Hurry Up and Wait

But I get ahead of myself again.  I intended to tell you how we arrived here, so off we go!

We’ve just reached another milestone for Happy Dance and her crew!  Seven years ago, we left the dock in Anacortes, Washington, setting sail for adventure and what an adventure it’s been.  Our first stop on that momentous Bon Voyage day was a favorite spot of ours on Lopez Island.  Today we’re floating at anchor in a new favorite called Bahia de Rosario, surrounded by black sand beaches, lush green forests, pelicans in trees, squawking parrots, and howler monkeys.  What a difference over fifteen thousand miles makes!

Along the way we’ve learned that sometimes leaving the dock is a simple affair, and sometimes it’s a bit more complicated, due to rough weather, opposing tides, mechanical problems, or just not being ready.  The thing that held us to the dock in Panama for two very expensive weeks was a new thing to all of us called the Coronavirus Pandemic.  Obviously, we’re not the only ones negatively impacted by the uncertainty of the world these days, and I hardly feel like our inconveniences are worthy of mention given what people are facing around the world.  Our problems have stemmed from border closings, travel restrictions, services being unavailable, and basically just learning to wait. 

It seems as though our timing has been off since our arrival into Panama.  We had scheduled our arrival based on information from one marina employee stating the tide would be high enough to launch Happy Dance, however it was a different story when we were standing in front of the person who would actually be doing the launching!  Long story short, we were not able to launch as planned and headed off to find a hotel while we waited for higher tides.

Four days later we launched with a couple of feet to spare, thankfully avoiding bouncing on the bottom or hitting any of the other obstacles in this less than perfect marina!  Once at the dock we worked through “the List” of chores pretty fast, then had to wait, and wait, for the daily March winds to calm a bit to be able to hoist the sails.

Happy Dance waiting to be launched

Finally, we were ready to go.  Wrong!  The virus had arrived in Panama and Panama had closed the doors.  The Panamanian President decreed that marine officials would not be in their offices ready to stamp papers and give us the magic exit Zarpe which we need to be able to leave the country.  The news continued to deteriorate as it did all over the world, with stores closing, buses and taxis not running, roadblocks between us and the Port offices, and a curfew imposed from 5pm to 5am.  For us it just meant that we had hurried up and now must wait, wait, wait, to see what decree came next and when we might be able to leave Panama.  Three weeks later we’re still waiting.

We heard some good news that we at least we wouldn’t be stopped from leaving the marina, so we motored Happy Dance to the fuel dock before 8am to be ready when they opened, and they finally showed up at 11am to fuel us.  Okay, NOW we’re off!  As we left the marina at noon it was a bit nerve wracking to see one of our fellow cruisers anchored just outside the break water being buffeted by the wind and waves because the marina wasn’t letting any boats enter.  In other words, once we crossed the breakwater, we were outcasts.  No worries…right?  Gulp!

Well, nothing ventured nothing gained.  The afternoon winds had kicked up, so we rolled out the genoa and had a lovely lively sail heading due south out of Panama Bay.  The wind was strong enough that even with a double reefed genoa out, we were making tracks.  Needless to say, it was fantastic after having been in the marina for so long, being blown against the dock and bouncing on the surge, to finally put a use to all that wind!  What a great sail.  Happy Dance and her crew were all doing the happy dance!

It seemed strange to be sailing south to get north, but we were heading toward Punta Malo, with the sun setting to starboard.  Thankfully Punta Malo wasn’t malo (bad) as we rounded the notoriously rough point, and we were then able to change course to due West.  As the daily winds subsided with a moonless dark night coming on, we furled the sails and motored to first light enjoying the phosphorus light show in our wake.  In the morning we hoisted the sails again making plenty of sail changes in the offshore gusty winds, completing the 150-mile passage in 24 hours.  We arrived at Ensenada de Naranjo on Isla Cebaco mid-day the next day, and as we rounded the point into the bay we were greeted by the wonderful fragrance of flowering trees.   

It had been a dark bumpy night for the first overnight transit, and we were both tired but happy when the anchor dropped.  We spent the next couple days cleaning up from a rough passage (one duck down), swimming off the boat, enjoying the gentle roll of the boat on the incoming swells, and listening to the rollers crash onshore.   It felt awesome to be away from the dock and get reacquainted with the feeling of the boat under us.  There’s nothing like sleeping at anchor; we love it.

Our next stop was at an anchorage tucked between the mainland and Isla Catalina, where we spent two days catching up on the news (mostly bad) via a cell tower that we know can be reached there.  It’s not the best anchorage because the swells break over the reefs at high tide making it a bit rough, but it calmed down at night, so we still enjoyed peaceful sleep. 

