Sunday, August 26, 2012

Costa Rica to Panama City

If you have been following our track via the 'Where are we now' section of our blog you'll have noticed that we have been making some swift progress down the coast.

We had a one day trip from Drakes Bay to Golfito where we were headed to check out of Costa Rica and get our international travel papers. It was a bit out of the way, but it had the added bonus of being very well protected and we were looking forward to some good nights sleep after many rolly nights at the anchorages we had been at. We arrived in the afternoon and pulled into the protected harbor and navigated our way down to Land and Sea Marina. Tim hailed us on channel 16 as we went past as it was difficult to see where the marina was and guided us in to our mooring. This is a great place to stay as well as being friendly and cheap. As I was tying us up, I heard Serena call out and looked over to see our friends Aaron and Nicole waving from their boat Bella Star on the next mooring over! We hadn't seen them since El Salvador and thought they were still behind us. It was good to catch up over dinner and get caught up on their travels.

As we only had two days left of our 3 month temporary import permit for Solent, we got started straight away on the international checkout process. The first day we paid the fees at the bank and got the necessary copies of our paperwork so we were ready for the process the next day. The check out went smoothly despite the fact that when we originally checked in they got confused with my New Zealand passport and put that I was from New Caledonia! What I didn't realize was that they had also put the boat as a New Caledonian flagged vessel, where it is a US flagged one! Despite all the inconsistencies we had done immigration, customs and the Port Captain in under 2 hours which i was happy with as each office was in different parts of town. We now had 24 hours to depart which was fine as we were leaving at first light the next day.

The next day had a few thunderstorms on the horizon, but we headed out and managed to avoid these and was hoisting our Panamanian courtesy flag before lunch time as we crossed the border. We also caught our first yellowfin tuna not far into Panamanian waters. This thing was huge and at least 20lbs or more! We have been trying to avoid night transits where possible as the nights are normally full of thunderstorms during the rainy season. Our first stop was to be Isla Parida as we could get there by 4pm which is our target time as the thunderstorms often start after that. We went to the closest anchorage on the SW corner of the island. The anchorage was small and some fishing vessels already had the best position so we didn't have a whole lot of protection. Luckily the wind and swell were coming from the same direction and we had a good nights sleep.

We left early the next morning for Isla Cebaco. 3am to be exact! I'd woken early and decided we may as well get the boat underway. The only problem with leaving that early is that the thunderstorms are still in full swing so I spent the next three hours dodging storms. Not long after sunrise the storms disappeared and we had a smooth journey. Just after lunch we came across a group of whales with little babies jumping out of the water. It was an amazing sight to see a creature of that size come completely out of the water. It was the closest we had been and I had to turn sharply to make sure we didn't hit one at one point. The swell was fairly significant and our destination anchorage, while in a bay was open to the swell, so i wasn't hopeful we would get a good nights sleep. When we got there the best spot had mooring buoys installed, but I managed to get us in close to shore tucked in behind the moorings. We were only in 10 feet of water, but it was low tide so we would be fine and we had another great nights sleep here.

Originally we were going to do an overnighter to Panama City from here, but after much reading decided to try what was considered a marginal anchorage at Ensenada Benoa about half way. The seas were a lot bigger today, but it's surprising what you start considering as fine and I didn't really give it a thought until Serena said she thought they were about 20 ft high. Benoa isn't supposed to be well protected and with the sea state I was thinking we should press on, but Serena convinced me to give it a go. We pulled in and managed to tuck in behind the little island in what is an otherwise open bay in 10 feet of water where we were protected. I could have easily swam to shore from where we were and people were surfing some big waves not far down the beach, but where we were, tucked in tight behind the island, the boat was very settled and we had a very relaxing evening.

The forecast for the morning was good with light winds which was perfect for rounding point Mala. Most boaters are anxious when rounding the point as the seas and wind are magnified by the point as well as it having lots of traffic as nearly all the ships must come around the point as they head into the canal. We were very lucky and had calm seas and no traffic until we were got around the point and were well clear of the shipping lane by then. Serena is on watch now as I write this and she just called me up as we had another Skipjack tuna on (we have caught 13 today!). We let him go as we still have tuna in the fridge and I'd even already had some for breakfast!


