Costa Rica – Part One

March 17 – April 12, 2022

Golfito, Costa Rica, once one of the local casualties of a changing banana industry, certainly appeared to have finally found its stride. What had apparently become quite a sketchy location to be not so long ago, now appeared to us a very welcoming and friendly place to clear into.

First time we have seen a “scarecrow” atop one of the fishing boats

Every country has its own clear in procedure. Always an adventure to navigate.

Entering the country in a maritime setting automatically means the port captain is involved, requiring paperwork and possible fees. We, like any other traveller, have to get our immigration papers sorted, requiring paperwork and possible fees. Exit requires clearing through customs, requiring paperwork and possible fees.

Every port is a bit, or a lot, different.

At the time we cleared in, Costa Rica required every tourist entering the country by boat to use an agent to complete the process of clearing in and out. Depending on the country, this service may incur a reasonable or unreasonable fee. Furthermore, depending on the competence of the agent and/or the difficulty of the process, this can be money either well spent or money wasted.

In hindsight, as our exchange with our agent was a positive one, we were much less irritated to learn that the requirement for utilizing agents was dissolved the month after we arrived.

Costa Rica also required a quarantine officer to actually come aboard Exit in order to verify we weren’t bringing any pork products into the country. This included filling out a declaration of all meat we had aboard followed by an actual inspection of the refrigerator and freezer.

Fortunately for us, being sent to a Costa Rican prison for international pig smuggling will not be on the itinerary.

Waiting for the quarantine officer at Banana Bay Marina in Golfito

The noteworthy generosity and kindness of Gabriella, manager of Banana Bay Marina, was amazing. Yes, she was being paid as an agent to clear us into Costa Rica. Still, we weren’t staying at the marina. So allowing us free access to the dock to tie our dinghy, ability to dispose of rubbish and recyclables, unlimited water if we needed, even actually taking us to the port captain and immigration authorities in a taxi she paid for – were all gestures well above and beyond. Her energy and enthusiasm were contagious. Her endless knowledge of the area cleared up any questions we had, and she offered assistance repeatedly.

It made it even easier to return to the marina for happy hours and decadent meals prepared by someone else.

Except…once we were cleared in, it was time for a major water maker maintenance project.

We had been waging an ongoing battle with the water maker since our arrival in Panama. Yet, it had never failed us by ceasing to make fresh water and we fully understood the importance of settling for functioning versus risking having it out of commission for any length of time. Consequently, we were constantly having to fuss with it while respecting the boundary of “don’t fuck too much with something that currently works.”

While trapped in Bocas del Toro during the Covid lockdowns, we had managed to get spare sensors, hoses, fittings, pumps, and even a membrane shipped to us; so we had parts for the Spectra. Yet, we couldn’t do anything that could even possibly jeopardize our ability to make water since it was one of the top critical systems on our boat to keep us off the grid.

The decision had been made long ago to hold off on any major water maker surgery until we were in the Pacific Ocean. Now that time had finally arrived.

Two sensors, a number of high pressure fittings, an intake hose, and the membrane itself all needed replacement. It required disassembly of nearly the entire water maker — a process during which I found myself experiencing numerous moments of doubt. If I fucked it up, we would be in a seriously bad way. But, in the end, everything was back together with no extra pieces still sitting on the table.

Now we just had to get out of the bay we were in and try everything out a few miles offshore where the water would be clearer. We could have gotten away with testing it where we were anchored, but we were adamant that we would be more selective about the water conditions we would consider making water in this time around…a philosophy which always seems to work better in theory than in practice.

A few miles out the water was not pristine, but we needed verification that everything was working at least. If we had to sacrifice a couple of filters, so be it. A few hours of making water seemed to concur the repair was a successful endeavor.

While we were testing the water maker, we were visited by a couple of very social dolphins. Normally dolphins only stick around the boat to ride the bow wake while we are underway and, even then, it rarely takes long before they grow bored of our sluggish pace. For some reason, these two really took an interest in us, and kept coming around to get a closer look. They were so persistent, eventually I slid into the water. They kept a bit of distance, but we were stunned how long the visit lasted.

“Dolphins Outside Golfito, Costa Rica”

It was one of two absolutely amazing experiences with dolphins here in this area.

A few days later while we were anchored in nearby Bahia Dulce, during a night of particularly intense and bright bioluminescence in the water, we had a visit from what may have even been the same two curious dolphins.

Upon hearing the unmistakable sound of their blowholes as they surfaced we came up on deck to a surreal sight. As the two dolphins swam around the boat, they were surrounded by an amazing glow of eerie green light. But even more unbelievable, the amount of bioluminescence was so intense that every detail of the dolphins were lit up also. A green, glowing line traced the entire outline of each dolphin, perfectly and distinctly, as well as every contour and detail of their bodies. It was almost like a sharp, glowing drawing which had been animated. Like the manta ray scene from the movie “Moana”.

