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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…

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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I’ve started writing this while laying in the hammock – it’s early morning and the heat is beating down the slight coolness that accompanied us in the night. If I try to count the number of types of leaves I can see without moving my head, face turned skyward, I reach twenty shapes and quit counting, the effort a little too much.  Or if I try to isolate the sounds – the voices of the creatures, the frogs, the morning birds, the cicadas – what are all those other insects anyway? – and the sound of a big bushman chopping firewood to get the coffee brewing – well, I get lost in the various layers of songs coming out of this steamy, verdant landscape. The only sound that could be deemed intrusive is the occasional passing of a vehicle on the highway a couple hundred meters through the bush. No matter how jungle-bound one may feel, civilization is never really that far away.

road in

It has been about a week since I last wrote (now two I admit as I finish this), thus my blogological clock is ticking and telling me to write. The time has gone by in a haze of lazy jungle love. From the moment I saw Roberto’s tall dark silhouette outside the airport doors, I felt myself breathe deeply again and knew I had come back to where I should be. When we arrived in Cahuita the next day and walked up the bush road, down the jungle path, crossed the now quiet (yet often fast-flowing) moat that encircles the place, and settled into his rancho nestled beneath the tall Guanacaste trees, I felt like I had come home.

home 1

 

We’ve barely left the place except to get food and to go dancing a couple of nights. The Quebrada Suarez, the twisting stream, provides enough sunning and cooling time that even taking the twenty minute walk to the beach seems like too much work.

 

nightroom

 A woman moving into a man’s domain always shakes things up, so we’ve been “remodeling” – making space for my things, increasing the comfort level, Roberto building rustic furniture as we sense the need – assemblage art it would be called back in Canada.

I brought a minimum of “stuff” with me, being very selective, simple living being one of the things that I truly appreciate about this place. The two most important things are my coleman stove which needs a different connection for the gas tanks here – in the soggy tropical forest cooking with wet firewood can be a full-time affair, not always a bad thing but often a frustrating one – and the components to hook up a solar system. My pal Chuck lent me a small solar panel and I bought the power inverter and now just need to buy a boat battery to get it all working.  With a bit of effort , a few dollars, and a little luck, I should soon be able to write directly on my laptop being powered by that free and easy big ol’ sun, the same beast that keeps us moving slowly and conserving our own energy – unlike the bustling hummingbirds who are zipping about me and the butterflies of all colors who don’t stop their fluttering all day long.

roberto

 

 

However, we haven’t got around to getting the stove or the solar stuff working – as I said, it’s been hard just getting out to buy food.

 

 

 

Instead we’ve been watching the howler monkeys fearlessly leaping about the tops of the fifty meter high trees.  There are moments here – mostly at daybreak and sunset – when the cacophony of jungle life swells to a crescendo before settling back down to a background buzz. It is often the male howler monkey who officially starts the day with his lazy roar – if he is in one of the closest trees it is as subtle as the engine of a Harley Davidson revving outside your bedroom window.

A pair of green and black poison dart frogs lives in the hammock tree (along with at least four different kinds of herps – geckos, lizards et al.)poison dart

Other constantly noisy neighbours are the oropendulas, tropical relatives of the orioles.  Like ecstatic percolating coffee pots, they bubble away while getting food in the treetops and building their long dangling nests.  The last couple of days the squawking parrots have taken over – it seems to me that there is a domestic dispute going on high up in the trees and those loud green birds are really having issues with each other.  Not everyone can be so content in the jungle it would seem.

The other afternoon we spent time watching a King Vulture, a strange sight here in the vibrant green forest – they are more usually seen around open places or where there is rotting food of some kind or circling high in the sky. This guy came and sat down on a branch in the cool jungle, as if pretending to be an exotic quetzal seeking a quiet refuge from its adoring fans. We were laying in the hammock watching him watching us when a weak rope holding Roberto and I finally gave out and sent us to the ground. I swear that vulture had a smile on his waiting beak, always happy to see an accident in progress.