It’s now been over a week since we left the dock and we’re feeling like boat people again!  Happy Dance is anchored in a lovely spot called Bahia de Rosario, on the mainland of Panama about midway between the Choiba and Seca Island groups, with light winds and tides so that she is barely pulling on her anchor chain.  We hadn’t stayed here before and we’re so glad that we did this time.  It’s a fairly well protected anchorage, with small islands and a reef that stops the swell from entering the bay.  There hasn’t been much wind to speak of during the week we’ve been here, so the variable onshore and offshore breezes have been just enough to keep us cool and give us a 360-degree view of the bay.

There are no houses or people nearby, so other than the few fishing cayucas who paddle in from the next bay over where there’s a little fishing village perched on the sand, we haven’t seen anyone.  It’s about a two-mile paddle to get here, so the fishermen arrive before the sun on the incoming tide and point their boats home when the sun is high and the tide is going out. 

Sunrise and sunset are heralded by the sound of howler monkeys calling to each other from deep in the lush forest.  We read somewhere that howler monkeys are one of the loudest animals on the planet and if you’ve ever heard them it’s not hard to think they’re probably the loudest!  We haven’t been able to see their black bodies in the depths of the shadows, but we can see their passage as the tree branches dip under their weight.  It’s a riot to listen to them, along with the many bird calls and fish kerfluffles…pretty awesome.

One side of this idyllic bay where we’re anchored is ringed with plumeria trees, mostly bare branches with bunches of fragrant white plumeria blossoms at the end of each.  The trees are very accommodating for the flocks of white ibis who unknowingly camouflage themselves among the white flowers.  There are also a few great egrets who come home to roost every night, along with the silly pelicans who enjoy making me laugh.  In the morning the ibis all take flight at once leaving one to think that all the clusters of flowers were suddenly blown away.

This week of solitude and serenity has been a welcome gift for two sailors who prefer quiet anchorages over busy marinas.  Especially after all the bad news and frustrations out in the big world it’s been unbelievable to simple sit on the boat and listen to the sounds of nature and the sea all around us.  We’ve been swimming, paddling, beach walking, and just enjoying this beautiful spot.  We’ll soon go face the news again, since we need to find out if Panama will ever give us our magic Exit Zarpe and let us go on about our travels.  No doubt there are more weeks of waiting in our future, but we’ll find more little anchorages to spend the time and hopefully we’ll be soon moving again; enjoying more of this unpredictable adventure that we began seven years ago!

Update:

We’re now anchored in Boca Chica, where we have cell service and can find out what’s what in the world.  We were welcomed into the bay by a school of dolphins.  We’re sending lots of love to family and friends, wishing you all a happy lock down!  

Time Flies!

Oh my gosh, it’s December!!  The old adage of “time flies when you’re having fun” has proven true once again.  I feel like I’ve plummeted off the blog wagon and tripped over my time machine while waving my hands in the air shouting WEEEEEeeee!!!  I’ve left far too many adventures flapping in the wind, so it’s time to catch up.  Be prepared for information overload as I try to regale you with some of our most memorable escapades from the past six months.

When I last reported, we’d been enjoying a sojourn in Seattle soaking up some summer sunshine while I was recuperating from knee surgery.  At the end of the summer, with a most important due date approaching, it was finally time to go meet the newest member of our tribe.  We zipped down I-5 to San Luis Obispo in order to be there for William James Maxhimer’s grand arrival on September 8th!

Smitten, totally smitten.  I know every grandparent has experienced this, but for us it was new and unexpected, this power of love and attachment that suddenly takes over when you hold that little bundle of warmth for the first time.  William is perfect in every way and we had three weeks of holding, cuddling, and being amazed, along with his beautiful parents, Kyle and Rachael.  I’ll try to keep my adoration to an acceptable level but suffice it to say that we are in heaven.

Much too soon it was time to move on down the road and let the rest of the family enjoy some William time, so we packed our bags and gave William one last snuggle.  We traveled in the Murph for 6 weeks, visiting new places and once again being amazed at the wealth of beauty and extremes to be found in our National Parks.  Starting 282′ below sea level in Death Valley and wandering above 10,000′ in mountain peaks looking over vast canyons; how lucky are we?

We loved hiking through the forests in Sequoia and Kings Canyon, craning our necks to peer into the top branches of trees that have been standing for thousands of years.  We clambered in and around hoodoos and piles of colored rocks in Zion and Bryce, down into slot canyons in Antelope Valley and along ancient riverbeds in Utah.  Sometimes it felt as if we landed on another planet created by Dr. Seuss!

One day we drove to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon with the anticipation building as we wound in and out of golden aspen forests and open meadows, climbing higher and higher until finally we walked to the edge…of wow.  There are times when Mother Earth takes our breath away, when you simply have to stop, listen, and see.

We found many places that we want to explore more, but since the weather had turned very cold, we decided it was time to put the Murph away for the winter and we had some work to do (I know, that’s an unfamiliar concept to these nomads).

