Friday, July 29, 2011

To Panama City

One last reminder of Costa Rica. In the LandSea club house the walls are painted with names of the various boats that have been through over the years. Here’s the remembrance of S/V Jeorgia we left: on my old truck’s vanity plates.
We did an overnight sail from Golfito to Isla Parida. Quite the empty tropical anchorage to stop at to catch up on missed sleep. The water was a bit milky, as the island is fairly close to the mainland rivers and estuaries. Good, warm water swimming – no diving- but we did spot a few whales swimming nearby.
Next stop was a short day sail to Isla Seca. We showed up early enough for a sunset snorkel. The live coral was the best we have seen since leaving Seattle – actually there isn’t any coral in Seattle. Clear water with 20 feet visibility. The colorful reef fish were similar to what we’ve seen further north, just in much larger numbers, along with a few new big fat guys. The diving was so good we decided to stay another day and get in some more snorkeling time along with some beach walking. 
The bummer was our underwater camera went Tango Uniform. Looks like the slot that has the memory card has some corrosion. I’ll try and repair it in Panama City – although I’m not hopeful. For now you’ll just have to imagine the flow of schools of tropical colored fishes  around the forests of white tipped, brown coral in crystal clear waters -- without pictures.
panamaIMG_8584 Big old shells on the beach walk.
An in-use shell by a hermit crab with a penchant for Victorian frill. The beaches are covered with shells, but the shelling is not so good because most have a long-term lease by hermit.
The 600 dollar a day yurt tents that are in the center anchorage on Isla Secas. Other than these the island is deserted.
Jungle green trying to contrast with tropical ocean green.
Driving onto yet another tropical island – YATI
We were headed for Bahia Honda, a large, completely protected anchorage with a small village. As we got close another evening rain and lightening storm was approaching so we decided to duck into Isla Medidor. This island is owned by an Italian who built a house on the highest peak. As we came in we could see his or his guests ocean going yacht. Check the pastel colored satellite domes – must be nuevo rococo Italiano.
We were treated to an exceptional sunset from our anchorage while listening to the howler monkeys and green parrots settle in for the evening.
Early morning coffee as we left for the next stop south, Ensenada Narjano.
We spent a somewhat rolly, though not too bad, night in Ensenada Naranjo. This pace sets you up for going around Punta Mala. We decided to go overnight and make the Las Perlas Island group the next day. It was the best sailing wind we’ve had for months. Spent two days in the Perlas, but some how we didn’t get a lot of pictures.  Did some snorkeling and exploring. We will definitely go back for some more time exploring and diving.
We headed off to Balboa, the port city for Panama City and the entrance to the Panama Canal. It is hard to image how busy the ship traffic is here at the canal.
The shot above of our chart plotter as we approached Balboa shows a forest of green triangles. These are the AIS -Automatic Identification System – signals sent out by the large ships. The ones with a just a triangle are anchored. The ones with the red lines leading off them are moving into or out of the canal. We are the red boat icon on the lower right.
panamaIMG_8681  As we approached Balboa the weather started to close in on us. In the drab overcast we were treated to some whale gymnastics. They were jumping and slapping and  seemed oblivious to all the giant ships that were at anchor awaiting their canal passage.
panamaIMG_8688  Ship after ship waiting their turn for the 24/7 canal operations.
First you weave through the large ship anchorage, then through the fish boat and work boat anchorage, till you come into the small boat anchorage at Las Brisas.
The view of Panama City from the anchorage. Must be spectacular when the suns out. We’re looking forward to exploring this place, even though it looks like it has more tall buildings than Manhattan.
I’ll write up the clearing into Panama info for other cruisers in a few days – once I decide if we are actually done or not. Sounds simple, doesn’t  it?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Survivor Panama

We're anchored at a beautiful, not so remote, low, island with a short sandy beach. It is the location where they filmed Survivor Panama. We could even see the set from the boat as we passed by. Too weird. It is located 3 miles from the busy island here, Isla Contrador. We stopped there to steal some WiFi signal this afternoon so Chris could check on work. Unfortunately no one was home at work. The VHF radio is alive here with Panama Canal traffic. Radio Panama is constantly calling boats arraigning transits and re-fueling. Off to Panama City - Balboa - in the morning to check into the country.
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Survivor Panama

We're anchored at a beautiful, not so remote, low, island with a short sandy beach. It is the location where they filmed Survivor Panama. We could even see the set from the boat as we passed by. Too weird. It is located 3 miles from the busy island here, Isla Contrador. We stopped there to steal some WiFi signal this afternoon so Chris could check on work. Unfortunately no one was home at work. The VHF radio is alive here with Panama Canal traffic. Radio Panama is constantly calling boats arraigning transits and re-fueling. Off to Panama City - Balboa - in the morning to check into the country.
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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Gofito to Las Perlas

