Saturday July 2 - Tuesday July 5 When we first realized we wouldn't make Galapagos and crossing the Pacific this year (given our late start from California) we thought we'd stop in Ecuador and put the boat up there, but as we reported earlier, we met some folks from Ecuador who discouraged us from doing that given some new legislation. Our next plan was to go as far as Panama but we found that the options for storing the boat on the Pacific side are few. The one that seemed reasonable didn't have room for us and in fact had a waiting list. So we asked ourselves, why not just stop right here in Costa Rica. This area is very protected from severe weather. We would have loved to leave the boat with Tim at Land Sea, but he only has moorings - no slips- and thus isn't allowed to 'bond' boats. Since we would be leaving the boat for about 4 months (and thus beyond the limits of a 90 day cruising permit for this country) we needed to 'bond' it - meaning get it in a slip under the care of a marina and promise not to move the boat at all during that bonding period. Having investigated the three marinas in Golfito, we decided on Fish Hook marina right next door to Land Sea. It's considerably more expensive than a mooring but we essentially ran out of options.
Wednesday July 6 - Sunday July 10 To complicate matters, our 30-day visas for Costa Rica expire on July 7 and we needed a few more days to get Libertad and ourselves ready for our return to the USA. We needed to exit Costa Rica by July 7 or get a daily fine for exceeding our visa. So we decided to take a land trip across the border to Panama. We needed to stay there for at least 72 hours before returning to Costa Rica so that we could get a new 30-day visa. We took the bus to David, the second largest city in Panama, and did more shopping for our microwave and icemaker. We bought an icemaker at Price Smart (like a Costco, requiring a membership card). Dennis approached two women at the entrance, flashed them a smile with his dimples, and they agreed to let him use their card. The first night in David, we stayed at the Mirage Hotel and Casino. It was recommended in one of our cruising books, convenient as the bus into town passed right by it and it was very cheap ($27/night). Clearly someone staying there would have been more interested in enjoying the casino than the room. It was a tiny with no window and a humidifier that put more water into the air than it extracted (our clothes hanging in the closets were wet in the morning). It smelled of strong bleach and mildew and caused Virginia's headache to flare up. We didn't get any sleep because someone was blaring their TV all night long. Needless to say we got out of there first thing in the morning and moved into the Castilla Hotel. It was very nice. It was located right off of the Central Plaza with lots of shopping and restaurants within walking distance. It advertised $55/night, but when they found out we were not Panamanians, they gave us the tourist rate of $33.50/night. We hadn't heard of tourists having a lower rate before! We had quite a pleasant stay there. Chris and Paul from s/v Jeorgia joined us there on Friday. On a previous shopping spree, Dennis had spotted a small, hole-in-the-wall hat shop. Upon hearing that, Paul said he was particularly interested in obtaining a classic Panama hat. After wandering the streets a while, we just happened to recognize the hat shop owner on the sidewalk and followed him back to the shop. After trying on several styles and sizes, Paul found his hat and wore it for the rest of the trip, getting admiring comments daily.
The four of us decided to book a few days in a mountain resort in the nearby city of Boquete. After an hour bus ride through the Panamanian foothills we arrived at the Boquete Garden Inn, 3000 feet above sea level. For three days, we enjoyed cooler weather with much less humidity. It rained every day but did not deter us from what whatever we decided to do. This was another very nice hotel with beautiful grounds. They set fruit on some of the statuary to attract birds and we saw some lovely birds in these spots. We rented a car one day and drove all around the area to a waterfall, 'castle' (large house abandoned during construction about 16 years ago), fincas (coffee plantations), agricultural areas (potatoes and onions were being harvested but we understand they grow other things in this area including citrus). We visited a wildlife refuge and were able to walk into the cages and see some of the animals up close and personal that were hard to photo in the wild. The locals had quite a range of housing. Many were subsistence farmers living in small shacks of poles and corrugated sheet metal while others were in more substantial houses made of a variety of conventional construction materials. High up on the hillsides and ridges were very large, in some cases quite ostentatious, houses which looked quite out of place. Evidently in 2001 some magazine declared Boquete one of the top 4 places in the world to retire which resulted in an influx of foreign retirees buying up land and building their dream homes here. We also stopped by a fresa (strawberry) stand for a snack - delicious strawberry yogurt, juice, fresa con crema, and strawberry splits (we each tried something different).
Monday, July 11 we went back across the border, getting a new 30-day visa for Costa Rica, and returned to the boat. This time Paul negotiated a less-than-the-going-rate, 40 minute taxi ride back to Golfito rather than the 2 hour bus ride we had experienced previously. A real treat for Dennis as he was carrying the ice maker we had purchased. Tomorrow we will spend time preparing the boat to be locked up for a few months: cleaning out all perishable food, setting up a dehumidifier which we are renting from Tim, packing broken parts we want to take home for repair, etc. We fly out Wednesday July 13 and look forward to seeing all our family and friends in California. At this time we are planning on returning to the boat late November, but we've learned to remain flexible - plans change, again and again.
Friday June 24 - Tuesday June 28We took a few days after our adventures with Dennis' brother Greg to catch up on chores and boat projects. For the first time, we had run out of propane, so we were looking at some cold meals unless we got some more quick. A few bus and taxi trips were required. We took the bus to Ciudad Neilly to turn our burned out alternator into a repair shop and the nearest place to get a propane refill was on the way (quite a heavy and awkward load for Dennis to take on the bus -especially since the bus driver is not supposed to let you on the bus with a flammable container, so he had to carry it concealed in a large gym bag). Also took a bus to Paso Canoas, which is at the border of Panama and Costa Rica. There is a duty-free shopping zone there. It's an interesting area. The town is precisely on the border between the two countries with no physical separation (i.e. wall, fence, etc.). In fact, one side of the main street is considered Costa Rica while the other is Panama. So it's easy to understand why the area is considered duty-free, there's no way to really control the movement of goods. We were looking for a microwave and icemaker - two appliances that will be helpful in keeping our boat and us cooler in the tropical areas (less cooking on the propane stove which heats up the salon and guaranteed cold drinks). Priced things, but didn't buy anything.
Back in Golfito for happy hour that evening, we learned that Katie and Tim that run the Land Sea Marina where we are moored are from Santa Barbara. She went to college at Westmont and after his time in the service Tim attended the SBCC Dive program. They are wonderful folk and have really created a comfortable stop for cruisers. Having done a lot of sailing themselves, they know what we need: internet, laundry service, advice about local services and official procedures, boat sitting when you do a land trip, a comfortable spot to gather with other cruisers. Anybody cruising in this area really should make a stop here. When we arrived in Golfito, a Dockwise Yacht Transport (www.yacht-transport.com) was there to take on some boats. This stimulated speculation on how we might make the passage past the Somalia pirates and through the Suez Canal.
Wednesday June 29 - Thursday June 30We took another land trip - this one a jungle adventure. Carolyn and Tom of s/v Sunny Side Up and Chris and Paul of s/v Jeorgia went too. We took a water taxi to Puerto Jimenez which is near the entrance of Gulfe Dolce, on the tip of the Osa Peninsula. We then took a 45 minute 4-wheel drive taxi ride on a wash-board dirt road to Encanta la Vida - a resort in the middle of the jungle just outside Corcovado National Park. It was a bit isolated and so three meals a day were included in the room fee. We had the upstairs room in a 2-room cabana. It had mosquito nets on the beds which we did use because although we didn't notice mosquitoes in particular there were plenty of other bugs flying around. It wasn't an open-air room, it had walls and a roof, but it was very rustic and fitting for the location. We had a large veranda outside our front door with a hammock, rocking chairs, padded sofa. We spent a lot of time out there watching for wildlife as at that height we were closer to the canopy. And we saw lots of animals. It was fantastic. The monkey video that we have posted with this blog was taken from our veranda. Some of the monkeys were just a foot or so away. It was awesome. It was safe on the veranda, but if you were standing on the ground below with no roof overhead, you might have gotten hit with some of the sticks, leaves, and other jungle rubbish that they were throwing down from the trees. They were so playful. While at Encanta la Vida we saw squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys, and the white-faced capuchins that we captured on the video. The fourth type of monkey in Costa Rica is the howler. We aren't sure we saw any of these, but in the early morning (3am) they would be in the trees just above our cabana doing their howling, loud enough to wake us all up - it was amazing. On the property we also saw red macaws flying in pairs (they mate for life), flocks of noisy parrots overhead, other colorful birds, numerous types of lizards (in the middle of the path to the office, a large iguana would greet us and then duck into his den under a rock), a coati (?), and butterflies. The blue morpho alluded us, but we did find one beautiful blue wing on one of our hikes and snapped a photo. The grounds were beautiful and they weren't landscape plantings, it was natural jungle flora. Absolutely fabulous.
