It’s been a crazy, fun, adventurous spring. And as a result, I am super behind in posting on the blog. When we last left off, we had just completed our passage from El Salvador, along the coasts of Honduras and Nicaragua to Costa Rica. Before we began this journey from Mexico to Central America, we had a goal: get to Costa Rica for our 20th wedding anniversary. And we made it, just barely!
We woke up at anchor, just next to Marina Papagayo in the Bahía Culebra, and moved to the cockpit to enjoy our coffee to the sounds of the howler monkeys in the trees above our boat. Howler monkeys seem misnamed to me. They don’t howl, they mumble and grumble. In fact, they sound like they have a bad case of indigestion. Pepto Bismol, stat!
At 6:45 am the marina manager called us on the VHF to say we could come into the marina. As we were international arrivals and arrived after hours, we had to anchor out and await the morning when our agent, José, could meet us to begin the Costa Rican clearing-in process. We came into our slip and I stepped onto the dock to help the marina team with our lines. “No madame, get back on the boat,” said the nice young gentleman, reminding me that I was not legally in the country yet. Oops.
After chatting from the cockpit (we didn’t dare step off the boat) with Doug and Mary (N46 One Life) and Dietmar and Suzanne who head up to the Panama Posse, José arrived and lead us up to a picnic table outside of the small store/deli at the head of the dock. He offered us a beer at 9:30 am (why not?) and we sat comfortably while the immigration officer checked and stamped our passports. Cocktails in El Salvador, beers in Costa Rica! While immigration was simple, customs wished to see us in person and that required a 25-minute ride to the Liberia airport. No problem! This visit to the airport turned into a fun few hours with José who is a gem of a human. Truly, we meet the best people on this journey of ours. José offered to take us to the store, picked some mangoes from a tree for me, and took us to see his favorite beach. Along the way he told us stories of Costa Rica, and when we parted at the marina, we were friends. Amigos.
Max was waiting for us on our return, anxious to understand what was making all of these strange animal noises. Walking around the marina grounds we saw and heard a big pack (what is a group of monkeys called anyways?) of white-faced monkeys, low in the trees and busy checking out what Max was up to. The howlers were up high in the trees so we couldn’t get a good look at them, but they too were deep in conversation with their monkey neighbors, grumbling and rumbling. But the ground was full of dog intrigue as well, and Max discovered his life’s work: chasing iguanas. The resident iguanas of Marina Papagayo were infinitely bigger than Max and while he liked to chase them, he stopped quite short of reaching them and simply stared and head-tilted, “what ARE you, you crazy looking thing?”
In the morning we stepped onto the dock (legally this time) and took a good look at Red Rover. She was, shall we say, bedazzled. A sparkling girl. In other words, she was absolutely and completely encrusted with salt. The El Salvador bar crossing and then the force of the Papagayo winds had changed her hull from grey to white. As we were considering buckets, soap and hoses, we had a fun group of visitors. Jim and Leslie, who own the beautiful Nordhavn 63 Ghost had been eating at the marina restaurant “Dive Bar” (another example of misnaming) with their friends and saw a Nordhavn in the distance. We first met Jim and Leslie at Dent Island in British Columbia, and now here they were, standing on the dock in Costa Rica. How cool! As it turns out, they were in town for a business conference and we set a plan to share a drink the following evening.
We have a little joke in our family. For years, I told Kevin that we were not yet “legit.” Ten years? Nope. Fifteen? Not yet! On our 20th wedding anniversary Kevin woke up, looked at me and said, “Legit yet?” Ha! Twenty years of marriage and 22 years of togetherness later it seems like a permanent situation. Happy anniversary baby, we’re legit!
As it was a special day, we had a few splurges, that didn’t include a bent-out-of-shape chihuahua. We enjoyed a glorious day at the Andaz Resort, eating, drinking and floating around in the pool overlooking the ocean. In the evening, a driver picked us up and motored slowly down the stunning Papagayo Peninsula to the Four Seasons Resort. We met up with the Kerrs and enjoyed a drink and a toast on a beautiful patio overlooking the sunset and then headed into the on-site Italian restaurant to celebrate our legitness. As we reviewed the menu, the waiter came by with a special surprise, champagne from Jim and Leslie. So sweet guys, thank you so much! Love our Nordhavn family.
