We’ve spent the better part of a month on the Nicoya Peninsula in northern Costa Rica. It’s a highly touristed region, with numerous small towns packed with hostels, cafes and surfing waves. We enjoy that scene in small doses, but tend to seek out the less visited corners.
At the beginning of the month we met our new crew, Leigh Anna and Justin, in Tamarindo, one of the busy towns. Their bus broke down an hour before arriving, so they shared a taxi with a couple of other stranded passengers. They arrived just at sunset – whew! We got a ride from a tour boat tender out to our anchored dinghy and made it home just before dark. We chose to reverse our course for the week, so that we could spend our time together relaxing and playing in places we already knew. We spent 4 nights in Bahia Guacamaya, where the snorkeling was very nice (much better than our first visit!). Justin and Dan spent an afternoon playing with the windsurfer, and came home exhausted! We swam to a nice beach one day, where we thought we might have a bonfire, but never got around to it. It was one of those lazy times where you recharge your batteries but don’t have much to say for yourself. We ate well, we slept well. The end of the week loomed quickly, so we moved to Bahia Culebra, a large bay near the town where they would leave us, and made the short hop the next morning with a marvelous sail. They had a scheduled family visit, and made plans to join us
After they left, we resumed our southward travel. We made a long jump, including an all-nighter, around the bottom of the peninsula to a big bay called Bahia Ballena. As we sailed into the bay in the late afternoon, we noticed some splashes nearby that turned out to be the small manta rays that we saw throughout Mexico. These guys jump frequently and apparently joyously. We once experienced a magical morning near Isla San Francisco, north of La Paz, when hundreds of them were leaping all around the bay. It was somewhere between watching a ballet and watching a pot of popcorn. The more recent event was the most well-attended that we’ve seen in more than five years! There were dozens of them leaping in small groups, all around the entrance to the bay, but not inside. A wonderful sight to behold!
As we approached the anchorage in the Eastern corner of the bay, we noticed that there were already four boats there. We sailed in behind them, dropped our anchor and went to bed. The next morning we saw a lot of activity on the closest beach. We went ashore later in the day, and met a Costa Rican man from one of the sailboats and his 9-year-old son. Adrian and his wife Elena live in the capital city, San José, but keep their boat, Pura Vela, in Puntarenas. His mother was also with them for the holiday week. We had a pleasant conversation before helping him launch his dinghy. Shortly afterwards we met an American ex-pat who owns some land at that end of the bay. He and his wife had a lot of family visiting for the Easter weekend, so he didn’t spend a lot of time with us, but promised to come by later in the week. We enjoyed both of these encounters and suddenly felt part of a transitory community again. That night, we heard music wafting over the water that came from an electric keyboard mounted in a mini amphitheater halfway up the hillside. It was a one-man concert, and it was very good!
A couple of days after we arrived, the Easter holiday was over and the crowds dissipated. We heard that one of the nearby boats, Estrella, housed a Dutch couple and their 1-year-old son, and that they were preparing to cross the Pacific in the next few days. We stopped by one evening to wish them well, and had yet another very nice hit from the conversation. The next day they relocated to the other side of the bay in order to be closer to the town where provisioning would be easier. We were alone in our anchorage, and remained that way for the rest of our stay, another week!
We slept on deck most of that time, enjoying the cool night air and waking up to the odd calls of the howler monkeys. These guys inhabit the treetops throughout most of Costa Rica, communicating with other troops with throaty cries that sound like something between the rumble
of thunder and a Wookie (from Star Wars). We haven’t seen them here yet, but we saw them last year in Peru’s Amazon jungle and two years ago in Guatemala’s Tikal ruins. We continue to hear them most evenings as we head further down the coast.
