From Puntarenas to Bahia Carrillo (91 nm)

On February 28th our friends from France, Marie-Helene and Thierry, arrived at the Yacht Club in Puntarenas to accompany us in our journey for about 10 days.  It is their second time on board, as they came visit us last year at the San Blas, Panama.

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Costa Rica “Yacht Club”

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Washed fruits and vegetables (to prevent potential cucaracha’s eggs to develop inside the boat)

On March 1st at 10:00 we left the Yacht Club with the raising tide following our previous track along the Puntarenas channel to avoid the sand banks. Along the way we observed the numerous abandoned houses and shipyards, memories of a very active fishing and commercial port. Now there are just a few fishing boats and occasional cruising ships that disembark hundreds of people who are quickly boarded into fleets of buses taking them to the various Costa Rica’s National Parks.

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March 1st – An abandoned house along the Puntarenas’ channel

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March 1st – Fishing boats along the Puntarenas’ channel

We first headed a few miles NW in the Gulf of Nicoya to Isla Caballo, where our friends enjoyed their first swim. In the afternoon, we sailed south and anchored in front of Isla San Lucas, which in the past hosted an infamous prison, now under restauration to become a tourist attraction.

The following day we sailed to Isla Muertos where the pilot guide mentioned the existence of an ancient burial indigenous site, later used also by the Christian community. Despite our efforts we could not locate it, so we continued south west toward Isla Cedros. The whole area of Guanacaste, where we are currently sailing, in this period of the year is extremely dry with trees and grass showing the effect of the lack of water.

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March 3rd – Isla Cedros

The day after we sailed to the Islas Tortuga, a popular snorkeling place. In fact, already from a distance we noticed dozens of tourists in their red life jackets exploring the marine life. We joined the crowd, dribbling the human fauna while enjoying some good snorkeling. We resumed our sailing to get to Tambor for the night. It was an exciting trip as we could spot dozens of rays jumping out of the water; this show continued for miles and miles.

Just before the sunset we got to Bahia Ballena (Tambor) where several other boats where anchored waiting the season for the Papagayo winds to stop blowing.

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March 3rd – Sunset at Bahia Ballena

It seemed to be a very nice community of people as the day after in the morning we were approached by the owners of a boat welcoming us and providing useful information on the nearby village and places to visit. As we landed the dinghy in the beach to get to the grocery store for provisioning, our attention was captured by the unmistakable sound of the Ara Macao; in fact, on the trees of a nearby garden there were about a dozen of these beautiful colored birds. And, on the same trees, several hawler monkeys were resting totally ignoring our presence. It was amazing to see once again such animals so close to us and to the nearby shops.

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March 4th – Ara Macao and howler monkeys sharing trees

Bahia Ballena reserved us another nice surprise, a white sand beach with crystal clear water on the opposite side of the bay, which we reached after a 1.5 nm dinghy ride and where we spent a couple of hours in the shade of the palm trees.

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March 4th – Stunning beach on the south end of Bahia Ballena

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After lunch a lady on her canoe came to our boat to say hello. She told us she came with her husband from Alaska on their sailboat; they were now enjoying Costa Rica while waiting for the end of the month to head back north. She recommended us to take a walk on a trail in the north side of the bay, which we really enjoyed doing in the afternoon.

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March 4th – Entrance to the trail

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March 4th – Beach on the north side of Bahia Ballena

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March 4th – Howler monkeys at Bahia Ballena

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March 4th – Marie-Helene and Thierry with us

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At the end of the day we were pleased to see our friends so happy for the experiences we lived together.

On March 5th we sailed about 50 nm to reach Bahia Carrillo, a tranquil bay featuring a 2 miles long beach fringed by palm trees, and most importantly, a protected cove where we could land our dinghy despite the ocean swell.

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March 5th – On our way to Bahia Carrillo

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March 5th – Entering Bahia Carrillo

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March 5th – Sunset at Bahia Carrillo

The day after we celebrated with our friends Sergio’s birthday in a very nice Italian restaurant, La Dolce Vita, located on the beautiful beach of the nearby village of Samara.

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March 6th – The beach of Samara

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Due to the strong Papagayo winds blowing from NE, we spent in the area the remaining days of vacation of our friends as it would have not been comfortable to sail further north at the moment.

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March 7th – Shop at the live village of Samara

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March 8th – Life on board with very special guests

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March 9th – Bahia Carrillo in the background

On Sunday 10th we went by car with Marie-Helene and Thierry to the Parque National Barra Honda, where we experienced to an extreme how dry is the north of Costa Rica in this season!

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March 10th – View from the Parque National Barra Honda

On March 11th we accompanied our friends to the beach where they parked their rented car to drive to the airport of San Jose. It was sad to see them leaving after the great time we had together.

Nicaragua and Costa Rica by land

On February 4th, after having secured Zoe at the Yacht Club Costa Rica, we spent about three weeks in south Nicaragua and northwest Costa Rica.