Speaking of Nordhavn family, the next few days were chock full of fun with our bungee-boating Nordhavn buddies Doug and Mary.
Doug and Mary had been quite lucky to score the LAST rental vehicle in all of Costa Rica. Seriously, there weren’t ANY cars available in the whole country. But being the awesome humans they are, they were generous and invited us carless people to join in their land exploring fun.
I should stop here to explain a Costa Rican greeting – Pura Vida! Pura Vida can mean hello, goodbye, good luck, go for it, or heyyyy…. Pura Vida translates to simple, or pure life. It is representative of the way Ticos (Costa Rican people) live. And people say it All. Of. The. Time. Maybe that’s why everyone we met in Costa Rica was so incredibly friendly and happy. We could all use a little Pura Vida in our lives. Doug, Mary, Kevin and I were about to get a full dose of Pura Vida.
Doug had arranged for a guided hike and “swim” at a nearby waterfall. Ride standing in the back of a truck that seemed unlikely to make it up the rutted dirt giant hills? Pura Vida! Hike through the jungle and walk through caves full of bats? Pura Vida! Embrace the customs of our guide Michael’s ancestors and mix water and a stone together to make face paint? Pura Vida! Jump off of the cliff into the pooling water below while yelling Pura Vida? Umm…maybe? For me, this was a big deal as I am really afraid of heights and jumping off of cliffs is well, verboten. But this is the new me, and I made a pact with myself to “try all the things” and not miss out on any experiences on this journey. So, jump off the cliff? Pura Vida! It took me awhile to get the guts to do it, but with Michael and Doug yelling Pura Vida at me, what choice did I really have? Exhilarating!
After our cliff jumping exercise, we proceeded to our next task: river hike-swimming. Easy. First swim. Then grab the lines hanging above the water and pull yourself along against the current. Scamper over the underwater rocks, don’t mind the freezing temperatures and wala! You’re at a stunning waterfall coursing through a column in the rocks above.
Needless to say, it was a Pura Vida filled day!
One of the funny things that we have in common with Doug and Mary is that we all love going to grocery stores in new places. That may sound strange, but we learn so much about a place at the grocery store – what are the new fruits and vegetables that we haven’t seen before? What are those tasty looking sweet things? What might we find in the liquor aisle? And… most importantly, are there limes? We can’t have scurvy on the Good Ship Red Rover or the Mighty Vessel One Life. Nope. Pura Vida.
A trip to nearby Coco Beach to check out the surfing scene, have lunch at a Greek restaurant, and of course check out the grocery store fit the bill for a next day’s adventure.
The grocery store outing also supported another upcoming event – the Panama Posse Super Bowl Party! Dietmar and Suzanne had arranged for the Posse members in residence at Marina Papagayo to utilize the cruiser’s lounge for a watch party. And as with all parties that Dietmar heads up, the food expectations were high. Bringing chips and a jar of salsa would certainly result in red faces and a detailed review of one’s flip flops. We, and everyone else rose to the occasion and the buffet at the party could have been on a Martha Stewart episode covering what to make for the Super Bowl. America comes to Costa Rica! Yum.
While we were having good fun with the Posse crowd at Marina Papagayo, we were itching to get out and anchor. While we were ready to go, the Papagayo winds had other ideas. Every day the winds were blowing 30+ knots, but would die down, at least for a bit, at sunset. An evening break in the winds was our opportunity and we rushed off the dock only to motor a few miles to Bahia Huevos. We spent a few lovely days at Bahia Huevos, wandering the beaches, enjoying incredible sunsets and taking a very cool dinghy mangrove tour that included a baby crocodile sighting.
