19/12/2014, Bahia de Sol, El Salvador
We've spent most of this week enjoying the beach, hotel pools & the friendly folk of El Salvador. We wandered up the road to the village of La Puntilla to have a seafood lunch of fried fish, prawns, salad & thick tortillas on the beach while watching fishing boats cross the river bar. Then bought a cold beer & relaxed in their hammocks strung from the roof.
Wednesday afternoon we left the marina & anchored in the estuary to save a bit of cash. We took the dinghy up through the mangroves to La Herradura - an unspoiled & authentic country town. We had a long walk up the street which was crowded with small tiendas (basic supermarket), pharmacies & pupuserias. The pupusa is the national food dish of El Salvador. They are thick hand made tortillas of corn or rice flour stuffed with shredded meat, cheese or beans or other combinations. They are cooked on a large flat grill & are really yummy, cheap & filling. We had a lovely dinner of ribs & cheese pupusa with Bill & Jean on Wednesday night in their home on Isla Cordoncillo - an island in the middle of the estuary. Many of the local fishermen also live on the island & it is completely without any services, electricity, water etc. The locals are quiet poor but happy to interact with cruisers & sometimes during the summer months will come by your boat to sell the local estuary shrimp.
Yesterday we spent the day touring with a local guide, Dionisio. He was recommended by Bill & was a wealth of knowledge. Our first stop was Joya de Ceren - a UNESCO world heritage site of Mayan ruins which stretches over nearly 3 kilometres. A number of structures have been uncovered & work is still progressing. Further down the road was the Ceremonial Centre of the Mayans, San Andres. This was a big pyramid where ceremonies were held & meeting grounds for the Mayans to trade & exchange goods. Visited the beautiful cathedral in Santa Ana - 2nd largest city in El Salvador. We finished the tour with a late lunch overlooking Lago de Coatepeque - a volcanic crater lake - which was stunning. There are 23 volcanoes in El Salvador, 7 are still active. On the way back to Bahia de Sol we stopped at the pupuseria stalls on the highway near San Salvador (the capital) & grabbed a couple of takeaway pupusas for dinner.
Sadly we are heading off to Mexico tomorrow. El Salvador has been fantastic & we definitely want to return in the future.
15/12/2014, Bahia del Sol
Our rudder bearing can only be accessed from below, so we will haul out in Mexico before our departure across to the Pacific. It isn't causing any immediate problems at the moment so we will wait.
Thursday morning we left for Bahia Santa Elena - a large bay some 50 miles north of Playa de Coco. We had to cross the notorious Golfo De Papagayo known for its high winds & sharp waves. The Papagayo wind is a north to northeasterly wind which periodically blows through the gap in the mountain ranges of Costa Rica near Lake Nicaragua. We experienced 35 knot winds with 50 knot gusts & got completely hammered. While we were battling against the wind our winch which holds the headsail furling line gave way & we had a full headsail flapping around in this wind! Not fun with the huge gusts bashing us every minute or so. We managed to get it in & tie off to the stern cleat with no damage to the sail or to us. We also lost our auto pilot at the same time! We had a slow 3 knot bash into the wind & waves as we made our way up Cabo Santa Elena & into the bay. We had it all to ourselves apart from 2 fishing boats that whizzed past at one stage. Spent the afternoon trying to fix the auto pilot with not much luck. In the end Steve took out the flux compass & turned it 180 degrees to get the correct reading on the instrument panel. The auto pilot worked fine after that - not exactly to fix we were looking for though.
Friday we headed off to El Salvador in the same 30 knot winds but going in a much more comfortable direction. Had a great sail that day doing 7 - 8 knots. The wind died down however & we spent most of Saturday & Saturday night motor sailing.
Arrived at Bahia del Sol around 7.30am yesterday morning. The anchorage is in an estuary which is accessible over the river bar at high tide. We called & waited for the bar pilot & his American interpreter, Bill, to arrive then had a quick & thankfully uneventful motor over the bar & down the marina next to Hotel Bahia del Sol. Bill & his partner jean have been living here in El Salvador full time for the past 4 years. Bill organises the El Salvador Rally for Cruisers from La Paz in Mexico each year. It's a really lovely spot here & checking into El Salvador was no hassle. Immigration was painless, but a US$10 charge per person. We will see the Port Captain on Tuesday. The Hotel Bahia del Sol has a 'Cruiser's Club' - a boat pays US$14 per week to use the hotel's swimming pools, showers, $1 local beers, 30% discount on food & beverage in the restaurants, cheap laundry service, wifi & rubbish disposal. Pretty good deal we thought! After a 2 hour sleep we joined some other cruisers here at the dock, Nancy & Sven, Bill, Jean & another Bill from Oregon at a get together for drinks & a swim at Lyn & Lou's place. They have retired here in Bahia de Sol in a beautiful house on the estuary & open their home each Sunday to visiting cruisers. We had a great time chatting & getting information for our trip up Mexico.
