Marina Pez Vela was a nice change from our last two stops. We had five restaurants on site, the town of Quepos was within walking distance and we had easy bus transportation out to Manuel Antonio National Park, our main reason for stopping here.With its groomed trails and monkey sightings Manuel Antonio National Park is popular and can be crowded on some of the trails. It was fun to watch the monkeys but I really wish we had spotted a Toucan bird.
Glad we did the park but we both had more fun on our rain forest hike at Arenal when we didn’t see another sole.
We would have loved to stay longer in the area but this marina is pricey so in a light rain with bathing suits on we set off early in the morning on a short nine hour hop over to Drakes Bay hoping the predictions for a calm anchorage would hold true. The anchorages along Costa Rica can be rolly. Drakes Bay is very exposed to the sea but we lucked out and had dinner out in the cockpit along with a fairly calm night. It’s nice when the predictions are accurate. We did have rain move through overnight requiring is to close all the hatches. When at anchor we are on battery power so no air conditioning just a couple fans. It was a bit warm but we got more sleep then we would have on an overnight passage.
We raised anchor just as the sun was rising and headed out 67 nm for Golfito our last stop in Costa Rica. It was a calm day and we stayed dry until ten minutes before we pulled into our slip. Mother Nature decided to remind us who is boss and greeted us with a downpour as we pulled in to tie up. Luckily the harbor master and two of his staff were there to help us.
I’m finishing up this post enjoying a cocktail and air conditioning while it rains cats and dogs out there. Hoping it slows down a bit because neither of us feels like cooking! Happy hour and dinner awaits just a stones throw away.
We must be crazy! I’ve said this to myself several times over the past two years. Gary and I are fair weather conservative cruisers. If the weather and sea conditions aren’t good we ain’t going. We have no desire to scare ourselves silly. We are now in the single digit latitudes which means we are pretty close to the equater and it is stinking hot and humid (yah for air conditioning) with a lot of lightening and thunder thrown in during what is now the rainy season. We have a healthy respect for lightening having grown up in New Jersey and spent a fair amount of time in Florida. We’ve kept moving south to get out of the hurricane box which puts us in one of the top places for lightening. For those wishing they could trade places with us, consider this. You are on a 28 hour passage in a 41 foot sailboat 10 miles off the coast of Costa Rica. What is predicted to be a calm day turns ugly with confused seas and constant lightening from early afternoon until 4:00 am the next day. With only one hour of sleep your eyes are glued to the radar so you can weave around rain cells hoping to stay dry and avoid a lightening strike to the 65 foot lightening rod (aka mast) attached to your boat. If that happens all your electronics will be fried. While the cockpit is fully covered, it is canvas. So you and everything in the cockpit is soaking wet. The rain I can handle. The lightening is flat out scary.
Crazy? Most definitely! But the next day when we are out exploring our new ‘home’ for awhile the scary passage is filed under lessons learned.
Most of our posts are about the good, cocktails and beautiful destinations. A lot of work goes into making the good happen, which is affectionately referred to by cruisers as ‘fixing your boat in exotic locations’. So I thought I would share a little about the bad because after all, this is our day-to-day life we are not on vacation. Now the ugly would be sharing how the hose that flushes the waste tank was clogged last week but I think I’ll spare you those details .
Wow what a beautiful country! We are currently in a marina on the northern part of the country which tends to be more drier. So we headed out looking for those lush rain forests we’ve seen and heard about and the area around Arenal Volcano did not disappoint. We stayed at Lomas del Volcán, a hotel with individual cabins right at the base of the volcano.
At 5,480 feet, Arenal is a traditional cone shaped volcano and was quite impressive especially from our hotel. It was last active from 1968 until December 2010.
On the advice from the front desk, we hit a trail right from our hotel that took us part way up an extinct volcano next to Arenal. In minutes we were in the thick of the rain forest. It was beautiful. I admit I would have enjoyed it more wearing army boots and carrying a big stick as I’m very afraid of snakes, but we had a good time. Definitely was a challenging hike.
