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For the past two years, a crew of Chinese workmen has been building a big new shiny spaceship for soccer fans in a western neighbourhood of San José, Costa Rica. The $100 million dollar engagement ring between these two countries is known as “the jewel of La Sabana” which is the name of this area in the city that includes a huge park with green space, playgrounds, lakes and art galleries. Since March 27 the inauguration festivities have gathered sports, music and happy-to-fiesta fans for more than a week of special events.

This “gift” of the Chinese government apparently came about thanks to Costa Rica’s twice ex-president, Oscar Arias, who started the process of signing a free trade agreement with the largest world nation, and second largest world economy, back in 2007. There are many people in Costa Rican still wondering what this little country will have to pay for this “gift”, as we all know that you don’t get something for nothing in this world…well, there are exceptions, like long prison sentences for possessing almost no pot and fatal diseases through no actual fault of your own, but we don’t need to go there right now.

The stadium, like all newly-designed big structures, has a grand presence both from street level and viewed from any high building or elevation around the city, day or night. It looks like a big crown or, as I said earlier, a spaceship. It is very open to the sky, and thus the elements. In Canada, most major sports stadiums are now built with retractable roofs that allow for relative comfort against the elements in extended sports seasons (have these seasons gotten longer, running into each other to fill up the whole year, or is this just my imagination?) Since there are several months here in Costa Rica when the rain will pour down, it would have been a more generous gift if the Chinese had added one of those sliding roofs, but beggars can’t be choosers and fans and players alike will just continue what they’ve always done – come to the game and get soaked until the possibility of a mass drowning finally gets the game called off and sends the wet puppies scampering home.

This stadium was also built to host major international music events, the first one being Columbian superstar Shakira, scheduled to rock the place next Sunday, closing out nearly two weeks of festivities. Once again, pouring rain would really put a literal damper on these concerts, and with the changing weather patterns present here, as all over the world, I can only imagine that it is hard to predict when one can safely plan a concert here, hoping for more than 35,000 fans to fork over the maybe $100 or more to see their idols only to get a free bout of pneumonia in the process.

The night of the grand opening, CR President Laura Chinchilla, ex-President Oscar Arias, and Chen Changzhi, the vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China, all put their patriotic political spin on things. Then lithe Chinese dancers performed, a few fireworks burst in the sky, and the first fútbol match was played between La Selección, Costa Rican’s national team, and the Chinese national team. It ended in a tie because of a goal scored in the last couple minutes by the Chinese, who may have given Ticos the stadium, but ultimately took away their glory…hopefully not a sign of things to come.

I spent that night in a beautiful home in the Escazu hills with my friends Edín and Lorena, our colourful hosts Raymond and Jerry, and a joyful mix of Ticos and ex-pats. We ate glorious food and drank nice wine while we watched the ceremony and game on the television screen, and the light show and fireworks off the sweeping balcony with the million dollar view over the city. I’m neither a big sports fan nor a supporter of the excessive amounts of money spent in the sports and entertainment sectors, but I’m always keen for a celebration! And when in Rome….

I am, however, a very huge fan of music of all kinds and especially the music and musicians I know here in Costa Rica. There were several music events at the stadium, covering all different tastes. Apparently the National Symphony put on a beautiful program one night to a huge crowd – who said classical and opera wouldn’t bring in the masses? There was a night when all the top dance bands in the land played to the biggest dance floor ever assembled – salsa, meringue, cumbia, the works – and people of all ages swirled and twirled together. And thanks to Edín, we had passes to get into the stadium on the day when 27 music groups of Costa Rica performed in a flawlessly executed show on the big stage. There are four large screens to amplify the images for the crowd, with two of the screens serving as front drops on the stage. One rises to reveal the next band which is already to play as they have been setting up behind the other big screen. The ten hours of show went off without a hitch – very professional, great sound, excellent music – definitely a world class festival of contemporary Costa Rican music. Lorena, her friend Vicki, and I only stayed for Edín’s band EDITUS 360 and a couple of other performances, and we wandered around, taking pictures and looking at the mammoth structure.

EDITUS, who I’ve written about so many times before (most recently when I went to Guatemala with them), presented their show they call Latinamerica 360. It is the main three musicians of EDITUS along with a bass player and keyboardist as well as a cello and second violinist. They play electronic world music that you have to move to, with a backdrop of mesmerizing images. It was amazing to see the hundreds or thousands of people in the stadium, mostly youth with Megadeath t-shirts, mohawk haircuts, and attitude yet obviously fans of these superstars of Costa Rican music. It is a very long way from the days when Edín and Ricardo were a classical violin/guitar duo playing in the salons of Monteverde – which they still do. It is great to see them continue to be enthusiastic about music as they constantly switch up their playlist and musical colaborators.

As is the case with all mega-events, there was corporate advertising everywhere – mostly Coca Cola, Taco Bell and BCR (Bank of Costa Rica) – and corporate litter everywhere as well. Taco Bell (or BeatBell as they call their rock concert alter ego), BCR and Kolbi (taking over Central America’s cell phone service with a cute green frog as their logo), had to do that thing where they give everyone a free plastic blow-up tube to play with and ultimately toss away – all quadrillion of them end up on the floor, or the street, after. All those poor lost little green frogs.  As long as marketers believe that plastic throw-away garbage with their logo on it somehow increases sales, this scourge will continue. It drives me crazy – this rampant disposable advertising in exchange for corporations supporting cultural activities.

There were several controversies around the festivities that arose throughout the week. One involved the arrival of Argentina’s soccer team who came to play a friendly match against the Costa Ricans. One of the top teams in the world, it is also the birth-team of the hottest player in the world, Lionel Messi. Just the possibility of seeing this great player playing on the new concha had thousands of people lining up to buy pricey tickets to this game. My boyfriend Roberto said weeks ago that Messi would never play in this game, as he is a very expensive and important player for Barcelona and has some big games coming up for his cash-parent team in the next weeks. His owners wouldn’t allow that he take the possibility of getting injured in a silly little game in silly little Costa Rica. Roberto was right.

Messi came, I’m not sure why, since he never got off the bench. What did happen is that Costa Rican fans, hungry for even a few minutes of his renowned footwork, having paid the price of admission with that possibility in mind, booed every time Messi’s face was caught on camera and flashed on the big screen in the stadium. Perhaps not very polite behavior on behalf of the Ticos, but neither was the way they were sold the idea that if they paid the price, they would see the great one play. There was rumors that he had a mild injury, but I’ve also read that wasn’t true. Once again, the Costa Rican team only managed to tie Argentina 2-2, but that was a win for the Ticos, considering the strength of the Albicelestes.

One of the biggest events of the week was when Costa Rican female boxer, Hanna Gabriel, did her thing and held on to her world middleweight championship fighting against US opponent Melisenda Paris in front of a huge crowd at the stadium. I’m not a fan of fighting, wrestling or boxing, but I do find this woman beautiful and very gracious, and I have no doubt there is a huge pride on the part of her family, community and country. And that one woman did what all those male fútbol players couldn’t manage – to win!

The organizers of the inaugural events and the publicity surrounding them made a few errors, intentionally or not, by promising big names when they shouldn’t have, with the obvious intention of selling tickets. Another small scandal erupted weeks ago when the day of national music was being planned and the organizers used Malpais (one of the country’s most popular groups that includes Minister of Culture Manuel Obregon as their keyboardist) as a selling point for tickets before they had reached an agreement with the group itself to play.

Malpais refused to play when it was revealed that the organizers wouldn’t pay them what they normally get for a concert. They were asked to take less money as some kind of patriotic donation, while massive amounts of money went to bringing in Shakira, the international superstar. Musicians and artists here, as everywhere, struggle to survive financially but also struggle to receive the proper respect and remuneration for the talent and art that they bring to the big social table – without their music, words and images we would live much less enjoyable lives. Malpais made a public statement about their refusal to play. Other bands chose to play – many craving the exposure, others, such as EDITUS, simply feeling it was important to be part of this national event yet supportive of the statement Malpais was making.

