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Life on the green mountain is sweet – and these days kinda like some strange movie. I guess it is partly due to the season – as Christmas gets closer, there are fiestas galore, special art markets for shoppers, and a proliferation of Santa wannabes. This is the third time I’ve been in Costa Rica for the pre-festive season – the last time was probably twelve years ago – and it seems to me that everything has spun out of control and is starting to resemble the excess of North America more and more.

But I won’t go on about consumerism and commercialism – I’ve spent enough time on this blog in the last few months talking about that stuff. No, no, I won’t be a Scrooge this year. I’m happy to be here and look forward to all the tamales and trimmings (especially the fine art form of tinsel creations I equate this country with) that go with a Costa Rican Christmas, even if some of the traditions have taken on a rather glossy hue. It is a time to spread love and enjoy friends and try not to be a glutton.

Like my new pal, Miel, the spoiled kitty I live with, it is sometimes better just to window shop than to indulge in everything that comes our way…we all need a bell around our neck in this season to remind us not to eat everything in sight.

The evening after I arrived last week, it was the 3rd annual Festival de Luces – not quite a Santa Claus Parade, but something close. I walked from my home here in Cerro Plano, through the gathering marching bands and primping floats, to El Centro, that is downtown Santa Elena. There was already a huge crowd gathered, and by the time the parade passed through a couple of hours later, there were more people assembled on that 100 meters of Main Street than I had ever seen before.

In fact, I’m sure there aren’t this many people living in the town, that alone the surrounding area. Turns out that bands had come from as far away as Puntarenas, Bijagua, Miramar – there were buses full of excited kids in sparkly costumes with their marching band instruments – drums, horns, batons and a great proliferation of vertical glockenspiels! And the bands must have brought their mothers, fathers, uncles, grandmothers – well, I don’t know what the official count was, but there were a zillion people squished into the little downtown core of Santa Elena.

Since it was so crowded on the street, I went up onto the balcony of Bohemias, a lovely restaurant owned by a lovely woman, Arecelly. This gave me a squirrel’s-eye view of the craziness on the street as well as a chance to sip a glass of wine.

It wasn’t long before I was truly wondering if I had stepped into a Fellini film – in the “pre-parade show” the street crowds were entertained by fire stick twirlers, energetic gymnasts, a Mexican dance troupe (with big bright incredibly shiny costumes),

the local police making a pass through in marching formation (I really hope that some of them were from elsewhere, as I hate to think there are this many policia in this town). These performers were all joined by vendors selling blinking Santa hats with out-of-control dogs running everywhere. The full moon had just passed but was still a large presence in the sky, the clouds came and went, the mists spit down from time to time, rock band dry ice shot swirls of fog throughout the area (or was that the smoke from a kitchen on fire?)  

And I’m not sure when devil’s red horns became a part of the Christmas story, but there must have been a post-Halloween fire sale on, for they were everywhere! Half the town was looking kinda diabolical.

And then the parade began. It was heralded in by a local woman, Doña Virginia Zamora, who gets around town in a golf cart – she was all decorated for the occasion. In my photo, she looks more like a visiting UFO, but in all honesty, that night, I’m not sure we would have noticed an alien ship as being out of place.

There were several bands, as I said earlier, from all over. They were all at least good and some were excellent – I particularly liked the band from Bijagua. They all had cute outfits in gold, red, blue or silver (and blinking Santa hats or glowing devil horns.) The parade would move along about twenty feet and then stop, giving each band and float the chance to be admired by each segment of the crowd. This makes for an extremely slow parade. I felt sorry for the last band which was from Puntarenas, because we surely had heard every Christmas carol known to mankind by then, played by glockenspiel and trumpet, and reinforced by very enthusiastic drummers on their snare drums, bass drums and percussion kits, so I don’t think they got the same enthusiastic greeting that the first bands did.

Are you feeling the headache setting in yet?

There was also about ten floats – the most impressive being a backhoe turned into a lit-up dragon – the cutest being a fairy castle filled with princesses and princes – the most “Monteverdian” being a garden of earthly delights accompanied by walking orchids, ladybugs, jaguars, and a variety of flashy birds.

This was all followed by a fireworks display, but I had gone the opposite way and headed home, my festive cup already overflowing. I felt that somehow little Santa Elena and rural Monteverde had turned into a bustling city in the three months I had been in Canada.

