June 21, 2017
After a few fun days in Tamarindo, we decided to head south to Bahia Ballena in the Gulf of Nicoya. Bahia Ballena was about 90 miles south, so we left in the afternoon on an overnight passage. The wind did not really cooperate with us, so unfortunately we motor-sailed most of the night. We had to dodge a squall and a fleet of fishing boats, but otherwise the passage was uneventful.
We still hadn’t had much luck fishing in Costa Rica, so we were pleasantly surprised to catch a Sierra as we were coming into the anchorage at Bahia Ballena. It was definitely the largest Sierra we have caught. I would have snapped a picture, but between Mike trying to get the fish on the boat and clean it and me steering us into the anchorage, we had our hands full. But, that fish made some great ceviche and fish tacos that we shared with our friends on Kini Popo who joined us on the trip.
Our first night in Bahia Ballena brought some pretty good rain overnight. We didn’t think the storm was all that intense, but it must have really come down over the land. When we woke up the next morning, the entire bay was brown and full of debris. In fact, we woke up to a clunking sound on our hull and realized large logs floating in the bay were hitting up against the hull. The rivers on land of course wash out into the ocean, and this storm dumped a ton of silt and plant debris into the water.
Mike and I had read about a small town called Montezuma not far from where we were that had a cool waterfall hike, so we set off to try and find it. We pulled the dinghy on shore and walked into the little town of Tambor to try and catch the bus to Montezuma. Apparently the storm had knocked out the electricity in the entire area, so no stores or restaurants were open. But, we found some nice people around town to give us information on the buses and give us some change, because all we had were large bills. The information we got from the locals was that the bus didn’t necessarily arrive at a particular time. It all depended on when the ferry arrived in Paquera from Puntarenas. The bus waits for the ferry passengers and then begins its route around the peninsula. So, it was possible that we could have to wait a couple of hours for the bus.
After about an hour with no bus, we spoke with young woman who got dropped off at the bus stop. I think she was German, but she lived in Montezuma. She said that she hitch hikes to get around and that we’d probably have better luck getting there by trying to hitch a ride with someone. I certainly would never think to hitch hike in the States, as we’ve all been told since we were kids how dangerous that is, nor would I pick up a hitch hiker. But, attitudes are definitely different here as we soon found out. We got three separate rides, pretty quickly, that got us to our destination. People were so friendly and just wanted to talk to us and perhaps practice their English, curious about where we were from and where we were going. One gentleman was an exporter of pineapples and one woman owned a hotel. Super friendly and wanted absolutely nothing in return.
The hotel owner told us how to find the entrance to the trail to the waterfalls once we reached Montezuma, and so we were off. It was clear immediately the storm was going to have an impact on our waterfall hike. Not too far into the hike we came upon others doing the same thing. That’s when we discovered that the part of the trail that is likely a walk over a small creek would instead be crossing a raging river! There was a guide there who was helping direct people across. The difficult part was really not the strength of the flow of the water, which was manageable, but the fact that the river was so brown that you couldn’t see where you were stepping. You had to feel around for a substantial rock to step on and get good footing. Most of the crossing was not deeper than knee depth, but at one point I was in the water up to my waist.
After crossing the water, there was a muddy trail to follow around to the large waterfall. The amount of water coming over the falls was impressive. We definitely got the impression that this was an unusual amount of water flowing due to the rainstorm. Mike hiked up a steep trail to see if there was another part of the falls to reach. There were falls farther up, but they were impossible to reach given the current depths of the water and the strength of the flow of water. It definitely was too dangerous to go further, but I’m sure in the dry season there is an even longer hike.
We enjoyed the hike and the falls and eventually made our way back into Montezuma for some lunch. Montezuma is a really cute, small town which looks like it caters to the hippie, backpacker crowd with various hostels, bungalows and surf tour operators. It looks like it would be a fun place to stay if you are looking for a really laid back town surrounded by jungle and trails to hike.
After heading back to Bahia Ballena, we made a plan with Kini Popo to depart the next morning for Isla Tortugas. But, more on that next time…
Afraid of the Dark?
June 17, 2017
We’ve had quite a few water adventures the last month in Costa Rica, but we hadn’t had the opportunity to do any inland travel. We read about the Santa Ana Ice Caves in the Barra Honda Parque Nacional about 1.5 hrs from Tamarindo, so we rented a car with our friends on Kini Popo to check them out.
We arrived at the park, which was absolutely beautiful and green! I’m not sure if it is technically a rainforest, but that it what it seemed like. We told the administration that we wanted to see the caves, and they explained that the caves were a drive farther into the park and that we had to have a guide.
We paid the fee and piled our guide, Miguel, into the car with us. We were pretty happy we had a four wheel drive vehicle because our car barely made it up the steep, muddy and rocky roads. We even had to reverse and get some greater momentum to make it up one of the hills.
We arrived at another small parking lot where we would begin our hike up to see the ice caves. The hike was a good workout, especially because the amount of mud that caked to the bottom of our shoes felt like weights we were carrying around. Miguel pointed out various plants along the way that were used for cooking or medicinally, such as aljillo and anise. We could hear the howler monkeys in the distance but unfortunately did not see them.
We finally arrived at the descent into the cave. We all had helmets to put on and some very worn harnesses. Then we saw where we were going to descend! There was a single guy belaying a rope through a ring attached to our harnesses while we had to go down about a four story ladder. The ladder looked like old Home Depot ladders that were just lashed together at the joints. There was so much mud on them that you had to be careful not to slip and had to hold onto the sides rather than the rungs. We all laughed a bit and said this would not be Cal OSHA approved!
The top of the ladder…
View from the bottom of the ladder looking up…
One by one we made it to the bottom of the ladder where Miguel gave us all headlamps. The caves were damp and muddy and required some serious negotiating of where you stepped. But, the scenery was fascinating. The long stalactites and stalagmites gave the cave its name, as it did look like icicles all around.
We wandered further and further into the cave, admiring the interesting structures and contemplating how mother nature can create something so incredible. Finally we reached a dead end in a big open part of the cave. Miguel had us all sit down and together we turned off our headlamps.
