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I am back in the wind, but it is a warm sleepy breeze here in Cahuita rather than the wild winds of Monteverde. The air and the water are both balmy. There’s no wireless connection in this town so I’ve become a little less connected with the bigger world this past week. That’s fine with me. My existence here is basic but rich, slow but always winding my way toward the horizon where the sky and sea meet.
Costa Rica’s beaches cover almost every imaginable variation. A week ago I was in Manuel Antonio on the central Pacific coast – one of the first beaches to be developed for tourism and definitely one of the busiest. Now I’m in Cahuita on the Caribbean and its charm for me lays in the fact that it hasn’t changed all that much since I first came in 1990. I tend to gravitate to less populated places with a high relax factor and so I fit in well here.
On the other hand, and coast, Manuel Antonio sits at the end of an action-packed seven kilometer road that starts in Quepos, once a fishing village now a busy town handling the commercial side of the tourism trade. The road crawls up and over the rocky cliffs to the beach of Manuel Antonio and its National Park and is filled with hotels and restaurants that can be seen gracing the pages of Architectural Digest or Conde Naste magazines. I’ve managed to stay at a couple of these places over the years just because someone I know knew someone who could get us a great deal, but otherwise I could never afford any of them. The best I can do, as I did with my friends on Valentine’s Day, is walk the road and stop in for a drink in different establishments just to get the feel of their atmosphere and design.
Manuel Antonio’s beaches are beautiful – the large white sand beach that fronts the little town, where people can swim but there is also enough wave action for surfers – and the smaller beaches that you must enter the National Park to access. Even though there are a lot of tourists around, you can walk the paths and arrive at the more secluded beaches – passing silent sloths, raucous white-faced monkeys and the rare little squirrel monkeys playing in the trees – the forest that you walk through is alive and diverse.
The majority of the tourists seem to like to gather with all the others on the main beach where umbrellas and lounge chairs can be rented. The last time I was in MA it wasn’t like this. But then I never was one to be here often and several years have passed and if there is one thing I know in Costa Rica, it is that change comes fast and furious. Everyone in the area steps up to try to make a living off the tourists – working in restaurants, hotels or tour and souvenir shops or selling their wares illegally on the sidewalks and beach stalls (the vendors all scatter when word spreads that the police are on the way to check their permits.)
Pretty young girls learn how to carry pots and plates on their heads at very early ages and walk the beach selling fruit and snacks until they are beautiful young women doing a good business. And the guys with the great personalities become the great bartenders.
Although tourists coming to Costa Rica are warned about being robbed – definitely a caution not to take lightly – this has actually only happened to me twice in the nineteen years of coming here. And both situations were identical – I left shoes outside at night and someone picked them up. The first time was at a different beach many years ago, outside of a tent I was sleeping in when the thief left my brand new $100 Birkenstocks but took my friend’s used but nice running shoes. This year I left my sarong and sandals outside of the condo I was staying in and next morning they were gone. Lesson learned (again) – fortunately I was quickly distracted from my loss by a pair of pygmy owls nesting in the tree next to our room – and was able to cheaply replace both the shoes and the sarong.
Soak-in-the-sea-days, great food, and nights spent dancing – thus went the days at Manuel Antonio. I spent this little beach vacation with my pals Jeff the crooner (if you throw him a line he’ll have to sing you a verse…)
and Randy One-Flop from Hamilton,
and Special KKKK-Kevin from New Brunswick. Wonderful men are they all and we had fun. Kevin stayed on in steamy Quepos while Jeff and Randy and I went up to the cool climate of Monteverde.
We spent a beautiful sunny day in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve walking with Wolf. When the sun shines in the cloud forest, you can’t help but feel blessed. Wolf was in good form, taking a new painkiller which makes his walking easier. He’s been suffering from worn out knees (including a new one) for years.
The day started a little drizzly but turned into a blue sky glimpsed behind the sparkle of the sun on the wet leaves of the forest canopy. We met up with a couple of guys from the United States and ended up selling a couple of books – I tell ya, I’m always working. After Wolf went home for lunch, Randy, Jeff and I continued wandering the trails through the Reserve, glimpsed a quetzal, went out to the red swinging bridge named in honor of Wolf, and onward to the ventana or window with spectacular views east over the Peñas Blancas valley and west over the Nicoya Peninsula.
