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An amazing opportunity came my way last month. It started with a simple email, “Hello, Kay, my name is Don Duchene” and segued into a week-long Costa Rican adventure with a vanload of fellow Canadians, a friendly film crew from Nova Scotia.
isla chira shore
That first email arrived without fanfare on a Friday, providing little more than a simple introduction to Don’s documentary project and a request to meet when he and his entourage would eventually land in Monteverde sometime the following week. I mentioned it to a couple of people, Lucky Guindon for one. “In case anything comes of this Lucky, maybe you and Wolf would be available to talk to them?” I asked her. “I’m not sure what their interests are, but the documentary is called Ocean Voices, and you have both interesting voices as well as a great view toward the Pacific.” She agreed to meet them, but then reminded me that Tuesday morning is coffee at Mary Rockwell’s so it couldn’t be that day. Hollywood has no special status in Monteverde.

Tuesday morning, I was still in bed, savoring my morning coffee, slowly turning the final pages of the book I was reading, when the phone rang. It was Wolf and Lucky’s son Ricky, a guide at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, calling to say that there was a group of Canadians staying there, having arrived just the evening before, and they were hoping to meet me. Could I come to the Reserve this morning, the sooner the better?

I was reluctant to put down my book, but I’m well versed as an extra on movie sets, understanding that for a director “soon” means “now” or they are likely to lose interest and move on – I know Hollywood, move fast then wait. Expecting things might get interesting, I jumped out of bed, took a quick shower, and hiked the three kilometers up to the Reserve, thinking as I walked about who and what may lie ahead, perhaps a morning of wandering through the cloud forest which is always a treat.

As it turned out, meeting Don, Art, Bud, Everett, and Kirsten would be one of life’s door prizes that you win when you didn’t even know there was a door. Within minutes of greeting Don, I recognized a shared spirit complete with sense of humor, a kind man with a mission that I could relate to. He found me through the Tropical Science Center who had generously allowed the crew to stay in the lodging at the Reserve while filming. Someone there had passed Don my book, Walking with Wolf, and suggested that he look me up while in Monteverde. I owe that person a hug (and a drink) for making the connection.
at reserve
We sat surrounded by the sparkling not-so-cloudy forest, on the back porch of the restaurant at the Reserve, the crew preparing the equipment as Don and I got comfortable talking. We kept moving our bench across the deck, out of the glare of the strong morning sun that constantly shifted and threatened the lighting in the shot. Don began explaining his project to me by saying that he had been in Monteverde before.

 
“I made a documentary, “Rainforest-A Report from Costa Rica,” on the economics of rainforests back in the 1980s,” he explained. “I fell in love with Monteverde then and have returned many times to Costa Rica. This is my chance to fit this community that constantly fascinates me into yet another story. Ocean Voices is to be a collection of points of view of the various stakeholders concerned about the future of the oceans…which is all of us of course, but as a director of an hour long documentary I have to narrow it down.”

“I want to make a film that isn’t just for the choir and the converted, those who are already paying attention in some way, but rather open a conversation that can bring more people into the discussion. Help people understand the role they must play in protecting the future of our vast mysterious, unexplored oceans. I think that Monteverde is a good example of a community who goes about its business with mindfulness and a respectful purpose. I like the approach the Quakers and biologists here take to caring for the land. We will show this type of stewardship of the land, an engaged community, and draw the link between land practices, peace, and the health and future of the oceans.”

Obviously there was much to talk about, so while Bud’s camera rolled and Art’s furry microphone hovered like a gentle sloth in the air above us, Don and I carried on a meandering conversation that moved from Canada’s coastal beauty to Costa Rica’s biodiversity, to consumerism, capitalism, democracy, peace, to making connections.
ra-river crossing
When we stopped for lunch, before we headed out to find other possible filming locations in Monteverde, Don asked me if I would like to go with them to Rara Avis, a thirty-year old nature preserve on the Atlantic side of Costa Rica, a mysterious place that I have often heard of and always been interested in visiting but never made it to. The legend of getting to this place – apparently slogging up a “road” by tractor & wagon or horse for several hours – is almost bigger than the legend of the Monteverde road (a tale that is soon to be updated with the anticipated paving of the Monteverde road set to begin in 2014).

Turns out they were heading first to Isla Chira, another well-known but little visited spot in Costa Rica, here on the Pacific side, an island that we can see from Monteverde floating down there in the Gulf of Nicoya. I’ve heard of this place too, stories of a strong women’s community and a fishing cooperative, and it was another place I wanted to visit, but enough out of the way that I never made the trip…until now.

Another member of the crew was Isabel, a Swiss who has been living many years in Costa Rica. She was the logistics person, researcher, chauffeur and translator on this, her first excursion with a film production. It was an eye-opening experience for her. She was set to leave the group once we got to San José for other obligations. As the time approached, I spoke up, saying I would be happy to drive, knowing the country well, I can translate and carry equipment. Don was happy to have someone who was comfortable driving and familiar with the roads to take over so he wouldn’t have to.
at wolf's
While still in Monteverde, we spent a magical morning with Wolf and Lucky. Ricky and I were both quite impressed with Wolf’s clarity and focus – Wolf was never known for his direct thinking or clear speaking, and in the last couple of elderly years he has definitely lost some ground. But this day, he told some stories and answered Don’s questions rather sweetly, almost succinctly. I found out later that most of the crew hadn’t understood much of what he said. When I told Ricky, we both laughed, thinking that to our ears it had been such a good day! Don spent a lot of time with Lucky, asking about pictures in the photo album and listening to her eloquent tales, told with humility and humour, of the early pioneering days. The Canadians, myself included, felt blessed for this time together.
at wschool MV francisco Before leaving Monteverde, we also filmed at the new Foresta art gallery in Cerro Plano. Featuring beautiful original creations from artists in the Monteverde area, it was worth some footage. Then we went to see local painter and luthier Paul Smith, who I recently started a writing project with. Paul entertained the east-coasters with his great irreverence and charm, sharing his passion for creating art and his frustration that there isn’t more teaching of art and music happening here in Monteverde. That led us to talk with Francisco Burgos, the director at the Monteverde Friends School, who told Don about his desire to increase the arts programs, hopefully with the participation of local mentors and teachers, to make both the enjoyment of and the learning of specific arts more accessible to local children and adults.

costa de pajaros

 

The following morning, despite our 5 a.m. departure, I was very excited about our trip to Isla Chira. We made it to Costa de Pájaros well ahead of the launcha, so we waited with the fishermen, watching boats coming and going. A few of the Fuerza Pública were there, local police on their way over to the island, along with men cleaning fish, others repairing shrimp nets, birds swooping in to raid the shallow waters as the tide went out, and dogs lounging like they all had hangovers. I have always loved boat communities, where the rhythm of the water – be it ocean tides, lake waves or river currents – is what everyone moves to. What with my propensity for cool water, raw fish and seaweed, I’m sure I was a seal in a former life.

isla chira
We were received warmly by the women and men of Isla Chira, along with members of Mar Viva, an organization dedicated to the sustainable resource management along the Pacific coastline of Costa Rica, who explained the project. In 2000, the Women’s Association of Isla Chira was established to create alternative sources of income for the women of Chira, who traditionally made their living from fishing but recognized that their catches were diminishing and so was the economic viability of living off this resource. They now dedicate themselves to maintaining and making sustainable use of the island’s natural resources, protecting the mangroves and raising an “artisanal fishery” of small mollucks called pianguas. Their example influenced the men who also have a sustainable fishery program. For me, arriving on the island was a lovely step back into a simpler Costa Rica, watching the community working together to overcome economic and environmental challenges without the rush, pressure and competition of tourism yet taken hold. Filming continued over a shared lunch, through a tour of the mangrove nursery and into the small boat that took the crew to the building on the sea where the women cleaned the pianguas.

 

is chirita boat

Like the seal I am, I took the opportunity to slip into the sea and therefore missed the boat. The tide was out, and I swam in still, shallow, salty, sun-kissed water, staying far from the areas where crocodiles may lurk. Now that I have been there, and understand the route, I know that I will return again to the warm embrace and interesting community of Isla Chira.

We only spent the morning on the island before heading back to the mainland. We made it by dusk to San José, and with much fuss and further ado, we found lovely rooms at Kaps Place, a small guest house across the road from the Hotel Aranjuez where Don’s crew had stayed a few days before but since the hotel was overbooked, they didn’t honor Don’s reservations, apparently a common hazard with this popular hotel. In a moment of panic, with a tired crew and no beds available at the inn, Kaps Place provided a lovely alternative and will remain on my list of “places to recommend” in San José. I was added as a driver to the rental contract, we said goodbye to Isabel, dined on pizza and wine, and headed to our beds. We were prepared to get an early start, have breakfast with Amos Bien, the founder of Rara Avis who would accompany us, planning on leaving the city before the morning rush hour heading up Highway 32 towards Limon. Even following a good night’s sleep, heeding all the warnings and with our own great anticipation, we still weren’t prepared for the long road into Rara Avis.
ra tractor

 

It starts off quaint enough – after wrapping our backpacks and equipment in big plastic bags, piling into the utilitarian wagon, the tractor pulls out of the damp yard in Horquetas de Sarapiquí and winds through the puddled streets heading out of town, a quick stop at the pulperia for some junkfood…

 

 

ra-bridge

 

 

Rumbling across bridges with big PRECAUTION-PELIGRO-DANGER signs, so we get off the trailer and walk while Eduardo steers the tractor to safety on the other side…..

 

ra-countryside

 

We slowly rise in altitude through agricultural lands, past the familiar pretty wooden houses scattered across Costa Rica’s rural landscape, glimpsing small herds of cattle, as the gravel-patched roads of town slowly change to a ruddy mud, the gravel itself becoming pebbles, then larger stones, then ginormous boulders.

