It’s hard to believe that we spent almost two years in one place (Bahia del Sol, El Salvador) – but we filled that time full! We made good use of the car that we bought early on, and saw many places in Central America while our boat safely rested in the Jaltepeque Estuary. We also enjoyed our longest trip away from the boat, almost two months traveling in South America. Bahia del Sol was a good place for us to accomplish many of our boat projects – short of hauling out or re-powering. We were able to have some large items shipped to us from the States, and it was quite convenient to have friends and family visit. We lived there long enough that we created our own network of “go-to” vendors, from a top-notch machine shop (Moldtrok) to a diesel lab (Manasa) to a repair shop for electric motors (Remesa). We got a custom-built propane stove from Imperial and lots of stainless steel parts from La Palma. We developed relationships with a couple of local men who refinished our cap rail (Reymundo), filled our water tanks (Deny), and cleaned the barnacles from our boat’s bottom (both of them, with helpers!). There is a small community of expats and boaters that we enjoyed socializing with while we were there, and a fairly regular stream of new faces coming in (and leaving again!).
Bill and Jean are the tireless force behind this community, organizing the El Salvador Rally to get the word out about this place as a cruiser’s destination. They not only arrange for cruising boaters to be guided safely across the entrance bar, and provide loads of advice and assistance to this community, but are also a huge boon to the local community living on the undeveloped island where they are putting together their own home. They are the focal point for many charitable activities to help the very poor families living there, including building cisterns to collect and store rainwater, acquiring the supplies and equipment needed to spray for mosquitoes that carry zika and chikungunya, providing ecologically sensitive stoves to reduce the need for firewood for cooking, and training several people in services that can provide a good living (like cleaning boats and sewing canvas). This couple has made an incredible mark on the lives of these people! Many thanks to them both!
We were very busy up to the last day, getting ready for our next adventure. It was nice to have Jonnie aboard for a few weeks before we left, so that she could settle into her new space and learn her way around. In this period, we decided to do a 5-day diet that we’ve been doing quarterly for the last year or so. Jonnie joined us on this Fasting Mimicking Diet, which leaves one very hungry – and occasionally grumpy. 🙂 Although it wasn’t the intent, it also turned out to be a good way to form a bond, sharing a bit of hardship, even though it was intentional. She was a real trooper! We sold our car to our friends on Isleña, who graciously shared the use of the car with us during the last week or two, even taking Jonnie to the dentist with them. On our last trip to town we were topping off our provisions when a local couple stopped us, saying that they recognized us from our boat. They introduced themselves as Luis and Lorena, and we had a short but pleasant chat in the canned foods aisle (almost made us sad to be leaving…). They have a small boat that they enjoy on weekends and have shared friendly smiles and waves across the water for the last few weeks. We were tickled that they recognized us, and also surprised to run into someone from one context in such a different one!
Sadly, SaM and David, our friends and neighbors on Isleña, who crossed the bar the same day as we did two years ago and had been planning to join us on this trip down to Panama, had a change of plans at the last minute which led them to stay behind when we left – with only three people on board a boat provisioned for five. 🙂 No one needs to worry about us going hungry! We added a food hammock to store some of our produce in the pantry. Jonnie has done a phenomenal job of monitoring all of the fresh produce, assuring that we enjoy all the fruits and vegetables in their prime, and introducing new foods into our routine diet. We’ve never had so much papaya, cabbage, jicama or cucumber; and we’ve been reveling in the bounty of avocados, tomatos, and in-season mangos that we “over-bought” before we left (as if that’s possible). 🙂
We set a date for our departure, based on an appropriately high tide, and got one last delivery of water and one last cleaning of the boat’s bottom. Then, two days before we were to leave, it became apparent that the weather gods were not going to play along. A seasonal pattern of very high winds, beginning in the Gulf of Mexico and funneling over the Central American isthmus (how often do you get to use *that* word!?) meant that traveling conditions would be very uncomfortable for the coming week. These winds occur in a few places, most notably Costa Rica’s Gulf of Papagayo, and are often referred to by cruising sailors as “Papagayos”. We got a taste of them when we crossed Mexico’s Gulf of Tehuantepec on the way down to El Salvador (here, they’re sometimes called “Tehuantepecers”), and we were not enthusiastic about experiencing them again. So we consulted our tide tables and chose another date, 10 days out. It was a little bit disappointing, but also a bit of a relief, because we were able to do a much better job of getting the “house” ready for the rocking and rolling of the ocean’s waves. Lots of things needed to be stashed and stowed and lashed down. This is SOP when we’re underway, but when we sit in one place for a long time things have a way of finding a new resting place. It was good to have a little more time to get everything ready to go!