As it turned out, he had his eye on the corpse of a large toad, laying dead in the foliage on the far bank. Who knows what killed it or when, but that vulture knew its worth and struggled to lift it up. This was one of those big cane toads, big enough to fill a coffee pot. It was a fight for the vulture, and he was under pressure when he realized that I was chasing him with my camera, but he managed to get that big carcass up and away before I could get a decent picture.

beach

The humidity has been building around us, night skies are filled with lightning and thunder rumbles in the distance, but not more than a drop of rain has fallen in the now two weeks I’ve been here. The rest of Costa Rica has had wild storms and deluges – the one night we went half an hour down the coast to Puerto Viejo to go dancing where it was pouring – but it remains dry and hot and steamy in Roberto’s piece of jungle paradise.

The country is waiting in anticipation of a big earthquake on the Pacific side and last night the Caribbean coast of Honduras suffered a significant earthquake. One never knows what one will be dealing with here in the tropics – it isn’t all pretty.

I’m now in San Jose with Wolf, awaiting the arrival of the shipment of the second printing of Walking with Wolf – we have all our ducks in a row, the Reserve truck is coming to get us, the money is in the bank, our customs man, Eliecer, is on the job – and the books seem to have got hung up in the same highway closure I did last night on my way here from the Caribbean. So our ducks are about to get scattered again and we will all be winging it. 

limon highway

As I made my way to the city yesterday, having left on the 11:30 a.m. bus, the highway from Limon was closed for several hours, the result of at least ten landslides from the heavy rain.  The workers wouldn’t clear the rocks and earth and trees while the rain was still pouring down and so the traffic sat – me in a dry bus so in no discomfort – but we pulled into the city about five hours later than usual, at 8 p.m. in the dark.  And I expect that is what happened to the books – slowed down by the forces of nature. Like our ducks.

 Once we have those books we’ll be heading up the green mountain and I’ll stay a few days in Monteverde talking book business and visiting friends. It’s nice to be out of the mosquitoes and humidity, but I am already looking forward to getting back down to the jungle next week. After all, love awaits and that is worth a little sweat.flower

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Guaria Morada, the official flower (orchid) of Costa Rica

I’m back up in my perch at the Caburé Café, one of Monteverde’s finest dining spots.  It also happens to have wireless that Bob and Susana allow us to use for free, no purchase required, though over the last couple of visits to Monteverde I’ve enjoyed a fair amount of their wonderful food, hot drinks and delicate homemade chocolate truffles.  It’s a win/win situation, the great view over the trees to Guanacaste a big bonus.

 

roberto

I only have five days left in Costa Rica before heading home to the famous Hammer of Canada.  Ai yi yi! How does it happen so fast? I just returned from a beautiful week on the Caribbean coast, staying at Roberto’s jungle home in paradise. Fortunately the weather of Monteverde finally changed to summer while I was gone.  Now the sun is hot, the sky is blue with only the occasional fluffy cloud, the winds have just about gone completely.

dogs

I’m taking care of Veronica’s three dogs (refer to former posts from January) and I have to say that they have all matured a little in these last couple months. I take no credit except for being the nanny who told the parent that they were outa control.  Veronica took charge and now we are all happy! Even Betsy the crazy has stopped jumping on me. The Dog Whisperer would be proud. Veronica and her son Stuart headed down to the hot Guanacaste coastline for some beach fun while I was still around to dog/house sit. My sincere appreciation goes to her and her generosity in allowing me to stay at the house these last months – and for the pleasure of getting to know her, Stuart and the puppies.

 

Wolf and I presented Walking with Wolf at the Friends Peace Center in San José about a week ago to a small but very appreciative crowd.  I hadn’t done a talk for a few months so it felt good to get warmed up, which I need to be as I head home and start doing presentations within the first week – to the McMaster University Biodiversity Guild in Hamilton. Then I’m off to the northeastern US and have a number and variety of events lined up in Maine, Philadelphia and New York City. I also will be making the few corrections needed in the book and printing another batch as, miracle of miracles, we are just about sold out!