Have you ever experienced real darkness? There was not a hint of light in this part of the cave. It was so dark that your eyes almost play tricks on you making you think you can see something. We sat in silence for a few minutes just listening to the drips of water echoing from somewhere in the cave. The dark and silence creates a surreal sensation of almost floating. I admit I am not really a fan of the dark, but this wasn’t scary. It was one of those experiences that makes you aware of your senses and makes you feel alive!
We made our way back through the cave to the ladder that we now each had to climb up to get out of the cave and back into the sunlight. We hiked back to the car and stopped at a lookout where we could see the green valley below the park and the Gulf of Nicoya far in the background.
It was a fun trip to see something unique in nature, and we were all happy to have a day out of the water!
June 12, 2017
There wasn’t much opportunity for surfing where we were in Mexico, but now that we’re in Central America the surf beaches are everywhere. Mike had done a little bit of surfing back in California but really considered himself a beginner. If Mike is a beginner surfer, I don’t even know what that makes me considering I had never tried surfing in my life! We didn’t exactly have an ocean nearby where I grew up in Texas.
After talking with friends back in Mexico, Mike decided he wanted to get a stand-up paddle surfboard. We found a great used board in Punta Mita (Mexico), but Mike hadn’t really had the opportunity to try it out yet. We are still hanging out with our friends on Kini Popo, and Dan was into surfing too. So, it was time to go find the surf beaches!
Our first stop was to actually head back up north toward the Nicaragua/Costa Rica border where there is a famous surf spot called Ollie’s. I have no idea if this is true, but our guidebooks say that Ollie’s was named after Oliver North because this is the spot where he smuggled arms to the Nicaraguan Contras. Crazy.
Anyway, Ollie’s Point is in Bahia Potrero Grande. Like any good surf beach, there is quite a bit of swell coming into the bay. That means a bit of a rolly anchorage for the boats. But, it is a huge advantage to be anchored there as the only way to reach the surf spot is by boat. On days of good surf, tourists pay several hundred dollars to rent a panga and take them out to Ollie’s for a few hours.
Mike and Dan got to catch a few good waves the first day, but Mike ended up ditching the paddle and regular surfed the new board. With a SUP board, you either have to have enough volume on the board to keep you afloat or you have to get some speed going to keep you on top of the water. The board floats me just fine, but Mike has about 50 lbs on me. Until he gets quite a bit more practice under his belt, the board is going to have to be a regular surf board for him (more on that later.)
Dan, getting his surf on…
Later on we all headed back to the surf spot, and I ended up playing around on our board in the baby waves by the shore while Mike took Dan’s longboard out for a spin. Susan and I were on shore while Mike and Dan were farther out in the wavers when we noticed dark, ominous looking clouds coming our way. It became clear that a storm was quickly approaching. The dinghy was anchored on the other side of the breakers, but the sailboats were clear across the bay. As we had left the boats when it was sunny, both boats had all the hatches open.
I grabbed the board and started paddling as quickly as possible for the dinghy. Susan didn’t have a board and was going to have to make a pretty long swim. As I got closer to the dinghy, I saw Mike and Dan paddling quickly to meet me. Susan was still trying to negotiate the waves on the shore as the three of us piled in the dinghy and the rain started. Dan yelled at Susan to stay on the beach. We would have to come back for her, but we needed to race to the sailboats or everything was going to be drenched. The boys dropped me off on Adagio and grabbed some fins from Kini Popo. The boys raced back across the bay to get Susan. Dan swam the fins to Susan to help her swim out past the surf and into the dinghy.
It was probably only 10 minutes or so after the boys and Susan got back that the storm really hit. And, it hit hard! We’ve had a ton of rain the last month while we’ve been here, but usually there isn’t too much wind with it. This time was different, as we saw about 40 kts of wind! Mike was out in the cockpit and yelled at me to open the thru-holes and give him the engine key. We were not too far from the rocky shoreline and if our anchor started to drag we needed to be ready to start the engine quickly. We have a cool app on our ipad with an anchor alarm that I could monitor by GPS where our boat was and if we looked like we were moving at all. Thankfully, our trusty anchor held us once again.
The winds weren’t our only concern of course, the lightening is always the biggest worry. And, boy did we have a light show. All we can do is stay away from anything metal in the boat and keep our fingers crossed that today is not our day! We cheated death once again as the storm finally passed.
After a couple of days at Ollie’s we headed south toward Tamarindo. Although, we started calling it “Tamagringo” because there are probably more gringos here than locals. Not many cruising boats stop here, because it is a rolly anchorage. Again, another surf beach so lots of swell. But, the little town is actually pretty fun and there is a ton of surfing. In fact, I think every third store in town is a surf shop.
Both our inflatable paddle boards blew out in the last couple of weeks, and Mike decided if he really wanted to SUP surf, he needed to start on a board with more volume. So, we were on the lookout for another used board. We happened to meet a guy in a bar with a SUP rental place who said he had some used boards for sale that might be perfect for what Mike wanted. We met him the next day and found another board for a great price. We now have two SUP boards again!
After talking to some locals about the fun surf beaches around, we were recommended to go to Playa Avellana. We knew we were in for an adventure when we told the guy at the rental car place where we were going and he said we needed 4 wheel drive.
Avellana isn’t that far from Tamarindo, but you have to wind around and ultimately get on a dirt road that arrives at an idyllic, unspoiled beach. The swell was up and the boys were ready to get wet! Susan and I found a great little spot shaded by a tree to set up our beach chairs and watch the action.
The waves were pretty big and a bit intimidating to me, so Susan and I did a bit of relaxing until lunchtime. Meanwhile, Mike & Dan tackled mother nature. We got to watch them catch some really good rides, but we also saw them take some big hits, especially Mike who got pounded a few times. Dan’s comment was, “Mike has more muscle than sense.” Hilarious, and true, but I’m proud of him for getting out there and trying. It is hard work!
The boys took a break and we got some lunch at a fantastic spot on the beach called Lola’s.
