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Here in Monteverde it’s the rainy season, but who said the weather is normal anywhere in the world anymore? The green mountain is no exception – after weeks of December/January type weather (tumultous wind, blowing rain, chilly), we are now in “puro verano”, that is summertime. The sun is shining and hot, the wind is casual, the moisture level at a monthly low. Thank goodness.
This gorgeous climate has provided some beautiful final days for me. I’ve been squeezing in as many activities as possible before I go – first back to Cahuita for a couple weeks with Roberto and the pleasures of the Caribbean, then home to Canada just in time for our autumnal beauty.
A couple of weeks ago, a new person walked into my life, one of those cases of the right person arriving at the right time. Caroline Castillo Crimm, a Professor of History at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, came to Monteverde to work on a book that will document the comings and goings in this area – much of which has been recorded in some form or another (read Walking with Wolf) but her book will look at the details of this history, in particular who the original Tico families were, something that is only documented in the government archives in San José.
Caroline introduced herself to Wolf and me at an event at the Monteverde Institute and charmed us immediately by saying how she had read our book and thought it was “brilliant.” I, of course, immediately thought she was too! Her smile and enthusiasm is contagious. Since then, she has been mentoring me in how to get the book out – convincing me not to put my efforts into finding a distributor or agent, middlemen who will take their percentage while putting the book on store shelves amongst the millions of others. Caroline has written three books herself and knows that the onus will still be on me to publicize the book. So if I don’t mind doing it, she recommends that I spend more time writing to universities, environmental groups, Quaker meetings, etc. and offer my services as a speaker with an interesting presentation and a great book. The catch is I need to charge an honorarium and travel expenses since, as she says, I’m now a professional writer. I’m working on that part.
So I’ve created an internet announcement that I will send by the thousands when I return to Canada in September. I love to travel and have no problem speaking in public and am, of course, very proud of the book. I’m honored to go out and tell Wolf’s story as well as some of the fascinating history of Monteverde. Caroline has given me a new objective, renewed confidence and a direction that I’m excited about.
In return, I’ve shared my knowledge of things here with her – over dinner we discussed the Monteverde Music Festival of the 1990s that I was a part of. Last Saturday I took her on a walking tour of Monteverde, showing her where the original families live and telling her some of the background chisma that one can only gather from years of living here and knowing a large variety of people. We had a beautiful day for this walk, starting out near the cheese factory (where the milks cans were being delivered, some still by oxcart) and walking up towards the Reserve, the “northern” part of the community. I think of the top part of the mountain as “north” since it is inevitably colder than going down to the “southern” part, Santa Elena, where you can find sun and sweat more readily – even though the compass would tell you the absolute opposite. Maybe it’s a Canadian thing.
We stopped for coffee at the gorgeous new home of local biologist, Mills Tandy, another Texan, who is the owner of one of my favorite little abodes, “the plastic house”. Built with corrugated plastic siding back in the late 1980s, it isn’t any bigger than the modern bathroom in his new home, but for one person, or a very loving couple, it is perfect. I lived there for a few weeks many years ago and thoroughly enjoyed its remote location in the forest and its very simple layout. Small is beautiful stuff. Mills has recently cleaned it up – because of its deep woods location, it can become a moss-covered relic quickly – and is ready to rent it out again and the place never looked better.
Continuing on to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, we bumped into Marcos, a resident of San Luis, the farming community just below Monteverde, who is an employee of the Reserve and was out doing some road repairs. He is one of the original founders of La Finca Bella project down in the valley of San Luis. Since the 1990s, local families took matters into their own hands and, with some assistance from the Monteverde Conservation League, have worked at creating a sustainable agricultural center for the community, growing coffee and other crops and helping each other survive economically. It has been a struggle but somehow this project, along with other initiatives in San Luis (such as a satellite campus of the University of Georgia), have kept this simple healthy community alive.