 

 

ra-road
The cameras were always rolling, so what could be done on a good day in less than four hours took us about twice that. We constantly stopped for another shot, Bud and Everett running ahead with their cameras to film the tractor approaching, but we also had to disembark from the wagon when the tractor couldn’t move any further, held in place by yet one more cliff-like boulder and a deep soup of mud. Eventually, with a lot of rubber action, rocking and rolling, Eduardo was always victorious – in my mind, he was the hero of this journey, for without him we would have been on foot, slogging up and back those fifteen kilometers in our rubber boots in the pouring rain. He reminded me of a cowboy constantly trying to tame a bull that was all piss and vinegar, and although there was some kind of romance to the whole affair, we were definitely no longer in Hollywood.
ra-roadwalking
Three-quarters of the way, we took a brief refuge at the Estacion Biologica Selva Tica, two thousand acres of private rainforest preserve administered by my Monteverde friends Susana Salas and Bob Carleson. The caretaker, Juan, spends his days in the peace of this lonely outpost waiting on the occasional arrival of biologists and students, infrequent visits by tapir and jaguar, the balconies wrapped in silky webs housing significant numbers and sizes of wood spiders. After that short break and three kilometers more on the wagon, banging against the sides of a mud tunnel, sloshing through the water collected in the wheel grooves as the inevitable rain falls – about 300 inches of rainfall a year keeps things very wet. We were mostly in heavy drizzle, though we had a downpour or two before we were done, and we made it to Rara Avis just as the shadows gathered into complete darkness.
ravis
Amos started this project thirty years ago. Built as a working example of an eco-lodge, a place to bring students, biologists, bird watchers and interested tourists to experience remote rainforest and study its wonders, the place itself is very welcoming, especially considering the effort made to get there. There is a two-story lodge with tidy rooms each with its own bathroom, hot shower, and private balcony with hammock patiently waiting.

 

ravis-don
A large open-air dining room and kitchen is one of the common spaces, along with a classroom and some smaller buildings, but the real gathering spot is the surrounding forest, laced with trails, dissected by a river and a series of extravagant waterfalls, with the promise of endless green wet adventure. There is an in-house nature guide whose job it is to introduce people to the plants, birds, insects and biodiversity of this lush world.
ravis-waterfall
It is advised that when you go there you should stay at least a couple of nights – a week or more would be even better considering the effort that the journey requires – but as the film crew was on a tight schedule, we only stayed for one night. In the morning before leaving we filmed Amos discussing ecotourism, the continuing need for education about and immersion in the world’s wild spaces, the struggle to maintain this place as the road washes away and the termites feed on the wooden buildings. Rara Avis is a dream, but between today’s economics and Amos’ passing years, it is in need of a new force, a young vigor to raise the funds that will maintain it, bring in the ever more discerning tourist, and oversee its future.
ra-roadtractor

It was already getting late when we reluctantly left for a slightly shorter tractor-wagon pull out to civilization, following the tractor’s headlamps down the tunnel of light through the green ferns, the mud walls, and the insistent rain. We were all the way back to the gravelly roads near Horquetas before we finally saw a few stars peeking out from nocturnal clouds. By midnight, the pavement had led us back to San José, where we fell into hot showers and clean beds, still feeling the rattle and roll of the wagon as it wound its way from heaven back to the lowlands.

A week spent with five strangers traveling by van, boat, tractor-wagon, and rubber boot could have gone so horribly wrong, but it didn’t because of the professional attitude of the crew Don, Art and Bud – all experienced with working in the field under deplorable conditions and in unfamiliar cultures – and the tough, keen young cameraman and production assistant, Everett & Kirsten. I fit in well with these Canadians of like mind who appreciated my knowledge of Costa Rica, my steady hand at the wheel, and my willingness to help them in whatever way I could.
sj-solis victory
As a bonus to the door-prize, our return to San José coincided with the second vote for the new president of Costa Rica. The general election in February had not resulted in the necessary 40% for a single candidate, so the top two were contested again on April 6th. We followed Amos and his emotion-filled daughter, Samantha, to their busy polling station at a school in Sabanilla, the camera allowed to follow them right in to the voting booth. It was expected, baring a big surprise, that Luis Guillermo Solís would win, the candidate from the “yellow” side, the colour that represents the left-leaning parties in Costa Rica. It was a very festive, social scene that surrounded us as we talked to many people on camera about their feelings, their hopes, and their concerns for the new president. I felt that wonderful flush of joy that comes when you are with people who are asking for and seeing change – and still believing in it. After twelve years of the verdiblancos, a different party is taking over. Without going too far into it, one of the things that I find encouraging about Solís is that several years ago he quit the Partido Liberación Nacional, the party who held power for the last twelve years and was now defeated, in rebellion against the corruption that has been endemic to the government of Costa Rica over the last decades of growth and corporatization. That night we joined with the celebrating thousands, shouting, dancing and waving flags representing both their new president and a new direction for their country. For many Costa Ricans, that means returning to a former simpler, more honest time.
rainbow
So may this new president stand up to a system whose tangled roots run deep and renew the Ticos’ faith in their democracy. May the nature preserves of Costa Rica, and around the planet, continue to protect the life mass that is vital to our future. May people of all cultures continue to successfully find ways to balance food needs, economic needs, spiritual and communal needs. And may Don Duchene make a powerful film that helps spread light in our world and allows the Ocean Voices to speak.

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I have returned to life on the green mountain…and life here has somewhat returned to normal. Of course, what exactly is normal in this constantly shifting thing called life!? Normal so quickly becomes abnormal – and vice versa – that we all – humans along with all the rest of the earth’s creatures – must continually adapt if we are to survive.

The best story of survival in Monteverde that I can share is that of our friend Wolf Guindon. He is immensely better than he was when I left last June. Stefany, his lovely nurse, has left; he then had another young woman helping with his physical therapy, but she too has gone. Lucky has taken over guiding Wolf through his daily exercises. The results of all this attention is obvious – Wolf is walking steadier, even without his stick much of the time. He takes care of his own bathing needs. He gets in and out of the car on his own. He goes for short hikes on trails in the Reserve and elsewhere. He even has been working on a trail in the forest beside the house, where his son-in-law Rodrigo installed a bench so that Wolf and Lucky can go and sit to watch the sunset together.

Wolf is back to having some purpose in life – he gets out daily and works a little more on that trail. One of the best improvements is the use of his right hand that had serious damage from being tied to the bed posts during his time in the hospital. In June, about three months after his release, he was still barely using it. Now he can clearly sign his own name, handle his eating utensils, and hold and swing his machete with a fair amount of force.

photo by Gretchen Ann Scholtz

And due to the addition of a new pair of dentures, Wolf’s speech is much more understandable. By the time he went through all his trials and tribulations last year, his skeleton had changed enough that his teeth weren’t fitting properly. He is talking clearly and his smile is wide, warm and brand new!

He is also getting woollier. There was a time, exactly a year ago, when he was weak, his body frail and his head almost bald. I remember walking into his hospital room and thinking that he looked like Gandhi.  One year later, his sideburns are bushy, his eyebrows are furry and he has the look of a robust, if elderly, bushman. The twinkle has returned to his eye and his humor remains contagious and genuine.

Brad, Dale, Eric, Debbie, Julian, Kay, Wolf, Lucky, Tomas, Olivia Guindon

Something that brought huge smiles to his and Lucky’s faces were recent visits by their son Tonio and his family from Connecticut – who left eldest daughter, Oriana, here for a prolonged stay with her Monteverde family; a week with son Tomás and his family from California; and a very quick visit by Wolf’s nephew Dale and his family from Ohio, their first time in Costa Rica. They were here for their eldest son’s wedding down on the beach, and despite the fact that their son, Jeff, broke his foot playing beach soccer a couple of days before, it sounds like they had a wonderful wedding. Unfortunately, Jeff and his new bride couldn’t come up the mountain with the rest of the family as he needed to rest his foot and I’m sorry not to have met him. As I’ve often said, I’ve never met a Guindon I didn’t like – wonderful folks all.

So, this year I returned to Costa Rica without a plan.  I usually have a good idea of what I’m going to do in my months here and some sense of how I’m going to do it.  Last year became an amazing roller coaster ride undulating between Wolf’s health crises, working to finalize the paperwork for my bit of jungle near Cahuita, and the push to complete the publication of the Spanish edition of Walking with Wolf.  Wolf survived, the property paperwork appeared on my last day in the country, and the translation got edited, but nothing went quite like I expected. This year, I decided that instead of arriving with expectations, I would come with a buncha seeds in mind, cast them out, and see what germinates.  Now, a month later, I’m starting to water the plants that took root, and I hope that I’ll have a fruitful garden to show for it over the next six months.

The most important project, and the one that will take the most of my time, will be overseeing the layout/design and computer work of Caminado con Wolf. If I get nothing else done in the following months, I am committed to publishing, one way or another, the translation of our book. The English version continues to be very popular, selling well by word-of-mouth here in Monteverde and online, as well as on the shelves of the Café Britt souvenir shops in the San José airport.

MV Reserve Christmas float - all recycled

Last March and April I spent working with Lester Gomez, the young editor hired by the Tropical Science Center to edit Carlos Guindon’s translation. The TSC has been very generous in its financial support in this project. Carlos Hernandez, the director of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve, and Javier Espeleta, the director of the TSC, as well as other staff and board members, have been very enthusiastic and helpful in getting this done. Don Javier then went to the Editoriales de la Universidad de Costa Rica, whose director, Julian Monge, agreed our book should be published in Spanish as a valuable addition to Costa Rica’s historical and nature-centered literature.

Just as the TSC was passing the edited manuscript on to the EUCR for the next stage of production, Julian Monge left his position. Six months have passed and they have not hired a new director/head editor, and until they do, we don’t know what the future of our relationship with the EUCR will be. We are hopeful that the new director will have  the same positive position toward the project, but we can’t assume anything. We expect that there is bound to be a substantial backlog of projects waiting to be published when they have been missing a director for so long.

More than three years have passed since I self-published the English version in Canada. We have watched a warm and critically-positive reception to our book – it has been used as the inspiration for a high school course in New Hampshire, it’s been bought by local biology professors for their visiting university classes and I’ve received many letters of thanks from visitors to the Monteverde community who say that it has provided a valuable background that enriched their time here.  We know there are many Spanish-reading Costa Ricans waiting to read the book. The coming year 2012 is the 40th anniversary of the Monteverde Reserve and the 50th anniversary of the Tropical Science Center. They have numerous activities and special events planned and it would be wonderful to have Caminando con Wolf available for the participants of these celebrations throughout the year.

