Monteverde and Volcan Arenal, Costa Rica

 

April 30 through May 3, 2002. Monteverde and Volcan Arenal, Costa Rica.

The morning of April 30, Clark gave dinghy lessons to Mike, our backpacker friend and boat guard. Mike had never been on a boat and had never started an outboard engine. So he did struggle a bit (and got himself a bit wet) through a crash course on engine starting, handling current and landing the dinghy on shore and back at Temptress. But he delivered us safely on shore so we could catch our bus in the afternoon. He had not been sleeping well while traveling in Nicaragua (something to do with the heat and the numerous rats in his room) and was looking forward to spend a few quiet days catching up on sleep and reading books.

 

Dscf1785

Mike reading.

We took the bus to Santa Elena, the small town nearest the famous cloud forest of Monteverde, in the Costa Rican highlands.

Dscf1765

The area had been settled by Quakers in the mid-1900, who had converted the cloud forest to pasture for their dairy cows. The area’s elevation is between 1200 and 1600 meters (4000 to 5000 feet), high enough for the grass to remain green and to support western types of dairy cows such as the holstein and the brown swiss. It was weird to drive through the hills in a landscape more reminiscent of Swizterland than Central America. The Quakers did preserve a third of the forest on the land they purchased, to protect the watershed. This reserve became the Monteverde reserve, which has been expanded several times since then. Another reserve, Santa Elena, was created to relieve tourism pressure on Monteverde. There are also several private reserves in the vicinity.

The bus ride took almost 4 hours for maybe 80 km (or 50 miles) because the bus was performing local service all the way from Puntarenas to Santa Elena and the last portion of the road was a dirt road full of potholes. Half the bus was full of regular travelers who knew the driver well, joking with him and kissing him goodbye. Some locals also hailed him on the way and took a 20 meters (yard) ride to chat. The other half were backpackers like us (except younger). We eventually arrived in Santa Elena and found a room in a cheap hotel with shared bathrooms and kitchen facilities. The mattress was good but the pillows were hard and I found a scorpion in the bathroom!

Dscf1736

The next morning, we took a shuttle to the Santa Elena Reserve and followed a guide into the dark cloud forest. We were soon hunting for the magnificent quetzal, the symbol bird of Guatemala (although it is now quite rare in Guatemala). The guide could whistle the call of many of the birds in the forest and would listen to the responses to help him find them.

quetzal

He had a powerful scope on a tripod, which he would focus on the bird once he found it. And we did see 3 quetzals! Of the first one, we only saw the turquoise tip of the tail while the rest of his body was inside a nest. We saw the body of the second while leaves hid its tail. And we finally saw the whole bird, a male with iridescent emerald back and tail and red and white breast. We would not have seen any of these without the guide and the scope. We did learn to recognize the quetzal various calls, which was going to be useful later. We also saw the triple-waddle billbird who looked like he had a long black worm hanging on each side of his beak. That was his waddle and it was supposed to attract females. Yuk! He had a sharp cry and seemed to strangle himself every time he tried it. We saw other birds, a rodent, many bright insects, including a glass-winged butterfly with transparent wings except for their brown outline.

Dscf1741

A strangler tree, which uses another as support while growing, then strangles his support as it matures.

Dscf1743

We admired rare cloud forest trees, supporting an amazing number of plants on their trunks and in their canopy, with lianas (tarzan vines) hanging down everywhere. It was often difficult to figure out which tree was supporting the others as the branches where all tangled in a green mass with 5 different shapes of leaves sprouting around the crown. We saw the leaves of many orchids and bromeliads but it was not flowering season. After the guided tour, we had lunch in the cafeteria and watched hummingbirds fight for access to the sugared water dispensers nearby. The smallest of them seemed intent on preventing access to any other hummingbird, which resulted in many acrobatic chases around the feeders. It was fun to watch, although their speed made it dizzying to follow the action.

Dscf1742

Dscf1758

Dscf1778

After lunch, we walked to a private reserve where a company had installed long suspension bridges above the trees to allow observation of life in the canopy (Sky Walk). The four bridges were connected by nice trails in the forest. Our morning guide had said that the unusual sunny weather was discouraging quetzals from flying as they would be too visible to predators. The forest is typically shrouded in low grey clouds (similar to Seattle…). Fortunately for us, the grey clouds did come marching in the afternoon and on the last bridge we heard the quetzal call and then saw one beautiful male fly across the canopy with a ray of sun making its feathers shimmer. It was a glorious and very lucky sight and we stayed on the bridge a very long time, getting soaked by the rain, hoping to see the quetzal again. We finally gave up and had hot chocolate while waiting for the shuttle back to the hotel.