We took several hikes: to the nearby beaches, to another resort on the peak of the nearby hills where they had a lovely view, and our longest hike was to a waterfall which had plenty of watershed given we are here in the 'green' (aka rainy) season. It was 60 ft. high; swimming in the pool at the foot of the falls and standing in the mist was welcome refreshment. The hike was a bit technical for some of the group (rock climbing and stream forging) but the only casualty was Dennis' 'amphibious' shoes of which the soles came unglued -hmmm wonder if there was a recall he didn't hear about. There were other very interesting people staying at Encanta la Vida - a young couple who were there for the surfing - she had just passed her medical boards to be a Physician's Assistant, he is an artist. They live in San Clemente. Unfortunately for them, the days we were there the swell had completely petered out but that's why they enjoyed that area so much. When there's no surf, there's so many other things to do. We met several folks with connections to Santa Barbara. The owners of the resort weren't there that week, but they are from Santa Barbara. There was a couple there who had both gone to UCSB and they have two children there now; they live in San Francisco. There is a pool there and we did enjoy it one day, but we spent most of our time hiking the area looking for the wildlife and enjoying the beauty of the Costa Rican jungle. Our last night there it rained really hard, but we were dry and comfy in our cabanas. It was a wonderful trip with some good friends.
Friday, July 1 - Happy 61st anniversary to Virginia's parents! We returned from the jungle to our boats. It took us a while to actually get to our boats. That torrential rain the night before had put about a foot of water in our dinghies and had to be bailed out before we could use them. Finally got back to Libertad to happily find her dry as a bone having sealed a few leaks discovered in earlier rain storms. We now needed to get serious about sorting out where to leave our boat for our planned trip home to California.
(note: some of you have asked what we eat, so we'll try and include some info on that in this post)
Thursday, June 9 Playa Panama (in Bahia Culebra) was very beautiful and calm so we got a good night's rest there each night. The closest town with any facilities is in the bay between Panama and Coco, named Hermosa. But Hermosa is mostly resort hotels, so we decided we would bus back to Coco and spend the day as our cruiser guide suggested. We went to the corner bus stop and waited there with two locals for about 45 minutes - no bus. We found out later that they come only once an hour and we must have just missed it. While we were waiting, a Hermosa resort van stopped and gave us their timeshare sales invitation to tour the resort with a 90 minute "presentation". We tried not to be rude so when we showed a little interest and they found out we were headed to Coco, they offered us a ride as they were headed that way. We had an enjoyable conversation with them. They were excited because Costa Rica was playing El Salvador in the soccer America Gold Cup that night. We had lunch at Woody's - reasonable food with two caged parrots that talked nonstop for atmosphere. Had a conversation with a couple of women on a business/vacation trip here from Washington DC. They were staying at one of the resorts in Hermosa. We provisioned with some groceries and some items we needed at the hardware store and then took a taxi back to Playa Panama. That evening, we went to a restaurant/bar that we had noticed just a short distance from the beach in hopes that they would be showing the soccer game. But they were closed. We ate on the boat and played scrabble. We still hadn't had a big rain in that anchorage - just watched the lightning in the distance each night.
Friday, June 10 We found another restaurant in a hotel that was more hidden behind dense foliage, but is also close to the beach where we are anchored. We had a nice lunch there and used their wifi. Wish we had found it one day earlier so we could have watched the soccer game! We did hear that it ended in a tie 1-1, so it probably was pretty exciting. s/v Jeorgia joined us in the anchorage later in the day.
Saturday, June 11 we moved to the nearby Papagayo Marina - also in Bahia Culebra - so that it would be convenient for Dennis' brother Greg to get to us. We filled up with fuel and water and told the marina we were staying for one night. We met Larry, Lisa, and Ben aboard s/v Lisa Kay as they greeted us at the dock, helping with our lines. Greg arrived at the boat earlier than expected which was great because it meant he had an easy time finding us. He pitched right in and helped us with a few boat projects (finding the leak in our dinghy for instance). It was hot and humid that day so the marina's pool was very refreshing that evening. We went to happy hour at the marina restaurant where we spoke more with Larry and Lisa. They were so nice to us during our stay, including hooking us up with some friends of theirs that were further south (east) in Costa Rica so we could get info on anchorages, and providing fresh baked goods (yes, Lisa baked even in the hot and humid weather -their boat had three air conditioners!). We noticed that our friends, Sylvia and Ken aboard s/v Ann Lucia, are here but they are on a land trip for a few more days. We last saw them in Huatulco, Mexico.
Sunday, June 12 Happy Birthday to our son, Darren! In the morning we worked on more boat projects (finding the second hole in the dinghy, working with the marina to get a new mount fabricated for our alternator - the weld on the original one broke). We had to admit that it was sure nice to do some of our boat projects in a marina instead of floating in an anchorage and the marina was so accommodating about helping us get connected with the services we need. And the pool, large beautifully tiled showers, fast internet, and air conditioned recreation room are luxuries that we fully enjoyed; so we decided to pamper ourselves and stay at the marina a few more days. But we took Libertad back over to Playa Panama for a few hours to join s/v Jeorgia for some snorkeling and then happy hour at the beach restaurant where we poured through the travel guides and the internet to choose a ziplining adventure. We ate dinner at the marina restaurant and watched the Costa Rica/Mexico soccer game -Costa Rica was not doing well and the kitchen staff were a bit sad (Mexico won 4-1).
Monday, June 13 We made arrangements to zipline at Buena Vista in the Rincon de la Vieja National Park. We rented a car for the adventure. It was Chris and Paul from s/v Jeorgia, along with us and Greg. Ken and Sylvia came back from their land trip and came over to Libertad in the evening, bringing a delicious sushi dish. We had a great visit with them. Ken gave Virginia yet one more weather site she could check on the internet (she can't seem to get her fill). They are from Japan and started their cruising adventure with 53 days at sea crossing from Japan to Canada.
Tuesday, June 14 most of us hadn't been ziplining before and found it enjoyable. But we were disappointed in how the activity seemed to be geared toward speed and excitement rather than a "jungle tour." They rushed us through, not giving us much time to look around in the canopy to see wildlife and get some photos. We did see one monkey and lots of lush green jungle foliage. We had a productive day, driving to Liberia to do some errands and having lunch at a restaurant that offered a 'typical' Costa Rican meal. It consisted of black beans, rice, grilled meat of choice, beet salad, and fried plantains and was delicious accompanied by the local Imperial cerveza. We celebrated our last night in the marina with some of Dennis' delicious barbequed chicken, corn on the cob, and coleslaw. Greg walked up to the marina restaurant and got 3 root beer floats to go - total indulgement that night.
Wednesday, June 15 We said our goodbyes to Ken and Sylvia who will be following us in a few days, and to Lisa, Larry, and Ben who are flying home for a few months and eventually going through the canal to the Caribbean. We decided we would do an overnight run to Bahia Ballena in the Gulf of Nicoya. We saw storms (no lightning) all around us, but we didn't hit any of them. We were motoring all night and Dennis noticed that our alternator wasn't charging our batteries. Evidently it got too beaten up when the bracket broke and although it worked when we tested it after mounting the new bracket....it of course decided to wait until we were out at sea to give it all up. But we have backups for nearly everything and Dennis hooked up our portable generator and charged up the batteries - no problemo.
Thursday, June 16 our granddaughter Kira's birthday! We got some wind in the early morning and were able to sail for a couple hours but we had to tack offshore to take advantage of it, so we arrived a bit later than originally planned (0200 instead of noon), but still in daylight. We caught two mackerels that day; they were small so we released them. We were able to reach Kira on the satellite phone. We ate barbequed porkchops, stuffing, applesauce, peas and canned corn. Greg and Virginia played scrabble. Bahia Ballena was a very calm and pretty anchorage. There were a few residences and a restaurant (which looked closed) and some panga fishermen. We had quite a downpour after arriving and we began to understand why this is the wet season. We didn't go ashore.
Friday, June 17 All of Dennis' work before we left to load us up with spare parts came in handy. He installed the spare alternator before we headed off for Quepos. There is a new marina there which is even more expensive than Papagayo so we planned on anchoring. We arrived at dusk to find that the marina had been built on the former anchoring site which had been somewhat protected by a breakwater. The new site, just outside the marina entrance was unprotected and very rolly and we saw no other boat anchored there with people on board. So we immediately headed to the nearby cove which at first seemed quite calm. Unfortunately we encountered a current running parallel to the beach that kept the boat broadside to the incoming swell. We put out our flopper-stoppers to counteract the swell but the current disrupted their function. By the time we finished dinner (spaghetti) we decided to pull up anchor and make an overnight run for Golfito -having three crew members made the decision easier.
