Today’s the big day–our last day on the mainland! After an early jog this morning to say farewell to our monkey and toucan friends, we’re about ready to begin inching out of our comfy anchorage here in Golfito. From here, we’ll head south to spend a couple of days enjoying some islands in western Panama, then we’ll begin the long trek across the Pacific. It’s islands from here until the winter! Our passage southwest to the Galapagos will take us across the equator (nearly 60 degrees south of where we started!) and through the doldrums, a zone with very little wind. Our best hope to beat the doldrums is a rambunctious blow in the Gulf of Panama, which might give us a nice push offshore. Otherwise, we’ll be seeking out squalls for a bit of a breeze and rainy relief from the heat. If all goes well, we’ll be in the Galapagos in a couple of weeks!
We’ve been enjoying Costa Rica for longer than we had planned now, and are getting antsy to cover some ground. We spent our first week or so in Golfito making sure everything on the boat is in bluewater shape, and we think she’s ready to go. We sanded and varnished all the structurally important woodwork (and touched up the rest) to keep it all in sound condition, scrubbed the boat inside and out, cleaned and inspected all the rigging, and repainted the bottom of the boat (we had developed a bit of a barnacle farm, which slows you down and can eat into the fiberglass overtime). Rob changed the engine oil and spent some quality time in contorted positions checking over the engine, and he fixed little things all over the boat that always seem to be breaking (like the toilet, and the switch that turns on the propane for the stove). Then we bought spare parts and replaced all the things we’ve broken or lost overboard (swimsuits, goggles, screwdrivers, nuts, wrenches, mugs, sandals, ladder stoppers…) and cursed ourselves for not having the foresight to buy those things in Mexico, where they were cheaper (but really, who knew the fins my brother gave me for Christmas when I was 14 would wear out so soon?). Rob even cut my hair for me (we’re cheapskates) so I can brush it again. After a couple of tips as to how hair cutting usually works, Rob wielded the scissors sounding like a pro–except for the occasional “oops.” I can’t see the back of my head, but he assures me it looks great.
Satisfied that the boat was ready to go, we rewarded ourselves with a bit of time off the boat to see more of the landscape and stretch our legs a bit before we are trapped on the boat for the long haul. We started with a trip to camp for a couple of days in Corcovado National Park, a swath of Costa Rica’s lowland jungle with abundant wildlife. Although we didn’t love some of the restrictions (i.e. you can only camp at ranger stations, all of which are accessible by boat, road, or plane and have cable television), but we did love the jungle scenery and the wildlife. The park delivered us close up views of macaws, baby monkeys, crocodiles, peccaries, coaties, and a tapir (I’ll post photos separately in a few minutes). Our primary recommendation if you hike Corcovado is that you hike early, when the heat is slightly less intolerable and the animals are out, and that you go with someone you don’t mind asking to pick ticks off your bum.
On our last day out in Corcovado, we spent a few minutes chatting with a couple of the park’s poacher patrol. These guys spike their coffee with Coke, then spend all night out walking the park to look for poachers. They also, we think, collect sea turtle eggs to transport them to safe beaches. Nearly all species of sea turtles in the world today are critically endangered. Among other things, they are killed when they are caught unintentionally in fishing gear, and when they mistake plastic bags in the ocean for jellyfish and suffocate eating the bags. Although killing turtles is illegal, turtle meat and turtle eggs are still a delicacy in some parts of the world. In fact, someone we met in Mexico told us that, about 20 years ago, he worked in a turtle factory where they shipped the meat to California (a lot of carnivores there, he told us) and the skin to China, where it was made into shoes, belts, and wallets. Even today, people steal the eggs at night, wiping out entire generations of sea turtles. To reduce this problem, Costa Rica, Mexico, and other countries with sea turtle nesting areas have begun sea turtle protection programs. In some places, turtle beaches are protected by armed guards. Eggs are moved to protected beaches and guarded until they hatch. This is a great program, and we were glad to see that some of our park fees are going to support a poacher patrol.
We came back to Golfito just long enough to plan our next adventure, and decided to escape into the highlands of Panama’s Chiriqui province for a couple of days of cooler temperatures and cheaper park fees. In Boquette, Rob sampled locally-grown coffee and we hiked up Panama’s highest peak, Volcan Baru. We were a bit disappointed to find that this much lauded hike was more of a saunter up a service road to an antenna farm, but the view from 10,000 feet was nonetheless lovely and we relished feeling chilly as we spent the night near the top.