After some much needed food, we headed back to the water. The tide had gone out quite a bit and the waves were much smaller. So, Mike offered to help me try to catch some waves, since I really have no idea what I’m doing. They might have been tiny, baby waves, but I stood up twice and rode a wave into the beach. It was so much fun!
June 4, 2017
The title of this post comes from an episode of Hidden Brain that we recently listened to (a great NPR podcast you should check out). The premise was that people tend to only post the good or exciting things in their lives on social media, so readers get a false sense of what others’ lives are really like. It’s definitely easier and more fun to write about the fun times we are having on our adventure, but I want to make sure that I adequately capture what life is really like for us on this blog. So, given all that, I thought I would give you a post about some, well, interesting things that we’ve had to deal with recently.
(1) Fixing the toilet
When we first arrived in Costa Rica, we were elated at the beautiful scenery, friendly people and possibilities for exploration. After our friends on Anjuli left us to head south, we started looking into the snorkeling, diving and fishing opportunities around the bay. But, before we even began to have some fun, we had a bit of an issue come up. We only have one head (bathroom/toilet) on board, and one morning it just stopped working.
Adagio has a Lavac manual vacuum pump toilet. The way it works is that when you are done using it, you close the lid which has a rubber seal around it and hand pump it. The seal on the lid creates a vacuum which flushes the toilet clean and then pumps new water in it. The pump is basically a bilge pump with various rubber gaskets in it that can go bad over time. After a couple of years of use, you may have to rebuild the pump and replace the gaskets.
So, that it where we were one morning without a working toilet. We carry spare parts of just about everything, so we had an extra pump that Mike had previously rebuilt as well as a new set of gaskets in case we had to do another rebuild. Mike began to undertake the not-so-fun process of removing the pump and gaskets. If you can imagine that everything has to pass through the pump upon flushing, you can probably get an idea of what builds up and hardens inside the pump over time that has to be scraped out and cleaned. Just one word – gross!
As with just about all boat projects, a project we thought would take about an hour ended up taking about five. And, poor Mike had to redo it three times before the pump finally worked – again, typical of boat projects. Let’s just say that Mike & I each scrubbed our hands multiple times after handling that pump.
This reminded me of the time that I had to call a plumber out to my house to deal with some sort of clog in the pipes where he had to remove the toilet to snake the drain. I could not imagine that job, but the plumber had a really good sense of humor about it. He kept telling me stories about things that people had flushed down the toilet, including a pair of women’s panties. When he removed them and showed them to the homeowners, the wife went off on her husband because they weren’t hers! Too funny.
(2) Finding the smell
So, the next thing that happened was that we pulled into a new anchorage and our friends on Kini Popo rowed over for a cocktail. But, we noticed that right after we dropped anchor we started to get a ton of flies in the cockpit. These were just your basic, annoying house flies. They seemed to be concentrated around one of our fishing rods and rod holders on the stern of the boat. I had noticed a while ago that this particular fishing rod smelled pretty bad. I thought it was just from the fish, salt water, etc. and had been bugging Mike to get some soap and wash it off.
Once Dan and Susan left, I grabbed the soap to try and clean off the fishing rod to get rid of the flies and Mike got some bleach and water to pour into the rod holder. However, when Mike poured the water in the rod holder, he noticed it wasn’t draining properly and something was clogging the bottom of the rod holder.
Mike unscrewed the rod holder from the rail and stepped down our ladder into the water to try and wash out whatever was stuck down there. What was it? A dead bird! Again, gross! We have no idea how it got in there or how long it had been there, but it was pretty disgusting.
(3) Work, work, work
For those of you who just think we play all of the time, we do actually have to do a lot of work to keep the boat maintained and running. I have really laughed at comments I’ve gotten from some friends who say what we do looks “relaxing.” Hmph! Mike’s favorite saying is, “we still work, we just don’t get paid anymore.”
We really had quite a bit of maintenance to do, so we pulled into Marina Papagallo for a few days where it would be easier to work at the dock and with shore-side water available. I also had about four loads of laundry to do. The marina had coin laundry which was much easier and cheaper than taking it into town. Our friends spent over $60 having a couple of bags of laundry done in town.
So, about five days of work included: washing the boat, cleaning and treating all of the exterior teak, waxing the hull, cleaning the bottom, polishing the stainless and changing the oil. All of this was done in about 95 degree heat and working around the daily rainstorms that blow through almost every afternoon.
I love our life here on the boat, but in between the fun adventures we’ve got some hard work and sometimes crazy stuff we have to deal with. I’m definitely not complaining, but “relaxing” isn’t really part of the daily routine. But, today is Dan’s birthday, so we’re going to head into Tamarindo tonight to celebrate with some margaritas!
p.s. Remember that post from about a year ago when Mike got a crab in his ear cleaning the bottom of the boat? Well, it’s happened two more times here in Costa Rica! I’m not sure why he doesn’t just wear ear plugs
May 20, 2017
We’re in Costa Rica! What happened to Nicaragua? Well, we were only there for a week and it wasn’t too eventful. Maybe I’ll get around to writing about it eventually…
So, we’re in Costa Rica! We checked into Playas del Coco and have been bumming around Bahia Culebra in the anchorages. After arriving, we met another boat named Kini Popo with Dan and Susan on board. We quickly discovered that we had a lot in common. Mike & Dan even figured out that they were at Disneyland on the same night in 1985 when they both attended “grad night” for the Southern California graduating seniors their senior year of high school. Too funny!
Both boats started talking about all of the potential dive sites nearby and that developed into a plan for a week of diving. Dan and Susan had heard that there was a dive out at Isla Murcielagos (Bat Island) to see bull sharks. (Check out my post about Diving Cabo Pulmo last year when we saw bull sharks in the Sea of Cortez.)
We didn’t really know anything about this dive site. We checked at a dive shop and discovered that this was an advanced dive due to depth and current, and their price was over $200/person. (This sounded a bit over my still level, so I planned to just snorkel while the others did this dive.)