On the morning of Saturday the 11th, we visited the Immigration official and the Port Captain, to officially check out of the country. In the early afternoon, we placed the dinghy onto the new chocks that were built as part of our skylight project – and promptly cracked one of them in two! They will still do the job for now, but the dinghy won’t sit as securely as we’d originally intended. 🙁 After lashing the dinghy down, we started the motor and raised the anchor (yes, the anchor, we’d moved from our mooring ball a few days in advance, to give SaM & Dave an opportunity to settle in on our mooring ball and to make sure that our anchoring system was still in working order). We headed towards the dreaded bar, following Bill and the local pilot in a panga. We were delighted to be greeted shortly before we reached the mouth of the estuary by two people in a dinghy offering a gift bottle of wine up to us – they were the same two people that we’d met the week before in the grocery store, Luis & Lorena! How very friendly and thoughtful! We were really touched!
Going over the bar, the conditions were not as tranquil as when we’d arrived, but they were perfectly manageable. We continued to follow the pilot boat always heading for waves that looked scary, but never really encountering them ourselves. We were nervous, but all turned out well. The least depth we saw was 14 feet, which compares favorably with the 11 feet we saw on the way in – we didn’t need to furrow a channel for our deep boat. 🙂 We were also pleased that there were no big crashes coming from down below as we rocked from side to side, in a manner probably not described as “gentle”, but also probably not as rough as most of our peers. We had done a good job of preparing for this crossing, securing loose items that had accumulated on shelves and counters. It was a successful crossing, and we breathed a big sigh of relief as we said our goodbyes to Bill (and he turned his attention to the other boats crossing that day who also needed his attention) and made the big turn to the left.
It was wonderful to be back on the water, sailing only under Mother Nature’s powers. We knew we were really on our way when the cell towers disappeared and we lost our internet connection. 🙂 We sailed through the night and into the next day. The winds were pretty steady and we made consistent progress, but the seas were a bit choppy and even confused for much of the time. Jonnie was excited and nervous, and had taken some Bonine to make sure that seasickness would not cause her to be miserable. It worked, but also made her very sleepy. Dan and Kathy traded watches through the night, although not much needed to be done. We encountered a few pods of dolphins that came to say hi, and had a couple of booby birds sit on our bow pulput for a while, taking a break from their time on the wing.
The sailing was good, but a little bit hard on us and the boat. After so long away from actually sailing, both the boat and us needed some time to get back in the swing of things. We had several equipment failures that were disappointing, including our new depth display, our old radar, and our newly-repaired autopilot. The new water jacket that we put on our engine’s exhaust stack to help keep the heat from the engine’s exhaust from turning the boat’s living space into a sauna ended up putting more pressure on the water system, so that there was less water circulating through the engine. The result was a nearly over-heated engine. We were able to repair the autopilot underway (it turned out to simply be a loose connection between the motor and the hydraulic pump, so reseating the set screw at the shaft fixed the problem), but learned to live with the other issues until we could stop for a while.
We sailed through another two days (and a night), and stopped in Corinto, Nicaragua’s largest port. We arrived just after sunset and night descended as we worked our way in through the channel that was well-marked with many buoys with flashing lights. It was a challenging entry, that kept all three of us carefully watching to make sure that we stayed on course. Corinto has a constant stream of freighters stopping at the two commercial docks and off-loading containers full of cargo. When ships come in, the city’s streets fill up with semi trucks ready to carry the goods away. When we came ashore in the morning we noticed that there was not a lot of other traffic in town, except that there were quite a few pedicabs trying to drum up business by taking us to the beach or around town. But we were on a mission to get ourselves checked into the country (and get a sim-card for our hotspot so we could get connected to the internet again – it had been more than 72 hours, after all!) It was nice to have an extra crew-mate, because Jonnie was able to tend the dinghy while Dan & Kathy took care of the official formalities. We parked our dinghy in a shallow area where there were a number of small pangas and other fishing boats tied up, but realized that the falling tide would leave the dinghy up high and dry by the time we got back. Over the 90 minutes we were gone, Jonnie moved the dinghy periodically as the water retreated.