 

with-jim

 

Wolf, Lucky and I also had the great pleasure of being toured around the INBio – the National Institute of Biodiversity – insect collection by Jim Lewis. Jim has a long history in Monteverde as a nature guide as well as an owner of the Monteverde Lodge and Costa Rica Expeditions. In his retirement, he went to volunteer working at INBio’s scientific headquarters in Heredia. We went there and saw the largest collection in Latin America of various families of insects. Besides the beautiful butterflies and the shiny metallic true bugs, we were aghast at the variety and size of some of the more dangerous ones – particularly the torsalos (botflies) that I wrote about squeezing out of my friend’s butt recently – the biologists were most helpful with information to pass on to Roberto about what to do next time one of these nasties bites him – and the wall full of species of mosquitoes.

mosquitoes

 

 

I mean, we all know there are many, and they are pests, but this wall of containers, each one representing a different species found in Costa Rica, sent chills down us.

 

 

The Spanish translation is well on its way. Wolf’s son, Carlos Guindon, up in New Hampshire, is at least half way through the translating. The Tropical Science Center, administrators of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, is financing that part and will see that it is published. We are searching for funds elsewhere to help the process and some of those will come from the Canadian Embassy here in San José. I’ve been in steady contact with José Pablo Rodriguez, the Economic/Political Officer there, who has been more than helpful. My lunch a month ago with him and Stuart Hughes, the Political Adviser, was extremely enjoyable. I’ve had nothing but great support from them in trying to find a way to use money from an initiative fund to help with the Spanish translation. José confirmed yesterday that the money is coming to pay for the art, index and computer work – and today the contract arrived – and I am very appreciative and loving my country a little more than usual.

editus

 

 

I also have had some great musical moments in the last couple of weeks. While still in Monteverde a couple of weeks ago, I saw violinist Ricardo Ramirez and guitarist Edin Solis of Editus playing with Costa Rican singer Arnoldo Castillo. I have known Editus for years and seen them play with a variety of other musicians but had never heard or seen Arnoldo. It was a lovely night of romantic songs from Costa Rica and Latin America which touched me deeply, being enamored myself these days. Ricardo and Edin played several instrumental pieces as well to a very appreciative local crowd who has supported them since they began playing classical music nineteen years ago. My young house friend Stuart has just taken up playing the violin and was gob-smacked watching Ricardo, as I knew he would be.

 

robert-alan

 

Following the concert I ended up at La Taverna in Santa Elena dancing till closing to the Chanchos del Monte, our local rock ‘n rollers, punk etc. band.  Robert Dean (who I’ve written about, former guitarist for Sinead O’Connor) who is known for publishing a bird guide here in Costa Rica, and plays along with a Alan Masters, a university professor, Federico, a professional nature guide, Walter, a taxi driver and Arturo, son of the wonderful Eladio Cruz who we talk a lot about in the book – these guys moonlight as the crazy Pigs of the Mountain and put on a great show of music to jump too.  Allthough I could feel a cold coming on – my belief being that dancing will either cure me or kill me – I was able to go and sweat a lot of it out, though it did continue on to the bad cough that I still have.

 

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I then went to San José for the book presentation and stayed with Edin (of Editus) and his wife Lorena, who always offer me their home and great company when in the city. Lorena is always full of great business ideas and tossed some good ideas at me for fundraising – her motto, think big, act bigger. My friend Leila showed up at the presentation and it ended in time for us to jump in a taxi and head off to see the Tico Jazz Band with my old friend Luis Bonilla, the hottest trombonist in New York City.

