Sunday, June 19, 2016

Costa Rica By Sea (June 1-12) and By Land (April 10-15)

Bahía Culebra / Playa Panamá #2 (June 1-8, 2016)

We closed our last post saying that our next “mission” from Playa Panamá

Lookin' Out Our Back Door - Playa Panamá!

would be to get clean laundry. And a mission it was:
  • Laundry Day #1: We stuffed a festering mass of laundry into two plastic trash bags, rowed the dinghy to shore and took a taxi to Playas del Coco. At the highway-side lavandería we tried not to flinch when quoted a price of $4 per kilo (x 9 kilos = gasp). Costa Rica is not a bargain cruising destination. After a nice shore lunch, a cajero automático (ATM) and grocery shopping we stowed the groceries in dry bags (Non Sailor Note: Dry bags are heavy-duty vinyl treated canvas bags which when properly closed will keep their contents dry, even if dropped into, say, the ocean or onto the floor of a wet-bottomed dinghy). We taxied back to Playa Panamá and rowed home (yes, sometimes “we” row – as in Molly also rows).
  • LD #2: We repeated the row-to-shore drill and taxi ride and visited the Port Captain (Costa Rica’s first female port captain we are told) to get a national zarpe authorizing us to proceed south to Quepos, Costa Rica. After another nice shore lunch and adding saldo to cell phones we taxied back to Playa Panamá, stopping to ransom the laundry. When we arrived on the beach we were dismayed to see the surf was really rolling. Really. Rolling. At this point we realized that the laundry lady had tied our expensively cleaned items into a bundle with a carrying handle, leaving a non-waterproof opening at the top. Ugh. There was no way the contents of that bundle were going to remain dry during a surf-riding dinghy trip. We squished as many clean items as possible into the two dry bags, but still about half of our stuff remained vulnerable to being soaked. In desperation we asked the guy operating a nearby hotel beach shack if he would keep the non-dry bag items until we could return with emptied dry bags in the morning. Mario not only stowed our stuff in a bag which he marked, with official flourish: Abracadabra – he waded waist deep into the surf and helped us launch. Now that’s service! We arrived aboard Abracadabra just as it started to rain – the crew more dry than not and our current half of the laundry very dry. 
  • LD #3: We rowed to shore, dry-bagged the remainder of our laundry and gratefully tipped Mario who once again helped us launch. Mission accomplished: clean, dry laundry on Abracadabra. A third dry bag is now on our shopping list.

We enjoyed Playa Panamá and recommend it for anyone wanting to check in or out of Costa Rica without anchoring in the crowded and rolling bay in front of Playas del Coco. We can’t help you with the bus system – we relied on the kindness of strangers and taxistas ($20 a trip).

One rainy morning we learned that local knowledge recommends Panamá as well. We woke up to a veritable armada of tour boats anchoring around us. These boats had left the bay at Playas del Coco because heavy rains had caused the river to discharging lots of debris into the Playas del Coco bay (logs, sticks and coconuts mostly) at the same time an offshore storm had created a serious swell event that was stronger in that bay than at Panamá.  We were entertained by the scramble . . . and the next morning the rains had stopped and they were gone. There you have it: a local knowledge recommendation for the anchorage at Playa Panamá as well.

We spent a week there and could have stayed longer . . .

Though Probably Not As Long As This Boat . . . 

but once our stuff was clean it was time to travel on.

Backtrack: Road Trip Intersection (April 10-15, 2016)

As we have mentioned, we took a road trip in Costa Rica with Bryce’s sister Brenda and our niece Susan in April. Playas del Coco is the first place our sailing route intersected with that land travel route. Here’s a note about the first part of our land travel in Costa Rica

               Nicaragua to Costa Rica:  

We left Abracadabra in the Nicaraguan marina and bussed to Liberia, in northern Costa Rica, from Chinandega, Nicaragua. This trip takes longer than it looks because there is no direct bus or mini-van route between these two locations. Our travel was by mini-vans from Chinandega to León and from León to Managua. Travel note: We recommend mini-vans over local buses, at least in Nicaragua. They cost more but travelers are guaranteed a seat and may get air-conditioning. From Managua there are nice (though not as nice as Mexican first-class) buses to San José, Costa Rica which will stop at a shopping mall in Liberia to discharge passengers.