We have been in Costa Rica for almost two weeks and our first impressions:
1- CLEAN! The roads are not littered with garbage from the children and adults alike who throw garbage out of the buses in El Salvador and Guatemala. They also have recycle bins rarely found in the parts of Central America we have traveled.
2- No armed guards lurking in every store and corner leaving the impression that a gun battle will break out any second.
3- Public transportation is more civilized. Public buses are newer, adult sized buses. No school buses handed down from the USA filled to overflowing and I really mean overflowing.
Of course some of this comes at a price. There is an import tax on all goods coming into the country so food is more expensive here as are the marinas. But Tico’s are proud of their country and it is really nice to see that they treat it respectfully.
We chose to do another two night passage to get past the Papagayo winds. Like the Tehuantepec, the Papagayo winds originate in the Caribbean and intensify when they funnel through the mountain ranges of Central America. Passing over Lake Nicaragua and into the bay winds can top 40 knots and we wanted no part of that. We also heard the winds can pick up unexpectedly. Picking a long calm window, we scheduled our bar crossing for April 15th at 9:30 am. As with entering Bahia del Sol, we had to leave on a high slack tide with a pilot escort to get safely over the bar. Our exit was much less dramatic than our entry and we motored out through a few large rollers. Other than hitting some confused seas for four hours, the passage was uneventful. Was sorry to pass Nicaragua by, but we plan to sail up the east coast of Central America so will catch it then.
We arrived in Bahia Culebra 268 nm away in 46 hours. Checking in to the country on the northern end is a bit of a hassle. You either anchor off Coco Beach, dinghy in through the surf hoping not to get tossed out, run around town to the various offices including a taxi ride out to the airport for immigration or for $350.00 work with an agent who brings immigration and the port captain to your boat at Marina Papagayo. I’m all for saving money but it was pretty much a no brainer for us to hire the agent. Since the agent needs 48 hours notice and you can’t get off your boat at the marina until you are checked in (we are so not in Mexico anymore), we opted to anchor out the two nights before our appointment enjoying the warm clean waters off the boat. We were in a little bay 2 nm across from the marina, but for some reason we didn’t have cell service. We are so happy we invested in the Iridium Go satellite connection. Not only does it provide us weather during passages but I was able to secure the services of the agent, email him all the information needed to complete our paperwork, and I let the marina know we would be arriving two days behind schedule. And using the free minutes our plan provides, I had a phone conversation with our sister-in-law, Bonnie to get an update on Gary’s Mom. Being in contact with family is important and this is a great backup when we have no cell service.
Marina Papagayo is probably the best kept facility we have been in yet. We have a nice pool, small restaurant, laundry, gym, TV room with more channels then we care to watch and a pool table. The only downside is we are not close to town for grocery shopping. We have a few boat chores to do, Gary needs to get over a cold he somehow caught and we plan on renting a car and seeing this country. We have wanted to visit since the 80’s and we are finally here.
Before leaving El Salvador we headed out on a road trip with Bill and Jean organizers of the El Salvador Rally, Dave and Linda from Perrr-fect, and Bruce and Gina on board Dream Catcher to visit the town of Suchitoto. After spending hours on old American school buses and vans with bald tires and no air conditioning, the van Jean rented was heaven even if the driver was a little sketchy (just checking to see if you are reading the blog, Bill ).
We stopped on the way at the Fernando Llort art gallery in San Salvador. Fernando is a local artist whose art work even appears on the cups at the local coffee shop.
At an elevation of a little over 1000 feet, Suchitoto didn’t offer relief from the heat but it had a nice little town and our awesome hotel Los Almendros had a pool. The owners, Pascal and Joaquin, along with their boxer Leonardo, welcomed us at the front door.
Each room is unique. We had a two story suite where we could have thrown one heck of a party.
The hotel had a bar across the street called El Chucho, which translates to The Pooch, that Gary thought reminded him of the bars in New Orleans one of our all time favorite places to visit. I have to agree. It had that same rich, old decor and vibe New Orleans is known for. As you would expect, Gary and I went there several times and the owners hosted a wine tasting for our group there. On the second night they hosted a dinner for us along with guitar music on their patio. A lot of poetry, which isn’t quite our taste especially in Spanish, but the food was delicious.