Dscf1769

We accidentally scared the mother off her nest along the trail.

Dscf1759

Canopy lushness

Although Santa Elena is at about the same elevation as Antigua, the clouds and humidity made it much colder than Antigua and we had to ask for a second blanket at the hotel. But I did enjoyed again having a nice cup of hot tea before going to bed, which is out of question in the coastal heat. We also enjoyed the typical Costa Rican food, which is simple and healthy without the excessive spiciness of Mexican food. The typical meal is a casado, which includes rice, black beans (not refried), a little meat in a tomato sauce and a salad (cabbage, cucumber and tomato). However, it is not very varied.

Dscf1781

The next morning, we took the “jeep-boat-jeep” connection to the town of Fortuna, near volcano Arenal. It was much more expensive than taking a bus but, because a boat was used to cross Lake Arenal, instead of driving around, the trip took 3 hours instead of 8 hours. The lake was pretty, surrounded by green rolling hills and remains of cloud forest, but the heavy clouds will probably prevent it from becoming the next hot location for a large tourist resort. Volcano Arenal is an active volcano which is regularly spewing gas, rocks and lava. Climbing it is not allowed, of course, but when the weather is clear, you can get a good view of the action on the north side.

We had made reservations in advance for a guided hike up to a viewpoint for the volcano and regretted it when rain poured almost non-stop in the afternoon. We were unlikely to get any view! However, the naturalist who took us on the tour was very good and we ended up seeing many spectacular birds on the hike. Our favorites were the toucans, which were just as colorful as in the books. We saw two kinds of toucans.

toucan

We also liked the oreoles, very different from northern oreoles. They are big heavy black birds with a white face, which gives them the look of a penguin or a monk, with a colorful beak. They build intricate hanging nests. We also saw two types of tropical wood peckers, one rare with a bright red head, swallow tail kites, and parrots. We did not get to see the monkeys who do not move much when it rains. And it rained and rained! We were all soaked through and the paths in the forest were very muddy. We were glad we had taken our heavy hiking boots with us on this trip, despite their weight. Fortunately, Fortuna is a lot warmer than Santa Elena, and even wet, we did not get cold until exposed to the wind at the volcano viewpoint. For a while, it looked like the clouds might lift and we did hear explosions from the volcano but we finally gave up and finished the tour with a soak in hot springs. They were quite warm, like being in a nice hottub, but artificial looking as the water was directed into fancy pools in bar/restaurant/resort complex.

Friday, we took a series of bus back to Puntarenas. The last one was supposedly an express bus from San Jose to Puntarenas but the driver stopped just to buy some honey for himself at a road stand. I have to admit I was tempted to buy the honey too if it was that special! At another bus stop, a woman came on board just to retrieve a package hidden between two seats and obviously destined for her. Buses seem often to do some package deliveries on the side here.

We made it back by late afternoon, and Mike was there at the dock to pick us up. The dinghy was in good shape, Temptress still floating and Mike seemed sorry we were already back! We did not spend any more time inland because we have 5 more parks we can see on the pacific coast of Costa Rica. Most of them are accessible directly by boat and on foot and we were promised many monkeys and birds by other travelers who had already seen them. We have already heard many howler monkeys in the anchorages we stopped in on the way down, and maybe, soon we will finally see one.

Advertisements

Puntarenas, Costa Rica

April 29, 2002. Puntarenas, Costa Rica.

N 9 deg. 58′
W 84 deg. 49′ 45″

Dscf1723

Shimmering water in the Gulf of Nicoya on the way to Puntarenas

We arrived Friday in Puntarenas with the tide pushing us in with 2 knots of current. It was fast! Puntarenas is on a narrow peninsula, only 5 city blocks wide. On the north side of the peninsula are mud flats and mangroves with a narrow navigable channel close to the peninsula. Another cruiser had told us where a deep spot existed just off the channel where we could anchor. The keel stands a foot in the mud at low tide but it is free to anchor. Moorings at the yacht club are $17/day. The only problem is to find a place to leave the dinghy to go to town. Basically, you just go beg for access to the owners of the rickety docks on shore, if you can find them. We met the crew of a large powerboat at one of the docks nearby and they let us park the dinghy on their dock, which was quite nice. One of them wanted to visit Temptress and spent an evening chatting with us…in Spanish. It was arduous but we are doing better than last year.

