We had heard so many conflicting stories about Costa Rica that we almost skipped it. We had heard that the officials were heavy handed and that everything was very expensive. We’ve had no trouble with the officials (just make sure your boat doesn’t stay in the country a minute past the expiration of your 90 day permit), but Costa Rica is indeed expensive. Grocery, restaurant, and hotel prices are similar to or greater than those in the US – a far cry from Mexico where prices were usually on the order of a half to a third of US prices. The few marinas that are here are ridiculously expensive – typically $3 USD per foot per day. But the county is clean – gone are the piles of roadside trash that were everywhere in El Salvador and to a lesser extent in Nicaragua. It probably helps that Costa Rica provides potable water to almost all its’ residents, negating the need for bottled water and subsequent empty bottles.
Costa Rica has had a stable democracy for over 100 years, and they don’t deal with socialist countries in the region like Nicaragua and Venezuela. As a result, all fuel comes from the USA, as opposed to Venezuela which is much closer, resulting in higher fuel prices. In addition, all citizens have access to state provided quality health care and education, resulting in a relatively content, well-educated populace. In Mexico English was taught only in private schools, but in Costa Rica, everybody learns it. Costa Rica has staked its future on eco-tourism, and tourism provides the nation’s principle source of income. But all this progress comes with a cost – no one wants to work in the fields anymore. Guest field workers come from Nicaragua to work the sugar cane and banana fields, and do the backbreaking work that Costa Ricans no longer want to do. But they don’t leave – and who can blame them, as Nicaragua is a very poor country with little opportunity. They end up starting families and staying, and in the Costa Ricans’ eyes, clogging up the health care and education systems (sound familiar?).
As you head south along the coast, the landscape becomes much greener and wetter. Northern Costa Rica is characterized by tropical dry forest which changes to lowland rainforest south of the Gulf of Nicoya near the midpoint of the country. Every afternoon it clouds up and you get an afternoon downpour. It is quite dramatic to see one of these dark clouds bearing down on you. Dan was forced to don goggles to be able to see as we entered an anchorage during a downpour! On our way south we spent a few days among the islands in the Gulf of Nicoya, and continued south to Quepos for a visit to Parque Manuel Antonio. The smallest of Costa Rica’s’ parks, Manuel Antonio is packed with animals – and fellow travelers. Despite the crowds we still saw three different types of monkeys, two different tree sloths, deer, and numerous birds and lizards. The area around the park is quite touristy,
but there is some cool stuff like the C-123 cargo plane that has been turned into a restaurant/bar. The plane was purchased by the US in the 1980s for the Nicaraguan Contras, but never saw action (some of you may remember the Iran-Contra scandal).
Heading south from Quepos we dodged longlines and squalls, stopping at Bahia Drake and finally on to Golfito. At least the longlines (floating fishing lines that extend for miles) here are well marked at each end and not nearly as numerous or as long as in Mexico, Guatemala, El
Salvador and Nicaragua. Our worst nightmare has been to get caught in one at night. We have snagged several – if you are lucky, it doesn’t get wrapped in the prop which requires a trip over the side. Our preferred tactic has been to get up some speed, aim for the midpoint between two of the floats, take the engine out of gear (if motoring), and coast over the line at what is presumably the low spot.
Golfito is a rough and tumble port town, only about 45 miles (as the crow flies) from the Panamanian border and about 500 miles north of the equator. The town stretches along the waterfront, with several over-priced marinas and unlimited anchorage in mill-pond smooth waters. This is the tropics – daily rain accompanied by lightning and thunder, heat, high humidity, bugs, and snakes. But there is also intense, beautiful green jungle, flocks of scarlet macaws, fluorescent blue butterflies as big as your hand, ripe mangoes falling from trees, and a profusion of tropical flowers that leave the air smelling like perfume. You don’t get one without the other.
Mornings are great for hiking, and there are a myriad of dirt roads that head off into the jungle. On a recent hike to some radio towers, we saw monkeys, a giant snake, rare birds, and we were fortunate enough to see a jaguar saunter across the road.
While we are enjoying our stay in Costa Rica, we do miss the Pacific Northwest. Dan misses his job and wants to (gasp!) return to work for a few more years. While I am quite content spending my days researching the next leg of the voyage, studying Spanish or reading book after book, Dan is more of a hands-on guy. Long conversations have ensued. We have agreed that we will never leave the boat unattended, for she is more than just a boat to us, she is our home and we love her. So what to do? Life is full of compromise, and though this one was has been difficult for me, I think we can make it work. In a few weeks, Anjuli will be loaded onto the Happy Dover with a dozen other yachts headed north the easy way. After stops in La Paz and Ensenada in Mexico, the Happy Dover will continue on to Victoria, B.C. where Anjuli will be offloaded. We will cruise the beautiful Pacific Northwest for the summer months, then return to Portland sometime in September. Although, I will miss this cruising life, I am looking forward to cool air, salmon, and the stunning scenery British Columbia. And there is more adventure to come – we still have the obligatory road trip to take here in Costa Rica, as well as getting ourselves and a cat from Golfito, Costa Rica to Victoria, B.C.