 

luis

 

 

Luis played at the Monteverde Music Festival in 1999 when I was taking care of the house where the musicians stayed. We spent three days and nights having fun – him and his wife Luz and the other Costa Rican musicians he had put together for the three nights of concerts – Luis Monge, pianist, Kin Rivera, drummer, and Danilo Castro, bassist. They were the hottest jazz quartet possible and each night they just got tighter and wilder though they had only been playing together for a couple of days. Luis’ energy is through the roof and his playing is impeccable.  We also did some wicked dancing following the concerts – these were three of the best nights of positive energy that I had in two years of working the seven week long music festival of Monteverde.

 

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So to see Luis again after ten years and see that the energy hasn’t diminished, his enthusiasm for the music and improvising with other musicians is still hot and his joy still radiates made me laugh endlessly through the concert. The Tico Jazz Band is made up from young to old musicians and they shone as well. I’m going to go and see Luis when I take Walking with Wolf to New York City at the end of April where he plays regularly at the Vanguard Jazz Club. Danilo,from that hot jazz quartet who I have bumped into in the past few years, was also there, as well as Marco Navarro, another great bassist in the country who I haven’t seen in several years as he’s been in South America playing. He’s back in Costa Rica and playing bass with the Tico Jazz Band. It was a hot night of great jazz and a warm night of meeting up with old friends.

 

the-moat

 

All that city fun was followed by several days in the jungle. The creek (sometimes river) that flows like a moat around Roberto’s rancho was just the perfect temperature for a Canadian.

 

 

howler

The howler and white faced monkeys came regularly and kept us company. I had brought some cuttings, roots and seeds from my friend Zulay’s in San Carlos and we planted what will hopefully be a nice garden. Roberto had doubled the size of the rancho in the couple weeks I was away by adding a roof over the woodfire and kitchen table. The jungle was welcoming and it was hard to leave.

 

caspar-11

 

We returned to the sloth center and delivered some books to Judy Aroyos, the owner, who was very enthusiastic about the book, having her own long history of conservation in Costa Rica. She thought they would sell well as they have a lot of cruise ships come to them from the Port of Limon. I will take any excuse I can to return to this beautiful sloth rehabilitation center (see Kukulas of Cahuita post) and visit with this very friendly woman as well as see the peaceful little furry creatures who are recuperating there. She showed me the babies in the incubators hidden away in their private quarters, each one with its personal story. And we saw Casper, the baby sloth that Roberto’s daughter Gabriella had found and taken to the center back in October. The friendly ghost is doing just fine.

 

trees

So now I’m working against the clock to get everything done before I leave next Wednesday. It will be harder than usual to leave. I always enjoy being with Wolf, taking care of book business as we have been doing for so many years now, and now Roberto has given me more reason to stay in this country. But my life takes me home to Canada, on the road to spread the news of the book in the United States in April, and book responsibilities will keep me there until sometime next fall. I may have to return before to deal with the translation – I won’t mind at all.

 

hammock

 

But my little mind is already thinking of the next book I want to write and the idea of writing it from the Caribbean coast, while listening to the frogs and chatting with the monkeys from a hammock swaying beside that meandering brook- these images will keep my dreams sweet and my focus on the future.

 

 

girls-surf-too

I spent the last week on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, living a very slothful existence. It isn’t hard to do that – the place is sleepy and the pace is slow. The week was rainy – it drizzled, it poured, it spit – and then the sun would shine and all would be forgiven. My friend Leila had her first taste of the towns of Cahuita and then Puerto Viejo – and, like me, finds herself a Cahuita girl.  I wrote about this last year – how people are drawn to one of these communities more than the other – and once again lethargic Cahuita has won out over quaking Puerto with one of my friends. We spent one night – Leila and our friend Largo, and Roberto and I – listening to live music and dancing in Puerto – but were happy to leave the next day and head back to Cahuita were life is as slow as a sloth’s jig.