Manuel Monestel, who recently received two national awards for his music and work, and his group Cantoamerica also didn’t play and, knowing Manuel and his politics, I can imagine he not only agreed with Malpais but also didn’t want to support the extravagance of the stadium. So many other aspects of society in Costa Rica are suffering by cutbacks to social programs, poverty and poor infrastructure in a quickly developing nation. I have no doubt that he questions, as do the activists who were demonstrating politely outside the stadium, the price to be paid by Costa Rica for this “gift” from China. He and those activitists, as their sign states, love their country as much anyone who was inside praising the new stadium.  Considering China’s poor human rights, health and environmental record, it is scary to think what the free trade agreement will lead to for little Costa Rica with its faded green party dress and schizophrenic spirit mixing ecology with development.

Sports and entertainment are very important elements of society – a place to learn teamwork, be creative, to relieve stress, to enjoy yourself, etc. People work hard and at the end of the day deserve to be entertained. I agree with that, yet I also agree with those that see the attention on sports and other forms of mass entertainment and scandal used as a distraction from the real issues. And the money involved always astounds me to create these megastructures. I would propose that people living with good health care, education, safe infrastructure and roads, and less crime, at the end of the day would come home happier and would still enjoy a game or a movie. It all seems hopelessly out of whack to me.    

At the inauguration, Oscar Arias spoke of the relationship of Costa Rica and China as “a young bonsai tree creating a bridge over the Pacific Ocean”. I love these delicate dwarfed living sculptures as much as the next person, but considering they are created by cutting roots, trimming healthy branches and keeping the poor little things stunted in a rather unnatural environment for years, I’m not sure that it is such a healthy image for the future of Costa Rica.

The symbol over the entrance to the National Stadium…don’t know what it means, but it looks like it says that Costa Rica and China are intrinsically linked for life….or maybe it says what’s yours is now ours…

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I’m finally getting around to writing about the great excitement of last weekend. The adrenalin raised on my trip to San José soon dropped off and left me with a cold but fortunately my oil of oregano, honey, cayenne and lemon cure, along with some tender loving care from Roberto, has me on the up and up – thankfully just in time for Christmas week. This afternoon is Christmas program at the Quaker meeting house followed by the drinking of the wassail and munching of everyone’s homemade cookies. Fortunately, I think I feel good enough to go, get a sugar-rush, and be social.

San José started like a sweet thing and over three days built to a sugar-rush crescendo. I went down on the Saturday to meet up with my friend Caroline Crimm, the history prof from Sam Houston State University in Texas who has been collecting data to write a history of society in the pre-Quaker Monteverde area. For months, she’s been searching through national archives, church records and talking with old-timers. Now she’s a wealth of information on the main players and scandals in the region from the 1800s onward and passionately engaged in their stories.

She is also a great friend, proven when she donated her last Saturday in Costa Rica to an afternoon of shopping with me for an appropriate handbag to take to the formal reception at the house of the Canadian Ambassador. I managed to collect the dress, shoes, and shawl from girlfriends in Monteverde, but still needed a handbag elegant enough for the evening but also big enough to smuggle a copy of Walking with Wolf into the party. I don’t know what’s considered appropriate protocol when meeting the Governor General, but I wanted to have a copy available to give her, just in case, so needed a bag for the stash.

So Caroline and I wandered Avenida Central, surrounded by thousands of enthusiastic Tico Navidad shoppers and street vendors – a lot of tinselly things, flashing Santa hats and stuff. Unless I wanted to pay $100 for a nice leather bag, I didn’t see anything else that would work. It was a case of Goldilocks and the 2 out of 3 bears – purses too small, too big, nothing just right. Neither of us being big shoppers, the exercise just about killed us.

To recuperate, we went for a fantastic dinner at Café Mundo, where you can sit outside on the large veranda under the tropical trees.  Each course was excellent – stuffed mushrooms, Caesar salad, French Onion Soup (which I’m a connoisseur of yet I don’t think I’ve ever had in Costa Rica before), and a caramel pie for dessert. All divine and not terribly expensive…I’ve gotten used to the fact that meals here tend to be equivalent to Canadian prices, but I don’t think the two of us could have eaten this well, along with a half liter of wine, for $35 in Canada.

San José was celebrating its own Festival de Luces that night, and the crowds were lining Paseo Colon and Avenida 2 starting early in the afternoon. The Casa Ridgway and Friends Center for Peace, where we were staying, is only a couple of blocks from the Plaza de la Democracia where the parade was to finish up – I never did see the show as it was close to 10:30 at night when the first of the bands and floats finally arrived there. I had gone back to the pension, having witnessed the festivities in Santa Elena just a week ago (last blog post). By what people later told me, Santa Elena’s festival was just about as big as the capital city’s.

One of the things that I knew I was going to do in San José on Sunday was go to a free outdoor all-day concert by numerous Tico musicians in support of the Marcha Mondial de la Paz y No Violencia – http://www.theworldmarch.org – a group of around thirty people (with others in other parts of the world) who gathered in New Zealand back in September and started walking, bussing, and flying across the continents, holding events to raise our global conscience towards an international culture of peace and personal non-violence.

As it would turn out, the group, arriving on Saturday night from the Nicaraguan border, was staying at the Casa Ridgway. I awoke early on Sunday morning to hear Luis, the only employee working that morning, starting to put breakfast together for this large group. Caroline was already in the kitchen helping and so I quickly joined in – coffee, fruit, scrambled eggs, refried beans and fresh bread from the local bakery. A simple breakfast is what they always serve here, but even simple is a lot of work when the crowd numbers close to thirty.

We spent an enjoyable couple of hours getting the food out and cleaning up, being visited in the kitchen by different members of the world community from Italy, New Zealand, India, Canada, Argentina, United States, Germany, Belgium, Spain. It was a smorgasbord of accents with some amount of Spanish or English for communication, the common factor being they were all people who believed passionately in working, and walking, towards peace and that non-violence begins in our homes and hearts.

And a great cast of characters: Kai Eberhardt, from Germany, who was thrilled to meet a woman who had the same name as him – and like me was always dancing even when he was sitting;

Jair Guadarrama, a Mexican-blooded resident of Toronto and the world,  who was part of a group escorting the peace marchers through Central and South America – an artist, he traded me one of my books for several of his political art cards;

Sinthya Penn, a conservative business woman from California (with a Canadian connection – she owns a beneficial insect business in Guelph, Ontario) who became committed to the group following an experience when the march began a couple months ago – she recognized herself in the apathetic busy faces in the crowd who wouldn’t take a moment to take the literature they were so sincerely handing out. She realized she needed to step up and represent some of those who are too busy working and just too distracted to give peace a chance.  And Charles Lasater, her partner, also from California, who, it turns out, has a personal connection with me. 

I started telling Sinthya about Walking with Wolf – that it was a book about a man who has lived his life by his values of non-violence and pacifism and for the greater good of his community. And walking for what he believed in, as they were doing. I gave a book to the group as I thought it would be appropriate reading for them as they continue for another month of bus and plane travel with events throughout South America on their way to Puntas de Vacas in Argentina. She then bought two more copies which was great for me.

Her partner, Charles, came along and we got talking – he mentioned that he was from northern Michigan. I told him I only knew Traverse City – it turned out that is where he’s from. He asked who I knew there – “go on, just throw out the name, one never knows” – and when I said my close friend Cocky Ingwersen, he burst out, “John Ingwersen’s daughter! That man was one of my closest friends years ago.” It turned out that they were part of a group of intellectual types – poets, including writer Jim Harrison, in the area back in the 60s before everyone dispersed. Charles, then known as Dick, had lost touch with the Ingwersens. I’ve now put him in touch with Cocky, and another small world connection was made.

As we continued chatting, I mentioned that I was preparing for this big night and how Caroline and I had been stymied in our search for the perfect handbag. Sinthya said, “maybe I have something that will work,” and took me to her room where she pulled out a bag of just the right colour for the dress and size to fit my book. She presented it to me and I was thrilled – not only because I wouldn’t have to spend any more time shopping for a bag, but to have a souvenir from this crowd of dedicated activists, to carry this bag that had already traveled from New Zealand to Asia to Europe and Africa and into the Americas following the coo of the peace doves – I will treasure it always with fond memories of these wonderful people.

