Posted on October 18, 2017
We’ve been trying to leave Costa Rica for a lot of days…but things are proving to be a bit sticky.
Our exit strategy started out well enough; we got our national zarpe in Puntarenas to officially take us up to Playa del Coco, we motored out of the debris-strewn channel without incident, and we headed out of the Gulf of Nicoya accompanied by swarms of leaping rays.
Two long days of travel, punctuated by one uncomfortable night at Playa Samara, saw us on the north side of the peninsula. At this point, something went seriously wrong with our charts–both Navionics and Garmin. We’ve had pretty good luck with our electronic charts; it’s not at all uncommon for boats to find themselves out of position on the little video game of mapping, but we’ve been more or less where we should have been–until now.
Once anchored, we were loving the little bay enough to stick around for three nights, including a mellow birthday celebration for me. Then on to Playa del Coco, the northernmost port of entry for Costa Rica. Our plan was to get our official exit papers from the Port Captain on Monday; pick up some last-minute groceries; head north six nautical miles to the only marina on the northern half of the country to top up on diesel and water; and spend a couple of nights in Bahia Santa Elena, prepping the boat and ourselves for the passage to Mexico.
Instead, we’ve run into a few roadblocks. The first stumbling point is this: despite being an official port of entry for all shipping traffic entering and exiting Costa Rica, Playa del Coco has no pier. The entire beach is a challenging surf landing. There’s nothing to lock your boat to once you manage to get to shore, and the area has a reputation for theft.
There’s not really a regular commercial water taxi, but we managed to get a ride in with a local, so we didn’t have to leave our dinghy on the beach, and waded through the surf per local custom as our friend nosed his dinghy towards land. Once there, we got the bad news: national holiday, office closed. Fine. We did our shopping and caught a ride back to the boat.
Next day, I dropped Michu off like a pro, only to get a message minutes later: once we were checked out of the country, we would not be able to purchase diesel. Instead, we had to head up to the marina, top off our tanks, and come back to check out the next day. Furthermore, we couldn’t just get our zarpe in town and be on our way–Michu was going to have to schlep it to the airport to deal with cancelling our temporary import permit, a half-hour away in the town of Liberia. Once checked out, we would have three hours to leave the country.
This is the point where I got irrationally pissed off. The layers of Central American bureaucracy are legend, and we’ve been dealing with them for the better part of a year, but somehow the ridiculousness of this particular set of hoops was the end for me. Why don’t you like us, Costa Rica? Why are you making it so hard for cruising sailboats to visit your beautiful country? There was pointless ranting and hideous profanity on my side, which fortunately abated by the time we got back to the boat and the kids.
As we made ready to pull up the anchor and get our diesel and water, I noticed a puddle of oil in the anchor locker. Never a good sign. Sure enough the oil was leaking out of the windlass again. This time, it was Michu’s turn to be irrationally pissed–yet another day of Fluids Not Being Where They Should. Dammit!
So here we are, two days later. The windlass is fixed. We’re off to get the diesel and water from the snooty, three-bucks-a-foot-a-night, where-is-your-zarpe-and-TIP marina. Tomorrow, we hope to get all the paperwork sorted, after which we still plan to head for Bahia Santa Elena. The port captain knows we won’t be leaving within three hours of finishing the paperwork–it’s not even physically possible to exit this bay within three hours of finishing the paperwork. No one will care, no one will check–but we still have to go through the motions of officialdom. After here, we’ll be out of touch for a couple of weeks; no wifi until we’re in Mexico, and we plan to take our time getting there.
Fortunately, there are compensations to our additional unexpected time here. A couple of extra restaurant meals; some excellent fender rodeos; beautiful sunsets. It’s not a terrible place to be, but it’s still time for us to be gone.
Posted on October 7, 2017
We’re still cooling our heels a bit as we wait for the end of hurricane season, so we’ve been working on boat projects and trying to regain some routine. Meanwhile, the warm waters of the tropics keep hurling weather around, and we spent a bit of time feeling the effects of Tropical Storm Nate.
Being so far south, there was not much of a chance that we’d encounter Nate as a hurricane, but the storm did dump a whole bunch of water on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides of Costa Rica. Being anchored up the tidal estuary, we were right downstream from all the detritus flowing off the mountains–branches, weeds, sticks, sometimes whole trees.