Meanwhile, Dan and Kathy found the Port Captain’s office, and waited while he rounded up officials from four different offices to process us into the country. We were seated in the lobby of the Capitania, while the officials pushed papers around behind closed doors. From time to time, one of them would emerge to ask a question, ask for a signature, or send us to the bank to pay a fee and return with the receipt. Altogether it cost us about $65 to check in. Finally they told us that we were almost clear, only needing to have a brief inspection by the immigration team. These two men, in long pants and shiny leather shoes, walked back to the dinghy with us to be transported out to the boat. There was some confusion as they contemplated wading through 9″ of mud, and eventually negotiated with a guard at the neighboring commercial docks for us to pass the gate and bring the dinghy to a ramp inside their purvue. They got things done pretty quickly, but then called their boss to sign off on things. Unfortunately the boss was busy (or somehow delayed) and it took about an hour to get that approval. The Migracion officials wrote up a long report, summarizing their wide-ranging conversation with Dan, including our careers, the original cost of the boat, the observation that we had a friend we hoped to look up in San Juan del Sur, and our future travel plans. Eventually the phone-call from the main office came in, and we got the green light. We took the officials back to the dock and moved on with life. Checking out was only slightly less officious. 🙂
While in Corinto, we visited a Claro office and got a new sim-card with a Nicaraguan number for slightly more than $1 and a week’s internet package for about $8. Happy campers! We spent a couple of days catching up on our sleep and cooking some fresh meals. Dan also added a bypass to the water going through the exhaust stack, so that the pressure was reduced enough to avoid the engine over-heating problem. We wandered through the town’s streets one afternoon, and enjoyed chatting with a pedicab driver who took us back to the dinghy for less than $2. Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America. It has a lot of natural bounty and promise, but is still developing. The people seem generally content and kind-hearted, but also subdued and burdened.
We spent the next three days sailing down the coast. Even though we had tried to choose a good weather window, the Papagayo winds were blowing pretty consistently during this passage. We frequently had winds above 20 knots and choppy seas of up to a meter. One night just before sunset we had a challenging but somewhat laughable situation arise. The sheets controlling the jib caused both of the kayaks to pop out of their generally-secure grip between the life-lines and trail along with Lungta by their skinny painter lines. Since Lungta was moving pretty quickly at this point, over 5 knots, it was exciting to try to pull them back up onto the boat. One of the kayaks had flipped upside down and scooped up a good bit of water, so it was quite heavy. We ended up tying a halyard (a rope going to the top of the mast) to the kayak’s handle and using a winch to pull it up, hoping that the handle was strong enough to support all the extra weight. Once it was high enough, we bailed out as much water as we could and swung it over the deck where we were able to lash it down for the rest of the trip. It’s unlikely that this retelling comes anywhere close to conveying the tense moments we had as we dealt with this unexpected situation, trying to bring the kayaks on board without anyone getting hurt, and wondering if we were going to lose one or both of them! We’ve never had one pop off before, and it was surprising for both of them to jump off at the same time. We decided that it was likely because we had changed the angle of the jib sheets when we disassembled that space in order to varnish the caprail more than a year ago! Sitting unused has caused things on Lungta to work differently than before, both because of the inactivity and because of things that we (intentionally) changed.
When we arrived in San Juan del Sur, the souternmost port in Nicaragua, we were glad to duck out of the strong winds. We were also pleased to see a familiar name: we met Elizabeth and John on the sailboat Georgia B when they visited Bahia del Sol and left a few days before us. They had already been here for four days, and hadn’t been off their boat because of the winds. As soon as we arrived the winds moderated, but were still more than we usually see in an a harbor! We were able to get to the Port Captain’s office to check in, and we spent a little bit of time wandering the town in search of a market, partially to stock up on some fresh veggies and partially just to stretch our legs. The first night there was a Saturday, and the whole town was hopping, kind of like we imagine Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale. There were several stages set up around the bay, and the music lasted until the wee hours of the morning. Sunday there was also a lot of music, much of it featuring drumming; at different times of the day we thought we were hearing Japanese Taiko drummers and high school marching bands. Fortunately it was a special fiesta, and the town was a lot tamer after the weekend. We stayed for about four days ourselves, catching up on some projects, relaxing, and waiting for a weather window to proceed on down the coast.