Saturday, June 18 We had very calm seas and we motored the whole way, dodging debris - including some very large logs -flotsam resulting from the downpour the previous evening. At times there would be birds perched on the debris giving us an early warning, but we had to keep a close lookout. At 1630 we arrived in Gulfe Dulce at the Land and Sea cruiser's club. They didn't have any mooring balls available, but anchoring was no problem in the calm waters. It is so pretty here. We went ashore (in the rain) to scope out the facilities at the club house and to have dinner. Tim and Katie run Land and Sea have been doing this for awhile. They are so helpful and friendly - you can understand why some boats extend their stay here. A number of the cruising friends we have made this year highly recommended this stop and we're glad we came.
Sunday, June 19 Happy Fathers' Day! We walked the town. Nothing much was open, but we scoped it out -with rain sprinkles to keep us cool. That evening we sat on the clubhouse patio (Tim and Katie's home) visiting with Tim and Katie and the crews of s/v Sunnyside Up (whom we met in Bahia del Sol, El Salvador), Windfall, and Patience. We made an oriental stir fry for dinner.
Monday, June 20 We rented a car for our second land trip with Greg - a whitewater rafting adventure. Costa Rica is quite mountainous as we learned on our short ziplining trip. This time we drove all day through one mountain after another to Turrialbe - beautiful country - even greener than El Salvador. We spent the night at a very basic hotel recommended by the tour company - Interamericano Hotel. It was very inexpensive ($35 for a double room with a private bath; only about half that price with a shared bath). It was owned and run by a woman from the US (New Jersey or New York) who had obviously been in Costa Rica for awhile. She said the streets were very safe at night, so we took a walk to see a bit of the town and have dinner. She had a small entourage of dogs and it was very homey and comfortable.
Tuesday, June 21 Tico's River Adventures picked us up at the hotel (actually we followed them in our car part way to the launching site) in the morning. We rafted the Pacuare river with Fabio as our guide and Roberto accompanying us in his very small personal kayak to take photos of us. We have included some of his shots in our website gallery. There were three others in our raft: Tom, his daughter Samay, and Jacob. They are from Miami, but have family here in Costa Rica that they visit regularly. It was awesome - so much fun! The first part of the trip was easier rapids and the last part class 3 and 4 rapids. When Fabio mentioned that the rain of the night before was going to make this trip exciting as the river was higher he saw a bit of apprehension in Virginia's eyes so he told her not to worry - he would take care of her just like she was his mother. He teased her all day calling her 'mom' but she played the part well watching and worrying about all of us throughout the day. About 2/3 of the way down the river we stopped for lunch which they had brought in a water-tight barrel - delicious fixings for burritos along with fresh pineapple. We then headed for San Jose as Greg's flight left early the next morning. We had reserved rooms at the Berlor Airport Hotel . We had trouble finding the hotel and circled around in San Jose for a few hours (asking directions several times). We still haven't gotten used to the lack of road signs and navigation by landmark versus a map and street names. But Mexico, El Salvador, and Costa Rica were all very similar so as we get more experience with it, we are getting somewhat better at it...but we have a ways to go. The hotel was a bed and breakfast/boutique hotel with just 10 rooms. The rooms were very basic and relatively inexpensive ($68 for a double room) but the staff were so friendly and helpful.
Wednesday, June 22 the hotel shuttled Greg to the airport very early. We had the breakfast that was included and then headed out to see Volcan Poas. We had gotten detailed directions from the hotel staff, but it turned out that the road was very well marked with road signs to this national park. The volcanoes are oftentimes covered with clouds but we were lucky and Poas was completely visible this day. We got some pictures looking down into the top of the volcano at the lagoon and rising steam. We took the hike to a nearby lagoon that is the top of the Botos volcano that has been inactive for many years. The whole area was just gorgeous with lush vegetation. We decided to take a small detour before heading back to Golfito and visited Grecia (the homes on the hillsides indicate that some of Costa Rica's wealthier people live here) and Sarchi (known for the many artisans). We ate lunch at a restaurant that had a menu item for "typical" Costa Rican cuisine and ordered that. It was identical to the meal we had in Liberia so we had confirmation that indeed it was 'typico'. We had a long ride home through winding mountain roads, with rain (sometimes very heavy), lightning, fog/clouds, and slow trucks to pass. We took turns driving. Sometimes the rain got so heavy that we contemplated stopping somewhere and napping in the car, but about that time the storm would weaken and we would plow on. We arrived in Golfito about 2200 and had a sumptuous dinner of apples and peanuts as we hadn't stopped driving since leaving Sarchi. As we ate a storm blew through dumping more rain. We contemplated sleeping in the car, as Tim had given us a ride ashore the day we left so we wouldn't have to leave our dinghy in the water while we were gone. We didn't want to awaken him at that hour so when the rain stopped Dennis scouted the dinghies tied to the dock for one with oars that he could borrow to get us out to the boat. Apparently Tim was awake, heard Dennis on the dock and came out and volunteered to give us a ride. He had been watching our boat for us while we were gone, charging the batteries when they got low, standing by to move it if the anchor started dragging, etc. so all was well when we got back to Libertad, and we sure got a better night's rest than we would have in the car.
Thursday, June 23 was a rest and recovery day. In the early morning we took our gasoline cans to the station to be filled (we use gasoline for the dinghy, our portable generator, and trading for lobster -see our earlier blog entry), provisioned at the SuperMercado and the local produce stand, and then returned the rental car. It rained most of the day - a first for us - and we used that time relaxing on the boat reading, catching up on email, and posting this blog. We knew our propane was low and we were running the refrigerator on it while we were on our latest trip, so indeed it ran out today. Oh well, can't cook tonight - dinner ashore and bus trip to the propane shop tomorrow. We'll be here a few more days at least before we head to Panama.
Sunday, May 29 we left Bahia del Sol around noon at high tide. The pilots for guiding you across the bar ride on a ski jet ahead of you. The one sitting on the back takes pictures and talks you through it on the VHF radio, giving instructions such as "slow down, we're gonna let a few of these pass under you" or "Ok full speed ahead now" or the favorite "anybody get wet on that one?" Of course everyone in the anchorage knows you are leaving as there has been several "good byes" and "good lucks" leading up to the departure and they are all listening to their radios being thoroughly entertained. Our trip out was certainly more exciting than our entrance had been, but it wasn't bad, judging from other stories. Bill of Metakulu (the pilot in the rear seat) sent us some good pictures which we'll post. But our adventure had only begun.
Just an hour or two out of port we caught a mackerel. We had purchased a long handled net and it worked great; it was so easy to bring the fish aboard (and keep it aboard). We had a wonderful fresh fish dinner. After sunset we realized something that will undoubtedly get us an "award" in our boating squadron - we hadn't taken on fuel as planned in Bahia del Sol. Whether it was the distraction of all the land travel - who knows, but we messed up. We checked our charts for the nearest fuel - Barillas in El Salvador. We were only a few miles away, but it also has a bar and you can't go over it after 3:00pm. We weren't sure if we had enough fuel to putter around all night waiting for the opportunity to cross the bar so we headed a few more miles off shore to get away from nighttime encounters with fishing pangas and turned off the engine (where's the wind when you need it!). Then the typical evening rain storm came. We bobbed around in the storm throughout the night, closely watching our position which didn't change much as the storm didn't bring any wind with it. Neither of us got much sleep that night.
Monday, May 30 we turned on the engine in the early morning and headed toward the anchorage, calling the Barillas port authority to make arrangements for a pilot. At that point our friends Rose and Jani on Lovely Lady radioed us that they were waiting to cross the bar as well and had arranged for their pilot to take us across together, given we are about the same size. We had been told that a swell was coming into this area which would certainly close the entrance (which is one reason we had left Bahia del Sol when we did). Well it had already arrived and the pilot was now advising us to go east to La Union (no bar there) which is in the Gulf of Fonseca. Lovely Lady had just come from there and wasn't looking forward to a return trip and we notified Barillas that we did not have enough fuel. No problem - they would send a panga out with 15 gallons for us. Lovely Lady decided to wait for us so we could buddy boat to La union (great friends - as it was going to be a wait of about 2 hours to get the panga to us with the fuel). We loaded the diesel without any hitch other than fuel all over us and the deck as the boat pitched in the swell. The panga reported conditions back to the port and now they were telling us that they might be able to take us across the bar. Neither boat liked the sound of the 'might', so we decided to go to La Union. We arrived after dark, but Lovely Lady took the lead and took us to their previous anchorage spot just off the navy base. It was so easy for us with their local knowledge. Lights out - sleep!