I went to the concert that was being held in their honor but only saw the reggae band, Kingo Lovers, and Manuel Monestel’s band, Cantoamerica, before heading off to meet Roberto who was arriving from Cahuita on the afternoon bus. The music was to play on for hours and the crowd was attentive and the peace crew was dancing and obviously happy to be in a country where the army had been abolished sixty years ago.

Manuel pointed out the many other places where violence is still very much a part of this society – in the home, in the workplace, against the environment, on the street, and in the laws – specifically referring to new laws being adapted in Costa Rica that mess with the musicians’ abilities, already difficult, to live off their creations and their intellectual property. (There was a planned march on the president’s house by Costa Rican musicians and their supporters a couple of days later which, unfortunately, we weren’t able to attend – more information at www.derechosdelosmusicos.com)

Roberto arrived and life sweetened up another notch. He brought a bag of Caribbean treats – coconuts for rice and beans, senna leaves to cure a rash that’s been bothering me, and other bush plants for tea, his homemade organic banana vinegar – and himself, the best of Cahuita – for me. He will be experiencing a Monteverde Christmas this year – not as cold as a Canadian Christmas, but certainly chillier than he is used to. Although Monteverde has been very dry and hot and sunny since I arrived a few weeks ago, the weather has changed a bit and though we certainly won’t be having a white Christmas, we sure may have a wet, cold blowy one.

The last day in San José was all about preparing for the big night at the reception for Michaelle Jean, the Governor General of Canada. I had called my friend Lorena Rodriguez, a very talented interior decorator/Tica, who, of course, took me under her wing to make sure I was going to be properly adorned for the event. I met up with her and her friend, Richarda (with a new Chihuahua puppy, Maxi-million, the perfect salon lap dog)…they took me to Mall San Pedro and a salon where Israel did my hair in an upsweep with a bunch of curls at the back, using at least half a can of hairspray (note to self: next time ask them to hold the spray, or at least minimize its use)….then for the manicure….then home to Lorena’s where she did the cosmetic make-over and made sure I had it all put together. Thanks to all these women who helped me over the week – Melody, Tanya, Marlene, Caroline, Richarda and Lorena – I pulled off an elegant enough look to get me in the door at the Ambassador’s pad.

 

Like a proud stylist, that sweeter-than-sugar Lorena drove me into the exclusive neighbourhood in Escazu where the Ambassador lives and then I was on my own. First couple I met, while entering the house in a slow line waiting to sign the guest book, knew Robert Dean, an artist and musician here in Monteverde, and also knew of my book. Good start I thought, I must be in the right place. I spent the first part of the evening sipping wine and chatting with the Costa Rican Minister of Health, Doña María Luisa Ávila Agüero and her husband and another interesting woman (whose name and position escapes me) originally from Puerto Viejo. We were all Caribbe-lovers in the circle. The Governor General had spent the previous day in the Atlantic province of Limon, a fact I know was acknowledged with great interest by Roberto and others on the usually neglected Caribbean coast. People danced with her in the streets and no doubt the GG’s own Haitian roots helped create a bond with the Afro-Limonenses.

The formal part of the program was the presentation of awards of recognition by the Governor General and the Ambassador to Canadians who have contributed years of work in building relations with Canada here in Costa Rica. Michaelle Jean was charming, humble, sexy (if one can say that about one’s GG), intelligent and radiated kindness. Her husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, a film maker, was funny and very direct in his comments about the important role of culture in international relations – he spoke in French and his Tico interpreter relayed his message with even greater enthusiasm. Ambassador Neil Reeder is a big jolly man and was very welcoming. I was able to talk to him for a few minutes and thank him for the financial support the Embassy bestowed on the translation of Walking with Wolf.

I finally talked to my pal José Pablo Rodriguez. I truly thank him for getting me invited to such a high brow affair (li’l ol’ me.) I asked him if it was okay to give a book to the Governor General. He called over a couple of her staff and, as it turned out, they knew about the book since José had already been talking it up to them – why, you have to love that man…nice to have friends in high places. One of the GG’s people took the copy of my book to give to her later, and then insisted that I go and have a few words with the woman herself. When I finally got in front of her, it was easy to talk (not that I usually have a problem, and of course, those constantly filled glasses of wine didn’t hurt.) I told her about Monteverde and Wolf and his contribution to conservation here. She listened intently and asked questions (was particularly amused by the fact that he was the first chain saw dealer in the country turned tree hugger) and was warm and interested. I asked her about her time in Limon, saying that my Afro-Caribbean boyfriend was very happy that she had gone there. A visit of someone of her position to the eastern port would be significant for the too often forgotten Atlantic coast. I was only sorry that Roberto wasn’t there with me to speak for himself (I later told him he wouldn’t have been able to help himself from flirting with her as she is quite beautiful and charismatic.)

The whole evening was sparkly and magical, a roomful of shiny people, the lights of San José glowing through the wall of windows, the home beautifully decorated for Christmas, stunning Indigenous art from Canada on the walls making me feel at home – very friendly waiters offering trays of hors d’oeuvres (especially liked the stuffed mushrooms) and constantly trying to refill my wine glass – I looked good and walked proud but got out of there one glass of wine away from a stumble. I thoroughly enjoyed the moment and the people and the place. I also have to say that I was truly drawn to the presence of Michaelle Jean with her gentle kind wisdom and her obvious strength. I’d be honored if she takes the opportunity to read our book.

Now Christmas is upon us. As the Monteverde wind blows and mists swirrel outside the window, I’m thinking of all the people I met last weekend – those traveling around the globe spreading the message of peace and non-violence – the GG and her husband creating positive cultural and humanitarian ties between Canada and other countries – the musicians singing their own words and playing rhythms of hope – as well as the thousands who have been in Copenhagen at the Climate Change talks this month and working hard to convince politicians and industry lobbyists to cut the greed and be intelligent about how we treat the earth. I send a huge thanks for the care and energy you are each putting into making this a better world.

I’m also thinking of my many wonderful friends and those who are family spread far and wide who I won’t see this year – you are all in my heart and we will meet again in 2010. Our Christmas tree this year is the big Ficus outside the window which is presently adorned with shiny mot mots, emerald toucanet, euphonias, clorophonias, robins, squirrels, red berries and a dove – all getting along and sharing the fruit nicely. Whatever your personal celebration in the following days or weeks, may you, and each one of us, be surrounded by the sweet songs of love, joy, kindness and, ultimately, peace.

Maine in the springtime – what a lovely thing.  It’s still cold, but the sky is blue and the sun is shining as bright as a lighthouse beacon warning us of summer approaching. 

peter

Peter and Alpha the wonder dog

Have some time here to write something so thought I better do it.  I’m reworking my powerpoint for tomorrow night’s talk to the Maine Audubon Society in Falsmouth.  My lovin’ family here, Cocky and Peter, have put a lot of time into make this work and inviting people and trying to get local media attention…we will see how it goes.  As usual, I approach it all the same – think of who I’m talking to and do the best I can to entertain them, hopefully sell at least one book (that makes it worth it and keeps my expectations real low) and enjoy the experience. You never know what might happen or who you might meet.  Each presentation gives me the chance of having something wonderful happen…and minimally enjoying myself. And gives me the opportunity to spread the story of Wolf and Monteverde a little further.

stephen

Before I left home, I went to Toronto to slurp oysters with my book boys, Ken and Bruce, and was getting interesting cellphone information from my pal Sol, when I ran into my cousin on the street.  I guess that often happens to people, meeting up with relatives you rarely see on the busiest street (Queen West) of one of the busiest Canadian cities, but when they are on a gigantic horse and dressed out in full winter police wear, it adds a new twist. What an imposing sight they were.  Stephen has been a policeman in Toronto for years and a cop-on-horseback for maybe eight years or so (probably many more and I just don’t remember.)  It was great to see him, chit chat while standing in the heat of the horse’s breath, realizing how little I see these relatives of mine from nearby Mississauga and Fergus – that it is more likely I will run into Stephen riding a horse through downtown Toronto than in one of our houses is crazy.