A Travel FYI: We were stopped at the Costa Rica border because we didn’t have a return or through bus ticket. We aren’t the first to have this problem apparently because across from the immigration office three bus companies have road-side offices offering vouchers in the amount necessary to travel back to Nicaragua (our vouchers from Tica Bus were for $25 each). The immigration officer accepted our vouchers in lieu of bus tickets and gave us a 90-day travel visa. [We haven't dealt with the through travel / return ticket issue before, even though we’ve heard about it. Perhaps we’ve been lucky... or Costa Rica is stricter. We’ll let you know when we try to travel into the country by air.]


               Playas del Coco By Rental Car (April 10-13, 2016): 

On our first night of our Costa Rican land travel adventure we stayed in the Hilton Garden Inn across from the Liberia airport which we recommend as a great place to launch North Americans to or from Costa Rica; it’s just like home. The next day we picked up a rental car. [FYI that great internet price may not include even the required “supplemental liability” coverage (yes, required, but supplemental?). Be ready to triple your rental car expense if you want collision coverage.] We drove to Playas del Coco – our plan was to do some tourist recon to ease our Canadian travel companions’ entry and some cruiser recon to smooth our entry into a new country.

In Cocos we stayed at the Hotel Chantel which is perched over town, offering very nice views but rooms that are a bit motel-ish (bed-side sliding glass doors open onto a shared balcony) and a pool that is more for soaking than swimming. It was our first introduction to the price shock travelers experience when they enter Costa Rica from other Central American countries: prepare for U.S. prices. Staying at Hotel Chantel will be better for travelers with their own transportation - it’s a drive from there to anywhere.

We walked around the beach area and found the places we would later need to visit in order to check Abracadabra into Costa Rica (port captain’s office, immigration office and bus stop for the bus to the aduana office). We decided it looked feasible to check into the country without hiring an agent. We stopped into a very nice grocery store (Auto Mercado) and tried out some good restaurants (don’t miss Citron or La Dolce Vita if you visit there!). Cocos is a nice town for hanging out – but FYI, it’s not a world class resort. It’s a busy little funky beach town.

One afternoon we drove to Marina Papagayo in Bahía Culebra – which we could later see from our anchorage at Playa Panamá – and were given a thorough tour by marina staff. It is a very high-class marina (pool, restaurant, small chandlery) but we decided it wasn’t for us. It is expensive: current transient daily rate $2 a foot; monthly rate $28 a foot plus power; and they require the use of an immigration/customs agent to enter the country, one of which quoted us a fee of over $500. But our primary reason for bypassing the marina wasn’t just the cost. It’s that the marina is miles from anywhere, and we had just spent several weeks at a “miles from anywhere” marina in Nicaragua for way less. We weren’t anxious to repeat the experience at a higher cost. 

Marina Papagayo1
Marina Papagayo

               Flamingo Beach (April 13-15, 2016): 

Our travel companions arrived at the Liberia airport (direct West Jet from Toronto) a few days later and we drove to the Flamingo Beach Resort – which wasn’t our original plan.  We had booked a lovely casita on Airbnb overlooking a nearby beach, but the day before Brenda and Susan were to arrive our Airbnb hosts e-mailed and reported that the casita’s air-conditioner had died. We declined their offer of a discounted stay, thinking that it just wouldn’t do to greet Canadians with 90 degree heat and no air-conditioning. So we took to and found . . . the Flamingo Beach Resort. Which turned out to be just fine.

Susan At The Beach

Beach. Pool. Swim up bar. Air-conditioned rooms. Perfect. Affordable enough. Whew. [Don’t miss lunch at Coco Loco which is within walking distance of the hotel.]

From Flamingo Beach we took a drive to nearby Bahía Potrero to see whether it would be a good future anchorage . . . and found the Costa Rica Sailing Center. The Sailing Center offers sailing classes, sailboat rentals, paddleboards and all other manner of beach paraphernalia. It looks like a great place to keep teenagers busy during a beach vacation. And the guys that run the center (Jeff and Justin) are super friendly. If you’re interested in a Costa Rica beach adventure consider building some time around the Costa Rica Sailing Center.