We have the boats and the gear, so all we really needed was a dive guide. We found a guy selling tours on the beach and asked him. He made a phone call to his buddy who was a dive guide who agreed to go on our boat for $75. Unfortunately, it was a bit too good to be true. Our dive guide did not show up the next morning. We weren’t going to let that ruin our day, so we made a plan to do another dive on some islands right outside Bahia Huevos. Because this wasn’t going to be an advanced dive, I was in!
I had to shake off some nerves on that first dive – I hadn’t had the dive gear on since last summer. We anchored Kini Popo in about 45 feet of water and descended down the anchor chain to the sand bottom. It took me a few minutes to shake off that initial anxiety, but I was finally able to relax and marvel at the underwater world.
Although we initially descended onto a flat sand bottom without many fish, there were round, white jellyfish all around us. The jellyfish didn’t sting at all, they just sort of drifted around like in some alien world. Very cool. We then swam underwater to the rocky reefs surrounding the island to check out all the cool reef fish.
Me, trying to get my dive mojo on…
The next day was try #2 to meet the dive guide for the Bat Island dive. (We were told he had car trouble the first day.) But, again, he was a no show. So, we decided to make the most of getting up super early with all our gear and get another dive in. This time we anchored out by the “monkey head” rock just outside Bahia Culebra. We did a cool circumnavigation of the monkey head that had lots of underwater rocks and reef fish.
Can you spot the moray eel…
After those two dives, we were really getting into the groove. So, we decided to both head to some bays a little south to check out some more dive spots. We first anchored at Bahia Guacamaya, which was an absolutely gorgeous spot with white sand beaches and not too much development, just an eco-lodge on shore. We did some initial snorkeling to find a good dive spot, and then piled the dive gear in the dinghies to dive on a nearby rock.
Mike with the dive gear in the dinghy…
We had an awesome dive. One of the most interesting things was the difference in water temperature. At 50-60 feet, it was cold! But, as soon as you hit 30 feet, it was a good 10-15 degree temperature difference.
Here is a really cool ray that we saw on the dive…
Looking for our next stop, we found the Islas Santa Catalina, which were supposed to have good diving. The only problem is that these small islands are mostly pinnacle rocks, and there are supposedly lots more uncharted pinnacle rocks underwater. Those rocks are great for diving, but terrible for sailboats that draft 6 feet!
We decided to anchor at Playa Conchal in Bahia Brasilito, about four miles away from Islas Santa Catalina. We waited for a calm morning and buzzed out to the islands in the dinghies with handheld GPS devices and depth sounders to do some reconnaissance.
One of the pinnacle rocks…
Dan and Susan checking out more of the islands…
When we got to the biggest of the islands, we anchored the dinghies to do some snorkeling. We found a sandy spot about 40 feet deep where we could anchor the sailboat and dive around the point of the island.
Dan doing reconnaissance snorkeling…
Our exploration day at the islands also happened to be my birthday, so that night we took the dinghy over to Playa Flamingo to find a happening spot to celebrate. We found a great spot right on the beach called Coco Loco. And, we made quite the entry, as we had to negotiate the surf landing of the dinghy right in front of the restaurant. Thankfully we timed the waves right and looked like pros!
Having the signature Coco Loco drink for my birthday…
After a recovery day, we were ready to take the sailboat to Islas Santa Catalina to dive. We decided to dive in pairs, so we would have two in the water, one person on the sailboat and one in the dinghy to do pick up if necessary. Dan and Susan went first and said they had a great time. They even saw a white tip reef shark!
Next, Dan dropped Mike & I off around the point, and our plan was to swim back around toward the sailboat. As soon as we descended, we came upon a school of spotted eagle rays. Absolutely amazing!
We kept heading around, keeping the rocky island on our right side, and saw all kinds of reef fish and big schools of fish. Some of the fish were ones that we’d never seen before!
I think this guy was trying to give the camera a kiss!
We’d had a amazing dive, and it was time to find the surface. We came up and looked around and Mike said “where the heck are we?” Total underwater navigation fail. We do have compasses, but clearly we did not use them well. Somehow we ended up back where we started. The best we can guess, there was a split in the rocks underwater, and where we thought we were following the island around we actually did a 180 turn around some other rocks.
We realized it was going to be a long swim. Dan and Susan were expecting to see us on the other side of the island. There was a panga nearby fishing that was just pulling up anchor, and I joked to Mike, “maybe they can give us a ride.” Just then the panga turned toward us and I waved at them to make sure they saw us in the water. The guy smiled at me and said, “do you need a ride somewhere?”
We climbed in the panga and headed back to the sailboat. Just as we were heading around the corner of the island, Dan was coming to look for us in the dinghy. So, it all worked out but lesson learned.
After a fantastic week, we headed back to Bahia Culebra to do some much needed boat maintenance and cleaning. But, we have the diving bug now and can’t wait to get back out there.
Thanks Mike, Dan and Susan for helping me get my dive mojo back!
Discovering the Ancients
May 1, 2017
We didn’t take our boat into Guatemala because the fees to do so are quite expensive and there is only a commercial port on the Pacific side. However, we really wanted to travel to Guatemala. The boat was safely in the marina at Bahia del Sol in El Salvador, so now was our chance to go.
We don’t have unlimited resources and have to watch our budget in order to keep on going, so planning our trip from El Salvador to Guatemala was a bit interesting. We REALLY wanted to go Tikal, one of the most famous sites of Mayan ruins. Tikal is in the northern part of Guatemala, almost to Belize. It is quite far away from where we sat in El Salvador. We could have flown from San Salvador to Guatemala City and onto Flores (near Tikal), but the prices for flying the next week were way out of our budget. So, that meant one thing…we were taking the bus. Well, multiple buses.
Our first step was catching the chicken buses from Bahia del Sol to San Salvador. (Read my previous post about the chicken bus.) We got a bit of help from the locals about where to get off and switch buses, which required walking up a hill and over a highway, but soon we were at the bus depot. We then took a taxi to a hotel where the long distance bus from San Salvador to Guatemala City would depart.
This bus was great. We had reclining leather seats, movies to watch and were fed snacks and drinks. We didn’t even have to get off the bus at the border crossing. The officials from both the El Salvador side and the Guatemala side came through the bus to check and stamp our passports and collect our customs declarations. After about five hours, we were in Guatemala City.