On Saturday I got my rental car and drove to the border listening to JP Reimen’s new CD, Love is a Dog – the first song, the first of this roadtrip, is Troubadour and its lines about spilling wine and leaving my troubles behind was an appropriate send off. Nice songs again from the boy from tobacco country.

I got through the border but did get processed and so I guess I will have to talk to a customs broker before I cross with books again.  The border guy – I have to be glad he was a nice one – let me through but warned me that since 911, boxes don’t just travel around the country, big brother needs to know what they are and who they’re with. Yeah, well, books. With me. Whatever.

manuel

I got to Ithaca, New York, near the Finger Lakes, where my friend Manuel Monestel is teaching a course in Music Industry and Society – the state of contemporary music in society and its relationship with the music industry and market. I’m betting it’s a fascinating course. I stopped for the night at his nice rented home in the pretty town that sits in a valley below Cornell University (a small city in its own right). I had come to not only see my friend (a Tico being only four hours from my Canadian home is well worth the trip) but it was also a good stop on my way to Maine and I had a favour to ask of him.  Manuel has agreed to write a new endorsement blurb for the back of the Spanish translation of Walking with Wolf – Caminando con Wolf. I’m honored that this well-known musician, author, professor and all-round wise and talented man is going to put his name to the book. So I dropped one off for him to read and managed to get a full  night of music in the process.

I did find out from Manuel, who has written a book on the history of calypso music on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and is very knowledgeable about not only the history and culture and music but the dialect there, that the term I’ve been using – cabanga (read former posts) – which Roberto taught me, does indeed, as he insisted, have Afro-Caribbean roots. It is in the Spanish dictionary and the Ticos know it but it comes from the southern Caribbean. It meant that you should be sharing something – and that kind of worked its way around to feeling that you lost something – and that further got fused with the idea that you are feeling a loss, melancholy, the lovesick blues. That’s what I’ve been feeling – and with a capital K – Kabanga – all the more apropos. Roberto will be happy to know he was right, the proof in a book on Afro-ethnicity.

eva

 

There was a Peruvian celebration going on at the university, and the great Eva Ayllon, the beautiful star of Afro-Peruvian lando and festejo music, performed in the nice small room with her hot jazz band. That was a very sweet treat to arrive to a show like that – she took the chill off the wintery night. 

 

eva-and-band

 

 

 

 

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A dance and cajon  band from New York City, Carabumbe, also performed, including an Afro-Peruvian dance workshop (that I of course joined in to sweat a little).  It was powerful to hear six of those wooden boxes being beaten together. There was also a typical dinner served.  Viva Peru!

and-juliana

Afterward we went over to  the house of some grad student friends of Manuel’s – Marcela, a Costa Rican and Juliana, a Columbiana, both who know Monteverde well and bought a couple books (always working I tell ya.) Manuel and Juliana, along with friends from Chili, Mexico, Uruguay, Tennessee (and of course Canada), played guitar and sang till the madrugada, a variety of political, social and romantic latin songs (stirring my poor little tender soul again).  Juliana had a powerful expressive voice and Manuel is always butter in your ears (or that would be buttered rum in this case.)

By the time we got back to the house, I was lucky to get a few hours of sleep before getting back in my car and driving seven hours east to Freeport.  I was flying on the highway but without any sense of incident – it was Easter Sunday after all and the roads were relatively quiet as everyone was home eating turkeys and rabbits and pigs and things.  So here I be in Maine, preparing, relaxing, visiting, happy to be on the road again.

Perhaps the title is a little melodramatic, yes, but life is truly a whirlwind for me right now and I feel like I need to come up for breath every once in awhile. I’m back home here in Hamilton Ontario.  Thankfully the snow is long gone, the tulips and other spring bulbs are out of the ground, the weather is bouncing around between sunny, cloudy, windy, cool, and springtime warm, sort of like Monteverde was much of these last few months.

flowers

I have exactly two weeks today before I get in a car and travel to Maine – to speak to the Maine Audubon Society and to a class at Bowdoin College; to Philadelphia – to speak at Swarthmore College and Pendle Hill and maybe a public school or two; and to New York City! Me – Noo Yawk Noo Yawk ! On Sunday, April 26 I’ll be doing my book presentation at Marian Howard’s home in the Bronx. Marian is a long standing member of the Monteverde community and has been kind enough to offer me her home. We hope to see lots of faces that we recognize from over the years in Monteverde.

So I’m very excited about all that.  I’ll also see my friend Manuel Monestel, a Costa Rican musician and very smart man, who is teaching at Cornell in Ithaca New York.  I’ll spend time with my friends Cocky and Peter in Freeport Maine and my other friends in that area.  I’ll have a visit with Carlos Guindon who is working on the Spanish translation of Walking with Wolf.  It will be an action-packed two weeks on the road, I’ll hopefully sell lotsa books and spread Wolf’s and Monteverde’s positive stories even further.

us

And it is a good thing that this is going on, as I return to Canada body and mind, but my heart remains on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica with Roberto. This long-distance stuff is both poignant and frustrating. Fortunately I have reason to return to Costa Rica in May and so it won’t be such a very long separation.  In the meantime, I just have to keep my nose to the front and head that way. 

I am preparing here for a presentation to the McMaster University Biodiversity Guild, a radio spot with my friend Gord Pullar on CFMU, the university radio station, and to correct the few errors found in the first edition of Walking with Wolf. We will be going to print again here real soon. I’ll be back in Monteverde to help receive those books when they come in. I learned last time that the printer can ship at half the cost I can, so will be sending as many as we can store down to Costa Rica directly from the printer this time.

I am so low in books that I have to get my sister in Washington State, where a friend had dropped off some boxes of books for a western coast tour in July, to ship some boxes back to Maine so I have enough for this coming up tour. Less than one year later, we have almost sold out 2000 copies of Walking with Wolf.

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Turid and Margaret

 

Last Sunday afternoon, before leaving Monteverde, a wonderful afternoon was spent in Margaret Adelman’s house. This is the kind of thing that Monteverde excels at – homemade quality music played in a beautiful setting to a friendly group of people.

heatheralan

jonathan1

As the sun shone in on us through the open doors (thank goodness the summer weather has finally come to Monteverde), the string quartet of Jonathan Ogle, Heather Gosse, Alan Masters, and Paul Smith, along with piano accompaniment by Turid Forsyth, soothed our souls.

paul

Except for Paul, they have been playing together over the last year and had a very nice musical program (I particularly liked the English Bach’s Quartette).  Paul is known for his many talents as a painter and musician but widely for the string instruments he makes. So the cello, and violins and viola were all made by him (well, Alan apparently worked on his with Paul). 

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That evening Roberto and I went up to spend Sunday dinner with the Guindon family – which now includes Alberto’s step-daughter Melody and her son Jayden who recently arrived from California, Annika and Heather and their sons and a friend – who will be leaving Monteverde soon when Annika’s two-year position as director of the Friends School is up in June, and a baby sloth. 

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Benito, baby & Melody, Wolf’s son and daughter

 

I really have seen more sloths this year (see recent posts about the Sloth Center in Cahuita) – and this particular one, maybe six months old, that Benito is caring for after a tyra killed the mother, was as soft and furry and slow-moving and gentle as the others.  Watching it wrapped around Benito, taking feed from a baby’s bottle in Lucky’s lap, and stretching slowly to meet the hand of any inquisitive child, once again brought me a great sense of peace. I don’t know how long Benito will keep it and what it’s future will hold, but I know it was lucky to end up with the kind Guindon family.  As was I.

I managed to get the contract with the Canadian Embassy signed along with Pax Ameghetti, a highly recommended computer artist in Monteverde who will use the money from the Embassy to do all the changes to the computer files, maps, cover and index, into Spanish. I am very appreciative to the Embassy, particularly Jose Luis Rodriguez and Stuart Hughes who helped me so much. I’m only sorry I’m not in Monteverde for when Pax gets the check and the fiesta is held.