We finally walked home along the Nuboso trail built with wooden “cookies” and block steps through the elfin forest and back to the entrance on the newly-made accessible part. A perfect day spent in the Cloud Forest Reserve.
That night I finally met up with Leila Trickey – the daughter of my friend Jean who I have written about in earlier blogs (K-Stock and Not So Scary After All). We’ve been playing email tag but finally ended up in the same physical place – Santa Elena. I’ve known Leila since she was about a year old and it has been great spending time with her down here. She is at the start of a long solo trip through Central America but being a new traveler was glad to touch base with “a local”.
Leila is afraid of heights (and I have to say I enjoyed traveling down the mountain in the bus with her more than anyone I’ve journeyed with before – she could barely look out the window at the steep hillsides we were descending without squealing and jumping back in her seat but fought her fear and kept on taking pictures.) Nor did her fear stop her from going out and doing the canopy tour – specifically at Selvatur, your one-stop eco-experience-shopping-mall on the far side of Santa Elena (with one of the best bug collections in the world.) Randy and Jeff headed out in the morning to do the ziplines as well, Randy also prepared to face his fear of height. They all loved it though (that facing-your-fear-and-surviving thing is empowering) and would have gone again if they had the time.
We took a taxi a few kilometers further (you can always work a good deal with the taxi drivers around here) just to see the view over Arenal volcano and lake from El Mirador de San Gerardo. This is one of the most stunning scenes in Costa Rica I think. Yet few people make it out this way to see it or even know about it (or are too busy with all the other Monteverde activities or the weather isn’t conducive to seeing anything but clouds and fog). To have a perfectly clear sunny day to witness this beauty was another gift. Stephen Spielberg, eat your heart out.
We then took a wine and cheese picnic out to the bullpen (a magical pasture that I’ve written about before.) We stayed on until the shadows lengthened and then headed to one of the best sunset spots in Monteverde, the Fonda Vela Hotel. They have a great outdoor balcony that looks out to the horizon. There have been many concerts at the Fonda Vela over the years and when planned well, the musical intermission would be right when the sun was setting. The second half of the concert would be by candlelight in the high ceilinged dining room.
Now there is a pool table out on the balcony to play on while watching the sun go down. Just adds to an already great place. (Ms Costa Rica, Leila, in one of her brother Ethan’s designed shirts – check out www.miolacooperative.com)
We finished our tour of Monteverde tasting a bit of nightlife at Chancho’s Bar in Santa Elena – Randy and I happy to do the dancing, Leila and Jeff soaking up the local culture – the perfect day turned to perfect night by the outdoor fire outside Chancho’s funky little bar. Monteverde shone like a star for us over these days.
Leila wanted to see the Caribbean so I left my Pacific pals behind and brought her to Cahuita. And here I stay. Always working. Uh-huh. Until next time…
There is nothing like having cancer at 31 years of age, and seriously facing your mortality, to put a different spin on birthdays. I don’t mind the idea of getting older, I’m just happy to be alive. I feel that it has all been a gift, the last twenty years, and each year that passes is another deposit in my giftbag. So turning fifty hasn’t bothered me at all. The giftbag grows. As it happened, my 50th birthday party was the best way possible for entering the next part of my life. It was a party held out on Yasgar’s, I mean Cole’s, farm, I mean property, half an hour out of Hamilton. And will be now and forever known as Kstock.
Friends are the best. I come from a very small family – one sister, neither of us with children – our parents having died over ten years ago. In the background is a large Ukrainian clan but they mostly live far away. Vi and Andy taught us to nourish and honor our friendships and both my sister Maggie and I have benefited from their counsel. And now that I am fifty, with no children, and Maggie and her husband Tom living far away in Washington State, it is even more important that I have great friends. And they really came out of the woods for my birthday, and many of them really cranked it out to make it a great one.