 

 

orchid-sky2

Sometimes life doesn’t work out as we think it will. I have told the story here of my friend Roberto Levey, a man I have loved for years and was reconnected with last June after a few years passed when I didn’t go to Cahuita. I have written of how he was united with his eighteen-year-old daughter from Australia in October and though plans were started for him to go there following the loss of his jungle home in the floods of early November, he decided that he didn’t want to go that far away from his home. Instead he has been rebuilding his little shack in the jungle (after a second flood took some more of his possessions, he finally gave up the spot that he was on and moved to higher ground where the flood waters didn’t reach.)

 

robertos-home

And though there was a connection made between him and his daughter and her mother that almost took him far away, when he decided not to go it opened the door to our relationship that has simmered for many years. Now it is a pot started with friendship and filled with chemistry that has boiled over with love and respect. So Roberto and I have started something, and only time will tell if it can endure the tests brought by long distance and cultural differences.

 

roberto-in-river

 

In our favor, we are both bush people as well as dancers, thinkers, talkers and naturally positive people who have cared for each other for years and know each other’s history. We both believe in the Dalai Lama’s philosophy of kindness. Roberto lives his life proudly with few possessions and refuses to fret about what he has lost – something I admire since I think that consumerism and desire for material comfort is one of the greatest demands placed on our earth. To be able to live so simply is a challenge but Roberto proves it can be done with grace and humor. He loves deeply and lives passionately and he has lost plenty in his life. As have most. And he endures. 

 

dread-k

The fact that we are both bush people cannot be undervalued – I don’t think Roberto ever thought he would know a woman who could live in his humble little shack on his wild piece of tropical rainforest. But when I spent my first night there last week, I told him it was just like camping – something I have done all my life, not excluding my years of living in a funky log cabin in northeastern Ontario without running water or electricity. Here, however, there are monkeys in the trees and the possibility that a poisonous snake may have moved in under your bed.

 

torsalo-butt

The mosquitoes weren’t as bad as they would be much of the camping season in the north but there’s a whole other buncha bugs here that cause nasty problems. The leaf cutter ants march on their employment lines everywhere, taking down the best of the vegetation. Then there is the botfly, the torsalo, whose eggs are deposited by a mosquito and grow into fat larva and eventually into another fly unless you squeeze the buggers out.

 

 

torsalo1

This is what I squeezed out of one of the bites. There was also a white maggot elsewhere… after a visit with some biologists in the know, I found out two importants things: if you put iodine on a suspicious bite right from the offset, you may prevent the growth of the eggs inside you. If you have a torsalo larva growing, put some oil on it – it will suffocate the beast and make it impossible for it to brace its little arms and hold on while you are trying to squeeze it out – instead you have greased its way.  Zepol also works (sore muscle ointment) as an irritant for the the little intruders.

 

 

 

There are the sand flies (or maybe mosquitos) that cause papalomoyo (leishmaniasis) whose bite won’t heal and continues to grow into a huge scar of eaten flesh on your body. I’ve now experienced papalomoyo myself and have also had the intense pleasure(?) of extracting both the larva and the grown botfly out of Roberto’s backside. It is hard to explain the sensation of seeing the little hairs on the head of the creature appearing and then the fat maggot coming out. It is hard to squeeze the flesh of the person you love while they try not to scream in pain, but quite satisfying when the little bug pops out as if exploded from a cannon. Roberto has some great stories about these bugs but I don’t think I need to share them here as I can feel you squirming already. My work here is done.

 

the-stream

 

The stream of water that flows through Roberto’s finca is fresh and clean and teaming with his little fish friends, his piranhitas, who clean his pots in a frenzy and nibble on your body when you sit in the aqua pools. He has seen a jaguarundi skulking about the banana plants and wild pigs rooting about as well as domestic ones that have come wandering down from a neighbor’s property. The bird, insect and amphibian songs fill the atmosphere throughout the day and all night long, coming at you from the tops of the trees to the forest floor, reaching a crescendo at dawn and dusk, songs I’ve never heard before. And the monkeys come to keep an eye on his progress as Roberto rebuilds his little hut.

