April and May 2008

“Costa Rica to Panama”

General Overview - Leg IV


This “chapter” took us thru the beautiful country of Costa Rica, the Western Islands of Panama, Las Perlas Islands, Panama City, the mountains of Boquette and our first transit thru the Canal as crew and line-handlers on Argo, our friends boat. I would have to say that this portion of our trip has been out of the pages of National Geographic. To see photos and other logs you can go to our website at www.Dreamweaver-bigbear.com.

Upon leaving El Salvador we had some of the most challenging weather since beginning our voyage. We holed up in Nicaragua for several days waiting for the worst of it to pass. Venturing on, we bumped and bounced our way thru big seas which were amplified by the Papagao winds across Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Seas were still wild as we wearily pulled into the protection of Bahia Elena, along with Blew Moon and Nakia, our first anchorage in Northern Costa Rica. We think the gods throw a little of the bad stuff at us occasionally just to remind us not to forget WEATHER RULES – everything - everywhere!!

Such a beautiful bay, mangroves all around, parrots and lots of bird sounds echoed throughout the cove. Early one morning on day two a humpback whale entered the bay and laid perfectly still for several hours. Initially we thought it may be hurt but soon noticed a baby calf right beside her. It was hard to determine whether she’d just delivered the calf and/or was nursing it? We kayaked up to within about 50 yards of them, careful not to make any noise as to disturb them. She was so still and it was so calm in the bay it was like a special welcome to Costa Rica moment for us... Awww

We were ready for some fresh fish, so we thru in a line but didn’t even get a nibble, as we passed the spectacular rock formations surrounding Isla Murcielagos and the “Bat Islands.” We anchored between two islands and had the place to ourselves for a few days. NO WORRIES about, talking or playing music too loud, anchoring too close to another boat, heck, we didn’t even need to be concerned about wearing clothes for that matter! We had some great snorkeling and although we never saw a Hammerhead shark that the area is known for, we did have a GIGANTIC spotted stingray swim right between Ken & I, so close we could touch it! Since our fishing prowess didn’t pan out, we defrosted the last of the Salmon we’d kept frozen since leaving Alaska last year. Aren’t freezers great – imagine eating “fresh” Alaskan Salmon in an anchorage in Cosa Rica – are we spoiled or WHAT? Winds and seas were calm that night and were gently rocked to sleep for yet another night in Paradise.

In Bahia Huevos, near Playa del Coco we met up with our boating buddies, Gail & Houston on Blew Moon, who we ‘d been traveling with since El Salvador (and off and on over the last few years.) The guys went out spear fishing one morning and came back with a dozen fish that we later cooked up for a yummy dinner. I decided I had to try it so I went out with Ken later in the day and speared my first, and only, fish:) I was so excited until I showed Ken who told me it was way too little to cook up. “But he looked SO big under water” I said. I felt guilty when I had to release my now dead fish but know that he became a mighty morsel for some large hungry fish.! So sorry little guy! Somehow I don’t think that is the way “Catch and Release” is supposed to work... right Brendon?

The small resort towns along the coast in Costa Rica, including Montezuma, Playa del Coco, Bahia Ballena, Jesusita, Quepos, Bat Islands, etc. were really cool places to visit. There are a ton of ex-patriots living in Costa Rica already and Americans and Canadians continue to move there for the beauty and the kick back way of life it offers. So sorry to say, like all of Costa Rica, land has gone up as much as 10 fold in the last several years as a result. There are more national parks and eco-resorts in the country than almost anywhere else!

Some goofy regulations prevented us from using our motorcycle in Costa Rica:( Instead of just pouting about it (it wouldn’t do any good anyway right?) we took a bus inland from Punta Arenas to the mountains and rainforests of Monte Verde with our buddies on Blew Moon for a few days. It was a whirlwind 48 hours starting with a 3+ hour bus ride, much of it over outrageously bumpy dirt roads. We checked into our $20 rooms, just across the street from the bus stop in the middle of the tiny town, unpacked, grabbed a quick lunch and were off on a tour within 30 minutes of arriving. The fact that it was raining and the jungle so dense you could hardly see out, made the tour thru the jungle and across several high, shakey hanging cable bridges all the better:)