We also enjoyed a peek into the vibrant indigenous cultures of Panama, as one group, the Ngobe Bugle, live near this region. These people, and their supporters, are currently locked in a fight with the Panamanian government to prevent mining in parts of Ngobe territory, and violent protests have broken out in recent weeks. A few Ngobe in beautiful, colorful dresses were gathered in the center of town seeking contributions for the cause.
Finally, we poked into the edge of La Amistad National Park, a park that sits on both sides of the Costa Rica-Panama border, and protects a large area of cloud forest, home to the resplendant quetzal (we did not see this fabulous bird). On this cool hike, I learned that Rob is a psychologically disturbed individual. Hiking into the trees in perfect fall-like temperatures, Rob’s smile grew more sparkling with the increasing muddiness of the trail. When it started to rain, he grew exuberant. When the rain stopped, the smile went away. When the sun came out, he retreated under his hat.
Back in the scorching temperatures of Golfito, we finished up the overwhelming task of provisioning the boat with food for the next several months. Although food is available in the Galapagos and French Polynesia, it is very expensive, so most cruisers stock up on the mainland. Not organized enough to try to actually plan out meals and menus for the next 6 months, we decided to approach the provisioning problem by stuffing as much food as possible into every nook and cranny on the boat. We bought pounds of rice, pasta, dried beans, lentils, spaghetti sauce, as much peanut butter as we could afford, dozens of cans of mushrooms and vegetables, salsa, toiletries, biodegradable dish soap and vinegar for cleaning, extra spices, tortillas, seeds for sprouting, powdered milk, several pounds of flour, and boxes of whipping cream (this might not seem critical to you, but it comes in shelf-stable juice boxes here, and it just might be critical in a pie emergency), and several pounds of flour. We made trips to every grocery store in town and filled our giant backpacking packs about six times. After that, we ate a lot of ice cream since we won’t be able to bring it along and we hear it costs $20 on the islands.
Yesterday, we filled our packs one last time with fresh produce, which we packed into the few remaining spaces on the boat, then put the overflow into crates we bought and drilled holes in for air flow. We are not using our refrigerator, so preserving food has been a learning process. When we started, Alaska’s glacially-cooled water made this easy, and we could keep almost anything on the boat (except ice cream). Even yogurt and the half-and-half for Rob’s coffee would last as long as a week. But by the time we got to British Columbia, we had to ditch the half-and-half as it would spoil overnight. Now, the water in our tanks is hot enough to brew tea and things don’t last very long. Nonetheless, most fruits and veggies will last for awhile, especially if you buy them green and unrefrigerated. We have wrapped cabbages and tomatoes in paper towels, smeared eggs with Vasoline, and carefully separated onions from potatoes and apples from oranges to avoid spoilage. We hope this works.
We are also re-learning how to cook. When we started, soups were a great make ahead meal. Now, it’s too hot for soups. We’ve discovered that the last of the dehydrated soups a nice lady in Ketchikan gave us can be turned into great veggie burgers and fritters. The last of our canned soups work great to make an easy veggie and rice pilaf. We loved pre-prepped lasagna as a meal for our first night out on the passage south from Seattle, but now we hate using the oven at dinner time because it heats up the boat. Instead, we are learning to cook everything on the stove.
Every space on the boat is now packed with food and supplies, and we have stowed almost 90 gallons of fresh water for drinking and cooking. We have 70 gallons in the boat’s tanks, and the other 20 in jugs stashed below decks. We think we are finally ready to go, and I have only one lingering concern: we don’t have any brandy. In all of the books I’ve read about sailing, the brave Captain takes a wee nip o’ brandy to stiffen his resolve as soon as the weather gets rough. For reasons that are not explained, the same courtesy is never extended to the First Mate. I think this goes back to the days of the temperance movement forced on sailors in the 1800’s–the captains have really never sympathized with the lot of we common sailors. In any event, the honored nip o’ brandy seems to be a critical step in storm management, and we are without the crucial ingredient. We do, however, still have a few drops of whiskey our friends gave us when we left Juneau. Perhaps the sea gods will not notice if we make a substitution.