The next day I had a meeting with the board of Bosqueterno S.A., to discuss the communications work and history-writing I’m doing for them. All seems good though I still have lots of work to do – creating a power point presentation, setting up a blog for them, finishing the story-telling. It will be much easier to do it here with all the resources around me.

Wolf and I have replenished the many local store shelves with our book for the Christmas shopping season. Walking with Wolf has been selling well, particularly in certain stores. I found out that Alan Masters, who runs one of the CIEE groups (visiting tropical biology university students from all over the US), bought copies for all of his thirty students. Apparently a few had read it and were talking it up – a couple of the students had even chosen to take this course in Monteverde after reading the book. This had happened before I returned, but Wolf had sat and signed all the books one day at the Reserve after he and Lucky gave a talk on the history of the community to the group. I haven’t bumped into Alan yet, but will be giving him a very big hug when I do see him.

I’ve spent many mornings this week with Wolf at the entrance to the Reserve, being bathed in sunshine, visiting my Reserve family, meeting tourists, eating the great sandwiches at the Santamaria’s Family Sodita next door (highly recommended), and discussing with Don Carlos the progress of the Spanish translation.   Progress report – slow, but sure.

One of the coolest new things at the Reserve was that they have installed motion-sensor cameras in the forest. The Environmental Education crew (my good friend Mercedes and Wolf’s granddaughter Hazel) have a camera set up near a tree only a few hundred meters from the reception area where animal scratches had been observed. Mercedes showed me the pictures they’ve taken in the last month – of a puma, jaguarundi, tayra, and peccaries. Incredible, this much wildlife so close to the busy center of the Reserve.

There was also the Christmas Art Fair at the Quaker school – where the phenomenally-talented community artists gather and display and hopefully sell their original creations. Of course there is also lots of food available and all the proceeds help the school. I am not a great shopper and didn’t need anything and don’t want to spend money, so only bought snacks. I could never have made up my mind between all the beautiful things available so just didn’t even bother to think about it. (The photo is Benito Guindon’s pine needle baskets)

Instead it was a day of socializing and oohing and aahing over the art as well as the new babies in town.

Last night was Open Mike at the newly remodeled Bromelias. One of the most beautiful spots in Monteverde, it is the lovechild of Patricia Maynard, who has created a stunning building, amphitheatre and gardens where you can go to hear great music while sitting by the bonfire under the starry sky. It is a little off the beaten track and its location makes it a difficult go for Patri, but anyone who knows the place is always charmed by its special vibe. She has started this open talent night and in this town there is no shortage. Hopefully this will grow into a well attended and magical evening for local and visiting musicians and the rest of us who enjoy the music.

The week took a turn for me when I was contacted by the Canadian Embassy. In October, I received an email from my pal Jose Pablo, the Economic Officer who had helped secure generous funding from the Embassy for the translation of our book last March. He said that he wanted to invite me to an event on Sunday December 13 that had to do with a “senior level” visit.

 I was happy to be invited and was excited and then I didn’t hear anything else.  A couple of days ago, I emailed him, asking if I was still invited to whatever the thing was. The next day I had an email from him, explaining that Canada’s Governor General, the interesting Michaelle Jean, would be on an official visit to Costa Rica. There had been a plan to have a conservation/green program for her and that is what I was to be part of.  Unfortunately this part of the visit was cancelled, and so, so sorry, maybe next time.  Boo Hoo.

Two email messages later, I opened up an official invite from the Canadian Ambassador to Costa Rica, Neil Reeder, to a formal reception next Monday night for the Governor General at the Official Residence of the Ambassador. No more boo hoo! Great excitement instead…until I realized that I now need a formal costume – dress, shoes, shawl, bag – well, you know, FORMAL! So I’ve spent the last two days wandering around Monteverde, borrowing all the necessities from friends here. I have the dress, the shawl, going to try on a couple of pairs of shoes today – thank goodness that women love to play dress-up! The lovely ladies here on the mountain are looking in their closets and helping me pull this off in a very short time with no money!

My friend Melody came by and cut and hennaed my hair (it got too red this time – as I bought the wrong color – but my dress is red, so it will be okay) and also cut my friend Corrie’s hair. Melody also lent me the red and silver dress that I’m building my costume around.

