Happenings in El Castillo

ab40a5e6-68d5-4b9c-9918-5fb904f7ea43_1I’m ashamed to say that it has been quite awhile since I last posted here.  I suppose like many others, I started out with the best of intentions but life got in the way.  You see, I retired at the end of 2012 from my job as a media vice-president in Canada and set out on a new adventure in life.  It wasn’t a decision I made easily.  In fact we had discussed it for almost two years leading up to the act so when it finally came, I was both ready and prepared.  Ready, because as I had always known, success in life is about our ability to adapt.  While I had adapted many times in many ways over the 39 year span of my career, I knew that  I was not ready to adapt any more.  The time had come to step aside and let someone younger lead the way.  As one former mentor predicted, the last 20% of my goals were in the first 80% of my successor’s.  Prepared, because we put ourselves on a budget for a year to make sure we could live comfortably on the reduced income that we would have to live with.  For a year, I tracked every dollar we spent and found that, surprisingly, we had money left over at the end of the month, despite dividing our time over three countries-Canada, Costa Rica and my spouse’s base in the US.  So, after what seemed like a recreation of the Rolling Stones Retirement Tour with a month’s worth of tributes and goodbyes, we took the plunge into the next big adventure.

Having built our home in El Castillo, among its cast of colourful characters, we naturally felt that our time would be pretty evenly divided between winters in Costa Rica and summers in the garden in Canada.  But, perhaps because I had gone straight from school to work in my teens and never experienced the fabled “gap year” I had a powerful compulsion to travel at retirement.  And travel we did- 37 of 52 weeks away from home.  Using a site called Home For Exchange, we traded our place in Costa Rica for other people’s homes.  All in all we saw England, Ireland, France, Italy, parts of the US and Canada.  Home exchanging turned out to be a great way to not only see the world, but also the best way to immerse in the communities we were visiting. 

At the end of it we got to spend two months “retired” at El Castillo en Las Nubes as the reward for surviving it all.  We brought my dad, who is 94 years old, along with us.  He is himself a character- an artist-philosopher who got his ears pierced to celebrate his 80th birthday and rode a horse for the first time to celebrate his 90th.  We put him up at our friend Bill’s place down the road because it is closer to the activity in the community and didn’t require the hike up the steep hill to our house at the top.  Bill was there with him for a while and they developed a routine of scotch over ice each afternoon at 3:30- a routine my dad recently revived back home in Canada.  Dad adopted a stray dog- a cute little white moppet named Sammi that he rechristened Maggie in memory of the dog he had just recently lost.  We made plans to adopt Sammi/Maggie and bring her home with us- got her shots, booked passage and bought a small carry-on kennel.

And then disaster.  A week before we were scheduled to leave, Maggie was bitten by a viper just outside Bill’s door when Dad took her out for the last relief of the evening.  Maggie almost immediately went into convulsions and within an hour it was over-this vibrant bundle of fur now silent.  We buried her in my garden, under a rose bush, but for dad the joy was gone from the place and we spent a difficult week before bringing him home to Canada. Enrique came up the next day and found the viper nest in a pile of debris near the driveway.  Without Maggie, its quite possible that dad or one of the neighbourhood children may have stumbled across them, so we’re grateful for her sacrifice but it changed dad’s feeling for the country forever.

In February, our friend and property host Pizza John Divita married the love of his life Mayra.  I’ve written about it elsewhere.  When we left for home in April, John was in fine spirits other than a persistent cough and pain in his chest.  A few weeks later we heard that John had been to hospital where they drained 5 litres of fluid from his lungs.  A few weeks later they repeated the process.  We talked to John by telephone and he was in an optimistic mood, certain that it was just a reaction to a bad fall he had sustained before his wedding.  In June, I went back to El Castillo and by this time, John was in hospital with a shunt attached to his lungs to relieve the pressure of the fluid.  I still wasn’t clear on what was wrong.  I had read up a little on the symptoms which pointed to mesothelioma (a particularly virulent form of cancer usually associated with exposure to asbestos), but John insisted that the tests said it was not cancer.  I found it believable because, although he was weak and tired easily, he was in a good mood and was able to walk around.

A week later, I came back for another visit and the change in John was shocking.  He had lost weight, couldn’t get out of bed and was starting to show signs of dementia from the morphine, yet still insisted he did not have cancer.  It was only when I cornered his doctor, who spoke enough English to my Spanish, that I learned the truth.  John’s prognosis was grave and he had somewhere between a month and three months left.  A few weeks later, he passed away.  For El Castillo, it was the day the music died.  John Divita, former surfer dude, former member of the punk rock band The Degenerates, former cost accountant for Best Buy, now pizza-parlour-in-the-jungle proprietor and host of Jungle Radio on Facebook was gone and El Castillo was changed for us.

I haven’t been back since that visit.  I was afraid that the place wouldn’t be the same without John.  But recently, John’s friend Ryan Malcolm, winner of the first ever Canadian Idol title and an accomplished musician himself, fulfilled a dream that he and John had been hatching for awhile.  Ryan’s new restaurant is going up at Nepenthe Lodge overlooking the volcano and lake and music has once again returned to El Castillo.  Unfortunately, he’s doing it without Pizza John, but I hope that Ryan revives Jungle Radio and his restaurant becomes a successor to the late-night jam sessions that featured travelling musicians from around the world.