On our return to PANNIKIN it was a quick dinner then bed. Buggered!
Today has been spent cleaning up PANNIKIN & still trying to repair the auto pilot. At this stage Steve reckons the electrics are fried! Oh well... off to the pool for a swim...better try one of those $1 local beers as well!
10/12/2014, Playa del Coco, Costa Rica
Took us 39 hours to reach Playa de Coco - 10 hours sailing & 29 hours motoring - what a bugger! There was just no wind. Arrived into Coco about 11pm Monday night tired & ready for a big sleep.
Yesterday we caught up with Marc & Isobelle on their yacht SPIRIT OF THE OCEAN. We met them in Isla Linton in Panama early in November. They have been in Costa Rica for 5 years running a charter business with their yacht. They kindly took us on a road trip in their old kombi to a beautiful water fall for a swim & to a monkey refuge where injured & young monkeys are rehabilitated, then set free. We finished the day with a great dinner at 'Father Rooster.' Playa de Coco is a really cool place - lots of tourists, but very laid back.
Today we are trying to get a look at the top rudder bearing which was making a clunking sound as we sailed here on Monday night. Without the correct tools we are having a hard time getting it out & frustration is high! If it needs replacing it will delay our departure for El Salvador....
06/12/2014, Land Sea Services, Golfito
Sunday we took the tender into the village of Santa Catalina - it's very laid back with plenty of surfers & divers around, staying in the small hostels & home stays. We shouted ourselves to a chicken & fish lunch at a restaurant on the beach & had a good wander around. Every now & then a bloke on his horse would pop out of the scrub, trot down the beach to the village - one guy even had his gas bottle strapped to his saddle, must have needed refilling. The terrain on the south coast of Panama his pretty steep & rugged with heaps of rainforest, perhaps this is the best way (& maybe only way) to get around!
Monday we picked up anchor early & headed to the Secas Islands where we anchored off Isla Cavada. These islands are north of the Coiba National Park & are just as beautiful without the hefty anchoring & park fees. Isla Cavada has been developed - has an airstrip & a resort with luxury tents at $600+ a night - we didn't see anyone on shore! The water was really clear & blue, the nicest we've seen for a while.
Tuesday was another early start & unfortunately a whole day of motoring to get us to Puerto Armuelles, our check out point for Panama. We arrived just on dark & anchored near a huge jetty which is no longer used apart from fishermen. Shortly after our arrival we were visited by a boat containing the local AMP (Maritime Authority) guy & his offsider. They wanted to see our paperwork assuming we were checking into Panama. When we explained we were wanting to check out they expressed their surprise at the lack of paperwork we had been given at our Porvenir (San Blas) check in. All we had was our cruising permit & receipts from Immigration saying we paid our $100 check in fee. Apparently we also were supposed to have a National Zarpe indicating our intention to cruise through Panama & also a form from Quarantine & Customs. We knew nothing of this & explained that Porvenir had only provided the cruising permit - there is no Quarantine or Customs at Porvenir. After offering the guys a beer - they took a Coke each - we arranged to meet at his office the next day at 9am to get all this sorted out.
After another beach landing in the dinghy we head to the AMP office in Armuelles to start the never ending process of paperwork. Renaldo ended up being a really nice guy. He drove us to Immigration & then took us on a tour of his town which he was very proud of pointing out the best supermarket, airport, fire station & hospital. Then we had to visit Quarantine, Customs & the Merchant marine office before finally ending back at the AMP office. It took 3 hours! So much paperwork....doing 4 copies of each!! Finally we had all the necessary stuff to leave Panama. We walked down through town & found a small cafe (hole in the wall really) & celebrated with a hamburger each & a big bottle of water. Our cheapest lunch yet - only $4.75!! We love Panama!! After grabbing a few groceries we headed back to PANNIKIN, upped anchor & sailed down the coast under pouring rain to Punta Balsa where we anchored for the night.
