Feb
11
2013

Bahamas Sailing: Dispatch 2

051 shallows1/24/13:

Hope Town

Elbow Cay

Conditions were perfect for a quick daysail to Hope Town, about 8 nm from Marsh Harbour. I’d talked in the last dispatch about learning to read the water depth. It is embarrassing to admit, but we hadn’t seen anything yet. As we got close to the lighthouse outside Hope Town, the colors of the depth changed, becoming lighter green, then a sort of aquamarine, then dark. (And these colors were all 057 -shallows all aroundaround us: no deep water anywhere around.)The dark color can be coral heads or seaweed/sea grass, and I knew it was the latter. The problem is that the seaweed on the bottom masks the actual depth. I dutifully went forward almost to the bow of DW and watched and watched. I held my breath, as the bottom looked to be maybe a foot or less below us (certainly higher that the keel!), though that wasn’t actually the case (so much for being able to read the depth…). Had the depth sounder been working, it no doubt would have been beeping warnings like mad as we went through the area. It couldn’t have been much more than 5′ deep in much of the areas we went through! (Keep in mind that we draw about 4′ 6”) It was very aggravating, but just053 chart ploitter view entering Hope Town gorgeous, as well. It was hard to appreciate the colors of the water under those circumstances, though.

Paul followed the chart plotter, and at one point there was an actual channel marked. Instead of going to the middle, he stayed closer to the red mark. Wrong move: we went aground, hard, though so gently, it was only because we were no longer moving that either of could tell. I looked at the bottom and it looked absolutely no different from places where we didn’t go aground, so the change must have been too subtle for me. Paul waited a few moments, as we were going through just after low tide as the tide was rising, and gunned the engine in reverse, breaking free.

075 entrance to harbor at Hope TownThe entrance to Hope Town is very narrow, but once inside, there’s plenty of room and plenty of depth. The town is quite old and absolutely charming, with pastel houses lining the waterfront, and the entire area given over to walking streets. The streets were quite narrow, just wide enough for a pedestrian and a golf cart to share (no vehicles allowed in town, but evidently golf carts aren’t considered vehicles). It was a pleasure to walk around and look at the houses, the harbor and boats beyond, and say hello to the others walking or bicycling. Some places are built as places to attract tourists,but Hope Town, although plenty of tourists were in evidence, had no such feel. It seemed completely genuine.

We stopped in a gift shop and an art gallery, and found several items that “had our names on 076 Hope Town walking streetthem,” keeping in mind that we’re on a small boat and don’t have very much room for souvenirs of any sort. At the art gallery, the artist pointed out that all the prints and reproductions of his work were made right in the Bahamas, not in China. Good point! And it was fun to browse. How much room, after all, does a notecard take? (But a whole box of them? That’s something else entirely, but it was just one box.)

 

1/31/13:

079 IMG_3679 DW on Hope Townback in Marsh Harbour

Great Abaco Island

Due to adverse winds and weather, we headed back to Marsh Harbour, where provisioning is much better, while we wait for another weather window. We’ve been here for the past several days, getting better acquainted with some of our fellow cruisers.

There’s probably no “typical” cruiser, though most of us are retired and older. One couple we met were powerboaters, then made the switch to a sailboat (it’s usually the reverse, especially as one gets older and handling the sails becomes more of a physical challenge) due to the l087 Hope Town harborower cost of owning and operating a sailboat as opposed to a powerboat. They bought a 43′ sailboat and took off, first on daysails, then for weekend trips. One day there was evidently a squall forecast, but the weather seemed fine with no squalls in sight, so they decided to continue with their sail. The squall hit with little warning, giving them just enough time to take down the mainsail. Scott, the captain, said that they had 70 knot gusts and were driven nearly half way to the Bahamas by the force of the squall. (I cannot imagine and don’t want to). He was a novice sailor and didn’t know about using the winch to help him with the genoa (a headsail used in lighter air, and quite a bit larger than the usual jib). There was another sailboat also stuck out there, and he followed the skipper, keeping the boat headed into the wind. When it was all over, he discovered that not even the genoa had been damaged! Since then, they’ve paid a lot more attention to weather forecasts.

