March 29, 2002
We have been in Costa Rica for 10 days now. The trip from Panama was made on Sander’s 59th birthday. It was a long hot day with winds in the middle of the day and lots of motoring in between. As we entered the Golfo Dulce about 3 PM, our Dutch friends on the boat, Fides, were departing. They had made a very rushed trip into Golfito and stayed only four days before departing for the Galapagos. We called them on the VHF radio and were serenaded by “Happy Birthday” melodies from Ton and Akke in Dutch.
On the 19th of March we anchored in front of the town of Golfito and started our check in procedure. We knew ahead of time, from talking with Fides, that this would be a long procedure. What we were not ready for was the climate. It is hot and very humid in the Golfito, probably because it is a small bay surrounded by rainforest hills. Half way through the check-in procedure, Jane was ready to turn around and check out. But we persevered and actually spent five days in Golfito.
Our 12 volt starting batteries (without much warning) decided that they had done enough work for us and just ran out of oomph. How lucky that it happened where there are stores. The search for replacements took several days and then a whole day for installation. We were anchored in front of the home/small business of an emigrated American couple named Tim and Katie. They very kindly let us use their floating dock (Hurrah!) and were most helpful with their knowledge of Costa Rica as we planned our trip inland.
With new batteries installed, we left the Golfito and motored the 8 miles across the Golfo Dulce to Puerto Jiminez where we found beautiful clear water. It was great to be able to swim again, after the polluted waters of Golfito. The air seemed less humid as well. Only 8 miles away in Golfito there was rain every day. During our three days in Jiminez the skies were clear. We dove and cleaned the bottom of the boat and completed our arrangements for a trip inland during the week following Easter.
Trying to see a little more of the Golfo we motored across to an area just north of Golfito and anchored in front of a place called “Dolphin Quest”. We had been advised to come here by an American cruiser that we met in Puerto Mutis, Panama. We knew only that it was a butterfly farm in the process of being formed. Does it seem strange to read that people actually cultivate a farm for butterflies? This is quite common in the rainforests with the advent of the eco-tourist. Certain trees and shrubs are cultivated to attract some of the more rare butterflies such as the “Blue Morph”. Besides the appeal to tourists there is value in the raising and cultivating of butterflies. At Dolphin Quest they keep an enclosure about 30’ high and 100’ X 80’ in size. The whole thing is covered with netting. Inside are all the favorite plants (for camouflaging their larvae and for eating) of the different species of butterflies. Particular butterflies are sought after in the USA, Europe and Japan. The larvae of these butterflies bring in money. In Costa Rica there is a set formula for the % of butterflies that may be cultivated, % that may be sold and the rest must be allowed to remain in the wild. One of the most impressive and elusive is the giant blue morph. The tops of the wings are a brilliant turqoise blue while underneath is a very plain brown. When the butterfly is at rest, its color would blend in perfectly with its surroundings. While in the tent Jane saw some morphs on a piece of melon. They were so still that she thought they might be just made of paper.
Shortly after anchoring here we heard a loud ruckus and looked up toward shore to see 4 or 5 scarlet macaws on the wing. This experience is a real shocker! We have seen scarlet macaws in captivity before but never on the wing in the open. Their wings have broad stripes of intense yellow and blue mixed in with the scarlet red. Against the varied green of the rainforest, they create a contrast that one would not easily forget. The other nice thing about the scarlet macaw is their warning (loud squawking) when they are all about to take flight. Then you know it is time to grab the field glasses and be ready for another great view.
We met the owner of the farm later, Ray. He is a transplanted American born in Detroit but moved here from CA. He has two sons, aged 10 and 5. We are always curious about how an American comes to live and raise a family in the jungle. In response to our queries, Ray told us the story of a young daughter whom he lost to cancer when she was 3½ years old. Ray had always taken his daughter to the aquarium where he worked in CA as the two of them had a special affinity to the dolphins there. They were able to communicate with them and were quite the hit of each show at the aquarium. When his daughter died, and his wife had left him, Ray bought the first ten acres of land here in CR – sight unseen – and took the plunge to change his life entirely. Now he has 800 acres of land and has been here for 15 years. Ray married again but does not seem to have really good luck with wives. After giving him two beautiful sons, she left him as well. The two boys are well-behaved and very active children. They have a full time teacher who lives with them. Other than their time in the classroom they seem to go non-stop in the ocean and on shore with their playing. Both speak Spanish fluently as well as their native English. You can see a picture of the boys with one of their Tico (people of Costa Rica) friends.
We told Ray that we had admired the scarlet macaws. There is a great story that goes with their residence here on Ray’s land. Many Tico families had captive scarlet macaws in their homes. About ten years ago a group of 35 of these birds were returned to the wild. There is quite an involved process in returning animals to their natural habitat after years in captivity. The Tico families had fed the birds table food – rice & beans much of the time. The birds had to be taught to eat their natural foods – fruits and nuts of the forest. First a large communal cage was built and maintained at a zoological research station near the capital city of San Jose. Here they learned to be social again and were fed only the foods that they would have to seek in the wild. After several years there, a similar cage was built on Ray’s land here at Dolphin Quest and again they were fed the foods of the wild. Then they were set free and the project seems to have been a great success. We feel fortunate to have a ring-side seat (so to speak) to watch the spectacle of these screeching beautiful creatures.