It may be inevitable that tourism is going to replace agriculture eventually – the pressure to move into a tourism-based economy is too strong and the difficulties of a farm-based economy too real – but the families of San Luis continue to face the future with a communal concern and intelligence. They have the volcanic growth of the communities above them – Santa Elena, Cerro Plano and Monteverde – as a good example of what happens if you don’t plan and control the development that comes with the influx of new people and the demands of tourism.
Wolf & Lucas Ramirez, former Reserve employee at U of Georgia campus, San Luis
Many of the employees at the Reserve have come from San Luis. I remember being astounded in 1990 at the fact that most of these young men (and a woman or two) walked up from the valley. I’m not sure how many kilometers that is, but I can tell you it is a long, very steep climb. They worked all day at the Reserve and then walked back down at night.
Caroline with Yory Mendez and Luis Obando – who I remember walking up from San Luis since 1990
I decided back then that there is a genetic fortitude to the people of San Luis and my enjoyment of this, along with their humble manner and warm smiles, has made it a great pleasure to know many of the families – with names such as Leiton, Vargas, Brenes, Cruz, Ramirez, and Obando.
Caroline and I visited with friends at the Reserve before continuing our tour by passing through the beautiful bullpen, which worked its magic on her as it does on all, for a quick visit with Wolf and Lucky. Lucky was in the middle of a terrible virus, so we didn’t linger. Wolf was relaxing in the hammock that he hung recently out on their wrap-around veranda overlooking the goats in the field and the Gulf of Nicoya in the distance.
We then went back down to the Friends’ school to catch the end of the CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange) group’s final presentations at the end of their two month’s program here. Their professor, Karen Masters, also happens to be my “boss lady” in the Bosqueeterno S.A. work I’ve taken on, and her husband, Alan, who co-runs the course with her, is also the excitable and talented keyboardist/singer in the group Chanchos de Monte, our local British rock band that I’ve written about before (and went to dance to that night).
We hungrily ate lunch with them and then walked out to the Rockwell corner of Monteverde, past the controversial pig farm that supplies the cheese plant with their pork products, and to see the stunning vistas from that corner of the community. We had a quick visit with Mary Rockwell, another of the original Quakers who arrived in 1951 with her husband Eston. In a matter of minutes, Mary had us intrigued by her many stories. Caroline truly saw for herself the beauty that is Monteverde.
We ended our tour back at the meeting house to discuss the flower decorations for the wedding that we were all attending the next day. Caroline and I, along with Wolf’s son Alberto and his wife Angelina, offered to take care of that – very pleasant work but someone had to do it. I am truly appreciate of the help that Caroline has given me – as I said, she arrived just as I needed a new inspiration for getting Walking with Wolf out in the world. She is someone who will only add to the beauty which is Monteverde. It is all around us, every day. I’ll keep with this theme in the next episode of …………
Guaria Morada, the official flower (orchid) of Costa Rica
I’m back up in my perch at the Caburé Café, one of Monteverde’s finest dining spots. It also happens to have wireless that Bob and Susana allow us to use for free, no purchase required, though over the last couple of visits to Monteverde I’ve enjoyed a fair amount of their wonderful food, hot drinks and delicate homemade chocolate truffles. It’s a win/win situation, the great view over the trees to Guanacaste a big bonus.
I only have five days left in Costa Rica before heading home to the famous Hammer of Canada. Ai yi yi! How does it happen so fast? I just returned from a beautiful week on the Caribbean coast, staying at Roberto’s jungle home in paradise. Fortunately the weather of Monteverde finally changed to summer while I was gone. Now the sun is hot, the sky is blue with only the occasional fluffy cloud, the winds have just about gone completely.
I’m taking care of Veronica’s three dogs (refer to former posts from January) and I have to say that they have all matured a little in these last couple months. I take no credit except for being the nanny who told the parent that they were outa control. Veronica took charge and now we are all happy! Even Betsy the crazy has stopped jumping on me. The Dog Whisperer would be proud. Veronica and her son Stuart headed down to the hot Guanacaste coastline for some beach fun while I was still around to dog/house sit. My sincere appreciation goes to her and her generosity in allowing me to stay at the house these last months – and for the pleasure of getting to know her, Stuart and the puppies.