We were immediately impressed with Guatemala City. It is MUCH larger than San Salvador. And, the section of the city where the bus dropped us off was extremely clean and modern. But, we now had to find the bus from Guatemala City to Flores. Unlike the first long distance bus, you couldn’t get much information online about the buses or buy tickets. I had the name of one bus line and knew that they had overnight buses leaving around 9pm, so we had to wing it.
We found a taxi driver to take us to the bus station, which was in the downtown section of the city. Like so many big cities in the States, the downtown area was not exactly the high-class section of town. It was after dark and we were walking down dirty streets with bars on all the windows. It was a bit…sketchy. The bus station was pretty drab as well. There were two buses departing that night for Flores. The first one was full, and the only seats available together on the second bus were at the very back. But, we plunked down $50 for two tickets on this nine hour bus ride to Flores.
When we finally got on the bus and took our seats at the very back, right next to the toilet, we both looked at each other with our favorite expression…”it’s all part of the adventure.” The bus had no attendant, the seats were uncomfortable, there were no lights on in the bus all night, the toilet door wouldn’t stay shut. It was a long nine hours.
We had booked a hotel room inside the Tikal park, which is about an hour away from Flores, the only other place you can stay nearby to see the ruins. We found a shuttle to the park and were already in awe. The Tikal ruins are inside a jungle, and the entire area had been made into a national park. There are monkeys, toucans, wild turkeys, crocodiles, deer, coatis, jaguars, and many more all living in the park.
Our hotel was a set of bungalows just a 10 minute walk from the ruins. (If you go there, be sure to have plenty of cash (quetzal, not dollars). That is another story, but it would make the blog post even longer than it already is. The bungalows are sparse, but adequate. However, what we didn’t expect is that all of the buildings in the park run power on generators. Power and hot water were only available in our rooms in certain three hour blocks during the day and completely turned off at 9pm every night. When we arrived it was HOT. The temperature in the heat of the day was between 105-110 F. The bungalows had no air conditioning, and when the power was out there was no ceiling fan.
We were so exhausted after traveling for almost 24 hours, and it was ridiculously hot out, so we decided to rest up in our bungalow and head to the ruins just before sunset when it started to cool down a bit. The ruins are impressive. Towering pyramid structures rise out of the jungle like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. We wandered around until the light was fading, but we decided we would get much more out of the ruins if we spent the next day visiting with a guide. We immediately went back to the hotel and booked the sunrise tour for the next morning.
At 4:30 am, in the dark with flashlight in hand, we met up with our guide Ronnie and one other guest for the sunrise tour of Tikal. It certainly is something wandering around in the jungle in the pitch black. I was glad Ronnie knew where he was going. Ronnie explained lots of the structures we passed and gave us a history lesson of the Mayans and Tikal. But, soon we arrived at the tallest tower in Tikal.
We hiked up the steps of the tower to sit over top of the jungle canopy and wait for sunrise. I would say we waited in silence, but there is nothing silent about the jungle. As the jungle starts to wake up, you first hear the birds and then the howler monkeys start up. The howler monkeys aren’t huge in size, but their vocal antics sound like herds of lions roaring. As it began to get light, the overcast morning prevented us from actually seeing the sun. But, the haze over the park gave it an eery feel as you could just see the tops of the tallest towers sticking up out of the jungle.
We enjoyed our tour so much that we asked Ronnie to give us another tour at sunset to see the rest of the ruins. (There was no need to be out in the heat of the day.) We saw the rest of the ruins late that afternoon as most of the tourists on buses were departing. It was fascinating to learn that Tikal was not actually “discovered” back in the 1850’s. The first Europeans that stepped foot in Tikal were led there by ancestors of the Mayans who built it. For centuries after Tikal was abandoned, even after nature had reclaimed the buildings covering them in dirt and plants, the locals still made pilgrimages to Tikal as a sacred site. Even today, the locals of Mayan heritage come to Tikal to perform spiritual ceremonies.
It’s difficult to put into words the amazement of visiting a place like Tikal. Imagining the ancient culture that lived in that inhospitable place, taming the jungle to survive, and what happened to them? The horrible history of what the Spanish and the Catholic church did to the local populations, long after the people moved away from Tikal to other cities, still lingers and stings when you listen to the local guides tell the story of how so much of the Mayan culture was lost.
After leaving Tikal, we took another very long bus ride and ended up in Antigua just outside of Guatemala City. Antigua is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as one of the original Spanish colonial cities that retains the architecture. A stark contrast from Tikal.
We loved Antigua. It is a truly international city. Tourism is big, of course, but we met people from multiple countries who had just moved there. There were also two things in Antigua that made Mike get a huge grin on his face…coffee and chocolate! There were small coffee shops on every corner that roasted their own Guatemalan grown beans. We also visited a couple of shops making their own chocolate. Of course we ended up bringing an entire backpack full of coffee and chocolate back to the boat.
Antigua is surrounded by volcanoes, and one of the popular activities is hiking up the volcano. So, we hooked up with a tour to take us up the Pacaya volcano. A van picked us up at our hotel and dropped us off at the base of the volcano, where we were met by our guide. One of the first thing we noticed were all of the saddled horses at the entrance where each guy holding a horse’s reins was shouting “taxi, taxi.” It took me a minute to realize they meant the horses! You could pay to have a horse “taxi” you up the trail rather than walk. Funny, and ingenious.
The hike was moderately difficult, but it would have been easier if I had worn different shoes. Lesson learned. Anyway, we got to the lookout where we had a view of several other volcanoes. Unfortunately, it was not safe to hike to the caldera, as we could see smoke billowing out of the top. There was a large lava field of lava stone where the volcano had erupted in 2014. It is pretty cool to walk across a lava field!
At one point we stopped and our guide broke out some skewers and a bag of marshmallows. There was a thermal vent with people huddled around, and we got to roast some marshmallows on a volcano. Pretty cool.
Overall, we loved our trip to Guatemala. I wish we’d had even more time to explore, but it was time to get back to the boat to get it ready to head further south.