I will head down the mountain tomorrow to San José to meet my Texas friend, Caroline Crimm, who is finishing up her research down there; to go and enjoy a number of Costa Rican musical groups who are participating in a free outdoor concert in support of the International March for Peace and Non-Violence; to rendezvous with Roberto, who is coming from Cahuita and returning to the mountain with me; and now, to meet the Queen – well, not exactly the Queen, but as close as we get to her in Canada.

Once again, Fellini films fill my mind, and si, la dolce vita es dolcita!

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I am writing from a hotel room in Puntarenas, the funky little port city on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. I came here yesterday to visit Wolf, who is in the hospital. Last Thursday, after spending the morning in the Reserve, he was walking home mid-day, heading through the magical bullpen. No one knows what happened yet, but he got nauseous and fell over and then had a hard time to get up. He managed to crawl to a tree and support himself up to his feet, but it wasn’t long before he fell again. As far as he remembers, this happened three times until he finally, hours later, managed to get home.  The emergency doctors brought him oxygen and then in the morning he had two more episodes of passing out. The ambulance brought him down to Puntarenas hospital the next day and he has been here since (it is now Wednesday). 

So they aren’t sure what happened to him. He is going into San Jose to see a heart specialist on Thursday and for some tests. I got word on the weekend and came yesterday. His son, Ricky, is here at the hospital and he doesn’t know much more than that either. 

I sat for a couple of hours visiting with Wolf yesterday and don’t see any lasting effects.  His mind is lucid, his speech is as clear as he gets, and he is tired but in great spirits. I think he is a little scared but is taking things patiently. And he has a beautiful view out of the hospital room, over the Pacific Ocean and the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, with boats and clouds floating in and out of view. So although he has obviously gone through a rough spell, this just isn’t his time and he is making the best of the situation. 

eliecerWolf and I did manage to get the books last Monday morning out of customs.  I have no idea why, but the tariffs were almost twice what we paid a year ago for a slightly smaller quantity. However you pay the piper and he gives you the goods. So a fresh crop of Walking with Wolf is safely in storage at the Center for Peace in San Jose. Our customs agent, Eliecer, seen here at his busy desk, helped us and although it was a long, frustrating and ultimately expensive process, we managed. 

In the middle of the days of waiting, Wolf and I decided we needed to get out of the city and go up the mountain to Monteverde for a couple days.  I got a lot done while I was there, saw many friends, confirmed the contract with Karen Masters and the Bosque Eterno SA as their information officer which will bring me some badly needed money, spoke with Pax about the computer art work for the Spanish version of the book, and did a little contra-dancing at the Friends School house.

mv talent

We arrived on the Friday night and walked into one of those special nights in Monteverde when young and old bring out their talents and the community gathers to celebrate. This night was no exception, with songs and dance and funny videos made by students at the local schools. These occasions always make me appreciate this special place called Monteverde.

verostu 

I also saw Veronica and Stuart and the three little dogs where I lived before. We’ve arranged that I will head up late June and again in early August and live in their house and care for the puppies while the human folk go to the US for awhile. They’ve moved houses, into a smaller abode close to the cliff edge, a place I’ve never lived in before but really look forward to staying at. Roberto will come and is determined to help Wolf do some cleaning on the trail that goes around the Guindon farm.  As Wolf said, he may have to sit on the sidelines and watch Roberto work, but that will be fine too.

 In the meantime, we now await word on what has vexed the Wolf.  By the time I left today, Lucky, Melody, Helena and their families were all there and we took turns going up to visit Wolf (the hospital has a strange one visitor at a time system that takes a lot of coordination.) Lucky told me that in true form for Wolf, the morning that they were waiting for the ambulance to arrive, she made him a small cup of coffee. He then proceeded to pass out and she tried to pry his fingers off the cup so that he wouldn’t continue spilling it down him but his fingers gripped that cup like a lifeline. When he came to, the first thing he said was, “Hey, where’s my coffee?”

wolf 

Wolf spent today sitting in a wheelchair in the hallway, enjoying the great view towards the clouds over Monteverde and receiving the line of visitors who had come. He seemed to be quite normal to me. I trust that the doctors will figure out what went wonky and help him to avoid it in the future. I’m happy that I was here in Costa Rica and able to so easily go and see him. I’m very thankful that I left him in good spirits with a strong mind and his usual laugh ringing down the hall as I walked away.

