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I returned to the Caribbean coast on February 6, 2010, the anniversary of my first night in Costa Rica twenty years ago in 1990. Then, as now, it was the eve of a national election which falls on the first Sunday of February every four years. It was also the celebration of Bob Marley’s birthday, who, if he was alive, would be 65 and no doubt still making music of love and peace in complex patterns that appear simple. Just like true love and world peace – beautifully basic concepts, complicated to achieve and sustain in reality. Bob, known as Tuff Gong for being a street dog who could fight, didn’t necessarily live up to these gracious ideals himself though he sure made great songs about them.

I’ve bought a new laptop which came to Costa Rica in a rather convulated fashion, thanks to my nerd in the Hammer, Brandon Lukasik, and fellow Canadian in Monteverde, Margaret Adelman. I finally got all my files into it, thanks in large part to my hero-of-the-week, José, who fixed things I couldn’t understand and made it all work smoothly. I left my trusty old Toshiba in Monteverde for students to use at the Friends School. The new Dell has an extended battery in it, since we are off the grid here at Roberto’s. The next thing is getting a solar panel and charging system and I’ll be set. As Bob’s voice caresses us, singing abouting ending war and respecting each other, and I’m tap tap tapping away in my bloglife, Roberto is digging the possibilities of this new technology that’s come to his wireless jungle paradise, though he remains totally uninterested in trying to understand it.

I’m in awe of being here in the steamy dripping jungle and working comfortably on a computer. I have all the systems on low energy, and I figure it is better in this humid climate to use it and let the heat dry it out than worry about how much battery is left. Whereas before I would handwrite while I was here, now I can write as fast as I think, quickly skating over the letters on the keyboard. And I can listen to music at the same time. My battery is supposed to last about seven hours – if I’m just typing. With playing music, I will keep track of what the battery can do before having to take it to town to be charged – and how long will that take anyway? There has been a bit of rain, which is good because it has been quite dry here – well, everywhere in Costa Rica pretty much – and Roberto’s moat, the Quebrada Suarez, needs a washout and refill. It’s enough of a drizzle to keep us from going to town to see the Superbowl – really just the halftime show gets my interest – nicer to stay home, listen to the forest, keep a fire going, go to bed.

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All night long, the sky dripped. Drops in every language fell, joining together in a percussive experiment. It wasn’t rain by Caribbean standards, just a gentle wet lullabye being hummed throughout the night. Now, morning, and the sky has stopped its crying, but the trees are soggy enough that their melancholy song of teardrops will continue for hours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The howler monkeys have taken over. There is a family in a tree directly above us, and the moaning, whining and roaring is impressive. It was almost exactly a year ago that we were staying in a cabin in Cahuita town and the howlers put on a concert for days that was unlike anything I’d ever heard before (written about in “The Kukulas of Cahuita” blogpost). The sounds coming from them today is reminiscent of that – makes me wonder what is going on with them at this time of the year? Are they in heat or do they already have young babies who they are either teaching or protecting? Songs of the jungle, along with the morning’s first cup of coffee, how delicious.

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 The last couple weeks in Monteverde were spent sitting in front of this same laptop, working hard to get the new blog for Bosqueterno S.A. up and running (http://bosqueternosa.wordpress.com) and putting together a power point presentation to share that same history with the community. It’s a part of Monteverde history, the creation of the first watershed reserve, that few seem to remember, if they ever knew it. I went out one day with Wolf, thinking to plant the seed that I’d be returning in March and available to give this talk to the guides, Reserve employees, Friends School, and members of the community at the Monteverde Institute. By the end of the day, I had four dates lined up – people were excited about learning more about the beginning of conservation in Monteverde.

 

 In March, Roberto and I will return to the green mountain to spend a couple more weeks with our little feline friend, Miel, who is now in the tender loving care of Sarah and Priscilla, the teaching assistants for the CIEE course. They moved into the apartment a little over a week ago. It was great to meet them fresh and energetic – Sarah from Minnesota but a former CIEE student in Monteverde, and Priscilla, a Tica who majored in biology from San José. Their students are arriving this week, and their lives will change for the next four months.