On the news, we watched reports of mudslides and bridges washing out. As far as we know, seven people have been reported dead, another dozen missing, and as many as 500 homeless; we hear the damage was worse on the Atlantic side of the country, but we also hear more rain fell on the Pacific side.
When the current from the river lined up with the outgoing tide, the water was a sight to see: furious and dark. The panga drivers in the marina were out for two days straight, pulling rafts off moorings and moving trees out of the way. One boat broke free of its mooring; one dock slid away, with two boats attached. All were recovered without damage, thanks to the panga drivers.
Originally, our boat had been tied with our stern facing upriver; back when the current was more mellow, this was no big deal, and it kept the gate on our lifelines accessible to the dock for the Abuelas. As soon as we saw what was happening with the river, however, we spun the Milou around, so our bow could deflect the logs and our prop and rudder would be protected.
Today, the waters have calmed. We’ve some concerns about the channel leaving the Yacht Club–things may have shifted significantly since our entrance; we’re also a bit anxious about all the logs and debris floating around in the bay. Fortunately, we have a friend scoping out the channel today; hopefully we’ll get an “all clear” and be on our way soon.
Posted on October 3, 2017
Boilerplate disclaimer: this is not what it will cost you to go cruising.
People’s constant advice, discussing cruising finances, always seems to be: It’ll cost what you have. We did not find this helpful in our planning, however true it may be. What we’re trying to show is the cost to us, more or less, for one month to go cruising. We’re going for monthly expenses, because they’re easier for us to track; so you won’t see the boat insurance amortized, you’ll just see that expense when we pay it. It won’t be what you’ll spend, but it was the kind of information that helped us out when we were trying to wrap our heads around that magical number for our cruising kitty.
Not so bad, all things considered. The important thing to keep in mind with these numbers is, they are pretty arbitrary for the whole stretch when we had family visiting. Generally, we paid for transportation, but it was for six people; generally, Michu’s mom paid for restaurants, although sometimes it was us, and sometimes it was Susannah. If we’d had all our adventures that week only with our family, we would have paid more overall, so take it with a grain of salt.
Numbers for September:
Fuel: $9.17 stove fuel
Ice Cream: $7.50
Boat Parts: $137
Grand Total: $1748.18
Notes on the above:
- We paid Big Al five bucks to watch our stuff when we went to Manuel Antonio from Bisan Beach, although he tried to decline it. Of course, we have a big marina bill coming from the Costa Rica Yacht Club, but it won’t get paid until October, so…look out, October!
- Under the “Supplies” category, we ordered in a few things to be hand-delivered by Michu’s mom, including a new rain jacket for me, a new solar shower, and some nylon shopping bags to replace the moldy cotton canvas ones. Christmas in September.
- We were obsessed with following the paths of all the hurricanes this month, and finding info on our friends in harm’s way. That led to a pretty big data purchase.
- Entertainment was for park entry fees and surfing lessons
- We’ve never listed tips before, but we frequently found ourselves leaving tips for services that other people paid for this month, so we broke it out into its own category.
Posted on September 29, 2017
We were able to enjoy ten days with Michu’s mom, Rebeca, and our friend Susannah (hereafter referred to as “The Abeuelas”), and it was a great change of pace.
Slightly diminishing the fun: I’ve managed to have a pretty significant stomach illness for the past, oh, three weeks. No need to go into details, but I certainly pretended it was no big deal for far too long, and am now avoiding the sun until the antibiotics run their course. It was not great timing; I had no appetite, which made it tough to cook on the boat, and I didn’t have a whole lot of energy in general. Still, we managed to get in some fun things.
The Abuelas stayed at a hotel right next door to the Costa Rica Yacht Club, so we spent more than a few days enjoying their pool and fruity drinks, and became a little too well acquainted with their restaurant. Puerto Azul is definitely on the snazzy side; we were dissuaded from our original plan to book a couple of package tours through the hotel by their insane prices and limited offerings. No worries! We just took matters into our own hands.
Our first big outing was back to Manuel Antonio National Park. We caught two busses and made it there in about three hours, where we met our guide from our previous visit. The relaxed meander of the trail was a good match for the Abuelas, and of course George came through for us, spotting all kinds of animals that we couldn’t see. And finally: a sloth! Very close-up, and very active; I don’t know what he was doing, crawling all over the place in the middle of the day, but it was very satisfying as he went from one tree to another.