We took three buses to reach Penas Blancas, the border with Nicaragua, and from there a taxi to reach Granada, laying on the large Lake Nicaragua . We found Granada to be one of the most beautiful colonial cities we have seen in Central America, with its colored houses and churches. We explored the nearby area, the Volcán Masaya, Laguna de Apoyo, Volcán Mombacho, the Isletas of Granada, Isla Zapatera and Isla del Muerto. We rented a car to explore San Juan del Sur (where we will return by boat) and some of the nearby surf beaches, and to visit the Isla de Ometepe, a beautiful island inside Lake Nicaragua featuring two impressive volcano.

It took us about 7 hours to get to San Carlos (on the south east corner of Lake Nicaragua) by bus, and from there about 2 hours by boat to reach El Castillo, an enchanting  village on the Rio San Juan. In El Castillo we spent a few relaxing days admiring from the terrace of our B&B the waters of the Rio San Juan and visiting the old Spanish fortress. We took a day trip to explore downstream Rio San Juan and to walk along the trails of the Refugio Bartola park.

On February 19th we returned to Granada and from there to Costa Rica where we spent three days in the region of Guanacaste, a cattle and dry forest place, with a few volcano still giving signs of their nature. We had the opportunity to swim in a true hot water river, running for kilometers with its hot and later warm thermal waters. We took a bus from Liberia to return to our boat, getting the opportunity to appreciate this extremely live city, offering the best gourmet food we tried in the region.

We found Zoe in good health, still needing our attention for some maintenance we had procrastinated for too long…  And, we prepared it to host our friends Marie-Helene and Thierry who are arriving today to accompany us again for a small segment of our journey!

SOUTH NICARAGUA

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February 4th – Granada cathedral and lake Nicaragua

 

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February 6th – Laguna de Apoyo

 

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February 6th – Artist at San Juan de Oriente

 

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February 6th – Volcán Masaya crater

 

 

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February 7th – Volcán Mombacho forest

 

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February 7th – Orchid at Volcán Mombacho

 

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February 7th – Orchid at Volcán Mombacho

 

 

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February 9th – Beach at San Juan del Sur

 

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February 9th – Sunset at Playa Hermosa

 

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February 10th – Oxen pulling a cart in San Juan del Sur

 

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February 10th – Volcán Concepción, Isla de Ometepe

 

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February 10th – Volcán Concepción, Isla de Ometepe

 

 

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February 11th – Leaving Isla de Ometepe by ferry

 

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February 12th – Back to Granada

 

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February 12th – Choice of vinegar at the Granada market

 

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February 12th – Granada Market

 

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February 12th – Granada

 

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February 13th – School at Isla Zapatera

 

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February 13th – Petroglyphs at Isla Zapatera

 

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February 15th – El Castillo castle

 

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February 15th – El Castillo, view of the river San Juan

 

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February 15th – El Castillo, view of the river San Juan

 

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February 17th – Parque Bartola, a green and black poison dart frog

 

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February 17th – Parque Bartola, a blue jeans poison dart frog

 

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February 17th – Rio San Juan, fish eagle

 

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February 17th – Rio San Juan, Anhinga anhinga

 

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February 19th – The village of El Castillo

 

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February 19th – The boat from El Castillo to San Carlos

 

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February 19th – The bus from San Carlos to Granada

 

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February 20th – Back to Granada

 

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February 20th – Granada Cathedral

 

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February 20th – Plaza de la Catedral, Granada

 

GUANACASTE, COSTA RICA

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February 22nd – Rio Perdido, a hot water (42° C) river

 

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February 22nd – Rio Perdido

 

 

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February 22nd – Baby hawler monkey at Rio Perdido

 

 

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February 23rd – Spider monkey at Parque Rincon de la Vieja

 

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February 23rd – Enchanted forest at Parque Rincon de la Vieja

 

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February 23rd – White-throated Magpie-Jay at Parque Rincon de la Vieja

 

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February 23rd – Hot springs at Parque Rincon de la Vieja

 

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February 28th – Provisioning before leaving

 

From Quepos to Puntarenas (65 nm)

On January 30th we left Quepos heading toward Puntarenas, where we planned to leave the boat in a marina for about a month, to explore the interiors of north Costa Rica and south Nicaragua. Since it was a 65 miles trip, we decided to break it into two steps spending one night in Playa Manta, right after Punta Leona.

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January 30th – Punta Leona

Puntarenas is a city laid out on a 4 miles strip of sand, surrounded on one side by the open ocean, and on the other side by a narrow bay with fairly shallow waters. The only two marinas that were built in the area are placed toward the end of the bay, so you need to navigate the shallow waters with the help of a pilot that knows how to dribble the sand banks. Most importantly, it is safe to navigate the shallow waters about a hour before the tide climax, to have the possibility to free up in case you would got stuck in a sand bank. Of the two marinas available we booked Puerto Azul, as they are the only ones to have docking facilities. They provide a pilot service to guide you in the shallow waters of the bay, so we set an appointment at 10.30am at the lighthouse of Puntarenas, about a hour before the high tide. After about half an hour of navigation we were able to moor at their dock with some challenging maneuvering due to the tidal currents.

