29.May2010. Winds WSW 5-12 kt., SW seas 4' or less. Partly cloudy skies, increasing cloudiness in pm. No squalls/rain.Crossing from Nicoya Peninsula to Osa Peninsula 30-40 mi. offshore. Position at 1710Z (1110 local time): 08deg.48'N/084deg.22'W.
GB has now successfully replaced all the boat parts that the April 28 lightning strike' had damaged. We did a short spin around the bay outside of Marina Papagayo to re-swing the compass and get the autopilot talking to the wind instruments and whatnot. All went well and it looks like there will only be final, minor instrument adjustments once we get underway again and out into open water.
The mechanic who'd been working on our refrigerator had had to give up on repairing the aluminum coolant tube that had failed, due to lack of the appropriate soldering materials in Costa Rica. GB installed a new fridge unit but found that specialized tools were needed to vacuum all the air out of the system and recharge it with appropriate coolant. So, the mechanic returned to The Fox to handle the purge-and-recharge with a fancy vacuum pump and some real purty hoses and gauges. We'd been without a functioning fridge for only 31 days total, during which time we'd bought bags of ice at Marina Papagayo's fuel dock to keep small amounts of food cool in our fridge box. Ice hereabouts costs US $7.50 for a 5-lb. bag and US $15.80 for a 20-lb. bag. It's sorta warm in Costa Rica and we'd been using 2 large bags every 2 days just to prevent food spoilage. The mechanic's fee for the fridge purge-and-recharge was less than the month's cost for ice, so it made good economic sense for us to stay here until he could finish the job and leave us with a fully functional fridge. But it took a while to get it scheduled.
The downside of the situation has been that we've stayed at Marina Papagayo for far longer than we've wanted to - glorious as this place is and as grateful as we are for all the help and support we've gotten from everyone here. We arrived in late April, Central America's hottest and driest month. We are now well into the "winter" rainy season. And boy howdy does it rain. We have seen the hillsides turn quickly from a dry golden-brown to the lush green and heavy mist that everyone sees in all the tourist brochures. GB and I are feeling time slipping away from us again. It's time to move on south, and pronto.
Yeah, that would've worked except for the weather delay, caused by a frisky low pressure system near shore that precluded prudent progress. However, this morning's forecast shows improvement to the point that we can leave at sunrise tomorrow. We're about 2 weeks behind where we wanted to be in our flabby itinerary, so while the weather's good we plan to scoot south to Golfito in southern Costa Rica, a 265-mile trip that will take us about 2-1/2 days or more, weather depending. It looks like we'll have to spend at least 2 days in Golfito to regroup, check out of the country and get our international zarpe for Ecuador. Our destination, Puerto Lucia, is about 650 miles from Golfito, an offshore trip that - again, weather depending - may take us 5 to 10 days. (I'm betting on 7.) This time of year there should be some lightning cells to liven up our passage, and the winds and the currents will generally be against us, so I expect this trip will be not only slow, but a bit less comfortable than others we've had.
Hey, if we get some good satellite access, maybe I'll be able to post a position report in real time, instead of after the fact like I usually do. Skymate, don't fail me now!
April 28, 2010.
Marina Papagayo, Costa Rica. About noon. A small thunderstorm began grumbling to the NE and made its way over the E side of Bahia Culebra. Marina Papagayo is located on the W side of Bahia Culebra so nothing much was happening over our way but in an abundance of caution we unplugged the laptop from the 12V supply. All other instruments were off anyway. Nothing else to do but to let it rain.
There may have been a few raindrops. I forget exactly. Soon it was 2pm. Suddenly there was a brilliant flash of white light andPOW!
GB & I jumped. Looked at each other. Said, "WOW that was close!" (We've been very close to lots of lightning before - I've even sat on the companionway steps to watch the light show of a typical Mazatlan August night - but never before have either of us ever seen or heard the likes of that Costa Rican thunderbolt. The color and intensity of the light, the sound, and the suddenness was...unique.)
After our hearts resumed a normal rate we didn't smell anything burning, the cable TV was still on (ah, marina life!), and our drinks hadn't spilled. So, we thought all was well. Until we saw a lot of marina staff activity on a ketch berthed a couple slips over from us. We learned our lightning bolt had hit them directly. Made a big ball of black smoke, blew out practically all of their instruments. Ouch.
It eventually occurred to us to check our own instruments.
Hmmm. Lookie here: no GPS. No autopilot, no wind instruments of any kind. No anchor light. No display on the nav station, only partial displays & backlighting in cockpit panel. No battery charger. Anything that included a wee computer in it, no longer functioned.
On the upside, the radar, VHF, SSB & depth sounder (cockpit display only) seemed intact. Ditto the helm's compass, incandescent tricolor, steaming & nav lights. The very-recently-repaired alternator still functioned. Which is nice. Fun fact: it seems lightning strikes - at least, the electromagnetic pulse from a nearby strike that we'd experienced - destroys LED circuitry but not incandescent bulbs.