Brrrr!

We needed to go visit Happy Dance and get her ready to float next spring.  We flew to Panama City and drove to San Carlos where we’d planned to stay for two weeks while working on the boat.  Well, we learned that there’s a reason we’ve always had the bottom painted by others…it’s hard work!  We muddled through, and only cried uncle when nearly done with the worst of it.  Bottom sanded, paint applied and only 5 days gone by, hmmm it seems that maybe time flies when NOT having fun too!

Since we had finished our chores early we still had a few weeks to fill before our accommodations were available for Christmas, so says we; why not hop on a plane, fly to Italy, explore for a bit, then hop on a ship to bring us back?  Good plan!  We flew to Milan, took a train to Florence and enjoyed 5 wonderful days there before heading to Rome for another 4 days.

Italy – the history, the art, the architecture, the food, the people, the language, all are magical.  The Agony and the Ecstasy was a book that I loved when I was in high school and I’ve always wanted to visit Michelangelo’s hometown, and Bernini’s Duomo.  I can tell you without a doubt that it didn’t disappoint!  We spent hours wandering through narrow streets enjoying a gelato here and a glass of chianti there, sitting in outdoor cafes, and climbing 100’s of stairs to the top of the Duomo and Bell Tower.  Warm people, and a rich and inviting culture.  We loved it.

While Florence felt like a small town, Rome seemed huge!  Our AirBnB was in Trastevere, which turned out to be a great central location, with lots of cute plazas, restaurants, and outdoor markets.  We walked everywhere and it was a great way to explore the city and find hidden little side streets.  Everywhere you look in Rome there’s another church or Roman column, or a trattoria with inviting aromas enticing you to sit for a spell!  We did all the big-name attractions, and because it was off season, we had them pretty much all to ourselves.  Another wonderful visit!

Pretty soon our Italian sojourn was winding down, and it was time to hop a train to the historic port town of Civitavecchia, where we boarded the Pacific Princess for a 5,500 nm, 17-day cruise back to the US.  Along the way we visited Naples, Pompeii, Sicily, Gibraltar, Cadiz, and Tenerife.  New places, new foods, new cultures, new friends…new fun!

So now we’re steaming along in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, with another 2,000 miles to go before we land in Florida.  Our ship is a relatively small one holding only 622 passengers, and the rocking and rolling of the boat is something we didn’t really expect.  It’s a riot to watch everyone stagger drunkenly down the hallways as the boat rides up and down the swells.  Sitting on our balcony 7 stories above the water, we keep trying to visualize what it would feel like to be on Happy Dance with sails out riding the wind and dancing on the waves.  It’s gorgeous, and we’ve experienced the world as a 360-horizon line before, but I have to say that being on Happy Dance in that vast circle of water is a bit different than being on a ship steaming along at 20 knots!

Breakfast at sea

In another few days we’ll land in Florida, hop on a few flights to San Luis Obispo (SLO), and see our wee William and family.  Time is on the wing again, and yet we continue to capture moments that will last forever.  I’ll always be able to feel the warm breeze on the Atlantic, watch the moonset in front of us, and feel the excitement of what comes next.  Yep, time flies, and we’re making more memories!

PS….We made it to SLO after two days of packed airports and bumpy flights, tired but happy.  Christmas has come and gone and our first Christmas with kids and grandson William was THE BEST!  This grand-parenting stuff is awesome.  Now if only I could make time stand still!

On the Hard

Sitting here cooling off in the breeze, enjoying a view of ducks on the pond, listening to birds chirping, cottonwood leaves rustling, goat bells tinkling in the distance, our resident rooster crowing at his harem of hens, all mixed in with the sound of motorcycles shifting through their gears, and small airplanes circling to land in the field nearby.  It’s certainly a different type of life style that we’ve been having this summer!  It’s life on the hard! 

Where are we now?  Glad you asked!

At the moment we’re house sitting in a lovely peaceful home just outside Snohomish, with trees all around and a pond in back.  We always seem to have good luck and once again lady luck came through.  While we were sailing in Panama last February, we met some new cruising friends who were vacationing for a week on another friend’s boat.  Long story short, we discovered during sundowner conversations that they needed a house sitter while they were sailing in Alaska for the summer, and we needed a place to stay while I recuperated from knee replacement surgery (I think they got the best end of the deal..ha!).  Voila – conundrums solved cooperatively!

So, this summer has now marked the longest stint we’ve spent on the hard, and in one place, since we moved onto our floating home in 2012.  It’s been a bit out of character for us and we’re definitely getting eager to start traveling again, but what a great summer we’ve had in the beautiful Northwest.  My knee surgery was a total success and being in such a perfect surrounding to recover could not have been better.

How did we get here?  Glad you asked!

