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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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fog branches

The green mountain is truly verdant right now.  The rains started in May and now everything is vibrant, alive with water coursing through its veins. Since being back in Monteverde for a little more than a week, Roberto and I have managed to stay mostly dry in the house, though sometimes you just have to go out in the world while the rain is pouring down. Even with ponchos, umbrellas and boots, when the rain is serious you are going to get seriously wet. Many of the downpours are accompanied by rolling waves of thunder which make their way down the mountainside like a freight train rumbling through town. I remember my first year here, in 1990, when I was living in a house higher up the mountain. You could feel the thunder coming down the mountain like an avalanche. In those days we heard the roar from Volcano Arenal’s many daily eruptions, something that we don’t hear much over here any more. The rolling thunder, the grumbling volcano and the heavy rain pelting down on the zinc roof were all new sounds to me – together they filled every sound space in my head until all I could do was join in and shout along.  

lower house

I had a close call with my laptop in an electrical storm the other day.  I was at the local grocery store with Wolf and Lucky when, in a flash, the light bulbs in the metal ceiling popped loudly, then came a crash of thunder that made us all jump, followed shortly after by another crack of lightning that took out the electronic cash register and the rest of the lights and left us all shaking. Just like that, no warning, a few loud jolts and bolts during what had just been a heavy downpour that didn’t hint at any electrical activity. All I could think about was my laptop at home, still plugged in though not connected to the phone line. Lucky and I went on to the Friday afternoon Scrabble game where everyone was sharing their list of the damages that those two minutes of thunder and lightning had caused. Although I knew that Roberto was at home, I didn’t imagine that he would think to unplug my laptop (not having electricity nor computers himself, it wouldn’t be on his mind) and besides, it happened so quickly that I doubt I could have done anything if at home myself. So I played Scrabble with this low grade worry in my mind, concerned that my cyber-life may have just been cancelled for awhile. 

Fortunately, when I finally made it home, the only damage done was to the handheld telephone – notorious for their sensitivity to electrical hits – but my laptop was fine. Huge sigh of relief. The house has another non-electrical phone which keeps us connected but there will be no more sitting outside in the hammock and chatting until Veronica brings back another portable phone.

wolf lucky

Wolf came up the mountain the same day that we did, over a week ago. He was a little worn from the two weeks in a hospital bed, the several tests they did on him, and the lack of an appetite for institutional food. So he lost a little weight and was a bit on the weak side. The tests hadn’t really proven anything except for the probability that his medications were conflicting with each other and he wasn’t taking in enough water (except in the form of coffee.)  Lucky has noticed that his short term memory was a little slow, although has improved, and I know from talking to him that his long term memory is just fine. I joke that if Wolf ever does have a stroke, the side effect for him will be sudden clear speech, unlike most folks whose speech becomes garbled under the circumstances. 

After bugging him for a couple of years to let me drive his jeep when we head out to do book business in town, and always receiving the same response – “I don’t believe in women drivers” – Wolf finally relented and passed me the keys. This is the one thing that his family is trying to get a grip on as his driving is getting precarious, especially in the busy hub of Santa Elena.  Unfortunately few of the other Guindons have their licenses and so Wolf continues to feel responsible for picking up groceries and animal feed in town (and the need to go also satisfies his restless soul.) I’m a very experienced and comfortable driver yet I still felt the pressure of his critical eye, but I think I passed the test. The next time I ran into him, leaving the dairy plant parking lot, he just passed me the keys willingly and had me do the driving. Lucky thinks he likes the idea of having a “chauffeur.” Whatever his thinking, it is good that he is getting used to the idea of letting others drive.

leaves

So except for some tiredness, and as yet not being back up to walking much, and perhaps his spirit being a little deflated by the trials and tribulations of old age, Wolf is doing fine.  Everywhere he goes people are so glad to see him (“Wolf’s more well-known than poverty,” Roberto will say) and he can’t help but ham it up which makes him appear even stronger than he is. Certainly the warmth and concern of people toward him is surely helping to restore his spirit.

bullpen

This last week in Monteverde saw a lot of people leaving the mountain. The Friends School closed for the season. It’s on the same schedule as North American schools in contrast to Costa Rican public schools whose big break is December to February, based on the tradition of releasing the kids to help with the coffee harvest. There was a special Wednesday Friends meeting held in the beautiful Bullpen, my own spiritual center in Monteverde (which I’ve written about several times.)

lucky, wolf and sylvio guindon

lucky, wolf and sylvio guindon

I got to the gathering a little early, but not earlier than the Guindon clan who live adjacent to the Bullpen. It was a misty kind of day with some warmth from the sun shining through the clouds from time to time. We each found a place, sitting on our ponchos on some spot on the damp ground, backs leaning against the tree trunks, more people arriving from various points out of the surrounding woods. It was like watching a gathering of the gnomes in a magical medieval forest.

