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I returned to the Caribbean coast on February 6, 2010, the anniversary of my first night in Costa Rica twenty years ago in 1990. Then, as now, it was the eve of a national election which falls on the first Sunday of February every four years. It was also the celebration of Bob Marley’s birthday, who, if he was alive, would be 65 and no doubt still making music of love and peace in complex patterns that appear simple. Just like true love and world peace – beautifully basic concepts, complicated to achieve and sustain in reality. Bob, known as Tuff Gong for being a street dog who could fight, didn’t necessarily live up to these gracious ideals himself though he sure made great songs about them.
I’ve bought a new laptop which came to Costa Rica in a rather convulated fashion, thanks to my nerd in the Hammer, Brandon Lukasik, and fellow Canadian in Monteverde, Margaret Adelman. I finally got all my files into it, thanks in large part to my hero-of-the-week, José, who fixed things I couldn’t understand and made it all work smoothly. I left my trusty old Toshiba in Monteverde for students to use at the Friends School. The new Dell has an extended battery in it, since we are off the grid here at Roberto’s. The next thing is getting a solar panel and charging system and I’ll be set. As Bob’s voice caresses us, singing abouting ending war and respecting each other, and I’m tap tap tapping away in my bloglife, Roberto is digging the possibilities of this new technology that’s come to his wireless jungle paradise, though he remains totally uninterested in trying to understand it.
I’m in awe of being here in the steamy dripping jungle and working comfortably on a computer. I have all the systems on low energy, and I figure it is better in this humid climate to use it and let the heat dry it out than worry about how much battery is left. Whereas before I would handwrite while I was here, now I can write as fast as I think, quickly skating over the letters on the keyboard. And I can listen to music at the same time. My battery is supposed to last about seven hours – if I’m just typing. With playing music, I will keep track of what the battery can do before having to take it to town to be charged – and how long will that take anyway? There has been a bit of rain, which is good because it has been quite dry here – well, everywhere in Costa Rica pretty much – and Roberto’s moat, the Quebrada Suarez, needs a washout and refill. It’s enough of a drizzle to keep us from going to town to see the Superbowl – really just the halftime show gets my interest – nicer to stay home, listen to the forest, keep a fire going, go to bed.
All night long, the sky dripped. Drops in every language fell, joining together in a percussive experiment. It wasn’t rain by Caribbean standards, just a gentle wet lullabye being hummed throughout the night. Now, morning, and the sky has stopped its crying, but the trees are soggy enough that their melancholy song of teardrops will continue for hours.
The howler monkeys have taken over. There is a family in a tree directly above us, and the moaning, whining and roaring is impressive. It was almost exactly a year ago that we were staying in a cabin in Cahuita town and the howlers put on a concert for days that was unlike anything I’d ever heard before (written about in “The Kukulas of Cahuita” blogpost). The sounds coming from them today is reminiscent of that – makes me wonder what is going on with them at this time of the year? Are they in heat or do they already have young babies who they are either teaching or protecting? Songs of the jungle, along with the morning’s first cup of coffee, how delicious.
The last couple weeks in Monteverde were spent sitting in front of this same laptop, working hard to get the new blog for Bosqueterno S.A. up and running (http://bosqueternosa.wordpress.com) and putting together a power point presentation to share that same history with the community. It’s a part of Monteverde history, the creation of the first watershed reserve, that few seem to remember, if they ever knew it. I went out one day with Wolf, thinking to plant the seed that I’d be returning in March and available to give this talk to the guides, Reserve employees, Friends School, and members of the community at the Monteverde Institute. By the end of the day, I had four dates lined up – people were excited about learning more about the beginning of conservation in Monteverde.
In March, Roberto and I will return to the green mountain to spend a couple more weeks with our little feline friend, Miel, who is now in the tender loving care of Sarah and Priscilla, the teaching assistants for the CIEE course. They moved into the apartment a little over a week ago. It was great to meet them fresh and energetic – Sarah from Minnesota but a former CIEE student in Monteverde, and Priscilla, a Tica who majored in biology from San José. Their students are arriving this week, and their lives will change for the next four months.
Karen Masters and her husband Alan have run the CIEE program(Council on International Educational Exchange) in Monteverde for years. It’s a tropical biology course but there is now a sustainable ecology option as well. Karen happens to also be my adviser in the Bosqueterno work (as she is president of their Board of Directors). Roberto and I bumped into Karen and Alan in San José at the little Caribbean restaurant (La Abuela on Avenida 1/Calle 5 or so) that we discovered back in December. It was sheer coincidence that we ran into the Masters there and great to have a moment before their student groups came and they were lost in their teaching responsibilities for months. Unfortunately, though I would still recommend the restaurant, Roberto’s meal was not good – uncooked fish, cold and tasteless rice and beans – and he knows his rice and beans! The rest of our meals were fine, and the bad food could have been due to the fact that the place was packed, a very busy lunchtime crowd, putting too much stress on the little kitchen.