Wolf and I presented Walking with Wolf at the Friends Peace Center in San José about a week ago to a small but very appreciative crowd. I hadn’t done a talk for a few months so it felt good to get warmed up, which I need to be as I head home and start doing presentations within the first week – to the McMaster University Biodiversity Guild in Hamilton. Then I’m off to the northeastern US and have a number and variety of events lined up in Maine, Philadelphia and New York City. I also will be making the few corrections needed in the book and printing another batch as, miracle of miracles, we are just about sold out!
Wolf, Lucky and I also had the great pleasure of being toured around the INBio – the National Institute of Biodiversity – insect collection by Jim Lewis. Jim has a long history in Monteverde as a nature guide as well as an owner of the Monteverde Lodge and Costa Rica Expeditions. In his retirement, he went to volunteer working at INBio’s scientific headquarters in Heredia. We went there and saw the largest collection in Latin America of various families of insects. Besides the beautiful butterflies and the shiny metallic true bugs, we were aghast at the variety and size of some of the more dangerous ones – particularly the torsalos (botflies) that I wrote about squeezing out of my friend’s butt recently – the biologists were most helpful with information to pass on to Roberto about what to do next time one of these nasties bites him – and the wall full of species of mosquitoes.
I mean, we all know there are many, and they are pests, but this wall of containers, each one representing a different species found in Costa Rica, sent chills down us.
The Spanish translation is well on its way. Wolf’s son, Carlos Guindon, up in New Hampshire, is at least half way through the translating. The Tropical Science Center, administrators of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, is financing that part and will see that it is published. We are searching for funds elsewhere to help the process and some of those will come from the Canadian Embassy here in San José. I’ve been in steady contact with José Pablo Rodriguez, the Economic/Political Officer there, who has been more than helpful. My lunch a month ago with him and Stuart Hughes, the Political Adviser, was extremely enjoyable. I’ve had nothing but great support from them in trying to find a way to use money from an initiative fund to help with the Spanish translation. José confirmed yesterday that the money is coming to pay for the art, index and computer work – and today the contract arrived – and I am very appreciative and loving my country a little more than usual.
I also have had some great musical moments in the last couple of weeks. While still in Monteverde a couple of weeks ago, I saw violinist Ricardo Ramirez and guitarist Edin Solis of Editus playing with Costa Rican singer Arnoldo Castillo. I have known Editus for years and seen them play with a variety of other musicians but had never heard or seen Arnoldo. It was a lovely night of romantic songs from Costa Rica and Latin America which touched me deeply, being enamored myself these days. Ricardo and Edin played several instrumental pieces as well to a very appreciative local crowd who has supported them since they began playing classical music nineteen years ago. My young house friend Stuart has just taken up playing the violin and was gob-smacked watching Ricardo, as I knew he would be.
Following the concert I ended up at La Taverna in Santa Elena dancing till closing to the Chanchos del Monte, our local rock ‘n rollers, punk etc. band. Robert Dean (who I’ve written about, former guitarist for Sinead O’Connor) who is known for publishing a bird guide here in Costa Rica, and plays along with a Alan Masters, a university professor, Federico, a professional nature guide, Walter, a taxi driver and Arturo, son of the wonderful Eladio Cruz who we talk a lot about in the book – these guys moonlight as the crazy Pigs of the Mountain and put on a great show of music to jump too. Allthough I could feel a cold coming on – my belief being that dancing will either cure me or kill me – I was able to go and sweat a lot of it out, though it did continue on to the bad cough that I still have.