 

Karen Masters and her husband Alan have run the CIEE program(Council on International Educational Exchange) in Monteverde for years. It’s a tropical biology course but there is now a sustainable ecology option as well. Karen happens to also be my adviser in the Bosqueterno work (as she is president of their Board of Directors). Roberto and I bumped into Karen and Alan in San José at the little Caribbean restaurant (La Abuela on Avenida 1/Calle 5 or so) that we discovered back in December. It was sheer coincidence that we ran into the Masters there and great to have a moment before their student groups came and they were lost in their teaching responsibilities for months. Unfortunately, though I would still recommend the restaurant, Roberto’s meal was not good – uncooked fish, cold and tasteless rice and beans – and he knows his rice and beans! The rest of our meals were fine, and the bad food could have been due to the fact that the place was packed, a very busy lunchtime crowd, putting too much stress on the little kitchen.

 

Marlene Brenes

 

 

I celebrated no less than four birthdays while in Monteverde – Tricia Wagner, drama and music teacher extraordinaire; Marlene Brenes, who works in the CIEE office downstairs from the apartment; as well as my pals Alan Calvo and Mark Fenton at Bromelias.

 

 

 

 

Gatos Pardos

 

 

Tricia’s birthday was celebrated with the poetry group which my good friend Patricia Jimenéz is also part of. I’ve spent other evenings with these folks when no poetry is shared, just food, wine and conversation. Other times, they write poetry together and people share their poems. They call themselves the Gatos Pardos and have been getting together and supporting each other’s creative writing for years. As a gift to both Tricia and Walter, another member who had recently had a birthday, Patricia created books with a selection of each member’s poetry, cloaked in a cover of handmade paper of recycled and organic materials that she has been making with another group of women in her home. As Tricia says, Patricia Jimenéz is an inspiration and idol to us all – painter, poet, political analyst, polio survivor and protaganist of a myriad of creative ventures in the Monteverde area. And always a wonderful friend to spend an evening with, sipping wine and talking about life.

 

 

 

 

 

 That night ended at the Mata ‘e Caña where Las Nómadas were playing – Andres, Diego and Cristian, guitar and percussion (along with saxophonist Richard Trostle), singing and drumming out the sweet beats of cuban salsa along with a little of this and that. There are some good bands these days in Monteverde – and you can catch at least a couple of them every week at the Mata, formerly la Taverna as it was known to thousands for more than twenty years. It’s now run by Shannon Smith who oversees the place like the charismatic, buxom red-headed madam of a saloon in the wild west – although the place looks more like New York City than Laredo. Due to her consistent booking of fine musical acts, I spent alot of nights dancing there in the last couple months in Monteverde.

The other sweet spot higher up the road on the mountain is Bromelias. Patricia Maynard has done some more remodeling (she has more ideas than money) and is gearing up for her Music Festival – three top quality groups each weekend for four weeks beginning mid-February. I went there for her son Machillo’s 21st birthday which we celebrated the same day as her employee and our friend, Alan Calvo’s. These last couple of weeks in Monteverde have been windless, starry-skied nights, warm and magical. Bromelias is enchanting when the fire is blazing outside under the sparkly night sky, and there is always some variation of music in the restaurant or in the amphitheater.

Alejandra Portilla

The National Theater of Costa Rica put on a play there this last week – called Canto de Ballenas (Whale Singing) – which was a rather melancholy four-character, one-act play whose message seemed to be “sometimes, it’s better just to forget”. It starred the lovely Alejandra Portilla and played out under a calm warm night in Bromelias Amphitheater. They were going to be having a big reggae, rice and beans celebration at Bromelias for Bob Marley’s birthday, but I left Monteverde to meet up with Roberto and return here to our jungle home.