April 17, 2017
We had our first guests in Central America when our good friends Jeff and his 14 yr old daughter Jianna joined us in El Salvador. It was also a good excuse for us to go traveling around the country.
We were able to rent a car really easily and cheaply, which was quite surprising after our experience renting a car in Mexico. In Mexico, we had to put down a pretty hefty deposit on our credit card and pay a pretty penny for full insurance. But, in El Salvador they delivered us a rental car for $25/day in cash with no deposits. I don’t think they even looked at our driver’s license or passports.
The car had 87,000 miles on it and a pretty bad alignment, but it drove and had A/C! So, that was a win for us. But, driving in El Salvador is something else. Most of the streets don’t have street signs. Even when they do, they don’t always make sense. And, there are not easy ways to get on and off the highways. We found that having Google maps open on the iPad and following the blue dot was the only way to navigate. However, even Google maps is not infallible, as it once took us down a dirt farm road and another time led us to a dead end at a river.
After spending a day driving around San Salvador and seeing the sights, we decided to drive up into the mountains with stops at a volcano and archeological sight on the way. The great thing about the size of El Salvador is that you could drive the whole country pretty quickly.
Our first stop was a hike up the Vulcan de San Salvador. After a few wrong turns, we finally found our way up to the top of the Volcano. You can drive almost to the top where there is a very well marked trail to hike to see the top of the caldera.
Our next stop was at Joya de Ceren. This is an UNESCO world heritage site. It is a Mayan farming village which was buried and preserved by the ash of a volcanic eruption around 600 AD, similar to Pompeii. It really was a unique and fascinating site. It is not as grand as the Mayan pyramids at other sites, but it shows the daily life of the people who lived here.
We finally made it to Juayua, our destination up in the mountains. Another cruising couple had recommended a small hotel, Hotel Anahuac, which was just perfect. It had a coffee shop attached brewing locally grown coffee and a cute courtyard around the six or so hotel rooms. It was inexpensive and catered to the backpacker crowd.
We inquired at the reception about taking a tour the next day, and it was recommended that we take the Siete Cascadas (Seven Waterfalls) hike. Our guide would pick us up at 8 am the next morning at the hotel, and it only cost $20/person. Perfect.
So, we dressed for hiking and getting wet and met a young woman at the front of the hotel the next morning who introduced herself as our guide. She didn’t have a car, so we just followed her walking through the town until we got to a dirt road that led back to a lean-to type home with chickens and dogs wandering around. She told us that we would be meeting up with another guide here. Soon we were introduced to Douglas, our second guide, who greeted us with a large rope slug over his shoulder and a machete. I was beginning to wonder what we had gotten ourselves into…
We started following our guides further into the woods? jungle? not sure what you would call it… Douglas pointed out various plants that the locals use, and soon we started seeing the coffee plants. Although the terrain is mountainous, the coffee is planted up and down the sides of the hills. I can’t imagine how much work it takes to plant and harvest the coffee beans in this inhospitable terrain.
We began to walk farther and farther through somewhat difficult trails. I saw why he brought the machete…to cut our way through the wild plants that may have grown over the trails. We never would be able to do this hike without the guides, as the trails weren’t always marked well and sometimes required scrambling up or down rocks and tree roots.
We finally got to the first of the seven waterfalls and all decided to cool off. It was a warm day out, but the water was cold! It felt good, even though it took your breath away at first.
A couple of waterfalls later, we were actually standing at the top of the waterfall. We all looked at each other as we saw Douglas take down the rope he had been carrying and start to a fix it around a tree. We were going to repel down the waterfall!
One at a time we slowly make our way climbing down the waterfall. Douglas went ahead of each of us to show us exactly where to put our footing, and we all made it down safely.
The last few waterfalls have been damned up into pools that you can swim in. After a picnic lunch, we took advantage of the deepest pool and did some swimming. The waterfalls were amazing!
Overall, this was a fantastic hike and one of the best things we have done in the last year. The views of the waterfalls were spectacular. It was a moderately difficult hike, but I would recommend it to anyone traveling to this part of the world. Juayua was also a really cute little town to stay in. I wished we’d had a bit more time to explore, especially more time to see the coffee plantations. But, we’ll just have to put that on the list for another time.
We had so much fun with our guests, and we hope they come back and visit us again soon!
Crossing the Bar
April 12, 2017
When we decided to spend this season in Central America, we were delighted to discover that the El Salvador Cruiser’s Rally coincided with our plans. And so, we were making the push to arrive in El Salvador by mid-March. After clearing out of Chiapas, Mexico, it was just a 2 night sail to the estuary at Bahia Jaltepeque where the boats would be gathering for the rally.
We had a fairly uneventful sail. There were no fish to be caught, as we had to reel in our lines after the brown boobies kept diving on our lures. Twice those stupid birds snagged the lures. Reeling in a dazed bird and trying to get the hook out of its beak is a lot more difficult than a fish. We have no desire to injure any birds, so we took the lines in for good after that.
Once we arrived at the entrance to the estuary, we had to call the pilot boat to guide us in. There is a sand bar you have to get across to safely enter the estuary. As sand bars shift often and can be quite shallow, you have to have local knowledge to make it across. You also have to time it at high tide so that you have enough water to cross without going aground.
The wind was blowing that afternoon and waves were breaking over the bar. It certainly looked intimidating! Luckily, the pilot boat was great. Bill, who helps organize the rally, was on the VHF relaying the directions of the pilot. He timed it between the sets in the swell and told us to gun it. Mike hit the throttle hard and pushed us through. The swell came in behind us, and the boat surfed the wave. Crazy. Then, Bill came back on the radio and said “Bievenidos a El Salvador!” We had made it across the bar and into El Salvador.
We were greeted at the dock with cocktails from the hotel at Bahia del Sol where we docked the boat. Immigration also greeted us as we handed over our passports immediately after we stepped off the boat. Clearing in was a pretty painless process. There is an immigration office right at the hotel and the port captain arrived shortly after to give us the import permit for the boat.