Paul was sitting i033 fruiting palm Marsh Harbourn the cockpit just now, listening to a Spanish lesson, and shouted, “Turtle alert!” I ran up the 4 steps to get up on deck, and there was a turtle (carapace maybe a foot across), swimming in the water behind DW, just like a person, putting its head up every few moments to take a breath. Neither of us was fast enough to snap a picture before it disappeared, but it was really fun to see it. I’ve seen turtles basking in the sun, but never one swimming.

 

2/2/13034 fruiting palm closeup

Lynyard Cay anchorage

southern Abacos

We finally left Marsh Harbour, heading south to Spanish Wells and Eleuthera Island beyond. Mangoes Marina at Marsh Harbour was a wonderful temporary home, and I was surprised that several people came out either to help us with our lines or wave goodbye.

The sail today was great, however. Moderate winds, which lightened as the afternoon wore on, after days and days of winds whistling in our rigging when we were at the marina. We passed by several privately-oGt Abaco Is on way to Lynyard Caywned cays, though all seemed to have fairly modest homes on them. We actually saw some elevation: rocky cliffs and hills, none of which we’d seen here before. Of course I took pictures.

Sailing today was everything that people talk about: gentle breezes, the sound of water rushing along DW’s hull (which you could never hear if the engine were on, as I know I’ve mentioned before), and slow, but steady progress, seemingly effortlessly speeding along (so it seemed to us, anyway) at 3.5 and 4 knots or even a bit more. And when we got here, there were a few other boats anchored, the water was g047 tugreen, and there were broken clouds in a blue sky. It was magical.

Tonight, Paul will be leaving here about midnight and we’ll go to our usual watch schedule, with me taking over at 0300. At 5 knots, Spanish Wells is about 12 hours from here, and we want to get there close to high tide. Not likely we’ll arrive earlier, but in giving DW some leeway, high tide is at 1400, so arriving any time between 1200 and 1600 should be fine. Navigation should be fairly straightforward until we get close to Spanish Wells, when there may be some coral heads to watch out for. I did such a great job as lookout heading into Hope Town (when we went aground), I’ hope I’ve learned something. At least Paul and IMG_3709   Lynyard CayI have worked out some hand signals!

 

2/4/13:

Spanish Wells

St Georges Cay

I think we are learning to read the water at long last! The unmarked channel into Spanish Wells clearly showed where the (slightly) deeper water was located: good enough for DW’s almost 5′ draft, at any rate. I called into the marina, where there was plenty of space, noted our 5′ draft, and he said, “that won’t be a problem.” When we got there, he had us go to the dock closest to the shore. Before we tied up, I said, we draw 5′, and he again said that it wouldn’t be a problem. After a privacy fence?we tied up,I again pointed out DW’s draft, and he said, “Oh, we have lots of water here. It’s not a problem.” Maybe so, but during the night, we hit bottom as the tide was ebbing….. I’d already paid for the night, so at first light we were floating again and there was a rising tide, and we left, heading for Nassau. Sometimes, it pays to stop asking questions and just trust your instincts. Both Paul and I thought that it was too shallow where he directed us to dock. The interesting thing is that there were plenty of empty slips further from shore, where we would have been fine.

All that being said, it’s disappointing that we got to Spanish Wells on a Sunday, when everything on the way to Spanish Wellswas closed. The Bahamians are in general strongly religious, and on many of the smaller cays, most,if not all, retail establishments are closed on Sunday, to allow all the residents to go to church. (The docking agent was on duty at the marina, so made do by listening in the marina office to his small television broadcasting a pastor preaching a very fiery sermon to his large congregation.) From the water, the town seems utterly charming, and it would have been fun to walk around when shops were open and more people around. But we needed to leave while the tide was flooding.

near Spanish WellsThe difference in cruisers’ cruising styles is very interesting. We are used to going a few miles from anchorage to anchorage or marina to marina, and by “few, we’re talking a daysail away, say, 15 to 40 miles. Until we got to the Bahamas, we’d assumed that everyone did about the same thing, other than people who find a place to anchor out or find a marina they like and wind up staying for a month or two. Here, we appear to be the anomaly. We’ve talked to a number of other cruisers about cruising grounds, and, almost without exception, all talk about spending two, three, or even six months cruising in the Abacos, a chain of islands about 130 miles long. People asked us where we were heading next, and my answer was, “Little Harbor,” a harbor about 20 nm south on Great Abaco Island. Nearly everyone who asked us responded that they’d never been that far south, but “maybe the next cruising season, we’ll get there.” Green Turtle Cay is fine, as is Marsh Harbour, but Lynyard Cay is just gorgeous, and it’s a shame that most of them haven’t been there. On the other hand, I’m not sure we’d want to spend two weeks there!