 

 

 At the last minute, we decided to go spend my 20th anniversary and Bob’s birthday in Puerto Viejo. Sadly, the live band wasn’t playing at Maritza’s bar, where we like to go dancing, but we still got some dancing in by bar-hopping throughout the night. Bob’s music was everywhere, sang live by Memo and his hot band Plan B at the corner bar, pounding at Johnny’s disco on the beach, rippling out of almost every doorway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our new place to stay in Puerto is La Dolce Vita. In November, we stayed in a room with shared bath for $15 near the communal kitchen; this time for 15,000 colones (about $25) we had a private bath in a very comfortable room – the place is secure, super clean, colorful and close to downtown, but still very quiet.

 

 

Now Roberto’s jungle home is the place to be, surrounded by the sweet sounds of the jungle. Listening to the radio this morning, Roberto reported to me that the New Orleans Saints won the Superbowl. I’m glad that something good happened for that city…where just five years ago the homeless and traumatized survivors of Kratina were being housed in the stadium that the now victorious football team calls home.

 He also told me that Laura Chinchilla became the first female president of Costa Rica last night continuing the reign of Oscar Arias’ Liberación Nacional party. As I wrote at the beginning, there is a lot of apathy, disillusionment and disgust in this country for their politicians these days. Twenty years ago, when I first came here, they were so proud of their democracy that they would walk proudly in the streets showing off the purple thumbs that proved that they had indeed participated in the vote. Now, just six electons later, many people can’t be bothered to vote. They don’t believe the propaganda and election promises. It is a sad tendency in many democracies these days – certainly in Canada, where disgust is at an all time high with the minority Conservative government who just took a long extended parlimentary vacation, and the U.S., where the aftermath of Obama’s election isn’t meeting the high expectations of hope and change.

Costa Rica has bathed for years in a special light, but the truth is often far from its pacifistic, green reputation. May the new government bring some honesty and truth and intelligent foresight back, before the possibility of eternal environmental health and a comfortable and secure standard of living is lost to a much darker reality. It is something that in such a machista country, that a woman has been voted in as president, but it certainly doesn’t ensure that her policies will change from those of the old boys’ club (aka Margaret Thatcher).

 

Long after his own life passed, Bob Marley’s songs continue to ring throughout the world, with a chorus of love and peace amid verses of unity and respect. He grew up in poverty with a mother who bestowed on him her own talent for singing – he joined with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer to create a music that transcends languages and borders and deeply touches almost everyone who hears it. His songs can change the world – they are some of the sweetest ever written. That special light shone down on this soul too and he rose to meet it, at least in music and message. Thank you Bob, rest in that same peace that you sang so beautifully about.

PS – I’ve written, listened to music, or gone on to my computer for some thing or other for about five and a half hours – and it tells me there is still 25% of the battery left! Cool! Off to town, Roberto will do some fishing, me some swimming and then go charge up the battery and go online to post this. Ah, the sweet life….

PPS – Posting this in Bastimento, Bocas del Toro, Panama – may never return…love this place.

The blog life is certainly not the blaaaahg life…time goes by so quickly I’m mildly shocked when I look and see that close to two weeks have passed since my last post. Perhaps I should be making excuses, but really there are only two – I haven’t sat down and written – Just Do It! goes the post-new-year dieter’s mantra – and I’ve been preparing for the birth of a second blog which I got up and running today. May seem a bit traitorsome to some, a little narcistic to others (I mean, how much more could I have to say), but the second blog, at http://bosqueternosa.wordpress.com is the culmination of a writing project I’ve been working on for a few months for the Bosqueterno S.A. organization here in Monteverde.

Rather than explain that too much (since I have spoken about Bosqueterno and my writing job numerous times on this blog) , I’ll ask you to go there and check out the sweet newness of it, the innocence, the hope lingering in its postlessness. And, as the first little communique pleads, make a comment, ask a question, request something – anything! It’ll be so exciting for those of us behind the wordpress dashboard to get an early response.