Tuesday, May 31 we had to clear back into El Salvador (as we had cleared out and gotten our international Zarpe when we left Bahia del Sol). Rose had made friends with the local authorities on her previous visit and they made it so easy for us. We met them at a restaurant (Resturante Amanecer Marino) on the beach near our anchorage. We learned that morning that Lovely Lady had their share of dramas (traumas) recently including the pilot grounding them on the bar upon their first entry to Barillas (they had planned to haul out there and store for the winter). After the grounding they needed to haul out to check for damage but the lift in Barillas was occupied so they had come to La Union only to find the lift at the navy yard had broken when trying to haul a large navy boat (that was somewhat good fortune as that could have been them). That navy boat was still sitting askew in the hoist. So they were heading back to Barillas to wait for the lift there (the night we were bobbing out there) when they hit a panga boat in the pitch blackness of the storm. We were even more amazed at their generosity to wait to buddy boat with us - great friends. Things began to look up for them when we departed as they had had an inspection which revealed no critical damage. Two other boats that had been with us in Bahia del Sol were in a nearby anchorage and radioed that they would come into town and join us for lunch. There is no fuel dock in La Union (which we found amazing given they have a fishing fleet) so we had to jerry jug the fuel from the gas station in town. It took us awhile to get the arrangements set up (find a spot where we could land the dinghy and load fuel cans in and out, where it would be safe, and where it was close to a street with taxis, and then move Libertad closer to that spot) but we found a great spot where the staff at the small tienda located there was very nice and one even spoke some English. Dennis really cranked and made each run in about 30 minutes. We figured we needed about 4 runs to have plenty of fuel to get us to Costa Rica. Virginia stayed aboard and watched the tides and anchor. On his way back to Libertad on the last run, the daily rainstorm hit and this one had some wind with it. We were both soaked by the time he was aboard. We learned our lesson - don't think we'll forget about fuel again.
Wednesday, June 1 - Thursday June 2. Wednesday morning we cleared out of El Salvador for Costa Rica (again). We used the Resturante Amanecer Marino again. The proprietor is so nice to allow this. He even asked us if we wanted to go into a private air conditioned room. We headed for Isla Meanguera - a nearby island at the mouth of the Gulf. Our friends on Jeorgia (Chris and Paul) and Rapscullion (Henry and Pam) were going to be there that night. It was a beautiful spot - so peaceful. From there you could see the three countries that bound the Gulf of Fonseca (El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua). There is a hotel in the anchorage run by a family. The father is American (raised in Los Angeles) and the mother is El Salvadorean (but also spent time part of her childhood in LA). They have a daughter, about 10 yr old, that is so sweet. We pampered ourselves, staying in that anchorage 2 nights and having dinner at the hotel out on their veranda overlooking the Gulf both nights. We were the only people there. We would highly recommend that any boats passing this way, visit this island and the patio of Hotel la Joya del Golfo (www.hotellajoyadelgolfo.com), the father is very sociable, tending to every need and the wife is a marvelous cook.
Friday, June 3 - Saturday June 4. Friday morning we headed out with Jeorgia at about 0530 bound for Santa Elena, Costa Rica. We saw lots of floating sea turtles and two dolphins were swimming around the boat at night leaving a phosphorescent trail. Two boobies perched on our masts overnight. We motor sailed all except a couple hours and had another rainstorm with lightning. It was nice to have company. We set up a check-in schedule at 2000, 2400, 0400 and when the storm was nearby we checked in more frequently to share information and ideas on where to run and how to avoid it. We saw a few pangas as we left the Gulf of Fonseca and one large container ship near a Nicaraguan commercial port - otherwise we appeared to be the only two boats out there. They left a bit earlier than us, but once we caught up we stayed within sight and VHF range of each other the entire passage. We had selected an SSB channel to use for our check-ins in case we got out of VHF range. If we had each been able to sail more, we might have diverged. We arrived at the Santa Elena anchorage on Saturday at about 1830 just as the sun was setting. It was gorgeous and calm. We got the daily rainstorm, but it was light.
Sunday, June 5 - Monday, June 6. We noted some irregularity with the condition of our batteries. With the help of Paul from Jeorgia we got a better understanding of the state of our batteries and got ourselves fully charged and the monitor reset. While recharging the batteries Dennis & Paul diagnosed and fixed our GPS-to-laptop connection and now we have GPS data on our laptop plotting software. Dennis also had to do some maintenance on the propane system as the solenoid switch failed. Five months of wear and tear and some of the systems are now asking for attention. But we also had some play time, kayaking the estuary and snorkeling in the bay. There is coral near the islands at the mouth of the bay and we saw a variety of beautiful fish there. This was our first snorkeling of the trip. Virginia still needs to get more comfortable with it and so she floated around using the boogie board as an aid. We saw some beautiful birds - bright green with long tail feathers (motmots). We saw pairs of parrots fly overhead numerous times (you can hear them chattering away). In the early mornings and evenings it sounded like the animals were having a party ashore. We would have liked to do a hike at those times to get some good pictures, but rain and boat projects got in the way. It was a beautiful and very calm anchorage.
Tuesday, June 7 we left Santa Elena at first light, 0500, and headed to Playas del Coco. We needed to check into the country and get prepared for meeting Dennis' brother Greg who would be joining us for 10 days. We arrived around 1230. We had lunch aboard and Dennis headed to shore to start the check-in process, which we were told would be lengthy and take a full day. We had also heard that the swell here made it hard to land the dinghy so he took one of the kayaks. But there was very little swell that day and he had an easy landing. He met with the port captain and immigration and made an appointment for the agricultural inspection for 0830 the next morning. Immigration wanted to see Virginia in person but gave Dennis what he needed for the port captain and trusted him to bring Virginia back the next day. That night the anchorage became very rolly and so we experienced interrupted sleep even with the flopper-stoppers deployed.
Wednesday, June 8 we both went ashore in the dinghy to finish the check-in process. In keeping with the rolly night we had, there was a bit more swell, but Dennis carefully eased us in. We locked the dinghy to a metal stand. Virginia stayed at the port captain's office while Dennis took the agricultural inspector in the dinghy out to the boat. This is the first country where we had such an inspection. Because we had heard about the rolly anchorage, difficult dinghy landing, and petty thievery in Playas del Coco we had originally planned on anchoring around the corner in Playas Panama and bussing here to clear-in. But some other boats that had been in El Salvador with us and had recently cleared in here warned that the port captain was not happy with folks that did that, and we can now see why given the agricultural inspection requirement. Virginia made her visit to Immigration. Our last step was to go to customs, near the airport in Liberia. We took a bus. It cost us 500 colones apiece ($1US). It was an easy trip out there and we had all our paperwork in order so the process was quick. But....then we tried to get a bus back. There was no official busstop at the Aduano (customs) but we were told the buses would stop there if you waved them down. This was a busy highway so it was hard to see the signs on the buses as they approached, so we had to try to flag down all of them and then wave them off if not our bus. Few of them would slow down or stop. We decided to walk down the road to an official bus stop. Finally we saw the Coco bus, but despite both of us waving to flag him down, he just kept on going. That had been about an hour wait. We decided to take the next bus headed in that direction and then transfer to a Coco bus. 45 minutes later and we had seen nothing but local route buses. We walked back to the Aduano office to ask them to call us a taxi. Just as we got to the Aduano driveway another Coco bus passed and again ignored our waving. So we took a $50 taxi ride back to Coco. Clearing in here does take time as reported, but only that final leg of the trip was frustrating - the rest went smoothly and the officials were patient with our very limited Spanish. This is the first port where the officials didn't speak English. We moved the boat around the corner to Playas Panama. It is much more scenic and calm here. We contacted the nearby Marina Papagayo and they have room for us. We plan to take a slip for one night to charge our batteries, take on water (which is potable everywhere in Costa Rica), and pick up Dennis' brother.
Friday, May 13 the immigration agent came in the morning and cleared us so we left around 1130 with lots of hands on the dock to help with our lines and get us safely out of the slip (we had a nasty cross wind and a very tight fairway). It was high tide and we got over the bar at the marina entrance with no problem. Out of the harbor we found 15-20 knots of wind and so put up our sails right away. We were able to sail until about 0400 the next morning, averaging 7 knots. It was great. We saw several pods of dolphins. Virginia was a bit anxious about the crossing of the Gulf of Tehuantepec as there are times of the year that it can blow at gale force and above. But May is historically one of the calmer months and the weather forecasts we got were for a very mild crossing - and that is how it turned out. We went from point to point, straight across the bay, not taking the often-recommended longer route that hugs the coast, and it worked out just fine. We passed one boat headed north and were hailed on the radio by Robin who was crewing aboard the northern bound boat, Inspiration at Sea, and we visited with him a bit. His boat was down in Bahia del Sol, where we were headed, and he would be returning there in a couple months, but was helping a friend get her boat further north. We heard later that he got off at Huatulco where she had her car so he could drive that north for her. She later had an emergency at sea, losing her engine, getting caught in a storm, and was eventually towed into Acapulco by the Mexican navy. We don't have any more details yet. That night we saw some heat/sheet lightning in the distance.
