Monthly Archives: March 2015

“Pura vida” Part II, Central and Southern Costa Rica

Our reach from the Tortugas to La Herradura marked our entrance into Central Costa Rica.  Pura Vida.  Here, the Papagayos take a bit of a break.  So too did Elizabeth Jean and her crew, coming in to the new marina in Quepos, called Pez Vel (Sail Fish) Marina.  True to its name, the marina is home to a sport fishing fleet and we arrived just before a fishing tournament began.  We chose Quepos as our destination because of its proximity to Manuel Antonio, one of Costa Rica’s premier parks, and the San Jose airport.  Here we would say good bye to our faithful crew Nancy Israel, who had been with us since Chiapas Mexico.  We would also greet Lal’s sister Mary Helen and our niece Caroline, who planned their visit to the park to coincide with our travels.  We luxuriated with them pool side at their hotel Mariposa, enjoying its stunning Pacific Ocean view and trekked in the park to the sound of howler monkeys and myriad bird species.  Volcanic eruptions delayed Mary Helen and Caroline’s departure, but nothing could hold Elizabeth Jean in harbor and we headed south to snug anchorages in Dominicalito and Drake, named for the famed and feared Sir Francis.  A four masted tall ship, Spirit Wind, we first spotted in Quepos, shared our Drake anchorage.  Reports of 100 foot visibility and the largest reef building colony in Pacific Costa Rica lured us to Isla del Cano, twelve miles west of Drake.  Our snorkeling confirmed the island’s reputation.  Isla del Cano is also known for having the highest incident of lightening strikes in Costa Rica.  We would have been happy not confirming this reputation; however, mother nature had other plans.  Dark clouds moved in as we sailed southeast towards Golfito.  Lightening flashes ahead of us, along with building seas and stiffening winds prompted us to turn back towards Drake where a rainbow and clearer skies seemed more welcoming.  Soon the storm filled in and white bolts split the sky in all directions.  Progressing north, the storm eased.  Nine miles out of Drake we saw Spirit Wind heading in our  direction.  As darkness and calmer weather arrived, we decided to join Spirit Wind and resume our night passage to Golfito in the Golfo Dulce. In Golfito, we stayed on a mooring ball and Land Sea Services, owned and run by former cruiser Tim Leachman.

Central Costa Rica

Puerto Quepos is a little above the map’s center.  Dominicalito, our first anchorage south of Quepos is near the town of Dominical.  Drake is above the peninsula in the lower right hand corner.


We said farewell to Nancy Israel, crew member extraordinaire.

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Mariposa’s Pacific view, the scene for our reunion with Lal’s sister Mary Helen and our niece Caroline.

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The sunset view over the infinity pool.

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MSV Spirit Wind, a 390 foot tall ship anchored outside the Pez Vela marina breakwater.


A white faced monkey plotting the next move.

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Captain Lal instructing Caroline on the finer points of taking the helm.

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Spirit Wind followed us to Drake.  We kept her company later that night in our transit to Golfito.


Isla del Cano.

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We took a mooring ball at Land Sea Services in Golfito where we cleared out of Costa Rica.  Pura Vida, Costa Rica.  Next stop, Panama.

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“Pura Vida” (Costa Rican saying): Part 1, Northern Costa Rica

Literally “translated as “Pure Life,” Ticos use Pura Vida, for “thank you,” “hello,” “goodbye” and “peace.”  As this phrase captures this peaceful country’s philosophy, the Papagayos drive Northern Costa Rica’s cruising pace and strategy.  The Papagayos, like the Tehuantepecers, are gale force winds that blow through the low land areas from the Atlantic side (in this case Caribbean Sea) to the Pacific coast.    Strong winds welcomed us to Bahia Culebra (Snake Bay) where we anchored off of Playa del Coco, Costa Rica’s northern port of entry.  Also welcoming us, with advice on landing our dinghy, was Darren from sv Gratitouille, a vessel we first met last winter in La Cruz, Mexico.  Darren and his wife Jodi, met us and the crews from Meridian and Carpe Diem III the next day in town and shared their travel story since our last time together.  After a day long clearing in process (moving from port captain, to customs, to immigration), we beat upwind against 25 knot winds to Marina Papagayo to refuel and refresh.  Strong winds kept us in the marina for several days, after which we departed for Golfo Nicoya and its anchorage in Bahia Ballena, and snorkeling in the Tortugas.  High winds frustrated our Tortuga plan; when the winds fell we made our way to Bahia Herradura where we anchored for the night.