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January 31st – Approaching the entrance to the Puntarenas bay

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January 31st – Pilot guiding us to Marina Puerto Azul

When we arrived, we were reassured by the dock master that the depth of the slip where we docked was sufficient to withstand the lowest possible tide (in fact, the tidal range is not the same every day, but changes depending on the Moon – Earth configuration). Surprise surprise, the morning of the second day that we were there, we found Zoe 50 cm out of the water. Since the tidal range was going to make the situation worse in the following days, we immediately asked the dock master to provide us with an alternative solution. After some consultations, they proposed us to move to a different slip where they were going to pump away the sand from the bottom with the use of an electrical pump. We soon realized that they did not have the right equipment nor the motivation to solve the problem. They waited until the early afternoon to start the operations, as this was the time when the tide would have been low. However, only then they realized they could not start the pump that they brought since the morning, so they sourced a smaller pump that was clearly not up for a job that should have been done differently anyway (they would have “pushed” the sand away just along the very short dock instead of removing it from a broader area).

February 1st – Marina Puerto Azul

We therefore decided to investigate with the nearby marina the possibility to stay safely at one of their moorings. Having received reassurance that this was the case (crossing fingers…), we asked for a refund of what we already paid at Puerto Azul. The manager on duty confirmed we would receive a full refund, so we immediately moved to the Yacht Club marina, where we left the boat for 3 weeks while we visited Nicaragua and the region of Guanacaste in Costa Rica.

February 3rd – Yacht Club Marina

From Golfito to Quepos (160 nm)

On January 18th around 2:00 pm we set sails toward Puerto Jimenez, where we spent the night before leaving the next morning the enchanting Gulfo Dulce.

January 18th – Puerto Jiménez

We sailed all day to reach Bahia Drake, where we found a good anchorage in calm waters. The following morning we motored to the close by Isla Caño that is a renown snorkeling and diving site. Unfortunately, while we were anchoring we were approached by some local people who warned us that we could only anchor in front of the ranger station, a quite crowded and choppy place. Nevertheless, we followed the advice and took a swim in the surrounding waters, which turned to be not an extraordinary site for spotting marine life. We feel we missed the best spots for diving that likely you need to get to with the local power boats. Taking the chance of the favorable wind that started blowing we decided to return to Bahia Drake.

January 20th – Isla del Cano

One of our dream places to get to was Bahia Ballena, a marine park where – sometimes in this season – you could be fortunate to spot humpback whales migrating from the South to the North Pacific. Amazingly, the shape of the beach emerging during low tide is resembling a whale’s tail. As we do not seem to be lucky in this respect, we in fact did not spot any whale, but really enjoyed the long walk along the beach and the small surrounding forest as well as the snorkeling in the clear waters of the bay.

January 22nd – Parque Playa Ballena

The following day we sailed to Bahia Dominical, where we did not feel to land with the dinghy because of the significant waves breaking all along the beach; we realized it was not bad to be cautious when we watched the carousel made by two people of a nearby boat who spent a lot of time and effort to overcome the breaking waves with their dinghy. This was also the first instance when we saw surfers enjoying the Pacific Ocean waves.

January 24th – Playa Dominical

January 24th – On our way to Quepos

After a couple of days we continued our journey reaching Quepos, where we anchored in front of a wonderful beach a couple of miles south of the city. We deliberately chose not to go to the marina – though we planned to stay in Quepos for a few days – because of its outrageous costs. It was a great decision as the place where we anchored was safe, calm, and with an easy access to the beach and the nearby village with a short taxi or Uber drive. It was also well positioned to reach the closeby Manuel Antonio Park.

January 24th – Playa Biesanz

The first day, as soon as we landed on the beach we were surprised by a sloth hanging on the tree under which we were securing the dinghy. After walking a few meters, we came across a large group of capuchin monkeys fearless of the number of people laying on the beach. And, while we were reaching the main road to go to Quepos, we spotted a large group of squirrel monkeys “flying” over our heads. We felt we came to an incredible place!
Quepos is a little village with a live atmosphere also due to the number of tourists lazily roaming around. We could enjoy some good food and, most importantly, be able to recharge our gas tank.
The following day we visited the Manuel Antonio Park; this is probably the most visited park in Costa Rica, ideal for families to enjoy wildlife and beautiful beaches. We entered in the early morning and spent the whole day experiencing numerous encounters such as a sloth with a baby, several young capuchin monkeys playing, as well as an adult monkey trying to steel objects from the bag of an oblivious tourist. As a matter of fact, we were alerted by the guardians at the entrance to not leave any bag unattended as monkeys might steel some of its from it.
It was a great day experiencing not only the close contact with the animals but also landscapes of an unparalleled beauty. All together, our stay in Quepos was a very pleasant experience!

January 26 – Squirrel monkey

January 26th – One of the beautiful beaches in the Parque Manuel Antonio

January 26th – Hawk

Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica (50 nm)

After crossing the border between Panama and Costa Rica, we spent the night anchored in a large, shallow bay in the Costa Rica waters.

January 8th – dawn at Playa Bonita, Costa Rica

The next morning, January 8th, we arrived in Golfito, a very protected gulf within the larger Golfo Dulce. We decided to spend a few days in the Banana Bay marina where Claudia, the marina manager, kindly briefed us on how to deal with the formalities to check in Costa Rica and described the amenities of the area, including several natural parks and the duty free zone.