Which is a perfect segue back to our Travels on Abracadabra:

Mostly One Night Stands (June 8-12, 2016)

               Bahía Potrero (June 8-10)

Almost two months after our initial rental car recon of Bahía Potrero we returned on Abracadabra to inaugurate a new mooring ball set out by the Costa Rica Sailing Center. Our trip from Playa Panamá was a short motoring event; anchor up around 10.00 and on the mooring ball by 14.00.

Costa Rica Sailing Center

For cruisers the Sailing Center offers a couple of mooring balls with night-time beach security, a friendly beach bar/restaurant, a swimming pool and an outdoor shore shower (perfect for those who get soaked during a dinghy landing – which fortunately didn’t include us!). In time they plan to have water delivery via a spigot at their swim platform. At present, water tanks can be filled by hauling jerry jugs or through arrangement with “the marina” – an odd informal anchorage/mooring field near some piers that are left over from a failed marina project. We decided to make do with home brew (desalinated water à la Abracadabra).

One can also hike or bus to nearby restaurants and grocery stores or the Sailing Center folks will help arrange for a taxi or a rental car. Since we’d seen the area previously, and the rather significant swell that came up at night wasn’t making for a restful visit, we decided not to make this a long-term stay and moved on. But if you stop by, either by land or by sea, tell Jeff and Justin that Abracadabra says hello. Apparently we were their first yatista customers!

               Bahía Tamarindo (June 10-11): 

This short hop including a two-hour period during which there was enough wind to sail (!) and will be remembered as the trip during which the wind indicator mysteriously spontaneously resurrected. At least it began showing wind speeds which seemed more-or-less accurate to us.

The day before this minor miracle Bryce had found a delicate, ten-inch-ish twig lying on the deck. We assumed that once again swallows were trying to nest somewhere . . . possibly at the top of the mast. In retrospect this nesting attempt must have had something to do with the resurrection of the wind speed indicator – and Molly feels even worse about destroying the nest in the jib roller furling.

Coming In For A Landing, Abracadabra Field!

When we were planning our April road trip, we routed ourselves around Tamarindo after reading that it had a reputation as a party town. Our one night at anchor there listening to dance music being pumped out by various beach bars until all hours confirmed that we had made a good call.


               Bahía Sámara (June 11-12): 

This trip began “at first light” because we wanted to reach Sámara before the (fairly regular) afternoon rains began. We were mostly successful. We raised anchor by 05.55. And we motored. We passed turtles and saw lots of floating logs (the rainy season causes lots of rivers to flush debris into the ocean). We watched rain clouds gather and disburse and move. We mused that watching weather patterns cross the land and ocean provides a humbling perspective on one’s place on the planet. We listened to the motor – happy that it was doing its job. We got wet for about an hour around 13.00.

After about eight hours of conscious, focused appreciation of Abracadabra’s rhythmic, heat generating, smelly and now (knock wood) reliable diesel engine . . . we anchored. And an exciting anchorage it is! At Bahía Sámara a calm anchorage can be found tucked between an island and a wicked-looking reef (well, all reefs are wicked looking – it’s just that this one was so close . . . ). The southeastern shoal between the island and mainland breaks the predominant wet-season swell at high-tide. Once we got over being nervous about the reef we had a wonderful swim in the rain, bought a red snapper – filleted – from passing fishermen, ate dinner and slept well.

The Scary Reef

FYI: We probably would not have attempted this anchorage without the good guidance of the Explore Central America! cruising guide, compiled and written by the crew of S/V Sarana. Advice You Should Pay Attention To: Don’t sail the Central America Pacific coast without this guide.   

Our trip continued after our rest at Sámara - we didn't feel comfortable enough to stay next to the reef for a loooong time. And our sailing trip overlapped our April land journey one more time. But it’s time to stop writing for a moment. So we will. 

Thanks for joining us! More to come.

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