Since I have already gone through the process of “self-publishing”, I don’t fear stepping back into it. We are so close to finished I can taste the hors-d’oeuvres at the book launch! So I have decided to start walking down another path with Wolf, and get this thing done. It will mean some fundraising on my part for the costs of printing, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. If the EUCR’s new director remains interested, we will be thrilled. If not, we will be ready to go to print ourselves.

Throughout Wolf’s months of medical crises last year, he told people that he had no plans to die until the Spanish book came out. I think it was one of the mantras that kept him alive, along with his love for Lucky, his joy in the time he got to spend with his family and friends, and his phenomenal strength of spirit that is nurtured by his relationship with the natural world around him. The rest of us had somewhat of a dilemma on our hands when we didn’t know if getting the book finished quickly would send Wolf sooner to heaven, but happy, or if we should be slowing the process to keep him with us here on earth as long as possible, perpetually waiting for the book to appear.

In the end, of course all of our fates were out of our hands and things happened as they would. Wolf doesn’t look to me like he is going anywhere soon, but he regularly expresses his faith in my ability to get this translation done. Our talented friend here in Monteverde, Pax Amighetti, is ready, willing and able to do the computer/design/layout work for the book. I have arranged my dance card between time in Monteverde working with Pax, time in San José helping out a friend in need of some organization in her home, and time in Cahuita helping Roberto build a small casita. I have my eye on the prize, my heart in the right place, and my body and mind will go wherever it needs to be to get this job done.

A recycled bottle Christmas tree

As we move into the very busy holiday season, I am leaving Monteverde to spend Christmas in Cahuita. Pax and I have already made some important decisions about the design of the book’s cover. We will break for the yuletide and return with strength and determination in January. I have great faith that Caminando con Wolf will see the light of day in this exciting upcoming year of 2012!

I proceed inspired by the words of one of my heroes, civil rights leader and freedom fighter John Lewis, who says, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” I find it interesting that his own autobiography is titled “Walking with the Wind”…coincidence, I think not. Happy festivities everybody! I’ll keep y’all posted.

photo by Gretchen Ann Scholtz

I’m riding the Greyhound north savouring the last of Vermont’s colourful October forests. Although we are riding over dry pavement here, I am very aware that elsewhere many people I know are suffering from torrential rains and the subsequent damages they cause. Reports from Monteverde have been full of soggy complaints following about two weeks of downpours, grey skies and lack of sun. That means that landslides are probable and so traveling becomes quite unpredictable, making my hour-behind-schedule-otherwise-smooth bus ride from Maine to Montreal seem quite insignificant.

More seriously, my friends living on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala – an enchanting place I’ve written about frequently over the last few years – have been watching the water levels rise at a rate that they couldn’t imagine and were hoping they wouldn’t see quite yet. The pictures being posted on Facebook are truly alarming. I believe that many living close to the shoreline on the lake have been forced into evacuating their homes, perhaps permanently, for even if the water hasn’t entered the building, it has destroyed septic beds and compromised their water system – and is still rising. They say the lake has a fifty year cycle of rising and the elders know that the lake still has a ways to go. My heart goes out to those who built their homes and businesses only to have their dreams gradually washed away like eroding sand castles.

In Monteverde, our friend Wolf has just spent close to two weeks again in the Puntarenas Hospital. I am happy to say that he is back home and apparently doing fine. He had a bladder infection that they couldn’t control with antibiotics administered at the house so he was put into the hospital to receive treatment intravenously. Experience has shown that bladder infections cause a greater distress in older people, confusion and weakness being common symptoms and I guess that is what was happening with Wolf. Fortunately it seems that Wolf has rebounded well. I am anxious to be back down there, to see with my own eyes how he is doing. Once I’m there, I’ll be blogging about all things Wolf, Monteverde and booklike much more regularly.

I’ll be headed back to Costa Rica on November 16, just in time to attend a concert honouring the late Fidel Gamboa, Costa Rica’s recently departed musical genius. Malpais, the band he fronted along with his brother Jaime and five other great musicians, have decided to disband. I expect that the strength and reorganization it would take to carry on without their main composer, singer and guiding spirit was just too great. I believe it will be an incredible night of Fidel’s powerful music performed by his musical brothers and sisters, his lyrical poetry sung by friends and the night augmented by the addition of Costa Rica’s Philharmonic Orchestra. I am so glad that I can make it back to Costa Rica in time for this last-in-a-lifetime show.

In the meantime, I’ve been paying attention to the Occupy Wall Street movement as it ignites our world. For those of us who have been paying attention to the corporate takeover of the world with trepidation for decades, the rising of the 99% in North America is a wonder to behold. It’s about time! I move around with the sound of Lorraine Segato’s “Rise up, Rise up” playing in my mind – a song performed at Jack Layton’s wedding years ago and again at his funeral in August (for those unfamiliar with this man, I wrote about him a couple of posts ago.) I know that Jack, if he had not died so prematurely of that nasty cancer, would have been joining Canadians in the street and helping to inspire the peoples’ movement.

The timing and strength of the protests has surely exploded with the examples set in other parts of the world – Egypt, Tunisia, Libya – where populations of largely oppressed people realized that they have taken enough abuse from the upper echelons of power. At a certain point, people figure they have nothing to lose but plenty to gain in rising up. North Americans don’t like to think that such revolutions, sometimes violent, could happen here, but I’ve always thought, or at least hoped, that even in the comfort zone of the passified North American consumer society, people would eventually realize the folly of our system. It’s based on the lies and greed that reward a few while keeping the masses distracted with shopping and sports addictions (how many corporate logos can you wear in one outfit or fit on one car?) and fed with the belief that one day they too will get to feed from the golden trough. It would seem that we have reached the tipping point here, where people have had enough of supporting a system that isn’t supporting them any longer. While the 1% licks the cream off their lips too many others never even get to lick out the bottom of the pot.

Surely the movement has been fueled by the frustration of people trying to get ahead with hard work, if they can find it, but without the rewards promised. We pay for insurance that doesn’t guarantee security, for schools that don’t properly educate, for health care that isn’t available when you really need it. The two industries that seem to thrive in this harsh climate, that people are forced to seek work within, is the military and prisons, neither of which offer any hope for the future or health benefits for our society. Even here in soft-shelled Canada our very conservative government has decided to buy into this draconian way of creating jobs and controlling the poor.  As French/Basque musician activist Manu Chao says, a country that spends more money teaching their citizens to kill than they do on education is a country based on fear, not hope for the future.

Besides following the leads of other dissatisfied societies around the world, perhaps the 99% movement in the US is taking advantage of having a president in power who may be somewhat sympathetic, at least enough not to have the protesters immediately tear-gassed and jailed, though there are signs that mayors in some cities are going in that direction. Although there is plenty to be disillusioned about with Obama’s presidency, it was always obvious that he was up against a corrupt and well-entrenched system that retains power and wealth for the select few in a historic perfect storm of global collapse. I believe that he can still do the right thing as this movement gains strength, and I will continue to believe that deep in Obama’s gut, there is a spark waiting to burn a hole from where his real strength and humanity will fly. I like to imagine that he and Michele watch the news at night and embrace each other, happy with the knowledge that the citizens of the United States, as elsewhere, are passing the goblet overflowing with empowerment and justice. When it makes its way to them, the Obamas will be ready to replenish it. At least that is what I like to think.

Being Canadian, I obviously didn’t have a chance to vote for Obama, but I joined with the millions who celebrated his election and believed in his message of hope and change. A simple fact of global life at this point in time is that though the citizens within the confines of the US may be able to live in ignorance of the governance of other countries, the rest of us are as deeply affected by the politics of the USA as we are the global governance by multinational corporations.  How to explain what has been going on for the last three years? A system so entrenched in corporate power and elite privilege that even a man of deep principles and experienced in community welfare can’t remain immune nor stand up to the force of its greed. I remember Obama’s 100-days in power interview when he answered the questions “What has surprised you the most?” What has troubled you the most?” by expressing his not-so-naive understanding of just how difficult it is to work within the system, that change in Washington (and on Wall Street) comes very slowly, that even in the middle of a big crisis the discussion is lost to a lot of partisan bickering. Even as President of the USA, he can’t make the bankers do what he would want them to do or turn on a switch and have congress fall in line. Well, that is why he needs the help of the population to stand up and insist that the corporate rulers, the bankers, and the outrageously wealthy pay their share. It is time to get the power back into the hands of the people.

I also believe that it is the responsibility of people everywhere to stand up to the massive brainwashing that has created a global epidemic of consumption. The belief that owning a bigger home, a newer car, a better wardrobe, every new appliance and electronic device available, that all these things are going to bring happiness and peace to your soul – well it is time to step back and stop the madness. How can one possibly defend the needs of those who own several mansions, a fleet of luxury vehicles, whose bracelet probably costs more than your monthly salary unless you are thinking that it your own goal? This kind of ostentatious outlandish decadence is setting the example of so-called fulfillment. It has tricked everyone else into supporting those who feed this dream to us even as it is making people physically, emotionally and mentally ill. If one can’t afford the luxury items, they shop with the same abandon in the dollar stores. Junk, stuff, tomorrow’s landfill. It is insanity and, to me, it is a big part of the problem, this desire for more and more of everything. The drug lords are the corporations, the pusher is the television, the addicts are everybody…and the loser is the earth.

Instead of spending so much money on the war on drugs and the criminalization of marijuana, the government should be cracking down on the real crack – stuff!!!!!

Those of us who are the protesters, the 99%, whether we are living in a tent in one of the occupied city parks, or disseminating information through the social media, or speaking up in support of the Occupy Earth movement at every chance we get, know that it is time. We don’t need a “leader” or a single headline for the media to grip on to that will simplify their job. It is impossible to narrow the issues into one stream when it is already an ocean out there, full of inequality, insane policies and despair. The “free market” system, capitalism as it is called, has stopped working for the majority of not just the humans, but all creatures who share this fragile earth. A few may be getting rich – even very very disgustingly rich– but most are experiencing life as one crisis after another with nowhere to hide. Climate change, environmental degradation, health decay, economic collapse, fiscal mismanagement, the inequities that pit workers against workers and the middle-class against the poor… the absurdity of it all is well beyond a single slogan or one spokesperson. It is time. Gather your loved ones, put on your dancing shoes, be peaceful, open your mouth, feed your mind and RISE UP!

