Seven years ago, we landed in San Jose, Costa Rica to begin what has become a nonstop adventure, a permanent picnic, an excellent escapade! We called it G.R.E.A.T. (Grand Retirement Escapade and Tour) and it certainly has been quite a ride!
This past week as we sailed by Tambor, Costa Rica, in the Gulf of Nicoya, we passed by the hotel where we’d spent a week on the beginning of our month in Costa Rica and Panama in 2011-2012. It was kind of surreal to be sailing by in our home afloat looking at the beach where we’d watched the ocean through the palms from our beach side resort back then. Happy Dance was a dream unrealized, and we’d yet to even decide on a life at sea. It seems like so long ago and measured in miles traveled and the gazillion or so adventures we’ve shared since then, I guess it was!
We arrived in Playas del Coco just before Christmas after leaving the ferocious winds of San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua. We had planned on spending some time in the reportedly beautiful anchorage of Santa Elena, but with the Papagayos forecast to ramp up, and some sad news coming from home, we decided the best decision was to use the one calm day we had to make our escape from windy Nicaragua to a town where we’d have access to an airport, namely Playas del Coco.
Being at sea during times of family emergencies makes us realize how isolated we sometimes are. We’d received word before leaving San Juan del Sur that Marty’s Dad, lovingly called “Grumpy”, was in the hospital. With little information reaching us from home it was tough to know what to do. We weren’t able to put Happy Dance in a marina because we weren’t checked into Costa Rica yet, so anchoring out in Playas del Coco in 30+ knot winds was our only option while we tried to determine how to get Marty home.
We spent a very frustrating day wandering around town and waiting for officials so that we could get all the correct stamps and pieces of paper to make us legal and to allow Marty to be able to leave the country without being tossed in jail. Walking between the Port Captain, a closed Immigration office, the Port Captain, and a still closed Immigration office, made us a bit crazy, not to mention, HOT. Thankfully, the friendly ladies at the Port Captain’s office helped us by calling Immigration in Liberia to find out when the local office would be open and ultimately got us an appointment later that night for us to meet with them. Once that was done we had the problem of how to get back to the boat in the dark since the water taxis don’t run after dark! Another friendly local took pity on us and called his buddy and voila, a ride home to Happy Dance. The next day Marty had an appointment with the Customs officials at the airport, where IF he got the right stamps for Happy Dance, he’d then be able to board a plane to the states. Again, the friendly people of Costa Rica helped us out and Marty was able to fly to Texas.
His time in Texas was tough, to put it lightly, arriving to find Grumpy in the hospital with little time left. After a life full of love and family, his 90 year old body was winding down. We’re so thankful that Marty was able to be there with his brothers, to hold his Dad’s hand and have a chance to talk with him in those final days. Grumpy passed away in his sleep on Christmas morning with his family around him, knowing he was loved.
Marty flew home to Happy Dance a few days later. I was ecstatic to have him home but I’m sure he felt a bit numb after a week of hospitals and sadness, to come back to Playas del Coco, a busy little gringo town with lots of sunshine, and festive music. So we left the dusty streets and noisy nightlife to head a bit north to Playa Iguanita. We spent a quiet New Year’s Eve anchored there, listening to howler monkeys and birds, and the waves on shore. It was a nice spot to begin 2019, to reflect on how lucky we are, and to bid a final farewell to Grumpy.
Our next stop was the perfect little anchorage of Playa Guacamaya. It felt like we were finally back to enjoying the cruising life; floating over clear water in a protected anchorage where we snorkeled, swam, walked the empty beach, and sat in the cockpit enjoying the view. Perfect.
After a few days enjoying the peaceful anchorage, the wind changed, making it time to head further south. We stopped just a few miles away in Playa Conchal. Billed as one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful bays we had planned to stay a few days to walk the long sandy beaches, however on the way into the anchorage Marty was on the bow and he kept pointing to something in the water for me to see. (warning for Megret and Julie K, picture of snake below!)