The first thing that happened was that Happy Dance was lifted from her happy place in the water and placed on the hard.  That very simple sentence doesn’t even remotely reflect the level of angst and anxiety we felt as we slowly guided Happy Dance onto the submerged hydraulic trailer then watched somewhat helplessly while the workers aligned her 7’ keel in between the hydraulic lift pads that would support her 25,000 lbs. as she was hauled to her summer home on blocks.  With plenty of shifting, do-overs, and shouted instructions between the driver and the guys with their snorkel gear peering into the murky water to see if all was well, they soon had her on the trailer and began the slow pull up the steep (much too steep) ramp to her new home in dry storage where she’d sit on blocks for the next eight months.  Now we just have to worry about the return trip!

Marty and I are also out of our floating element; we’re living on the hard just like Happy Dance, in a real house with wooden walls, a rigid roof, and even a truck for transportation in the driveway.  It doesn’t rock when the wind blows, we don’t have to take the dinghy to get to the store, and there are no worries about anchors dragging, but we do miss our pool!  It’s all so…normal…but very abnormal for these two sailors.

Where else have you been?  Glad you asked!

We enjoyed some land yacht adventures before we landed in Snohomish.  In May after Happy Dance was secure, we flew from Panama City to Pueblo, Colorado and picked up Murph, our 18’ travel trailer.  For a month or so we drove around exploring new places in the southwest.  Two of the most memorable adventures were Mesa Verde National Park, and Arches National Park.  Wow!

It felt like we had Mesa Verde NP all to ourselves and because it was technically before the season had opened, we pretty much did!  We pulled into the park campground and found a perfect spot with a beautiful view of the mesas.  It was still pretty cold there, with even a few patches of snow hidden beneath the trees, but the sun came out and warmed things up in the daytime.  We hiked every day to a new vista or cliff dwelling, rode our bikes around the Wetherill Mesa, oohed and aahed at all the ancient pueblo structures, and thoroughly enjoyed reading every plaque and adding archeological factoids to our craniums.

One of our favorite hikes was the Petroglyph Trail, that leads you down into a steep canyon and below the cliffs.  It was impressive to look up at the enormous sandstone cliffs and to walk along trails that the ancestral people had formed all those hundreds of years ago in their travels from the canyons to mesa tops.  The Petroglyphs themselves were amazing, spectacular, mind blowing; such a small speck in a hidden canyon brimming with forgotten memories.  You could almost feel the grit on the artist’s fingers as he carved his stories into the rock walls.  After trying to absorb it all, we eventually returned to the trail that now took us up, straight up, to the top of the canyon for the loop back to where we started.  Perfect!

After enjoying plenty of solitude and communing with history for a week our next stop was Moab, Utah and Arches National Park.  We soon learned that Moab is never out of season!  The town itself was busy, but not yet overflowing with summer traffic.  The biggest hurdle was finding a place to camp, but as our good luck would have it, we happened to drive into one of the BLM campgrounds just as another camper was leaving, so we were able to grab a prime spot right on the Colorado River.  The campgrounds are mostly first come first serve, so campers are forced to drive around every day to see when others are leaving so that they can be there bright and early to try and grab a spot.  It’s a crazy game, and we were so happy to have found a spot so easily.

As is our usual routine in busy National Parks, we were up at the crack of dawn each day and headed into Arches.  We beat the crowds at the gate and enjoyed peaceful drives into the park through some pretty spectacular scenery!  I must have said WOW a gazillion times.  Every corner and slight change in elevation brought new views of the crazy shaped spires and arches unlike anything we’d ever seen.  The guide says there are over 2,000 arches in the park, and it’s easy to believe as you see how the wind and rain shapes the stone.

We went to a different spot each day and hiked as far as our legs would take us.  Thankfully we were pretty successful in avoiding the crowds; it’s all about timing.  Early morning is the perfect time to beat the rush and it’s also a great time to really see the contrasting colors and textures of the beautiful sculptured stones.  In my next life I want to come back as a nature photographer (or a major league baseball player) so I can capture the artistry of nature in these incredible places.  I love national parks!

Our favorite hike in Moab was actually outside the park.  Every day we drove back and forth along highway 128 and passed a sign for the Grandstaff Canyon Trail.  One day we decided to give it a try and took the hike into the canyon to Morning Glory Bridge, a huge natural stone bridge.  It was incredible to look up at the bridge and see how massive it is.  There’s also a natural spring that comes flowing right out of the rock to form a small pond that feeds into the creek nearby.  It was a beautiful hike, and yes, lots more WOWs!!

Pretty soon time and schedules closed in on us, so we started heading toward Seattle where the calendar dictated that we had to be.  Along the way we stopped in some great river side campgrounds and eventually drove over Snoqualmie Summit, past my old Skier’s Inc. stomping grounds where our family spent nearly every winter weekend when I was a kid.  On June 3rd I reported to Swedish Hospital where my left knee was replaced with a lovely new titanium version.  Since then we’ve been in Snohomish while I got my knee to work again, and Marty took care of everything else (did I mention that he’s awesome?)!