Margaret, Paul, K, Jean, Al

I’m spending my summer in Canada as it is meant to be – swimming in refreshing northern waters, enjoying veggies out of the garden and spicy delicacies off the grill, and catching up with friends on their recent projects, latest travels and family happenings. I’m also enjoying the northern landscape – in Eastern Ontario, in July the fields are white with delicate Queen Anne’s Lace blended with blue chicory, and the woods are vibrant green and buzzing with insects.

Beautiful hot sunny weather has followed me wherever I’ve been, but thankfully not as scorching as what people have been experiencing in the south and central United States. I can only hope that many have access to clean water to refresh themselves naturally as I do, but I fear many more are cranking up their air conditioners and escaping inside. It is normal to seek shelter from the harsh elements but living in artificial environments to avoid nature can’t be good for us or the planet.

There are common themes that arise talking with people no matter where you go: the joys and tragedies of living, the burden of too much work or not having enough, the absurdity of what goes on in the world, and the petulance of the weather everywhere. Everyone seems to be witnessing this, some definitely in more extreme ways than others. Social networks help keep us immediately apprised of when a friend in Central America feels a significant earth tremor, another in the southern US is being blinded by the blaring sun, or another is digging through the ruins of a home assaulted by the wild wind. It was one thing when we used to follow these happenings in newspapers, and yet another when we could see the incredible images on television, but now that we can basically watch cataclysmic events as they happen – we can be talking face to face, skyping, with our friends as the waters rise around them – it’s as if we are all on a permanent voyage with Noah and the Arksters and forty days and forty nights may just be the beginning of it.

I was a couple of weeks in eastern Ontario and during that time a fast and furious storm growled its way down the Ottawa River valley. I was in the forest outside of Petawawa with Al and Jean Bair in their beautiful home. We had just finished watching the Japanese women out-kick the USA team in the women’s soccer finals, something I think gave most people watching a warm glow. Japan deserves whatever joy it can muster these days following their horrifying experiences with chaotic weather. And for those of us who like underdogs, this was truly the little guy beating the big guy, literally.

We were going to move on to watching the semi-final of the Copa America – big Brasil was about to get knocked out of the competition by little Paraguay (an apparent theme of the day) – but decided to get dinner together first. We had been inside watching the game, so didn’t realize how dark the sky had turned outside. As the BBQ was warming up on the deck, the wind picked up and within minutes trees were bending to the ground and anything not secured was flying. Pellets of water struck us and the sky crackled with electricity. Soon the drops joined together into a wall of water and as quickly as Al was drenched, the power also went out and we were searching for flashlights – we remained without power for 24 hours, the first time Al and Jean remember that happening in decades of living here.

At the same time, their son, Brad, who lives two hours away in Ottawa, was about to head out to the field with his daughter’s soccer team. Al called to warn him that if the wind picked up he should get everyone off the field since a doozy of a storm was coming. Turns out, as soon as they got on the field, the storm hit, debris started flying, hurricane winds and a downpour pushed them back to their cars just in time to watch a lightning bolt strike a tree on the edge of the pitch.

Not far away from Brad, at the Ottawa Bluesfest, the storm hit with a wallop.  Thousands of people were rocking to Cheap Trick, and just as they left the stage, the whole thing collapsed in the winds and heavy rain. The band wasn’t hurt and fortunately only a few others were hit by flying debris, but I have no doubt it was a very scary experience for the thousands present, especially those just leaving the stage.

That storm could be seen from my friends’ home two hours north, up the Ottawa River valley in Mattawa. Thankfully, it didn’t hit Patti and Leo, but they could see the black churning clouds across the Ottawa River in Quebec and hear the sinister warning rumbles of thunder. They buttoned down their own hatches but fortunately were out of its range. As it was, Cheap Trick was to play the following Saturday night at an outdoor festival in Mattawa, and fortunately they had a beautiful clear starry night for their show. I can’t help but wonder if they were feeling vulnerable. Just as people suffer from fear of flying and heights, I would think that fear of
whacko storms is an anxiety condition on the rise.

My days with Al and Jean began with a get together with some other Canadian Monteverdians – siblings Margaret Adelman and Paul Smith. We gathered at their northern home near Lake Dory in the Ottawa Valley. It was a Friday afternoon, so Margaret and I were feeling the pull of the regular Monteverde Scrabble game. Alas, we were the only two players so we weren’t able to get a game going. Instead we all walked down the road to the lake for a late afternoon swim. After the cool waters of the Atlantic in Maine, I found the water very warm, especially for early July. Even a Costa Rican could swim in this water.

It was a perfect lazy summer day to sit and talk. Paul showed me his workshop where he continues to make violins and play them as well. Margaret and Paul make music together in their little home on land that belonged to their grandfather. It is always nice to see where people call home, even when they may say that about more than one place. Even though I don’t have a bed of my own these days, I don’t think of myself as homeless, but instead feel homefull, feeling serene and comfortable in a number of settings.

Another part of my eastern Ontario tour was seeing old friends from my days working at Wanapitei, a canoeing camp on Lake Temagami a few hours further north. I worked there for six summers in the 1990s and my working partner and best buddy during those years was Cathy Fretz, a Tasmanian devil when it comes to work and play. We had both wonderful and hard times working our butts off in the bush at this often insane place, but survived the wild summers at camp by sticking together.

Fretz and her second husband Gerry built a home surrounded by hay fields and woodlots on land where Fretz raised her three daughters from an earlier marriage. The new house is several grades of luxury up from the original one, and the land has never looked so good, but there is plenty of the past still being honored. Old tool sheds, mature pine trees planted when her kids were small, a collection of rusted farm machinery, mementoes of their lives everywhere.

We had dinner with three other Temagami camp alumni, Fretz’ sister, Lexa, and her husband, Matt, and her son, Dan. We all worked together at either Wanapitie or Keewaydin and have many tales of life in the camps and on that magical deep water lake to
remember.


They recently built a new home looking over marshlands with forested hills in the distance. What an amazing landscape to watch and listen to. With a cast of silent herons and a chorus of frogs, that watery bog will go through its seasonal transformations -hidden under a blanket of white snow then bursting alive in the spring, to lazy summer swampiness and colourful autumn stillness before returning to that frozen pristine state again. What a beautiful place to call home.

We dined on Lexa’s great cooking – more delicious dishes than I can remember, each one better than the last – and did what old friends are prone to do: laugh about the past, remember things in unique ways, feel like no time at all has passed since we were last together, even though the proof of everyone’s labour is all around us. Friendship is a lovely thing.

I got a chance to see another of my ol’ dog friends, Harley. About seventeen years ago, as a favor to Fretz and Lexa, I picked up Harley and her brother, whose name was always complicated and escapes me, from the farm where they were born near
Petawawa. They were a little young to leave home and they cried the whole five hour trip north to Wanapitei, where I thankfully handed them over to their new mothers. The other pup didn’t live long, but Harley has become a fine old dame of a dog and is finishing out her years on the veranda of Fretz and Gerry’s country house. We have been close since Harley imprinted on me in the van all those years ago and then spent summers together at camp. She never forgets me even if years pass between visits. I felt very lucky to have had a chance to see her, as it is hard to imagine she will go on much longer. Seventeen is a very respectable age for a dog.

Our time on earth is so short, delicate and unpredictable. I have learned to accept my vulnerability but tend to see life as a game of chance that can go any which way, rather than an endurance test, though it does often feel like that too. We can survive numerous drawn out calamities and then succumb to a bolt of lightning. Some live well beyond a normal life span, and if they are fortunate, live it well. Others live very short and ultimately tragic lives. I don’t sit waiting for that lightning bolt, but I do like the buzz of electricity in the air and the smell of fresh rain – it all awakens my senses.

A few days ago, Wolf was released from Intensive Care and put back in a ward at the Hospital Blanco Cervantes in San José. This is hopefully the first step toward his release to go back to his home on the green mountain.

THE SNAKELIKE FLOWER OF THE TABACON

 

There are some conditions that have to be met before he can go: the most important being that he must be eating on his own. He has had the feeding tube stuck up his nose for over a week. It is uncomfortable and restrictive. Wolf is very aware that he’s gotta eat if they are to remove this miserable snake, even though he doesn’t have an appetite nor any desire for food.

So a couple of days ago, resigned to the reality, he opened his mouth and let the nurse shovel in “puree” – whipped potatoes. We remind him to swallow or he ends up with a mouth full of potatoey goop. Even though he took it well yesterday at lunch (with cheerleader Kay doing “yes you can’s” at his side), by night time, when his son Benito was there, he had run out of patience with the mash diet and was gagging and choking again. So today we will ask for soup and hopefully he’ll continue eating. Even though we all appreciate the necessity of eating, we also realize how miserable it is to be forced to eat when you don’t want anything.

Once we break him loose from the hospital, if he wants to stop eating, that is his prerogative. And it will be respected.

Wolf’s mental health is also a concern. He has now been without any anti-depressants for about twelve days and is quite calm and coherent (well, we actually don’t understand much of what he says, but that has to do with the difficulty of us understanding his speech, not him understanding us). His extreme talkative mania in December was the result of being given the wrong drugs. It is possible that once his system is cleared out of all these anti-psychotic medications, perhaps it won’t be necessary to give him anything. It is said that for older people, their manias and depressions aren’t as severe as when they were younger. It is also possible that Wolf’s confusion has been caused by strokes, infections, and age, so it is now important to move slowly while accessing his mental condition.

Another very important result of his return to the ward is that we can be there for ten hours of the day with him, and so we are back on a rotation, the Guindons, his nurse Stefany and I, along with the occasional surprise visitor. Each of us spend a few hours with Wolf, helping him be comfortable, talking to him and trying to understand his toothless-mumbles.

Wolf has perfected the art of rolling-the-eyes. Since he knows that we can’t decipher what he is trying to say most of the time, he uses his eyes and his forehead to great effect. He lets us know through the eye-rolling technique that something is either bothersome or of no importance. He also lets us know through lovely little squints and winks, that he is appreciative. The other day, this sloth gave me a nice little double-eyed blink, and I couldn’t help but think of Wolf.

