The Costa Rica Story
We last left you in Mexico with the checking out of the country. The check out process involves a lot of things that mostly involve hammering pieces of paper with rubber stamp. The Mexican Naval officer that performed the paper stamping for Mexico had a new wrinkle on the idea. A small little stamp that fits in his clean, ironed uniform pocket. He pulls it out, pushes a button and the little rubber inky part just pops out from hiding in the shaft of the thing.
I don’t know why but it was really funny to me at the time and we shared some laughs over how easy it made the process go while we sat in the cockpit of our boat. He shared a comment with me that I’ll hang on to for a long time when he said “We Mexicanos are a practical people”. They should put that on their license plates or on the money.
After the officials left we got organized and motored out the channel and back into the Pacific Ocean, next stop is El Coco, Costa Rica. Which looked to be about a 3 day trip.
We fully skipped Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador so we could meet up with Mickey and Don in El Coco on December 1, which has been the plan for a long time. We could have stayed close to shore, and would have but for the large number of small fishing boats, fishing nets and floating contraptions all along the way. Thus we once again went about 100 miles offshore to avoid the traffic which was fine for most of the way.
As usual the wind was completely on our nose, and with no time to lose we just motored on our way, pretty much a straight line to El Coco. As we got within 150 miles or so from Costa Rica we met something call the Papagallo winds.
Remember the Tijantepec winds we recently avoided? Well this was paybacks I guess so we got clobbered again with 35-40 knot winds, rather uncomfortable waves, lots of splashing, lots of cursing and pretty much a miserable time pushing on to Costa Rica.
After all the abuse we decided to treat ourselves to a nice marina for a change and found one a few miles from our El Coco destination. It’s a nice place, expensive, pool, bar, laundry and had space available . The Papagayo Marina is located on a nice bay that has a narrow, rocky entrance but a big, secure bay environment.
During the night the engine quit as it was out of fuel, gasp, sputter, sputter, silence. No problem as we have two tanks and the other has fuel. So we switched the fuel valves, re-primed the engine and away we went.
As we approached the entrance to the bay (Bay of Snakes) renamed to Papagallo Bay (by some real estate guy no doubt) the engine quit again. Further episodes of sputter, sputter, spit, gasp, quiet.
No problem, we say “we’ve got a sailboat” so out come the sails, and the ever present winds drop to nothing. Even the snakes we see swimming in the water are making better time.
We can’t reach the marina by VHF radio as it’s blocked by a hill. Some great people in El Coco get on the radio and can organize a tow if needed, but we’d really like to get to that Marina, Bar, Pool, Laundry, etc.
So we fire up the SSB Radio and send out an email to a few people for some help. Whitney (in Portland) got the email, called the marina in Costa Rica, got them fired up and pretty soon a boat came out to meet us with 3 jugs of diesel fuel. We managed to limp into the marina, tied up the boat and went to bed.
This is the first really 5 star marina we’d ever seen. Really nice docks, water, power, laundry, pool, restaurant, bar, and help with anything we want. The only real problem is that it’s a $50 cab ride to town. It seems that the usual 4 Seasons crowd like their privacy while we’d rather mingle with the locals.
We met up with Mickey and Don in El Coco at the Loco Paco (Crazy Duck), got them moved on to the boat and went to refill the tanks at the marina. The tanks only took about half of what they should. In other words when we ran out of fuel we still had lots of fuel. I’m beginning to learn that cruising is like that.
We motored over to El Coco, stayed a couple of days and decided to see the inland by car. We hired some folks to watch the boat on a mooring out in the bay and took off in a tiny little rent car. We drove the transcontinental highway for awhile then headed up into the cloud forests to Monte Verde where we had a great time. We rode zip lines through the clouds (see our youtubes of it) walked nature trails both during the day and at night, saw orchids, wild monkeys, coffee plantations, banana plantations and really relaxed.
After returning to the boat we made our way south, spent some time anchored out and made our way to Land and Sea in Golfito, Costa Rica. This is a cruiser’s hangout with wifi, beer, club room and very friendly people (Tim and Katy). We celebrated Christmas there with a big pot luck dinner along with fellow cruisers from Canada, Australia, France, Germany and the US. We’ve made lots of new friends and are finally starting to get comfortable with the cruising lifestyle as our schedules start to go out the window.
Mickey and Don decided to go touring Central America on buses, making their way back to Mexico so they left from there. On our departure we stopped at the only fuel dock in Golfito and got fully ripped off, but didn’t know it until a month later when we find they charged us twice for the fillup. An extra $700 was taken from our debit card and our bank, Capital One is unwilling to do anything about it. Another lesson learned about Banks, and money.
We took off before the end of the year, heading down the coast with the idea of stopping at Bahia Honda, a place highly recommended by our Aussie friends. We got to the place well after dark, and naturally enough it was a moonless night. The jungle grows down to the water on the face of some impressive hills. There isn’t a single light bulb in sight, nothing, all dark.
But our radar can see a path ahead that gets us off the ocean and into this big, round lake. So we did it at a snail’s pace. One of us on the nose with a spotlight, the other driving and scrutinizing the radar screen every inch of the way into the pitch black lake. We got in there, saw that we were in no danger from anything and dropped the hook in 60 feet of water, roughly in the middle, and went to bed.
We were awakened by roaring. I’m talking feeding time at the lion house roars. It was coming from the jungle and turned out to be monkeys. Needless to say there were no dinghy trips to see the cute little monkeys.
We were visited by folks in old beat up fishing boats and by dug out canoes. All anxious to see us and trade for things. One fellow brought his entire family out to see us, which included four young boys, mom and dad. They needed practical things like milk and batteries but went nuts when Gayle brought up some apples. It seems they only get apples at Christmas as it’s a long way to town and there literally aren’t any roads. She made a bunch of new friends and they brought us fresh bananas, coconuts and a nice shell. He wanted a permanent picture of his family so I shot some pictures and printed them out for the family. We left, after donating a few sailing magazines for them to practice their English reading skills.
With Panama in our minds we charged on again, out in the Pacific Ocean, following the coast around something called “Punta Mala” which sort of had an ominous sound to it. And yep, we found out why.
First, a word about Panama’s geography. For some reason it really messes with my internal navigation system. When I think about the North American and South American continents, connected by Central America I pretty much draw a line from North to South, lining up the countries. But Panama is a long, skinny country shaped like a snake and goes to the east a good bit before turning and going south.
So coming around Punta Mala we still had a long way to go, fully to the east, and into the wind. We thought we’d get some relief in the Las Perlas Islands along the way but it was not very helpful so we just punched it out, another long night motoring into a modest wind.
Somewhere around 3 am we got close enough to Panama City to start seeing the incredible ship activity surrounding the canal entrance. Not just ships moving around but a hundred or more ships anchored out all over the place. Furthermore, behind all this ship activity was the city of Panama City, a modern, Miami looking town with skyscrapers, high rise housing and clearly a very busy downtown area.
The AIS system was detecting at least a hundred targets and getting really freaked out but between the brilliant lights, clear skies, radar, and good old eyeball navigation we found a reasonably obscure place to drop the hook and wait for daylight.