The small marina is attached to the hotel, and for $15/week we can use the hotel facilities including the pool, internet and $1 beers at the bar. The $1 beers were about the cheapest thing at the hotel though. El Salvador uses the U.S. dollar as currency. I think we had become quite spoiled living in Mexico this last year when the peso was so weak against the dollar. Our prices just went up.
One of our first tasks after arriving was to find an ATM to get some cash. We had limited US dollars on hand. After paying immigration, we needed some cash. There are no banks out on the peninsula by the marina. The closest ATM is in the “Supermercado.” The Supermercado is a convenience store about a 45 minute bus ride from the marina.
In order to get to the Supermercado, we had to take the “chicken bus.” Chicken buses (no idea why they call them that) are the local buses found throughout Central America. They are converted old US school buses which have been painted bright colors and often have crazy lighting. They also usually have some extremely loud sound systems with sub-woofers that make it nearly impossible to talk on the bus. The buses can get pretty tightly packed, and as the seats were originally designed for school kids you can imagine how easily Mike at 6’2” fits. The locals don’t quite have his long legs to worry about.
In addition to the bus drivers, each bus has a bus hustler. It is the hustler’s job to get people on and off of the buses quickly. It is not uncommon to hear the hustlers yelling, “rapido, rapido, rapido.” We nearly got pushed off the bus by one. I even saw one guy pick up a little girl (about 3 or 4) around the waist and carry her quickly up onto the bus. The mom seemed unfazed. Can you imagine that happening in the US? Me neither.
The estuary at Bahia Jaltepeque is quite large, and there are multiple communities that live in and around the estuary, including on several islands. Some have modern facilities, but others lack electricity and sanitation. Although many of the local people live quite meagerly, everyone we have encountered has been very friendly and cheerful.
On Saturday nights, we’ve been invited to the island across from the marina in the estuary. Bill and Jean live on the island and have introduced us to some of the locals who operate a make-shift pupuseria. The kids always come out and greet us with hugs, and we’ve had some of the best pupusas. Pupusas are to El Salvador what tacos are to Mexico. They are made with either corn or rice flour that is made into a thick tortilla. The tortillas are usually stuffed with cheese, beans or chicharron (pork). They are served with curtido, which is a fermented cabbage topping. And, they are delicious!
One of the great things about the rally has been meeting up with some friends we made back in Mexico and making some new friends. When cruising, friends come and go but you always hope to meet up again someday soon. A daily ritual has certainly developed of everyone meeting up at the pool in the late afternoon with those cheap beers when it is just too hot to be stuck on the boat. We’ve also had a few awesome potlucks. Cruisers can get quite creative in the galley when you have limited options to work with! The rally has also organized some fun activities, such as a dinghy raft-up, estuary tour to a beach and party barge.
One of the other fun trips we took was to a little town called Panchimalco up in the hills. We went to visit an artist gallery that had the most amazing sculpture garden. The artist runs workshops for aspiring artists in El Salvador and has showcased their work all over the world. It really was an amazing find in this little town.
The marina has also been a safe place to leave the boat to make some excursions inland within El Salvador and Guatemala, but more on that next time…
On the Border
March 16, 2017
Arriving in Chiapas is a whole different experience than any other port in Mexico we have stopped at. Because it is on the border with Guatemala, the Mexican Navy boards every boat in and out of the port to inspect it with the drug dog. That was a first for us.
As we approached Chiapas, we called the Port Captain on channel 16 to request permission to enter the port. We had been told we had to do this by another friend and that they would not respond to you if you hailed them in English. Mike did an awesome job calling in Spanish. What was funny about it was at the end of their conversation when the guy realized Mike was trying to reach for the right words in Spanish, the guy just started speaking English. Sheesh.
Anyway, we pulled into the marina and unfortunately had a bit of a rough time. We were assigned to a slip where we had to make a 180 degree turn to get in through a narrow fairway. And, just as we were starting to turn, the wind picked up. Our bow was being blown by the wind and we couldn’t make the turn. To top it all off, the engine died twice while Mike was shifting between forward and reverse. Both Mike & I (and I think everyone on the dock) about had a heart attack. Luckily we didn’t crash into anything and Mike was able to back us out safely, but the stress was a bit much.
We couldn’t get into the assigned slip and the marina staff just yelled at us to pull in anywhere we could. We were able to pull into another, larger slip facing the opposite direction. Whew! I hate docking.
We were very happy to be reunited with our friends Mike & Katie (and their dog Penny) on Kya. They invited us over for drinks that night. They also invited two French couples from a catamaran called Ivadel. We had a fun time with Kya and our new French friends. We found out that Phillipe used to own a bakery in Paris, and he invited Katie and I over the next morning to give us a lesson on how to bake French baguettes. In return, he would get an English lesson!
The next morning Katie and I gathered on Ivadel with our pens and paper, like all good students, to take notes. Phillipe showed us how to mix and knead the dough, how to let it rise, and the trick to getting that crusty outside of the baguette (hint – steam)! It was so much fun! We learned that Phillipe had a bakery in Paris for 24 years and won all kinds of awards for his pastries. He said he used to make over 4000 baguettes a day. Wow!
I wanted to repay the favor for taking hours out of his day to teach us how to make the baguettes. We still had tons of dorado that we had caught two days earlier, so I invited everyone to a sushi party. Kya was nice enough to let us use their boat since we can’t really fit 8 people on Adagio for dinner.
Now, I’ve never made sushi rolls before, just sashimi, so I’m not sure what I was thinking. But, Mike was up for the challenge and helped me make a whole platter of sushi rolls with our fresh dorado, avocado, cucumber, etc. It just took us a bit longer than anticipated. But, it turned out awesome. We had a great time with everyone and the sushi was delicious.
We made the decision to leave Chiapas on Saturday to arrive in El Salvador on Monday. But, that meant that we had to get our zarpe (exit papers) on Friday. I had NO idea that trying to get out of Mexico would be harder than coming into Mexico!
We started out first thing in the morning in the marina office to fill out the required paperwork and make copies of all of the documents. Then, the marina manager would have to drive us to immigration, the banjercito, customs and the port captain. Everyone has to stamp this same document to let you out of the country. And, everyone wants copies of our boat documents, passport, visa, etc.
