Sunday, May 19, 2019

Three different views of Costa Rica

There is an ancient Indian story about a group of blind men encountering an elephant for the first time. The first man felt the trunk and declared that an elephant was just like a snake. The second man felt the ears and declared that an elephant is like a fan, the third man felt the legs and declared that an elephant was like a tree trunk, etc etc.
Beautiful floral covered road in Costa Rica

This is our third trip to Costa Rica, and each one has been very different from the other two. Our first trip was in 1980. We were backpacking through Central America for four months. We had initially avoided Costa Rica because fellow travelers had told us it was too much like the US. After three months in Central America we were a little ready for some of the comforts and familiarity of the US, so we went to San Jose, Costa Rica. There we found pizza, and we were happy.

We went to the Pacific coast and out to Manuel Antonio National Park. It was a very undeveloped park, the park ranger showed up near the entrance of the park twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening to turn on the water for us. We would gather by the spigot with every available vessel to get our water for the day. We spent a very special week there, just us and one other backpacking couple. Enjoying the monkeys and the lizards. Collecting shells on the beach and body surfing. Enjoying the nature and the privacy. We left on the weekend when two other families showed up and it felt too crowded. We left with very fond memories of Manuel Antonio Park.
Pedestrian bridge over a stream

Trip #2 was in 2010. We were checking out Costa Rica as a possible place for future retirement. As soon as we arrived we were struck by the difference 30 years can make. The first part of this trip can be found here. At the end of the trip we decided to return to Manuel Antonio, we had such fond memories of it and wanted to share it with our son, Rivers, who was with us on that trip. In 1980 it took us more than six hours on a bumpy twisty mountain road to get from San Jose to the coast. In 2010 it was a one hour trip on the freeway. In 1980 there was one small road leading to the park entrance, and you could almost miss the entrance if you were not looking. In 2010 there was a  road dedicated just for the tour busses to turn around and drop off their passengers. To get to the entrance of the park we had to run a gauntlet of vendors all trying to sell "authentic" Costa Rican souvenirs, none of which were authentic or available in 1980. The park entrance had a ticket booth. They were not selling tickets at the moment because there was a limit of 100 people per hour. There was a long line of people waiting for the chance to buy their tickets. This was certainly not the Manuel Antonio of our memories.

2019, trip #3
This time we are viewing Costa Rica from the ocean, with 2 1/2 years of cruising under our belts. Most of those 2 1/2 years have been in the Caribbean where we were sailing from island to island, anchorage to anchorage for the most part. If we were going ashore we would find a spot that was set up to make it easy for us to go ashore, a dinghy dock or a pier to tie the dinghy to and to lock the dinghy up.

That is not the case in Costa Rica ( or in much of Panama either). Not only are there no docks to tie to, there are also big tidal changes and surf to deal with. This is new to us. The Caribbean tidal change is usually under 6 inches, and we do not try to land or tie up where there is surf. 

To get ashore here we have to know if the tide is rising or falling. High tide means we have less beach that we have to drag the dinghy up, but potentially larger waves. A rising tide means we have to pull the dinghy up past the highest high tide line so it won't go floating away in our absence. Our dinghy and motor are heavy and difficult for us to pull up the beach. Many cruisers on the Pacific have dinghy wheels to help with this. These may be in our future, but we do not have them yet. We have discovered that if we take two or three fenders we can throw them under the dinghy and roll it up, moving the fenders to the front as they roll out the back.

Still being newbies at this, we were anchored in a cove and decided to go ashore. We waited until we thought the tide was right, and headed in. The waves were large, but we made it successfully to shore, next to the several learn to surf schools. Lesson #1, if there are several surfing schools on a particular beach, it is probably not a good beach to take your dinghy to.

We wandered around town, did some shopping and sightseeing and thought that we should probably not try to launch our dinghy at dark, so we headed back before the sun set. The waves had gotten bigger by this time. We tried to push the dinghy out and jump in but the waves began crashing over the bow. We tried to time the waves, but they were coming too often and we're too large. Soon we were up to our chests in the water, and still couldn't get her past the breakers and now our poor dinghy was swamped. We turned back toward shore, which was probably a good thing because on shore was a man holding one of our fenders that had floated away.

We dragged the dink ashore and emptied her out, she was filled to the brim, a floating bathtub. With the assistance of several people from shore we were able to get her launched and safely back to Rhapsody. 

We have now gotten quite leery of taking the dinghy ashore, but have found some places that we were able to, we just are not as eager to try as before.
Costa Rican sunset that really was this pink!

Costa Rica from the boat is different. It is trickier to explore ashore and we are in a bit of a rush to head north to safer waters for the hurricane season. Whatever we do explore I doubt we will recreate the magic of our first trip. I think this is why we like to find new places to explore, new magic to create. We hold our old memories dear and are busy creating new ones.


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