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 I’m back in Canada – still a long way from my home in Ontario, but at least in my homeland. Before moving on to things Canadian though, I wanted to share a few pics and memories from my final weeks in the US, spent with my sister Maggie, her husband Tom and my “nieces” Sadie the dog and Miss Milly the cat.

The day we drove north from Oregon brought me into the familiar territory of the Columbia River. Many many times over the years, I’ve crossed this wide flowing body that has been altered by dams all along its course. I love the dry, often craggy hillsides that flank it, the tumbleweed that rolls on by it,  and the blue skies that always seem to hover above it. In the past we’ve camped on its banks and boated, fished and frolicked in its waters. It marks the border between Oregon and the beautiful state of Washington.

Maggie and Tom live about half an hour west of Wenatchee, a small city developed around the plateaus of fruit orchards which are irrigated from the great river. After experiencing all that rain since northern California, I found myself in a snowstorm as we went over Blewett Pass heading into the Wenatchee River valley. That was the first snow I had seen in 15 months and I loved it!

They live “up the Chumstick” in one of the many valleys that radiate out of the Leavenworth area. They both work in Der Town, which is the Bavarian-inspired community of Leavenworth. It is a mecca for shopping tourists from Seattle as well as a center for rock climbers, rafters, and hikers. The town took on its Alpen look back in the 70s when local people decided they needed a schtick to attract visitors, and the scheme worked.

Now the town is painted, pretty, and planted with pots of petunias. Ringed by the Enchantment range of the Cascade Mountains, growing up around the convergence of the Wenatchee and Icicle Rivers, it is the epitome of picturesque.  My sister worked for years at the well-known Katzenjammers Steakhouse but now works at the smaller Alley Café.

The Alley Cafe is one of the best restaurants in town – I remember having my birthday dinner there years ago – it was, and still is, excellent food and service (best wait staff in town!). An old friend, Andy Cuevas and his friend Mike accompany dinner at the Alley with their guitars and fiddle on Sundays, playing some very sweet covers of a wide variety of music. Andy’s son, Sergio, is also a fine guitarist who joins singer/songwriter Stephen Sharpe in sets of rootsy rap with a world rhythm at other local restaurants – I guess they are also known as the Chumstick Liberation Front. It is so nice to go into communities and hear original local music from folks with a lot of talent having a lot of fun. Stephen’s music has a real Manu Chao kinda sound, very Euro, very cool. Loved them – told Stephen he should come to Costa Rica – he could get gigs and they’d love him too.


I did two book events while in Leavenworth – one was a “book buzz”, selling and signing books at the local independent book store A Book for All Seasons, where I shared pens with another author, Gina Ochsner. It was a pleasant way to spend the afternoon talking to readers and selling a few books – and so nice to work with independent booksellers. I also did a presentation at the Alley Café one evening and sold some more. Happy to leave copies of Walking with Wolf behind in Der Town.

I also had the great pleasure of going into Seattle to the University Friends Meeting there and presenting the book to a nice group of folks. I have really enjoyed meeting Friends in my travels, sharing Wolf’s story and connecting with other Monteverde-lovers and perhaps influencing a few more to make the trek up the green mountain. Thanks to Pablo Stanfield who put that all together for me.

Maggie and I – both seals in our former lives – from the amount of raw fish and seaweed we like to eat, that’s the only conclusion we can draw – visited an interesting sushi restaurant while in Seattle. The chefs fill plates with portions and the plates move around the restaurant on a conveyor belt. Perhaps this is common in Japan or elsewhere, but we had never eaten at a place like this. We learned that it is better to go there at the beginning of their open hours as the chefs will be making more food – we arrived not too long before they closed for the afternoon, so the chefs stopped putting new food out. It isn’t my favourite way of having sushi, but it was fun for the experience – we felt like Lucille Ball making chocolates as we tried to get the plates off the train without creating chaos.  We ate much better sushi in East Wenatchee at Wasabi Sushi – highly recommend their jalapeno roll.

Most of my time in Leavenworth area was spent with my foodie sister and brother-in-law, eating way too much really good food, playing scrabble, and hunting for morels as often as possible (see last post).

Over the years I’ve done some serious landscaping at Maggie’s – I’ve moved a lot of rocks to create gardens, a fish pond and the last project was a stone terrace. The year I built that I had to leave the day after it was done and so this was the first time I had a chance to sit out in the sunshine and enjoy it. We got an old brass bed frame to use as railing and trellis – and it has worked beautifully. The weather was too cold and wet to get into gardening so this was one of the first times I haven’t got into an outdoor project with Maggie.