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Manual Antonio

We left Los Suenos marina on Saturday afternoon and anchored out in the bay which was very rolly and we didn't get much sleep. I wondered if I may have lost my sea legs and was actually feeling a little bit nervous about the trip. At first light (5am on Sunday morning) we headed off to our first destination, Manuel Antonio park. Manuel Antonio is the smallest conservation park in Costa Rica, but is renowned for the most amazing wildlife. We arrived at around 2pm after a 40 mile journey and were absolutely exhausted so decided not to go to shore until the next day. 

Solent anchored at Manual Antonio

Unfortunately the anchorage was also very rolly so we had another sleepless night. If you visit the park, make sure you don't go on a Monday as it is closed. We didn't realize this and on Monday morning we packed a bag, launched the dinghy and headed over to the beach. We secured the dinghy and walked up into the jungle, but after about 10 minutes we were approached by a park ranger and told that the park was closed and were escorted back to our dinghy.  

We headed back across to the park again on Tuesday morning. Arriving by sea is a very unusual way to enter the park and to purchase a ticket for ourselves and to pay the $8 per day anchoring fee, we had to literally walk the whole way through the park to the main entrance. We were told that you could only enter the park through the hotel even though we had already entered via the beach. Anyway, we followed the rules and managed to get our tickets and enter the park the correct way. Once we were officially inside the park we were able to relax and start the wild animal hunt. This place is absolutely amazing, it's like being in a zoo, but where the animals run free. 

Deadly Viper
Howler Monkey
These frogs are famous for their red eyes, but this one was sleeping
Three Toed Sloth

Sloth having lunch
After some exploring we found what looked like an old disused trail heading up the hill so we decided that heading cross country was the best way to see the wildest animals.

Walking up the trail

The view from the top of the trail
On our way back we were stopped by another couple who told us that there were some aggressive monkeys ahead. As we headed down the path we saw that ahead a group of people were blocked off by a number of vicious monkeys. Lee gallantly went to the front of the group to try to disperse the assailants, but they formed up around him jumping from tree to tree and screaming at him.

These guys didn't want to let us pass
In response Lee let out a loud roar and drew his arms up like a Gorilla. The monkeys retreated back into the trees allowing us to pass behind him while he held them at bay, but seconds later they returned and one monkey (The one with the big teeth) had taken a liking to Lee and would not take his eyes off him. He followed us and at one point I thought it was going to jump on Lee's head. I was shaking from head to toe, but managed to get a few snaps of him. When we finally got away from the monkeys one of the girls told us that this was her best experience in Costa Rica and that Lee was a hero!

 On our way back to the dinghy, I spotted a tail with huge spines. We see iguanas all day but the spines on this one's tail would make it a really big iguana, too big. I pointed it out to Lee and we followed the body until we could see the head.

It was a flippin Croc, just hanging around the beach about 3 meters from us.

We were able to get as close as we liked to this guy who was just hanging out in a small tree on the beach.
If your in Costa Rica, don't miss this place.

Los Suenos Marina, Herradura, Costa Rica

It's been some time since we last updated our blog. One key reason is that we have been stationary at Los Suenos marina, Herradura in Costa Rica for 2 and a half months. It's a great marina that has no less than 7 restaurants including an amazing sushi place! 

We haven't only been relaxing though and have also been busy working and preparing the boat for our trip south as well. Serena went back to work in the US while I worked on the boat in Costa Rica. 

Serena went to Texas, California and Illinois and even managed a visit to see Nicole in Canada. We also managed to travel together back to San Francisco where we were able to finally get our storage container emptied and visit all of our friends at Westpoint. 

While Serena was in the office, I visited Santa Monica Blvd

As a consequence of emptying our storage locker we now have items that no other cruiser in the Pacific is likely to have, two sets of ski's. We also brought back two bikes! We got some strange looks at the airport arriving in Costa Rica with ski's, but also some strange looks in the US when we checked in 6 very unusually shaped bags. When we returned to the boat we had to get to work in making room for all of this extra stuff so we had a massive week long clear out where we became quite famous for our trash with the marina workers. We hadn't realized that they go through everyones rubbish and recycle everything and so they had a field day with all of the stuff we were getting rid of. We literally had 5 sacks of rubbish a day for a week. Here are some pictures just to give you an idea of the size of this little project. 