What’s next in the adventures of Marty and Sue?  Glad you asked!

We’re delighted and excited, jubilant and overjoyed to announce that Kyle and Rachael are going to have a baby boy!!  We’ll soon be flying down to San Luis Obispo to welcome our grandson…WOW!  We’re so excited and can’t wait to meet the little guy, and to share in the new adventures that await Kyle and Rachael and their new little family.

So, there you have it!  Life on the hard hasn’t actually been too hard, in fact, it’s a little too easy!  Need groceries?  There’s a Mega-Mercado right down the street with rows and rows of shiny cans and bottles and boxes of every food stuff you could ever imagine.  Every time I go into the grocery store or a big box store, I’m still a bit overwhelmed.  I miss my tiny tiendas and the all day thrash to get to town and back; dusty shelves with a mish mash of foods all stacked together, a can of this, a box of that, expiration dates be damned, but always enough of what we needed.

So yes, we’re enjoying our excursion to life on the hard, where the living is easy, and yet at the same time we’ve been reminded that our favorite life style is to enjoy short stints here, there and everywhere, floating forays hither and yon to empty anchorages, and land yacht treks and travels.  It’s time to put on our planning hats and figure out what’s next!!

Hmmmm….where to next??

Chasing Sunsets

It’s dark, and though the stars are getting brighter, they’re losing the battle to the silver moon that is now shining over Happy Dance.  A gentle wind is blowing from the north and I’m standing on the bow, letting the breeze cool me, listening to the birds, and smelling the plumeria blossoms on shore.  I’m picturing a map in my mind, trying to reconcile where we are with where we’ve been, and with the distance traveled from that arbitrary place we once called home.

2018-2019 Travels of Happy Dance and crew

Six years ago, we untied Happy Dance from the dock in Anacortes and motored out of the marina to begin an adventure that neither of us clearly envisioned. How little we grasped of the things we’d see, the places we’d visit, the people we’d meet, and the fears we’d face.  We chuckle now at the funny things we did while learning to live on a sailboat, and we cringe at the scary things we did that we survived.

So here we are in Panama, in the Pearl Islands, latitude 07 degrees, longitude 79 degrees, with over 15,000 miles under the keel from the glaciers in Alaska!  Who’d a thunk it.  All the miles, the smiles, the oohs and ahhs, the pinch me moments, the oh shit moments, and the bazillion memories in between.  What a ride!

In honor of our sixth anniversary of cruising, I thought this blog would be about reminiscing over some of our more memorable moments.  But when I asked Marty to name his top three moments since leaving the dock he started writing, and writing, and writing, and finally stopped after he’d listed a page full, saying “I can’t!”.  I have to agree though, it’s impossible to decide the best of the best of all the magical moments we’ve shared.   So, I’ll scrap that blog, or save it for another major milestone and move on to something that’s been in our minds this year…

Decisions…

This season has been tough. The distance from family and friends felt farther even though we’re usually just a plane ride away.  At one point we needed for Marty to get home quickly to see his Dad who was ailing.  Weather, logistics, and immigration paperwork all played against us as we frantically worked to get Marty on a plane out of Playas de Coco, Costa Rica.  It didn’t help that it was during the Christmas holidays and offices were on short hours, or that the winds were blowing 40 knots in the anchorage and yet we were forced to keep Happy Dance in the harbor until papers were completed.  Marty was finally able to fly out, and I stayed on Happy Dance at anchor.  Thankfully Marty was able to see his Dad before he passed away on Christmas Day.

In addition to the family sadness, we’ve had a few sailing trials as well.  Our last passage around Punta Mala to Las Perlas was essentially the final straw in what has become the year of the broken-backed camel.  On the Happy Dance Beaufort Duck Scale, it was a five-ducks-down-100-mile-trek against contrary currents, tide rips that spread out for miles, wind against the current stirring up steep waves, all while playing dodge-a-freighter in the dark.  We were traveling at less than 4 knots, and sometimes painfully slowed to 2 and 3 knots by the ferocious current running out of the Gulf of Panama.  We actually considered diving on the prop to see if we’d caught a fishing net or something!  Happy Dance was not happy!  The slow speed was annoying but bearable, except for the fact that Happy Dance was guzzling fuel like a motorboat.  Then at sunset, the winds kicked in.  We unfurled the mainsail, but soon had to reef and finally furled it all the way back in because the conditions were just too rough.  With Happy Dance nearly dipping her gunwales in the water with every roll, we tried and tried to no avail to find an easier heading to find some relief from the gusty wind and opposing current.

