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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

K & Cocky

It is now September and, totally off my usual migratory schedule, I’m back in the north. Home in the Hammer, enjoying brilliant blue skies – even Hamilton Bay, the maligned body of water that shares its shores with steel companies and suburbia, has an aqua shine to it these days. I couldn’t ask for a better homecoming. My buddy with a bosom, Cocky, was at the airport to meet me, after her own month of travels. A treat to come home to, but now she’s gone too. I may get a chance to go for a sail on that same water if this weather holds for the Labour Day weekend which it is supposed to.

 

barnacles

My last two weeks in Costa Rica were spent down in sweet calypsolandia, Cahuita. Although it rained lots in July on the Caribbean coast just as it had been up in Monteverde, I ended up being followed by beautiful weather from the green mountain to the seashore. There were some casual showers of course, and maybe one night of insistent rain, but the month of September in Cahuita means dry weather. Hard to fathom how, when it is hurricane season just to north, but I stopped trying to figure out weather a long time ago.

moat and land

We got a lot of hot sunny days that sent us to the beach, but we mostly stayed at home. It was glorious to be back basking under those big trees, bathing in the cool water, being serenaded by the howlers and bailando with Roberto.   I was amazed at how much the papaya seedlings we had planted in July had grown in the four or so weeks I was away.  But then the growth of vegetation in Costa Rica always unnerves me a bit – you just don’t want to sit in one place too long if there is a vigorous-looking vine nearby.

limon malecon

 One afternoon we went up to the Port of Limon, a place I really only have known as a bus-changing town.  We walked around the ‘malecon’, the boardwalk that follows the seaside. Limon is one of the oldest cities in the Americas, having been visited by Christopher Columbus in 1502, so if it seems a little worn that should be understandable.

limon penguins

Development in Costa Rica by the Spaniards took place from the Pacific side, and so the Atlantic coast was left to fend for itself against all that crazy rainforest vegetation. In the mid-1800s the government decided to build a railroad and connect Limon (particularly its port) to the rest of the country. They brought in Chinese and Jamaican workers to build the tracks and thus the Caribbean coast is very much an extension of Afro-Caribbean culture with lots of chop suey houses around. 

park

There is no denying racist elements that existed (and unfortunately still do.) When the railroad was finished and the banana plantations became a major employer, the black population provided the workforce.  They weren’t encouraged to travel throughout the country, couldn’t afford it anyway, and the fact that they were foreigners themselves made it able to control their movements through their documents.  Eventually they went to work in other parts of Costa Rica as laborers were needed and Afro-Caribbean families settled elsewhere in the country. But the heart of the calypso-blooded community will always be Limon. 

wouldabeenice theatre limon

The city developed once the railroad took off, but government money was never pouring their way.  In the last year or two, there has been a move by the Costa Rican government to bring economic development to the area although people are waiting to see the proof.  There was an attempt at revitalizing the waterfront of Limon several years ago, but earthquakes and storms destroyed much of the expanded boardwalk as well as what must have been a great little outdoor concert theatre in its short life. As Limon grows into a bigger cruise ship port (it is already a large commercial harbor and a popular cruise ship stop)  hopefully some of the wealth that visits its shores will be spread in the area. Although Limon is known for its poverty,  its richness of spirit and culture is as much a part of life there. The biggest threat to that, after poverty,  is the drug trade which feeds on the poverty and changes the spirit.

rasta in limon

The city has a funky flair to it and lots of local color, from the bright hues of the buildings to the cacao skin of the residents. When you take the highway east of San José, over the mountains of Braulio Carillo National Park, and through the miles of flat banana and pineapple fields, over the wide rivers coming out of the mountains and arrive in Limon province, you know you are in a different culture than in the rest of Costa Rica. The food changes – instead of arroz y frijoles, you are now eating rice and beans cooked in coconut milk; the music changes – from salsa and merengue to calypso, soca and reggae; and the language is English-based Limonense-Creole rather than Spanish. It seems that most people are fluently tri-lingual – speaking Tico Spanish and British English as well as their own Caribbean-tongue.  It is a disappearing language as are many of the indigenous languages that are being used by less and less natives of Costa Rica. My experience being there with Roberto is that every plant, bird and insect has a different name in Limon than elsewhere in the country. The words are English-based, but the names are distinct to this region. I can get very lost trying to follow the lilt and tilt of the language used in Cahuita.  

puerto viejo

We had some beautiful days and were out on the ocean as often as we could force ourselves to go for the walk through the forest to the beach.  There was another hot night spent in Puerto Viejo, which has a number of bars that cater to different crowds – we go to Maritza’s, which has a live band on Saturday nights and always plays a great variety of music for dancing from soca to salsa.