Banana Bay marina

After weeks of solitary life in wild and mostly uninhabited places, we felt suddenly catapulted in the civilization again! The formalities to check in required us to move to different places (the immigration office, the customs and the port authority) and took us most of the afternoon. Then, we had dinner in the restaurant of the marina that was referenced as one of the best in Golfito; we celebrated Gemma’s birthday enjoying an excellent meal and a bottle of good white wine. The following morning we received the visit of the inspector of health who, after a fast check to our fridge, enthusiastically described the natural beauties of the places around us and especially the wildlife: several kinds of monkeys, the easily to be spotted red parrots (Ara macao) and suggested us a few walks close by Golfito. So, as soon as he left, we decided to follow his advices and reached by taxi Parque Naranjal. This is a small natural park at the edge of the village, just after the airstrip used by small touristic aircrafts. We followed a trail that took us to a pond of fresh water where two guys where standing armed with cameras and binoculars. Since we were curious we asked them what they had spotted; they, a Swiss couple, explained us that the day before, in the same place they were surrounded by dozens of small monkeys and had seen, in the thick of the woods a tucano. Envying them for such an “extraordinary naturalistic experience”, we continued walking hoping to be as lucky as them. Unfortunately it was not the case, though we truly enjoyed a very nice walk. When we reached the main road, all of the sudden we spotted a tucano ignoring the roaring of the departing aircrafts; we started developing a theory by which wild animals in fact prefer the urban life.

January 9th – Tucan near Parque Naranjal

Since it was time for lunch we decided to go to the nearby restaurant of another marina in Golfito, a bit more luxurious place than where we were docked. While choosing our table, we saw the Swiss couple we had met in Las Secas, the owners of the catamaran Kianga, who welcomed us to their table. We talked about our respective stories since we met in Las Secas and our future plans. They were going to leave the boat in Golfito for a couple of months and then recover their journey toward the Sea of Cortez. Since they were going to rent a car to visit the nearby area, they invited us to join and we readily accepted. We agreed to leave in two days. In the meantime, we spent a day walking for 14 km to reach “Las Torres”, that we discovered not to be ancient towers but rather very modern antenna towers. Nevertheless, we enjoyed a fantastic landscape of Golfito and spotted our second tucano.

January 11th – On our way to Las Torres – View of Golfito

January 11th – On our way to Las Torres – A different type of tucan

On Sunday morning Daniela and Beat, the Swiss couple, picked us up at the marina and we left towards San Vito, a small town founded by Italian settlers in the years after the second world war. In search for the road to get to a small church on the hill, we ended up in a villa that we found out to include the church as part of the property. We were welcomed by Cecilia, a woman who amazed us for her personality and very welcoming attitude, and that we discovered to be the daughter of the founder of San Vito. It was very enjoyable to listen to the story of his father, an official of the Italian navy, who felt in love with the nice of the President of Costa Rica whom he met at an official party. The second world war interrupted their love story, but seven years later they met again in Paris, got married and transferred to Costa Rica; he later founded the Italian colony of San Vito, where immigrants arriving from Italy could thrive thanks to the coffee plantations.

January 13th – Cecilia Sansonetti (center), Daniela & Beat, us

January 13th – The private church overlooking San Vito

The following day we went to Altamira, where we met Pancho Quesada, an artist following the footprints of Gaudi in a very personal way. He invited us to visit his “atellier”. We were fascinated by the number of objects he is collecting to create his artifacts.

January 14th – Pancho Quesada

January 14th – Pancho’s workplace

January 14th – An ice cream shop designed by Pancho

Upon his advise, we went to visit the Boruca People, an indigenous tribe of more than 2500 members, who are known for their art and craftwork, mainly painted balsa wood masks and textile works. We visited their small museum and enjoyed some live demonstration of textile production.

January 14th – A very cute Boruca child

The day after we went to Puerto Jimenez where, walking in the streets, we heard the unmistakable sound of some Scarlet Macaws (Ara Macao, a large and colorful parrot typical of the area) sitting on a branch above us.

We walked for about ten minutes and in a small wood a few hundred meters outside the town, we enjoyed an amazing show of hawler and squirrel monkeys jumping all around. This area is in fact quite close to the Corcovado park, one of the most important parks of Costa Rica.

January 15th – Squirrel monkey a few hundred meters from the dock of Puerto Jimenez

We then planned to return to have a guided visit of the surrounding area. A couple of days later we took a ferry from Golfito to Puerto Jimenez where we had organized a driver and guide to come to pick us up at the dock. After a half hour drive we parked the car and continued on foot. During this half day walk we could spot a lot of birds and monkeys. Following is just a small sample!

January 17th – A woodpecker

January 17th – Spider monkey

January 17th – Hawler monkey

When we returned to the boat we decided to take care of a never solved problem with our main sail, that kept ripping off due to the hot weather, for which it is not designed… After a thorough investigation we realized that our preferred option – replace it – was not feasible in Costa Rica due to the outrageous costs associated. We therefore decided we will purchase it in Italy and transport it in a suitcase! So we had to work on an extensive temporary repair…

Extensive patching on the main sail

The last days in Panama (120 nm)

As soon as we left Coiba, we were approached by a number of dolphins who made their usual show. We could not resist making one more video of them!