Then we arrived at the edge of the busy shipping lanes leading into the Panama Canal.  When you’re only going 3 knots over ground, and the freighters are moving at about 20 knots, it’s best to stay out of their way.  Unfortunately for us, that meant trying to get across the southbound lane into the separation zone in time to avoid the freighter bearing down on us, and give the freighter heading northbound some room to pass us.  Judging speed, bearing, and distance is a crazy game when the Closest Point of Approach (CPA) on radar is changing from 500 feet to 2 miles with every roll of the boat because your GPS is 55’ off the water.

So, long story short, we survived another passage from hell.  I have this one listed in second place after the true passage from hell, but Marty thought it might be down further on the list.  Either way, we’d just as soon not repeat the experience any time soon!

Once dawn arrived, we could see the islands, the current finally released us from its grasp, and a pod of dolphins escorted us the last few miles.  Happy Dance picked up speed and started behaving normally again, and we were soon approaching shore, watching the depth sounder waiting for a spot to anchor.  Too tired even for an anchor beer, we took a look at our beautiful new surroundings, then hit the sack.  Nap time.

Now…back to that gentle wind blowing, standing on the bow, letting the breeze cool me, listening to the colorful birds call to each other on shore.  There were many days of simply watching; gazillions of sea birds diving, fish kerfluffles, beaches appearing and disappearing in the 18’ tides.  Walks on the beaches, paddles along the reefs, swimming and floating, happy hours on the sand.  Yeah, it was nice.

We seem to be feeling a bit ambivalent about being in Panama after having spent nearly two years in getting here.   I think we’re spoiled by places we’ve been and loved more, and that didn’t require getting the poopie knocked out of us on a regular basis!  El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama are all beautiful countries, with different personalities, different traditions, and different people.  We appreciated them all, we’ve been awed by the history and the beauty, we’ve been amazed at the flora and fauna.  There are still so many places to explore that I know we’ll be back, however, the trip south (and lots of east) from El Salvador was much tougher than expected.  The infamous Papagayo winds, the marginal road stead anchorages, the days and days of dancing on anchor in 40-50 knots, the high cost of living, and the added difficulty in getting simple conveniences, like tacos…I miss tacos.  And tamales. And mole, margaritas, and molcajete.

Decision made!

We’re returning to the land of tacos and tamales.  To the land where Spanish music spills out from every doorway and the mouthwatering smells from the roticeria will make your tummy rumble.  There are many whys and wherefores for this decision, and in our wee brains we probably have a list of reasons stored somewhere, but mostly it’s about feeling relaxed, feeling safe, and feeling happy.  Rather than wonder why we’re not feeling those things here in this particular slice of paradise, we’re more focused on the reasons we felt those emotions in Mexico.

The Gulf of California is magical, and it’s our kind of magic.  When we return to Happy Dance next season, we’ll be making the big U-turn and heading north.  Not in the sense of going backwards, but in the sense of going home.  We’re glad to have seen and experienced Central America, and now it’s time to return to the places that we have enjoyed the most.

Our life is an escapade and we are happy to be living it to the fullest.  We set out six years ago not knowing what adventures were in store for us, and we’ve had more incredible encounters than we can list.  Our lives are measured in moments, in glances and a smile, in a hug on a bumpy sea, a toast to a conch shell sunset, watching for the green flash, a Norah Jones serenade.  We’ll continue to chase sunsets, no matter which direction they lead us, and we’ll always be together in that space and time we call home.

Sunset Isla Parida, Panama

 

Floating, Tico Style

In Costa Rica the locals call themselves “Ticos” (or “Ticas” if you’re female) and there are all kind of things that are typically Tico.  There’s tico-time, which means they’ll get there when they get there.  There’s tico-tipico, which describes Costa Rican food available in the “sodas” (restaurants).  And then there’s the tico version of a float trip…

It all started when we (Grant and Michelle from Wildest Dreams and ourselves) decided to find a tour that would take us into the primary growth of the Corcovado Reserve.  Over a yummy lunch at Roberto’s of fresh Mahi Mahi and Red Snapper, we did a little (very little) research into tours available from Drake Bay where we and m/v Wildest Dreams were currently anchored. There were night tours to see snakes and frogs, bird watching tours, canoe tours, or one where you could sleep overnight in a tree house (now that sounds cool!).

We’d already spent a day in the Curu Reserve (photos above) and had great fun seeing lots of critters, so we opted for a different kind of adventure this time.  It might have been over the second beer when I happened to read about a Floating Tour.  The description read; moderate hike into primary growth forest, a swim under a waterfall, and a float down the Rio Claro.  Okay says I, I’ll call them!  Presto, we’re reserved for the following morning.  Meet Carlos at 8am on the beach.  Got it.