It was just one lightning strike. We've experienced nothing since in Costa Rica. But there we were: without a battery charger and most of our navigation instruments. Plus no fridge. And since we were tied up to a slip in a very fancy marina with more amenities than we knew what to do with, we thought it would be a good idea to order replacement boat parts from the US, and pronto.
Marina Papagayo was very helpful. They converted our moorage from a daily to a monthly rate, cutting our dockage expenses in half. The buyer for their marina and the resort's restaurant kindly took our grocery list on her usual shopping trip and delivered food to our boat when we needed it. The marina allowed us to store frozen items in one of their freezers. All this, while we continued to take advantage of the well equipped onshore gym, marble-lined showers, and pool. If you have to sustain boat damage, you might as well be in a place like this.
Marina Papagayo came to the rescue yet again with the contact info for American Export, a shipper of cargo from Miami to pretty much any marina there is in Costa Rica, and a few in Panama besides. We learned from American Export that if we ordered our replacement parts and had them shipped to American Export's Miami warehouse, they'd handle it from there. And handle it, they did. American Export could have delivered our shipment to the boat in 24 hours, except Costa Rica Customs took half of Friday off in honor of the new president's inauguration, and they're closed for business anyway on weekends. Bottom line: even with the delays, American Export got the cargo shipped in 3-1/2 business days from Miami, through Costa Rica Customs in San Jose, to our boat out on the Pacific coast. That, my friends, is fast service - a total of $7000 and about 75lb. in boat parts, for which we paid only $541.75 for shipping and Costa Rica taxes and Customs duties (we're told Customs duty can go as high as 29% for replacement boat parts). Considering the circumstances, the results are pretty optimal.
Now all GB has to do is install everything and see if it works...m
...and I mean that literally.
GB and I have often discussed that we are sailing long distances on what is now an 8 year old boat, and we have lived aboard continuously for over 7 years. Meaning, all The Fox's systems have been put to continuous long term use in a marine environment, so it is to be expected that anything can fail at any time, for any reason. That's fine; we carry backup units and parts for practically everything.
Except a refrigerator.
Yeah, the fridge began to fail about the time we checked in to Costa Rica at Playas del Coco. Its small freezer compartment wasn't keeping a cold temperature very well...then it was only frosting up on one side...then the whole fridge failed after we had left Playas del Coco and headed further south.
This was disappointing but not bad enough to change our plans: The Propane Chef always carries a substantial larder of dried and canned foods for just such emergencies. So much, in fact, that we could have made it all the way to Ecuador - if not Mars - on the dry stores alone. We honored Neptune and fed his fishies with about $30 of spoiled meat we'd just bought in Playas del Coco. And resolved to press on.
The next morning our alternator packed it in. It was drawing energy away from our start battery instead of - you know, recharging it? This, too did not prevent us from continuing south because we carry a spare alternator and GB could install it at anchor. However that spare alternator is the boat's original alternator that worked well for 6 years. We hadn't used it since GB installed the new alternator in 2008. You know; the new alternator that had now quit after just 2 years, all of it spent in hot climates?
At this point I felt that (1) if the 2 y.o. alternator had failed, I didn't want to risk that a 6 y.o. alternator wouldn't work because if that happened we wouldn't be able to start the engine. Which in turn would mean I'd have to hail a passing panga for a tow. On the radio. In Spanish. In the country that's earned its reputation as the most expensive in Central America. Prices equal to or greater than the US and Canada. Also, (2) since we now had 2 important boat parts that had failed, it justified finding a place with shore power so that we would not have to flatten our 8 y.o. batteries while the alternator got repaired; and that would be accessible to both an alternator mechanic and a refrigerator mechanic. Equals: marina.
I therefore backtracked The Fox about 20 miles to the nearest prospect, Marina Papagayo at the head of Bahia Culebra. We expected to be there for about 4 days, so the daily fee of US $2/foot/night* was not too intimidating - we had important things to do, after all, and we planned to do them quickly.
*Turns out, one receives lavish treatment for lavish prices and if you can justify the expense you may want to pay Marina Papagayo a visit. These people are incredible.
As soon as we explained our situation marina manager Fernando and his staff contacted an alternator mechanic who used the spare parts we had to repair our alternator. He returned it to us - fully functional - in one day. Awesome. Fernando also introduced us to Arcangel, the specialist who works on the air conditioners of Marina Papagayo and a few other resorts in the area, to examine our fridge problem. He discovered the aluminum tube that runs coolant from the compressor into the fridge itself, had developed a leak. Complicating the matter was the fact that our Isotherm had a thin copper tube running inside the leaking aluminum tube, in which the coolant runs back from the fridge to the compressor. (We think.) The offending portion of the aluminum and copper coolant tubes is shown in the view looking down into what used to be our fridge. Upper right quarter.