From Spanish Wells, we’ll be on our way to the biggest city (by far) of the Bahamas: Nassau, on New Providence Island. It’s about 40 or 45 nm from Spanish Wells, through some of the open waters of the Atlantic. Weather is forecast to be fine for the passage.

 

 

 

Feb
11
2013

Bahamas Sailing: Dispatch 1

001 sunset at Great Sale Cay1/17/13, Green Turtle Cay, The Bahamas:

Thanks to the National Weather Service’s absolutely spot-on forecast and the weather gods, our passage from Lake Worth Inlet to Great Sale Cay was easy. Sailing out the Inlet to the Atlantic, itself, was quite bouncy and the hardest part of the trip, but all else was fine.

We left Lake Worth Inlet about 1530 (3:30 pm for you landlubbers), and got to Great Sale about sunset the following afternoon, so the passage of 106 nm took about 26 hours. From 1600 on, we shifted to a three-hours-on/three-hours-off watch schedule. If the passage had been longer, this schedule wouldn’t have allowed either of us enough sleep, but for just a day, it was fine.radio tower on Great Abaco Island

We take offshore passages seriously because preparations need to be made just in case there’s an unexpected wind shift or especially large swell (rogue waves are real). Everything below that could be secured was secured. Paul dug out the safety gear, so when either of us was on watch, we wore our offshore life jackets and harnesses. Conditions were benign, but it’s pretty empty out there if anything does go wrong.

Paul and I had both done some reading about the best way to get across the Gulf Stream. His source gave him a heading a little south of where we wanted to be (makes sense, as the Gulf Stream flows strongly north). My sources, of course, said something completely different: you want to minimize the time you’re in the Gulf Stream, so steer directly across, and make your course adjustments after the Gulf Stream has been crossed. (That, too, makes sense.) Paul’s the captain, and it was up to him to make the decision.

After my first watch of three house, though, I was not a happy camper. When I started my watch, the hours to get to our destination (Great Sale Cay, an interim point in this case), showed 29+ hours. When I was done 3 hours later, it showed 28+ hours. And doing 3.5 knots… But as we got closer (and later had some help from the wind), we began making better time, and I have to admit that Paul did a superb job routing us. There were no problems with shoals as we got close to Great Sale Cay, and DW was anchored in just as if Paul had been there before.

Great Sale Ca007 a Bahamaian cayy is a low, sandy islet covered in brush, rather anticlimactic for a first view of The Bahamas. After the high and rocky/forested islands of the Pacific Northwest and even rockier islands and islets of NS and ME, it’s quite surprising to see these flat, flat cays. But getting to Great Sale Cay was a wonderful respite. Because of the need to cruise among the cays only during the day so you can see the color of the water to monitor depths, we needed to do the second part of our passage during the night in order to arrive at Green Turtle Cay during the day.

So after a few hours’ very peaceful sleep, Paul started the engine and we continued on. No moon when I got up to start my shift at 0100, and the stars were just glorious. Other than Orion (because of Orion’s belt and the diagonal row of stars), it was very difficult to pick out any other constellations, as the stars were just so bright. It’s been so long since we’ve done a comfortable night passage – not since the Bay of Fundy – that I’d forgotten how wonderful night passages can be.

Normally, I get a little sleepy during nighttime passages, but Paul told me about hazards on either side of the rhumb line (the course to the next waypoint, which neither of us usually follows all that closely unless, as in much of the ICW, there’s danger of going aground or encountering obstacles). I was constantly adjusting the autopilot by a degree or two, to keep DW as close to the line as possible. There were occasions when I could feel currents pushing DW this way or that, and, frankly wouldn’t have noticed or been especially concerned had it not been so important to stay exactly on course.

Green Turtle CayAfter the sun rose, there was a shallow area charted not too far from the course, maybe .5 nm or less. I thought, okay, let’s see if that heralded color change is obvious. Sure enough, the water was a different, lighter green color where it was shallower!

