Greetings all…as I write this, we’re relaxing at anchor, enjoying a misty, refeshingly cool morning in the Perlas Islands, some 50 miles southeast of the Panama Canal…..we pulled in here last night to catch our breath after rounding Punta Mala. Now it’s time to tackle the nitty gritty of entering the canal zone and actually being legal and legit about it….we’ll each have plenty of homework to keep us busy on our watch shifts when we get underway again.
Allen is busy in the cockpit, cleaning the still-flopping red snapper we just bought off some fisherman for a small bottle of rum (we bought a carton of cheap rum at the duty-free in Golfito so we’d have plenty of bartering currency). With the rosemary bread that just came out of the oven, today’s lunch will be a welcome departure from the pasta with red sauce and PBJ’s that we eat nearly every other day when we’re sailing…..
We’re tucked into a mid-size cove, surrounded by jungle, white sand beach, and rocky tidepools. Spent some quality time with the binocs checking out the squawking parrots and frigates flying overhead, and a cathedral-size wall of green jungle moss on shore, cascading from the tops of 5 or 6 trees that have melded together to buttress this furry green spectacle. After about 12 hours of dodging thunder and lightning at sea, we were sure we’d fall asleep the second the anchor dug in, but there’s just too much to look at here.
Speaking of jungle, you wouldn’t believe the place we spent our birthdays unless you saw it with your own eyes. We left Quepos, Costa Rica, on April 11th, after finding out (to our dismay, although it later turned out to be serendipitous) that we couldn’t check out of Costa Rica there because of some obscure Customs regulation. Frustrated, and feeling in a hurry to get to the canal, we set out for Golfito, further south, to give it another try. As we left Quepos, we were treated to a tropical downpour, washing down both our grimy selves and our grimy decks. Looking back towards land as we motored out of the harbor, I thought it might be the prettiest coastline I’d ever seen. Rolling hills and towering volcanoes covered in a moist carpet of pure jungle, with little puffy clouds nestled into every nook and cranny to the horizon. Stretches of white beach broken up by tree-topped rocks and mossy islets. Little did I know that it would only get more beautiful as we headed south…..Costa Rica is funny that way - by the time you get there you’ve heard so much hype about it that you don’t think it could ever live up to it – and then it blows your mind.
So there we were, headed south with a great air of productivity about us, determined to just blow right on by Drake’s Bay and Isla del Cano, two very appealing stops where both Hebe and Que Onda were planning to spend the weekend, in the interest of hustling towards Panama. Much like real grown-ups (we do actually give it a try now and then), we discussed the fact that we knew when we left Oakland that, in setting our sights on getting through the canal this season, we would eventually have to make some hard choices that involved skipping some stops along the way. After reassuring each other that spending our birthdays underway instead of frolicking in the forest was indeed the right thing to do, it dawned on us that, were we to steam ahead to Golfito as planned, we would land there just as all government offices shut down for a long weekend of drinking, er, I mean, celebrating Jesus’s resurrection. Well, this tasty morsel of insight led to a feast of fun decision making: hell, we could spend the whole weekend in the jungle and still be in Golfito the second all the big shot offices opened up again! Spirits lightened, we jumped aboard the birthday fun train.
And thus we came to find ourselves anchored off of Isla del Cano on the morning of Allen’s birthday. This little uninhabitated island, just off the Costa Rica’s Osa peninsula, is a national park, and looks like something Disney created for a Robinson Crusoe-type movie. More shades of green than you can count, turquoise water, palm trees blowing in the breeze. When we jumped in to snorkel I was astonished to see our anchor – 45 feet below us! I didn’t know that kind of visibility existed. Then again, I spent the last 7 years living in water that probably drifted right down to Emeryville from the Chevron refineries, so I may be easily wowed on this one. The underwater landscape there was so, well, Pacific – I know it sounds silly but it’s just so different than the Atlantic and Caribbean. Jagged underwater hills, dramatic cliffs, deep dark canyons. So beautiful. And we had the place to ourselves – not another sailboat in sight.
After our salty romp among the fishes we sailed over to Drake’s Bay to join Hebe and Que Onda for a birthday celebration. Let me tell you, Drake’s Bay is something else. Isla del Cano was stunning – but Drake’s Bay was over the top. I think I’m gonna have to Google a picture of it and put it on the blog – I know that’s cheating and really cheesy but I may just have to do it (I’m dyin’ down here without a camera!). Imagine a bay surrounded by hilly jungle, but not just any jungle: the kind of jungle you imagine when you’re a kid, where everything is colorful and light and birds are chirping and all the woodland animals are right there to greet you. Kind of like Snow White. Or maybe the Jungle Book? Within an hour of dropping the hook, a flock of scarlet macaws flew overhead. Yellow and green parrots quarreled in the trees on the shore nearby, and we even heard howler monkeys……our first wild monkeys of the whole trip.
Needless to say, we felt we had made the right decision…how could we spend our birthdays anywhere but here? That night we birthday-partied for Allen not only with our usual buddy boats, but also two other boats we’ve been sort of leapfrogging with down the coast ever since northern Nicaragua. It’s funny because when we were in Mexico, where every port had hundreds of boats passing through each season, the prospect of hanging out with other cruising sailboats didn’t excite us – it seemed like one giant senior citizen bus trip to the bingo hall. Yeesh. But as we’ve headed south, it seems we’ve left Mexico boat culture behind – and most of the boats too. The route we’ve covered since we left Mexico is only covered by a handful of boats each season – so we keep running into the same 8 or 10 boats along the way – which is really fun. There are some pretty interesting people doing this circuit, including a number of boats that have already done a complete circumnavigation, or are close to completing it. Can’t imagine taking that on – we’ve only covered 3200 or so miles and even that feels like a major achievement!