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I’m also in talks with an organization in Monteverde for a part time job as an information director. Between the translation, this position, receiving the books being shipped down, and Roberto, there is alot of reason to return to Costa Rica in May.  I hope to find Mr. Guindon, sitting in his new rocking chair given to him by the Tropical Science Center, telling stories, drinking coffee, and happy to see me back in town.

 My home and the natives’ land, Temagami

 I am once again writing from the lowlands. I’ve come to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.  Before I talk about sand and surf however, I want to acknowledge the fact that I missed Canada Day on July 1st.  I’m not a flag-waving patriotic type, but I am happy and thankful to be Canadian and remember that no matter where I am, just not necessarily on THE DAY. There have been things that have reminded me however – the odd Canadian flag here in Puerto Viejo, the picture of Tom Wilson on the hamilton365.com website that I follow (Larry Strung’s daily photographic diary of Hamilton (my hometown) people in 2008 – I am featured on February 26) If I were to choose a Canadian singer-songwriter who speaks for me of where I live, it would be Tom. He’s all attitude, talent, irreverent, and a great entertainer/singer/guitar player/composer. So Larry’s choice of him as the Canada Day portrait on his website struck a huge chord with me, one that sounded a lot like the beginning of “Oh Canada”…but I digress (and also stopped writing this…)

 

 

More than a week has gone by, and a warm wonderful week it was. I arrived back in Monteverde last night on the bus – amused by the reaction of a couple from New York sitting beside me to the never-ending road. We went up in darkness but you could still see the steep precipices that dropped off to the sides in the shadows. The woman looked horrified – when we got to Santa Elena, I told her to be sure to leave on the 6:30 a.m. bus when they were ready to go, as that is the most beautiful ride back down the mountain. The sun will be coming over the mountain and glimmering on the waters of the Gulf of Nicoya and lighting up the flatlands of Guanacaste – the clouds will be at play all around you, drifting up from the valleys, hovering in the mountains, and tumbling across the lower landscape.  And she will truly see what she couldn’t in the darkness – the narrow winding road that we just crawled up, alive with milk trucks, tourist buses and other early morning machinery – the whole effect tends to wake you up very quickly. I have noticed this year that there is even more traffic on the roadway and on each bus trip there have been numerous occasions that the bus had to back up to make room so that it could clear the sides of a passing transport truck, or pull off as far to the edge (whatever you do, don’t look!) so that some other large vehicle could pass. I’ve been on the bus much more this year than any other but this is a new phenomena, a sign of the great increase in business and vehicular traffic in Monteverde.

 

Fortunately the weather up here has been beautiful they tell me. The rains have come as they should, a little downpour each afternoon, but otherwise it is sunny and hot.  Bodes well for the beach babe recently returned – it is hard to leave the beach when you like sun and water and lazy days, and returning to cold, wet, windy and busy Monteverde can be a harsh shock. So I appreciate that I can walk out this morning in summer clothes and perhaps not have to think about my rubber boots, umbrella and raincoat till later in the day.

 

My week on the Caribbean was made up of reunions with three friends, two of whom I hadn’t seen in years, hours spent floating in the warm sea and wandering through the shady jungle, a great book (End of the Spear by Steve Saint), and a lot of fish and fresh fruit. The bus ride from San José to Limón and then down the coastal highway to Puerto Viejo was very smooth. You get used to the fact that in Costa Rica the state of the road changes quickly. They get fixed and freshly paved but it doesn’t take long before the pavement is washed out and huge potholes appear, forcing vehicles to wind their way slowly around the obstacles. This route had obviously been recently done as we practically flew on a very smooth flight.

 

You leave the city and go up over the mountain range of Braulio Carrillo National Park where it is always cool and often wet and windy but with spectacular views over the protected forests. The road winds down near Guapiles and from there heads straight and flat across the lowlands, passing over wide rivers and past the endless banana plantations along with the acres of trucking containers that transport the bananas for Dole, Del Monte and Chiquita to places throughout the world. The foliage and landscape change to something mossier and drippier in a different shade of green than the western side of the country. The light is different as well. Coming over the mountains to the Atlantic side of the Costa Rica is like coming into another country without a border crossing.  Even the color of people’s skin turns a darker brown – this is the Afro-Caribbean province and there is also a noticeable population of indigenous – Talamancas and Mestizos especially.

 

When I got to Puerto Viejo, I went to the home of my old friend Susana Schik, who appears on one of the last pages of Walking with Wolf, but who hasn’t appeared in my life in probably eight or ten years. She used to live in Monteverde, teaching natural history courses, but now does that down in Puerto. She is married to a lovely man, René, and has a very sprightly four-year-old daughter named Hannah. Once Hannah got over her initial shyness with me, our time was spent trading wild cat screams and responses – and this girl can roar! Susana and René care-take some vacation houses along the Black Sands beach on the north side of Puerto and they offered that I could use an apartment that was empty in one of these houses.

Beautiful! I spent three nights with a great balcony, cable TV, phone and very hot shower – more than I’ve had in most places I’ve stayed. The only head-shaking part was the amount of locks and barriers involved – every window not only had heavy wooden shutters but iron grates and locks. The doors had deadbolts, the iron grates were double locked. And even then, there were signs that someone had been trying to hack their way past the deadbolt in the few days since Susana had last visited there. She told me not to leave the house less than thoroughly locked up even if I only leave for a few minutes to go to her place or to the store – someone will surely break in. The signs of people trying to get at whatever they can, to share illegally in the obvious wealth that exists for some in Costa Rica, are omnipresent.

 

I took the local bus through the now-almost-city of Puerto Viejo, full of surfers, rastas, university students on vacation, and locals working in the bustling service industry, to quieter Punta Uva, a few kilometers down the coast. My friend Sarah Dowell, prolific and extraordinary artist, lives there. We have been friends since I came to Monteverde in 1990. She lived in a great funky house with its artistically displayed shell collection (Sarah commented that they collected these shells a few years ago but now have a hard time finding many of these shells – they want to donate this as an exhibit somewhere in the town) up on the mountain. I would go and visit while she painted. This is how she makes her living and so she is quite disciplined about the time she spends painting each day. She works from photographs – of nature, animals, flowers, and various human models she’s collected images of. I was a model for her many years ago and get a thrill each time I recognize some part of my anatomy, if not all of me, in a painting. Her paintings are for sale at the Hummingbird Gallery here in Monteverde, where I once worked, and I often stop and visit with the owners and look at the fresh crop of Sarah’s water colors. They range from very green jungle scenes with nudes running through the foliage, to underwater sea life, to vibrant exotic flowers. Simply beautiful. Sarah gave me a painting that my likeness is in, standing in a pool at the base of a waterfall along with a nude man (the model was Bill Kucha, another artist). I have shown the painting to a couple of people and they knew that it was me and also know that I would happily be standing nude in a pool of water at the base of any waterfall.  So thank you Sarah, for that gift.

Sarah’s home and gallery in Punta Uva

 

Spending several hours in Sarah and her partner Mel’s open-air home (a beach version of her Monteverde home) and studio, with her paintings, great coffee, and birds singing and howlers chuckling around the large open windows, talking about anything and everything we could in our attempt to catch up, was time spent in pure enjoyment. At some point, Sarah’s grand-daughter, Ashanti, joined us. She is another enchanting four-year-old. We walked down the path to the beach and played in the water. It is always fun to be with a child just learning to swim and who is confident enough to take chances – the only way to learn. Sarah lost her own son, Singer, in a car accident a couple of years ago. She is finally recovering and there is no doubt that having Shanti close by, and the child’s mom Connie (who gave me a fantastically relaxing massage on the beach), helps.  To have a bit of her son alive in this funny, smart, energetic little girl is another gift.  