Thursday was another long day of motoring due to no wind. We left Panama behind & now are in Costa Rica. We arrived at the surf spot called Pavones late afternoon - it is one of Costa Rica's longest left waves. Again much to Steve's despair there was not much swell & no waves. There were a couple of guys out having not much luck so we continued on to the town of Golfito. It was absolutely pouring when we arrived & nearly dark. We anchored off the 3 small marinas & cracked a beer.
Friday was another day of paperwork. We met Mark & Kathy from SWEET CHARIOT at the Land Sea Services dock & decided to do our paperwork together. They are heading south to Panama & then through the Canal to the San Blas. Land Sea Services is where most cruisers go - Tim & Katie have been in Costa Rica for 20 years & have basically expanded their home to accommodate cruisers. We were able to leave our tender at their dock & we moved PANNIKIN to one of their mooring balls to feel a bit safer. Costa Rica is notorious for crime & having PANNIKIN closer to shore & in the line of security lights made us happier. Land Sea provides a dinghy dock, showers, wifi, cruisers clubhouse, laundry service & a self serve fridge stocked with beer! There are four mooring balls at $12 per night for first seven nights & then $10 per night after that. While we were chatting with Tim about check in procedures he spotted a huge crocodile swimming through the bay. He'd never seen one that big so close to town - it was about 12 feet! Welcome to Costa Rica!!! Once we had PANNIKIN moored it was time to set off with Mark & Kathy to do our check in paperwork. We decided to walk instead of taking the bus or a taxi so it took us most of the day! Again four copies of passports, boat rego papers, crew list, zarpe etc etc etc were needed - a complete paperwork nightmare - immigration, Customs & then Port Authority captain (who had mysteriously disappeared much to his secretary's distress!). More waiting there. We stopped at the Banco National for Mark & Kathy to pay their Costa Rica exit fee. It took an hour before they were served - only 1 teller! Now we understand why the bank had toilets & free coffee! . Everyone was very friendly though & we did get to see most of the town. Steve attempted to get a sim card for internet - that was the easy part - trying to get credit for the sim card was not! After a very late lunch at a great little cafe we headed back to PANNIKIN to catch up on emails. After feeding a gigantic green turtle bananas from the dock it was happy hour drinks at Land Sea at 6pm where we chatted to Mark & Kathy about Panama & the San Blas. Showed them where we have anchored & stuff so hopefully they have a bit more information now. They also started to tell us about El Salvador & Mexico.
This morning after a cuppa we were invited onto SWEET CHARIOT to discuss more about Mexico. Mark & Kathy gave us one of their Mexican cruising guides which is really lovely of them. We've got all their favourite places marked & now we have an idea of where to go & what to see. Thank you so much guys!
At the moment Steve is off again trying to get credit for the phone while I catch up on computer work. We have to fuel the boat & get some groceries before heading off in the morning. Hopefully our laundry will be back this afternoon. I can hear the howler monkeys calling nearby! Lots of wildlife in Costa Rica!
29/11/2014, Santa Catalina, Panama
We headed off from Las Brisas around 8.30am on Tuesday & had a great sail to the island of Isla Otoque about 20 miles away. Our plan was to have a rest here during the afternoon, dinner & then continue sailing onto Ensenada Benao overnight. Around 3pm a huge storm blew up with lightning, wind & lots of rain & it was still raging when night fell. We went to sleep instead & got up at 1am to continue our journey. Arrived at Benao around 4pm Wednesday, anchored & had a beer. This bay is one of Panama's premier surf spots (beach break) with a few hotels & a hostel scattered around the bay.
Thursday we had a nice sleep in then headed ashore for a big walk. We went back for a drink at Selina Hostel at 4pm & watched all the surfers coming & going. It was fun landing the dinghy on a beach that actually had waves & even more fun getting back out through them on the way back to the boat! Steve didn't have a surf there - waves were small & messy.
Friday we were up at 5.30am for a big day of sailing to Ensenada Naranjo. We spent a lot of time under spinnaker & had a great day. Lots of dolphins & birds...we even saw another yacht... heading south to Panama City. We anchored in the bay of Bahia Arenas which had a lovely beach & lots of rainforest to look at. We've been surprised how the beautiful the coast has been in Panama with high rainforest covered hills, green farming areas and some rugged coastline.
