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A Gift for Don Alvaro

Thursday, October 1, 2015

When we arrived, Don Alvaro had just hosted a school group that morning. The macaws were already full of peanuts! He hosts as many as four groups per week now. He said there had been a sudden jump in requests for visits, and he's not sure why. (Could it be the magic that pervades his farm?)

I became worried that my blogposts might have been part of the reason for the uptick in attention. I'm not sure it is, but this is exposure of a kind he hasn't had before. I asked him if it was becoming too much for him. He said it wasn't a problem (yet).  But his first thought is what is best for the macaws. The modest fees he takes for hosting school and other groups go to making nest boxes, and a bigger jaguar enclosure, coming soon. He's making a road now, and a pond in a low pasture for wild birds. Beyond that flows the river where the sunbittern sings. All this, and a sunbittern hopping from rock to rock just below the finca...the magic never stops.

So thanks to your generous response to my appeal, we had a very nice gift ($1,000) for Don Alvaro, and I'd written him a letter, which Mario read and translated as he went. We all gathered in the yard while the macaws dangled and played and the great curassow hen chased Jimmy our bus driver all over the place behind us while the "ceremony" was going on. I couldn't see that happening, but my group was all stifling laughter even as they tried to be respectful and solemn. The joy kept bursting out.

 These photos by Bonnie Bowen

 Jimmy wasn't wild about having a turkey-sized bird pecking at his calves. Who would be?

 Go chase somebody else, you durn bird!

But it's YOU I want. I like your shoes.

Mario translates my letter to Don Alvaro. Goofy scarlet macaw twirls and shows off.

Dear Don Alvaro:

  It is a great pleasure to see you again this year. Our group’s visit to your  beautiful sanctuary was the highlight of my trip last year. When I got home, I posted photos and a story on my blog about your work with macaws. It captured the imagination of my readers, and several of them asked if they might make a gift to you, so that you may continue to rescue macaws and return them to the sky. 

  So in January I posted some more photos of you with your macaws. And I offered to bring you a gift when I returned in February 2015. I was overwhelmed by the response from readers. You have touched their hearts.

  For 23 years, I had a macaw, named Charlie. She was a chestnut-fronted macaw, Ara severa. Although she was captive-bred and we loved each other, she was always wild at heart. I spent as much time with her as I could, but it wasn’t enough. She plucked her feathers, more every year. As the years went by I realized how wrong it is to cage a macaw. We built a special glass room for her, so she wouldn’t have to live in a cage. But that wasn’t enough, either. In my travels, whenever I would see wild parrots and macaws, it made me cry to see how happy they were in a flock, flying free. When Charlie died in 2010, I knew I would never again be able to own a parrot.

This is the only way to keep macaws: free. To take them from solitary confinement and return them to the society of other macaws, to set them free, is to give a gift to them and to the world. It is a lot of work to keep one macaw happy. I can’t imagine having 19 (and now 30!) to satisfy. Thank you for all you do to help these birds. Please accept this gift as a token of our respect and gratitude.

And the letter is signed with the names of everyone who so generously donated to Don Alvaro, that he may continue to show people how these magnificent birds were meant to live: free, in pairs and flocks, tussling and fighting and laughing and mating and --most of all-- flying.

On the evening after these photos were taken, Don Alvaro came to Selva Verde, where we were staying, to thank me personally for your gift. Because he is a self-effacing and humble man, he did not look in the envelope I handed him. When he finally did, he got in his truck and drove over. He said nobody had ever done anything like that for him. He was very grateful. He talked for a long time, in incredibly rapid-fire Spanish, and Mario interpreted for me. I scribbled down what he was saying as fast as I could, but I know I missed a lot.

Back to our visit that day...Don Alvaro had  a surprise for me, too. When we pulled up, the water buffalo I'd admired so last year was tied up to a tree, wearing a saddle. 
I became a little suspicious...

Here, he said. You ride him!

Aaaack! OK! Here we go! I'll do anything once.
 My soas muscles will never be the same.

As you could see in the video above, Don Alvaro has more than a little showman in him. When he vaulted up behind me I about died  and fell off the buffalo from laughing. I still hoot every time I see these photos. Oh Lord. I can't unsee that.

But this...this I want to see in my mind's eye forever.

A special thank you to reader and great soul Jeff Ferguson, who planted the idea for this litte fundraiser in my head after my Don Alvaro posts in 2014. With a book deadline that started in April and stretched through mid-July, it's taken me far too long to catch up and gather all the photos and information I needed to write these posts, and I thank you all for your patience and your generosity. 

Don Alvaro was truly moved, and so were we all. And yes, he smiled!


May the legacy of Don Alvaro go on forever, and inspire others to follow in his footsteps!

Posted by mimimanderly October 1, 2015 at 3:44 AM

Rainbows on the wing. Lovely.

Love it.

Posted by Gail Spratley October 1, 2015 at 3:01 PM

What a wonderful story. So happy that the donation money went to such a caring person. He is in harmony with nature in so many ways. It feels so very good to be able to help out his cause. Signed - A Guy From Indiana

Posted by Anonymous October 2, 2015 at 12:31 AM
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