Well, I finally got off the rainy mountain top and went to the beach. The rainforest is a beautiful place, as is Monteverde in general, but I left my home in southern Ontario in the middle of summer and was definitely in need of some summer sunshine.  It has been doled out in small portions since I got here – when the sun does shine, it is always gorgeous, but too much rain was dampening my spirits.  From up here on the Pacific side of the Tilaran Mountains, the view west over the Nicoya is incredible and the storms that have been whipping around the skies have provided a great light show.  So I decided to go to Montezuma, where I’ve seen some of the best thunderstorms in my life – that alone done some great hiking, beaching and dancing.

 

Before leaving we had a celebratory sushi night – real great new sushi restaurant here in Santa Elena.  Our good friend Marc Egger, who used to live here and owns the House in the Hole where I sometimes stay but who now lives in Brazil, surprised us and came into town.  With my friend Patricia Maynard, her ex Mark Wainwright, their son Kyle, another friend Jim Wolfe, and Marc, we went and feasted.  A good omen about seaside things to come.

Mark Wainwright, son Kyle and Marc Egger over sushi

 

 

Patri and I then drove down to the coast last Saturday to see the group Editus playing at Jaco beach also on the Pacific.  Editus started out close to twenty years ago as a duo – Ricardo Ramirez, virtuoso violinist, with Edin Solis, classical guitarist.  They were known for playing classical pieces and soft sophisticated covers of well-known songs with a latin edge.  In the early nineties, they brought in ‘Tapado’, Carlos Vargas, one of the best percussionists I’ve seen in my life. Watching him play his large collection of percussive devices is like watching a stream flow over multi-colored rocks – he is so fluid that he barely moves yet the rhythm and strength of his playing is fierce. The three of them, Editus, have performed steadily and their music moved from classical to original jazz-flavored, interpretive, atmospheric swelling vistas of composition.  All three of these musicians are extremely talented. In the late 90s, they played with Panamanian salsero and politician, Ruben Blades (also known in North America as an actor in movies), for which they won three Grammies for two separate CD recordings.  A few years ago they opened a music academy in San Jose where they teach music and bring together musicians for a variety of projects. They also have held concerts with a large number of their musical friends and influences – great shows where Editus plays behind well-known singers, songwriters and rockers – always touching and dynamic shows.

 

Well, in the last year they have joined forces with a bassist (forget his name) and Zurdo, a great rock-style keyboardist and now they call this new configuration Editus 360, since they have moved 360 degrees from where they started.  They have upped the light show and the tone of the music and now play a variety of world music with synthetized backdrops and recorded vocals on some pieces.  I hadn’t seen this new version of Editus but have always loved the group and know the guys and truly appreciate their talents. Editus 360 is a rocking show, with lights and smoke and a mosaic of rhythms – I know that many of their original fans who loved the quiet classical content of their work will not enjoy this but for those of us who do, wow.  And as importantly, you can tell that they are enjoying playing the music themselves – they needed a change and are all excited about this new version of themselves.  They have a 33-concert, 2 month tour in Japan planned for August & September.  As Tapado told me, all the years he’s been drumming with Editus, he never broke a sweat – as I said, he is as fluid as water and it all seems so effortless – but now he is sweating in each show as he rocks out on the drums.  He’s as skinny as a weed tree, that boy, and will no doubt melt away to a toothpick in Japan. It was a great show in Jaco last Saturday night and great to see these guys having fun – and for the first time, I think, I danced at an Editus show.

 

 Fire dancer at Editus show

 

My friend Patri’s son Machillo had his first gig helping the sound guys at this show – one of the reasons we went to check it out and support him.  Machillo grew up helping out at the music festival in Monteverde when his mother ran the concert series which I also worked on. I always knew I could trust on Machillo to do whatever you asked him – he’s always been a great kid and now he’s getting the chance to move into being part of the very accomplished sound and light team behind Editus.  Looks good on ya, Mark. I think nothing will make Patri happier than having a son who can do the backstage production of the shows she’ll always continue to produce here in Monteverde and elsewhere.  A very talented, music-loving family.

Mark Fenton, el Machillo

 

I left them on Sunday and went off to Montezuma, a beach where I spent a lot of time in 1990. I return every few years to check up on the folks I know there and to indulge in the beautiful landscape that exists on the south end of the Nicoya Peninsula.  You get there from the main part of Costa Rica by going to the port city of Puntarenas – a much maligned dirty seaside city that I’ve always found very interesting. And I have to say that they have been working at cleaning it up.  There is much evidence of growth and progress and the funky old hotels and buildings that sit along the 11-mile long, half-mile wide sandspit that the city is built on were all looking more quaint than debilitated.  Places change drastically here in Costa Rica, sometimes for the better tho not necessarily.  I’m giving poor little Puntarenas a thumbs up on  effort.