I’ve been getting all my little cloud forest ducks in a row waiting to put together the blog – write the script, get approval from the Bosqueterno board, find the pictures, focus, sign up for blog (with its many design decisions to be made) – the next step is to keep filling it in with all that approved written fodder, and then to prepare a powerpoint presentation. This is meant to accompany the blog, teaching local guides, teachers and Monteverde Reserve employees about the unique history of the Bosqueterno S.A. land that has been left in the wet dust of the Bosqueterno de los Niños, a more well-known local reserve owned by the Monteverde Conservation League, and the big Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve that leases the Bosqueterno land. Now that I’ve got lots of photos digitalized, the rest is just writing, posting and editing, and eventually speaking, which is the easiest part for me.

In the meantime….

Went and saw Costa Rican rocker Pato Barraza – at our new fav bar Mata ‘e Caña – was a good night of latin rock, a bitta reggae, seeing some friends…will head out again tonight, after I finish this, to do some salsa dancing with Roberto and the local band, Los Maletines – who play a very sweet Cuban salsa and more. Roberto is still here, tho we keep talking about him leaving, but now that the weather on the mountain has got calmer, hotter, and sunnier, he’s loath to go…but the day will arrive soon. In the meantime, bailamos!

I spent a wonderful evening at my friend Turid Forsyth’s with two German friends of hers, Sepp and Reto. They are keen hikers and so I shared some of my hiking knowledge of the area, made some recommendations on how to get over to the volcano Arenal by foot – if you have a few days and the equipment, you can walk the Tapir Trail that Wolf created (which appears in the last chapter of Walking with Wolf); or you can go over to the Monteverde Conservation League’s San Gerardo Research Station, spend the night keeping an eye out for a good nocturnal lava-lit eruption from the volcano, and then keep walking down to Lake Arenal, but permission from the League is necessary – you pay for your room and board at the station which is inexpensive. The problem arises when the League insists that you have two guides to accompany you on your hike through their land to the lake. When Sepp and Reto went to set this up, there weren’t two guides available and the League wouldn’t allow them through without.

So option three is to go to the Mirador, on the far side of Santa Elena, and hike on the horse trails there. Which is what they did in the end, making the trip down to the lakeside in five hours. If the weather is good like we’ve had these days, you are blessed with a spectacular scene, the lake and volcano right in front of you all the way.  

Over the years, the volcanos here in Costa Rica have done some damage, and there have been some nasty earthquakes as well, but while this sweet world spins around us with a minimum of pain these days, elsewhere people are really suffering. That incredibly destructive earthquake hit Haiti this last week – not just one assault, but a few – and so for a few short moments, the world’s sympathy, money and thoughts are with the Haitians. One must ask how one half of a small island could sustain such injury while the other half, the Dominican Republic, could  escape basically unscathed. One must ask how much more pain and destruction one colony of people can survive – even a people as strong as the Haitians – descendants of slaves who stood their ground against the huge powers of the time (France, Spain, Britain, the US) to become the first independant black nation in the western world.  And one must ask if there is any justice, truly, in this world.

I’ve been following on the internet (since we live without television – only Costa Rican papers, which tend to be rather lightweight, and radio, which Roberto feeds on) – and I have to say I’ve learned a new appreciation of Facebook – which can be seen as an addiction, a kind of social drunken cyber-cocktail party without the juice, as a never-ending game of mind-wasting solitaire, as many things –  but what it has shown me lately is that it is an agent for sharing information – especially the kind that the mainstream media doesn’t indulge in. Marshall McLuhan, famous Canadian media theorist from the days when the reality of what television would really mean one day was just  mist on the horizon, said that the medium would be the message… and that what we were fed and how we were fed it would influence our collective thinking. That has definitely come to pass, and now the Facehood, amongst other cyber-social-networking schemes, has brought us the ability to share information that the powers don’t want to necessarily give us, which the media isn’t telling because they are owned by corporations with agendas. Alternative media may not be the absolute truth all the time either, but it gives us the sensation of a little thorn in our sides, poking, making us question – just what the hell is going on? And giving us the opportunity to dig deeper, just like the old Mother Jones, New Internationalist, and Utne Reader mags of yesteryore.