I then went to San José for the book presentation and stayed with Edin (of Editus) and his wife Lorena, who always offer me their home and great company when in the city. Lorena is always full of great business ideas and tossed some good ideas at me for fundraising – her motto, think big, act bigger. My friend Leila showed up at the presentation and it ended in time for us to jump in a taxi and head off to see the Tico Jazz Band with my old friend Luis Bonilla, the hottest trombonist in New York City.
Luis played at the Monteverde Music Festival in 1999 when I was taking care of the house where the musicians stayed. We spent three days and nights having fun – him and his wife Luz and the other Costa Rican musicians he had put together for the three nights of concerts – Luis Monge, pianist, Kin Rivera, drummer, and Danilo Castro, bassist. They were the hottest jazz quartet possible and each night they just got tighter and wilder though they had only been playing together for a couple of days. Luis’ energy is through the roof and his playing is impeccable. We also did some wicked dancing following the concerts – these were three of the best nights of positive energy that I had in two years of working the seven week long music festival of Monteverde.
So to see Luis again after ten years and see that the energy hasn’t diminished, his enthusiasm for the music and improvising with other musicians is still hot and his joy still radiates made me laugh endlessly through the concert. The Tico Jazz Band is made up from young to old musicians and they shone as well. I’m going to go and see Luis when I take Walking with Wolf to New York City at the end of April where he plays regularly at the Vanguard Jazz Club. Danilo,from that hot jazz quartet who I have bumped into in the past few years, was also there, as well as Marco Navarro, another great bassist in the country who I haven’t seen in several years as he’s been in South America playing. He’s back in Costa Rica and playing bass with the Tico Jazz Band. It was a hot night of great jazz and a warm night of meeting up with old friends.
All that city fun was followed by several days in the jungle. The creek (sometimes river) that flows like a moat around Roberto’s rancho was just the perfect temperature for a Canadian.
The howler and white faced monkeys came regularly and kept us company. I had brought some cuttings, roots and seeds from my friend Zulay’s in San Carlos and we planted what will hopefully be a nice garden. Roberto had doubled the size of the rancho in the couple weeks I was away by adding a roof over the woodfire and kitchen table. The jungle was welcoming and it was hard to leave.
We returned to the sloth center and delivered some books to Judy Aroyos, the owner, who was very enthusiastic about the book, having her own long history of conservation in Costa Rica. She thought they would sell well as they have a lot of cruise ships come to them from the Port of Limon. I will take any excuse I can to return to this beautiful sloth rehabilitation center (see Kukulas of Cahuita post) and visit with this very friendly woman as well as see the peaceful little furry creatures who are recuperating there. She showed me the babies in the incubators hidden away in their private quarters, each one with its personal story. And we saw Casper, the baby sloth that Roberto’s daughter Gabriella had found and taken to the center back in October. The friendly ghost is doing just fine.
So now I’m working against the clock to get everything done before I leave next Wednesday. It will be harder than usual to leave. I always enjoy being with Wolf, taking care of book business as we have been doing for so many years now, and now Roberto has given me more reason to stay in this country. But my life takes me home to Canada, on the road to spread the news of the book in the United States in April, and book responsibilities will keep me there until sometime next fall. I may have to return before to deal with the translation – I won’t mind at all.
But my little mind is already thinking of the next book I want to write and the idea of writing it from the Caribbean coast, while listening to the frogs and chatting with the monkeys from a hammock swaying beside that meandering brook- these images will keep my dreams sweet and my focus on the future.
Well, I finally got off the rainy mountain top and went to the beach. The rainforest is a beautiful place, as is Monteverde in general, but I left my home in southern Ontario in the middle of summer and was definitely in need of some summer sunshine. It has been doled out in small portions since I got here – when the sun does shine, it is always gorgeous, but too much rain was dampening my spirits. From up here on the Pacific side of the Tilaran Mountains, the view west over the Nicoya is incredible and the storms that have been whipping around the skies have provided a great light show. So I decided to go to Montezuma, where I’ve seen some of the best thunderstorms in my life – that alone done some great hiking, beaching and dancing.