 

cahuita-ruins2

One overcast gloomy day, we went for a walk north of town to where a friend of Roberto’s lived until he passed away recently. It was a sad day for Roberto who will miss his friend Jerry Lee. We passed the grown over ruins of Cahuita, houses that either had served their time and were abandoned, or which were never completed beyond someone’s dreams. The lush vegetation crawls everywhere and strangles everything it can.

 

black-beach

We returned by the Black Beach, named for its black volcanic sand (that alone its great Reggae Bar), which was full with the flotsam and jetsam vomited from the sea after the weeks and months of rain. The beach was almost non-existent, replaced by mostly soggy organic refuse and the ubiquitous plastic bottles that wash up from everywhere. I couldn’t help but think of Roberto’s father, Bato, who lived much of his life in wild constructions on the beach made by materials the sea had deposited at his feet (see East Coast Pleasures post). It was a melancholy day already and the waves of debris that we walked through kept us quieter than usual.

 

palm-viper

The wet weather of the last few months seems to be affecting the wildlife. On the trail through Cahuita National Park, a lovely path just a few feet inland from the beach where you can walk in the shade, I saw two eyelash palm vipers one morning. I have only ever seen these in pictures yet by the end of the week I had seen four. Whether they were the same two seen twice or not, I don’t know, but they were sitting so close to the path, wrapped around small bushes, that a tourist, intent on watching a bird up high in the trees, was warned by the passing park ranger to move out of striking distance as they are quite venomous. The poor birdwatcher hadn’t realized how close he was to this bright yellow serpent. They are usually a little further back in the forest, not so noticeable, but the wet swampy land must have driven them to the drier ground of the pathway.

 

path-thru-jungle

For three days and nights, sodden by intermittent showers, the howler monkeys roared.  Well, they didn’t just roar, they moaned and groaned and lamented and pleaded and cried and chanted and carried on in a way that even Roberto, who has lived here most of his life, had to admit was very strange. I have certainly never heard them go on like this. We started getting a little paranoid when they seemed to react to our every move though we were inside the cabin we had rented (at Villa Delmar, a quiet grouping of cabins with kitchens on the edge of town, very sweet place.) We started looking out the window to the branches where the monkeys were perched, to see if they were watching us with binoculars they had stolen from some distracted tourist. I will never forget this chorus of primates and how they provided a mournful soundtrack to our own restlessness throughout these wet dreamy days.

 

 

buttercup

A highlight of the week was heading up to the Sloth Sanctuary just north of Cahuita. Also known as Aviarios del Caribe, a bird sanctuary created in 1972 by a couple from Cahuita, it has become better known for its rehabilitation services for injured and orphaned sloths since receiving its first infant in 1992. This sloth is still there, Buttercup is her name, and I think she may have been Spielberg’s inspiration for E-T.

 

 

 

 

feeding-baby

Roberto and his daughter had taken a baby sloth there that they had found in October and he knew that I would be fascinated by the place. So we went up and met the babies left behind when their mothers have been killed, the amputees whose limbs were lost to electrical wires or road accidents, and the long-term residents whose luck brought them from whatever danger they had encountered to the tender loving care of the Arroyo family.

 

baby-sloth

Besides nursing the injured back to health and reintroducing the strong back into the wild, the center is very much a place of knowledge and information about sloths (also known as kukulas in Cahuita or peresozos in Spanish, from the word that means lazy.) There is much misinformation and falsehood spread about these gentle animals and the center makes it their duty to correct that as they study and amass understanding about the Bradypus and the Choloepus families (three and two toed sloths). It is well worth a stop at the Sloth Sanctuary, even if you never thought about these beautiful, humble soft little creatures before. There is perhaps a lot to be learned by their vegetarian, pacifistic and slow-moving ways. The world could no doubt benefit from their example of simple non-aggressive living. I think the Dalai Lama would be proud of the sloths as well as the people at the sloth center who have taken on their rehabilitation and protection.