Some of us are drawn there naturally, some of us have to be provoked. As long as we continue to question authority, at least we might arrive somewhere where truth prevails. Not necessarily, because truth can be ethereal at times, but we each have the ability, and the source, in our hearts to search for it.  And from there, if we are paying attention, and have the luxury of choice in our lives, we can choose to follow the road that feels right – or turns left. Hold on to the light, Haiti, hopefully the help that is coming your way will be without strings or strong ropes attached and will help you not just rebuild, but be stronger than ever before.

Happy New Year folks! Greetings out of the swirling mists of Monteverde, light precipitation aided by the intense winds that have been building over the last week. December was so kind to us (maybe not to the rainforest creatures, but to us, the humanoids) that when the winds and raindrops hit a few days ago, we felt assaulted. Yet we know that this is the weather that is normal for here and appropriate weather is what makes the world go round, along with love, so I’ll just shut up about that now. 

Love and weather – one can always talk about one or the other. I’m afraid that my rasta beauty Roberto is going to have to leave soon and return to his hot home on the Caribbean coast, partly due to things needing to get done, partly due to weather – he’s not leaving the apartment so much these days as the temperature drops and the wind pushes. We’ve had some company so that is always good – if you don’t want to go outside, it’s always nice for friends to come calling.

The festive season is over but because schools here don’t return for another week and the university students (children of the locals) who are visiting for the holidays don’t have to go back to the US for awhile, it feels like everything is still in slow-mo. It seems to me that in Canada, the first Monday after New Years is the day that everything kicks back into action. Well here, as in so many other ways, we are in Costa Rican time and so we slowly (but surely?) return to normal business….it needs to happen soon since I have a lot to do and am running out of excuses.

On the day after Christmas, we went to the beautiful amphitheatre at Bromelias and saw a band from Seattle – the Massy Ferguson band. It was a stunning night – the big ol moon that was slowing turning blue, no wind – which is important in this outside venue, good music. Although I didn’t know them, I remember Tony Mann and his wife who lived here before and they came back with the band that Tony plays keyboards with. They played mostly original music and we enjoyed their show – not in the least because they had a sound that reminded me of the Marshall Tucker Band – they covered “Can’t You See”, one of my all time favorite songs – and if you like a cover of a fav song, you know that the band’s done good. The lead singer/guitarist/flautist is Ethan Anderson – a great front guy, talented and charismatic. Twas a real perty night in Monteverde.

After that, my good friend Zulay, along with her sister Hilda, niece Gabriela, nephew Jason and friend Willie, came for a quick visit to Monteverde. I lived with Zulay both here in Monteverde years ago and over on her farm in San Carlos – this was a whirlwind (like the wind) tour because the others hadn’t been in Monteverde before (well, Jason, when he was 4) and so they came, they saw, they left. I spent some time with them, visiting the house where Zulay and I (and her ex-husband Vicente) had lived back in the mid-90s. These folks have been super kind to me over the years – truly, they are my Costa Rican family – so whenever I can in any small way repay their hospitality, I’m thrilled. Willie just survived a very serious motorcycle accident – hit broadside, thrown far, some head injuries – and is still feeling the effects, but it was good to see him alive.