The snow was still in the high mountains, the rivers were still on the rise as the days warmed very slowly, lots of rain (& snow in the high mountains) fell, and bit by bit that snow melted and made its way down to swell the mountain streams which then fill up the Columbia River and head out to the sea. Since my time in super-dry southern California, I continue to be thankful for the falling rain on this desperately needy planet.

After about three weeks I had to say goodbye to Maggie, Tom and the furry kiddies. I don’t know when I’ll have a chance to return – maybe they’ll come to Costa Rica next year. It is hard having just one sister and she lives far away – thank goodness we have the means to get together every couple of years. I think of families that get separated and don’t have that possibility of visiting each other over great distances. The privilege of my life. I am thankful for that, and for a wonderful sister. Miss you Mag (okay, and Tomas as well….)


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.


Beautiful Cabure Argentine Cafe in Monteverde, where I have wireless and send email from  (and eat and drink…)


I’d like to say that I’m writing this from the balcony of some funky hotel on the coast, watching the pelicans flying in formations and listening to the waves crashing. Instead, I’m back up in Monteverde, listening to the birds waking up and the early shift workers’ motorcycles heading to the dairy plant. However, I am bringing you a story of great success in the big city, getting Walking with Wolf out of customs with a minimum of fuss and a reasonable amount of money. I decided to come back up the mountain Wednesday in the Reserve truck with the books and Wolf. Beto our trusty chauffeur made it all easy once again.  As is usual this time of the year, the day is dawning bright and sunny but the rain will move in sometime later, so you have to get your outdoor chores done early or you are going to get very wet.


Wolf and I went down last Sunday on the afternoon bus following the community potluck lunch which is held the first Sunday of every month after the Quaker meeting.  It is a great chance to eat really good homemade food and to visit with folks who you may never run into otherwise.  We sold some books, filled our bellies and then went in the pouring rain to Santa Elena.  Fortunately the bus was a dry one, unlike the older bus that I came up in the week before, where every other seat was under a leak and it was hard to stay dry even though you were inside a bus. It seems that’s a theme of these latest blog posts – the fact that it is being a very wet beginning to a rainy season is impossible to ignore.  Staying dry is a challenge but you just have to accept the inevitable – for the first time that I can remember, I bought an umbrella, although much of the time even an umbrella, rubber boots and rain coat aren’t going to keep you completely dry. 


We spent the first night at the Casa Ridgeway, known as the Peace Center, run by Quakers, which is Wolf’s base camp when in San Jose.  The folks there know him and were all pleased to see the book.  It is a spartan little place which I don’t mind – I especially like the monk-like rooms that are painted white with no decoration except a quote about peace stenciled on the wall. My room said: Me, you can kill but you can’t silence justice. 


Early Monday we began the process of getting the books.  I’m still not sure what that first company we dealt with was exactly – there are a number of hands extended when in the process of paying to get your imported goods. Although we called early in the morning, the papers weren’t ready for us till mid-afternoon. We then took a taxi out to the western part of the city, La Sabana Norte, and there we paid for the permit to release the books and the cost of the books being moved off of the boat and into the customs storage.  Once that is done you want to get them out quickly as they cost plenty for each day they are held. We paid our money and received the documents and were told to contact the aduana, the customs broker, Eliezar Alfaro Porras, who helped us through the next step. It was too late to see him but we did make an arrangement to meet at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.


This, of course, meant another trip by taxi and bus and taxi to Alajuela, near the airport.  Eliezar was great, meeting us in a convenient place, taking us in his car to his office, trying to explain the process of what was going on, attempting to keep the costs down, going to the bank for me to speed up the process.  We spent a few hours with him but they were pleasant ones and I will keep his number to use him again in the future.  By 1 p.m. he had confirmation that everything was in order and we could head out to the bodega, the big storage place where the books were being held. We went back into the city by bus and taxi to the Tropical Science Center who had said they would send a vehicle out to pick up the books.  By the time we got there, their truck wasn’t around and by 3 it was looking like we wouldn’t be able to get our books that day as the bodega closed at 5 and was at least half an hour away. This was worrisome as you don’t want to stop the momentum once it is rolling.  As Wolf kept saying, if we don’t go while we are at the head of the line, who knows how far back they will send us. I have to say that both Carlos Hernandez, the director at the Reserve who has helped and supported us every step of the way, and then Vicente Watson, one of the main scientists at the TSC, were invaluable. 