Being kinda adrenalin junkies of course we chose the “100% Adventure Tour” which included a rappel and a “Tarzan swing” as a part of the Zip line tour. Oh my gawd --- it was better than any of us could imagine. 16 Zip lines, a rappel where your dropped 20 feet with no prior warning! Just as it seemed like we were getting our breath back came the “Tarzan Swing.” What’s this we all wondered, aw... it’s probably just gonna be a little rope that we swing on – NOT! After climbing up to a 25+ foot platform, and getting hooked in, they proceed to shove you off the end of the platform where you free fall about 15’ until the rope jerks and sends you flying in the air screaming like Tarzan! Unlike that of Tarzan or Jane, the screams were more of the blood curdling terror type rather than the Hollywood “on cue” scream. . Holy sh&%, it was wild! Then again we asked for it and must admit heaps of fun!

The only downturn to our inland expedition was that some scoundrel absconded with my backpack on the bus trip back to the boat! Luckily I didn’t have my wallet, credit cards, license, or passport in the pack. What I did have though was my most favorite, bestest fitting, well worn jeans (girls, you know which ones I mean here right? ....we all own a pair) a few loved shirts, my underwear, Ray Bans, flashlight, some cash, etc. Ken says he can see the crook now, standing in front of a mirror lookin’ cool taking pictures while wearing my Ray Bans and trying on my lil’ thong panties! We discovered first hand why many people – including the locals, say “Welcome to Costa Rica… Land of Thieves!”

Golfito was the next stop in Costa Rica and Land and Sea was a nice centrally located place to pick up a mooring. The had a great little “club house” that had a campy feel to it where we enjoyed pot lucks, people sitting around playing guitars and met several cruisers who call the place home for months on end. It was in Golfito where we said our sad “hasta luegos” to Blew Moon, who is now heading to Ecuador. We will miss the commander and his mermaid but know that someday we will once again cruise together!

It is said that Costa Rica and Panama’s rainy season starts in May and right on schedule the downpours started on May 1st as we were preparing to head out towards Panama. We stuck around a few extra days to help friends, Jim and Amy on “Sunshine” who are cruising with their three young children on a trimaran they bought in El Salvador. They are trying to get the boat to Chicago by June where they were scheduled to return to their jobs and planned to fix up their boat there. It seemed that were plagued with problems so we helped where we could and then all headed out for an overnighter to Panama together.

Exploring the many islands and shores of Western Panama was a treat. Most were sparsely populated and quite remote. Bahia Honda was the first of the stops where locals in dugout canoes began paddling out to our boat to trade with us….everything from fish hooks and lines, to gasoline, sparkplugs, school supplies and lipstick. They had interesting fruits, vegetables and carvings to trade. “Domingo,” an elderly gentleman paddled out to us wearing a “Maestra Crew” hat that our friends on Maestra had given him a few years back. Next thing I knew is Ken was in Domingo’s rickety dugout canoe, replacing the spark plug and working on his very rugged running outboard. Needless to say Domingo was very appreciative. He proudly posed for a photo and happily went on his way. They were all very needy yet gracious and proud people. We were going to go to the little village on the Island for the afternoon but never made it due to all the “company” we had on our boat. It was a great trade off and money well spent.

No sooner had we checked into Panama City when Scott and Vickie arrived from Big Bear and we were off to the Las Perlas Islands in Southern Panama. We were going to thru the night and leave about midnight; however, we were anchored right at the edge of the Panama Canal so when we looked out into the darkness all you could see was red and green lights and big ships everywhere you looked. Talk about being dwarfed! The radar looked like someone had taken a green marker and put hundreds of dots on the screen, (with some of them moving around,) My captain (Chaos that is) decided it was best to wait for daybreak, which is what we did.

Vickie and I went snorkeling, next to the nude beach, while the guys stayed on the boat chatting about politics and whatever other controversial things they could think up… and they can think them up alright! Snorkeling was great – clearest water yet! Lots of fish, including a giant turtle lying on the bottom of the ocean floor!