Zulay and I went to the Guindon Sunday dinner after Christmas. It was a surprise for the family who hadn’t seen Zulay in awhile. It was wonderful to see Wolf’s son, Carlos and Lidieth – he who has recently translated Walking with Wolf into Tico-Spanish, his wife who hasn’t been here in a few years though I visited them both last spring in New Hampshire. When we entered the house, I immediately noticed that there was a new network of tree limbs strung about the ceiling (and decorated with Christmas bells and baubles) – this would be for the sloth that Benito has been mothering since last spring – now the sloth can leave her basket and crawl around on the limbs, eat the hibiscus flowers, and feel very much at home. She’s into biting now so one can’t pet her as before, and when she gets looking real fat they have to get her outside so that she can poop, but besides all those minor details, she looks like she is very comfortable in the hospitable Guindon home. It was joyous to spend an evening with the family, getting to know more grandchildren, the next generation, and their friends. Every time I am with this clan, I feel phenomenally lucky to be included – to have ever met Wolf, to have persevered with his story, and to have been received warmly by his family.

New Year’s Eve was a wow night here – big full blue moon, no wind, hot night. Kadeho, a rock band from San José, came to Mata e Cana, the newly renovated cool place to be (formerly La Taverna, the old cool place to be) in Santa Elena. Roberto and I went, we danced, we danced some more, and the night was spectacular. I believe in bringing in the new year with positive vibes – be it dance, love, great friends and food – whatever, as long as it’s positive – we are heading for another great year. I don’t take that for granted, having had some miserable First Nights in the past followed by some challenging years. Life.

Then came my good friends from La Sabanilla – Myrna and her daughters Sofia and Veronica. We have been friends since Myrna’s ex-husband, Luis Zumbado, played here in 1999 at the Monteverde Music Festival when I was caring for the house of the musicians. Myrna split with Luis about five years ago and suffered. But now she is about to marry a very nice man from Houston Texas, Ron, and she brought him here to introduce him to me.

Along with her daughters – the sexy-saxophonist Sofia, and the lovely violinista Veronica – well, we’ve all been girlfriends for years now and it was wonderful to see everyone happy. And to meet this very deep-thinking, gentle man who has put a smile back on the face of my friend Myrna.

At the same time, I’ve been helping another friend, Tanya, a Canadian with many years of being in Monteverde, while she recovers from splitting with her husband of 35 years. I’ve been the house-whisperer – helping her get rid of stuff, hugging her when the raw emotion is too much, encouraging her as she makes her plans to move on. Accompanied by her beautiful border collie, Elly (my favorite kinda dog in the world), we’ve worked our way thru boxes of arts supplies, music, and books. There is nothing more cleansing than getting rid of all that extra stuff we accumulate. She has a beautiful home in the woods, looking out across the treetops at the  Monteverde vista – the Gulf of Nicoya, the sunset, the future. I have grown to love this woman, surrounded by pain but on her way to an exciting future. Remember, when one door closes….

As the winds blow and the darkness settles in, Roberto and I are getting ready to go dancing in Santa Elena. I’ve been watching the cooks at the restaurant next door as they pluck chickens that will soon go on their BBQ spit. I think this is very illegal – slaughtering fresh birds at a restaurant. I can’t help but wonder if the wrong order came (“we said fresh, not breathing”) and the cooks just adapted to the situation. Not a safe place for a chicken to be crossing the street. 

 

This last week in Monteverde, my concern has been for los animales de la calle, the street dogs, cats and well… as we walk the roads, going here and there, in a two-kilometer stretch we have seen five dead dogs and two dead armadillos! What is going on? Are the animals suicidal, suffering from seasonal depression, or are the car drivers feeling a maniacal urge to kill? I’m not sure what is happening – the paving of the road here, in the congested area of Cerro Plano, could mean it is simply bad luck on behalf of animals being out on the road in the dark, being victims, but it is also possible that there is something more sinister happening. Way too much roadkill going on.

Miel, our lovely cat who prefers drinking from the tap

 

Ai yi yi…right when I wanted to talk about peace, love and grooviness, a dead armadillo appeared – Roberto would have skinned it and made a tasty dinner – better that than pure waste. In this crazy world of ours, life throws us these things – love doesn’t always prevail, shit happens. Sometimes we suffer, sometimes we prosper. Happy 2010 my friends.

July 2020
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