There is a small town on the other side of the bay – about 8 miles away! We dinghied over there several times and left our dinghy tied up to a big pier that is primarily used by the fishing pangas. It doesn’t float with the tides, so after being gone for a couple of hours we had to figure out how to get in the dinghy that was now 3 or 4 feet lower than when we had arrived! One time the boat had swung around to the other side of the pier and was completely out of view – we were very nervous as we walked back along the shore that it had gone missing. What a relief to finally see it as we reached the pier! On Saturdays there is a wonderful organic market in this town. We dinghied over first thing and wandered through the rows of boxes, oohing and aahing over the basil, dill weed, kale, squash – what variety! We’ve made pesto and frozen it for many future meals, and started some dill pickles that didn’t last nearly as long. We also took a bus to the next larger town, Cobano, several times. We ended up making three trips in to get a replacement inner tube for our dinghy’s wheel. It’s been sometimes inconvenient to be unable to bring our dinghy up the beach away from breaking waves and rising (or falling) tides! We thought that the hardware store had special ordered the right size for us. The first time we tried to pick it up, the bus was much later than we expected. We were told that it runs every 40 minutes, but in fact it’s about 2 hours in between – you don’t want to miss it by just a few minutes! By the time we arrived, the hardware store had closed, after their short Saturday hours. When we returned on Monday, we realized that there had been a miscommunication – the tubes they had were 2″ too big for our wheels. Isn’t life hard?
We also took the bus one day to another beach town a bit further away, called Montezuma. This town is known for having a nice series of waterfalls nearby, with one that has a cliff that adventurous tourists jump off! We started to walk there, but one of Dan’s flip-flops broke only a quarter mile down the trail. He limped back to the road while Kathy went ahead to see the the first of the falls. It was a nice enough trail and a pretty cascade, but much more crowded than we would have hoped for. There will be others down the road… On one of our trips into Cobano, we ran into the folks from Estrella, doing their final provisioning before crossing to the Marquesas Islands. We had a heart-felt conversation together on the way back to the bay, and expect to meet up with them again next year in New Zealand.
When we went to the Saturday market, we met the woman who owns the land at our end of the bay. When we mentioned that we were thinking of moving on to the next bay because we wanted to do some hiking, she invited us to use the trails on her property. The world is full of kind and generous people; we are lucky to have met quite a few of them! We spent a great morning wandering on the trails and roads behind their home. Some of it looked over the rocky coast beyond our bay, some of it out towards a jungle valley, and some out over our own bay. We saw lots of pretty birds, including a motmot, which has a tail with feathers that narrow down to a thread before flaring out again to form a distinctive round marker. We saw more iguanas and lizards than we could count, and one skinny snake that wasn’t happy to be seen. We were pleasantly exhausted when we returned home – we haven’t been hiking much lately, and we’d like to correct that situation!
We stayed in contact with the family on Pura Vela, and arranged to meet them for the weekend at another bay about 15 miles away. We had a wonderful day’s sail across the Gulf of Nicoya to Punta Leona, where their family owns a beautiful house with an astounding view of the bay. We dinghied ashore in the morning and met Adrián, Elena and Felipe on the beach. We had a lovely “tipico” breakfast along with Adrián’s father and brother. Delightfully warm people! After breakfast, the five of us piled into the dinghy (along with a surprising amount of baggage!) and headed out to Lungta to begin our weekend adventure, sailing 40 miles south, to Quepos. This was the first time the family had done an overnight passage together (although Adrián had done one before, when he relocated the boat a year ago). They have owned their boat for about three years, but knew absolutely nothing about sailing when they got it. They spent every weekend for the first year just figuring it out. And they continue to figure it out, just at a higher level. (Isn’t that what we all do, throughout life?) We sailed through Saturday and Saturday night, and arrived mid-morning Sunday. Overall, it was a pleasant passage, with many hours of perfect sailing winds, but also a reasonable number of hours where there wasn’t as much wind as we would have liked or not coming from the right direction.
When we arrived in Quepos, we anchored out in the very rolly anchorage outside the entrance to the fancy marina. We tried to find a way to get to town, but had a frustrating experience – both the marina and the “public pier” told us that we couldn’t use their dock to come ashore with our dinghy. The coast along this area is mostly rocky, even cliff-like. And the beach near town has waves breaking a long way – with surfers enjoying the ride! We learned that there is an estuary where the town’s fishing boats are kept, but it took a while for us to figure out how to get in! There’s a deep channel running along the beach inside the breaking waves, which heads right into the estuary entrance. To get to that channel, small boats can sneak along the breakwater of the marina which runs perpendicular to the beach and roughly forty-five degrees off of the “usual” swell, creating a shadow of sorts. In the right swell and tide conditions, we can hug the breakwater, take a sharp left to follow the channel along the rocky coast into the estuary. There is no formal place to leave a dinghy, but we’ve tried tying off to a boat in a small boatyard and paying the workers to watch it for us, and also tying to a barricade near a stairway that’s been carved into the 15′ cliff along the roadcliff and leaving the dinghy floating in the channel at the entrance to the estuary. Both techniques have worked for us, but both feel a little insecure. Before we figured this out, though, we were a bit discouraged.