Today we had a shorter sail to Santa Catalina, another surf spot, but no swell which is disappointing. We are anchored off Isla Santa Catalina & will spend tonight, maybe two, depending on the surf (& there's a pizza restaurant onshore)!
24/11/2014, Las Brisas anchorage, Panama City
Our transit through the canal went smoothly with no problems. On Wednesday our advisor, Roy, was dropped to the boat at the 'The Flats' at around 4pm. He was really lovely & explained what we needed to do & what to expect during the Gatun locks. We then proceeded to the first lock where a really big tanker was already waiting. We snuck in behind it & did our first line handle. Two line handlers on each side of the lock walls throw down a rope which has a 'monkey fist' attached. This is a steel ball covered by rope - makes throwing the rope easier but could be painful if it hits you! We tie their ropes onto ours at bow & stern on both sides of the boat. The line handlers on the locks then pull our ropes up to the lock wall. They are secured over large bollards & we then have control on the boat how tight or slack the ropes should be. Once we were secure the lock started to fill - the water really swirling as we were lifted higher. We needed to keep our lines nice & tight so PANNIKIN didn't move about & head towards one of the lock walls. When the lock was full the gates opened & we motored to the next chamber with our lock line handlers walking our ropes alongside. We needed to be careful of the propeller wash from the tanker as it could push us around really easily. But all went well. We did this 3 times and then were in the Gatun Lake where we stayed overnight tied to a large buoy. From start to finish it took about 3 hours. Our advisor departed after a quick bite of dinner & we had a few drinks while our dinner was cooking. There were a heap of tankers & container ships anchored as well waiting for their turn to go down the locks into the Atlantic.
Thursday morning we were up early for breakfast & waiting for our new advisor who arrived at 8am. We set off straight away motoring through Gatun Lake meeting tankers & container ships heading to the Atlantic locks. Most of these were boats called a 'Panamax' - the largest boat which can fit through the locks. The new canal & chambers under construction will be longer & wider as the ships today are being made even bigger. It took us about 4 ½ hours to motor through Gatun Lake & the Gaillard Cut arriving at Pedro Miguel lock around 12.30pm. Once we were secured in the lock we had a chance to have a bite to eat as we waited for the container ship which was to be our lock buddy this time. We were tied in front this time so no need to worry about his propeller wash. Once the ship was in place the chamber water began to lower - we were being dropped down in height this time. It was much easier on the arms just having to ease the ropes as we lowered rather than hauling the ropes up tighter at Gatun locks. We motored through Miraflores Lake to the last two chambers - Miraflores Locks. Again we went in first, were secured & then waited for the container ship. There is a really big visitor's centre overlooking these locks & the amount of people there was amazing. The Panama Canal is big business! We went through the final locks & were in the Pacific! Goodbye Caribbean! There was a big crocodile on the banks of the canal as we headed to Balboa Yacht Club to leave our extra ropes & tyre fenders. They are protected in Panama & are plentiful in Gatun Lake although we didn't see any. We tied up to a mooring ball & said goodbye to our great crew who were off to have a look at Panama City for a few days. A big thank you to Maria, Anja & Bozo (pronounced Borjo) for their help during the transit. We hope you had a great time! We continued to the anchorage called Las Brisas on the eastern side of the causeway near Panama City. It was great to drop the anchor, have a beer & relax. What an adventure!
Friday we contacted a taxi driver who was recommended to us by Rob at Isla Linton. Jorge (pronounced Hor- hey) took us into the city to do a heap of jobs we needed to get done. Panama City has everything you need, but where to find it is the problem - the city is huge. Jorje made it so much easier & was able to translate when the language barrier got difficult. Taxis are very cheap & we hired Jorje for the standard rate of $10 an hour. From the anchorage to the city is only $5 - quick & easy.
Saturday we braved the rain & headed to Albrook Mall - the largest shopping centre in Latin America. It's that big you get a map when you enter! Thousands of shops, cinema, 10 pin bowling, its own hotel....you name it. We had a wander, bought a few things & organised some internet credit.
Yesterday we went to the Old Town which is really lovely. It's a World Heritage Site & slowly the government is renovating the area. Beautiful homes, churches, plazas & museums. We ran into Maria there which was a nice surprise. Back to the boat after lunch to catch up on computer work & emails.
Today we are going to Price Smart with Jorge to stock up on groceries & beer. Price Smart is a bulk buy type of place. Jorge has been nice enough to offer his membership card for us to use.
Hopefully we will be leaving tomorrow - heading north.