Dscf1728

The north shore of the Peninsula is full of buildings in poor repair, docks falling apart and fishing boats but they are colorful. The town is depressed economically. First a disease killed the banana plantations which were using Puntarenas as their shipping port, then, according to the crew of the powerboat, the fishing business went into decline because the Chinese undercut them, paying their crew 10 times less than Costa Ricans. The global decline of the fisheries is probably not helping either. So now the town is trying to attract more tourists. There are many cruise ships stopping by, but their passengers immediately are whisked onto buses for inland destinations or on smaller ferries to visit the peninsula of Nicoya.

The night we arrived, there were great fireworks to welcome us! Actually, the town was inaugurating a new marine park. It was a nice surprise, especially for two tired sailors with several boat repair jobs on their agenda. The engine was loosing a lot of oil, the raw water pump was leaking, we had lost our VHF antenna, and we found out a day later that the switch for the HF radio had failed due to salt water intrusion, and a spray paint can had started to leak in one of the cupboard of the boat, spreading a strong solvent odor everywhere. That is one of the side-effects of having your paint storage room in the living room and the engine in the kitchen…

Dscf1727

Because of the fishing industry, there are several marine stores here and we were able to find a new 8-foot VHF antenna and a engine raw water pump seal (we had a spare but wanted another one as future spare). Sunday, Clark climbed up the mast to install the new antenna, not a fun job but at least the waters are very calm here. He also located and fixed the oil leak in the engine, and replaced and rewired the HF radio so we can continue sending you emails.

Puntarenas has a nice cooling breeze most of the time, bats removing mosquitoes at night, and with the calm waters, we are sleeping better and finally catching up on our sleep. But there are also hazards: besides the risk of robbery, there is also a lot of debris flowing with the current. We had a fishing boat come loose from its mooring and hit Temptress on the bow! Fortunately, the anchor chain absorbed a lot of the shock and the only damage is a navigation light askew.

Dscf1732

The boat which hit us on the bow, drifting away after Clark pushed it off

Mike, an English backpacker on a one year vacation (whom we met in Antigua), arrived this afternoon, and will live onboard and act as guard while we travel to the Monteverde cloud forest and volcano Arenal. He is not a sailor, but we hope he adapts to life on the water without too much trouble. We plan to catch the bus to Santa Elena after lunch tomorrow and should be gone for 4 to 5 days. We will tell you more when we come back.

Bahia Ballena

 

4-25-02 3:50 pm Bahia Ballena

N 9 42′ 45″ Overcast Air 90F Water 84F
W 84 58′ 15″ Anchored

 

Dscf1714

Cabo Blanco, at the entrance of the Gulf of Nicoya

We got underway at just after 6 am this morning and headed south east. We put our lines in the water first thing looking for Moby’s big brother. It was a long uneventful day for the most part. About time. There was just enough wind for most of the trip to give the engine a bit of help. The current was mostly with us. There was a stretch around Cabo Blanco where we had a knot of current against and wind on the nose but only about 13 knots. This made it take a long time to get around the point but we knew when we rounded the wind would be from behind and the current would ease.

At about 1 am we saw a big marlin jumping off the side of the boat. We have been seeing a lot of fish around and even had a long visit from some big dolphins (I think they were bottle nose like Flipper but Birgitta is hung up on the fact that the book says they don’t visit Costa Rica. “Big deal”, I say I know what Flipper looks like and these were it). We also saw several turtles that we agree must be Olive Ridley Turtles, flying fishes and many seabirds. All this sea life and nothing hit our baits. I had vowed to change lures next time out, but I always say that. We even motored through some places where birds were feeding and around 2 big netting boats. I figured they would know here the fish were. Actually all this was directly on our course.