 

Sarah and Shanti on the beautiful beach at Punta Uva

                                                                                                                                                                                              We saw a sloth. This is my favorite animal here and this was the first of many I saw this week. I’ve had many great sloth experiences.  The first one I saw my first year here was on this coast, a dead one, washed up after a few days of terrible rains that had no doubt knocked down the tree that the sloth was in and washed the poor animal out to sea. My Tico friend, Macho, and I came upon it, this peaceful looking creature seemingly asleep on the beach, curled up like a baby, all covered in a fine coating of green – these animals live their lives in the trees, and are basically mammalized containers of chlorophyll. This poor little guy was very dead – I wanted to take pictures, they would have been beautiful, but Macho was appalled that I would take pictures of the dead, even an animal, and so we moved on (as I recall, it also involved returning to the cabin to get my camera – which was more of a problem than his reluctance). 

 

Another time I protected a sloth as it slowly ran through downtown Cahuita very late at night.  While the fiesta rages on in the bars, the sloths often make their way through town, holing up in the trees of the park, then making a “run” for it to get to the next bunch of trees. Well, if you have ever seen a sloth move, you want to pick them up and help them along. It is a silent movie slowed down to almost pause. But I can always imagine the inside of their little leaf-filled brains screaming, “run, man, run – I’m outa here”, even as their long arms and legs slowly move them along the ground. That particular night, I fended off the drunken boys who wanted to harass the poor creature, and walked with him till he got safely back into the shadows. Gary Larsen, the cartoonist, has a great drawing called “what sloths do when no-one is around” – which shows a very happy sloth boogie-ing on the ground to the music from a boombox – and I identify with that. We tend to have ideas of how others live by how they appear – and we never really know what happens when the doors are shut, the lights are off, and there is no one else around.    

 

These are turtle tracks, the mama come out of the sea to lay her eggs…could be tractor tracks come to dig up the beach…we spent awhile raking the tracks away so noone would find the nest and steal the eggs.

 

The amount of growth in Puerto Viejo is staggering – as in so many parts of the country. The issue of concern now is the proposal to build a large marina. The original concept was for 400 slots! That would bring an immense amount of traffic off the seas into this already bursting town. They have downsized it to one hundred berths and even that will make a disaster of the reef, the sea, and the community. I didn’t spend a lot of time investigating this – I just look at development as it has occurred in so many parts of this little country and see that the planning has been haphazard, the execution swift, and the result often devastating to many, while obviously profitable to others. Of course, there is that idea of not stopping progress, but there is also that big question “is this really what you call progress?” Hmmmmm…

 

I left Puerto and went half an hour up the road to my old stomping grounds of Cahuita.  There has always been a huge difference between these two neighbouring communities.  People tend to be either a Cahuita person or a Puerto person (like red and black beans I guess). Back in 1990 I spent a week in Cahuita and fell in love with it – and then traveled down to Puerto for one night before quickly returning to Cahuita. Whatever the differences were then, they are more obvious now – Puerto Viejo has grown immensely and stretches over a large area and it is busy with a surfer-dude subculture due to the legend of the Salsa Brava wavebreak (even though I think it was negatively affected by an earthquake years ago that shifted the coral reef) – Cahuita is smaller and more laid back with an older crowd moving slower. In Cahuita everything takes place in a very small area – the two main bars for beer or dancing are beside each other and the beautiful white sandy beach and National Park is two blocks away. You can stay in a pension, walk two minutes to any restaurant for Caribbean food, dance, shop, and walk along the shady path that follows the beach until you get to the quiet waters where you can float or swim lazily. I always spend a lot of hours on that beach in the shade of the trees when I’m not afloat in the warm water of the Caribbe.

 

I have known many characters in this town – some pretty unsavory, others classic Caribbean. I won’t get into what I have seen and witnessed over the years, for without explanation I know it all sounds rough. But being on the Atlantic is a very different culture than in other parts of Costa Rica – one that is very laid back up until there is a problem between people, then it can be very aggressive. As long as you don’t put yourself in the middle of anything, you have no worries. The drug trade has affected this coast perhaps more than other parts of the country (though all of Costa Rica has become a clearing house for Columbian cocaine and marijuana). It is not far across the sea from South America to this coastline and people work at making money in their nefarious ways. Unfortunately, you also see the affects on the people themselves of a poor economy mixed with cheap drugs and the opportunity to make a fast buck. I’ve seen the result on many friends on both coasts who have fallen to the constant fiesta. But these temptations are part of life all over Costa Rica, as well as in many other parts of the world. And you can either focus on that and reject the place, or appreciate the other aspects of the Caribbean culture, the warmth of the people, the spice of the food, the relax of life stewed in coconut juices.

 

In short order, I bumped into my old friend Roberto. We go way back, a history of love, friendship, and conversation. There is a famous song written by a Cahuitan calypsonian, Walter Ferguson, called “Cabin in the Water.”  My friend Manuel Monestel and his group Cantoamerica play and have recorded this song (Walter himself recorded it, finally, at the age of 83) – it tells the story of Bato, a man who built himself a simple cabin in the water off of the beach and was living there when Cahuita National Park was created. The administrator of the park came and told him, “Bato, you can’t live here, this is now a National Park.” He held his own for a long time but eventually moved up to another beach. Bato was a very interesting man. If you came across him in his hammock on the beach, you’d think he was just the marine equivalent of a street person – but he was actually a very intelligent, poetic philosopher. He knew what was going on in the world. I knew Bato through the 90s when I spent a lot of time here (he died about six years ago) and would go and sit and visit with him. Even as an old man, he never lost his ability to attract females, even young ones, and was quite the charmer. But my business with him was talking – listening to his tales and his ideas, told in his lilting Caribbean patois. I was always amazed how his home changed – one year I would arrive and his house would be a construction as big as a castle, built by driftwood, flotsam and jetsam that had washed up from huge storms. He would have walls, roof, tables, bed (although still sleep in his hammock) and decoration. The next time I came, the sea would have taketh away, and he was back to the simplicity of his hammock, maybe starting with another table assembly from fresh driftwood. He was a man who chose to live life with little money and less possession, but still lived. He wasn’t always a nice man, but he was an interesting one. And my friend Roberto is his son.

 

Roberto Levey grew up in Cahuita, was on his own by the time he was fourteen years old, and moved to San José where he became a shoemaker. He came back after twenty years to Cahuita and lived in a little casita a few minutes walk from town. When I met him in 1994, he was a fisherman and sold organic fruits from the trees on his land. A rasta with a life time growth of dreads on his head, he lived a very earthy life by the sea. I was charmed by his kindness and his positive energy and his humor, but truly impressed with his intelligence. He sang in local reggae and calypso bands and wrote poetry. His house had his own graffiti all over it. He was a friend to me and my old boyfriend, Macho, and we often camped in his yard and he fed us breadfruit and akee. Nothing was sweeter in Cahuita than lounging in his hammock and listening to him reciting poetry or talking politics or explaining the Caribbean culture which was very different from anything I knew. As I got to know his father, I could see the genetics, even though Roberto had never lived with him. He inherited his father’s way of viewing the world and living his life, with a minimum of money and a whole lot of interest in what made the world go around and a great sense of humor about even the ugliest of human behavoir. 

 

Women easily fall in love with him, as I did, and he has children on three continents. The phenomena of foreign women coming to exotic places and getting pregnant by, sometimes marrying, perhaps taking the local boys home is easy to criticize but more complicated in its effect on both the beach men and the foreign women. Roberto is not happy that he has five children who live far away from him – as they get older, they will no doubt reappear in his life, or at least some probably will. In the meantime, their father continues to live his life just as his father before him did, under the shade of tropical trees, to the rhythm of the calypsonians, holding on to the idea that love and peace are worthy goals. I saw Roberto a couple of years ago and he was in a very hurting state, his heart once again broken and so he was surviving by medicating himself – at the time I could only admonish him, tell him that he was worth so much more, plead with him to get it back together, and leave him with the hope that he would come through this horrible period. When I arrived this year, I knew that he was back to himself, smiling, thinking, warm and relaxed. He had bought a little piece of jungle a short walk out of Cahuita and was living, just like his father, off the land, making just enough money by selling produce when he needed to, and living in his own peace. 