The most celebratory aspect of the change is that because we are with him, they have untied his arms. Imagine being in a bed with your wrists tied to the bedrails for three weeks! He spent that purgatory mostly on his back, forced to sleep in a position that isn’t natural for him. Finally the nurses have let his arms loose and unwrapped the bandages from his hands.

That restriction was the cruelest and most frustrating reality of his life in the ICU. He couldn’t even scratch himself. When I arrived back from a few days away and found him back in the ward, he was curled up on his side, his arms tucked up close to him like he was holding something precious close to his heart. He was – his freedom.

That first day, he hardly woke up, and resisted any attempt to pull his arms away even from a dream state. He must have been so happy to be free to make himself comfortable in whatever way he wanted. Although they were still tying him at night when we left, I think the nurses finally decided yesterday that he isn’t going to commit hari-kari and sabotage the feeding tube. Wolf is aware of the consequences and resigned to following the rules if he wants to get out of there.

When I couldn’t take anymore of Wolf’s ICU imprisonment, I escaped for a few days up near Arenal Volcano with my good friends Zulay and Keith. Over my twenty years in Costa Rica, Zulay has nursed me back to health on numerous occasions and provided a respite in the days when I was working day and night with groups or on the Monteverde Music Festival. Once again, she fed my body and nurtured my mind with her wisdom and friendship. We spent two hours fertilizing orchids throughout their large garden and the pictures blooming throughout this blog are from that morning of floral splendor.

Now I’m back in the city, staying with Lorena and Edin, who is the hugely talented and extremely sweet guitarist of Editus, a grammy-winning band here in Costa Rica. Last night, the Ministry of Culture and Youth held a large outdoor concert at the Museum of Costa Rican Art to inaugurate a new logo and renewed spirit for the ministry. There were thousands of people out on a gorgeous evening in front of the stunning dame of a building, with an array of the best of Costa Rican music, dance, art and poetry, old and new. For the first time I heard Percance, a super high energy ska band, who I loved and will definitely go and find again.

The starry night sky was a perfect backdrop to an enthusiastic  crowd and an exotic light show reflecting patterns on this lovely old building that provided at least four different stages. From one of the balconies, Edin, pianist Luis Monge, and Tapado – Editus’ phenomenal percussionist – accompanied vocalist Arnoldo Castillo as the crowd sang along to Costa Rica’s campesino anthem, Caña Dulce . I saw a number of old friends, including the Minister of Culture, Manuel Obregon, who I’ve known for years from his many performances in Monteverde (and a couple concerts in Toronto as well). I also met up with other musicians who I don’t run into often but who I spent great times with back in the days of the Monteverde Music Festival.

The Flower of Passion

 

The flowers, the friends, the music and the joy have all renewed me to continue accompanying Wolf and his family on what has so often been such a difficult path. Who knows where we will end up next, but at least our friend has tasted a bit of freedom, and for that, we are all truly thankful.

I’m in Cahuita town on a bright sunny day. Over the weekend, news from Monteverde came to me that now our dear friend Lucky Guindon is in the hospital. She apparently had a couple of serious angina attacks on Saturday – precursors to real heart attacks – but she got to the Puntarenas hospital and as far as  I know she is still there under observation. If you have been following my blog, you will know that Lucky has become a nurse in helping Wolf with his daily medical routine. Like me, Lucky never wanted to be a nurse but has risen to the challenge as one must.

I’m sure the stress of Wolf’s many health issues has been straining her and now I have absolutely no doubt that Wolf is under duress worrying about his wife. My heart goes out to them both and their family, as this is a lot of medical emergencies and serious health issues to cope with at one time. I just wanted to post this information that those friends and Friends out there will hold Lucky in the light and send a force of positive love up the green mountain to envelope her and the rest of the Guindons. These pictures were from her birthday last February. I will continue to post any new information as I receive it.

A few weeks ago, when I was up in Monteverde, cold, wet and miserable with fever, I felt the strong urge to write and complain about the rain. Prior to that, I enjoyed three sunny September weeks here in Cahuita of perfect hot, dry weather, but as soon as I ventured out on a trip to San José and up the green mountain, my spirit was soddened as quickly as my clothes. I was caught almost daily in pouring rain, keeping me constantly damp, if not soaked, until I was able to escape inside and change into dry clothes. Eventually I succumbed to “la gripe”, Costa Rican for all that ails you. Last April, after experiencing the desert conditions of Los Angeles in California, I swore I would never speak harshly again about water replenishing our thirsty earth, but it doesn’t take many days of walking about dripping wet and cold to forget one’s best intentions.

At our bush home in Cahuita, we are constantly stoking the cooking fire, and its smoke swirls through the rancho and steeps our hanging clothes like curing sausages. A comfortable odor here, it becomes a foreign acrid smell when you hit the urban life of San José with its fresh scents of soaps and colognes, or the clean but humid mountain air where that smoked chorizo musk follows you like an poor immigrant from the old country.  Note to self: freshly wash all clothes and dry far from the fire before visiting civilization.

In Monteverde, I stayed with the lovely ladies Deb and Barbara, who took great care of me as I sunk deeper in my sickness, and in the end, in a very ungracious-guest-like-manner, I left them both under the same nasty weather. The worst of the whole thing was that I had gone to Monteverde with the intention of spending a few hours each day with the ever-recuperating Wolf, but I only managed to visit him one morning and then didn’t dare return with my germs. I missed a bunch of other events as well, but it was the anticipated Wolf time that I really regretted.

To update Wolf’s continuing medical adventures, he continues on a roller coaster, slowing going up the track of wellness, only to crest and slip down another precarious slope. However, I believe that as of this writing (as per a phone call with his son Benito last night) Wolf is doing okay. He had the first of his cataract operations a couple of days ago. I hope that this will mean that while he is laid up with his other conditions, he will at least be able to read again. Often he has been feeling punk enough not to want to do anything, and he is not a television watcher – indeed, the Guindons don’t even own one. However, once he is feeling better yet is still not very mobile, he can at least amuse himself by reading, something that the cataracts have been making almost impossible. He delayed the operation once while he was recuperating from the pacemaker episode, but now he has at least one eye open and I trust he has a date for the second eye. 

His heart and pacemaker seem to be working well together according to his check-ups. A change in insulin as well as a more rigid regimen of testing his sugar levels will hopefully mean that he will get better control of his diabetes. He has been told, once again, to drink more water to keep flushing his liver and kidneys of all the medication he takes (Wolf is still trying to come to terms with the fact that coffee is not water). A few days before I visited him, Wolf had a bad urinary tract infection. Combined with his chronic prostate issues, it resulted in the placement of a catheter. Although he wasn’t happy about it at the time, he seems to have made some adjustments and now is finally able to eliminate his liquid wastes with less pain and problem than he has had for a couple of years now.

Carambola!  As he told me, a few weeks ago he hit a low point that he thought he wouldn’t return from, but he’s once again feeling like there is a light at the end of the tunnel (not THAT LIGHT), and fortunately his strong spirit is still soaring. Unfortunately, his ever-suffering wife, Lucky, who has become a nurse despite a lifelong desire to never be one, recently took a fall and broke (I believe) a rib, something that is known to be very painful yet seldom fatal. So she has taken at least a couple of bumpy trips down the mountain with Wolf and their son Berto in his car to various medical appointments, no doubt grimacing from the pain but stoically carrying on. Ai yi yi, don’t you think enough is enough for these good folks? 

I did manage to get over my sickness in time to participate in workshops for the nature guides at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Mercedes Diaz, head of Environmental Education at the Reserve, asked me to repeat the presentation I had given last year on the history of Bosqueterno S.A., the original watershed reserve that the Quaker community had set aside. So I went up to the Reserve and despite technical problems, a lingering fever and rain pounding on the roof, I told the guides this important story of the beginnings of conservation in Monteverde. I finished that last mountain day wrapped in the warmth of my friendship with Patricia Jiménez, aided by dry blankets, hot conversation and healing wine.

The raging Rio Concepcion and a bit of the highway

 

All said and done, I was happy to leave the cold mountain and continue my wandering, challenged by the treachery of the Costa Rican highways during this very wet rainy season. A new highway was opened less than a year ago connecting San José with Caldera on the Pacific coast but due to very poor construction and very adequate corruption, such a terrible job was done that this new and important highway out of the heart of the country has been sporadically closed like a blocked artery constantly requiring surgery. The old highway that passes San Ramon was also closed when a bridge was washed out meaning that both of the main routes west of the central valley were cut off or clogged up. You take your chances moving about a mountainous, overly-underdeveloped country like Costa Rica, especially in the rainy season.

Despite bus delays, I eventually got to visit with people I consider family – the Montero/Martinez gang – one branch having moved from San Carlos to Palmares recently. I also had a chance to visit a different branch of the same family in Sarchi on my way to Monteverde.  A year had passed since I saw some of these folks so it was a wonderful time of catching up and seeing their new or improved homes.

In Sarchi, I was thrilled to see Claudio’s organic lettuce operation and made notes as I think that Roberto and I can use some of his ideas to grow some vegetables here on the Caribbean, something that we struggle with constantly (too much sun, too much rain, too hot, not enough soil fertility, voracious ants, every other bug, etc.).

I spent several days near la Fortuna with Zulay Martinez, and wrote about this in the last post as we spent a day at the CRiterio Film Festival…if you haven’t read it, take a look and try to see some of those documentaries. I love being in that region of Costa Rica and Zulay has been one of my closest Tica friends for 20 years. The sun was shining, it was warm and mostly dry, so the time was completely enjoyable and I was only sorry that it was so short.

Before returning to the east coast, I went to San José for an important meeting with the Editoriales de la Universidad de Costa Rica and the Tropical Science Center. Thanks to the enthusiasm of a few men – first, Carlos Hernandez, the director of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve; secondly Javier Espeleta, the new director of the TSC, and now Julian Monge, the editor at EUCR – the translation of Walking with Wolf should see the light in the first half of 2011. Wolf’s son, Carlos, completed the translation a year ago, but editing etc. is still to be done. However, with the energy and commitment of these men behind us, I believe that Wolf and I will be celebrating Caminando con Wolf in the foreseeable future. His health concerns have helped to push these very busy men into action, a positive side benefit to all of Wolf’s trouble. 