beach to point

In the middle of all this it was my birthday and Roberto promised to go out in the sea and get me lobster for dinner.  So we spent two fine mornings on the beach under a big sun, the sea a calm shiny turquoise stone.  Roberto used to be a diver (snorkeler) and caught and sold octopus, fish and lobster, but quit a number of years ago as he saw the population of these sea creatures diminish. The banana plantations in the area have caused lots of pollution – from their chemical effluent to the silt run-off to the plastic bluebags that they put over the banana bunches – all this stuff ends up in the ocean and, along with a bad earthquake or two, things have never been the same.

lobster

 

But it didn’t take him long to get four nice-sized lobster for dinner and we were thankful for the bounty. We were blessed with the warmth of the sun and the beauty of the sea and took advantage to walk through Cahuita National Park’s shady trails, sharing our time with the monkeys. 

 

 

cahuita bridges

 

Cahuita’s beaches are stunning and the National Park is one of the most beautiful in the country. Between the white sand beach, the reef off the point, the hours of hiking, the constant presence of birds, insects and animals, and the fact that you can enter for a small donation from the town access point, it makes for one of the nicest parks to visit in Costa Rica. They have built bridges over some of the swampier areas (where before there were submerged wooden walkways), using the same recycled-plastic material that the Monteverde Reserve has been using on its trails and signage for a few years now. It was interesting that we could smell the plastic off-gassing in the very hot sun – something that I’ve never noticed up in the cooler cloud forest.

bananas

 

 

We also continued taking care of Roberto’s little farm. We seeded corn and within three days it was two inches out of the ground – when I head back there in November I should be eating elotes, the young corncobs.

 

 

R cutting tree

 

 

 

Roberto climbed up his castaña tree, the glamorous cousin of the breadfruit, to chop off the top limbs before it gets too tall and he won’t be able to harvest the fruit.

 

 

R in big leaves

 

 

This tree is also growing on the bank of his stream and, knowing that it will fall one day, he has been concerned that if it is too tall it will fall on his casita.  So I took pictures as he shimmied up the trunk and took his machete to the big elegant leaves and chopped off the top.

 

 

R in cut tree

 

 

Afterward he said he was getting too old to do this stuff – between the possibility of falling, wasps, snakes, and other risks he felt lucky to get the job done in one piece – but my guess is he’ll keep climbing and chopping as long as he needs to, for as long as he is truly able.  His age is just making him realize how vulnerable he is and that when it hurts, it hurts harder.

 

braulio carillo

 

 

We went back through the mountains to San José for my last two days in the country. There was a full day of music awaiting us and we took advantage.

 

noche inolvidable

Wandering around the city, we caught the Lubin Barahona orchestra outside of the National Museum.  It was big band music and boleros being sung by old timers.

 

 

dancers

 

The crowd was mostly older couples who were happy to be dancing on the street while the music played on and the rain held off.   Like in most cities, there is live music playing for free to be found most weekends.

university choir and master key

 

 

 

 

 

 

We then caught a gospel concert in the Melico Salazar Theatre at night – a contest between three local gospel choirs (won by the University choir) with Master Key (a five man acapella group from Costa Rica now working in the US)

manuel obregon, master key, tapado

with Manuel Obregon, a musician I’ve known for years in Monteverde (and seen him play here in Toronto twice). He’s one of the most experimental composers in the country – here he was playing gospel with our friend Tapado, the country’s top percussionist, at his side. Manuel never fails to amaze me with where his music takes him and he takes alot of other musicians along for his musical rides. The Let It Shine concert was presented by a gospel choir group and held to celebrate Black Culture Day, August 31. It was a great way to extend my time in the cultural richness of the Afro-Caribbean community.

he and me

 

The inevitableness of leaving woke me up early on the last day of August and when it is time to go, it is time. It makes saying goodbye easier when you know you are going to return within a couple of months (si dios quiere.) Heading to my happy home in the Hammer also makes things easier. I can still feel the Caribbean sun on my skin and if I listen hard enough, the gentle arrival of the waves lapping the beach and gently rocking my soul.

waterstump

 

The mellowness of life in the jungle and on the sea exists in stark contrast to the busyness of my life back here in the city as I prepare for a trip to the northeastern US, continue overseeing the Spanish translation of Walking with Wolf, work on the historical record of Bosqueeterno S.A., and catch up with my northern friends.

Stay calm, Kay, stay calm – but keep that ball rolling, there is lots to do.

flower

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