We mentioned that we love Isla Las Secas, and, since it was on our way to the border with Costa Rica, we were happy to stop there for a night. As soon as we arrived we had an adventurous snorkeling experience being surrounded by a large school of good-sized barracudas; when they started circulating around us, we felt they were not only curious but perhaps also interested!

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January 3rd – Islas Secas

 

The following stop was Isla Parida, a beautiful island composed by several small islets where a few inhabited cabanas were spread around; it was a good chance to explore the area by dingy.

The most convenient place to check out from Panama is Puerto Armuelles, on the east side of the peninsula where the border with Costa Rica is. While sailing toward this little town, we had an extraordinary encounter: just 50 meters away from Zoe a large dark shape emerged from the water; at a first glance we thought it was a whale, but in fact its rounded fin made us figure out it was a shark whale and, actually, we realized they were two, likely the mother and her baby. After a first worried reaction for the vicinity of these huge animals, we stopped the engine and stood still for a while admiring them quietly floating a few dozen meters from us until they dived away.

When we arrived in Puerto Armuelles, we anchored just in front of a huge and run-down rusted peer and adventurously tided up our dingy to a pillar thanks to a boy who jumped into the water to help us. We were welcome by the port master; his name was Omar and took us to his office to comply with the first formalities. Then, when we asked him for advice for a good restaurant, he offered to take us with his car to a nice place where he used to help as waiter in his free time. The day after, while walking around to make provisions, we were approached by a very distinct lady, Maria, who realized we were Italians and shared with us her story. Many years ago she felt in love with an Italian tourist and didn’t hesitate to follow him to Italy where they married and had two kids. Unfortunately, his husband passed away a few years ago and she decided to return to Puerto Armuelles. She kindly invited us for lunch but we couldn’t accept because we needed to go back to our dingy before the high tide. The day after, on January 7th, we completed the formalities to check out of Panama and we were ready to leave.

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January 6th – Puerto Armuelles

While sailing toward the border with Costa Rica we thought back to our wonderful two year experience in Panama. We recalled our days in Bocas del Toro area, with its hundreds of mangrove islets and its picturesque village on the water; the voyage to Shelter Bay passing through the scenic island of Escudo de Veraguas with its primary forest and the turtle nesting, surrounded by a gorgeous coral reef; the river Chagra and its crocodiles; the San Blas archipelago consisting of hundreds of palm fringed and white sand islets; the Kuna population with its peculiar culture and way of leaving; the unique experience of crossing the Panama Canal; the Las Perlas Islands and, most remarkably, the Coiba National Park and the islands around it. Much less worth of mention are the cities, characterized by strong urban degradation that testifies the still unbalanced development of Panama.

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January 7th – The south most border between Panama and Costa Ric

Coiba National Park (85 nm)

On December 27th in the morning we sailed about 5 miles to the nearby Isla Rancheria. Here we found a small paradise on Earth. This island used to be privately owned and when the owner passed away it was acquired by the Smithsonian Society, one of the most important and renowned biological research association in the world.

We anchored in a beautiful bay in the eastern part of the island where we could snorkel among the most diverse population of fishes and turtles. We were amazed how confident and fearless they were, getting close to us at less than a meter of distance. Some of them appeared quite curious and amazed themselves.

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December 27th – Snorkeling at Isla Rancheria

December 27th – Snorkeling at Isla Rancheria

After enjoying the marine life, we landed with the dinghy on the beach and we discovered a trail crossing the forest that shortly led us to an abandoned air strip with a colonial house at one end. There were a couple of guardians who explained us that this was the base camp for Smithsonian researchers specialized in different fields, such as marine biology, primatology, entomology, etc. Nevertheless, they allowed us to explore the island, including the long, wonderful beach facing Coiba.

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December 28th – Bay on the east side of Isla Rancheria

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December 28th – Smithsonian Base Camp

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December 28th – View of Islas Cocos from Isla Rancheria

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December 28th – Beach on the south side of Isla Rancheria

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December 28th – Beach on the south side of Isla Rancheria

The footprints of crocodile below were not there when we first walked to the beach!2018-12-28 11.09.10 DMC-FZ200      2018-12-28 11.20.02 DMC-FZ200

After a couple of days, we sailed to Granito de Oro, an islet east of Coiba, that is a paradise for scuba diving and snorkeling. Here we admired even more fishes and turtles than in Isla Rancheria, including a nurse shark (known to be non-aggressive toward human beings). One turtle, while swimming to the surface to take a breath, went just in front of the mask of Gemma. We kept going back snorkeling several time and it was always a unique and unforgettable experience!

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December 29th – Isla Granito de Oro

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December 29th – People come to Isla Granito de Oro even by helicopter!