Chuck, Mike, Freda, MaggieMike and Freda Cole, who have held some rocking parties over the years, know how to do it. Freda, east coast gal, can’t make enough food (and others contribute) and it is always beyond delicious. We will never starve at one of her gatherings. Mike takes care of the outdoor details – together they make everything flow. They are both real gracious hosts when the strangers start arriving and welcome all into their home. They moved to this big old farmhouse over a year ago and it is definitely made for holding an event like Kstock. There must have been close to one hundred folks there, but we were spread out around the property, there was lots of room for camping, lots of room for dancing – people could wander off for private tete-a-tetes, or whatever you might wanna do in the bushes.
Maggie & MIke on the bacon
My seeester Maggie came from Washington State and spent a couple days with Freda and Mike getting ready, helping Freda with food, and making the huge signs that could be seen a kilometer away on the road – “Kstock 2008” – for those who didn’t know where they were going. The Kstock thing started with my friends Treeza and Rick north of Toronto (and Terry, Steve and Gloria), who not only started saying “we’re going to Kstock” but on my birthday card Rick provided a copy of his original ticket from the real Woodstock – kinda brought it all together.
Treeza & get-down Gloria
Chuck, Stu, Dawson & Coral
Then the gang from Westport came to truly turn it into a musical happening. Chuck, Carolyn, Marty, Sandy, Stu, Dave, Helen, John, Susan, Dawson and Coral filled their vehicles (a bad day for footprints in carbon) with instruments, speakers and camping gear and brought their various musical talents up the highway.
Nineth Line – a jump ‘n jive band kept us hopping;
Then the “other band” played by the campfire with mandolin, accordian, stand up bass and guitar, beautiful renditions of bluegrass, country and folk tunes (most notably, for this little Steve Earle worshipper, Copperhead Road). The music never stopped from early in the evening till I don’t know when in the early morning hours. Nineth Line had learned a couple new songs for the occasion – I’ve been bugging them to learn a Latin rhythm or two and they got it done. They were hot that night, and just kept getting hotter as the night went on.
Since I love to dance more than just about anything (well, dancing on a big rock in the middle of a lush forest beside a lake with a beautiful man who dances is ideal) this party played out just as I would hope to celebrate…we danced from start to finish, and I saw most of the folks up on their feet at some point. Of course, in Canada I’ve always found the dance floors filled more with females than males and this night was no exception – I’ll always remember a wild night in Montezuma, on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, when there were about thirty men dancing and only four women. Now that! was a dream…but I digress.
Then there were the people who had come from far and wide for the occasion: my sister probably came the furthest, from the mountains of Washington State. But the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee were represented by our friend Kathy Lowery, who left Hamilton and married an old sweetheart (and he is), Stan, a few years ago. Freda, our friend Dean, and I have ventured down a few times to Tennessee to visit them on their beautiful porch that looks out on those perty mountains. In that time we’ve become friends with some of theirs, particularly William and Missy Murphy and William’s parents Gerry and Shorty. We’ve spent a lot of hours on Kathy’s porch with the gang playing bluegrass and singing. William’s dad, Gerry, has been struggling with cancer for a couple of years and without him able to join in, William and Missy stopped playing music. At Kstock, they got up on the stage and sang a few sweet songs again, despite the lengthy absence from strumming and singing, and it was wonderful to hear them. They’ve got a couple of the biggest warmest smiles in the state, and that they would jump on their motorcycle and drive north from Tennessee for Kstock was another gift in my giftbag.
A couple days before the party, I got a phone call from my friend Jean Trickey, from Little Rock, Arkansas, who said she had booked her ticket and was on her way! We’ve managed to spend some great weekends together in the last couple of years, her daughter’s wedding in Little Rock, and the 50th Anniversary of the Little Rock Nine, of which Jean is one of those brave teenagers who back in 1957 walked through the hateful crowd to be one of the first black kids to attend Central High School. I had gone last year to Little Rock for the 50th, (a phenomenal occasion it was), seen John Lewis the freedom fighter, met Ruby Bridges the little girl in the Norman Rockwell painting, shook Bill Clinton’s hand, got snagged on his secret service guy…again, I digress…but Jean had been so busy on these occasions that we really only got to talk a bit late at night when she finally could sit down. So to have her come for the weekend for my birthday, stay for a few days and have some down time to just talk (alot about Barack and Hillary of course), to dance as we love to do, and to see her get up on the stage and belt out “Women be wise, keep your mouth shut, don’t advertise your man” (a wise old song) was another big deposit in the gift bag.