raincoat gang

The director of the Friends School for the last two years, Annika, and her partner Heather and their two boys were leaving the next day, a new director arriving soon. I met these women last year at the time that we presented Walking with Wolf to the community. The next time I saw Heather, at a potluck at her house, she told me that as she read the book, she was amused to see that I knew of Temagami, Ontario, the beautiful lake and community that I worked and played at for years.  She told me that they were avid paddlers and had taken canoe trips along several northern rivers – with names like Missinaibi and Bloodvein that only people who live in the north or have taken a trip on would know. She also mentioned that on two different trips she had run into a man from Temagami, a writer and artist – who turned out to be my old co-activist and bush friend Hap Wilson. Such a small world it always proves to be. And to have bumped into this same man on two separate trips in two totally different areas of the north is mind-boggling.

 I haven’t been in touch with Hap in several years but had to contact him after that to let him know that his northern ears should be burning. I will be seeing him this September when we all gather on beautiful Lake Wakimika near Temagami for the twentieth anniversary of the Red Squirrel Road blockade that was a mighty political event in our lives (and which I write about in the book.) 

So Heather and I bonded over these tales of the glorious north country and now she and her family are headed back to Minnesota and the rocks and lakes and non-tropical forests which have their own special beauty. The meeting and potluck lunch in the Bullpen was their send-off party. The mists swirling in through the trees cloaked them once more with the magic that is Monteverde. As always with potlucks, the combination of contributed foods was divine.  Friends and neighbors visited and eventually we all packed up and people headed out to their next activity. The first drops of rain fell just as people started on their way.

helena guindon

helena guindon

In the next pasture over, just a hundred meters through the forest, was a new colt born just three days before. As I went to say goodbye to Helena Guindon, who was also leaving for the US the next day, she said that they were going to see the new colt so why didn’t I join them. I said I’d catch up in a minute. There was a little soft rain falling at this point and I put up my umbrella and started down the path through the forest to the Campbell’s pasture. I bumped into Sue and John Trostle, on their way out to their car. In the few minutes it took us to walk through the forest that light swirling mist turned to a heavy fog. By the time we emerged out in the pasture, we were shrouded in thick cloud, so that we almost lost sight of each other. The Trostles went one way and I the other, still hoping to bump into Helena and also to see the colt.  I could hear voices in the distance but could barely see ten feet in front of me. 

I knew which direction to head in, although the fog caused some confusion, and that if I just kept going downhill I would eventually run into the fence running along the road. It was mystical, wandering through the pasture grasses, trees appearing out of the darkness, the voices not that far away but impossible to reach. I guess I could have shouted to them, but being left alone in the mist was too enticing.

horse under tree

I was just getting to feeling disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to see the young colt, when out of the thick white wall of fog came the pinto mother and colt, galloping as if to lose someone behind. They almost ran right into me but turned and stopped not far from me, the colt taking the opportunity to feed. We shared a lovely silent moment of peace in the pasture together, I took a couple of pictures and then left them.

wandering in mist

 

Shortly after I bumped into the Trostles again, still making their slow way along the fence line, trying to find the opening that would let them out to where their car was parked. At about that same moment, the rain started down in sheets and after we found the way to their car, I was happy to take a ride with them.

 

 

roberto

 

Roberto and I passed a relaxing week here in this great house that Veronica is renting, here on the edge of the forest, very private, quiet except for the bonking of the bellbirds and the occasional barking of the dogs. We are with our little doggy friends, Wilkens, Betsy and Cutie Pie (now called Salchichona for her plump little sausage body.)

 

k & betsy

The dogs are a part of all food preparations here, they are relentless, but I have to say that they have all improved since I spent a month with them back in January – particularly Betsy the little spotted cow who no longer jumps up and scratches my legs and probably listens better than the other two.

 

coco grating

We brought some coconuts and a coconut grater up from Cahuita for a friend here and Roberto has been grating coconuts and making rice and beans and fish in coconut milk. He is an enthusiastic cook and happy to feed me, which makes me happy, but I fear that if I eat too much of this rich, delicious Caribbean food, they’ll be calling me Salchichona soon enough. 

view from house

Tomorrow we leave for San Carlos and my friend Zulay’s, before returning in a few days to Cahuita. But I’ll be back up here in Monteverde in not too long, having work to do here, and houses to take care of.  A nice balance – the hot colorful Caribbean coast and the green misty Pacific side of the Continental Divide here in Monteverde. A lovely life.

August 2019
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