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December 29th – Snorkeling at Isla Granito de Oro

The morning after our arrival at Isla Granito de Oro, the Park rangers came to our boat demanding us to pay what we thought to be an outrageous fee – 20$ per person + 60$ for the boat/day. When we asked to pay a more reasonable amount, they nicely replied they would need to check with their manager, and left. As after several hours they did not return, we decided to leave and sail to the next spot, the site of the old prisons. In fact, Isla Coiba was a penal colony until the end of the 20th century, where the life condition for prisoners must have been so terrible that sometimes they tried to escape despite crocodiles, sharks and the distance from the mainland. This is also the reason why these islands are still uncontaminated and present such a variety of fauna and flora. We spent the night anchored in front of the old buildings and early in the morning we took the dinghy to visit the area. We discovered that nowadays this is a site for the Aeronaval (the Panamanian coast guard) as a few armed soldiers kindly but firmly warned us to leave immediately Bahia Damas as the entire bay is off-limits.

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December 30th – Former penal colony at Bahia Damas

We pulled the anchor and chose as the next destination Isla Jicaron, south of Coiba. We anchored in a nice bay in the north of the island, and decided to go ashore with the dinghy. This was too quick of a decision, as when we approached the beach we had to go through an adventurous landing due to the breaking waves. The payoff was a show setup by a flock of pelicans which were fishing with spectacular dives into the water.

The next day, the last day of 2018, we sailed to Isla Jicarita where we spent New Year’s Eve at the most rolling anchorage we experienced in the whole year – we can say we danced all night! It was definitely a very peculiar way to start 2019… For those that are curious, our dinner consisted of lentils and a “fake fish” (canned tuna, boiled potatoes, capers, and our own made mayonnaise) accompanied by a more than decent Italian Prosecco bought in Panama.

On January 1st, we moved toward more calm waters at Ensenada Hermosa on the west side of Coiba. Here we spent two days enjoying great snorkeling and a beautiful beach where we could spot a capuchin monkey making his noisy display on a branch just above us. From the beach you could walk up a small stream of fresh, clear water; it was great to take a bath in a lovely, natural cold pool. However, the most impressive close encounter was with a bright yellow fish, about 2 cm long, that followed us for the whole time we snorkeled, and left only when we reached the boat and got out of the water. We wondered what was the meaning of such “affiliative” behavior!

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January 2nd – Gemma and our temporary pet, the tiny yellow fish

On January 3rd, while we were having breakfast, we heard some knocks on the hull: it was again a boat of Park rangers who informed us that we should either go to the Park station to pay the registration fees or leave immediately the island. Since this was really our last spot we meant to visit, we left this beautiful marine park, setting sails back to Isla Secas.

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January 3rd – A sula taking a ride on our bimini sailing to Isla Secas

From Pedregal to Isla Canal de Fuera (105 nm)

On December 22nd we left Pedregal at 13:00 heading to the Coiba National Park, which consists of several islands, including Isla Coiba, which by the way is the largest island in the Pacific Central America.

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December 21st – Night on the river

We followed our way out down the river, where we had to spend a night to wait for the high tide to pass a few shallow areas. The day after we met the same (???) dolphins we spotted on our way in; it was again a great show! We arrived in Isla Parida just before sunset and we anchored there for the night.

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December 23rd – Isla Parida

The next morning, we intended to reach Islas Secas, but all of the sudden we got strong wind and high waves (despite forecasts) so we decided to find shelter in a beautiful bay in the south part of Isla Bolano.

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December 23rd – Isla Bolano

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December 23rd – Isla Bolano

With much milder winds the day after we reached Islas Secas, that are among our most favorite islands. We seem not to be the only one, though… in fact there is a luxurious resort, well hidden in the forest, where (we have been told) an accommodation is priced 2000$ a night.

For once, there was somebody else in the bay where we anchored. It was Kianga, a 50-foot catamaran with a couple of Swiss people on board who approached us by dinghy to wish us Merry Christmas. This is how we met Beat and Daniela who we learned where headed in two weeks to Costa Rica as well. We promised to keep in touch and we set sail toward the Islas Contreras.

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Kianga at Islas Secas

On December 26th we left the Islas Contreras in search of internet signal since we would have liked to communicate with friends and family, so we headed to Bahia Honda, a small fisherman village best looking from a distance than ashore and with no possibility to reach a network. Hopeless, we decided to forget about the world of internet and focus on nature. We went to anchor for the night at Isla Canal de Fuera, the northern entry to the Coiba National Park.

2018-12-25 14.04.55 DMC-FZ200 Washing in Isla Contreras

December 25th – Washing at Islas Contreras

 

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December 26th – Fisherman village in Bahia Honda

San Josè – Costa Rica and Boquete (by land)

On December 12th we left Zoe guarded by Beto who kindly took us ashore. The bus to San Jose’ was leaving from David (a few kilometers away from Pedregal) at noon, and it took nine hours to get to San Jose’. Even if it was quite a long ride, time went by pretty fast, as the bus was comfortable and we had a one hour stop at Paso Canoa, the village at the border, where we had to go through customs and immigration on both sides. We enjoyed the landscape along the coast, where we admired the extensive cultivations of palm trees for oil production. As soon as you cross the border from Panama to Costa Rica you immediately perceive a strong change in the landscape: lush and wild forest, mostly uninhabited, on the Panama side turns into cultivated land spotted by picturesque villages on the Costa Rica side.