Suchitoto is a small town with a few galleries and shops.
I had a flash back to the 60’s when us girls went to a women’s co-op and tie-dyed our own indigo scarf. Indigo dye supported Suchitoto’s economic and population growth in the 19th century until synthetic dyes collapsed the market.
When someone insisted that we had to visit Antigua, we said of course we are going to that fabulous caribbean island eventually. Well we were soon educated on the other jewel, La Antigua Guatemala. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site there are cobblestone streets with Spanish colonial buildings restored after the 1773 earthquake that ended Antigua’s 200 year reign as the capital of Guatemala. The cathedrals and buildings not restored are now ruins open for tours. So with that information we headed across the border to the central highlands of Guatemala. Relief from the heat and humidity along with the promise of a beautiful colonial town and some restaurants, we couldn’t leave soon enough.
The first thing we did was hike up to Cerro de La Cruz. From there we had this magnificent view of Antigua and the surrounding three volcanos. Guatemala has thirty some volcano’s three of them active. Volcano of Water is dormant and stands at 12,356 feet. Acatenango last erupted in 1972 and is the tallest at 13,045 feet. Volcano of Fire (Fuego) is 12,346 feet high and is one of the active volcano’s.
After we did this hike, which consisted of many steps along a switchback path, I found out we should have had a escort by the tourist police for safety.
We explored Convento Santo Domingo, which is part hotel and part ruins.
We enjoyed our ‘Hollywood’ showers and king size bed at the charming El Convento Boutique Hotel. Carefully restored and opened in 2008, it was ‘the place’ to enjoy time off the boat.
The Volcano of Fire (Fuego) stayed quiet until we were in the van heading home, which is unusual because Fuego is known to emit steam and gas at low levels daily. The last larger eruption was September 2012.
So the following pictures were taken bumping along in the shuttle van with bald tires and no shocks. It was a long five hour ride.
La Antigua did not disappoint. The bonus was great restaurants and actual bars that made cocktails with some craft beer here and there.
Linda and Dave on board Purr-fect invited us to share a driver into San Salvador an hour away. Seriously a much better way to travel to and around the city then taking a chicken bus for two hours then walking around trying to find your way in a big city. Edwin, our driver, stayed with us the entire day as we hit up a museum, Linda shopped for fabric and we did some grocery shopping. Oh and I can’t forget the German deli, Kreef, for lunch where Gary was in heaven picking out sausage to bring home.
The one place I wanted to see in the entire city was Iglesia El Rosario. Completed in 1971, the church was designed by one of El Salvador’s prominent sculptors, Ruben Martinez. His quest was to design the church in such a way that ‘wouldn’t get in the way of the public and that wouldn’t run from God’. His intent was that there would be no posts or blinding lights etc. that would interfere with the services or peoples devotion. As you walk up to the building, it is one of the most ugliest structures I have ever seen with its dome shaped roof and ugly grey colors located in the crowded historic district. Then you walk in and before you is a rainbow of colors shining down on the alter through the glass that lines the dome. It was so peaceful and quiet and beautiful. The funny thing is Edwin, who is a native El Salvadoran, had never heard of this church. So the gringo lady was able to show Edwin a little of his city
El Salvador has made the news recently for its gang violence specifically in San Salvador. There were armed guards everywhere even at the fabric store we visited. Outside stood one guard with a shotgun and inside was a guard with a sidearm. We drove past the presidential palace and you can imagine the fire power lining the sidewalk. While this might freak some people out, we felt very secure with their presence. If they hadn’t been there, we would have worried!
Last on our to do list that day was provisioning and Linda told us of a great grocery store just across the street from the US Embassy. We haven’t seen a store this well stocked since San Diego. Everything looked delicious. Our Embassy is a sprawling campus like compound in a more affluent area of the city. Yes, your US tax dollars at work.
We spent a nice Sunday afternoon at Casa L & L, the home of Lynn and Lou expats from Carmichael California. They own a lovely casa on the estuary and every Sunday invite cruisers and other expats for a barbecue and some pool time. We bring something to grill and something to share. It is a fun way to meet people and relax away from the boat for a few hours. On Easter Sunday we are all bringing deviled eggs to share. I need to do some internet research to see if I can find something a little different with the ingredients we have on board. There is a fine line between creative and yucky.