We left Golito in the late afternoon and motored out into the large outside bay, Gulfo Dulce. Winds were light, but enough to sail through most of the evening. Next day we motored into Isla Parida early enough for a dinghy explore and a swim off the palm covered little island outside the anchorage. We must have been too close to the mainland river estuaries and in the rainy season, as it was not clear enough to snorkel.
Next day we did a short sail down to Isla Seca and anchored in the NE bay. The island is basically empty except for the 5 or 6 yurt like tents that you see in the main bay. These are supposedly available to rent for 600 dollars a day. The water is crystal clear and the diving the best we have seen this trip. It was certainly the most robust live coral we've seen -- lots of large parrot fish, angle barber something others, and the other assorted neon glow reef fish. We stayed two days to take in the snorkeling.
Next we headed off toward Bahia Honda. On the way we stopped in the Coiba park island of Isla Brincanco in the Isla Contreras group to get in a little more snorkeling. Clear water and interesting, but nothing like Isla Secas. We continued on toward Bahia Honda. As we approached we could see a pretty good rain squall coming from the south. We decided to head into a deep bay on Isla Medidor. We could see a fancy, ocean going mega yacht anchored out at the head of the bay. The island is owned by an Italian who built a fancy house at the top of the mountain with a railway to get up to it. I was hoping he'd come out and offer us some pizza when the rain stopped. He didn't, but after dark the howler monkeys let us know who runs the place.
Next day we did a long motor to Ensenada Naranja. Not too bad an anchorage, but a bit on the rolly side. Then it was off for a overnight to make the Perlas islands. You have to round the large headland of Punta Mala, bad point, and then enter the Gulf of Panama to get to the Perlas. It was a long day of motoring until early evening when the wind picked up. We had a good sail around the actual point and across the gulf. The gulf is a freeway of freighters coming from and going to the Panama Canal. There doesn't seem to be any organized shipping lanes here, so the AIS targets show up all around you. 30 hours later we are anchored in Isla Pedro Gonzales looking for 3G cell access so Chris can figure out her work schedule. We'll head off to Isla Contadora in the morning in search of a cell tower.
Paul and Chris
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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Checking out of Costa Rica- Golfito style

We started the treasure hunt this morning to get our Zarpe to exit Costa Rica and enter Panama.  Pretty quick and easy process in Golfito.
0. Make 3 copies of all your documents, i.e. passport and check in papers. There is a good copy place to the right of the hardware store that is to the right of the Banco National
1. Go to the Banco National (1,000 colones taxi ride, like all the rides for two in Golfito proper). Take your hat off so they will let you through the security doors. Get in line at the desk on the far right. Pay US$25 and get a receipt.
2. Cab to Migracion. Nice people who do some stamping and will arraign your papers for the other stops.
3. Get a cab to the Zona Libre. The customs office (Aduana) is located near the main entrance to the shopping, behind the Delgado Trucking counter. Give them the papers setup by Migracion, take a seat and wait while they stare at the computer screen for 15 minutes. Get your letter for the Port Captain.
4. Off to the Capitana de Puerto – about block closer into town past the Banco National, then right along the water, next to the Guarda Costa. Hand them your papers, tell them what time you are leaving and get your international Zarpe.
golfitoMG_8540 Say good bye to the turtle with one last banana.
golfitoIMG_8552Put your hat on and say good bye to Golfito and all the dogs and the folks at TierraMar marina.
Adios, Costa Rica!
Paul and Chris