Now you have to understand that we float.  Every day all day.  Our boats float.  We are dry when we float.  So, for some insane reason I had it in my mind that we’d be floating down the river in some sort of boat.  That doesn’t seem like too much to ask does it?  Boats are good!  They keep you dry, away from crocodiles and snakes, off the rocks, and out of the mud!   However, as I learned the morning of our tour, the other three in our group had already figured that “floating” meant “floating”!  Hmmm…nobody bothered to inform the slow one in the group, namely me!­

It’s now morning so we jump in the dinghy to head for the beach rendezvous.  Swimsuits on, backpack full of necessary items like bug spray, water, a towel, binoculars…we’re ready!  We arrive at the beach, wheel the dinghy up to a tree to tie it out of the reach of high tide, meet up with Carlos, hop in the truck, and off we go for a dusty 30-minute ride up the hillside behind town and into the Corcovado Forest.  At the last minute as we’re getting ready to leave the truck and start hiking Carlos hands me a life jacket, looks at my tennis shoes and my non-waterproof backpack and says, you know you’re going to get all wet, right?

Huh?

You’re probably all way ahead of me by now, but I was finally starting to see the light, finally starting to realize that I did NOT prepare correctly for this adventure!  I should have worn different clothes, different shoes, and put our gear into a dry bag.  Somehow the rest of the crew had done just that…where was I?  On well, what’s a girl to do?  Have a good laugh at my own stupidity, stuff the backpack back in the truck, and sally forth!

With Carlos having a good chuckle at my expense, and after ditching everything but the camera (which thankfully IS waterproof), we headed into the forest.  With each step into the trees we found ourselves in a different world.  The canopy formed by the trees overhead blocked most of the sun, the air grew close, the sounds were muffled, and the colors more intense.

Carlos told us about various trees and plants that are good for different remedies.  The bark of one tree will help stop bleeding, another is used to treat gastritis, another will alleviate arthritis pains, and there’s even one makes a wine that will get you very drunk, but only if you sit in the sun after drinking it!  Crazy and fascinating!  We also learned that we could tell this was primary forest because of the types of plants that thrived on the forest floor.  There are some plants that will only survive where the canopy is thick enough to keep the sun and rain off their leaves, as it is in the old growth forest.

The forest is full of huge trees that form a dense maze of leaves, vines, twisty trunks and hanging bromeliads.  During the rainy season it’s not uncommon for giant trees to come crashing down as their roots lose their grip in the mud created from the 6 FEET of rain each month.  We saw plenty of downed trees, vines growing both up and down from branches in the canopy, lots of crazy spiky trees, and green, every hue of green.  It’s an amazingly beautiful place and we were glad to learn that Costa Rica is serious about protecting these important environments.

Back to the adventure!  We hiked about 45 minutes on a deep carpet of leaves, over many leaf cutter ant highways, and fallen trees.  Because of the humidity and the complete lack of moving air, we were all soon drenched in sweat, except for Carlos of course; he was fresh as a daisy, walking barefoot through the forest, stepping easily over the ant trails, the root tangles, and downed logs.  Oh to be 70..ha!

Eventually we came to a spot that Carlos said was a little “tricky” and we needed to be careful.  I think that must have been a Tico way of saying, “We’re now going to climb down a cliff by hanging on to tree roots to keep us from plunging to our death!”  The reason we had to climb down the “tricky” section was because the old trail had been wiped out recently by a land slide that took out the side of the hill.  Hmmmm…

Marty had to go in front of me, because my creaky knees were not up to the downward descent.  But leaning on my stable man and hanging on to various roots we finally made it to the bottom where we were rewarded with a dip in the cool waters at the base of the waterfall.  Ahhhhh, it felt great to be swimming in fresh water!

After our swim, a snack and a little rest, we were off again, down to the Rio Claro.  We soon arrived at a spot where we prepared to float.  Carlos demonstrated how we would wear our life jackets upside down, like float-able diapers.  It was hysterical trying to get zipped and clipped into life jackets that are upside down and backwards, and thankfully the Coast Guard was nowhere in sight to see our abuse of safety equipment!  We giggled our way into our diapers and waddled down to the river to get the next part of this party started.

The river was fairly low, it is dry season after all, so we bumped along on rocks occasionally, and we also had to “portage” around a few rapids and waterfalls.  However, we mostly floated peacefully down the river, watching the sunlight play in the canopy overhead.  I’m sure we scared off any wild life with all our laughter, and Carlos was very amused at our antics…I think.  At least he kept shaking his head and laughing, so I’m going with he was amused!  Click HERE to see a short video of our craziness…

Pretty soon we arrived at deeper water where the current was stopped by the ocean waves entering the river.  In other words, time to swim!  It’s very difficult to swim with tennies on, and in a life jacket that is under you.  When you stretch out to swim, your rear-end is higher than your head so you basically end up trying not to drown yourself.  After paddling for about a mile in deep water, we crawled up on the sand of a gorgeous beach on the Pacific Ocean, about 2 miles from where our boats were anchored.