So, everything seemed to be going according to plan until just when we were about to leave the marina office. One of the staff came in and told the manager that the road was blocked. Apparently there was some dispute between a company at the port and their transportation contractor, so the contractors decided to block the entire road in protest. Nice. The police were there, but they didn’t really want to get involved.
Thankfully, the marina manager had a 4×4 truck and said he knew a way around. He ended up driving us on dirt roads through a mango grove and banana plantation to get around the road block. Only in Mexico…
After five hours, we were finally back at the marina with our zarpe in hand. I have such mixed feelings about it. I’m sad to leave Mexico, but I’m excited about the next part of our adventure. El Salvador…here we come!
March 13, 2017
What the heck is a Tehuantepecker, and who came up with that name??? The Gulf of Tehuantepec spans about 250 miles from Huatulco to Chiapas on the Mexico/Guatemalan border. On land is a narrow peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean. This low lying area creates a funnel effect drawing strong winds from the Atlantic to Pacific side.
When a Tehuantepecker (the name for the strong winds) is blowing, the winds can reach over 60 knots. But, the real danger is the short, steep waves that can develop. These waves can build up to 10 to 15 feet at 4 to 5 seconds. That is pretty gnarly.
All of the books and sailing blogs, etc. warn you not to become another “Tehuantepec Tale” arriving at your destination exhausted with torn sails or worse. Basically, they all try to scare the shit out of you.
So, the prudent thing to do is to closely watch the weather forecasts and go when there is no Tehuantepecker predicted. There are also lots of “strategies” for how to make the crossing. You can do the straight shot, rhumb line approach and take your chances. But, you have a greater area of exposure to the strong winds. Or, you can take the 16 degree short cut where you head northeast into the Gulf and then cut the corner when you get to 16N. And, of course, there is the “one foot on the beach” approach where you hug the coastline all the way around the bay.
Mike and I read and read all these different pieces of advice and looked at weather forecast after weather forecast. Finally, we just decided we had to go for it. We did NOT want to be stuck in Huatulco for another week waiting for a more perfect forecast.
After we returned from Oaxaca, the forecast started to show the winds dying out the next Monday afternoon, Tuesday looked calm, and then the winds started up again Wednesday afternoon. The 250 mile trip would take us approximately 48 hours. So, the weather window looked tight. But, the funnel effect of the winds means that it really is only about 60 miles or so of that 250 where we would really need to worry about the wind.
We kept looking at the forecast for days as it was changing slightly but still looked like a good window. We had to time the crossing just right. First we decided 6pm Monday would work. But, as it got closer to Monday, we realized we need to leave even earlier. Finally, Monday came and we decided 2pm was the perfect time.
We said goodbye to our friends in Huatulco. Several of them were also going to make the crossing, but they were a bit trepidatious about the window we picked. Everybody has to make their own choices as to when to sail and when not to sail. We certainly would not be pressured to go if we were uncomfortable, and we weren’t going to do that to anyone else either. We made it clear they shouldn’t go just because we were going.
We started out sailing just beautifully, 10-15 kts of wind and not too much swell. As we started to get closer to Salinas Cruz the seas were getting bigger and a bit confused, but we still only had about 10 kts of wind. That changed pretty quickly when we arrived at the “funnel” in the Tehuantepec. As the wind creeped up to 18-20 on a close reach, we put a double reef in the main and pulled in some of the jib.
I had the overnight shift as we headed past Salinas Cruz (the beginning of the funnel effect) and had to drag Mike out of bed twice to reduce sail. We ended up with a triple reef in the main, pulled in the jib completely, and just had part of the staysail out. (Just FYI, we always get the other person up if someone has to go up on deck out of the cockpit, which we have to do to reef the main. We also are clipped in with harnesses to the jacklines.)
The winds settled in at 22-23 for a while and then slowly crept up. I saw it hit 28 and stayed in the 26-28 range for less than an hour before settling back down to 20-22 for the rest of the night. With the wind in my face, I was perched pretty tightly behind the dodger for most of my shift. It wasn’t cold out, but that’s a lot of wind to take for 4 hours!
By the time Mike got up around 5am, the wind had backed down into the teens. The boat handled the wind beautifully, we were properly reefed so the boat wasn’t overpowered, and the hydrovane kept us right on course! But, I was definitely ready for a few hours of rest.
We ended up taking that 16 degree shortcut I mentioned above, but not intentionally. It was just where the wind allowed us to sail. And, we were happy to sail that first 100 miles. We do not like being a motor boat. Unfortunately, after we made it through the funnel, the wind died completely. We only sailed about 3 hours during the day Tuesday, having to motor the rest of the time.
The ONLY advantage to motoring is that it is much easier to fish! If you’ve followed this blog, you know that Mike LOVES to fish. Unless it is really rough out, the trolling lines are off the back of the boat. On Tuesday Mike was in fish heaven.
First we hooked 2 skipjack and threw them back. Next was one of those big jack crevalles. Then we hooked a marlin and saw him jump clear out of the water behind the boat! But, he shook the hook loose (fine with us). Then another jack crevalle. Mike was getting a serious workout at this point trying to drag in those big crevalles.
We had a bit of a lull in the fishing in this point until we hooked another skipjack. But, just as Mike was reeling in the skipjack, we saw a huge dorado going after the skipjack. (I don’t know if he was trying to get the dorado or the lure the skipjack had). Anyway, we tried to get another lure in the water in front of the dorado who was on the surface right next to the boat, but it took off. After throwing back the last skipjack, we were feeling a bit defeated on the fishing front. All those fish, and none that we kept to eat.
A couple hours later, right before sunset, we finally got our fish! After the line started peeling out we saw a huge splash behind the boat and Mike knew it was a dorado. We reeled this guy in and couldn’t believe the size. We measured him at 51 inches! That is the biggest dorado we have ever caught. Mahi mahi for dinner!!!
We had an uneventful last night and the next morning motoring. We arrived at Marina Chiapas around 2pm on Wednesday. We had survived the Tehuantepec and had not become another Tehuantepec Tale.