 

butter-and-friend2

I will be returning there in a couple of weeks to take some copies of Walking with Wolf to their gift shop. I look forward to spending a little more time amid their gentle ways and graceful movements. I’ll then walk back into the vibrant green forest to Roberto’s little humble shack and count my blessings. And suspend myself, in true sloth style, in a hammock, slung between trees, and contemplate my next very slow but deliberately pacifistic move which, I think, involves writing another book.

ms-vickie2

 

It is morning – you can tell by the chorus of birdcalls and the chanting of the howler monkey.  I think it is going to rain for, according to Wolf, the monkeys sing out at dawn and dusk but also to complain that the rains are coming.  It is so hot and humid here in San Carlos, and the clouds are sitting so low, that I’d say the howler is probably correct.  I think it is going to pour.

  HOWLER MONKEY WAITING ON RAIN

Last week while I was still in Monteverde, I was soundly asleep when all of a sudden there was a huge roar right outside my window.  A congo (howler) was in the tree not ten feet from my window, about twenty feet from my bed.  He was so close that I could hear the roar gurgling up in his throat, like coffee rising in the stem of the percolator getting ready to boil.  I’ve heard these roars a hundred times, from a tent in the forest, and from a tree at the side of a trail.  But nothing prepared me for the force that came out of that monkey that morning at 5 a.m.  I woke with a start at the sound of it, looked at the clock, realized I had no intention of staying awake and once my heart beat slowed, I thought about falling back to sleep.  However, every time I was just about back in dreamland, the guy started roaring again.  I ended up lying in bed just listening to that roar in his throat building in force until he released his monkey-like cockadoodledo.  Later in the day I ran into a neighbor who asked me if I had heard that monkey – how could I have missed him?  She also couldn’t get back to sleep – a second monkey in a different troop was close to her house and these two guys seemed intent on keeping us awake that morning. 

I can hear one outside now but he is probably half a mile away, which is an acceptable distance, so his roar is no louder than the rumble from the volcano.  I’m up already anyway, getting ready to pack and leave for Alajuela and a family fiesta with Zulay before heading into San José for the big interview with the Tico Times tomorrow. The other thing that is telling me it is morning is the aroma coming from the kitchen – fresh Costa Rican coffee and gallo pinto (rice and beans) made with Lizano, the Costa Rican condiment of choice. 

Last night we had Nectaly, Zulay’s cousin, over so we made a big pot of olla de carne – that is, a meat and vegetable soup/stew. I love this dish as it gives you a little of the redder-than-usual beef that is pasture fed along with a wide selection of the root crops, squashes and other veggies which are common here but more difficult to find imported in Canada – yucca, yampi, tekiske, elote, ayote, chayote, camote…bueno, there are many. 

 

Nectaly waiting for Zulay to serve up the olla de carne

 

 

The last few days here we have been feasting on tamales which in Costa Rica are made with a milled and cooked corn mash, rolled with some vegies and chicken or pork inside leaves from the banana family and steamed; pejibayes, served with mayonnaise, which is the fruit of a specific palm tree and a food that sustained the natives for centuries and my absolutely favorite food here; breadfruit, a ball of dense vegetable that grows on the most beautiful large-leafed tree I know; and the nuts of the castaña, the false breadfruit tree. 