Unfortunately, red tide had appeared in northern Costa Rica over our first week in the country. This natural phenomenon is basically an algae that gets out of control. It smells. It’s ugly. And it isn’t fun, particularly when you are running a small floating escape pod. No swimming. And, certainly no water making. Time to roll south.
At the same time, we were seeking a more “jungly” experience. Yes, jungly. It’s a new word used on Red Rover. Northern Costa Rica, during the dry season is…. Dry. Beautiful still, but it isn’t the green, verdant, jungly country we dreamed of.
Leaving Bahia Huevos before daybreak, we cruised down the gorgeous Nicoya Peninsula, watching the enormous waves crash on stunning beaches. There is a reason Costa Rica is a famed surfing destination. In other words, not an anchoring coast!
We spent two nights anchored in Bahia Ballena, a beautiful cove at the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. Unfortunately, the red tide found us there too, and while we enjoyed watching the activity around us with busy fishermen and skydivers (not together, obvi), it was time to move on again. Another reason for our move was that our friends Jeff and Pam were coming to visit! José, our awesome agent and friend, had agreed to pick them up at the airport in San Jose and drive them to Puntarenas, where he lives. These three had become fast friends by the time they arrived, having visited some sights along the way, and a promise to get together again soon.
The goal for the week was to explore the Gulf of Nicoya, a place none of us had ever experienced. The inner portions of the Gulf were much like cruising in the San Juan Islands in Washington with coves to anchor in, and no swell. Awesome! But… there was red tide again. We cruised about the islands, exploring different areas and trying to find spaces without red tide. We were successful some of the time and were able to enjoy some super cool destinations and some small villages. On 2.22.22, we hatched a plan celebrate the once in a lifetime all 2’s date with a beach day and a dance party on our own private island at Islas Tortugas. Well kind of private. The thousands of hermit crabs on the beach didn’t mind sharing with us. As long as Max didn’t chase them, that is. The Curú Nature Reserve was a fun day filled with all kinds of monkeys, tapirs, and cotis. Jeff even managed to stop a pair of monkeys from stealing another guest’s backpack! Oh, and during this whole adventure, I happened to have a birthday. Hello 52! Kevin had found a “glamping” resort that had a highly regarded restaurant and we cruised right over to anchor nearby. The resort sent their panga to pick us up for dinner and we enjoyed an amazing meal (tomahawk steaks!) under the twinkling lights of their restaurant and patio.
We hugged Jeff and Pam and said goodbye as José picked them up for another fun-filled ride back to the airport. In the morning, we too were on our way, heading south to Bahía Herradura. Bahía Herradura is the location of Marina Los Sueños. We had heard that they had declined sailboats and thought we’d call and see if we could come in as a trawler. Or at least use their dock for our dinghy. No love. It appears that they are either entirely full, or they have chosen to cater exclusively to sportfishers. Which was fine as the anchorage was terrific. We spent several days watching the natural elements of this gorgeous harbor – scarlet macaws flying in pairs by the boat, blue waves crashing on sandy beaches and sea creatures swimming all around us. At the same time, we watched a morning and evening parade of 25+ sportfishers flying in and out of the marina at warp speed. While they created more swell than the ocean, it was fun to watch these fast, sleek vessels zoom about. We hung out at the laid-back beach restaurants at Herradura and took an Uber over to visit the nearby busy surfer town, Jaco Beach. In Jaco Beach we added to our floating gallery collection. When we bought the boat, we made some décor changes to have Red reflect our personal taste. But we stopped short of artwork, thinking that we would want to gather items along the way. And, so we have! In Jaco Beach we found a gallery run by a cruiser who came to shore and never left, specializing in Costa Rican artists. We couldn’t leave without adding a beautiful, and perfectly sized, gem to our pilothouse.
After a few days of lazing about, we decided it was time to roll south to Marina Pez Vela in Quepos, Costa Rica where we would meet up with Doug and Mary for more adventuring. Marina Pez Vela is lovely, with an array of restaurants and shops at the top of the docks, and the cool little town of Quepos a 5-minute walk away. It’s sportfisher central though, with tuna towers and gleaming teak fighting chairs creating a bit of extra scenery. But that’s not the scenery we were after. We were on a sloth hunt! Hiking boots and hats on, our big camera in hand, we headed out to Manuel Antonio National Park with Doug and Mary. We did see some sloths and a whole lot of monkeys!
