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Costa Rica

The dreaded Gulf of Tehuantepec and the Papagayo region of Nicaragua and Costa Rica were the prospects for our passage to the latter. The weather for both these regions is volatile and largely determined by winds on the Caribbean side of Central America. When the northerlies blow with any force in the Gulf of Mexico, these winds accelerate through the Chamela Pass and then shriek into the Gulf of Tehuantepec, often at storm force and occasionally at hurricane force. The Papagayo area can also be very windy, though not quite so daunting. Fortunately, Don Anderson of 'Summer Passage Radio' has become such an expert on the whole eastern Pacific, and particularly the Tehuantepec that he can perdict with very great accuracy when there will be a calmer window in the Gulf to allow cruisers to scurry across. Though we had to wait for it we took the first available window and had a quiet motor across the Gulf, followed by a delightful sail almost all the way to Playas Coco, our first port in Costa Rica.



After a painless and free check in - open-mouthed amazement after Mexico - we spent a quiet few days in two northern bays. At Bahia Huevos, we dinghied up the river at the head of the bay through the most collosal mangroves we had ever seen. At Bahia Carillo, we experienced our first cataclysmic Central American thunderstorm - just as we were anchoring in what turned out to be one of the world's top, or bottom, five most uncomfortable anchorages.

It is easy, but quite inaccurate to think of Mexico as a third world country. That is brought fully home when you reach Central America and see how relatively well off Mexicans are. Costa Rica is somewhat wealthier then Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras, but it is still very poor. However, there are some very impressive aspects of Costa Rica. The country maintains relatively high spending on education, with the result that it has a literacy rate over 95%. It has specialised in eco-tourism, turning over an extremely high proportion of its total land area to parks and reserves of various kinds. From a cruising point of view, unfortunately, it has relatively few sheltered anchorages and most of these are concentrated in the Gulfo Nicoya.

At Bahia Ballena, the squatters' village clung to the hillside and cantalevered out over the surf in the corner of the Bay. The fishing was poor, as the whole of the Gulfo Nicoya was suffering from red-tide. But the anchorage at Islas Tortugas was red-tide-free and attractive with jungle walks and howler monkeys close at hand, as well as opportunities to play bocce on the beach with other cruisers. A quiet couple of days doing jobs at Playa Naranjo also gave the chance to take the ferry into Puntarenas for stores and email. At Punta Leona with a group of other cruisers, we finally persuaded the resort to live up to its supposed cruiser-friendly reputation. This led to the opportunity to go 'zip-lining' through the jungle, sliding along a wire suspended among the tree tops - mostly right-side-up, but occasionally upside down. It was good fun and we all came back alive and able to enjoy the pool, while a tame raccoon begged for scraps.


By this time it was clear that the rainy season, which begins in May, was settling in, so we headed fairly quickly down the coast, along which there are no anchorages that are really protected from the seasonal southwesterly swell. If we thought we'd seen a real thunderstorm at Carillo, Bahia Drake offered the mother of all storms. We had lightning all night from 2100-0500 flashing every 3-5 seconds all around, right on top and sometimes seemingly inside the boat. Bahia Drake and Isla Cano, just offshore are the lightning alley of Central America. Isla Cano has about 300 strikes a year.

Golfito was a pleasant respite. The harbour is perfectly sheltered and what lightning comes is attracted to the heights around the bay. The town was small and clearly still on the decline after the relative collapse of banana exports. However, it had everything we needed, including a last jungle walk for Vicky, though sadly no more monkeys. And then the rains came torrentially. It was time to head for South America, where Ecuador, despite being right on the Equator held the promise of cooler, drier weather.