While in the city, I stayed with my good friend Myrna Castro and her new husband Ron, and her talented daughter Veronica. We were all busy, but they provided me with a 6-star hotel, a mother’s care and always interesting chatter while I was there. Vero took me to a bar I’d never been to, Anocheser, in San Pedro, where musicians gather after their gigs and the music carries on through the night. A small intimate place, the night featured a series of singers, strumming guitars to songs that everyone in the place knew and sang along with (except me, of course, who only knew a few of the Spanish lyrics). Note to self: learn more Spanish lyrics.

I went to visit Lorena Rodriguez, a good friend and very talented designer. Although I went to see her just to visit and catch up on life, the day turned into a design-fest. When I told her that I was getting ready to build a little casita on the land I have just purchased here on the Caribbean, she sat me down at her computer and we started turning my ideas into reality. Hours later, the house details that had been brewing in my mind, aided by her extensive experience and creative juices, along with a fantastic computer design program, could be seen in full color, in scale, and we were even able to take a cyber- walk through the casita to make sure it all felt good. Incredible! Once again, I am so appreciative to Lore for dropping what she was doing and helping me (as she did last year when she fussed over my preparations for my visit to the Canadian Ambassador’s house to meet the Governor General).

Now I have a very workable plan for a humble 5 meter by 7 meter casita that I plan on building on my little piece of land just across the stream from Roberto. I’ve had a couple of frustrations with the buying of the land but in the end, all seems to be in order. I know why I’ve waited twenty years to buy land here. However, this is a property with title and no legal problems, and I’ve had a surveyor come and we are now just waiting for the land survey to be completed, and I think all will be fine although I’m expecting each step to involve frustration. The most difficult thing could be that our relatively isolated but very peaceful life here in the jungle could be changing as our road gets busier, land is bought up, buildings are constructed and electricity is soon to come. You can’t stop progress but you can certainly disagree with its definition.

We had a disagreement over the actual property line with the woman who is buying the land immediately next door but hopefully that has been settled. Roberto and I went out the other day and placed a makeshift fencerow along the boundary line as dictated by the woman who sold me the land, and now we wait and hope that we will all be in agreement. Roberto thinks I should erect a proper fence of barbed wire but I can’t stand the idea. Instead I plan on planting a variety of hibiscus, crotons and other colorful fast growing plants to mark the edge of the property. I told him that I would erect a real fence if I felt it was necessary one day – he shakes his masculine head of dreads. As we discuss issues around land ownership, security and building houses, I’m not sure if it is gender issues, personal experiences or cultural issues that cause our differing opinions, but in the end, it’s my property, my money and my problem. And Roberto’s prerogative to say, “I told you so”.

As I wrote at the beginning, I was feeling like complaining about rain, but once I returned to hot and sunny Cahuita, to the trials of land purchasing and house design, to Roberto’s delicious coconut-cooking and Miel’s amusing antics, and to the very low water level of our little stream, well, I decided I didn’t have to whine about wetness anymore. I brought a new simple battery-operated radio (see former post about radio problems) and it has brought music back into our daily lives – as well as a connection to the news of the world, including the amazing rescue of the 33 miners in Chile. They say that a billion people were watching or listening to the rescue operation – what a nice thought, that so many people across the globe would be focused on something that is positive, not warlike, and has nothing to do with sports.

And as I write this from the shelter of the rancho, our first day of east coast rain has come – beginning with a thunderous pouring in the night and lingering as a mellow shower all day long. Our gasping little stream has swelled again, its renewed current rushing along its banks, washing nature’s refuse back out to the sea, the moisture triggering a brighter twinkle in the green eye of the forest,  and cleansing our sun-baked souls. Ah, what a sweet rain it is.

After more than two years of writing this blog on a relatively steady basis, I have let my devotion slide over the last few months while I was at my home in Ontario. Not completely – those of you reading know that there’s been a new post here and there, mostly spurred by political and social issues that got my goat. Now I’m back in Costa Rica, with a renewed vigor for writing, with more time to devote to it, and, of course, new Wolf and jungle stories to share. I’m aware that some of my friends keep track of me through this blog (yet don’t think that I might want to hear from them as well??? Hello!) and friends of Monteverde and readers of Walking with Wolf visit my ramblings to get updates about our friend Wolf and life on the green mountain.

So I return with a new commitment to the written word. This is a great venue for me to exercise my keyboard brain especially as I work at developing a new book theme; to express my fascination and frustration with this crazy world around us (otherwise poor Roberto has to listen to it all); to publicize artists, businesses, and organizations who I think deserve to be recognized; and to spread local news throughout the cyber world by means of this new fan-dangled digital drum.

And for those who accidentally ended up here by googling some obscure subject like pacemaker or pejiballes, check it out. Sorry for the rambling, but I do actually try to add a bit of valuable information. It might be of use to those who plan on visiting Costa Rica, or to people who like to hear about new music. Or maybe it will appeal to those of you who, like me, are moved to tears by injustices in the world, or to laughter by the absurdity of it all, and need to gather together to share the good and the bad.

So first, a Wolf update. If you read my last post, you will know that Wolf turned 80 on August 17. Unfortunately he spent that time in the Clinica Católica, a private hospital in San José, recovering from an operation where he received a pacemaker. The absolutely good news in this is that he has improved each day since. He still received a lot of birthday wishes, including pretty nurses singing the happy song for him, so the day wasn’t completely a loss. Actually, as both he and Lucky say, he received the best gift of all – a new chance at life, with better health and hopefully many more years of celebrating his birthday.

Over the last couple of years, Wolf has been struggling with various health issues. Here in Costa Rica there is social medicine (la Caja) but unfortunately, Wolf hasn’t always been served well by it. Living in a remote place like Monteverde, even with a local clinic in nearby Santa Elena, means that each specialized issue – from his diabetes to his prostate to his need for a knee replacement to the manic depression that still requires lithium – has been treated by a different doctor in a different place, from Santa Elena to San José to Puntarenas. For the most part, these doctors don’t consult with each other. As Wolf ages, he’s less inclined to keep track of his simmering stew of drugs and the growing calendar of appointments. Fortunately he now has his son Berto and daughter-in-law Angelina, a former nurse, living close by and they have been able to help Lucky, Melody and the rest of the clan to take care of his complicated medical requirements and to drive him up and down the mountain for scheduled appointments and in moments of emergency.

In the Canadian version of social medicine, we have family doctors or general practitioners (except in areas where cutbacks have made this impossible) who are responsible for sending us out to specialists and in turn receive reports back from them. It is still in each person’s best interest to stay on top of their own medical care, or have family members who can oversee things for them, but, as in my own case, if you have a quality family doctor, they’ll look at all the reports that come in with you and coordinate your overall health care. Having gone through the process of surviving cancer, with chemo and radiation treatments, I can only sing the praises of social medicine, imperfect as it may sometimes be.

The Guindon family went to a geriatric doctor a few months ago at a different private clinic with the idea of finding a doctor who would oversee Wolf’s various health issues. They paid dearly for a number of tests (as Lucky told me, she has a renewed appreciation for the costs that social medicine consume) but didn’t receive satisfactory analysis of those tests from that specialist so they didn’t return to him. When Wolf had a near-death emergency the week before his birthday, they brought him to the Clinica Católica and have been very happy with the care provided by doctors and nursing staff alike.

The cardiologist that has attended him made it clear that the tests he ran indicated immediately that Wolf needed a pacemaker and that any doctors before him should have seen this. It makes you wonder what is going on – why la Caja doctors didn’t catch this (because he’s old and they didn’t want to use public funds to help him?) or why the doctor at the other private clinic didn’t recommend this? Considering the dizziness and swings in blood pressure that Wolf has been having over the last year, it is easy to believe that giving him a pacemaker is an obvious call. And he seems to be getting stronger and clearer each day, indicating that it is hopefully the right call. So why wasn’t it done earlier?

Along with the new beat to his heart, Wolf has also had his insulin adjusted. He was taking a kind of insulin that wasn’t working for him and is now taken human insulin, along with a pill. It requires his blood to be tested regularly throughout the day and the medication to be adjusted accordingly. It was also found that he was being toxified by too much lithium in his system to the point that they were concerned that he would need kidney dialysis. He hasn’t had an adjustment in the dosage in years for his manic depression. I’m sure his aging body has changed but the doctor responsible didn’t change the amount of lithium. Wolf now must have his lithium level tested every three months.

The Guindons have chosen to keep Wolf’s health care consistent by seeing specialists – cardiologist, urologist, psychiatrist, ophthalmologist (for his cataracts) – at the Clinica Católica. It means they must pay for most of the care, but it will hopefully also mean that Wolf will live a longer and better life.

Wolf devoted much of his life to the well-being of the flora and fauna that residents and visitors to Monteverde continue to enjoy. He did so at a cost to his family and without a great degree of monetary compensation. The Friends Meeting in Monteverde lent money to the family to help with the immediate costs of Wolf’s health care. We now ask any of you who feel moved to donate towards Wolf’s expenses to please do so. The information on how to send money is in my last post (Happy 80th Birthday Wolf).

I arrived in Costa Rica in time to visit with Wolf, Lucky, and their sons Berto and Carlos, in the hospital a couple of times and then we all headed up to Monteverde. Community birthday celebrations were put on hold, but Roberto and I joined in with the family on Sunday evening. A big birthday cake was shared by Wolf, his son Berto (born on the same day 59 years ago), his son Tomás (who was visiting from California with his wife Gretchen and their children Julian and Olivia), and me! I turned 52 on the 26th. It was a wonderful evening spent with this large warm family celebrating our lives and especially Wolf’s recovery. And I have to report that Wolf ate two large plates of food followed by a bowl of cake and ice cream, so, as my Gramma would’ve said, he ain’t dead yet.

His birthday was also celebrated with much of the staff of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve one sunny day when he made his triumphant return to visit his former co-workers. Fortunately the maintenance crew and forest guards were around, as were the office and reception staff, and so we shared a cake and sang the song and each face reflected the joy we felt in being together with our dear friend Wolf.

