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.
Posted on September 17, 2017
Some 25% of all land in Costa Rica is devoted to National Park. For the most part, Costa Rica was ignored by Spain when part of her empire, and not very developed; furthermore, after a rough but brief civil war in 1949, the country abolished their military. The result has been a great deal of unspoiled country, and the resources to maintain and protect it.
As such, tourism rules the roost, although not the type that is particularly accommodating to scrappy cruisers such as ourselves. There are lots of eco-lodges, several all-inclusive resorts, backpacker facilities and sport fishing marinas. Anchoring out, on the other hand, can be a bit more challenging.
We arrived in Golfito prepared to have everything stolen. The port has a bad reputation for theft, especially of dinghies; in general, for the whole country, cruisers are advised to keep their dinghies out of the water with the outboards locked to the boat in a very visible way. Katie at Land-Sea explained that people see cruisers having their dinghies stolen, and then immediately replaced by insurance companies with brand-new gear, so they think it’s no big deal. Well, it’s a big deal for us, but we’ve already gotten into the habit of keeping things locked up, and we had no problems.
Marinas recommend hiring an agent, to the tune of at $200-$400, to help you check in. Let me tell you straight up, that is BOSH. We had no problems checking in, heading first to the immigration office right near the marinas. The extremely helpful official organized all of our paperwork for us; told us exactly how many copies of which documents we needed from the copy shop down the street; and sent us on to the customs office and port captain with clear instructions. We did have to hire a cab to get between those offices, but $12 for transportation is no big deal, and cab fare and copies were the only things we paid for.
Golfito itself is pretty scrappy, but after the wilds of Pacific Panama, we were pretty appreciative of luxuries like well-stocked grocery stores and cell service. We set up the new phone; we stocked up on pastry, along with boring items like fruit and lettuce; we got our teeth cleaned; we filled up with water; and we moved on.
Two relaxing nights at Pureto Jiminez, and we headed for the outside of the Osa Peninsula. The end of a loooong, light-wind, swell-tactic passage found us hovering outside the entrance to Drake’s Bay; we’d just managed to drop and secure the main when we were blasted by a dense squall for which the area is known. The rain was coming down too hard to see past the bow of the boat; we held station right outside the anchorage until things subsided and we could creep in without hitting any of the anchored dive boats or pangas.
Drake’s Bay has so many lovely things going for it; not the least of which is a free dinghy dock inside the mouth of a little river. Exploring up the river, we saw capuchin monkeys in the trees and a caiman slip silently into the water. Even better than the short trip up the river are the trails that lead off from the dock; well-maintained paths go along the coast to a number of beaches. It was in Drake’s Bay that we saw scarlet macaws for the first time, and spent a happy hour at the resort by the dock sipping fancy smoothies and watching the birds and iguanas.
The drawback to Drake’s Bay: swell. It looks so protected on the chart! And yet…those insidious waves manage to creep around the point and knock you about. We also had some pretty wild thunderstorms zip through, including a strong 180-degree shift that knocked our anchor loose around midnight; fortunately, our trusty Mantus reset immediately. After four nights, it was time to move on.
When we can, we prefer to hop up a coast, rather than take long passages, so we made for an intermediary stop at Bahia Dominicalito. As expected, the swell found us once again, but this time we decided to take action and set a stern anchor, keeping the bow of our boat pointed into the wind. It worked! We slept well, and work up refreshed and ready for our approach to Manuel Antonio National Park.
So already, we were loving all things relating to Manuel Antonio. Staying in the area can be a challenge; choices range from “washing machine anchorage” to “$140-a-night marina.” We tucked out boat just inside Punta Quepos, narrowly dodging a few random, not-well-charted boulders, and managed to get a pretty quiet spot. Once again, we tried our stern anchoring technique, but this time, we failed painfully; the tidal current kept pushing us sideways, messing up the whole system, and we ended up wrapping the stern anchor rode around the rudder. After repeated attempts, we gave up. Still, not so bad; much less rolly than Drake’s Bay, and we were right off a lovely public beach.
Big Al, renter of fine SUPs and kayaks, offered to watch our dinghy the next day, and we caught a cab to Manuel Antonio National Park. Following the advice of pretty much everyone, we hired a guide for the morning, and walked into a zoo without boundaries.
Lest you think we were on some kind of isolated, back-country nature safari, let me just clarify: the park was packed. We walked down a road, with service cars; we were never not within sight of at least 20 people—it was a constant stream of humanity, as locals headed to the beach and tourists stuck with their guides. Still, we saw howler, squirrel and capuchin monkeys, as well as a whole bunch of other wildlife pointed out by our guide, George.