I celebrated no less than four birthdays while in Monteverde – Tricia Wagner, drama and music teacher extraordinaire; Marlene Brenes, who works in the CIEE office downstairs from the apartment; as well as my pals Alan Calvo and Mark Fenton at Bromelias.
Tricia’s birthday was celebrated with the poetry group which my good friend Patricia Jimenéz is also part of. I’ve spent other evenings with these folks when no poetry is shared, just food, wine and conversation. Other times, they write poetry together and people share their poems. They call themselves the Gatos Pardos and have been getting together and supporting each other’s creative writing for years. As a gift to both Tricia and Walter, another member who had recently had a birthday, Patricia created books with a selection of each member’s poetry, cloaked in a cover of handmade paper of recycled and organic materials that she has been making with another group of women in her home. As Tricia says, Patricia Jimenéz is an inspiration and idol to us all – painter, poet, political analyst, polio survivor and protaganist of a myriad of creative ventures in the Monteverde area. And always a wonderful friend to spend an evening with, sipping wine and talking about life.
That night ended at the Mata ‘e Caña where Las Nómadas were playing – Andres, Diego and Cristian, guitar and percussion (along with saxophonist Richard Trostle), singing and drumming out the sweet beats of cuban salsa along with a little of this and that. There are some good bands these days in Monteverde – and you can catch at least a couple of them every week at the Mata, formerly la Taverna as it was known to thousands for more than twenty years. It’s now run by Shannon Smith who oversees the place like the charismatic, buxom red-headed madam of a saloon in the wild west – although the place looks more like New York City than Laredo. Due to her consistent booking of fine musical acts, I spent alot of nights dancing there in the last couple months in Monteverde.
The other sweet spot higher up the road on the mountain is Bromelias. Patricia Maynard has done some more remodeling (she has more ideas than money) and is gearing up for her Music Festival – three top quality groups each weekend for four weeks beginning mid-February. I went there for her son Machillo’s 21st birthday which we celebrated the same day as her employee and our friend, Alan Calvo’s. These last couple of weeks in Monteverde have been windless, starry-skied nights, warm and magical. Bromelias is enchanting when the fire is blazing outside under the sparkly night sky, and there is always some variation of music in the restaurant or in the amphitheater.
The National Theater of Costa Rica put on a play there this last week – called Canto de Ballenas (Whale Singing) – which was a rather melancholy four-character, one-act play whose message seemed to be “sometimes, it’s better just to forget”. It starred the lovely Alejandra Portilla and played out under a calm warm night in Bromelias Amphitheater. They were going to be having a big reggae, rice and beans celebration at Bromelias for Bob Marley’s birthday, but I left Monteverde to meet up with Roberto and return here to our jungle home.
At the last minute, we decided to go spend my 20th anniversary and Bob’s birthday in Puerto Viejo. Sadly, the live band wasn’t playing at Maritza’s bar, where we like to go dancing, but we still got some dancing in by bar-hopping throughout the night. Bob’s music was everywhere, sang live by Memo and his hot band Plan B at the corner bar, pounding at Johnny’s disco on the beach, rippling out of almost every doorway.
Our new place to stay in Puerto is La Dolce Vita. In November, we stayed in a room with shared bath for $15 near the communal kitchen; this time for 15,000 colones (about $25) we had a private bath in a very comfortable room – the place is secure, super clean, colorful and close to downtown, but still very quiet.
Now Roberto’s jungle home is the place to be, surrounded by the sweet sounds of the jungle. Listening to the radio this morning, Roberto reported to me that the New Orleans Saints won the Superbowl. I’m glad that something good happened for that city…where just five years ago the homeless and traumatized survivors of Kratina were being housed in the stadium that the now victorious football team calls home.
He also told me that Laura Chinchilla became the first female president of Costa Rica last night continuing the reign of Oscar Arias’ Liberación Nacional party. As I wrote at the beginning, there is a lot of apathy, disillusionment and disgust in this country for their politicians these days. Twenty years ago, when I first came here, they were so proud of their democracy that they would walk proudly in the streets showing off the purple thumbs that proved that they had indeed participated in the vote. Now, just six electons later, many people can’t be bothered to vote. They don’t believe the propaganda and election promises. It is a sad tendency in many democracies these days – certainly in Canada, where disgust is at an all time high with the minority Conservative government who just took a long extended parlimentary vacation, and the U.S., where the aftermath of Obama’s election isn’t meeting the high expectations of hope and change.