We repaired tears in three of our sails, including the jib, which needed to be slipped out of its 60′ track during a calm moment and slipped back in again during another calm. We gave up on that latter point before leaving, instead travelling down to our next stop without a jib. We had a great sail from San Juan del Sur into a beautiful bay in the very north of Costa Rica, Santa Elena, where we once again ran into Georgia B. We had a lovely dinner with John & Elizabeth, and also went for an afternoon hike with them. We’re not quite travelling together, but it’s been fun playing leapfrog! We enjoyed three nights in this bay that we had all to ourselves. The night we had dinner on their boat we were thrilled to see the wake from our dinghy was completely aglow – the Jetsons have nothing on us! After we got home we stayed on deck and watched lots of fish creating luminescent splashes and trails alongside Lungta. Then we noticed something a little different and got the flashlight. It turned out to be a sea snake sinuously winding its way next to the boat. Before long, we had discovered 4 of them! One of them was coiling up like a stereotypical rattlesnake, and then unwinding. Kathy thinks this might have been a mating display. We haven’t seen these snakes since that night, so perhaps there’s something to that.
Just around the next corner we checked into Costa Rica in the town of Playas del Coco. This is an interesting combination of tourist destination and sleepy beach town. In contrast to the check-in in Nicaragua, but true to the info in our guidebook, it took an entire day to check in. We still had four stops to make, but we had to walk from one office to the next (first the Port Captain, who gave us something to take to immigration down the road, then to immigration who gave us something to bring back to the Port Captain, and finally to customs who were located a 30-minute bus ride away at the airport). We had half a dozen taxi drivers anxious to take us to the airport for $40-60, we opted to take a local bus for just over $1 apiece (that would be 695 colones). Our information about where to find customs seems to have been outdated, and we asked a tourist information guy and a security guard before we managed to get a customs official to come out from the secured area where they process arriving airline passengers. Once we got the attention of the right person, he easily understood what we needed and quickly processed our paperwork. While we were out we also tracked down a new sim-card for our phone and internet hotspot, since we are in a new country. Hooray, internet!
We spent the next 4 or 5 days moving from one sweet bay to another. We were looking for good snorkeling and few people. I’m not sure that our search is complete, but we found a few good candidates. We snorkeled at three different places, and walked one beach. We found quite a nice variety of fishes in the latest stop, Bahia Brasilito. The water in this area is very clear, and we’ve enjoyed being able to see our anchor again from on deck. The weather is quite calm, but there is a persistent swell coming in from the south. When the winds die down in the evening, the boat turns sideways to the swell and rolls from side to side, sometimes becoming annoying. So add to the criteria a bay that is protected from this swell! We’ve stopped every night, and enjoyed some beautiful sunsets. One morning, a small pod of dolphins was seen chasing a school of needle fish, perhaps 24″ each, in towards the beach. The needlefish were skipping along the water’s surface on the tips of their tails as they tried to escape. It was a dramatic show!
Our time with Jonnie has been fun. She has really participated in the galley, more than any other guest/crew we’ve had to date. She did a lot of the final provisioning, and then took the lead in managing what produce was getting near it’s useful life. She also participated in meal planning, preparation and cleanup – all much appreciated! We eat pretty well on Lungta, and Jonnie has certainly helped to maintain that standard! Kathy has particularly enjoyed doing yoga many mornings with her. Jonnie is a yoga instructor, and encouraged Kathy to give teaching a try. So the two have been trading off leading yoga sessions on the deck most mornings this last week. It’s been a real treat! Jonnie also brought a couple of books with her that we’ve been reading aloud, as a group. It’s a slower way to read, but we’ve all found it to be very enjoyable. (Future crew, take note! 🙂 ) The first book is called “The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You”, a rather obscure book that Jonnie has listed among her favorites for many years, and Dan & Kathy now include it on our lists as well! After we finished that book, we were enthusiastic about doing another. She happened to have picked up Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Lacuna”, which is a very long book, but well worth the read. Dan has even declared it his new favorite book. We finished it the night before Jonnie’s departure, after a few “marathon” sessions of reading!
At the moment we are in the town of Tamarindo, where we have just dropped Jonnie off for her return to the States. We expect to pick up our next guests, Justin and Leigh Anna. This anchorage has the strongest surf beach we’ve visited yet, and we may end up swimming out to our dinghy rather than run it up and over the breaking waves. Always something new… It’s a good life!