I guess we’ve been spoiled in Mexico with a market or grocery store within walking distance or a short bus or taxi ride away. We have a few options here but they take much more effort and in this heat I mean effort! After eating all the protein we had in the freezer, we had no choice but to do one of the options. Our first choice was to take the dinghy four miles up the estuary to La Herradura a small village with a grocery store and a open market. The challenge for us is our outboard is only 6 hp so we have to time going upstream and back with the tide. And if you’ve read previous posts you know our outboard has conked out and refused to start a few times. So with that in mind we took a test run and sure enough we got out in the middle of the estuary and it died and would not start. We were smart enough to head out against the tide so we drifted/rowed back to the boat. On to our second choice. A 1 1/2 hour bus ride to Zacatecoluca. Sounds easy but it also involved a transfer at a place called Arco unless we took the ‘direct’ bus that took two hours. So off we went with directions from fellow cruisers on how to transfer busses. Get off at Arco and walk up the right side of the bridge to the road above and catch the 133. I always write on a piece of paper the name of the place we are trying to get to. With the help of the bus driver and his attendant, we got off at Arco and using hand motions they also told us to walk up the side of the bridge. When we got to the bridge it looked like we were walking into someones backyard. But following someone else willing to help, up the steps we went and sure enough there was a bus stop. We then boarded the most crowded bus we have ever been on. I spent the next half hour sitting beside the driver with my back against the rod that opens and closes the door. Gary was standing on the stairs and when others boarded (yes they let more on), he had to sit up on top of the bars in front of the first row of seats to get out of the way. This is no way to travel even for 50 cents! I can’t say much about Zacatecoluca. We shopped and went in search of the bus station and found the ‘direct’ bus back to the marina. This seemed the best option because we had been warned that the busses at Arco may stop running later in the afternoon. Would not want to be stranded there! We scored seats the whole way back and it took only ten minutes longer than the bus there.
So we are set food wise for awhile. The outboard is back running. I’m the one who hooks the gas up and I screwed something up. Which was a bummer because we missed out on an invite to happy hour at Bill and Jean’s.
We crossed into the waters off Guatemala at 1:05 pm on March 15th. We really love Mexico but it felt great to be moving on to a new country. We have plans to tour Guatemala but since the port on the Pacific side is not friendly to cruisers, we sailed a two night passage directly to Bahia del Sol in El Salvador. We had calm seas and light winds the entire time but we did get in some decent sailing without the motor running. A rare occurrence on the pacific coast.
Volcanos line the coast of Guatemala. We were 10 miles offshore trying to get away from the fishing panga’s (no luck there) so while we couldn’t see the outline of them, we did see the smoke and at night the glow.
Bahia del Sol is in an estuary behind a sand bar that requires a local pilot to help you navigate through safely. The pilot will do this only during high slack tide in daylight hours. We timed it so we would arrive well before the scheduled time of 9:40 am so we wouldn’t be late and miss the window. Missing the window means anchoring off a beach open to the pacific ocean well back of the surf but close enough that you have enough chain to hold. Not my idea of a fun night.
Bill and Jean organize the cruisers rally that we will be participating in. For every cruiser entering the bar during the year, Bill comes out with the pilot and relays his instructions to us over the VHF radio. While 99.9% make it safely, the day before an underpowered sailboat sunk (the sole occupant is okay). So when the surf is up as it was on this day, there are risks. At 9:40 with Sereno just a few yards from the surf and the pilot boat right in front of us we put the peddle to the metal and proceed full steam ahead.
I think pictures speak a thousand words so here is our bar adventure.
I can’t say enough about Bill and the pilot for their directions in getting us safely over. They are in a panga riding through the surf with a boat coming at them. Yikes! And of course a big thank you to my Captain for piloting us through and keeping us safe.
After a two night passage and a drama filled entry, we decided to relax in the cockpit taking in the scenery. That is until Gary said ‘Now I know how Tom Hanks felt in Cast Away’. Oh yea, we have to go back over the bar to leave!