Costa Rica has bathed for years in a special light, but the truth is often far from its pacifistic, green reputation. May the new government bring some honesty and truth and intelligent foresight back, before the possibility of eternal environmental health and a comfortable and secure standard of living is lost to a much darker reality. It is something that in such a machista country, that a woman has been voted in as president, but it certainly doesn’t ensure that her policies will change from those of the old boys’ club (aka Margaret Thatcher).
Long after his own life passed, Bob Marley’s songs continue to ring throughout the world, with a chorus of love and peace amid verses of unity and respect. He grew up in poverty with a mother who bestowed on him her own talent for singing – he joined with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer to create a music that transcends languages and borders and deeply touches almost everyone who hears it. His songs can change the world – they are some of the sweetest ever written. That special light shone down on this soul too and he rose to meet it, at least in music and message. Thank you Bob, rest in that same peace that you sang so beautifully about.
PS – I’ve written, listened to music, or gone on to my computer for some thing or other for about five and a half hours – and it tells me there is still 25% of the battery left! Cool! Off to town, Roberto will do some fishing, me some swimming and then go charge up the battery and go online to post this. Ah, the sweet life….
PPS – Posting this in Bastimento, Bocas del Toro, Panama – may never return…love this place.
Here on the green mountain, beauty is all around us. Some of this is just the sheer natural splendor of the place – the misty-erios cloud forest, the tall, twisted, bromeliad-filled trees, the dripping emerald canopy, the rolling pastures with pretty-faced Guernsey cows. Then there is the minute glory, from the delicate orchids to the flashy beetles to the exotic fungi. But beauty is also found in the people here and I think this comes from how they collectively live relatively healthy lives – not all, not always, but compared to the faces of urban sprawl, the inner city and the poverty of spirit one can often find elsewhere, one has to be happy to have landed here.
I spent two days last week celebrating exactly these riches. Last Sunday, there was a wedding at the Friends Meeting House – the director of the Monteverde Institute, Jannelle Wilkins married her man, Rick Mera in a peaceful ceremony, surrounded by their friends and neighbors. I was part of the little group who decorated the room for them – we hung calla lilies in the windows and strategically placed tables to hold the various bouquets of garden flowers that were brought by folks from the community. Calla lilies are also known as peace lilies and they couldn’t have been more appropriate for the occasion. My new friend Caroline Crimm provided many of these lilies and more were donated by others, enough that we were able to hand them out to guests as they arrived. The room was simple and serene.
The Trostle family
As at all weddings, the guests arrived looking their best, with smiles on their faces, and that makes for a good-looking assembled crowd. I snapped lots of photos and share several here – perhaps you will recognize some of the faces – weddings tend to bring out hope and joy in people, and this wedding was no exception.
Jannelle & Katy Alberto Guindon & Angelina
At the Quaker meeting, the wedding ceremony is as thoughtful and personal as Sunday meeting. Friend Katy Van Dusen nicely explained what would happen – we would sit in silence and await the arrival of Jannelle and Rick. When they came, we sang a song together – “Simple Gifts” – to the guitar accompaniment of Tricia Wagner, who herself has a beautiful voice. As the song says… “when we find ourselves in the place just right, it will be in the valley of love and delight.” And it was. Or at least on the mountain of…
Rick & Jannelle with Saray & Melvin Leiton
When they were ready, the couple exchanged their vows, looking in each other’s eyes, only the two of them. In between each part of the ceremony, there was silence, time to reflect and appreciate the moment. Jannelle and Rick signed the wedding papers and shortly after people stood one by one and shared their thoughts. This couple was blessed by the warmth of the community.
Jannelle’s sister Darlene and daughter Natalia The Jenkins family
The members of their families who had come for the wedding were very moved by the occasion. Someone expressed how people often feel that this simple Friends ceremony, where guests are encouraged to share their own thoughts, is one of the most beautiful wedding ceremonies they have been to – the couple say their vows directly to each other, in the presence of their friends, not to a priest or pastor or minister. And the wishes extended by their family and friends are thoughtful and wise and filled with loving concern.
Afterward we all walked a little ways up the road to the Hotel Fonda Vela, where there was a huge spread of wonderful food, accompanied by songs of love sang by Tricia Wagner and Robert Dean. A marimba band played outside where meat was roasting on the barbeque. The sun set in a furious explosion of brightness behind the head table while more words of support were expressed. It was a beautiful gathering of friends, surrounded by love and the hope of a joyful future for Jannelle and Rick.