Getting the bus to the Quepos/Manuel Antonio area was so easy, we decided to pick it up again a few days later and travel to Jaco. This surf town about an hour and a half from Puntarenas is at least half gringo; we took advantage of the smoothie shacks, and had some fantastic sushi—our first (that wasn’t homemade) in almost a year. And of course, when in Jaco, a person needs to sign up for surfing lessons.
Our lessons were more “have fun on a surfboard” than “learn to surf;” the instructor was always giving us a push to get us started, and spent no time teaching us about reading the waves or getting going on our own. Still, we were pretty successful with standing up, which felt like a huge accomplishment! Thanks to my illness, and being pretty out of shape in general, I only lasted for one hour of the two-hour lesson, but Michu stayed out the entire time. T was right along side, trying out our newest boat toy—a boogie board.
Our final trip was inland, to see the Arenal volcano. It’s a challenging trip to make by bus—I think it’s seven hours?—and no one wanted to make Michu drive those roads in a rental car, so we asked a local taxi driver for a recommendation and hired a van and driver for the day. Thanks goodness! By van, the trip was more like three hours, and even the stretch of Pan-American highway that we followed was mostly windy, twisted two-lane blacktop. It was enough work just to ride along. On the way, we saw every houseplant I’ve every killed, growing in fields ready for export. Clearly my house needs to be more like Costa Rica for those plants to thrive.
We decided to splurge a little bit more, and paid the entrance fee to the Arenal Observatory Lodge. Originally a research facility for the University of Costa Rica, the Lodge still welcomes scientists studying the volcano, but their main gig now is tourism; during the high season, the place is packed. When we were there? Not so much.
The last thing required when visiting an active volcano is to find some hot springs. All of the rivers around the volcano run warm, and many of the best soaking spots have been taken over by large resorts who offer full spa treatments. We opted for the locals’ hangout, right off the main road, where people had build up pools from the river rocks. Perfect.
Posted on September 23, 2017
As it turns out, Costa Rica is not a very big country. We took out time getting up to the sheltered waters of Puntarenas, but it still didn’t take long to find our way up the whole Gulf of Nicoya.
Our favorite spot had to have been anchoring just inside Punta Leona. On one side of the point, there’s a well-protected, calm bay; on the other, a white sand beach with fun waves. The actual point has short but spectacular hiking trails, and we finally got up close with scarlet macaws. (Of course, the camera stayed home for that adventure. Of course!)
It’s possible, however, that some cruising fatigue has settled into our boat. Beautiful deserted bay—yawn. Quiet stretch of beach—whatevs. Back to school pictures of friends and the idea of cider donuts and apples has us very nostalgic for crisp fall air, instead of 90 degrees with 110% humidity. We’ve been seeing the same lovely jungle for months, and having pretty much just each other for company is starting to wear on everyone.
Our guidebooks had us hoping for some cruiser-friendly spots that might be hiding year-round travelers, but they were all pretty much a bust; most of the resorts were shuttered, all of the bays were empty.
We did find some novelty on Isla San Lucas. This island right off of Puntarenas was the home of a notorious prison, since closed and turned into—you guessed it—a national park. Trails criss-cross the island, and the ruins are available for exploring; best of all, the bay is completely protected from all waves and weather.
From San Lucas, it’s a short hop to Puntarenas. The long channel is no longer dredged, so it needs to be navigated at high tide; we called ahead to the yacht club for a pilot to guide us, and still saw eleven feet of water under us while up on a nine-foot tide. Rafted up to a short floating dock in the channel, we touch bottom at low tide—although not so badly that we heel over. This will be our home for about three weeks.
Like many spots around here billed as “cruiser-friendly,” the Costa Rica Yacht Club seems to be dying out. The pool is still maintained, the yard seems busy, and they have a full house of primarily sport fishing boats at their piers; but the restaurant is closed, and the whole place has an abandoned feel to it. It’s a twenty-minute bus ride into town; there are no stores within walking distance, and the only restaurants are at two nearby hotels. The laundry that we sent out took a week to come back. All in all, it’s a strange little place…but we’ll make it work, and it’ll be a good place to do some boat work and visit with family.