From Quepos, we headed south to Drake Bay, named for Sir Francis Drake. We made the decision to run south a bit late in the day, and as such, arrived after dark, but with a thunder and lightning storm providing an unwelcome nightlight to anchor by. In the morning, we woke up to see that we had arrived in “jungly” Costa Rica! The verdant coastline of the Osa Peninsula stretched before us. Tropical birds and monkeys chattered in the trees, and palm trees arched over sandy beaches, surrounded by dense jungle. Now THIS was the Costa Rica we had been expecting to see!
Oh there’s Red again
We stayed in Drake Bay for about a week, wandering the shoreline, taking a dinghy ride up the mangroves, joining an eco-resort guest group for dinner, and engaging in some new crazy fun pursuits with Doug and Mary. First up, we had horseback riding! As advertised, our ride was not the typical trail ride. The four of us rode in the back of yet another pick-up truck out of town, fording rivers and bouncing along dirt roads. We gained amazing truck bed riding skills in our short time in Costa Rica! At a small bend in the road, the truck lurched to a stop where a guide stood with a posse of horses. Our guide, Wilber, didn’t speak any English, but the four of us were able to communicate fairly well in Spanish as we spent the day wandering the jungle on horseback. The benefit of riding was that we were able to look all around ourselves, in the trees, and beyond, without having to worry about tripping over roots. We paralleled the Corcovado National Park boundary, and stopped to tie the horses in a clearing to take an educational hike in the jungle. We learned about the creatures, the trees, the termites (ick), the monkeys, and the plants as we walked and spoke with Wilber. After our hike, we were supposed to visit a waterfall for lunch and a swim, but the recent rains had created murky conditions. So instead, the plan was the head to a beach, canter the horses and enjoy lunch and a swim. Perfect. Well, once we turned toward the beach, the horses were pretty clear what the plan was, and we became a trotting, cantering and hilariously laughing group! All of us rode horses as kids, but these horses did not have bits on their bridles, so the control lay with the horse, not the rider. When their hooves hit sand, some sort of switch went off in all of their brains. It was time to run! Not a leisurely canter but rather a full out, not stopping for a bite of that tree over there, gallop. Mary’s horse, Memo, who had been quite lazy all morning became the fastest of the crew, passing us at a dead run as Mary held on for dear life. Wilber, of course, galloped along next to us, shouting, “Pura Vida!” I am pretty sure Pura Vida has an actual definition, one that isn’t explained to tourists. It has to be some variation on one of the following: “yes, this is actually insane,” “we’re all going to die” or “yaaas we’re losing our minds!” Weak from laughing so hard and from the bashing of butts on saddles, we all slid to the ground wondering about lunch. Because, well, we love lunch. And food in general. Wilber handed us a dry bag that had endured the galloping and said goodbye as he gathered up the horses and headed back down the beach. What might be inside the battered dry bag? Macaroni salad, pineapple and tortillas? Oh, and a giant serving spoon. That’s lunch! The idea it seemed was to put the macaroni salad in the tortillas, roll it up and eat it. Maybe. We later figured out that the pineapple was supposed to go in the tortilla too! Maybe. An adventure in eating. Sounds odd but it was delicious!
Tree tunnel to the village.
Even though we now had bowed legs and bruised bums, we wanted to go to Isla del Caño, a biological reserve about 10 miles from the Osa Peninsula. While it seems that we should have taken our boats (logical, no?), we had learned that the permit-required anchorage would be comprised of a rolly, unprotected experience. As such, we had joined a snorkel group and the dive company panga would pick us up at our boats the next morning. Waiting for our panga ride, Kevin casually glanced out at the horizon (in the direction of the island) over the top of his coffee cup. Coffee sloshed as he jumped up, grabbed the binocs and danced excitedly up and down the boat. Water spout! Oh, make that two water spouts! Dancing water spouts! And then… the merging of two water spouts into one giant water spout! Seems like a good place to go snorkeling. Pura Vida! Sharknado!