A couple days after that, I took to the woods with Wolf’s son Ricky Guindon. In my job with Bosqueeterno S.A., where I’ve been challenged to write a history of this watershed reserve set aside by the original Quakers in 1951, I will also include a natural history of the 554 hectares – describing the primary forest and its inhabitants, the use of the land and the various biological studies that have taken place there over the years.
Ricky has been a field assistant with a number of biologists and was the perfect guide for this hike. We had originally thought that we would head out the trail that starts near the entrance to the Reserve and goes to El Valle and then turn and follow the boundary line of the property. We knew that the maintenance crew had recently cleared it but also knew that it would still be much more challenging hiking than any of the trails as these carril lines are not designed for easy walking.
On my way up to the Reserve to meet Ricky, I ran into Dan Perlman, a biologist from the U.S. who has spent years here studying ants. When he heard where I was going, he told me that he had with him a 360-degree camera and would love to tag along. He would take photos along the way that we could then use on the Bosqueeterno webpage when we get to doing that. I haven’t seen these photos, but can imagine they are incredible. He would stand in one place and the camera would record all around it, along with a couple minutes of sound. This will be a wonderful feature to share on the internet.
Gelatinous stalked puffball
Ricky, Dan and I started out and moved so slow – looking at each precious little bug, leaf, orchid and bird then stopping to stare at the magnificence of the tree-covered mountainside under a cloudy but bright sky – that we had to change our plans. Dan stayed with us for awhile and had to head back, and Ricky and I decided that instead of trying to move faster and cover a great deal of ground, we would stay on the trail that would lead us to Cerro Amigos. This is one of the highest peaks in the area and it is where there are several communication towers.
I’ve been up there with Wolf a couple of times, always approaching it from the community side on gradually climbing trails. We were now coming from the backside which meant climbing up a very steep trail, “like climbing up tree limbs,” said Ricky.
Along the way we went past the water pipes where the community draws its water from the Quebrada Cuecha. We were so lucky not to have a drop of rain, only the usual moisture on the Atlantic side of the cerro where the clouds hit the peak and deposit their moisture. Ricky was a wonderful person to be with, full of knowledge of the birds, the plants and the insects, and as content as I was to be out in this unique piece of wilderness.
When we got to the towers there was too much cloud to see Arenal volcano behind us (which I know from past experience sits like a huge grey cone and feels close enough to fall into), but it was clear enough to see the community below us. There is a road that heads almost vertically straight up the hill which is used by the men who live up there (a man stays for 15 days then has 15 days off); we watched a man bringing a bundle of materials up on his shoulder, slowly climbing up this steep dirt track.
We went down by way of the trails that exist for students at the Canadian Biological Station, a much more pleasant way of descending. We were shortly out of the clouds and in bright sunshine – which is where we met our only little cloudburst. We were refreshed by some gentle rain, even though it was hard to find the cloud above us in the aqua blue sky.
We had walked for about seven hours, through the rain forest at the entrance to the Reserve, up to the elfin forest near the towers, and back into the gentile pastures of Monteverde. Stunning, magical and very, very green.
I guess a week of beauty isn’t complete without a trip to a salon. Alberto Guindon’s step-daughter, Melody, is a very talented hair stylist and make-up artist who came from San Diego a few months ago to be near her mother and give her son, Jaden, some schooling in Monteverde. She worked for years as a photographer’s assistant and enjoys prepping people for a photo shoot. She asked me if I’d like her to do my make-up and hair. I’ve never been a cosmetic person except for Halloween and when playing dress-up but was willing, so spent an evening being primped and then she took many pictures. Some of them were great, and we both enjoyed the experience. I still wouldn’t wear make-up, but had fun playing model for an evening.
Here in Costa Rica, August 15 is Mother’s Day. My mother died in 1998 and I miss her. I had the chance to wish Lucky Guindon a Mother’s Day, having arrived at her house with her daughter, Melody, who gave her mom a bouquet of flowers. The love that comes from your mother is one of the most beautiful things in the world, even long after she has gone.
On Sunday I gathered with the Guindons to celebrate Wolf’s 79th birthday. It was my last evening in Monteverde for this tour and a very special one. Wolf is slowly feeling better as his medications get straightened out but it has been a difficult couple of months. I hope that we will all be together to celebrate his big 80th next August 17. In the meantime, I’m down in Cahuita with Roberto and the monkeys and the waves and the sweet sounds of calypso. Life is truly beautiful. Hasta la proxima….