 

From Puntarenas you take an hour long ferry ride across the Gulf of Nicoya (part of the Pacific) to the town of Paquera on the Nicoya Peninsula. I’ve taken this ride dozens of times and always love it – the waters are tranquil and the sun is hot and on the boat you can find shade or get sun, or even go inside the air-conditioned lounge on the newer ferry. That little boat ride makes you feel like you’ve gone somewhere special.  From Paquera it’s a one to two hour bus ride to Montezuma.  The road has finally been paved most of the way so the trip is very smooth up until the last few kilometers into town.

 

Montezuma itself continues to change – very European, but with a strong environmentally-concerned community.  But growth doesn’t always feel like progress and the change in the soul of this community always bothers me.  I suppose it is providing economic well-being for many, but I visit my old friends there who have been negatively affected by the constant fiesta and the high price of everything.  That is what I tend to find in most of the beach communities in Costa Rica – those beaches which have grown radically, become very popular, changed drastically are maybe great destinations for tourists but the change of the lives of the local people is incredible.  In 1990, this little town was a sleepy fishing village with a good nightlife – now it runs day and night on tourist dollars.  The local families are in competition with each other and many of the locals either stay hidden in their homes away from the crowds and the scene or are very messed up in the middle of it.  To be fair, many make a living and no doubt love their lives, but it is questionable as to how many people have truly fallen into a better life in Montezuma.

 

The long stretches of sandy beaches and the rocky outcrops that separate each beach, along with the fresh water streams that flow down through the forest (including the famous Montezuma waterfalls) is what continues to make Montezuma a stunning place.  I spent each morning going about a twenty minute walk down the beach to the Quebrada Colorada, where there is a soaking pool of cool fresh water.  The coloured pebbles shine in the sun and the ocean waves crash in just fifty feet away.  I passed this soaking time with a friendly and interesting couple, Russell and Margaret, from Asheville, North Carolina who live in nearby Cobano.  On any trip, it is always nice to come away with at least one special meeting with new friends.  We met each morning and talked about the world as we soaked up the sun while floating in the stream.

 The floating pool at Montezuma

 

 

One of the most bizarre things of this time in Montezuma was the super high tides that rose to the top of the beaches.  It meant that our little fresh water pool was salty half of the time.  But more shocking was the amount of refuse that the ocean kicked out with each tide.  Montezuma’s beaches are basically white sand and clean. Even back in 1990, the tides would bring in garbage that the locals claimed came from nearby Puntarenas, and you would find strange plastic toys and, of a less innocent nature, medical supplies, washed up with the tide.  But this week, with the extremely strong sea, the amount of garbage – plastic baubles, metal cans, broken glass, pieces of trash – that littered the “pristine” beaches was mind-boggling.  I saw a guy with a large trash can out there trying to clean up in front of one of the beachside hotels – I wished him well, as his can was already half full and he had barely made a dent in the pock-marked sands.  Russell told me that friends have told him that this is the nature of oceans and beaches around the world now – that the angry seas are throwing back the trash everywhere in the world.  I’m sure that proximity to large populations and the direction of currents has alot to do with which beaches receive what, but it was truly impossible not to gasp at the amount of garbage that was on that beach – and unfortunately not hard to imagine that many other beaches would also be getting their fill.  There is just way too much garbage out there in the world and it only makes sense that it will fill even paradise if we aren’t more diligent in reducing packaging, handling our trash, and minimizing our social addiction to junk.

 

 Quebrada Colorada – beautiful colored natural debris, not garbage

 

So I got sun, met nice people, danced at Chico’s Bar a couple nights, broke a toe (well, maybe just bruised it bad), ate great food, left a couple of books at Topsy’s Bookstore, and came back up the mountain.  Fortunately, the rains have subsided to a reasonable mist by day and some rainfall by night. Thursday night, when I arrived around 8 p.m., was gorgeous – a quadrillion stars were in the sky, clouds  went floating by in the light of the new slice of moon, and it was a warm temperature.  Happy to be back in Monteverde, thankful that the weather has changed.  Back to work.

 

July 2020
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