I hate to think of the distance most of this has traveled and how much faster the boat might have been without it. 

Serena has been dying to see a crocodile since Mexico where we saw many croc warning signs but no actual crocs. Well that all changed while were in Los Suenos and have now seen more than we care for. You wont find us swimming off the back of the boat as often as we used to.

So now that the boat is in order we're ready to leave the comforts of Los Suenos and head back out into the wild! Our first stop is Manuel Antonio national park.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Drakes Bay - Indiana Moreton and the temple of monkeys

On August 15th we travelled from Manuel Antonio to Drakes Bay, where we spent 3 days exploring. Drakes bay is on south west coast of Costa Rica and was until recently, inaccessible by land. There are only a few dirt roads that lead to the village from the water, and which are only accessible during dry season. We were very happy to find a nice dinghy dock at Drakes bay where we could step off our boat onto dry land, what a luxury! It was nice not to have to plan a beach landing, where we usually have a 50-50 chance of getting very wet. It was also nice not to have to figure out how and where to tie our boat up and wonder if it might still be there when we return from our adventures ashore.

The dinghy dock

After tying up the dinghy, we decided to try and find somewhere to have breakfast and discovered that the dinghy dock belonged to an ecolodge that has a couple of cool restaurants that look almost like tree houses, sitting on the waterfront. Unfortunately the restaurants are for residents only unless booked in advance, so we weren't able to get breakfast there. The waiter at the restaurant pointed us in the direction of the village where we would be able to find some food, so we headed off through the jungle to find the road.

View of Solent from the jungle.

Giant bamboo

As we walked through the grounds of the eco lodge, we spotted a gardener who was collecting tropical plants for this stunning arrangement. We also saw a few guests and noticed how differently we were dressed to them. They were fully kitted out in their jungle outfits of quick dry, long but convertible trousers, long sleeve shirts and hiking boots. We must be getting used to being in the jungle as we were wearing flip flops!

Finally we made it to the dirt road which we followed past the school, through a river, over a river and into the village. The village is very small, but we managed to find a cool place up the hill where we had a really good breakfast and some fresh rainforest coffee. Whilst eating breakfast we had the most amazing view of a large group of scarlet macaws sitting in the trees. Scarlet macaws are the largest parrots in the world, so it was great to see them in their natural habitat. There was also an open air supermarket attached to the restaurant, brilliant!

Road to village

Drakes bay school

Scarlet Macaw
The open air supermarket

Crossing one of the old and rusty suspension bridges.

Crocodiles below!
Drakes bay was Sir Francis Drake's most likely landing spot on the west coast of north America during his travels around the world in the 16th century. Apparently it is also the location of some of the British pirates hidden treasures.

The following day we decided to go on a treasure hunt. Lee decided to wear his Indiana Jones outfit and bring along his lasso just in case. After a while trekking uphill through the jungle we came upon another suspension bridge. This one was much longer and higher than the others we had seen and really did look like it was part of a movie set. As we approached the bridge we saw that a large group of monkeys were making their way across the bridge towards us. Lee was keen to cross the bridge full of monkeys, but I hadn't forgotten about our last monkey encounter and managed to persuade him to wait until they had crossed before we did. I didn't fancy having flying screaming monkeys jumping in my face whilst hanging onto a rusty old suspension bridge surrounded by crocs! Once the monkeys had disappeared into the trees we headed across.

Lee, keen to get on the bridge

Lee catching dinner.

Watch out Indiana!
Lookout point at Drakes Bay

Solent anchored in Drakes Bay
Me checking for creatures before relaxing in this hammock chair

Me pretending that the hammock is really comfortable and relaxing

We didn't find any treasure but we did manage to hunt down this monument presented by the city of Plymouth, England. It translates to something like "Commemorating the ship's visit, Drake, the "Golden Hind" to this bay to source fresh water during his circumnavigation of the globe"

Kindred spirits?