Needless to say we were all pretty tired by this time, but wait, there’s more!  We got out of our crazy life jacket floaties, Michelle emptied the water out of her “dry” bag (oops!) and off we went for another hike, this time along the beach.  Whether it was the humidity and not enough water to drink along the way, or just a case of a bunch of lazy cruisers out hiking and floating, we were all pooped!  Walking on the sand in the hot sun for another 45 minutes was a killer.

Thankfully we were rewarded by a memorable moment as we walked; this time it was a loud pandemonium of scarlet macaws in a leafless tree along the beach.  Evidently, it’s mating season for the macaws right now, and since macaws’ mate for life it’s a big deal!  There was plenty of squawking and screeching as the pairs of macaws in the tree either argued over a mate or just had a marital squabble.  Whatever it was they were doing was fascinating.  These are some incredible birds, about 2 feet long from head to tail, with multi-colored feathers and strong beaks.  Beautiful.

Eventually we stumbled back to the truck, drove the rest of the way over the hill to town, found some tico-typico casada (chicken, rice and beans), and gathered enough strength to flop ungracefully back into the dinghy and back to our boats.  A few Advil for creaky knees, a swim in the pool, and soon we were feeling human again.  Floating down the Rio Claro…a tico adventure to remember!

 

Mud to Mountains

Happy Dance is currently “mud-moored” at a dock in the Puerto Azul Marina in Punta Arenas, Costa Rica.  We had planned to be much further south by the end of January so that we didn’t have to leave Happy Dance in the muddy, tidal estuary of Punta Arenas, but the month of January has been full of unexpected challenges and some crazy winds. The reason we needed Happy Dance to be tied to a dock is so that we can zip off on a trip to Seattle to celebrate son Brad’s wedding to Jesse (YAY!!).

In order to enter the estuary and avoid the mud flats and moving sand bars we needed to follow a pilot-boat and time our arrival at high tide.  With a close eye on the depth sounder that kept flashing in single digits, we slowly made our way up the shallow estuary, bordered on one side by crumbling docks and mooring balls and on the other side by thick mangroves.

We had been assured we’d have enough depth for our 6’8” keel in the marina, but we were soon stuck in the mud and still waiting for low tide.  Happy Dance was hard aground, but thankfully still upright, when at complete low tide we were 2’ out of the water.  UGH!  Thankfully the bottom was soft, and the tide was soon rushing in to float Happy Dance…for a few hours until the next low tide!

With our mud-mooring complete, it was now time for a land adventure with our buddies on Wildest Dreams.  We rented a car and headed to the mountains to see cloud forests, volcanoes, and hopefully some critters!  We’d read in our travel guides that roads in the mountains of Costa Rica could be a bit rough and that it was a good idea to rent a four-wheel drive vehicle.  As we drove up toward Monteverde and Santa Elena on the steep, rutted, dirt roads, we were glad that we’d listened to the advice!

Adding to the driving adventure was our mapping app that kept sending us off on little “excursions”.  We’d suddenly be told to take a slight right or slight left, that would lead us down some barely passable road, then bring us back to the main, slightly more passable road!  These mountain roads are called “Ruta Nationales” and are described as “seasonal”; we decided they must be completely washed out in the rainy season.

On the drive from Monteverde to La Fortuna, we let our map app lead us once again, over hill and dale, on roads that looked like cattle trails, and right across 6 rivers!  It was a riot and we laughed our way along, hoping that we wouldn’t be the headline about the car full of crazy tourists who floated down into the lake!  While driving around the lake, the Arenal Volcano was ever present, drifting in and out of the clouds and providing plenty of picturesque view.

Once we arrived in the mountains, we explored Monteverde, Santa Elena, and La Fortuna.  We hiked through the cloud forest, visited a butterfly reserve, snickered at sloths, and peered at the gazillions of birds and other critters.  The forest itself was stunning, with huge tropical trees forming a canopy that blocked the sun, vines as thick as trees winding themselves up into the mist, huge green leaves, colorful flowers in all shapes and sizes, dripping undergrowth, and sounds of birds all around.  It was magical.

On our final day enjoying flora and fauna we got to see a forest of sloths.  (Click here for a video of big daddy!!) We saw six three-toed sloths; two mamas with babies hanging on them, a big daddy, and a juvenile.  Then we got really lucky and saw a sleeping two-toed mama in the treetops.  The two-toed are harder to find during the day since they do their eating and activity at night and sleep all day.  There are a gazillion fun factoids about sloths that I won’t go into, but they are certainly fun to watch!

We’re now in Seattle for a couple of weeks, to visit with family and friends and celebrate Brad and Jesse!  Then we’ll fly back to Happy Dance, dig her out of the mud and sail out to the islands to play.  It’s a tough life!

 

Full Circle

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!

Full Circle!

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!!