Saturday, May 14 we motor-sailed all day and night. The seas were calm. About dinner time we saw a pod of dolphins that were the most active and athletic we have seen yet. They were jumping high out of the water and twirling around. What a show. We saw a water spout in the distance. That night we again saw rain and lightning in the distance. This time some of it was bolt lightning so we deviated a bit from course to keep our distance. We got in one short rain shower, about 10 minutes. Around midnight we crossed into Guatemala waters.
Sunday, May 15 we had very flat seas in the morning. We got a bit of wind by noon, but still had to motor-sail. We saw sea turtles and more of the acrobatic dolphins. That night we got near a big lightning storm. We delayed our arrival at Bahia del Sol by about 5 hours doing a dance with the storm, basically motoring around in circles as it would change direction and form new cells. We got into some rain and put on our foul weather gear, but we managed to stay away from the lightning. Again, around midnight we crossed into El Salvador waters.
Monday, May 16 we were approaching the sand bar at the estuary entrance for Bahia del Sol and radioed in to arrange for a pilot. We were initially advised that the high tide window of opportunity to enter was likely going to be closed by the time we arrived and we would have to anchor outside and wait for the next opportunity. This seemed a little odd because although we had lost some time dodging lightning storms the night before, we thought we'd still be arriving only about 90 minutes after high tide and that should have provided plenty of water over the bar. Another cruiser (Tom on Dragon's Toy) got on the radio and helped relay our conversation with the pilot as the pilot was onshore on a hand held radio that didn't have good reception; Tom suggested if we had the ability to push it a bit, we should do that as we would likely end up anchoring for two days as there wouldn't be any pilot on duty on Tuesday. We pushed our engine the highest we have so far and it performed great. Arriving earlier than expected, the pilot was willing to come out to meet us and the calm we experienced all day provided a very uneventful crossing. Unbeknownst to us, a number of cruisers had gathered at a palapa restaurant right at the bar entrance to welcome us, but started booing as our entrance was so mild and not very entertaining. Fine with us! We did have a bit of a challenge getting lined up at the dock to clear customs given the strong tidal action and wind in the estuary. But we just kept bearing away and trying again until all the opposing forces were accounted for. There were lots of hands on the dock waiting to grab the lines and help us. After arriving, we discovered El Salvador does not switch to daylight savings time so our tide table times were an hour off which made the hesitation by the pilot understandable. We were planning to anchor out, but the marina said they had one slip left (the end tie where we were directed for clearing customs) and we could have it for $23 a night...the least expensive marina yet. What a great group of cruisers there are here. Some are headed north, some are staying here, and some are south bound along with us. The Hotel Bahia del Sol that runs the marina is wonderful. Clearing into the country was made so easy - immigration and customs authorities have an office right here at the hotel. There is an outdoor restaurant, which we have used on a number of nights when it was just too hot to cook in the boat. Next to it is a beautiful swimming pool and shower facilities (no hot water, but the water is ambient temperature which is mid-to-upper 80's -so refreshing, we haven't missed hot water!) They have a laundry service and are very helpful with making travel arrangements.
Docked right across from us is Pam on Precious Metal. She came right over to greet us. Karen, Steve, and Don who did the 2008 Baja HaHa with us will remember her as the one that loaned us a generator to recharge our batteries when our starter motor failed. She is here for an extended stay, making repairs to her boat from a lightning strike. It is rare to be struck, but even rarer to get 'hit' by what they told her was called a "bolt out of the blue", which was not a direct strike. The lightning hit the water several miles away and traveled through the water and into her engine room via her engine exhaust port, causing a fire in her engine room. Her engine was fine, but it fried all her electronics. She has a metal hull, not sure if that factored into the situation. She immediately introduced us to several of the "daily cruiser activities" including a dip in the ocean at the nearby beach every morning around 0900 (Dennis got in his first boogie boarding and body surfing); walking the beach collecting shells; shared trips to town for provisioning; then around 1600 we'd meet at the pool for happy hour. The drinks are so inexpensive, $1.00 for a soda or beer. Worked for us...by 1600 were very ready for a cool dip after an afternoon of boat projects. All the charges (marina, drinks, food, laundry, pilot service) go on your hotel bill and every Sunday you go in and pay your bill, and then wander the facility giving a weekly tip to the staff that helped you that week. El Salvador uses US dollars as its monetary unit so that is convenient for us. It was easy to understand how for many of the cruisers, days turned into weeks, weeks to months, and months to years, extending their stay here.
Tuesday, May 17 after the morning beach routine we walked to a nearby palapa to have Pupusas for lunch. These are a unique El Salvador dish. They are puffy tortillas stuffed with various ingredients, fish, meat, vegetables, beans, cheese. Delicious. We pulled the last of our yellowtail from the freezer and bbq'd it that night, mmm still great after all these days in the freezer.
Wednesday, May 18 after the morning beach routine we took the bus into Zacatecoluca (the nearest major town) where we would be doing provisioning as needed. It was about a 90 minute bus ride on the direct line. We went in shortly after lunch and planned on having dinner in town, but after visiting the town plaza, the church, the street market, and the two grocery stores, we decided to head back to the boat 'early'. This was around 1700. We went to the bus station and were told that we had missed the last direct bus of the day to our area, our next bus would be 'manana'. The look on Virginia's face instigated a flurry of activity. There suddenly was a lot of activity with men whistling and yelling, passing the message down the street that we needed to catch the bus that had just left. They held it up and it waited for us. This bus would take us to a town "Arcos" where we would need to transfer to another one by walking along a path to another highway -fortunately several other riders were making the same connection, otherwise we certainly would have been lost. After a short wait, we caught a bus to Bahia del Sol taking us out to the estuary entrance which is at the end of the bus line. We were definitely the last ones on the bus and it was dark when we got back to the boat. But everyone had taken good care of us! Like in Mexico, the El Salvador buses have a driver and a 'hustler'. The hustlers are great. They amazingly keep track of folks as they get on the bus and then come down later to collect the fares. They ask where you are going and remember to warn the driver to stop at that spot. In this case, the hustler kept coming back to reassure us (Virginia) that he remembered where we were headed and it was 'coming up'.
Thursday, May 19 as we headed to the beach in the morning we realized that the hotel has a pair of macaws in a tree at the reception area and a fenced in area with a family of deer. There was a new fawn, so cute. A lazy day, met more of the cruisers in the area at happy hour.
Friday, May 20 we went to the beach in the morning as usual. The current pulls you down the beach so we always have a walk back to our towels. This morning Virginia and another cruiser, Henry, spotted a bright yellow object in the lapping surf and went over to investigate. They were the keys to Libertad (fortunately on a keychain with a yellow float) which Dennis had forgotten to remove from his pocket before he went body surfing. Lucky find! We do have backups, so it wouldn't have been devastating. That night the hotel had a special Italian dinner and a group of 11 cruisers reserved a table in their large meeting hall. There was a heavy downpour while we were at the dinner. The thatch repair job we had seen them doing earlier in the week held up for the most part, but Virginia had a few drips in her spot and had to inch closer to Dennis. Then we lost power for a short time, but there were candles on the tables only adding to the romantic atmosphere. It was a nice time to visit with that particular group as three of the boats were leaving the next morning, headed south. It stopped raining by the time we had finished dinner, but it did rain more that night. None of our hatches leaked. We were quite cozy.
Saturday, May 21 we got up early to bid our friends farewell. Dennis walked down to the estuary entrance to watch them cross the bar and get an idea of what we would have in store when we made that trip. Virginia said her goodbyes at the dock. All three seemed to get away without a hitch. We met a couple who was staying at the hotel, having done a swap with their timeshare ownership -not cruisers. They are interested in doing an overnight tour to Antigua, Guatemala so today we arranged to go with the "Tourin" company run by Jorge Martinez. He is mentioned in our cruising guide. Quite a few of the cruisers here have taken trips with him and all been very happy with the arrangements. We were so happy to meet this couple as they seem like very nice folks and we needed at least four for the tour. Barbara and Lamar are from Atlanta Georgia. They are retired too; Barbara was the director of the department of international and cultural affairs for the city of Atlanta and Lamar was the director of the cultural presentations at the airport. He is also a jazz musician and has a radio show.