Before leaving we had a celebratory sushi night – real great new sushi restaurant here in Santa Elena. Our good friend Marc Egger, who used to live here and owns the House in the Hole where I sometimes stay but who now lives in Brazil, surprised us and came into town. With my friend Patricia Maynard, her ex Mark Wainwright, their son Kyle, another friend Jim Wolfe, and Marc, we went and feasted. A good omen about seaside things to come.
Patri and I then drove down to the coast last Saturday to see the group Editus playing at Jaco beach also on the Pacific. Editus started out close to twenty years ago as a duo – Ricardo Ramirez, virtuoso violinist, with Edin Solis, classical guitarist. They were known for playing classical pieces and soft sophisticated covers of well-known songs with a latin edge. In the early nineties, they brought in ‘Tapado’, Carlos Vargas, one of the best percussionists I’ve seen in my life. Watching him play his large collection of percussive devices is like watching a stream flow over multi-colored rocks – he is so fluid that he barely moves yet the rhythm and strength of his playing is fierce. The three of them, Editus, have performed steadily and their music moved from classical to original jazz-flavored, interpretive, atmospheric swelling vistas of composition. All three of these musicians are extremely talented. In the late 90s, they played with Panamanian salsero and politician, Ruben Blades (also known in North America as an actor in movies), for which they won three Grammies for two separate CD recordings. A few years ago they opened a music academy in San Jose where they teach music and bring together musicians for a variety of projects. They also have held concerts with a large number of their musical friends and influences – great shows where Editus plays behind well-known singers, songwriters and rockers – always touching and dynamic shows.
Well, in the last year they have joined forces with a bassist (forget his name) and Zurdo, a great rock-style keyboardist and now they call this new configuration Editus 360, since they have moved 360 degrees from where they started. They have upped the light show and the tone of the music and now play a variety of world music with synthetized backdrops and recorded vocals on some pieces. I hadn’t seen this new version of Editus but have always loved the group and know the guys and truly appreciate their talents. Editus 360 is a rocking show, with lights and smoke and a mosaic of rhythms – I know that many of their original fans who loved the quiet classical content of their work will not enjoy this but for those of us who do, wow. And as importantly, you can tell that they are enjoying playing the music themselves – they needed a change and are all excited about this new version of themselves. They have a 33-concert, 2 month tour in Japan planned for August & September. As Tapado told me, all the years he’s been drumming with Editus, he never broke a sweat – as I said, he is as fluid as water and it all seems so effortless – but now he is sweating in each show as he rocks out on the drums. He’s as skinny as a weed tree, that boy, and will no doubt melt away to a toothpick in Japan. It was a great show in Jaco last Saturday night and great to see these guys having fun – and for the first time, I think, I danced at an Editus show.
My friend Patri’s son Machillo had his first gig helping the sound guys at this show – one of the reasons we went to check it out and support him. Machillo grew up helping out at the music festival in Monteverde when his mother ran the concert series which I also worked on. I always knew I could trust on Machillo to do whatever you asked him – he’s always been a great kid and now he’s getting the chance to move into being part of the very accomplished sound and light team behind Editus. Looks good on ya, Mark. I think nothing will make Patri happier than having a son who can do the backstage production of the shows she’ll always continue to produce here in Monteverde and elsewhere. A very talented, music-loving family.
I left them on Sunday and went off to Montezuma, a beach where I spent a lot of time in 1990. I return every few years to check up on the folks I know there and to indulge in the beautiful landscape that exists on the south end of the Nicoya Peninsula. You get there from the main part of Costa Rica by going to the port city of Puntarenas – a much maligned dirty seaside city that I’ve always found very interesting. And I have to say that they have been working at cleaning it up. There is much evidence of growth and progress and the funky old hotels and buildings that sit along the 11-mile long, half-mile wide sandspit that the city is built on were all looking more quaint than debilitated. Places change drastically here in Costa Rica, sometimes for the better tho not necessarily. I’m giving poor little Puntarenas a thumbs up on effort.