The next day we set out on a little day hike. Now, if you’ve ever been to the rainforest, you know that while there may be oodles of colorful birds, mammals, bugs and flowers, you’re certainly not going to actually see them within an hour of starting a hike, right? Wrong, says Costa Rica. By lunch, we’d already spotted agoutis, a coatimundi, and a noisy troop of white-faced capuchin monkeys playing in a cashew tree. I thought I might faint by the time we spotted a three-toed sloth hanging out high overhead. A SLOTH! And it was my first time in a rainforest right next to the ocean….I had to keep pinching myself to make sure it wasn’t just a dream. Imagine dozens of tidepools…with white and pink orchids growing off the rocks just above your head. Toucans flying above while crabs sidewind through the leaf litter at your feet. It was absolutely incredible.
As if the whole thing weren’t already a birthday fantasy world, the whole jungle smelled like sweet, fruity jasmine. It’s been my experience that the tropical rainforest, in all its fascinating organic glory, generally smells like an old pair of Tevas, so this whole smell-pretty business was over the top. For an hour or so I thought we might actually be trapped in some stupid air freshener or bubble bath commercial or something where a chore-weary hausfrau is whisked away to a magical perfume jungle through the magic of Dupont’s chemists. But no, it was real.
We stumbled back to our kayak after sunset with sore feet and big smiles. As we paddled home, the full moon glistened off the dolphins (magic birthday dolphins?) that swam into the anchorage to greet us, and the sweet jungle smell wafted out to our boat.
My actual birthday was the next day, and I almost didn’t want to wake up because I couldn’t imagine a better day than we’d had the day before. But being able to get up and jump right into warm turquoise water and swim to your friends’ boat, and then spend two hours just splashing around, is pretty serious birthday fun too. Later I was presented with a giant EeWee cake by Allen…but I’ll let him explain that one. Suffice to say it was a great birthday…maybe the best ever? Thanks Hebe and Que Onda for being a part of our jungle birthday extravaganza – we’d never have ended up at Drake’s Bay if it weren’t for you guys.
When Saturday rolled around it was time to leave jungle fantasy land and head for Golfito, which turned out to be quite a nice place in its own right. A gritty yet charming frontier town kind of feel with the skeletons of United Fruit warehouses, cranes and trains lurking around every corner (shipping bananas was all Golfito did until the dreaded Panama disease struck the banana crops there. Back when a banana republic was a country, not a Gap subsidiary). Did some great provisioning, took care of all our proper paperwork, and even went to an Easter party. Wednesday began with sad and sweaty good-byes to Tim and Ariel – they’re staying in Golfito to go backpacking and wait for some engine parts while we keep heading south. They may meet up with us again after we transit the canal – or they might head even farther south and leave their boat in Ecuador while they do nine months of land travel around South America. So kickass! This has been their plan from the start – nine months of sailing (Tim’s passion) and nine months of backpacking (Ariel’s passion)- but even so it snuck up on us. I knew we’d probably have to part ways with them in April or May, I just didn’t realize it was already April or May, really. They may end up transiting the canal this spring to leave their boat on the other side (their ultimate destination being Florida) so we may see them briefly in May or June, but their plan are as up in the air as ours are. What they do know is that for nine months starting around the end of May or June, Hebe will be safely parked somewhere as they make the transition to traveling overland again.
For that matter, we still don’t know for sure that we can get through the canal this spring before hurricane season sets in. And even if we do, it’s unlikely we’d be able to make it all the way to Florida before the window closes…so the question is, where will spend the summer? Wherever is is we are going to have to buckle down and work, that much is for sure, since we’ll have about 7 dollars left in the kitty after we part with the two grand or so that the canal will cost. So it has to be somewhere out of the hurricane path, with either boaters or gringo land tourists, or both – that’s where the cash jobs are (if there are any to be had, that is). The strongest contenders right now are the Bocas del Toro islands, on the north coast of Panama, or Roatan, if we can get that far. But I’m jumping the gun – we’re not even in the canal zone yet and heaven knows how things will go when we get there. But I’ve babbled on enough for now, anyway – just checked the clock – it’s time to get our slimy friend Red on the grill before our afternoon swim.
Thanks for all the warm birthday wishes….we really appreciate it. Hopefully we’ll be safely moored in Panama City by the end of the week, and will post a little more then when we can. Our love to all, CC
welcome to our blog!
This blog tells the story of our 22-month sailing journey from Oakland, California, to Bristol, Rhode Island, aboard our beloved Bristol 32 sailboat, Ute. Please feel free to browse through the archives (partway down the sidebar to your left) to see pics and read stories of our adventures in North America and Central America . (Sorry the first 3 months of the trip are missing - they vanished somewhere in an internet cafe in Mexico - but all you're missing is CA, Baja and Western Mex).
If you're trying to track us down now that we're landlubbers, try us at uteatlarge at yahoo dot com. Thanks!
If you're trying to track us down now that we're landlubbers, try us at uteatlarge at yahoo dot com. Thanks!