A few years ago “Survivor” was filmed in the Perlas Islands on “Mogo Mogo.” Hey we were so close we just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check the place out. It was a deserted island alright .... except for the Panamanian Army who showed up in their camouflage painted boat and 6 guys dressed in full Army gear carrying big guns that is! They pulled us over and in their best Spanish asked us to leave. Ken stepped out to the front deck and was sort of communicating to them while Scott immediately went to the aft deck and, in his kind of quiet and shy little way, starts yelling “no comprende, no comprende!” They actually ended up pretty nice, although rather intimidating in their camouflaged gear out here on the water! We moved to another area and took the dinghy to Mogo Mogo, where we walked on the beach, dressed in our pirate hats & buffs for some fun “survivor” photos:)

Walking thru the tiny island town of La Ensenada, we four white folks again stood out like sore thumbs. They decided we were OK when we showed them the candy we brought for the kids, which the adults enjoyed as well. It certainly opened up communications with the kids who still continued to stare at us like we were from outer space!

We returned to Panama City and again anchored at the entrance to the Canal. Scott & Vickie rented a motorcycle so we could all take a trip to the mountains of Boquette, 300 miles northwest of the canal. It rained all night and when it continued in the morning we decided to go anyway.... it would simply add more adventure to the ride. We each packed a small backpack and because we didn’t really have proper raingear, wore what ever we could find to protect us from the rain. A big black plastic trash bag was my raincoat of choice. Ken’s helmet didn’t have a face plate so he conconcted a face shield out of plastic packaging material and duct tape. Scott wore white Tyvek overalls and Vickie wore what ever else we could scrounge up. We left in the rain, looking quite unfashionable – trash bags and all.

We had just 3 days to do our 600 mile whirlwind motorcycle tour of Panama before Scott & Vickie had to fly home. We were pelted with rain and were quite soggy for most of the trip. We’re still not sure how we did it but in just 3 days we had four “run ins with the law” – Scott is an ex-sheriff so we think he just attracts his own kind?! We were stopped for not having the right paperwork for the motorcycle, for our backpack covering the headlight, etc. One evening after having a beer at dinner, we girls had a sweet tooth so Ken & Scott jumped on their motorcycles, without grabbing their helmets, and zoomed off into town. They were pulled over within 5 minutes. When the cop smelled beer on their breath, he decided he wanted these two yaahoos to take breathalyzer tests. Ken was goofing around and not blowing in the little tube right and apparently the cop was getting quite annoyed with him. I’m happy to report that they passed the test with flying colors and rather than ending up in jail got away with a scolding for no helmets and speeding! Whew! The following day Scott was pulled over for doing 80+ and was somehow able to talk his way out of a ticket! Nether he or Vickie speaks Spanish and it didn’t involve any payola either, so I guess we’ll never know how he got out of that one!?!

We remained on the Pacific side of Panama for several weeks and having our motorcycle really helped us with getting around as taxi’s are very expensive there. Spent a lot of time with Irene and Georgio on Argo (from our hometown of Big Bear) and had an opportunity to tour the city with them. The ruins of the old city lay immediately adjacent to the new city. The “old” portion is where Captain Henry Morgan (as in Captain Morgan’s Rum) and his men burned the City, stole all their gold, and took it back to Spain on their ships. There was so much gold there that it wouldn’t all fit in the buildings! Panama has some fascinating history and we were right in the center of where it all happened. Much of the city is radically run down ... hundreds of people living in the old tall buildings, no water or electricity, laundry hangs everywhere, and poverty just screams out. The Norega era was evident! Only a block or two separates the old section from the newer areas.

Once we arrived in Panama we began seeing multitudes of ethnicities that we hadn’t seen in the Latin American countries we’ve traveled thru thus far. Even with the cruising boats, the European feel is quite different. Many of the boats/are from France, Brittan, Europe, the northeastern Caribbean Islands, etc. and are traveling thru the canal on their way to the South Pacific.

In mid-May we helped Irene & Georgio take Argo, their 48’ sailboat, thru the Panama Canal. Going thru the canal is an amazing experience; however, the trip thru with Argo was plagued with problems and quite eventful to say the least. To make a looong story short, the engine quit before we entered the first lock, the bilge filled with 40 gallons of diesel fuel before we got to the second set of locks, the engine overheated and we had to be towed thru the narrowest portion of the canal and spend the night in the lake (that divides the two sides of the canal) before we got to the third and final set of locks. We will definitely never forget our first trip thru the Panama Canal!

We are now preparing Dreamweaver to go thru the canal as Jo & Adie and Les & Rose should be arriving in Panama next week and we all hope to transit the first week of June. Life is good! Hope you are all well, happy and healthy!

Love & Dreams,

Ken & Dottie

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