In San Jose’ we had booked a very inexpensive room through Airbnb which turned to be nice and with a very kind host. We dropped the luggage and went to the restaurant where we had an appointment with Nello, the guy from the Italian embassy. He took us to an Italian restaurant where we had a great meal together. He talked about his experience in Costa Rica and shared that he was trying to buy a good-sized sailboat through an online auction for a few thousand dollars. We are anxious to know if he succeeded!

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December 13th – Enjoying Nello’s company at the Italian restaurant

The following day we went to the embassy to renew the passport and we continued taking advantage of Nello’s company at lunch and dinner. In the afternoon we went to the National Museum which contains interesting items of Costa Rica history since the pre-Colombian period. We skipped the Museum of Gold, a cannot miss place, as we visited it a previous trip to San Jose.

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December 13th – The National Museum’s garden

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December 13th – Pre-Colombian artifacts

We returned to Pedregal, but since the starter motor was not yet arrived, we decided to rent a car and to go to Boquete, where we spent a few days. This is an area about 1-hour drive north of David, at an altitude of approximately 1000 meters, at the foot of Vulcan Baru.

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December 15th – Boquete from a distance

Boquete is a vacation spot for Panamanians and a retirement location for Americans. The village is colorful and friendly, full of nice café and good restaurants. It is surrounded by a lush forest and well-marked trails that give you a chance to keep up with your body fitness. The general atmosphere is very friendly and the cool weather made these few days of wait a great break from the marine life.

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December 16th – Celebration at the church

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December 18th – A colorful house in Boquete

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December 18th – Coati in the suburbs of Boquete

December 19th – The dam serving the ENEL Fortuna Hydro Electric Power Plant

On December 20th we returned to David, picked up the new starter motor and visited the SOS Children Village – David, part of the SOS Children Village organization, that offers support to families in need. The village provides hospitality and education to children so to accompany them in a process of development to attain their self-sufficiency and to be active in the society. As we are supporters of this organization, we wished to see how it operates in different countries – we were very positively impressed.

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December 20th – Ana, an operator at the SOS Children Village

When we returned to the boat and mounted the starter motor, we faced exactly the same problem, as the engine would at times not start. This was a real bad surprise, as we could not think of any other source of the problem. As usual in these situations, we relied on the knowledge of Mirko (our friend, marine mechanic), who reassured us it was something around the electrical system and suggested a test we previously excluded with our logic. To make a long story short, we solved the problem by replacing a simple wire!!!

From Las Perlas to Pedregal (320 nm)

We left on December 4th at 4:00 pm from Isla San Jose heading to Isla Iguana, about 80 miles away on the opposite side of the Gulf of Panama, which sometimes can be difficult to cross due to its infamous gusty winds. The forecast was favorable with predicted winds of 10-15 kn. During the night the wind changed direction and speed, making the route to Isla Iguana challenging and with an arrival time at night; this is something we like to avoid when we do not know the place where we are landing. Therefore, we changed our plans to get to Ensenada Benao, an additional 10 miles away, where we ended up anchoring at about 7:00 am on December 5th.

Dec 4th - Leaving Isla San Jose'

December 4th – Leaving Isla San Jose’

Dec 4th - Mogote South of Isla San Jose'

December 4th – Mogote South of Isla San Jose’

Dec 4th - Other Mogote South of Isla San Jose'

December 4th – Other Mogote South of Isla San Jose’

Ensenado Benao is a large sandy bay where a few resorts have been built. We used this stop mainly to rest and repair the main sail that during the passage started ripping off in a couple of spots. We were aware that the main sail would have not lasted long, as its material is not appropriate for the hot weather in this side of the world. Differently from the genoa, we did not replace this sail before the departure from Rome, even if the sailmaker warned us about its light construction. So we took down the sail and used half of the 5 square meters of sticky patch we brought with us to temporarily fix the problem. We know that our next significant expense will be for a new main sail.

Dec 6th - Patches on the mainsail

December 6th – Patches on the mainsail

At this point we need to make a digression. A few days earlier we realized that Gemma’s passport was expiring at the end of February 2019. We needed to find a consulate where to renew the passport. First, we called the embassy in Panama, but we were not able to talk to anyone on the phone. We then tried with the Mexican embassy, where they told us we should get an appointment to bring the old passport, and then wait for about 10 days until they would have got clearance from the police in Rome to release the new passport. We also tried to call the embassy in Costa Rica, and we were lucky to speak with Nello, the employee in charge of the passport office. We immediately got in tune with him as he was very interested and curious about our sailing experience. He offered to request clearance from Italy upon an email with Gemma’s scanned documents, avoiding us to make two trips. Not only this, but also we agreed he would come sail with us during his Christmas vacations. We then set an appointment for December 14th at the Italian Embassy in San Jose’. Therefore, we decided to head to Pedregal, a small village on a river close to the city of David, where there are daily buses to San Jose’.