 

I told him that I’d like to give him a copy of Walking with Wolf as long as he’d read it and he said he was very interested. So as I floated in the sea, I’d look up and see him reading and when I came out of the water, he’d talk about what he had been reading, asking questions and expressing his own take on some line I’d written or statement of Wolf’s. It was as pleasant of an intercourse about the book as I’ve had with anyone. If you saw Roberto, his heavy head of dreads tied up over his 55-year-old face with white beard, his clothes smelling of the wood stove he cooks on, and his poverty obvious, you’d probably assume he was just another pothead with too much party going on and little to live for. And once again, you’d have judged the man quite differently from his reality. I spent a morning sitting by the stream outside his jungle shack and the conversation never bored or stalled. I felt privileged to have been invited to  Roberto’s home in the jungle.

 

Sarah Dowell is anxious to return to Monteverde, in a large way because of the level of thinking and depth of conversation that exists throughout this community. She repeated a line from a Bill Bryson book that says “the cheery vacuity of beach life”, and she is dying from that particular virus. But in my week on the beautiful sands of the Caribbean, spent with Sarah, Susana and Roberto, I never lacked for intelligent conversation and intriguing analysis of life and society. Maybe I’m just lucky in the people I know, yet often they are not at all what they appear to be. Fortunately I’ve learned to look past the color or state of the paint on peoples’ houses and that ability has led to some of the richest experiences of my life.

Beautiful Cabure Argentine Cafe in Monteverde, where I have wireless and send email from  (and eat and drink…)

 

I’d like to say that I’m writing this from the balcony of some funky hotel on the coast, watching the pelicans flying in formations and listening to the waves crashing. Instead, I’m back up in Monteverde, listening to the birds waking up and the early shift workers’ motorcycles heading to the dairy plant. However, I am bringing you a story of great success in the big city, getting Walking with Wolf out of customs with a minimum of fuss and a reasonable amount of money. I decided to come back up the mountain Wednesday in the Reserve truck with the books and Wolf. Beto our trusty chauffeur made it all easy once again.  As is usual this time of the year, the day is dawning bright and sunny but the rain will move in sometime later, so you have to get your outdoor chores done early or you are going to get very wet.

 

Wolf and I went down last Sunday on the afternoon bus following the community potluck lunch which is held the first Sunday of every month after the Quaker meeting.  It is a great chance to eat really good homemade food and to visit with folks who you may never run into otherwise.  We sold some books, filled our bellies and then went in the pouring rain to Santa Elena.  Fortunately the bus was a dry one, unlike the older bus that I came up in the week before, where every other seat was under a leak and it was hard to stay dry even though you were inside a bus. It seems that’s a theme of these latest blog posts – the fact that it is being a very wet beginning to a rainy season is impossible to ignore.  Staying dry is a challenge but you just have to accept the inevitable – for the first time that I can remember, I bought an umbrella, although much of the time even an umbrella, rubber boots and rain coat aren’t going to keep you completely dry. 

 

We spent the first night at the Casa Ridgeway, known as the Peace Center, run by Quakers, which is Wolf’s base camp when in San Jose.  The folks there know him and were all pleased to see the book.  It is a spartan little place which I don’t mind – I especially like the monk-like rooms that are painted white with no decoration except a quote about peace stenciled on the wall. My room said: Me, you can kill but you can’t silence justice. 

 

Early Monday we began the process of getting the books.  I’m still not sure what that first company we dealt with was exactly – there are a number of hands extended when in the process of paying to get your imported goods. Although we called early in the morning, the papers weren’t ready for us till mid-afternoon. We then took a taxi out to the western part of the city, La Sabana Norte, and there we paid for the permit to release the books and the cost of the books being moved off of the boat and into the customs storage.  Once that is done you want to get them out quickly as they cost plenty for each day they are held. We paid our money and received the documents and were told to contact the aduana, the customs broker, Eliezar Alfaro Porras, who helped us through the next step. It was too late to see him but we did make an arrangement to meet at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

 

This, of course, meant another trip by taxi and bus and taxi to Alajuela, near the airport.  Eliezar was great, meeting us in a convenient place, taking us in his car to his office, trying to explain the process of what was going on, attempting to keep the costs down, going to the bank for me to speed up the process.  We spent a few hours with him but they were pleasant ones and I will keep his number to use him again in the future.  By 1 p.m. he had confirmation that everything was in order and we could head out to the bodega, the big storage place where the books were being held. We went back into the city by bus and taxi to the Tropical Science Center who had said they would send a vehicle out to pick up the books.  By the time we got there, their truck wasn’t around and by 3 it was looking like we wouldn’t be able to get our books that day as the bodega closed at 5 and was at least half an hour away. This was worrisome as you don’t want to stop the momentum once it is rolling.  As Wolf kept saying, if we don’t go while we are at the head of the line, who knows how far back they will send us. I have to say that both Carlos Hernandez, the director at the Reserve who has helped and supported us every step of the way, and then Vicente Watson, one of the main scientists at the TSC, were invaluable. 

 Vicente Watson and Wolf

When Vicente realized that we didn’t have a vehicle to pick up the books, he stayed with the problem, gnawing the bone, until it got worked out.  By 3:15 we were in a car with Warner Corvajal, an employee there, zipping across and out of the city to Santo Domingo de Heredia where the bodega was.  Vladimir Jimenez and the TSC truck was located on its way back from a trip and was rerouted to the bodega.  By 4 we had the paperwork done and the last money paid.  By 4:30 we were loaded and on our way back to the TSC office in San Pedro.  It all happened so quick and with so little fuss, except for the hours of waiting, it is still hard to believe.  In the old days, things took a lot longer.  But with computers and supportive people who are trying hard to help the process go quickly, well, incredibly, sometimes it does. 

 

Wolf and I celebrated with a great Italian meal of very anchovish ceasar salad, authentic pizza and red wine at Pane y Vino in San Pedro.  We had spent the better part of the two days together and had lots of time to talk while waiting.  If there is something Wolf and I can do it is talk, but at the same time we don’t always have quiet time anymore to do just that. We have either been running around or surrounded by family and friends or so tired that all we can do is smile at each other. 

 YAHOO – we have the books (and a glass of wine)

 

I moved from the Peace Center to my friend Myrna Castro’s house for Monday and Tuesday night.  I met Myrna and her daughters Sofia and Veronica when they came to the music festival back in 1999.  Her ex-husband, Luis Zumbado, is a great violinist and was playing in Monteverde that year and staying in the house for the musicians which I managed for a couple of years.  I’ve remained friends with them and try to visit at least once a year when in the big city.  Veronica and I went out Monday night to visit Sonsax, our friends the sexy-saxophonists, who were practicing at the university.  I hadn’t seen them for a couple of years.  Valerio, Jan, Pablo, Chopper & Manrique the percussionist are five great guys who have played around the world including the Montreal Jazz Festival, where I’ve gone to see them a couple of times.  When I first knew them back in the mid-nineties, they were young crazy too-good-looking-for-their-own-good musicians, but they are all maturing (or getting old as Jan said, not me) and now have wives, children and are all busy teaching when they aren’t playing their high energy brand of sax music. 

 

I also went to see Manuel Monestel again, the musical leader and mentor of Cantoamerica who I went dancing to last week. We shared some wine and some stories about the Caribbean community, which we both know and love. Made me want to go to Cahuita, the funky little town I’ve spent a lot of time in on the east coast. He was heading there the next day, so now I await some good gossip back. 

 

While we were in the city, we also talked with the Tico Times, who took the book to read and do a review and we will return for an interview in a week or so.  We talked to Marc and John at Seventh Street Books who will carry the book but it isn’t the kind that they distribute.  But they are going to be helpful in supplying a list of booksellers in the country where our book may fit in. I will head out on some roadtrips, peddling books to the stores I choose in places I want to go (and return to later).