We saw dozens of snakes slithering along the surface as we made our way to the anchorage, and there were quite a few around the boat after we dropped the hook. Since we had internet, we googled to see what they were; yellow bellied sea snakes, highly venomous, for which there is no antidote. Yikes; the pool is now closed! Supposedly they don’t bite since they have small mouths, but it just didn’t sound like a fun time to be swimming with poisonous snakes. Needless to say, we left the next morning!
Our next trek took us around Cabo Velas where we started heading in a more southeasterly direction. We’re continually surprised at how far east we’ve actually come since leaving Alaska. Our current longitude is 84 degrees West, nearly due south of Atlanta!
The 50-mile trip from Playa Conchal to Bahia Samara was another typical travel day on this blustery coast; full of sail changes, getting slammed with too much sail out, becalmed after reefing, and finally motoring into a headwind over choppy seas. We finally arrived in Bahia Samara and skirted the huge reef in the middle of the bay to anchor behind a tiny island called Isla Chora that provided a bit of relief from the incoming southern swell off the ocean.
Our days in Bahia Samara were full of swimming (no snakes), snorkeling, paddling, exploring the tide pools on the island, and listening to the waves crashing over the reef. We hitched a ride to shore with Wildest Dreams and got completely lost trying to find the town because we thought that we were anchored right in front of it. Nope! We walked in circles for a bit getting strange looks when we asked locals where Samara was, but finally discovered that a taxi ride was in order since town was a 40-minute walk along a narrow busy road. We finally arrived at the far end of the bay where the actual town of Samara was, perused the touristy shops, checked out the market, and of course found a beach side restaurant for lunch! Ahh, the life of the cruiser…sometimes all who wander ARE lost..ha!
Leaving Samara for Bahia Ballena was another 50 mile jaunt, and again we spent our day hoisting and dousing sails, flying at 8 knots on a perfect broad reach, and becalmed on a lumpy sea. Rounding Punta Blanco was a challenge with wind on the nose, breaking waves, and an opposing current.
Before rounding the final corner and heading into Bahia Ballena, we realized that we were passing Tambor, the site of our official starting point on the Grand Retirement Tour! We could even see the waterfalls where we’d hiked, and swam in the tide pools. Great memories, and fun to think of having come full circle.
When we anchored in southern end of Bahia Ballena we were next to the pier where we’d taken a panga ride to Isla Tortuga seven years ago. Everything looked about the same, with all the pangas tied to the pier in a Med-moor mess, each with a separate anchor, but all leading to a single tie point. We paddled to the beach to explore the little town, and visited Cristina’s restaurant, a landmark that’s been open for over 30 years in the same spot and run by its namesake.
One day the four of us dinghied up the river into a mangrove lined paradise. After turning off the motor, we floated along listening to the roar of the howler monkeys in the distance (second loudest animal in the world!), and the birds fluttering through the trees. There was one sound we were never able to identify that sounded like ping pong balls bouncing. Was it the mud bubbling? A bird calling? Crocodiles burping? Who knows, but it was a fun day of floating on a mirror in the midst of green.
When the winds changed, we headed to the north end of the bay and anchored in front of Playa de Muertos, where we were told the name was given because of a school of dolphins that beached themselves there. It’s a rather sad name for a beautiful spot! We loved the palms on the beach, the reef protecting us from the swell, the parrots squawking in the trees, and the quiet nights. Perfect.
So, we’re now sitting on Happy Dance as she rests in the mud while tied to a dock in Puerto Azul Marina. We were assured by the marina that we’d have enough water for our 6’8” keel, but I don’t think they took the full moon (and lovely lunar eclipse!!) into account. At the moment the tide is a negative 1.25′, and Happy Dance is a couple of feet out of the water, stuck in the nasty mud of the estuary. UGH. It’s especially strange since the bottom isn’t flat so our bow is higher than the stern. Why are we here you might ask? We’re leaving Happy Dance on her own for a couple of weeks while we go inland to explore the mountains in Costa Rica, then we’ll hop a flight to Seattle to go celebrate Brad and Jesse’s wedding! Exciting times!
So, there you have it blog readers, you’re all caught up on the circuitous travels, life changes, and exciting escapades of the Happy Dancers. A circle of thousands of miles and a gazillion adventures, and always more to come. As they say in Costa Rica, Pura Vida!!