Yellow and green mark the highwinds.  Beginning in the upper left corner is Cabo Corrientes (which we transited several times last season and again in November).  Next comes the Tehuantepec, which we crossed early this year.  The red area marks Lake Nicaragua and the first of the Papagayo dominated coast lines.  The peninsula southeast of the lake forms the Gulf of Nicoya, Northern Costa Rica’s cruising grounds which can still be quite windy.



The above chart shows our anchorage at Playa del Coco (lower left) and Marina Papagayo (in the upper bay).  The bay provides some protection from the Papagayos, but the winds still can overwhelm the area as we discovered.

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We rendezvoused with Meridian, Carpe Dien III, and Gratitouille at Coconutz in Playa del Coco.


This albatross view down Bahia Culebra shows  Marina Papagayo and resort development on the peninsula.  In the distance to the left is Playa del Coco, where we cleared in to the country.


Secure in Marina Papagayo, we monitored the wind, here gusting to over 46 knots.


After performing our various boat chores, we enjoyed the marina’s happy hour, which featured half price cocktails, a half price entree and the ambiance provided by these bar stools.


Eulalie and Nancy enjoyed the nearby beach.


This map shows Bahia Culebra just north of Coco and our destination in the Gulf of Nicoya, Bahia Ballena, the small bay north east of Montezuma.


We shared our anchorage in Bahia Ballena with this off-the-grid house boat.  Solar panels are installed on the roof.

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Nancy and Eric took Schooner to shore and walked to Tambor to provision.  They found a beautiful boutique hotel on the beach and ate lunch.  The next day we headed for the Tortuga Islands, but high winds again changed our plans.  We anchored in the protection of the mainland and then headed south when the winds dropped.

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“The mines have long since been removed from the harbor” (Sarana Cruising Guide)

With night fall came winds gusting to thirty and confused seas so we called a halt to our night passage and ducked into Corinto, Nicaragua’s principal Pacific Ocean commercial port.  Although we no longer needed to worry about the mines that the U.S. had placed in the harbor during Nicaragua’s civil war, large container ships anchored outside the harbor created adrenaline raising conditions as Captain Lal, with her crew’s help, white-knuckled our way into the harbor entrance.  Once passed the port, the estuary opened up into a calm and stunning anchorage.  Corinto is geared to large and heavy vessels and we enjoyed our status as one of just a handful of sailboats in the harbor.



We enjoyed sharing the waterfront with large container ships.  At night, Lal and Nancy, our crew for Central America, quizzed each other on the ships’ lighting displays which convey important information to other vessels.


Around the corner from the container ships, the fishing fleet waits out the high winds that brought us to his harbor.  Look closely and you will see Elizabeth Jean photo bombing the picture.

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Volcan San Cristobal dominates the view as late afternoon sun lights up Elizabeth Jean.


These three wheeled bicycle cabs dictate Corinto’s pace, quite relaxed for an important port town.


This display celebrates the thirty fifth anniversary of the Sandinista’s victory.  Daniel Ortega, reelected as President in 2007 is pictured in the upper right hand corner of the bulletin board.

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“Changes in latitudes . . . ” (Jimmy Buffett)

. . . changes in cruising guides.  As we sailed from Mexico to Central America, we retired one set of cruising guides and plucked another set from our book shelf and I Pad.  For those considering a trip we recommend these well tested guides.

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Shawn Breeding and Heather Bannister’s guides to Mexico include detailed charts, helpful summaries of distances between suggested anchorage and marinas, waypoints of hazards and anchorages, and fairly up to date information regarding services and amenities at different stopping points.  The color photographs will your appetite for places just over the horizon.  The information becomes less detailed for the southern destinations of Hualtulco and Chiapas.