Sunday, May 22 Happy Birthday to Virginia's mother! We are preparing to close up the boat while we are away because when we get back from the 2-day 1-night tour to Antigua, we will be taking off in a rented car for a few more days to do some touring on our own in El Salvador. We were interested also in going to the famed Mayan ruins in Copan, Honduras, but we don't want to cross the border on our own and the cruisers that might accompany us on one of Jorge's tours, are currently away visiting family and friends in the USA and other countries and aren't scheduled to return until after we will have headed south. The hotel had 'pizza' night so no cooking again.
Monday, May 23 We left with Jorge, Barbara, and Lamar for our trip to Antigua at 0730. Bill and Jean joined us for the first leg of the trip to San Salvador as they had business in town. They are the organizers of the El Salvador cruiser's rally and live here a big part of the year. Bill also works with the pilots who assist with the bar crossings. Jorge talked nonstop (in English) giving us a lot of background on El Salvador, its people and political history. He had a dentist appointment in San Salvador so he handed us off to Jose who drove us the rest of the way and was our English translator and facilitator. He handled everything at the border for instance, and it was an easy process. We arrived in Antigua at about 1500 and an English speaking tour guide, native Guatemalan, (Sergio) was waiting for us. After we grabbed a quick lunch, he took us on a walking tour of the city. He had studied archeology, anthropology, and history at the university and of course had lived there so he was a wealth of information. We toured churches (many in ruins from earthquakes in the 1800's and one as recent as 1976), residences, the artisan market, the central plaza, and a jade factory. A new color of jade, lavender, was discovered recently in Guatemala. We had dinner at a restaurant that served traditional Guatemalan food (including plantains) and included a show demonstrating one of the traditional dances - with elaborate costumes.
Tuesday, May 24 we hired Sergio again to take us to a nearby village that had a museum with ancient costumes and musical instruments. It was located on a coffee plantation and thus part of the museum included the equipment and an explanation of the coffee making process - both traditional and modern. Evidently Guatemala produces high quality coffee, but since none of us on the tour drank coffee we were poor judges. We had found mention of this museum in our Travel Guide book and didn't realize that in fact it was where Sergio lived. So he knew everyone we saw and introduced us to the owner of the coffee plantation/museum who is his friend. It was so interesting to talk to that gentleman, who is probably in his forties. He had worked for Motorola making good money but then decided to manage the family business when his mother was ready to retire and does not regret it as he says his quality of life is greatly improved. Much less stress...however he was quite anxious that day because the heavy rain of the wet season was already 10 days later than usual and he was worried that if they didn't get rain soon the coffee plants wouldn't bloom sufficiently. He talked about how it was necessary to diversify the business as other countries like Vietnam have entered the coffee market producing large volumes of coffee; hence he started the museum on the property and is expanding into other areas as well. He has developed the property to be a lovely park. Since coffee needs to grow in the shade of trees it was a natural progression. Sergio then took us back to Antigua and we visited the fanciest ($490/night during high season) hotel in town. It was built in an old colonial home, much of which was in ruins from the earthquakes we mentioned earlier. But they have done a marvelous job of maintaining the ruins as they were, but developing around them. So for instance, the patio for the restaurant has a low wall along one side that is the remains of a stone wall of the original house. There are Mayan and other local artifacts displayed throughout. Very tastefully done.
We headed back to El Salvador around 1300 and got back to our hotel around 1830. We had thoroughly enjoyed the company of Barbara and Lamar - kept finding similarities in the things that Lamar and Dennis enjoy and do. It was a constant source of entertainment. We had to say our goodbyes that evening as we were headed out on our El Salvador road trip the following morning and they would leave before we returned. Jose was a very pleasant guide, we really enjoyed him too.
Wednesday, May 25 We took off early in the morning for our road trip. This first day we headed northwest, following the path we took to Guatemala, skirting the fringe of San Salvador and going onto Santa Tecla, Armenia, and Sonsonate -Dennis paid close attention to those initial miles two days ago on the tour to avoid getting lost. Heading more north, we stopped at Juayua to see a cascade/waterfall. There were two police guards at the top of the dirt road heading down to the site who told us that there wasn't any 'agua' (water) at this time of year. But we asked if we could do the hike anyway and they said OK. We parked the car and headed down the trail; moments later we realized they were following us, keeping watch over us and keeping us safe we presumed -apparently that was their assignment for the day. The hike was through dense growth/jungle area but had a good trail. When we got to the bottom we saw that there was indeed water flowing over the rocks (perhaps the police were a little reluctant to make the trip to the waterfall in their full uniforms?) and locals who doing maintenance on the site were taking a dip. It was beautiful. There were also 4 gringos there. We approached them and to our utter amazement they said they were all from Santa Barbara, had gone to UCSB and graduated in 2005. They had delivered a car to Panama and were now headed back, slowly, on a vacation of their own. They had come with a hired guide and had done a bit more hiking to other falls in the area. We walked back up the hill, with our police escort. We stopped a bit further north in Apaneca and had lunch at the Hotel Las Cabanos de Apaneca. We had found them on www.tripadvisor.com and had considered staying in their cabins for the night. The restaurant was wonderful and the grounds, hidden from the street, very green and relaxing - like a little oasis. But it was too early in the day to stop so we continued on to Ahuachapan and stayed at the Hotel Casa Blanca. This was an old colonial home converted into a hotel. It appeared that we were the only guests that night. Hopefully the pictures can give an idea of the ambience. It was very quaint and enjoyable. The staff were so pleasant. We just relaxed in the room and wandered in the hotel common areas -too tired to even venture out for dinner -signage in most towns is poor to non-existent, so it can be quite a challenge and frustrating to follow the main highway through town and to find a given address.
Thursday, May 26 we got up early and briefly explored the town, then having breakfast. Then we headed east to the Tazumal ruins. It was a pyramid structure - actually several layers of pyramids built on top of each other. It was interesting to see this huge structure in the middle of the jungle. They had a lot of clearing to do to make way for it. There was also a museum there with some of the artifacts found on the site. It is the most significant Mayan ruins in El Salvador (according to the guide book). A lesser ruins, Casa Blanca, was nearby but the park it was in was closed that day. We headed further east through Santa Ana to Suchitoto. We had made reservations (again for a place we found on www.tripadvisor.com) at the Hotel El Tejada. It was a great find. We had a big room with a view over the lake, Lago Suchitlan. We then walked the town, visiting the central plaza and church of course. We then went looking for a local mentioned in the guidebook: El Gringo - Robert Brozmoran. Robert is a Californian whose mother is Salvadoran. He moved here in 1995 to manage the nonprofit educational programs his mother started and is now a permanent resident with a young family. The guide book said that he had a small tienda and restaurant and was happy to provide information about the area. Turns out he actually does tours and agreed to do one for us the next day. We headed back to the hotel for a nice swim in their beautiful pool to cool off from our long day of hiking and driving. The hotel restaurant was fabulous; we ordered the brochette for dinner and shared it - two large skewers and delicious. Then we checked up on our email via the Internet available on the patio. The rooms are being remodeled and they are beautiful. We highly recommend this spot. While on the map it is at the 'edge' of town, it took us 5 min. at most to walk to the central plaza.
Friday, May 27 had breakfast (included in room rate of $75/night for the room with the view; $60 without the view). Robert picked us up at our hotel and first took us to the lake for a boat ride. The lake is manmade, dammed up the Rio Lempa filling the valleys between several volcanoes and providing hydroelectric power to the area. The level of the lake changes by 60 feet depending on the season and since we were visiting at the end of the dry season it was at its lowest level. There are numerous islands in the lake, but one, Bird Island, is curiously the only island that has birds nesting on it - a lot of birds. It has been named a preserve so we didn't land on the island, just circled it as best we could maneuvering through the water hyacinth with the low lake level. Robert was a wealth of information as he has been very involved in the community since settling there, volunteering and in elected positions that work with education as well as community development that improves the quality of life there and encourages tourism. We learned so much about how the formation of the lake changed the local communities (not all for the good - as a couple of them are now very isolated being hours away from Suchitoto by car when they used to have a short road right across the valley which is now underwater). We learned about the civil war (much of which was waged in and around Suchitoto) and following redevelopment efforts. The area near the lake where we took the boat ride is a good example of the efforts they have made that were targeted at supporting tourism, but had positive ripple effects in the community, creating more jobs for instance. They got grant money and loans to finance a building that houses 5 small restaurants (which formerly operated off of a fold-up table under a palapa roof), trained the restaurant staff on issues related to food preparation and healthy cooking conditions, added restrooms, decorated it with work from local artisans, added shade awnings to the pangas that do the tours, built a launching ramp. The restaurant owners and panga fisherman pay a small tax for maintenance and it is enough money for them to also fund 10 full time street cleaners for the city. It is a very clean town. He took us to another cascade. This one has hexagonal rock formations like those at Devil's Post Pile in the US. There wasn't any water flowing over this one, but that allowed us to see the rock formations more clearly. He toured us through a couple of the old hotels that were renovated old colonial homes - very nice. But he had to agree that the hotel we were at was the best deal in town. We also visited the Peace Institute and learned about the community development programs going on there. It was a fascinating day and provided so much information about the country and the people.
