Costa Rica

December 2007 

  Guide books always write about the good and bad of cruising in a particular country.  Costa Rica is portrayed as a country where burglary and theft are common and cruisers are warned to be on their guard.  We were worried, but the need for a haul-out outweighed the risks.  Our late transit of the Panama Canal put us on the Pacific coast of Central America during the rainy season, and constant monsoon rains make for miserable cruising and worse repairing.  What wasn’t turning black with mold was turning green with algae, and after our hit and run in Grenada Entr’acte was in serious need of a haul-out and repair.  The only boat yard with an affordable travel lift between Panama and Mexico was the Costa Rica Yacht Club in Puntarenas, so we decided to make the five-hundred mile trip against current and wind.  We would leave the boat and fly home to get much of the broken equipment repaired and return after the rainy season to complete the repairs.  In spite of our worries, we decided to stay open-minded to the possibility of the adventure that lay before us rather than dwell on the potential problems.

In Arizona we sorted out the pile of boat parts we had carried home, and began our jobs.  Days were spent in the machine shop fabricating new chain plates, bushings for the windlass, and mounting brackets for assorted items.  Ellen spent days at ‘rip and sew’ making country flags, rocker stoppers, redoing the multi-directional parrot wind scoop, and altering bathing suits. (Why the heck would you need to alter a bathing suit? Just take it off and go nude for pete’s sake!!! That’s cruisin, baby!!!)   In September, Ed had to return to Costa Rica to renew our boat importation permit for three more months. He brought with him the replaced water maker and many pounds of canned goodies like roast beef, crab meat, and shrimp – all the things we knew we couldn’t find in Costa Rica and really wanted for the Pacific passage. We returned to Entr’acte in December and were pleased to find her as we left her; a mess waiting for work to be done.

While the boat was on the hard, we lived in one of the yacht club’s courtesy rooms and ate all our meals at the club’s restaurant.  We thoroughly enjoyed all thirty-five days of our encampment.  We were up early to work on the boat; in the mid-afternoon heat, hot and sweaty from our jobs, we lounged in the pool, surrounded by beautiful palm trees filled with tropical birds.  Occasionally the resident monster iguana would sun himself on a palm tree and look down on us. We ended the day in the open air restaurant dining on excellent cuisine while the moon rose over the anchorage.  We spent many a pleasant evening practicing our Spanish with the restaurant staff.

On our first day back at the Costa Rica Yacht Club, we left the swimming pool and walked into the bar, drawn by the sound of local music playing on the stereo. The bartender looked up, smiled, pointed to his CD player and greeted us with one word, “Cumbia!” (Cumbia is a style of music indigenous to Latin America).  With that one word all our fears evaporated and we knew that we had found a new friend.  As the days passed we became friends with Carlos Hidalgo, the restaurant owner, who introduced us to his wonderful country, first through the music, then the food and finally through his family.  One afternoon during our pool time we were entertained by a group of young ladies parading around the pool.  Carlos informed us that we had just witnessed the rehearsal for next week’s special fiesta, the opening of Carnival, and the girls were contestants for Carnival Queen rehearsing for their big night.

The night of Carnival, Carlos seated us with his family in the place of honor, right next to the dance floor and close to Grupo Gaviota, the best band in Costa Rica.   We learned to do the Cumbia and the Samba and got a first hand look at how the Ticos celebrate. That night I danced with Carlos Chinchilla, the manager of the yacht club, who does a pretty wicked samba.  He twirled me so much I almost fell into the pool!  We were enamored with the music of Gaviota and bought two CD’s.  The next morning at breakfast Carlos introduced us to the band members and their families.   A few weeks later they returned to the club for dinner and at their request, Ellen ran to the boat for her violin and we had a spontaneous jam session.  We had learned several of the songs from the Gaviota CD and now we got to play them with the composer!  For Ed, an Imperial beer can filled with rice became a shaker, a Fanta bottle and spoon became a guiro, and Ellen’s violin case was a Cajon.   What a night of entertainment it was for the yachties and Ticos who were lucky enough to be there.  There were more cameras and video cameras flying around than at any Broadway premier we had ever played.    We closed the club.

The evening we spent with the Quirmos family began yet another new friendship.  Like their uncle Carlos Hidalgo in the restaurant, they were generous with their time and patient with our Spanish.  They invited us to spend a weekend with them at their home in San Ramon and they would show us their Costa Rica.  We visited the volcanoes Poas and Arenal, rappelled through the jungle like Tarzan and Jane, ate local foods, and drove the twisty roads of Costa Rica for hours on end listening to Cumbia, eating fresh strawberries and living a Spanish immersion class directed by their son Jose Alberto.  Their warm hospitality was another wonderful indication to us of the quality of life here. The Ticos  call it “Pura Vida¨.

The highlight of our trip to Arenal was stopping in the cloud forest of San Lorenzo for a canopy tour.  In Panama we explored the jungle by dinghy but in Costa Rica we were able to fly above and through the trees on cables, a thrilling experience.  The enormous, dense rainforest must be seen from above to be appreciated and this is what the cables do for you.  Our tour lasted an hour and a half, with seven cables and one Tarzan swing.  Our guides were very careful and polite.  Although the trip was somewhat energetic it is doable for most ages as the guides help you in every way.  This is a must for any trip to Costa Rica. 

Finally, our long list of boat projects was finished and we launched on January 8, 2008.    Remembering our haul-out in Trinidad it seems amazing that we had any more work to do, but the Trini haul-out was much more about cosmetics.  This haul-out addressed all the boat’s systems.  We do not foresee such enormous boat work in the near future (from my lips to King Neptune’s ears!)  Although tinned meats are in short supply, Puntarenas proved to be a good place for staples, boat parts, and general stocking up. We are now is a position to consider a departure date.  We will depart from a place that wasn’t on our rhumb line, a place we never considered visiting, but will leave with fond memories that will constantly urge us to return.  We will always remember the professional quality of work in the yard, the careful handling of boats on the travel lift, the friendliness of the panga drivers who carry you to and from your boat for a vhf call, the evening patrol boats who keep the bad guys at bay by shining their bright lights on every boat in the harbor every twenty minutes, the friendliness of the people in town trying to help you find anything on your list and the numerous Ticos and Ticas who can repair almost anything that is broken. 

Once more Entr’acte has shown us another side of life, as she has done for the last thirty years.   In her silent way she opens up new worlds to us every day. Without her, we would still be sitting in front of a fire somewhere dreaming instead of living, as the group Gaviota wrote in their song “Distintos Caminos”, the “Right Pathway.”  Now the whole Pacific awaits our arrival.  First stop, the Galapagos. Those turtles and boobies better get ready! 

We’re on the way!

Oh yes, by the way, Carnival begins this Friday night. 

Costa Rica, Pura Vida!
Lisette, la ratadora de
Carnival Queen
Don Carlos Chinchilla
Christmas at the Club
Our hosts, the Quirmos
Active volcano, Arenal
Canopy tour of the rain
Don’t look down!
Oh yes, they are real!
Meanwhile back at the ranch
Why did we take the mast down??
One of many waterfalls
Staff at the restaurant