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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.

July 2020
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