the waves were enormous, bigger than I’ve ever seen on Playa Hermosa. A boat trying to land on the beach almost killed a man when it was carried higher and further than anticipated by the huge waves. The man, a beach vendor, had the wherewithal to dive under the boat and survived almost unscathed. Swimming was out of the question during high tide.

The beach and community are not very big and up until recently have maintained a very laid back and undeveloped character. I’ve visited a lot of places in Costa Rica over twenty-one years and seen communities change, sometimes so much that you hardly recognize the place. Up until this year, I felt that Playa Hermosa was avoiding what seems to be the inevitably big transformation that comes with development despite being the closest beach to the Liberia International Airport. I suppose the retarded “progress” is due to the limited size of the beach and the restricted availability of water. Guanacaste is a desert in the dry season and the huge neighbouring developments of Papagayo, Riu Guanacaste and others have taken more than their share of water and utilities. Residents and businesses in P. Hermosa and surrounding communities have had their water shut off at times so that these big resorts can have a steady supply. This injustice has created tension between locals and the corporate hotels and one can only wonder what the future will hold.

I am always blown away when I see the size of the houses being built  – each one loaded with air conditioners and bathrooms and surrounded by lush green gardens and sporting a swimming pool – covering the tinderbox hillsides along the Guanacaste coastline. People want views, they want sun, they want the sweet life – in a totally unrealistic world where water is only going to become more limited and electrical demands need to be met somehow. We search for answers to the most recent round of nuclear-fears while conservation and solar power are treated like remote possibilities by so many. I have always stayed in small hotels that are right on the beach and could only see the development when I’m floating in the ocean and looking back beyond the palm trees, up into those cactus covered hills.

This time I stayed with my friends in a small cluster of casitas at the base of the hills that are surrounded on all sides by development. On our way to the beach, we would pass two “high-rise” condo buildings built since I was there four years ago. We also walked past several buildings – condos and fancy strip-type malls – that were stuck in mid construction or just sitting completely empty. Beyond its gorgeous sandy beach and established inns, Hermosa has taken on a look of decaying decadence.

On the beach itself, the government came a couple of years ago to deal with the 50 meter law…which states that all building on the coastline of the country is, by law, required to be back 50 meters from the high tide line. Everywhere in Costa Rica this law has been broken with seaside hotels, restaurants and homes sitting as close to  the water as physically possible. In Hermosa, the government got busy and had buildings, pools, gardens and fences removed that had sat for decades within that limit. That has made a major change on the beach. There is now a palm tree lined path to walk along at the top of the sandy beach and properties have shrunk. Years ago we stayed at the Playa Hermosa Inn with its pretty garden and small swimming pool, and now there is no pool and only a remnant of the garden remains (along with Gladys, the last of the employees who ran the place, as economic times have been very tough in P. Hermosa – she now does the work that used to be done by three).

We had a fantastic dinner and a great night of music at the Hotel Villa del Sueño. Owned by some talented musicians who came years ago from Quebec, they have got the fine art of hospitality down. Our dinner was excellent, the service impeccable, but the best part of the evening was the band – beginning with a Costa Rican guitarist and singer sweetly crooning Latin love songs and growing into a seven- piece band playing some great arrangements of covers of Latin, reggae and rock songs…with enthusiasm and joy. Excellent musicians. Highly recommended!

The other place I can’t get enough of is Ginger Restaurant. Patti, Leo and I went there four years ago when we were together at Hermosa. We went back with Tucky and friends Ed and Rhena for what will remain one of my favourite meals in Costa Rica this year. Ginger is about small portions of creative cuisine that you can share, not big plates of rice and beans with a honking big piece of meat on the side. Although it can be called a tapas restaurant, it is much finer than the tapas I had when in Spain a couple of years ago and much more international. Many ginger infused dishes, por supuesto, with vegetarian options and lovely plates of delicate protein. The restaurant itself is mostly outdoor treetop patio dining with an open bar and twinkly lights. I suppose the menu wouldn’t satisfy someone looking for Texas-size portions, but for those who love to try different flavours presented with charm, this is a must. I can’t wait to go back to Hermosa just to eat at Ginger.

As much as I loved being on the beach and under that beautiful hot tropical sun, my pleasure was as much about being with friends as anything. Patti and I have been amigas since high school. We both went to live in the bush of northern Ontario and so were neighbours (within a 200 mile neighbourhood, Canadian-style) since the early 80s. She and her husband Leo have just completed building a straw bale house that I can’t wait to see when I return to Canada this summer.

Leo and his sister Tucky are two super laid back folks who are willing to do anything, eat anything (except cilantro says Leo) and laugh over anything. Their cousin Rhena and her husband Ed were also good company, full of stories. Great folks to hang with at the beach. Tucky has taken on the care of a half wild cat (quickly becoming comfortable with the domestic world) she calls Minette. The cat lived with a woman who used to live in the house and, when she moved, she took Minette with her to her new home about 10 kilometers away.  I guess the cat didn’t like the change, because she made her way back to her old home (no doubt avoiding coyotes, cacti, and cars) and adopted Tucky as her caregiver. She is one of those cats who seemed very independent up until the neighbours told Tucky that when she was out at night, the cat wandered from house to house complaining loudly. You gotta love cats.

All in all it was a wonderful week at the beach. It was so nice to be with old friends, fellow Canadians, as well as with the other nice folks who own the Papagayo Village (not to be confused with the Papagayo Resort), who happen to be from Washington State where my sister lives. We shared in a big fish feed one night and seemed to talk food a lot. Tucky is a great example of someone living life in a gentle way, trying to be very careful about how she uses water in the house, working on her Spanish so she could get to know more Costa Ricans – you know, the kind of nice woman who cleans the house before the cleaning lady comes. You have to love her. Thanks Tucky, Leo and sweet Patti for everything. Nos vemos a Canada!

April 2014
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