On December 6th we left Ensenada Benao with the wind on our back heading north west to Ensenado Naranjo, where despite our wish we arrived at night, as the wind dropped significantly and there was no sheltered anchorage before.

The day after we got to Isla Cebaco, an island with a few villages and an extensive banana plantation. Here we spent the whole afternoon searching internet for a new starter motor and the best way to get it delivered. We ended up ordering it from a Yanmar dealer in Miami who would have shipped it in a couple of days to MBE, a freight forwarder that in an additional few days would have delivered the spare part in David. In fact, soon after we crossed the Canal, every now and then the engine would not start, and as the time passed this was happening more and more frequently. So, after a thorough analysis and a phone consultation with our friend, Mirko, from our point of view the best mechanic of the world, we decided we could not wait but order a new starter motor. By the way, in a few days you’ll see that the passport and the starter motor stories will mix.

From Cebaco we made a stop in Isla Santa Catalina (Dec 8th) where we met the first sailboat since we left Panama! Even if we had no chance to interact with its occupants, we felt a bit less alone in the sea! In front of Isla Catalina there are long long beaches famous to surfers for the the high waves, though at the time we were there the sea was quite calm.

Dec 8th - Sailboat at the anchor at Isla Santa Catalina

December 8th – Sailboat at the anchor at Isla Santa Catalina

Time was becoming tight, so we kept going and got to Isla Secas by sunset. While anchoring, we noticed a lot of bubbling on the water, but at the moment we did not pay too much attention. Later, we were astonished and enchanted by a very peculiar phenomenon: hundreds of trumpet fishes, blue, approximately 70 cm long, were making a carousel of jumps all around the boat. They were running over the water for several meters in a sequence of 3-4 jumps,like if you were throwing a flat stone over a patch of calm water. This carousel continued all over the night, preventing us from falling asleep for quite a while. We promised ourselves to return here.

Dec 9th - Sunset at Islas Secas

December 9th – Sunset at Islas Secas

Dec 9th - Trumpet fish at Islas Secas

December 9th – Trumpet fish at Islas Secas

The next morning we left Isla Las Secas heading to Isla Bolanos, an intermediate stop to enter the river leading into Pedregal with the raising tide. After lunch, when it was time to leave, the engine would not start! For about a hour Sergio made several attempts until with apparent no reason the engine turned on! Such an experience convinced us not to turn off the engine till we were safely anchored at the marina in Pedregal. To get there, it is not that straightforward. In fact, you must sail up a river for about 20 miles, with sections that can be navigated only at high tide. This means that a boat like ours cannot make the entire course in one shot, but has to make a night stop waiting for the next high tide. So we did, anchoring in the middle of the river from 6pm until 4am with the engine running! Despite this inconvenience, the experience was really enjoyable; when entering the estuary, we were approached by a school of large dolphins that accompanied us for about an hour, amusing us with jumps and other acrobatics: some of them came so close to the boat that seemed to be looking at us with curiosity (please, forgive the anthropomorphism!!). Also navigating the calm waters of the river, admiring the unusual scenery and the hundreds of birds flying to their nests at sunset was unforgettable.

Dec 10th 4pm - Dophins at Boca Brava

December 10th – Dolphins at Boca Brava

Dec 10th 5pm - Sailing up the river

December 10th – Sailing up the river

Dec 10th 6pm - At the anchor for the night on the river

December 10th- At the anchor for the night on the river

When early in the morning we approached Pedregal we immediately realized that the term “port” was an overestimation; a few fishing boats were moored along dilapidated docks in shallow, muddy waters. Nobody was around apart from a guy who gestured and screamed something to us from a catamaran anchored close to the mangroves. That’s the way we met Beto! He jumped on a dinghy and rowed with energy toward our boat, while trying to communicate with us in a weird (to us) Spanish. When he got close to our boat he succeeded to explain us that the “jefe” (the master captain) of the port would have arrived at 8:00, and offered to call him on his mobile. We were a little anxious because, given the engine problem, we needed to moore and it did not seem so obvious that we would have had a place where to safely leave the boat. The master showed up at around 8:30 and kindly explained us that only one place was available, but that he would not recommend it. In fact, the dock was 3 meters long, good to moore a dinghy; plus we found out that this would have cost us an unreasonable and unjustified amount of money. The alternative was to moore attached to the catamaran and pay a much more reasonable amount of money to Beto who was already taking care for that boat, since the owner, a French guy, suddenly had to return home. We agreed with that solution and it was definitely for the best.

Dec 11th - Pedregal Marina

December 11th – Pedregal Marina

Dec 11th - Zoe moored next to the catamaran

December 11th – Zoe moored next to the catamaran

As soon as the sun started fading out, a cloud of no-see-’em invaded the boat. No-see’em are a 1mm kind of mosquito that byte instead of puncturing, causing hitches that last several days – you typically find them next to the mangroves. The only preventive measure is to “shower” with a very oily and sticky repellent. Therefore, we decided to anticipate our trip to San Jose to the following day, hoping to find the starter motor at the MBE office (the freight forwarder company which we used to ship it from Miami to Panama) on our way back from San Jose’.

Dec 12th - Birds at Pedregal Marina

December 12th – Birds resting on our boat