Dscf1715

By 2pm we were headed into Bahia Ballena and were just thinking about dropping sails and pulling in the fishing line when we got a hit on the starboard line. It was trolling the same lure that Moby Fish bit into and straightened out the hook. This time it was equipped with a much stronger and larger hook. Thinking about the big marlin we just saw a bit ago I readied myself for the battle. Birgitta rolled up the genoa and I started working on the fish. I don’t know if any of you have ever used a hand line before but it is just you and the line. No reel or pole. If the fish runs you better be ready. If a loop of the 300 lb line gets around any part of you, and it’s a big fish, you or a part of you is going for a ride. I set myself up so the line I pulled in would be in front of me. I prepared myself to not move my feet so I couldn’t accidental step into a loop of line and started pulling hand over hand ready to drop the line if the fish ran. I was just starting to think I should use a winch for this bad boy or at least get my gloves when I noticed it really wasn’t pulling that hard. I continued pulling in line ready to drop at any moment but still no fight. Well it wasn’t Moby Fish’s big brother but it was the biggest fish we have caught off Temptress so far. Not that that is saying much. It was a nice 35 inch Mahi Mahi. According to our fish book about average size. Probably weighed about 20-25 lbs.

Dscf1719

After securing the fish by the tail and cutting him a bit so he would bleed out we dropped the main sail and motored the boat into the anchorage. After putting down the hook I cleaned the fish and began steeling myself for dinner. I really don’t like fish. I figure my best bet is to try to forget the flaying process before dinner is served so I made myself a big Margarita and wrote this e-mail. Birgitta says she is planning to make coconut milk curried Mahi Mahi. The rest of the fish goes in the freezer.

This marks then end to our “rush south” tomorrow we have only a half day to Puntarenas and then it’s cruising time. We have a bunch of things to fix after our inland trip (VHF antenna, raw water pump on the engine again…) but then we will be just traveling a few miles between anchorages and spending some real quality time in each one.

Dscf1721

Bahia Carrillo

4-24-02 5pm Bahia Carrillo

N 9 50′ 30″ Overcast Air 92F Water about 84F
W 85 29′ 45″ Anchored

Yesterday we had such a nice sail that we put out fishing equipment. That’s when Moby Fish straightened out our hook. Today we got up early and were making way by 6am. We had many miles to go today. Based on yesterdays excitement (almost) I was anxious to get our hooks in the water. I rigged 2 lines with bigger stronger hooks and got ready for a long boring motor sail. After all we are south of the Papagayos right? Well it turns out not. By about 7am we had 15 to over 30 knots ahead of the port beam. I had to go from full main and 160 genoa to double reefed main alone. This was about right for the 30 knots but we had to fill in with the engine to make up for the 15s. Most of that stretch was about 20-25 so we made good time but the waves were messy and on the beam so the ride was very wet. We just took the side curtains off the dodger last night for more air flow to battle the heat down here. I sent Birgitta below (no sense us both getting drenched) and spent the rest of the morning getting soaked with salt water and drying out in the hot sun. I was very crispy when all of a sudden, as we passed behind a row of mountains, the wind switched about 180 degrees to on our starboard nose, and the sky became cloudy. We put up full main and genoa and sailed in the 8 or so knots upwind for the second half of the day. The sky stayed overcast with menacing looking grey clouds. We are approaching the wet half of Costa Rica and the rainy season at the same time!

Oh! The fishing. I forgot. When I was in the middle of a 30+ knot puff and having all I could deal with at the time I looked at the fishing lines and decided this wasn’t the time to catch Moby Fishes brother so when the wind gave me a break I brought them both in. Maybe tomorrow we will try again as we have another long one. These stretches are long for a day, about 50 miles or so (and we average 5 miles per hour), but short enough that we can anchor for the night and have a nice dinner and a good night’s sleep. Much nicer then most of our trips so far this year. One more long one and then a short day and we will be in Puntarenas. There we will be able to take an inland trip and after that rest for a while and make short hops for most of the rest of our year. From El Salvador to here we crossed 4 degrees of latitude. For the rest of our season we will only travel another 2 degrees so we finally get to slow down from our rush south that started in San Carlos last January.

We do not know yet if or when we are coming back to the USA for the summer. If Birgitta does not get another summer job, we might have plenty of time to explore Panama.

Bahia Protero

April 23, 2002. Bahia Protero, Costa Rica.

N 10 deg. 26′ 30″
W 85 deg. 47′ 00″

Dscf1679

Sunday morning, we took a dinghy trip up the river in the mangroves of Bahia Huevos. We saw many egrets, herons and ibises but no alligator. The trees made me slightly uncomfortable because their base looked often like a huge spider with many legs jutting in all directions. But the mangrove shade was very pleasant.