  A COSTA RICAN TAMALE

  THE BEAUTIFUL CASTANA, COUSIN OF THE GLORIOUS BREADFRUIT

I’ve been lucky in my life here in Costa Rica to have been introduced by my Tico friends to a wide variety of exotic fruits and vegetables, animals and even insects. I’ve spent hours pulling snails, sea cockroaches and other small critters out of tidal pools and off the rocks, then painstakingly cleaning the sand and refuse out of them to make a seafood and rice gastronomic delight. I’ve tried a bit of everything including iguana, armadillo (both with chickeny or rabbity-like meat), tepizcuentle (a small rodent-type animal that is known to be the best meat around and is now farmed – and truly tasty), and my first year here I ate turtle.  I know that it was completely not right but I was staying with locals at the time on the Caribbean and they were still killing turtles for food then.  And as I ate the tender pieces of juicy meat served in a spicy salsa, I have to say I understood immediately why people would eat these now endangered creatures – they are the filet mignon of the sea, a little bit fine steak, a little bit lobster.  I also very politically-incorrectly sucked a turtle egg one night, but I won’t get into that….the event just about wiped out my reputation as having a social-conscience and all I can say is that it seemed like a good idea at the time.

 BREADFRUIT CENTERPIECE AND 4-FRUIT JUICE

Most people when they come to Costa Rica eat rice and beans in some form or other, as well as rice with chicken or shrimp, or casada – the daily meal named after what wives serve up for their husbands, combining a mixture of the more inexpensive foods that can be served up on anyone’s table (rice, beans, cabbage salad, ripe plantain and a protein such as egg, cheese, or meat), fresh fish at the beach, chicken or pork when inland.  But if you get outside of the restaurants, and are willing to try new foods, there is no end to the variety here.  Papaya, mango, pineapple, avocado and banana are common and can be bought anywhere – when in season, they are of course much sweeter and tastier here than you would ever experience with imported ones in the northern world.  But there is also caimito, mamones chinos, guanabanas, guayabas, well the list goes on. And each one has its own flavor and texture.  I’ve learned that mamones (a variety of lychee nut) are great for traveling as you crack open the colorful spikey skin and get a grape-like juicy treat from inside with a minimum of fuss and mess; that green mangos with salt and lime are very satisfying to curb your hunger; that there are a whole bunch of different fruits that involve sucking sweet white flesh from around large seeds inside pods, such as guavas or anona or cacao; that there are several varieties of citrus, including lemons and limes as we know them, but also sweet or sour, orange or green limones and oranges; that there is a tree that grows little fruit that taste like cookies and I never remember what they are really called so I just call it the cookie tree and love the little fruit whenever I find them; and that nanci,  a small yellow fruit the size of a small crabapple, can be soaked in guaro, the national cane liquor, making what I call an authentic Tico martini.

 

 

A sampling of Tico food – a partially-used breadfruit (which became the centerpiece above); the nuts of its cousin, the castaña; pejiballes; papaya; creamy avocado and the leftovers of a tamale.

 

 

Of course in many parts of the country the influence of foreigners has brought new kinds of cooking, new spices, new flavors.  When I first came in 1990, I couldn’t find a satisfying piece of pizza if my life depended on it (and sometimes I felt like it did) but now I’d say that the pizza you can get here, often in Italian-owned restaurants, is better than what I find in Canada (or you can go to Pizza Hut if you are so inclined).  The variety of fish – red snapper, tilapia, seabass, calamari, shrimp – often cooked with a generous dose of garlic, keeps my seal-like tendencies very satisfied. I wouldn’t say that in general Costa Rica is known for its fine cuisine, but the freshness of its food often balances out the simplicity of its preparation. The jar of hot chili peppers, onions and vinegar that is often sitting waiting on the table as a condiment adds some spicy flavor.  And the large presence of other cultures here means that you can find fusion-foods to die for in communities all over the country.

Then there is the question of red beans verses black beans – there is a whole discussion here about the intelligence, virility and general sex appeal of those who indulge in one type or the other (and we are talking daily), depending on which community you are in, but I’ve never really formed an opinion on that so will stay out of the controversy. But I will give you a small cooking tip – when preparing black bean dip to serve with nachos, a little leftover strong coffee and a touch of sugar adds great flavor.  Mmmmmm, coffee, time to get the day started. 

 

Beautiful Marilyn, Zulay’s niece – raised on red or black???

August 2019
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