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Golfito, Costa Rica

The single best thing in Golfito is this 3 foot by 4 foot green turtle. Her head is at least 10 inches across. She comes by the LandSea club house each high tide looking for her feeding of bananas. Tim and Katie keep a large bunch hacked off a local tree tied up to a roof column. You grab a banana and throw it down to her. She hears the splash and heads for a morning treat. Half dozen bananas, peels and all, and she’s off to check the other marinas and the rest of the bay.
golfitoIMG_8411Turtle treats hanging to cure
LandSea (TierraMar) marina from the mooring field. That’s Tim’s (co-owner with Katie) house boat in the foreground. The hillside behind has a pretty healthy monkey and bird population. Each morning you hear pairs of scarlet macaws squawk as they pass by on their daily mission. Noisy gangs of green parrots go by regularly too.
Me, Riley and Vinnie(on the chair) working on a plan for the day’s jobs on the cruisers deck.
Speaking of the day’s jobs, don’t think that Chris is the only one to have gainful employment around here. I helped load this Shearwater cruiser onto the YachtPath freighter for its easy ride back home to Vancouver, BC. Made US$25 as crew.
The port and city of Golfito were created as the main transportation port for United Fruits, aka Chiquita. Something like 80% of the bananas leaving Costa Rica were exported from here at one time. United Fruit had the Great White Fleet of freighters carting bananas up the coast.  Company stores, company pier, company housing, company railroad, company workshops, company government. The pier and many of the buildings are still in use.
The ships of the Great White Fleet were painted white to help reduce the temperatures for the precious banana cargo while in the tropical sun.
image The Golfito Banana Pier in the background
Golfito Banana Pier in the background as we get fuel in another tropical downpour
In 1985 United Fruit abruptly closed up shop. The piers and property reverted back to the Costa Rican government and the city fell into decline. With the help of the Duty Free zone (created by federal government), a small but thriving sport fishing business, retiring ex-pats, and a little luck, the town gets by.
We are fueled up, stocked with food and beer and almost ready to go. There’s a ‘monsoon trough’' here now according to the weather files. I don’t have a clue what a monsoon trough is but I can tell you it comes with a lot of torrential rain and offshore wind. Should move out to the Caribbean side by Monday. We’ll start the treasure hunt check-out procedure on Tuesday, as customs is closed Sat, Sun and Monday in Golfito. Then leave Tuesday afternoon for an overnight passage to Isla Parida in Panama.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Panama Lite

Golfito is about 1 1/2 hours by bus from Paso Canaos, at the Panama - Costa Rica border. We needed to get some additional R-134a refrigerant to recharge the refrigerator. It  has had a small, slow leak for awhile. I finally got hold of the tiny O-rings that are needed to reseal the connections. But I’m getting ahead of myself here…
golfitoIMG_8520 There’s a company here in CR called American Export. They apparently are ex-customs officials and know the system well. They have a warehouse in Miami that you send stuff to. They take it from there and get it to you in CR. Since I needed the O-rings, I figured we’d go all out and get our mail sent and get a portable generator shipped in. Bought everything online and had it shipped to Miami. Two days from Miami to San Jose, CR. Then it turns out they don’t usually send stuff to Golfito, so it was trucked down which took the rest of the week to get it here. Less than $200 total shipping Miami to Golfito with customs handling included – pretty good deal, as shipping into Central America can be a black hole of no return. 
image I decided  to go counter to the crowd and get a Yamaha ef1000is  generator instead of a Honda.  We saw too many new Honda 2000s that were in for repair. The other option was to add more solar panels, but this time of year we’re not seeing enough sunshine to rationalize that cost.
So. back to the R-134…After sorting through all our mail and goodies and getting the new O-rings installed, we headed to the border via the ‘directo’ bus. The border is pretty porous. It is a dense complex of shops, some lined up on the CR side others on the Panamanian side. We’d been there before, so we headed straight off lugging our bags down the CR street on the right. About every 500 feet  or so, there is a small narrow alley like slot between the stores. You slide through these and you are now on the Panama side, sans customs and immigration. We headed to the right, past the bank, where all the auto parts shops are. Each shop we hit up for the R-134a sent us along to another shop saying they will have it. After about  4 re-directs the guy tells me to go 85 meters down the road to the ‘Refricenter’. Its hard to judge 85 meters when you are lugging bags in the tropical heat. But there it was. We went in and they had every model A/C unit on full bore. An Artic penguin would have felt at home, and we avoided heat stroke.
The sales guy looked at my empty can of R-134a, headed to the back, only to show up with just what we were looking for. I decided to try and push my luck and asked for recharging valves that would fit the odd-ball container of R-134 I’d picked up in Mexico but hadn’t been able to use.  Just as the language barrier was rising  its ugly head, another sales guy came out from the back. He asked in English what we wanted. Grabbed his cell phone and started making calls. He told us he has it in David (Dah veed), and he could have it here in 2 hours. We told him  we were off to David that day. So he offered to give us a ride. I told him we had to go back to immigration to clear out of CR and into Panama first. He seemed OK with this. So we left the Artic shop and headed back out into the blazing sun. We were far enough down the street that we could see where the CR street merged with the Panama border. So we hopped over the dirt strip between the roads and hiked back past the bus station to CR immigration. Stamp, stamp and we were checked out of Costa Rica. Then a hike to the Panama immigration, a 45 minute wait in line, a one dollar stamp fee, a photo with hats and glasses off, and a couple of stamps and we were legally entered into Panama. We hiked back down to the Artic store and found Ernesto behind the counter at his keyboard. He did a few things around the shop and then directed us to his SUV. Turns out he didn’t have much more English than we had already seen. As he said,   a few years of English in school and all he was really good at was saying “Good morning teacher, Good morning class”. We had a nice conversation in mixed Spanish/English for the 45 minute drive to David. He took us to his friend’s refrigeration shop and got us setup with exactly the valves and hose I wanted.  26USD for two valves and the hose. Good deal. Then he drove us to the center of town, Parque Cervantes, and to the front door of the Hotel Castilla where we planned to meet Dennis and Virginia from Libertad. We said thanks to Ernest and he bid us well --- truly a nice a guy.
Dennis and Virginia’s boat Libertad had just been put into bond in CR. After your import permit is up (90 days), the choice is to leave CR or bond the boat. Bonding requires being in a marina, not on a mooring or anchor. CR really has a set of screwed rules. Even after the boat is legal in the country, to get your visa extended you have to leave the country for 3 days. That is what Dennis and Virginia were doing in Panama. They also were looking for an Ice-maker. When you have an ice-maker on your boat it officially changes it to a Yacht. Once they get it plugged in, I doubt the will even talk to us.  We decided to catch up with them, do some shopping and then head up to Boquete in the mountains of Panama for a few days.
image Hotel Castilla was a great deal. Clean rooms, good WFi and cable TV. 33 dollars a night. 50 dollars a night if you are Panamanian – go figure. Located in the heart of David, with easy walks to all kinds of stores and restaurants.
The reason I really want to go down to Central America was so I could go to Panama to buy a hat. Dennis found a little shop run by an old guy who sold real Panamanian hats. Cool. 25 dollars. Chris bought it while I got break-in directions along with fashion wearing hints. As soon as I got on the street I could sense the added respect I was getting.
golfitoIMG_8428 Think respect… you can call me ‘El Jefe’, ‘El’ for short.
I also headed off to Cable and Wireless Panama to buy a 3G modem so we’d have some connectively while in Panama next month. They seemed to have the best deal on their website. They told me that if they had 3G modem in stock they would sell it to me, but they don’t have any in stock because their modems don’t work well. OK. Off to the main Claro store a few blocks away from the main square. No problem – 30 days for $38.
Then it was off to Boquete, a 4 dollar investment for 2 on the bus. Boquete is a small city in a valley in the mountains at about 3,000 feet. It has a remarkably mellow climate. Here you are 500 miles from the equator and need a blanket to sleep at night. Chris and Virginia found us a cool place to stay, Boquete Garden Inn. Nice rooms with bird filled gardens all around.The owners are a couple of ex-Toronto advertising execs.
image golfitoIMG_8442 golfitoIMG_8433
Lots of very cool birds coming to the fresh fruit that the staff put out first thing each morning.  
It was raining, so we rented a car to check out the mountains and the hiking paths. golfitoIMG_8464 golfitoIMG_8468
  Road sharing with the local bull
At the end of the mountain road we hit the sign that says its not safe to hike in the park… bummer.
So we headed to ‘La Jungla’.
image Chris continuing to get her critter fixes. This time a critter hospital/rehab center just outside of Boquette. This little guy is Rocky, the squirrel monkey. Chris wanted to take him home.
Cute monkey taking some quite time.
Virginia learning how to do Toucan photography
Carrying a heavy load.