Sadly, though, and not for any lack of Arcangel's skill, the proper copper-to-aluminum soldering materials were unavailable in Costa Rica so our beloved Isotherm could not be repaired. We thus resolved to resume our voyage south, still without a fridge, as soon as the weather - which had grown a bit stormy - improved.
And that's when the lightning struck.
[to be continued...]
It's not difficult or expensive to travel by public transportation around Nicaragua, just logistically demanding. It happens that there is no single bus taking a direct route inland from Chinandega (the town nearest to Marina Puesta del Sol on the NW coast where we stopped in April) to León or Granada, two popular tourist destinations. Say you want to travel by bus. Bus #1 takes you from Chinandega to León. Bus #2 takes you from León to Managua. Bus #3 takes you from Managua to Granada. Granted, the longest leg any of these 3 buses takes is only about 1-1/2 hours, and it only takes about 4-5 hours to get all the way from Marina Puesta del Sol to Granada, but that's a lot of transfers when the day is hot and your Spanish is weak. I think the lack of a direct route may have to do with Chinandega, León and Granada each being located in three separate departments (similar to counties in size, and to states in terms of political functioning). But whatever.
Buses along the main Nicaraguan highways we traveled leave their towns fairly regularly (every 20-40 minutes or so during the day), and the drivers and their assistants all take care to get passengers on the correct bus - especially if those passengers are as dazed and confused like we always are. There are even these way-cool "express" vans that have their destinations painted on the side of the van; they simply wait several minutes in the departure town until the van is full o' passengers, then take off to make only one or 2 stops en route. We found that whatever the mode of public transportation, most of them are full no matter where or how frequently they run. So you'll have plenty of company. Nice.
What we did was, we took a 12-person bus-van from León to Managua that filled up with 16 people. Made me nostalgic for the vehicular safety standards I'm used to. Nevertheless the driver was a real pro and got all us passengers to Managua, safe and sound, in about an hour. At the Managua transfer point near the university we asked our driver to point us to the correct express bus to Granada. He led us to a traditional-size bus that took off a few minutes after we boarded, and got us to Granada in about 1-1/2 hours. I'm not sure it was the exact route we'd wanted and it didn't feel at all like the express we'd asked for, but it did the job. Dropped us off near Granada's hyper-busy central market, about 4 blocks from our B&B, the excellent Casa Silas.** Centrally located. Quiet. Proprietor Rob is an excellent host. Full breakfast. Mini-split A/C. And a nice cool courtyard pool in which to soak after a day of hot turismo. This place is great. Get you some.
Granada is a pretty Spanish Colonial city on the shore of Lake Nicaragua that was burned to the ground by a 19th-century American wingnut. None of Granada's original 16th-century architecture survived the fire but the city has done its best to reproduce it. The arched interior of its cathedral is painted a cool sky blue and its outside is a brilliant yellow that's visible throughout the city, especially from the bell tower of another church in the centro.
Granada's former Franciscan convent is now a museum that displays some fine local prehispanic ceramics and an interesting collection of tall statues carved out of volcanic rock that are reminiscent of the moai on Easter Island - just in miniature. Or maybe totems like in the Pacific Northwest, except carved from rock instead of wood. Most of the museum's artifacts appear to have been collected during the middle to late 19th century from nearby areas in and around Lake Nicaragua. That was a time when artifacts were often separated from their site without their surroundings having been thoroughly investigated. In the case of most of the ceramics and statues displayed in Granada, it unfortunately appears that no one even recorded the precise location where the object was found. Too bad - think of what might still be learned from the original sites, using modern technology.
Granada supports many nice restaurants of all kinds and the food alone is one reason to visit. Granada has old-fart style restaurants that serve typical American/Mexican food, where to blend in with the clientele you wish you were wearing white linen and a Panama hat. Granada also has vegetarian restaurants and cafes that might appeal to the more youthful traveler who prefers living out of a backpack and lodging in one of Granada's many hostels. Places where to blend in with the clientele you wish you were more hip. Personally, I'd suggest visiting the restaurants that serve typical Nicaraguan food - such as the grilled meat extravaganza you can find at Restaurante El Zaguan, a couple blocks behind the cathedral. Dang that was good eatin'.
The local taxi drivers were on strike while we were in Granada. Seems they were having a serious dispute with the city councilfolk, who wanted to make some short term income for the city by awarding new taxi medallions at a steep discount to a large number of prospective cab drivers. The effect would be to reduce the income the current cab drivers could make. Awkward. In a country in which it's obviously very difficult to make a decent living, it didn't seem to me that either the cab drivers or the local government would benefit from the situation. By the time we left Granada things were getting a bit tense, politically speaking. But meanwhile we were bummed because one of the handiest forms of relatively inexpensive transportation was being denied to us. Thus we toured on foot in the 96F heat. Oh the humanity.