A special birthday present for both of us came in the form of a meeting I had with Javier Espeleta, the new director of the Tropical Science Center. There is a renewed thrust being put into the publication of the Spanish version of our book, Caminando con Wolf, which Wolf’s son Carlos has already translated. I appreciated Don Javier’s enthusiasm and the fact that they have met with the University of Costa Rica Press and are close to signing a contract with that esteemed press to continue with the publication. I think Wolf’s brush with fate has pushed the powers to get this done while we can all enjoy it. For that, I am most grateful.

After that eventful week in Monteverde, Roberto and I returned to Cahuita. After days of rain in Monteverde (as well as a cacophony of bellbirds, quetzals, toucans, and the spectacular visit of a small flock of rarely seen oilbirds), we passed along roads being cleared of mudslides caused by all this wet weather. Roberto promised me that it would be hot and sunny in Cahuita. The first night we brought the rain with us, but now, as promised, the sun is shining, the air is warm, and the sky pure blue. We heard that the Pan-American Highway, the route from Monteverde to San José, was closed by a major landslide the day after we passed along it.

We have a new member to our little family here in the jungle – a serious male kitten that followed Roberto home one day several weeks ago. He’s named Miel, as he looks a lot like the cat we cared for last year in Monteverde by the same name. The two boys are getting used to having a woman around – Roberto already understands the pros and cons, but Miel is finding that though Roberto will feed him more, I’m more likely to spoil him by letting him take his place on my lap or beside me on the daybed. The immediate struggle is the idea of having a hunter in our midst. The truth is that the cat is welcome to keep the bush rats at bay (and Roberto has already seen him kill a good-sized snake), but I don’t want him to kill the colorful lizards, tiny dart frogs, or songbirds. You can already see the troubled writing that will appear on this wall.

Today we go to town to find the surveyor who will map the land across the stream from Roberto’s. Soon I will have my own little piece of paradise and there I will make the humblest abode I can and settle down to write a book (or so says my inner fortune-teller). The day after I arrived, as soon as the rain quit, we went onto the land and harvested a big bunch of pejiballes, one of my all time favorite Costa Rican foods. Known locally as peach palms, they are hooked off their thorny palm tree from the ground with a very long bamboo stick by a nubile rasta. Boiled and served up with mayonnaise, these tasty nutritious nuggets welcomed me back to my tropical home. As did the local howler monkeys, who have been serenading us with exaggerated mumbo jumbo each night since my return. 

Now I sit in the shade of the rancho, writing on my laptop and playing with the curious kitten, while Roberto renovates the cooking area with scavenged lumber from down the stream, as he says “building a Taj Majal for my Mumtaz”.   Jungle joy and Jah love abounds.

Can you believe it? Almost the end of July 2010! Whether time is passing quickly or trudging slowly for each of us, we still arrive at the same place together – ten years into the not-so-new millennium, two years short of the perhaps fatal 2012, and just one month away from Wolf Guindon’s 80th birthday when I’ll be returning to Costa Rica.

Provocative work by Kreso Cavlovic - visit his gallery in Elora Ontario

Just north of that Tico-paradise, oil has been gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for three months now, poisoning the waters and smothering local life. The responsible say that they’ve perhaps capped the leak, but so much damage has been done there is little to rejoice about. With tropical storms brewing, the future remains an industrial nightmare. A few days ago, when a pipeline burst and oil poured into the waters off of China, it barely made the news. The bar for oil disasters has now been raised so high that the media – as it does with so many other issues – doesn’t linger long in the small stuff.

Toronto in a more innocent moment

Here in Canada, there are still more questions than answers about what happened during the G8/20 fiasco in Toronto a few weeks ago. Somehow the government and police seem to be avoiding an inquiry into their own very questionable and abusive actions but are now daily releasing pictures of young activists assumed to be responsible for the destructive violence during those couple days of social unrest. There are many stories of police misconduct that will never be investigated without an inquiry as well as the much bigger question of our government which put this billion dollar show on in a vulnerable downtown Toronto against expert advice. Like the oil-coated fish in the gulf, the criminal records of those caught in the police nets may be the only reminder of a very troubling and twisted event.  

In the past couple of months, the Canadian government tried to pull another fast one by mixing some very important legislation into a seemingly benign budget bill – in short, they tried to have the requirement for environmental assessments on new projects taken away and the ability to sell nukes broadened. I heard nothing about this, as I’m sure many didn’t, until I went and saw Elizabeth May, the brilliant leader of the Green Party of Canada, who was here in Hamilton at a fundraiser. She left early to return to Ottawa and address the committee looking at the passage of this bill but first informed us of what was going on. I believe the bill didn’t pass until they changed these outlandish aspects, thanks to the diligence of politicians such as her. I remember Elizabeth from the 1980s when she was a young environmental lawyer working with others to have the requirement for environmental assessments, along with public participation in the process, entrenched in government policy.

Meanwhile, in Costa Rica the government has recently granted permission to the United States to send 7000 marines along with numerous planes and dozens of warships to Ticolandia for an accelerated campaign on the war-against-drugs. There are very few good examples of countries allowing other country’s armies to carry out their business on their sovereign soils. Costa Ricans are in the streets protesting, being citizens of a country that doesn’t support the international drug trade but certainly doesn’t support a military presence either, having abolished their own army back in 1948. I can envision being visited by camouflage-coated creatures rising out of the swampy jungle near Cahuita, (scene from Apo-calypso Now?) with the right to question, search and detain anyone who appears suspicious to them. I’m suspicious that this is another military move being made in response to Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s oil supplies, and their less than sympathetic nature toward the Americans. It feels a lot like a military maneuver being put in a strategic place for a more serious conflict – that war-on-drugs has been a farce going on for decades, supplying the American military machine with money and an excuse for a continuing strong presence south of their own border while the drug trade continues to keep everyone high.

The world, both large and small, seems increasingly insane.

seeking relief in Elora Quarry

 

Here in the Hammer, as throughout eastern Canada and the northeastern US, the weather has been hot, record-breaking hot, frying brain cells and raising tempers. They say it is the hottest, driest July on record and is going to stay this way for a while yet. They say that the temperature of the Great Lakes’ waters is up between one and five degrees, depending on the lake, something that can cause a serious effect on lake health – increasing vegetative growth and toxic pollutants as well as affecting fish populations.

Down in Monteverde, our good friend Wolf is dealing with a variety of health issues. I will be writing about this again soon, once I’ve had a more recent update from the family. In short, he can’t have his knee operation he so desired, but needs to have cataracts remove and some other issues taken care of. And he has been taken off the insulin they started him injecting last July for his diabetes, as either the insulin is the wrong kind or the amount has been out of whack. This explains the dizziness, confusion and dangerously low sugar counts he’s been having. I am anxious to get back to Monteverde in time for his 80th birthday and hope that his new doctors and treatment changes are going to help him enjoy life again.

Roberto and stairway to heaven

In the meantime, I’m packing up my house so that when I leave, renters can move in. I have been purging the past, tossing the trivial, and surrendering the superfluous. I plan on being in Costa Rica for a longer period this time, to be closer to Wolf, to oversee the renewed effort on the translation of Walking with Wolf, and to close the deal on the land next door to Roberto’s. If all goes as planned, I’ll be constructing a little casita and settling down to write. After going through what is basically a smallish house here in Canada and still being overwhelmed by the stuff I’ve tried so hard not to collect, I will build the simplest structure possible – no walls, no storage – just efficient living space and one secure area for locking things up. Only hammocks and love will make my home.

Thank goodness for music, friends and sunshine. That is what restores me after a day of filling cardboard boxes and listening to the nightly news. Amongst other sweet musical moments, I went and saw local talented wild woman, Carolyna Lovelace, rock the house here in the Hammer, during her brief stay in between international gigs. She has also been packing up a lifetime and is moving on. Good luck to you Carolyna, see you in the south.

I indulged myself with the world cup. My original prediction was only half right – Holland was in, but not Argentina as I thought. I was happy that Spain took it – especially when Holland lost its cool and went aggressive – and especially happy that little Iniesto scored the goal. I got to watch some of the games with my great friends, the Bairs, along with some beautiful Tico friends, the Solanos, who were visiting. I thoroughly enjoyed the maleness and international flare of it all. I then spent the final game with a bunch of great women in a very mixed fan crowd in Toronto and paella pandemonium reigned. Now the world can relax once again – at least as far as futbol. Oh, to be in Brazil in four years.

On the set of History channel's The Kennedys circa 1940s

 

We each swirl in our own little orbits, each given day shining gloriously for some, while for others, they can barely see through the darkness. Re-reading this post, I find myself sounding quite melancholy. It is the heat, it is the transitional moment of my life, it is the global condition. I am much more affected here in Canada by the whacky world. Although I will miss my great friends, the groovy scene of the Hammer, and the autumn artistry in the forest, I’m glad that I’m returning to Costa Rica. Maybe things will look brighter through the green filter of the jungle and love will soothe my skittish soul.

I’m back down in the hammock in Cahuita sharing my last weeks in paradise with Roberto. We are in talks with the neighbors about buying the property across his moat, the Quebrada Suarez, a process that is a little confusing, a little frustrating, but we survive knowing that in the end whatever happens, we’ll be fine. I returned to the Caribbean last week after close to three weeks in Monteverde, taking care of the apartment and Miel the cat, spending time with Wolf, and listening to as much music as that prolifically melodic mountain could provide.

When I first arrived in Monteverde in 1990, I lived for a few months with the Villegas family – Yolanda and Mario and their kids Sylvia, Johnny, Diña, Dana and Daniel – even though half of them weren’t born yet -as they were beginning to build their Pension Manakin in Cerro Plano. This year, I needed a place to stay for a few nights before the apartment was ready, so I got a room at a great rate and witnessed firsthand what the family has done in twenty years of work.