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Moving into Central America, moved Pat Rains’ Cruising Ports and Eric Bauhaus’ The Panama Cruising Guide front and center.  We also rely heavily on the Sarana Cruising Guides for Central America.  Part I covers Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.  Part II covers Costa Rica and Panama.  The Sarana Guides are sold in electronic formats that we have loaded on an IPad along with Navionics charts.  We added the IPad after our first season and have found it to be a powerful addition to our navigational tools.   For more information about the Sarana Guides see:


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“Perquin musings” (Ron Brenneman)

Perquin, close to the Honduras border, was a hot bed of guerrilla activity during the El Salvador civil war.  Our road trip to Perquin began, as they often do with a tip from fellow cruisers, Jeff and Judy, as we enjoyed drinks in the Bahia del Sol Marina.  They recounted their visit to the Museo de Revolucion and La Mazote, a village that was massacred during the war.  Sobering stuff after our tours of Mayan ruins and coffee plantations.  To add to the challenge we decided to rent a car and make the five hour drive into the mountains ourselves.  After a couple of wrong turns around San Miguel, we arrived at Perkin Lenca, our hotel perched on a hillside.  We lined up our guide Sebastian, a former guerrilla,  for the next day and learned our collective Spanish would be put to the test as he spoke no English.  Our Perquin visit was a poignant mix of current day hospitality and recent dramatic history, of which the United States played a part.

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The hand carved chair backs reflect the hotel’s attention to detail.

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View from Hotel Perkin Lenca.  The mountain ridge forms the Nicaragua-Honduras border.


A portrait of our guide, Sebastian, as a young guerrilla.  He is to the left.  This picture hangs in the Museo de Revolucion.

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 Our first stop, was the village of La Mazote.  Government soldiers rounded up and massacred 800 to 1,000 villagers based on the suspicion that they supported the guerrillas.  Sebastian explained that the presence of a child on either side of the parent symbolizes that the family is dead.  Names of known families are inscribed on plaques behind the statue.

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One of the few villagers who survived asked to be buried at the memorial when she passed away.

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The children were separated from their mothers and executed and buried at this site.  The mural behind them honors their memory.

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The plaque explains that 146 people, 140 less than 12 years old were buried here and are now buried at the monument pictured earlier.  El Mazzote Nunca Mas, means “Mazote Never Again.”


A colorful mural, of which this is a small part, recounts Mazote’s story.


Outside the memorial, Sebastian pulled out a guitar given to him by a peace Corps volunteer and played us a number of songs focused on El Salvador’s future.  He mused that music was God’s gift to him and that God spared him during the war so that he could share his music and story.

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On our return trip to Bahia del Sol, we stopped in Zacate for lunch and provisioning.  This vibrant mural of contemporary El Salvador echoed the haunting El Mazote mural and showed an El Salvador moving forward as in Sebastian’s song.

For those traveling through El Salvador, you can reach Sebastian at  For those interested in a short account of the El Salvador Civil War as seen through the eyes of an aid worker from the U.S., see Perquin Musings by Ron Brenneman.

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“Take a walk on the wild side” (Lou Reed) guest blog by Nancy Israel

Lal and Nancy’s estuary adventure  to La Herradura,  a small town about 4 miles up the estuary from our El Salvador marina, began with the marina staff’s effort to discourage the trip.  “There are banditos,” he cautioned.  We’d heard good things from other cruisers, so off we went.  Our dingy, Schooner,  made about 3-3.5 knots with the current in our  favor as we made our  way between islands; jockeying with  fishing  canoes and pangas.  Mangroves lined the  island shores and we kept watch for  egrets, herons and other birds  along the way.


We knew we had arrived at La Herredura when we saw a small collection of anchored  pangas and a big palapa restaurant.  Jose Martinez, a local, greeted us and offered to  watch  Schooner  for  us.  He spoke English well, having lived  in Sand Diego for a while.  He hoped to return to the U.S.; however, the $7,000-8,000 to pay the Coyote to take him across the border seemed a long way off at the $5.00 a day typical for El Salvadorean workers.  He brought us  by his home and introduced us to his wife and son who were selling cut up fruit.  Very simple living.


The town’s streets were bustling with people going to the many stands and shops.


We made our way to a street where colorful floats for a parade were being painted.


One kind gentleman, holding is young baby, Tatiana, spoke with us in a combination of English and Spanish.  Looking out for us, he echoed the marina staff’s caution about “bad boys” further down the street.  We took his advice  and turned around.


Heading back towards town we purchased fruits and vegetables and finished of our visit with a delicious fresh fish lunch at the palapa restaurant.


We couldn’t resist a final purchase of nuts and dulces (sweets) from the ladies carrying their wares in big bowls on their heads.


All  in all an excellent adventure and glimpse into El Salvadoran life.

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