Impossible to adequately describe. Impossible to capture with video or photos. Even more impossible to forget.

A re-creation attempting to capture the magic of the moment

Hints that the dry season may be coming to an end…

We had not collected rain catch water since Christmas in San Blas. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to. The fact was we hadn’t had any rain fall on our deck since we had crossed through the Panama Canal in mid-January… definitively the dry season. Despite seeing rain in the distance occasionally, it would be three months and a different country before the first drops of rain once again began to flow into our water jugs — March in Costa Rica.

Still, Costa Rica’s rainy season was only beginning to kick off in April. Largely, we had impeccable weather.

Yet, the heat of the Costa Rican sun on our aluminum hull made for some frying pan days and reminded us that the rainy season had its advantages as well.

Temperature on the bare deck in the direct sun

Only a couple hours outside Golfito, Bahia Dulce turned out to be a fabulous location to anchor. For much of the time, we were the only boat at anchor in a huge bay.

Going ashore at Bahia Dulce
Kris conducting a moth rescue via SUP

Costa Rican law prohibits any permanent structures from being built less than fifty meters from the high tide line. Consequently, almost every beach appears completely undeveloped, even if there are inhabitants just behind the tree line.

Such was the case with Dolphin Quest — a family run eco-lodge built on seven hundred acres of largely undisturbed land offering accommodations, tours, and jungle adventures. With a deeply seated philosophy of maintaining pristine wilderness, nurturing self-sustaining ecological practices, and rehabilitating environmental damage, they have managed to successfully cultivate a truly “green” business model.

In the few interactions we had with them, we found them to be very authentic. Touring their extensive yet very well thought out and unobtrusive garden proved to be both fascinating and educational. Afterwards we returned to Exit carrying a large bag of incredibly tasty, organically grown fruits and vegetables, as well as a plethora of various herbs and greens that found their way into our meals for a week after our visit.

After a couple of weeks bouncing back and forth between Golfito and Bahia Dulce it was time to get moving again.

Sixty five nautical miles further up the coast brought us to Bahia Drake, which provided a launching point for additional excursions.

Nearby, Isla Caño was only the second dive trip we paid to go on since we had moved aboard Exit nearly five years ago. While it would never be considered among the dives that top our list, it was a great day. Conditions sucked… the boat ride ten minutes off the island was rough, visibility underwater was horrible at times, it was the coldest water had dived in some time, and we felt remarkably guilty for the other eight guests on the boat (who were all snorkeling, some for only the second time above an invisible reef twenty feet below the surface). Still, our dive guide was very good and we managed to see a surprisingly impressive range of creatures — sharks, turtles, a sea horse, rays, eels, schools of jacks, and even harlequin shrimp (which we had last seen only in Indonesia almost ten years ago).

Also in close proximity was Parque Nacional Corcovado — a two hundred fifty square mile swath of untouched jungle established in Costa Rica as a protected reserve inside one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet.

With our remarkably knowledgable and eagle-eyed guide Carlos, we managed to catch glimpses of a dizzying array of wildlife which included: monkeys, crocodiles, scarlet macaws, tiny frogs, lizards (including the basilisk or “Jesus lizard” which actually runs on water), leaf cutter ants, and tapirs; all amongst the stunning backdrop of the dense Costa Rican rain forest.

You have five seconds to spot the croc before you become a spot on the croc…

Croc spotting

Costa Rica — the coast is rich but beach landings are a bitch! Props go out to the Costa Rican captains, whose skills are astounding. We got to witness these skills again and again, which ultimately resulted in both an immense respect for the local captains as well as a constant and intense fear of capsizing our own dinghy in the beach surf.

Our captain for the Parque Nacional Corcovado tour

We never remotely considered ourselves bird watchers before living aboard Exit. Even after five years, I would consider ourselves more sporadically interested and curious observers rather than avid bird watchers.

Pelicans? Always. The coolest of the cool.

And rare or exceptionally unique birds… sure.

But as often as not, I am more likely to cuss out a bird for taking a big messy dump as it passes overhead, or sits on our spreader, or worst of all – tries to sit at the top of our mast, jeopardizing an expensive wind indicator or antennae.

Occasionally, we are visited by a bird that leaves an indelible impression and happy memory rather than an obnoxious turd, as was the case with an extremely curious and inquisitive blue footed booby that visited us while we were at anchor at Bahia Drake. After watching us for quite some time from the relative safety of the dinghy, it grew more courageous and eventually hopped aboard and took a full tour around Exit’s deck.

“Boobie Inspection”

One thing we never grew tired of during our stay was Costa Rica’s propensity for breathtaking displays of astonishing cloud formations. Variety and depth seemed to always be the theme.

To be continued…

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