We decided that the rolly anchorage wasn’t a place we wanted to hang out with our friends, so we moved a mile down the coast to another anchorage that was snuggled into the crook of a point. This nook is reportedly inaccessible by road, but lots of tourist boats bring visitors daily to snorkel, kayak or sunbathe on a small beach. And we have the place all to ourselves in the evenings. On Sunday we spent a couple of hours playing in the waves along one small beach. It was really sweet watching Adrian toss his boy over the waves that were breaking onto the beach behind them. Adrian decided he wanted to jump off the boat, from the tip of the bowsprit, and he invited Felipe to join him. It was very cute watching the two of them jump, then climb out on the swim ladder, only to go back to the sprit and jump again! Felipe is a bit shy, so it was particularly endearing to see him enjoy himself unabashedly. Elena donned a windsurfing jacket and floated nearby, watching her two boys leap and squeal (well, one of her boys squealed anyhow), and calling encouraging support. Elena brought plenty of food along to feed all of us, and offered snacks at just the right moments. She also brought all the towels and bedding that her family would need; we teased her about bringing so much baggage, but her thoughtfulness was certainly appreciated.
Monday morning we picked up our crew Justin & Leigh Anna again. (The “public” pier denied us the privilege of allowing them to walk down to the dinghy, and we had to figure out the channel into the estuary and have them walk to meet us. Sheesh!) After they got settled on the boat again, all seven of us spent some time playing in the water near the boat, including some fun time pulling the windsurfer behind the dinghy and trying to surf. Late that afternoon, Dan repeated the trip to the estuary channel, carrying Adrian and family and their luggage back to town to meet Adrian’s father for the ride back home. We had such a nice time with them that it was sad to see them go.
Since their departure we’ve spent another week near Quepos. Since the anchorage has a swell rolling in pretty continuously, we’ve set out a stern anchor, a smaller anchor attached to our stern to keep us pointed in the direction of the swell, instead of allowing us to swing sideways which makes for a rolly night. Unfortunately, the anchor seems to have ideas of its own. It’s because the bottom of the anchorage is soft sand, and the anchor isn’t catching hold. The anchor is being dragged back and forth following the boat as it swings according to the current and wind. It’s actually pretty funny. We’ve tried three times to reseat the anchor, but so far no luck. Sometimes we say that sleeping on Lungta is like being a baby rocked to sleep, but this is a little more dramatic.
May 1st marks the “official” start to the rainy season, and the weather has indeed changed dramatically in the last few weeks. Right now, regardless of the morning’s weather (which varies widely from day to day), we’re getting rain – often *lots* of rain – every afternoon beginning at 4. Sometimes it only drizzles, most of the time it’s a downpour, and sometimes it lasts all night! It kinda reminds us of Portland! We’ve still got a few leaks in our ceilings, but we’re quickly tracking them down!
We’ve been looking for a place to haul our boat out of the water, in order to paint the bottom, since before we even arrived in El Salvador. We were excited to learn that the marina here in Quepos has a brand new boatyard, with a huge TravelLift – rated at 200 tons! That’s more than enough to haul Lungta’s 64 tons, and the largest we’ve ever seen. We’re looking into hauling out here, but have not yet got all the details sorted out. The final sticking point seems to be finding a liability insurance policy, which is required by the marina. Most of the companies we’ve talked with in the last week will only sell liability insurance as a package along with full insurance, but they don’t want to insure this big old boat (mostly because it is a one-off cement hull, which is difficult to assess, and it’s not part of a population of boats with a similar history). We have a few more leads, but it’s starting to look less and less likely. While it would be wonderful to have a newly painted hull, it will certainly not disappoint us to be able to move a bit further south to where there are a couple of national parks that sound amazing… It’s all good!