Jean being here brought out her sons Isaiah (we had real Toronto paparazzi there) and Sol from Toronto and their kids, Amelia and Jaaziah, who added extra joy and energy to the occasion. (Many of these photos were from either Isaiah, Peter or Marty – thanks guys)
K, Sol, Isaiah, & Miss Kathy from Tennessee
The Trickey clan is always interesting, fun, dynamic, and loud (in this gang, I don’t feel like the loudest in the room) – great to have three generations represented at Kstock. (Notice the photographic image of me on the cake – what will we eat next?)
Kay, Sol, Amelia & Jaaziah talk cake business
And then there was my soul sister Cocky who lives in a nature sanctuary outside of Freeport, Maine and her partner Peter MacMillen. They had been up in Temagami, on Peter’s beautiful island, and came down from the north for the event. Cocky has been here in the Hammer often, but Peter went well out of his way for this one.
And along with my close friends Linda and Bill Murray from Charlton (along with Jean and Cocky, we all lived up in the Temiskaming area of northeastern Ontario for years – the Murrays still do), Patti and Leo Lessard and Terry and Ted from Mattawa, they brought the fresh clean northern air down to the Hammer. Cocky, Jean and I are a feisty trio when we get together, which doesn’t happen very often, but I love these women and to have a few days together was beautiful.
Beyond these folks there was Bill and Cheryl from Virginia, Lynda and Carole representing Guelph, friends from Toronto, Freda’s family, fine Hammerfolk and good neighbours, a number of old high school friends I hadn’t seen in years, the now-getting-old kids of friends, and a couple of my favorite dogs, Alpha and Ziggy. It all added up to the best party ever.
After this wild summer of rain and thunderstorms, the sky was completely clear, the temperature perfect all night long for being outside dancing (I guess some people were sitting) or around the campfire, people camped in comfort and peace, and we all woke up to more sunshine. Freda and Mike and gang made us a big breakfast, only after making a deal with the Swingers to play just a few more tunes in the morning. That Stu can drum on anything! We swam in the pool and I opened my gifts (the ones not already in the giftbag).
Stu, John & Marty, most of the Swingers
I ceremoniously burned the box full of paper copies of Walking with Wolf (Steve Earle was doing his Sirius radio show in the background as this happened – it was all so poignant). I have been printing out copies of the manuscript for how many years? and no longer need them, so I put the box on the coals and slowly watched it catch fire and disintegrate. It was a cleansing and a celebration. If I do nothing else of value in my life, I managed to get this book written and published while Wolf and I are still alive, and miraculously before I turned 50!
It was at the moment that the last of the overnight guests had got in their cars and honked their way down the road, leaving only Freda, Mike, Maggie, Cocky, Jean and I with Isaiah and Jaaziah, that the storm hit. Everything had been cleaned up, put inside, as we could see the storm approaching over the fields. There was some heavy rain that we watched from the porch, amazed that this whole outdoor event went on without a hitch, not a drop of rain to spoil anything, no chance for a mud-dance like at the real Woodstock. Just as the storm seemed to have subsided there was one HUGE thunderclap with one HUGE bolt of lightning – Jean was just putting her hand on the outhouse door and was shook to her bones. Jaaziah was in the car, but Isaiah was still outside and could hear the sizzle of electricity in the air. I think Jean’s hair went a little curlier and we all jumped and were rocked all over. Just one CLAP that carried the power of the whole dark sky. How lucky were we that none of us were hurt by this extremely close electrical jolt – it would have been a horrible way to end perfection – and life has been so good for me lately that a bolt of lightning almost feels inevitable – and that the storm waited until our friends were safely on their way home. One last grand hurrah, the big finish, to Kstock 2008! The gratitude I feel to all my friends who came out and worked, then played, so hard is impossible to express. Peace, love and grooviness will have to do!