From Puntarenas you take an hour long ferry ride across the Gulf of Nicoya (part of the Pacific) to the town of Paquera on the Nicoya Peninsula. I’ve taken this ride dozens of times and always love it – the waters are tranquil and the sun is hot and on the boat you can find shade or get sun, or even go inside the air-conditioned lounge on the newer ferry. That little boat ride makes you feel like you’ve gone somewhere special. From Paquera it’s a one to two hour bus ride to Montezuma. The road has finally been paved most of the way so the trip is very smooth up until the last few kilometers into town.
Montezuma itself continues to change – very European, but with a strong environmentally-concerned community. But growth doesn’t always feel like progress and the change in the soul of this community always bothers me. I suppose it is providing economic well-being for many, but I visit my old friends there who have been negatively affected by the constant fiesta and the high price of everything. That is what I tend to find in most of the beach communities in Costa Rica – those beaches which have grown radically, become very popular, changed drastically are maybe great destinations for tourists but the change of the lives of the local people is incredible. In 1990, this little town was a sleepy fishing village with a good nightlife – now it runs day and night on tourist dollars. The local families are in competition with each other and many of the locals either stay hidden in their homes away from the crowds and the scene or are very messed up in the middle of it. To be fair, many make a living and no doubt love their lives, but it is questionable as to how many people have truly fallen into a better life in Montezuma.
The long stretches of sandy beaches and the rocky outcrops that separate each beach, along with the fresh water streams that flow down through the forest (including the famous Montezuma waterfalls) is what continues to make Montezuma a stunning place. I spent each morning going about a twenty minute walk down the beach to the Quebrada Colorada, where there is a soaking pool of cool fresh water. The coloured pebbles shine in the sun and the ocean waves crash in just fifty feet away. I passed this soaking time with a friendly and interesting couple, Russell and Margaret, from Asheville, North Carolina who live in nearby Cobano. On any trip, it is always nice to come away with at least one special meeting with new friends. We met each morning and talked about the world as we soaked up the sun while floating in the stream.
One of the most bizarre things of this time in Montezuma was the super high tides that rose to the top of the beaches. It meant that our little fresh water pool was salty half of the time. But more shocking was the amount of refuse that the ocean kicked out with each tide. Montezuma’s beaches are basically white sand and clean. Even back in 1990, the tides would bring in garbage that the locals claimed came from nearby Puntarenas, and you would find strange plastic toys and, of a less innocent nature, medical supplies, washed up with the tide. But this week, with the extremely strong sea, the amount of garbage – plastic baubles, metal cans, broken glass, pieces of trash – that littered the “pristine” beaches was mind-boggling. I saw a guy with a large trash can out there trying to clean up in front of one of the beachside hotels – I wished him well, as his can was already half full and he had barely made a dent in the pock-marked sands. Russell told me that friends have told him that this is the nature of oceans and beaches around the world now – that the angry seas are throwing back the trash everywhere in the world. I’m sure that proximity to large populations and the direction of currents has alot to do with which beaches receive what, but it was truly impossible not to gasp at the amount of garbage that was on that beach – and unfortunately not hard to imagine that many other beaches would also be getting their fill. There is just way too much garbage out there in the world and it only makes sense that it will fill even paradise if we aren’t more diligent in reducing packaging, handling our trash, and minimizing our social addiction to junk.
So I got sun, met nice people, danced at Chico’s Bar a couple nights, broke a toe (well, maybe just bruised it bad), ate great food, left a couple of books at Topsy’s Bookstore, and came back up the mountain. Fortunately, the rains have subsided to a reasonable mist by day and some rainfall by night. Thursday night, when I arrived around 8 p.m., was gorgeous – a quadrillion stars were in the sky, clouds went floating by in the light of the new slice of moon, and it was a warm temperature. Happy to be back in Monteverde, thankful that the weather has changed. Back to work.