We then headed back to the marina via a scenic drive that took us even further east and then south through San Vincente and Usulutan. We finally headed west again towards Zacatecoluca for provisioning. After we left the first grocery store and headed a bit further into town to the second one and the outdoor mercado - to get the remaining things on our list, we got a flat tire. Dennis had to change the tire in the heat, but other than having to empty the trunk of the car to get to the spare, that went relatively smoothly. On the last leg of the trip we were reminded of our exciting bus trip to Zacatecoluca when we first arrived - this time the trip was quicker and much less stressful. The sun had set by the time we arrived at Bahia del Sol and we found a few new boats in the marina. We opened up the boat and the interior temperature was still in the 90's from being closed up all day, so we turned on the fans, and went up to the restaurant for dinner while the boat cooled down. We had an interesting discussion with a solo sailor who is Finnish, but lived in California just before making this trip. He is a surfer. He was asking us our plans and every time we would talk about skipping some country along the route (such as our plan to go to Costa Rica from here, not stopping in Nicaragua) he would try and talk us into stopping everywhere, not skipping anything. That appears to be his plan and he has no timeline. Very nice guy.
Saturday May 28 we met our new neighbors, Michael and Suzanne aboard Namaste. They are originally out of San Francisco. They headed out on a planned 4-5 year circumnavigation, but when they got to Ecuador, they fell in love, bought some property, and are now working on getting permanent resident status. Some new laws went into effect in March regarding how long a boat can stay in Ecuador which did not specify cruisers as a separate category and so cruisers are being cautioned that the interpretation may be that we can't keep our boat more than 3 months in Ecuador. That would change our plans. But Tripp Martin who is mentioned in the guidebook at Puerto Armistead in Ecuador and who lobbies for cruisers is trying to get some clarification. We had already been in touch with him to let him know we wanted to stay with him when we first arrived. We'll have to get in touch again and see what's happening with these new laws. Michael and Suzanne are in a different position because they have property there and so they feel they are more likely to fall into the category covered by the law and might be assessed a tax not only for future years, which might be reasonable, but also for past years - and they have been there awhile. So they have moved their boat up here and will fly back to sort things out before bringing the boat back down. They gave us their contact info in Ecuador and graciously agreed to help us arrange our stay.
Tonight is another of the special Italian dinners. We are going with Michael and Suzanne. We told the bar pilot that we plan to leave tomorrow at noon high tide, presuming the surf level is manageable. It looks somewhat lower today so that is a good sign.
Dennis' brother, Greg, has made his arrangements to join us in Costa Rica - near Playa de Coco where we will check into the country. The plan is to sail down to Golfito, where we will leave the boat while we do some land trips with him. That way he can get in some cruising time and touring time. We are looking forward to his visit.
Sunday May 1, it's May Day and there is an International Worker's Union parade in the old town, zocalo, district of Acapulco near us -union workers in their white shirts and pants (uniforms?) went on for blocks. While the long, sandy beaches of downtown Acapulco are world-renown, the water is getting a bit of a reputation for pollution and we were longing to cool off with a dip in the 80 degree water. So we decided to take a bus all the way to the opposite end of Acapulco Bay to Bahia Puerto Marquez. We mentioned earlier that we had originally thought we'd anchor here while in Acapulco, but changed our minds when we saw how exposed it was. We were imagining a quiet, quaint little town with a long stretch of beach where we could do our first swimming. Boy were we surprised to see about 50 tour buses on the very narrow, dirt, roads of Puerto Marquez! The long beach was lined with Palapa restaurants and the entire beach and these restaurants were packed. It took us a while to find an open table in the shade, but then we enjoyed people-watching and pulled out our deck of cards for a few rounds of gin-rummy while we sipped our cold beverages and ate shrimp cocktails. There was no room in the water to swim. One interesting thing was that the restaurants seemed to provide PFDs and inflatable rings for their customers to use. Then when the tide came in, the folks down on the beach scrambled backwards and things got even more crowded, but everyone was having a grand time. When we took the bus back to the zocala area, we went to the central plaza again and enjoyed all that activity, along with an ice cream, while sitting in the shade. The plaza is huge but completely shaded with giant trees.
Monday May 2 we left Acapulco, saying our goodbye's and thank you's to Roberto and Luis (mentioned in previous blog). Roberto is looking forward to doing some cruising some day on his Hunter 40, a boat that he salvaged off the beach and is repairing and equipping. We plan to make a couple stops before we reach the marina near Huatulco, but the first opportunity to anchor requires an overnighter -our first in a while. We saw no sealife during the day, which was unusual. But just after sunset, when the sky wasn't completely dark yet, we saw a turtle with a bird hitchhiker on its back and some dolphins. The exciting part of our night passage was sheet lightning. It was so strange to see bright flashes of light across the sky when there were stars overhead in a nearly cloudless sky and no thunder.
Tuesday, May 3 it got into the 90's out on the water. But it wasn't as humid as when we were in Acapulco. We had seen several lighted boats (cruise ship, fishing boats) during the night passage, but otherwise uneventful after the lightning stopped. We arrived at Puerto Escondido (this one on mainland Mexico) in the early evening. The anchorage was full of pangas and one other sailboat. We anchored next to it, a ketch from Canada. We had a quick conversation across the water about anchoring spots, but didn't join up with them for a visit -they were headed north.
Wednesday, May 4 we planned for a day trip to Puerto Angel and that indeed worked out. We saw some rays jump high out of the water and do a triple flip. The seas were a bit confused that day with swell from the west but wind from the SE, but Virginia took her pills and felt fine. Again, the anchorage was full with pangas, but this time we were the only sailboat there, and thank goodness no one else arrived later as it appeared that we had found the only open place to anchor.
Thursday, May 5 Cinco de Mayo. We were awakened at sunrise by the sound of the fishing fleet of Puerto Angel setting off to sea all at once -imagine over two hundred outboard motors buzzing nearby at full throttle. As we were awake anyway and we wanted to arrive at the next port at high tide to clear the shoal, we soon got underway. We had just a short trip to Huatulco. We had no wind, but some swells that got Virginia a bit queasy; she quickly recovered. They had room for us in the marina which is great, as we hoped to do a land trip to Oaxaca from there to see some ruins. We'll feel better with the boat in a slip vs. at anchor while we are away, even if it ends up being just a day trip. The marina facilities are quite minimal...for instance, unheated, outdoor showers (like you see at the beaches in California). But we have showers on the boat, so no problem. Actually we've started taking showers on the boat with unheated water as the cooler water is quite refreshing. The rate is very reasonable and the docks are in relatively good shape. One thing we noticed is some of the vegetation around here is brown and dry, like we saw in the Sea of Cortez and northern Mexico. Previously, during the last few weeks we had been experiencing spots that were more stereotypical tropical with lush greenery (jungle river cruises, etc.). Check in was easy as the marina staff takes care of the paperwork but as we will be leaving the country after this port, check out will be a bit more complicated.
There are other cruisers here and some are headed south; finally someone going our direction, but unfortunately they are going earlier than us. We have met Bill and Dorene aboard Lanikai from The Dalles, Oregon. They are headed north. They have been cruising south of here in El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Peru for 9 ½ years. We will have them over to the boat soon to get some tips from them. On the other side of us are Ken and Sylvia Kondo aboard Ann Lucia from Japan. They started their journey with a 50 day passage from Japan to British Columbia Canada. They are one of the boats headed south, but will diverge from our planned route when they go through the Panama Canal. We have seen their boat in two other anchorages, but never got to visit with them. We had a quick discussion today, but need to invite them over as well. Another couple headed south are Julie and Andrew. They had their boat in Ventura West Marina, like we did, before heading down here in January. That is the 4th boat we have met on this trip that was in our Ventura marina. They are a young couple hitting all the good surf spots in their 27', 'no frills' sailboat -they have no refrigeration, so they get pretty excited about luxuries like ice and ice cream. Then we spoke with two couples whose boats "have grown roots" (their words) as they have been here for 3 years. They cruised the west coast of Mexico and found that they liked this spot best -"it reminds them of Santa Barbara 50 years ago"...hmmm I don't remember SB ever being 95+ degrees for weeks at a time.