Paul and Chris

Friday, July 8, 2011

Osa Peninsular hike

We’ve been hanging out in Golfito for the last 10 days or so. Chris had’t gotten her fill of tropical animals yet, so we took the ferry across the Guldo Dulce to Puerto Jimenez with friends from Sunnyside Up and Libertad. Then onto  Cabo Matapalo via –wheel drive taxi to Encanta La Vida eco-lodge. Cool place to stay with great food and beautiful gardens.
  crIMG_8310 crIMG_8311
Water taxi over. It leaves on a fixed schedule,unless it fills up earlier or the captain wants  to leave at a different time.
Lodge beds, no charge for the mosquito nets
First order of business was to hike along and in the stream straight up to the waterfalls.
Pretty impressive falls, compared to the little people on the right.
Chris working on her public showering skills
If you hike up stream, then you have to hike back downstream to get home.
A cross between a rabbit and large rat, a ?????
A Jesus Christ lizard. These things walk across the top of the water a break neck speed.
Sea view from the top of the ridge
The day of the iguana
crIMG_8395 crIMG_8396
Poison dart frog crossing the morning trail to the beach.
Cocoa growing wild out the side of the tree
crIMG_8354 They have flowers there too.
Red dragon fly doing her thing
And monkeys. The howlers were really loud at about 4am and the capuchins would stop by in the afternoons. we Look closely at this mama capuchin and you can see her baby snuggling tightly on her back.