#37—Costa Rica's Pacific Coast
Our return flight on Lacsa Airlines (the official airline of Costa Rica) departed from LAX at 12:30 a.m. Tuesday February 6th. Promptly at 1:00, just after we fell asleep, dinner was served. So, we indulgedalthough I avoided the perpetually stale dinner roll that gets passed from flight to flight and airline to airline.
We slept, sort of, until we landed at Guatemala City airport the next morning. The Guatemala City airport doesn't look like much because, coincidentally, it isn't. For those of us used to modern runways defined by a sea of blue lights and contemporary terminals, the Guatemala City airport offered a stark contrast: cracked-pavement runways lined with rusted corrugated aluminum Quonset huts, some of which housed boats with outboard motors.
Costa Rican Courtesy
When we arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica, around 9:30 the next morning, our immigration officer asked us for the piece of paper that you are normally given on the plane when traveling to an international destination. We said that we hadn't been given any forms. So the customs guyget thisproduced two blank forms and then filled them out for us. We answered his questions while he went through each formsmiling, no less. Then he pointed out that Becky hadn't signed her passport. Courtesy all the way.
Next came customs. I had been bracing myself for a ... debate ... with customs, because, as usual, we carried more boat parts and supplies than personal luggage: two duffels and three large boxes. The boxes, which we cut down to meet Lacsa's size and weight requirements, were jammed with everything imaginable, from propane solenoids to plastic containers of powdered drink mixes. As a United States vessel in transit, we should not have to pay duty on any of these materials, because everything will leave Costa Rica on the boat. This doesn't stop ambitious customs officials from attempting to assess duty. Often, the primary intent is, let's be frank, to solicit a bribe in lieu of an expensive duty assessment.
An unsmiling customs woman, the first sentry, stood blocking the exitlike an All American linebacker standing in front of the goal line. She passed judgment on those passing through: Freedom to the right. Inspections to the left. We approached her with our bags and boxes, like jet-aged gypsies. I faked right. She blocked, and sternly pointed us towards the left. Darn it!
We entered the inspection line behind a Korean tour group. The customs officials checked the Korean tourists for everything. They pulled the ball bearings out of the luggage wheels. They flossed between the teeth of zippers in the carryon bags. They took an X-ray of one grandmother's fillings. OK, I'm just kidding. But that's what it felt like. Watching the display in front of us I imagined disgorging all three boxes and both duffels onto the conveyor belt. Powdered drink mixes. Strange-looking boat parts that I couldn't explain. Underwear. Everything.
The customs man approached. I tensed. "Buenes Dias," I said, smiling stiffly through gritted teeth. "United States," I coaxed through my lips, stretched into a fake smile. "We are returning to our boat in Playa del Coco with a few parts and supplies."
"What is the total value of everything?" the customs man asked. Scanning the bags in deep thought, with a perplexed look on my face, I turned towards him a few seconds later and responded: "$500?"
"OK, you can pass," he said.
"Hey, wait a minute!" I said. "Don't you want to check anything?" "I've hoisted all these heavy boxes and bags onto the conveyor belt. I spent five minutes removing all of the locks from our duffels. Here, let me cut this box open."
No, I didn't actually say that. But I'm sure he saw the fillings in my back teeth as my face broke into a huge grin. We passed through with all duffels and boxes intact, just as the customs officer shook a small Korean woman by her heels.
Dan Dinsmore and Marlene PetersonMarlene was a new friend from Playa del Cocomet us at the San Jose airport. They arrived by taxi, however, because Marlene's car died in a parking garage in San Jose. After we drove back to the city Becky and I dozed in a hotel room while Dan and Marlene attempted to get her car started. No luck. We drove out of bustling San Jose late afternoon in a rented car, as dusk painted thousands of rush-hour pedestrians in a deep gold light. That night we slept at Marlene's beach house.
The Papagayos: 45-knots at Anchor
On Wednesday morning we returned to Andanté. She had been sitting at anchor most of the previous six weeks. The Papagayo winds, which blow in the Golf of Papagayo, had taken a toll on her. Gusting up to 45-knots in the bay while we were there, these winds pelted her with sand and dust from the surrounding hills.
In addition, because this was the season the locals burned the sugar cane fields, the winds constantly deposited black ash onto the deck and into the cabin through the vents. All of the running rigging (external sheets and lines) had turned brown from the dust. Most of the interior was covered with ash. This is a little of the local culture that you miss when you cruise Royal Caribbean.