Dscf1686

Dscf1698.jpg

The guide also said the beach was a good shelling beach, so we landed the dinghy and went exploring. We did not see unusual shells but what was unusual is that all the seasnail type shells were stealthily moving around us! I would look at a pretty purple spire and suddenly it would sprout legs and move away. All these shells were occupied by hermit crabs, and apparently their population was only limited by the availability of shells to house them. It was eerie to see all these shells, which your mind expect to stay where they are, darting this way and that, like if they were haunted. The crabs themselves were cute and we were tempted to take a couple as pets.

Monday, we sailed to Bahia del Coco, only an hour away, to check-in Costa Rica. The process was pretty slow but easy and pretty cheap compared to Mexico. Unfortunately, it appears that we left the dinghy too close to the water on the beach (or a huge wave dragged it back) and when we came back to it, it was full sand and water, with waves boarding it continuously, and with the fuel tank floating upside down. Our dinghy is 12 feet long and 4 feet wide and it contained 4 inches of sand. It is a lot to shovel out with your bare hands! Three locals came to help empty it until it was light enough to pull higher on the beach, away from the waves. Then, we lifted the bow to drain the water and used buckets of water to try to wash away the sand filling all the corners. We lost a seat foot and one of the floatation foam cloth covers. It was a mess.

Clark worked really hard to clean the dinghy, too worried about the potential damage to notice that he was pushing himself too hard without enough water in the noon tropical sun. He ended up suffering of heat exhaustion, feeling feverish, exhausted and slightly confused. I did no suffer the same as I spent part of that time waiting in the air-conditioned office of the Port Captain for our national zarpe. We did not realize his plight immediately and went out to lunch after taking the dinghy safely up the beach. He drank a lot of fluids at lunch but it took him all afternoon of resting in the shade and continuously drinking water to really recover. The sun here is deadly. We had noticed that most people in the tropics walk very slowly and I guess it makes sense if you want to avoid overheating. In the afternoon, I sewed another floatation foam cover with the last piece of matching material. Clark cut another plywood foot for the seat the next day. So the dinghy is operational again. But Coco left somewhat of a bitter taste in the mouth.

We have found a few things that failed on our trip down the Nicaragua coast. In the big wind we lost our American flag with flag pole. With the stainless steel pole attached it surely went to the bottom so I guess it was buried at sea. We had another one on board and lashed it to the wind vane, so we are legal again (you are required to fly the flag of your home country on the vessel at all time). I (Birgitta) was glad I did not have to start embroidering 50 stars on a blue background myself! We also found that we no longer have a masthead VHF antenna. Clark looked up and it is gone! The wind and wave action must have snapped it off its mounting and away it went. There is just a piece of wire hanging where our 8 foot antenna was. I (Clark) imagine it will be a bit of a problem to find a new one down here. We will likely find one in the canal zone in Panama but that is months away. I will keep my eye open and hope for the best. We seem to get some reception with the little piece of wire that is hanging up there but we will surely miss our big 6db antenna.

Today, Tuesday, we sailed to Bahia Potrero, a windy, rolly bay of no interest except that it shortens the next leg of the trip. The next bay is 10 to 12 hours further south, depending on the wind and boat speed. We will likely be sailing everyday until we get to Puntarenas in the gulf of Nicoya (3 days away), where we will meet with a friend we made in Antigua, Mike. Mike will be living on Temptress in Puntarenas, acting as a guard, while we take a trip inland to see one of the cloud forest of Costa Rica. Theft on boat is supposed to be very common in Costa Rica and boats cannot be left unattended, even in a marina.

On our way to Bahia Potrero we tried fishing. We have heard that the fishing down here is much better then up in Mexico where the fish have smartened up to biting hooks trailed behind boats. Until now we have had our hands full just moving the boat to worry about dragging a fishing line around. Well we dropped the line in and towed it behind for the last 10 miles of our trip today. Nothing!! But when we pulled the line we found that our 3 inch hook was bent out straight! It looks like something BIG took our lure and made short work of the hook. I replaced it with a 4 inch hook and tomorrow we will tow 2 lines.

After our trip inland, we plan to cruise in the gulf of Nicoya for a a couple of weeks before sailing down to the Golfo Dulce, in the rainy part of Costa Rica.