The Manakin Lodge is a friendly modern large-roomed pension, with one balcony facing the forest, another facing the community where one can witness what has grown up around it in these last two decades. Their prices are very reasonable and the family continues to offer warm service, delicious breakfasts and a comfortable ambiance. Why anyone would stay at the large Hotel Establo when they can stay in a cozy family-run lodge I will never truly understand. The Establo has spread like an out of control disease up the hillside and you can now see its lights burning all night from as far away as the Pan American Highway. It has four restaurants within its borders – as close to an all-inclusive-type resort as Monteverde will ever get I hope. It doesn’t feel like sustainable tourism to me. 

While in Monteverde, I did four slide presentations for the community about Bosqueterno S.A. I was honored to play a part in sharing this incredible history of what I believe is the first nature reserve in Costa Rica, (http://www.bosqueternosa.wordpress.com), a country now internationally known for its national parks, biological preserves and wildlife refuges. In many places, this little country seems to be a great big untamed jungle and it feels that perhaps there is still land that doesn’t “belong” to anyone; however, as Roberto and I work out the deal with the neighbors here, one is reminded that every inch of this earth is “owned” by someone who probably has plans for it. The family who is selling their inherited land next door told us that another big chunk of their property, just a couple hundred meters away from Roberto’s isolated homestead, is expected to be bought by a man who wants to put in a large hotel and golf course! Karamba! That’s a scary thought. They paved paradise…and we all know the rest of that song.

 If you’ve been reading this blog, then you know that I indulge in as much live music as I can manage. Everywhere I live, everywhere I go, music is there. From a community stage in a shady park, to a smoky room with tortured souls uttering sorrowful lyrics, on the streets of a foreign town of gyrating dancers, or in fine halls echoing with hundreds of years of choruses of hallelujahs – it doesn’t matter, music is alive and well and keeping us connected. The last month in Monteverde, I was blessed with a huge array of great music and lots of opportunities to dance.

It was the season of the Monteverde Music Festival. The community always made its own music and supported visiting artists – the Trostle family built the Casa Sunset and intimate gatherings were held there. The Music Festival began as a community-run event back in 1992 when Margaret Adelman (a multi-artistic Canadian with many years living in Monteverde) began a four-month festival, bringing classical musicians from San José to the Villa, a building with a stunning view over the Nicoya. Three nights a week the music-loving community would make the trek up the steep hill to hear these concerts and watch the sunset. The next year, Margaret moved the concerts to her nephews’ hotel, the Fonda Vela, where it stayed for a couple of seasons. As the years went by, different people took over the management of the festival and the venue continued to change. Any money gained from the festival was used for music programs and instruments in the area’s schools.

Patricia Maynard and her son Mark

In ‘98 and ‘99, Patricia Maynard took over the direction of the festival and brought in a wider range of music, reflecting the tastes of Costa Ricans and younger foreigners who weren’t as interested in classical music. The concerts were held in the Monteverde Institute’s new building. I worked with Patri for those two years, managing the home that housed the musicians. We ran close to seven weeks of nightly concerts each year. I describe my job as doing everything or anything for the musicians during the 22 hours that they weren’t on stage – then I could just enjoy the music. It was a lot of work, but also the best investment in volunteer hours I’ve ever given. I became friends with many of the talented musicians and their families and feasted on a wealth of delicious music – both Costa Rican and international. One of the highlights was when Ruben Blades came up the mountain with Editus – an interesting, dynamic man with a gift for gab, a sharp political mind, and a soul for salsa – and he did his own dishes!

In 2000, the Monteverde Music Festival ended up in the hands of a committee organized by the Monteverde Institute and eventually petered out. In the early years of the new millenium, Gloria Waissbluth., a former director of the Costa Rican symphonic youth orchestra now living in Monteverde, held concerts in the Galerón Cultural Centre, a small hall in Cerro Plano. At the same time, Patricia Maynard built Bromelias Café and Amphitheater, an outdoor acoustically-lovely stage set inside the flower of a bromeliad’s bloom, and continued holding concerts as well. She also has an intimate indoor stage in the cafe. The Galerón is now closed, but the Amphitheater continues to burst with live music. So the Monteverde Music Festival continues – even though its direction may change, its purpose of bringing top quality music to Monteverde remains.

Machillo and Ricky

Alan Calvo

 

This year, Patricia had a great roster with a variety of musical genres. She was aided by her son, Mark, home for a few  months from studies in Argentina and his friend Ricky. I’ve watched Mark grow from a little kid and always been impressed with his ability to help…he is now a young man with the ability to multi-task while smiling and has become a stage technician not only for his mother but for large concerts held in the big city. The sound team for the festival was mainly Mechas (a musician who plays regularly in Monteverde) and another guy. Patri also gets perennial help from her sidekick Alan Calvo, another sweet human being who can do just about anything and maintain that smile on his face.  

Kumary and Johnny

From Miami, our rasta friend Johnny Dread returned with his Tico-musical friends and brought some roots reggae back up the mountain. It was a windy cool wet night, but Johnny warmed us all with his sweet soul and truth speaking. Kumary Sawyers, the singer from Costa Rican reggae band, Kingolovers, and Sergio Camacho of Unity joined him as they have before.

I had a chance to see Martha Fonseca, a singer with a large repertoire, who has traveled the world and sang with many. As with so many of the Costa Rican musicians, she has a Tico humility about her with a voice as diverse as the land. Nice woman, lovely voice. 

My friend Veronica Zumbado came with the group Alma Gitana – flamenco guitar, sorrowful lyrics, contagious hand clapping and Alejandra, the sharp-heeled flamenco dancer. A hot night that brought your blood temperature up. The neighbours told me that they didn’t hear the music, but the staccato sound of the dancer’s shoes kept their hearts pounding.

A couple of nights later was a show with Humberto Vargas followed by the Latin-American Idol runner-up, Maria José Castillo.  I’ve met Humberto before – he is a humble, amusing, and talented singer-songwriter as well as guitarist. He played with percussionist Chinny, charming the audience and reminding me of why I like him. The amphitheatre was full this night, testament to the commercial appeal of Latin American Idol just like the big brother Idol in the north. I can’t say I was overly impressed with Maria José – she sang with a soundtrack, not live musicians, and only brought four songs to Monteverde – then when the crowd demanded an encore, she was at a loss for what to do. Of course, I think she’s only eighteen.

Humberto joined her for the last song of the evening which was a well known song though not by me – he played it on the guitar and she sang and finally I saw a bit of her natural talent, unfettered by production. The machine of the monster called Idol was apparent, but it brought the local Ticos to the show, and if that’s what the people want….

Me, Milton and all

There were many concerts that I didn’t get to see but the last two of the series were both spectacular. One was Maestro Milton Mascriadi – a professional contrabassist from the University of Georgia who plays internationally and was visiting Costa Rica. He arrived with a professor from the University of Costa Rica and eight of their students from both schools. It was magical seeing eight huge double basses on the stage – one of them a 320-year old beauty from Italy. El Maestro was charming and very talented, his fingers playing over that big bodied bass as if it was a tiny violin. The encore of the show was a piece for bass and violin, played by two of the students, and it was memorable. The night was gorgeous, though a little damp for the stringed instruments, with mists wafting through the open amphitheatre. Pure magic.

That evening the music continued inside with Parque en el Espacio, the acoustic version of a latin rock band. With a bonfire outside, Bromelias is a great place to spend an evening, especially when the music is fine. The highlight of Parque for me was the “hang”, the inverted steel drum instrument from Switzerland – I heard them played in a back alley in Barcelona last year – a haunting sound with a versatility that relies on the player’s prowess. 

The last night of the Festival was Costa Rica’s Celtic band, Peregrino Gris. Frequent visitors to Monteverde over the years, these multi-instrumentalists never fail to move the crowd. They are extremely likeable gents with big talent on a variety of instruments. Rolando, their violinist, was out of the country, but Rodrigo, Carlos and Eduardo with his bagpipes played their jigs, reels and soulful instrumentals with the same heart as always.

Costa Rica has a wide range of music and the Monteverde Music Festival has always been a great showcase for it. The schools have benefited both from the festival and from the arrival of excellent teachers who bring their talents with them. Right now there are three teachers at the Friends School – Jonathan Ogle, Heather Gosse & Tricia Wagner – who have added to the musical celebration through theatre, music and dance. Tricia’s latest big production was the musical Grease, performed by the Grade 7 and 8s at the Friends School, but she can be heard singing and playing guitar and reciting poetry all over the community, including at Bromelias open mic nights.

I once said to Heather that she probably never imagined when she took the job teaching here in Costa Rica that she would have such a big opportunity to play her violin with a variety of professional bands. With her husband, Jonathan, a cellist, she can be found not only playing, conducting the Kitchen Sink Orchestra, and singing, but the two of them have led the English country dances on alternate Saturday nights when it isn’t square dance night at the Friends School. I grew up square dancing but these elegant dances with delicate steps and lovely movements were new to me. Following the very organized and clear instructions of Jonathan and Heather brought order to a room full of many debutantes and brought a whiff of Jane Austen to the room. Jonathan also proves that you can keep order by speaking in a “small voice” – everyone stays very quiet just to hear you – a technique I need to try some day.

It isn’t unusual for Monteverde to be visited by touring groups and choirs, and Yale University has supplied a few of these over the years. This year is was a female acappela group called Proof in the Pudding who gave a couple of performances for the community. The chance to travel up that beautiful green mountain and perform for very appreciative audiences must be as great a pleasure for the visitors as it is for those of us receiving them.

Doug, Tucky, Ron and Arden

And lastly, there was the flowing of honey while I was in Monteverde. I was visited by my friend Tucky, whose daughter is married to a man named Honey in Canada. I was also visted by my friend Ron Honey and his wife Arden and their friend Doug – we all had a great time, and the two Canadian Honey families were joined over dinner, trying to make connections around this rather unique family name though they aren’t sure what the relation is. The next night, Martha Honey, a journalist (famous for a book written with her husband about La Penca bombings in Nicaragua back in the 80s) and expert on eco and sustainable tourism, arrived to show a couple of short documentaries on the perils of corporate tourism on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

I enjoyed spending time with all these Honeys – and appreciated the underlying message that Martha brought with her – as in so many other things in life, small is beautiful, community is sacred, a healthy environment is irreplaceable. Costa Rica still has it all, I hope they never lose the green magic nor the music that is a big part of that.

September 2017
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