Over the next five days we cleaned, made some repairs, replaced the water maker pumps, and settled into, once again, living on the boat. The transition from land to sea and sea to land always requires a great deal of patience.
Sailing to Golfito
Monday afternoon, the 12th of February, after provisioning at the local grocery store, and after wrestling the dinghy back to the deck in 40-knot winds (this required four separate lines and 90-minutes), we departed for our trip down the coast of Costa Rica towards Golfito where we were scheduled to meet with Chris Brown who joined us for transiting the Panama Canal.
Dan Dinsmore, who had sailed with me for the past 18-months, decided to remain in Playa del Coco where he purchased eight acres of property on a stream. We wish Dan well, and thank him for his help, support, and friendship during the past year and a half.
We made the 280-miles from Playa del Coco to Golfito, Costa Rica in a week, stopping to anchor every night along the way: Bahia Tamarindo (watch out for the strange guy in the kayak), Bahia Garza (watch out for the reefs), Bahia Ballena (beautiful and sheltered), Quepos (some stores for provisioning), Bahia Uvita (exposed and rolling), Bahia Drake (we found a restaurant even though the locals said there was none), and finally Golfito.
Anchored in Tamarindo, we had an unusual experience with a man who approached in a kayak. He asked the usual questions: Where were we from? Where were we going? But then started asking about the size of the boat and how many people were on board as he made notes in a small notebook. A bit disconcerting. The more specific questions he asked, the more evasively we answered. For the first time in a long time, we locked the boat that night, from the inside out.
The beautiful, relatively unpopulated Costa Rican coastline peacefully slipped by, punctuated by sessions with the laptop computer. You know there's something wrong when you are cruising past such a beautiful coast while engrossed with your laptop working on income taxes. You can't escape from Uncle Sam, even in paradise.
February 18th we sailed northeast in Golfito Dulce, the large gulf that leads to Golfito Bay. We were surprised to find virtually no boats enjoying a beautiful Sunday afternoon on the bay. Except for a lone fishing boat, we were the only craft around. In the United States this bay would have been filled with pleasure boats. But here, no one could afford any.
We wanted to secure a slip at the Banana Bay Marina in Golfito. However, at the time we contacted them there was no space available. Instead, we found a slip at Samoa del Sur Restaurant and Hotela facility owned by a French couple who sailed to Golfito in the mid-80s. Although the warped, steel plate docks are noisy and in need of repairand you need to watch your step so that you don't shear your toes offyou might be able to find dock space, water, electricity (most of the time it's a positive charge), and a passable restaurant. Ask Nicole, the daughter-manager, to see the family's shell collection in a large display room adjacent to the restaurant. Unlike many restaurants and establishments in this part of Costa Rica, MasterCard is accepted.
At Somoa del Sur we met Shane, a British subject who sailed an 18-foot sailboat around the world, and decided to remain in Golfito for good, "many years ago," when a coconut tree fell on his sailboat.
We also met Captain Louie, who had the distinction of owning the sailboat featured in the film Captain Ron. Two sailboats were photographed in Captain Ron: a beat-up version for the 'before' shots, and a Bristol-condition version for the 'after' scenes (most of the movie). Captain Louie owned the 'before' version, which had degraded even more since the film. By the time we had caught up to it, the masts had rotted away. Louie informed us, however, that he was looking for a new pair of masts for his ketch.
Captain Louie's mast-less sailboat had another unique feature: he had wired the metal lifelines and stanchions along the deck with electricity to keep unwanted visitors from crawling on board. The handwritten cardboard sign: Peligro! (Danger!) did not do justice to the shock you received if you inadvertently grabbed a lifeline. I'm sure his security system did not help combat electrolysis, a huge problem with metal-infested boats that want to act like very large batteries while floating in the water.
Tuesday February 20th my friend from Seattle, Chris Brown, joined us in Golfito to sail the coast of Panama and transit the Panama Canal. Like all visiting crew members, Chris arrived with a duffle dedicated to boat parts, including much-needed parts for our water maker, which had stopped making water a week earlier.
Over the next several days we worked on the water maker and coaxed it back to life for the trip down to the Panama Canal. (No drinkable water is available between Golfito and Balboa.) We also provisioned and checked out with the local authorities; which included a trip to customs, immigration, the bank, the port captain, and to an office where we each made an obligatory 63¢ contribution to the Red Cross.
Finally, with water maker making water, we departed Costa Rica on February 23rd for the passage to the Panama Canal.
Access & Resources
Somoa del Sur Hotel and Restaurant: hail them on channel 16.
Banana Bay Marina. Golfito, Costa Rica
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