We have started to send position reports with our e mail messages. These reports contain a Lat/Long location for us and some other pertinent weather info etc. The report goes to the ham radio system. From there it goes on automatically to a web page that you can access. The address to use is http://winlink.findu.com/AA1SA When you have reached the location you will have access to four maps that will zoom you in gradually to our current location. We have used the web page ourselves and think that it is easy to access and that you will find it interesting. You will also be able to see how many cruisers are close to us geographically. Keep in mind that the only cruisers listed will be those who also use the ham radio e mail system and are sending in position reports. We are usually not as remote as this appears. Let us know how you like this new toy!
April 6, 2002 We have returned from our trip to San Jose and can now complete this group message feeling that we know a little more about Costa Rica and its people. We left Satori at a local marina on a mooring and awoke at 2:30 AM on Tuesday to prepare for our bus trip. There is only one road in Costa Rica which carries folks over the mountain with the name Cerro de Muerte (Mountain of Death). If this sounds ominous, it should. At 10,750’ on a two-lane road the trip takes a long time with marvelous views. San Jose sits at a relatively high altitude as well – 4,000’. The temperature is a balmy 60-76 degrees F. We thought we were in Heaven on our arrival in San Jose. Our cab driver was moaning about the really high temperature that day and we just laughed! In the evenings we actually got goose bumps and loved it. Now and then we need those cold temperatures to keep in our memories.
Our hosts were the Bells, Vernon and his Tico wife Marcella. We can personally and highly recommend a stay with the Bells if any of you ever decide on a trip to San Jose, CR. Their home is close to the public bus service and they went out of their way the whole visit to help us with any and all of our needs. Please ask us for more information if you decide to travel here.
We spent the day Wednesday visiting the Jade Museum and the zoo in San Jose. Jane now has foot sores to reflect time in shoes, but that always happens. Going barefoot all the times seems healthy but then we have to pay the piper later. On Thursday we paid to go on a tour to the Volcano Irazu which enjoys the infamous record of deciding to erupt on the very day that San Jose was visited in 1963 by John F. Kennedy. It then proceeded to erupt for a full two years hence. We traveled with a couple of girls from Hong Kong, a girl from Italy and a gentleman from the USA. Up 10,500’ to see the crater of the volcano we really felt the cold. Actually could have used some ear muffs – that was strange to us. That day we also visited a basilica in the old capital city, Cartago. It was built because of a miracle there and is a pilgimage destination for many devout catholics. In one room there were thousands of small charms left by the faithful who had had their prayers answered – arms, legs, airplanes, animals and even some boats – all representing something about their own private miracle. Later we visited a botanical garden…our guide seemed to have a lot of knowledge in this area. A late lunch was had at an old coffee plantation. One of Costa Rica’s largest exports is its coffee – fabulous stuff!
We did travel in taxis as well as the public bus in San Jose. The taxi drivers spoke only Spanish so we would try to carry on a conversation to break the monotony of heavy traffic. All of them were fascinated that we were living aboard a boat and traveling around the world. The last driver even invited us to come to his house when we return to San Jose. It struck us as funny because we really did not even know the man. We responded that we would try to visit him but first we had to know his name and where he lived. Yes, he did write it all down for us and was quite serious about the invitation!
On the trip up to San Jose Jane noticed that her card case was missing along with her driver’s licence and several credit cards. The discovery was a bit unsettling but there was a chance that it had been left on the boat so we did not worry too much. On our arrival back in Golfito we were told right away by another cruiser that the card case had been found and turned into a local grocery store. Jane’s driver’s licence was posted in order to find the owner. Lordy, those pictures are so ugly too! A 10 year old boy had found the case in front of the store – guess it fell out of our backpack without our notice – and turned it in. What a nice surprise! We personally thanked the grocery store owner for her help and managed to track down the boy in order to leave a reward for him.
The other two photos should probably be explained. Banana Bay Marina where we left Satori for our trip was a backdrop for a view that typifies life in Central America. You will see a very large multi million dollar pleasure yacht right next to several shanties. Costa Rica actually does have a middle class and a very stable economy and government; however, the contrasts are still here.
The third picture is from our time in NW Panama. The shell of this beautiful crab was found on the beach along with the base in the picture. As close as we can tell this is part of the shell of a turtle, bleached out by time in the sun. We marveled at the colors in the crab and hope you like the picture too. My digital camera is starting to act up – not too surprising after 2.5 years of use in a marine environment. Will have to shop for another when we return to the states this year.
Folks here in the Golfito are saying that this is one of the hottest Aprils they have ever experienced. It is almost too hot to get anything done so we work at tasks for a while and then rest. We hope to be ready to leave for the Isla de Cocos by mid-week. This island belongs to Costa Rica but is about 250 miles southwest of its borders on the way to the Galapagos Islands and is well known in the world of diving. We will stop there long enough to do some diving and to rest before going Southeast towards Ecuador. You will probably receive your next note from us from somewhere in Ecuador.
Til then please remember us and write when you have a few moments.
Jane and Sander aboard Satori