Friday, May 6. Unexpectedly, we stayed up last night into the early hours of the morning because it was too hot to sleep and we were fussing with the dock lines. We noticed when we arrived that some of the boats were taking up a double slip as they had 3 or 4 lines off each side of their boats, half of which had to extend over the 'other' half of the double slip to reach a cleat. Around midnight, Libertad had adopted the same spiderweb of crossed lines, 4 on a side to keep us in position. There wasn't a hint of wind, yet the boats were all straining on their lines ad moving around vigorously from the tidal action. But Dennis got us secured in a way that minimized the motion and squeaking of the lines; we finally got some sleep. A provisioning and boat project day.
Saturday, May 7 Dennis went to town with the 'guys'. Chris of Misty Michael (one of the permanent residents on a big power boat) a few slips over, owns a car and drove. Dennis picked up a few small items he needed and had most of the hot spots of the town pointed out to him, but most importantly, he rented a car for our trip to Oaxaca. It was a hot day, 94 degrees at 1700. More project work today.
Sunday, May 8 - Mothers' Day (in USA). We locked up the boat and headed off in our rented car to Oaxaca. It was a beautiful drive through several mountain passes. It was lush green with lots of trees, including banana trees. Bunches of bananas were being sold along the roadside, but you had to buy the whole 'bunch' which was way too many for us, even if we shared with some other cruisers. Although it was only about 100 miles, it took us 6.5 hours. About 4 hours of that was winding mountain roads. The rest of the 'highway' that wasn't winding had speed bumps at every small village, comador (restaurant), or tienda along the way or was under construction. It was impossible to get up to the speed limit for long as you had to always be on the lookout for the "topas" as several of them were unmarked. Dennis got a lot of exercise clutching and shifting, as our rental was a standard transmission! We must have encountered more than 200 of them -no exaggeration. But despite that, we did really enjoy the ride. We arrived about 1730. Oaxaca is at about 5,000 feet, so the temperature was quite pleasant. We had reserved a room at Ollin, bed and breakfast. We hadn't stayed in a B&B before. It was a very pleasant experience. That night we walked the few blocks to the zocalo, center of town, for dinner. We listened to a traditional Mexican group playing on the cathedral steps and bought one of their CDs. We watched colorful dancers there as well; young men were dressed in matching pants, long capes, masks, and headdresses. The dance had a lot of stomping to it and they had jingle bells on their ankles. We walked over to another church and listened to a solo performer outside in the patio area who sang and played beautiful classical Spanish guitar. There were lots of people in the zocalo plaza; we have never seen so many balloons in one place.
Monday, May 9 at breakfast in our hotel we met Amy and Lauren, both from the Chicago area. Lauren, a lawyer, just changed jobs to be a full time administrator for a non-profit for Korean orphans that she and Amy founded a couple years ago. Amy is working for the US State Department and is now at the consulate in Monterey, Mexico. Her next assignment is in Vancouver. We were all headed to the Monte Alban ruins that morning and they hitched a ride with us. We hired a bilingual guide, Mario, and had a very informative tour. We learned about the various civilizations (starting with the Zapotec who are native to this area) that inhabited the site and built or re-built right on top of the original structures. His description of the botany of the area included the various uses of the plants and trees for curing both the body and the soul. He was very knowledgeable about the ruins, the various civilizations that lived there, and the architectural influences of the cosmos, seasons, and the jaguar. They had a hospital or medical training facility where they performed brain surgery and autopsies, which we found fascinating. There are several temples with altars and hidden tunnels so the priests could magically appear, personal residences for the royalty in power, saunas for healing, and a ball court in which the game was played with a rubber ball over 2500 years ago. It was a ceremonial game, watched only by the priests, so no throngs of cheering fans -ho hum, how dull. The site was huge and amazing. Excavations continue on part of that site. Later in the evening, the clouds filled in and brought rain and thunder.
Tuesday, May 10 Mothers' Day in Mexico. We drove up to the Northern Sierras to the "Joint Towns" which are in the pines at about 8,000 feet. We took a mountain bike tour (just the two of us) with a Zapotec guide. It was absolutely beautiful. At times we would leave the bikes and hike into a special site, such as a cave or great view of the valley. Virginia had to walk a few of the hills near the end of the 3 hour trip; we were both exhausted, but loved it. Just as our bike trip ended it started to sprinkle. Then we had lunch at a comador (small restaurant) where a woman was cooking over an open fire. That was a native Oaxacan meal for sure. We had squash soup in a very light tomato broth, chicken and rice with mole, and the typical huge Oaxacan tortillas that are grilled over an open fire (versus frying). In this completely out of the way place that had only two other patrons, we met a woman from Switzerland who spoke very good English and described how she came to live in and/or visit the Zapotec village. At the end of the meal, we became aware that the village was gathering for a celebration of music and dance for the mothers. By the time we started our drive back to town we had thunder and lightning again. The rain stopped in time for us to enjoy the Mothers' Day festivities in the Oaxacan zocalo, including a concert by an orchestra that was playing from the elevated gazebo in the middle of the zocalo plaza. The restaurant gave all mothers two red roses.
Wednesday, May 11 we walked into central Oaxaca in the morning to do a tour of some of the cathedrals and museums. The largest and most spectacular cathedral is Santa Domingo. The whole interior of the church is 3-D gold relief. It is really over the top. By contrast, the cathedral that is off of the zocalo plaza (there has always been a cathedral off the zocalo plaza in the towns we have visited) is very simple. The beautiful monastery buildings adjoining Santa Domingo house an extensive cultural museum. We visited the Governor's Palace which has been made into a museum. There are two lovely murals on the walls. The museum is geared for children and very high tech. We checked out of the B&B around noon. We would recommend the Ollin B&B. They have about 8 rooms surrounding a small swimming pool. Each room has a little patio area outside the front door. The breakfasts are different each day, always starts with fruit. We were introduced to a dark purple fruit from a cactus that we really enjoyed so we bought a few from a woman in the zocalo plaza to take back with us. It was so much cooler in Oaxaca than down where the boat is in Huatulco, so we really enjoyed the break from the heat. On the return trip Virginia decided to count the speed bumps. There were exactly 200 of them between our B&B and marina! Along the way we stopped for lunch at a roadside comador. At a comador restaurant there isn't a menu, you just eat what they have prepared that day. Sometimes there are a couple choices. This time they asked if we wanted the beef or chicken. We chose chicken and got bowls of Pozole - chicken and hominy with other grated vegetables offered on the side to sprinkle in the soup (radishes, cucumbers, onions, cabbage). It was delicious. That night, when we got back to the marina, we provisioned, as it was convenient to do with the rental car.
Thursday, May 12 - happy birthday to the twins Charlene and Colleen (Virginia's sisters). Today we devoted to checking out of Mexico. Our marina handled some of it, but we needed to take a taxi over to the Port Captain and Immigration to fill out some paperwork and pay some fees. We had fortunately taken our binder, where we store all our paperwork and receipts related to the boat, rather than just the list of items we understood were needed for checking out, because they asked us not only for our temporary visa, but the receipt that showed that we paid for that visa. It took a bit of searching, but we did have it in the binder, fortunately. It seemed strange that none of the cruising guides warn you about the requirement of this document. We were just glad we had it. Now we are on the boat waiting for the customs agent to do an inspection of our boat, supposed to arrive before 1900 tonight. Tomorrow at 0930 immigration comes for their inspection. We hope to leave around noon at high tide. A couple tips for those of you who may be in this position of checking out of Mexico in the future: keep your bank receipt as proof that you paid for your temporary visa, be prepared to be aboard all day the day prior to your departure as they can't give you a specific time for the customs visit. Also, regarding money changing - we went into a bank to exchange pesos for dollars, as the USD is the monetary unit in El Salvador. They won't make exchanges to dollars in the banks, but some of the ATMs provide an option to get your withdrawal either in local currency or in US dollars . The ATM is very convenient, but not all ATMs offer this option so it takes a bit of searching sometimes. We now have an abundance of pesos left over that we were going to exchange, but we are expecting that El Salvador will make the exchange to dollars for us.
Doreen and Bill came over in the evening to give us hints about cruising Central America. They brought us a big bag full of travel and cruising guides for the area - what a nice surprise. They will certainly come in handy. We had to interrupt our session when the customs agent came to do our departure inspection (about 1900). It was quick and simple. The Immigration inspection is tomorrow morning just before we head out.
Dennis' brother is joining us in Costa Rica. Now is the time to start firming up those plans. It will be fun to have company.