 Vicente Watson and Wolf

When Vicente realized that we didn’t have a vehicle to pick up the books, he stayed with the problem, gnawing the bone, until it got worked out.  By 3:15 we were in a car with Warner Corvajal, an employee there, zipping across and out of the city to Santo Domingo de Heredia where the bodega was.  Vladimir Jimenez and the TSC truck was located on its way back from a trip and was rerouted to the bodega.  By 4 we had the paperwork done and the last money paid.  By 4:30 we were loaded and on our way back to the TSC office in San Pedro.  It all happened so quick and with so little fuss, except for the hours of waiting, it is still hard to believe.  In the old days, things took a lot longer.  But with computers and supportive people who are trying hard to help the process go quickly, well, incredibly, sometimes it does. 


Wolf and I celebrated with a great Italian meal of very anchovish ceasar salad, authentic pizza and red wine at Pane y Vino in San Pedro.  We had spent the better part of the two days together and had lots of time to talk while waiting.  If there is something Wolf and I can do it is talk, but at the same time we don’t always have quiet time anymore to do just that. We have either been running around or surrounded by family and friends or so tired that all we can do is smile at each other. 

 YAHOO – we have the books (and a glass of wine)


I moved from the Peace Center to my friend Myrna Castro’s house for Monday and Tuesday night.  I met Myrna and her daughters Sofia and Veronica when they came to the music festival back in 1999.  Her ex-husband, Luis Zumbado, is a great violinist and was playing in Monteverde that year and staying in the house for the musicians which I managed for a couple of years.  I’ve remained friends with them and try to visit at least once a year when in the big city.  Veronica and I went out Monday night to visit Sonsax, our friends the sexy-saxophonists, who were practicing at the university.  I hadn’t seen them for a couple of years.  Valerio, Jan, Pablo, Chopper & Manrique the percussionist are five great guys who have played around the world including the Montreal Jazz Festival, where I’ve gone to see them a couple of times.  When I first knew them back in the mid-nineties, they were young crazy too-good-looking-for-their-own-good musicians, but they are all maturing (or getting old as Jan said, not me) and now have wives, children and are all busy teaching when they aren’t playing their high energy brand of sax music. 


I also went to see Manuel Monestel again, the musical leader and mentor of Cantoamerica who I went dancing to last week. We shared some wine and some stories about the Caribbean community, which we both know and love. Made me want to go to Cahuita, the funky little town I’ve spent a lot of time in on the east coast. He was heading there the next day, so now I await some good gossip back. 


While we were in the city, we also talked with the Tico Times, who took the book to read and do a review and we will return for an interview in a week or so.  We talked to Marc and John at Seventh Street Books who will carry the book but it isn’t the kind that they distribute.  But they are going to be helpful in supplying a list of booksellers in the country where our book may fit in. I will head out on some roadtrips, peddling books to the stores I choose in places I want to go (and return to later).


When Beto arrived on Wednesday morning at the TSC office, we carefully loaded the books, along with a bunch of bedding materials, and triple wrapped everything in plastic and tarps.  It poured on us most of the way home but we felt pretty confident that the boxes would be okay.  As it turned out they weren’t totally.  When Beto and I unwrapped the boxes Thursday morning, the bottom four boxes had water damage – fortunately we only lost about 10 books to a bit of damage, and not so bad that we can’t give them as freebies to friends. But as Wolf said, those books traveled all that way from Montreal to Costa Rica on the sea and were dry, but a little 4 hour trip up the mountain to Monteverde couldn’t keep them that way.  I tell you, the moisture in this place would be to die for if you lived in the desert, but I’m back on that mantra again…beach, beach, beach… 

The dark skies over Monteverde

So now it is already Friday – I’ve written this in bits and starts.  Have been distributing books, making plans, and am truly heading to the beach tomorrow, then back to the big city.  Have some presentations lined up at the Reserve for the next week.  But I need some more sun and heat then Monteverde is willing to dish out right now.  However, one last night out at the new sushi restaurant in Santa Elena, oh so good – and a visit with our friend Marc Egger, multi-lingual guide extraordinaire, who is here from Sao Paolo, Brazil.  It’ll be a great night slurping sashimi. Soon I shall return, hopefully with sand in my shoes and solar energy stored in my skin.


March 2018
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