 

When Beto arrived on Wednesday morning at the TSC office, we carefully loaded the books, along with a bunch of bedding materials, and triple wrapped everything in plastic and tarps.  It poured on us most of the way home but we felt pretty confident that the boxes would be okay.  As it turned out they weren’t totally.  When Beto and I unwrapped the boxes Thursday morning, the bottom four boxes had water damage – fortunately we only lost about 10 books to a bit of damage, and not so bad that we can’t give them as freebies to friends. But as Wolf said, those books traveled all that way from Montreal to Costa Rica on the sea and were dry, but a little 4 hour trip up the mountain to Monteverde couldn’t keep them that way.  I tell you, the moisture in this place would be to die for if you lived in the desert, but I’m back on that mantra again…beach, beach, beach… 

The dark skies over Monteverde

So now it is already Friday – I’ve written this in bits and starts.  Have been distributing books, making plans, and am truly heading to the beach tomorrow, then back to the big city.  Have some presentations lined up at the Reserve for the next week.  But I need some more sun and heat then Monteverde is willing to dish out right now.  However, one last night out at the new sushi restaurant in Santa Elena, oh so good – and a visit with our friend Marc Egger, multi-lingual guide extraordinaire, who is here from Sao Paolo, Brazil.  It’ll be a great night slurping sashimi. Soon I shall return, hopefully with sand in my shoes and solar energy stored in my skin.

 

Rain is pounding down on the zinc roof of Wolf and Lucky’s house, making conversation difficult, but finally giving me a chance to write from Monteverde. Aah yes, the cloud forest in the rainy season – not for the faint of heart but paradise for those with webbed feet. Actually it has been so dry here that water was being rationed in the community up until the rains started in earnest about a week ago. Looks like I got here right on time. The humidity has cranked up the clamminess, the landscape is a collage of intense greens, and the dirt roads are slowly becoming water-filled ditches supporting small gravel islands. 

 

 

I was so busy with getting the book ready and preparing to leave my home and garden for a couple of months, that I wasn’t thinking so much about where I was going, other than to Wolf’s house to present him with his book. But in very short order, upon my arrival in Costa Rica, my heart has filled with the warmth of the Guindon family, the anticipation in the community for Walking with Wolf, and the enchantment of the place. The last time I was here in this particular season, the beginning of the rainy season, was 1990, my first year here.  I had forgotten how the view from up on the mountain in May, looking over the Nicoya peninsula to the Pacific, is this magical world of clouds, mountains, water, and sky –  these elements merge and mingle and seem to get turned upside down, in a way that even Stephen Spielberg couldn’t capture with an arsenal of special effects. When I woke up on Thursday morning, just as day was breaking, and looked out the windows to the west, my breath was taken away by the layers of color and shadow suspended on the shifting horizon. I grabbed my camera and went out to try to capture it (a picture here isn’t worth the thousand words it would take to describe the scene) – I startled two masked tityras, beautiful white birds with pink and black facial markings, who were feeding in a guayaba tree and didn’t notice me right away.  They fluttered about grabbing the small fruit, only five feet from me, until they realized that I was there and flew off. 

Welcome back to Monteverde…

 

The flight down was fast (those individual TV screens on the planes are great – two movies of your choice and you’re here); the books arrived safe and sound (did I mention how expensive they were as extra baggage? – Kaching); customs didn’t look once at me that alone twice; and as soon as I got through to the wall of windows at the exit, there were Lucky and Wolf, smiling and waving.  As promised, the Reserve’s four-wheel drive, army-fatigue-green, Toyota crew cab truck-limo, complete with Beto the chauffeur, had come to pick me and the books up.  We waited until we were in a restaurant to unveil the books – and, as hoped, Wolf and Lucky were very excited and pleased. We had our first moment of celebrity – the waitress saw the cover and looked at Wolf and asked if that was him – and then saw my photo on the back – and was thrilled to be serving two such important people! HA! Not like we got a free meal or anything, but it was fun for all of us nonetheless. 

 

We didn’t make it up the mountain to Monteverde, normally about a three to four hour trip from the airport, until 9 that night. They were putting in a culvert on the highway and there was only one lane open and they were letting the traffic going to the city pass much more frequently than those of us heading to the country.  We spent close to three hours inching forward in fits and starts, Lucky playing old tunes on the harmonica, Beto and I getting out to tempt fate with the oncoming traffic, Wolf picking up the book from time to time, checking to see if it was real.  By the time we got up the mountain, there was nothing left but sleep. But we were very, very happy.

 

 

On Thursday morning we took the book up to Carlos Hernandez, the director at the Reserve. He insists that the Tropical Science Center (who owns and administers the Reserve) is serious about wanting to finance a Spanish translation. I told him that although I think this is wonderful, I don’t want to give up the rights to the book and also want to control the translating process (new little control freak that I’ve become – makes me wonder just what kind of parent I might have been after all…).  I believe he is on Wolf’s and my side in this – he took copies to give to the members of the board of the TSC.  I suggested that he have someone who is fluent in English read the book first and make sure they are still interested. He suggested that I check out how much the translation itself might cost and who we might employ to do it. We will proceed from there. But my immediate feeling was a good one, that he understands how personal the project is for Wolf and I, and that he will represent us well to the board. 

 

We made our rounds showing off the book (one last baby comparison – the book’s cover really is soft like a baby’s bum, I swear).  Our friends Mercedes Diaz and Luis Angel Obando, who show up in the last chapter of Walking with Wolf, were thrilled to finally get their copy – immediately plans were started for the fiesta, la presentacion del libro, and we started selling books. Lucky began reading and her reaction has been wonderful (although she did find an error deep in the book – a factual one, not just a difference of memory from her husband – I think I will leave it ambiguous and see how many people catch this error….hopefully not too many more will be found). 

 

Leaving Wolf and Lucky with the book safely in hand, I jumped on a bus on Friday morning and returned to the big city of San José to meet up with my friend Patricia Maynard. She was taking a group of Latin American literature students from the University of Georgia around town to a variety of cultural events.  I sat in on talks by our musician friends Edin Solis of Editus and Jaime Gamboa of Malpais on the historical context and present day reality of Costa Rican music. They both tried to convince the American students, who listed reggaeton as one of their favorite genres of music, that songwriting which includes poetry and composition that is more than three chords is of more value than easy, commercial music – I’m not sure if they convinced the students, but Edin and Jaime spoke with such passion that I would hope they at least made them think. We had a great meal at the Café Arco Iris and watched Alejandro Toceti – now a kind of Cultural Attache with the government, but who we’ve known as a beautiful dancer, whose every muscle speaks even when he stands still – tell stories with his body. We finished our day with a night of hot dancing at Jazz Café in San Pedro – Manuel Monestel and his ever-changing Afro-Caribbean band, Cantoamerica, kept us jumping to salsa, calypso and reggae. Since my years involved in the music festival in Monteverde, all these musicians have remained great friends and a night of hearing them play only whets my appetite for more.

 

The next day we had the great privilege of a visit with Daniel Villegas, one of the top authors and playwrights in Costa Rica. He studied years ago in Europe as well as Los Angeles and New York City at The Artists Studio. Not only was his conversation colorful and informative, but for me, the new young author that I be, it was very touching. When he spoke about how he found inspiration, how stories can be told, and the most important thing being to write honestly and about what is real in your life – well, I like to think that I have tried to do that with Walking with Wolf.  I humbly gave him a copy of our book. He accepted it graciously, though who knows if he will ever read it.  But it was the first instance where I presented myself as an author with a book I am proud of and wasn’t embarrassed to share it with such a distinguished writer.

 

I came back up the mountain in time for the Quaker meeting on Sunday.  After the hour of silence, when it came time for introductions by visitors and announcements, I confirmed the rumors to those present, that I had indeed returned with the book in hand (I had left last May stating I wouldn’t return until the book was truly a book). I invited everyone to the celebration to be held later this week at Bromelias Café, on Thursday, May 29th at 5 p.m. I then presented Jean Stuckey, the head of the Monteverde library committee, with a signed copy of Walking with Wolf.  The dedication reads:

 

“For the Monteverde Friends Library, my favorite library in the world. It is with the greatest pleasure that we give you our book to be placed on your musty shelves. With love, Kay and the Wolf”.

 

I’m on my way there now to help catalogue it and place it on the shelf!

 

 

 

 

      

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