On the other hand, the absence of taxis on the streets must have been a relief to all the hard-working small horses (ponies?) we saw moving short-haul cargo with handmade wooden two-wheeled carts. One day we were even overtaken by what appeared to be a traditional funeral with a horse-drawn hearse. Nicaragua uses their horses intensively - whereas in El Salvador, we'd seen people instead of draft animals carrying most of the loads. Which is the country with better conditions - for the people, as well as their animals?
Visit Nicaragua and figure it all out for me.
One reason for visiting Marina Puesta del Sol in Nicaragua is that it's a secure place to keep your boat while traveling inland for a bit of turismo. Nicaragua's about the size of New York state, so travel from the coast to the big city takes only a few hours, even via public transportation. We were prevented from enjoying Puesta del Sol's onshore facilities during the first several days The Fox was there (just after Semana Santa in mid-April), due to the presence at the resort of some highly-placed vacationing political dignitaries, so a road trip was definitely in order for us.
The Puesta del Sol marina/resort has a service vehicle that occasionally drives to the nearest town, Chinandega, for supplies and if the marina staff know you're headed their way you'll most likely be welcome to ride along with the driver and either return to Puesta del Sol when he does, or catch a bus or bus-van out of Chinandega if you want to travel further to places like León, Managua or Granada. We hear there's also a public bus that leaves the Puesta del Sol area once or twice in the morning and returns to the marina area once in the afternoon. And if you're really lucky, you might catch a ride with Puesta del Sol's owner and resident, Don Roberto Membreno*, when he goes in to town to run errands. We got really lucky: Don Roberto kindly gave us a ride all the way to León. What a pal.
* Don Roberto is a nice fellow with a lot of entertaining information to share, so if you meet him, buy him a drink at his own bar and listen to his stories. Ask him about geothermal power plants.
León is a Spanish Colonial city boasting a university and Central America's largest cathedral. Once we got there we stayed at Posada Doña Blanca, a B&B located a few blocks from the cathedral. Full breakfast, mini-split A/C in the room, center courtyard, and much more. Very comfortable despite the high April heat in the upper 90sF. Braving the heat to look around the centro district we saw some of the renovated Spanish Colonial structures (some well-restored, others...not so much) interspersed with more modern architecture such as the university's buildings. Narrow Colonial streets contrasted with the modern politically-oriented murals for which León is known, some of which depict León's Kent State-style shooting of students by the Nicaraguan military under Somoza back in 1959.
The cathedral in the pic directly above has unusual architecture with what we hear is an excellent rooftop view of León's many other churches and nearby volcanoes. Sadly, we didn't go up on the roof, but inside the cathedral we saw the lavish white-marble tomb of Rubén Darío, Nicaragua's favorite modernist poet and León native, with its weeping lion. Personally, I thought the lion theme ("león" in Spanish) repeated inside and outside the cathedral was pretty cool. We located the city's excellent art museum/gallery, the Ortiz Gurdian, 3 blocks west of the cathedral across from Iglesia San Francisco. The Ortiz Gurdian comprises 2 restored Colonial mansions located across the street from each other, and the buildings themselves are worth the price of admission - the actual exhibits, which include collections of traditional art and modern Central American artists' works, is a total bonus.
Speaking of bonus, the bartender at Hotel La Perla is a highly skilled professional who quickly adapts his technique to his customers' unique preferences. Like most bartenders in Latin America, he made martinis the traditional way from the 1950s, with lots of vermouth. But by our third round he was making them The Propane Chef's way: very dry, shaken-not-stirred. La Perla's chef is likewise first rate and open-minded - so if you can, have a bit of a splurge and go to La Perla for cocktail enhancement and dinner. If you order a martini, order it very dry and mention our name - it won't get you anywhere, but La Perla strikes me as the kind of place where name-dropping is expected. So you might as well start.
We didn't have much time in León - just 2 nights - and we were going to be traveling by bus for the rest of this road trip, so this was one of the few times we actually hired a tour guide to drive us several miles to the ruins of León Viejo. This was
Our tour included a quick trip to the shore of Lake Managua for a closer look at Volcan Momotombo. Here in this pic we see the choppy whitecaps of a mild Papagayo blowing across the lake and its black volcanic sand beach, headed toward the Pacific Ocean to mess with various watercraft.
Before our personal tour took us back to León, we stopped for a typical Nica lunch at a typical Nica roadside diner. Because I am an idiot I neglected to take a photo of a licky-delicious Nicaraguan quesillo - a corn tortilla in which is placed a circular slab o' homemade white cheese the same size as the tortilla. You roll it up, hold it