Our first stop in the Golfo de Nicoya was Montezuma, at the southern end of the Nicoya Peninsula. It was not a great anchorage as it was open to the southern swell but the small town is picturesque with a laid-back arty beach culture. Known locally as Montefuma, the village offers yoga at dawn, nuts and seeds for breakfast followed by some uplifting herbs sold by a local neo-rasta – it was good vibe and a nice place to hang out for a day or two! One day we hiked to a waterfall; the myriad tones of green and the drone of the cicadas as we followed the river through the rainforest brought back memories of Borneo and the Marquesas. The falls were strong and cool and soothing after the hot walk.
After six months soaking up tequilla in Mexico we are now firmly back in rum country. Each country in Central America produces its own varieties but the most popular rum is Flor de Caña, made in Nicaragua. The white rum is great for cocktails but the seven year aged dark rum is really good for sipping. Another tasty rum we’ve come across is Botran rum from Guatemala; it made delicious Cuba Libres in Samara – yum! We’ve also been enjoying the coffee in Costa Rica. It’s big business over here, coffee growers are prohibited by law from growing anything but Arabica beans. Evenso you have to read the label carefully, we bought a packet of Rey Tradicional and it was 10% sugar – no thanks, I’ll get my sugar fix from the rum.
When we were in Bahia Ballena we crossed paths with a couple of other cruising boats: Kevin on Colmena and Kim and James on Zingaro. One evening we gathered on Zingaro for a few drinks and a jam. Neil brought his keyboards, Kevin brought his soprano sax and James had keyboards and a guitar. It was a great evening; the tunes flowed better as the level in the wine box and the rum bottle got lower.
Islas Tortugas are supposed to be the prettiest islands in Costa Rica so went for a look. Each day boat loads of tourists from the mainland come to check them out and sure enough they tick all the boxes; white sand beach, azure gently lapping water, rainforest backdrop, jet skis and banana boats. Luckily the tourists and their toys leave in the late afternoon and then we had the bay to ourselves to enjoy a peaceful sunset. One morning I kayaked ashore and did some yoga on the beautful white sand – a magic moment and very relaxing.
After a quick stop to provision in Paquera we headed up to Isla san Lucas where we wanted to explore the remains of an old prison. We anchored on the eastern side of the island where the prison wharf pokes out into the bay and kayaked ashore. The current prison was constructed back in the late 1700’s by the Spanish and was taken over by the Costa Ricans in 1862. On arrival at the dock prisoners were issued with a ball and chain which was manacled to the ankle and never to be removed. It was an effective method of keeping the prisoners from swimming away and was not recinded until the 1960’s. It’s incredible to imagine hippies flinging their clothes off in Haight Ashbury while prisoners on Isla San Lucas were sitting in balls and chains.
Considering the prison held around seven hundred inmates it is surprisingly small. Seven cell blocks are ringed around a semicircular courtyard and the Governors House and the gatehouse face into the circle. A huge cistern underlies the yard and in the middle of the roof are two holes. These were used for a sort of solitary confinement; the prisoner was lowered down into the hole and left there waist deep in water for days or weeks.
After a couple of daytime visits we decided to go ashore at night. It was a completely different experience – very still and peaceful, a little eerie but not disturbing, although a strange thing happened which did freak us out a bit. We lit some candles and sat in the courtyard in the candlelight and quietly got a sense of the atmosphere. At one point all four candles dimmed at once. For about five seconds they smoldered and almost went out, then they brightened as the flames rose up again. It was as if they were depleted of oxygen for a moment. What was it that passed by? A patch of mysteriously anaerobic air or a restless spirit?
Puntarenas is a dodgy, dirty fishing town built on a sandspit sticking out into the Golfo Nicoya. It’s not an easy place to anchor; the sheltered north shore is shallow with meandering channels and sand bars – we needed a pilot to guide us up to the Costa Rica Yacht Club at high tide. We made it in and tied up to one of their strange floating docks with 1.8m under the keel. We were assured the water was deep enough for Distant Drummer but it was no big surprise when we touched bottom and heeled over at low tide. It was a muddy bottom so not a problem but it felt a little uncomfortable to suddenly tilt ten degrees to starboard in the middle of the night.
The day after we left Puntarenas Neil lost a tooth chewing on a piece of bread, not mine I hasten to add! He needed to see a dentist and Jaco was the obvious place – it’s a bigger and more tourist friendly town than PA. He managed to get an appointment with a dentist who speaks English and now has a couple of new molars to chomp with.
Since we’ve been in Costa Rica we often hear the roar of howler monkeys. The call of the alpha male sounds like a cross between a bark and a grunt rings across the bay at dawn and dusk. They live in troops in the high trees behind the beach and we sometimes spot them feeding on the leaves. We managed to photograph one of the big males on Isla san Lucas. The black fur and face made him difficult to capture on film but we didn’t want to piss him off by using the flash – apparently howler monkeys are crack shots at urinating or defecating on anything that irritates them!
Our main task while in Puntarenas was finding a notary to certify some documents and prepare an affadavit for our application for a permit to visit Isla del Coco. The island lies about 300NM off the coast and is the Costa Rican Galapagos, it’s remote and mysterious and was the inspiration for the film Jurassic Park. Getting a permit is a bit of a palava but we’ve just found out we have been issued one so we’ll be heading off on our expedition to Isla del Coco on or around my birthday.