The dive boat picked us up as expected and we road out to the island, surrounded by other guests from all over the world. We were the only Americans. Loved that. Every time we meet people from various countries, we are richer for it. The snorkeling was great with many sea turtles, a whole bunch (that’s a technical term) of white tipped sharks, reef corals and gorgeous colorful tropical fish. On the way back we stopped at a remote beach for swimming (we boat people can get to the remote beaches anyways so we dried out under a palm, but not a coconut palm for obvious reasons). Waving goodbye to our new friends from the swim step, we opened the cockpit door to an overactive Max!
With beautiful conditions in the forecast, we rounded the Osa Peninsula and entered the tranquil waters of Golfo Dulce, the southernmost cruising grounds of Costa Rica. We originally intended to anchor off of the “backpacker-esque” town of Puerto Jiménez, but upon arrival, a mega yacht was taking up the useable portion of the anchorage. Gracias mega yacht. Ugh. Sunset was not yet upon us, so we continued up to the top of the bay and anchored in Bahía Rincon. As the sun dipped below the spectacular junglescape at the water’s edge, the howlers grumbled, the scarlet macaws squawked and a toucan flew by. The jungle was alive with sounds of birds, bugs and creatures. It was peaceful and magical.
We spent almost a week up in Rincon, exploring the mangroves in our little dinghy, walking Max on the country roads, and dining at a small family restaurant multiple times where we became regulars. Doug and Mary joined a portion of the way through, and we all relaxed together. Paddle boarding, dinghy cruising, sleeping soundly on a boat that wasn’t rolling were all popular pastimes!
After the week out in the jungle, we moved south to the town of Golfito, as we had a need for strong cellular service with which to do some work. Ah, work. It happens. And it is how we can keep doing this!
Golfito is a small, friendly town set on its own enclosed bay. We anchored off of Banana Bay Marina, and used their dinghy dock to access their restaurant, the town and the amazing services of Gabriella, their marina manager. Every afternoon a squall would roll through the bay, darkening the sky and bringing torrential downpours, thunder and lightning. It seemed that we were getting closer to rainy season! We wandered town and relaxed.
The fun telephone pole paintings of Golfito!
While this was our last stop in Costa Rica, we couldn’t leave without another adventure with the fearless duo of Doug and Mary. This time, however, even Doug and Mary couldn’t wrangle a rental car, so Kevin found a shuttle service and asked them if we could just hire them for a day to drive us around. After some confusion, they agreed and our two tour guides picked all four of us up for a day of exploring, and more eating. We visited a roadside stand where we sampled all kinds of fruits and vegetables we likely would not have tried otherwise, enjoyed gorgeous vistas, and had lunch in Puerto Jiménez (the mega yacht was of course no longer in the anchorage). On the way back to Golfito, we visited a strange, yet highly useful destination – the Duty Free Zone! Apparently Dole used to have a large presence in Golfito, with a banana packing and shipping center. When they left, the government helped the town of Golfito by establishing a Duty Free Zone that would draw tourism. It was weird. But we did find a new toaster! And a lot of Flor de Caña rum!
With our wanderings complete, we brought Red Rover into the marina and topped off her fuel tanks with just under 800 gallons. For those keeping track, in October, we filled the tanks upon leaving Marina Puerto Escondido in Loreto, Mexico. We then added around 1,800 gallons in El Salvador prior to the Costa Rican diesel purchase. Red Rover carries 2,450 gallons of diesel when full and fat and sassy. In our upcoming blog post, we will purchase more diesel in Panama City. We’ve come a long, long, way.
As dark skies became light, we left the next morning, trailing One Life out of the bay, Van Halen’s Panama cranking on the stereo. We were on our way! At sunset we would be setting the anchor in Panama!