The wind freshened during the night. Being pushed by just our diesel, we were going about 4.9 knots, with the sail providing no help as we left Great Sale. As the night wore on (at least during my 0100 – 0400 watch), we were doing 5.3, 5.5, 5.6, even 6.0 knots. Paul had initially estimated that we’d arrive in Green Turtle Cay about noon, but we got in about 1030, and Paul walked to town with ship’s papers and passports to clear customs.

016 Green Turtle Cay golf cartGreen Turtle Cay is much larger than I expected, large enough for roads and vehicles: a few cars, and lots of the preferred vehicle for getting around, golf carts! (You can rent one for $45/day or $225/week, one of the other cruisers later told us.) We walked from the marina to town on small, pale, gravel-covered roads (no sidewalks), looking for a loaf of homemade bread, which, according to the cruising guide, is available everywhere and very good. No luck, despite stopping in several places, often just the living room in a house, where “fresh bread” was advertised. At one small, general store – the biggest store in the community of New Plymouth, actually — Sid told us he was sold out of bread, but “the ladies” would be baking bread and delivering more on Monday, if we were still in town. He did have a few small loaves of pumpkin bread, one of which we bought. It turned out to be approximately equal quantities of pumpkin 014 -beach on Green Turtle Caybread and sweetened cream cheese. It was delicious, though low calorie it was not. I wish we’d been around a day or two later to get more.

The marina is filled with Canadian boats, one of which came all the way from St Johns, Newfoundland. People here talk about how long they plan to remain on Green Turtle: two weeks, a month or even longer, using Green Turtle as a base. People cruise to a nearby cay an hour or two away., anchor out or dinghy in to have dinner somewhere, then return to Green Turtle Cay a day or two later. Having been to town on several occasions (for boat parts or hardware supplies), Paul is ready to move on, especially given that groceries and fresh vegetables are not much in evidence.

 

1/21/13, Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco Island:

The UPS and FedEx offices are both in Marsh Harbour. I point this out because things may break as you’re cruising, and in this place infamous for its shallow seas, reefs, and shifting sandbars, we now have no working depth sounder.

Under very lig023 moving the mother shipht winds and blue skies, we waited until close to half-tide to leave Green Turtle to be sure we’d have adequate depths through the shallower places. No problems with leaving, and things started out fine. Between engine and sail, we were doing about six knots. I was thinking about asking Paul about our estimated arrival time when the engine alarm sounded: overheating engine! Paul quickly turned the engine off and started to trace the problem while I took the helm in increasingly light winds. After about 45 minutes, he concluded that there was a blockage in the water intake somewhere. Winds were so light that even though at that point we were just nine nm away from Marsh Harbour, we wouldn’t arrive until about five or six hours later, well after dark.

Paul lashed the dinghy to the side of DW and started the 4 hp outboard, so it could push the 6+ ton025 rainbow 2 “mother ship.” It took a few moments, but pretty soon DW started moving: 1.5 knots, 1.9 knots, then 2.2 knots, faster than we’d gone in the past hour. Eventually, the trusty little outboard was pushing us at about 3.5 knots. We had less than a full 5 gallon tank of gas, and I wondered when it would run out (it didn’t!). Relying on the autopilot to steer, we stayed very close to the plotted course. Paul did have to stop the outboard a few times when seaweed (there was a lot of it in places) got tangled around the outboard shaft or around the propeller. I stayed above, standing on the seat so as to be able to see everything and occasionally make an adjustment to the autopilot. We got to the anchorage just before full dark.

049 seagrass or seaweedIn the morning, Paul put on a wetsuit and checked the engine intake (below the waterline) and found a single sea bean blocking the intake! He checked everything, and all seemed fine, and, sure enough, the engine started right up and responded normally as we went the 1/2 mi or so to the marina.

One thing was very interesting for both of us. Cruising at 3.5 knots, with Paul in the dinghy and me on DW, it was very easy to see the bottom anytime the depth was 9′ or less. So during much of the time we were underway, we really got a sense of how to read depths, at least from about 6-1/2 or 7′ up to about 9′. We had to go by the chart because, of course, we had no working depth sounder. The part to make the repair is on its way.

Marsh Harbour is the third-largest city in the Bahamas, behind Nassau and Freeport, which are very 028 Marsh Harbour 1much larger cities. Marsh Harbour is on Great Abaco Island, which is about 110 miles long, maybe halfway down the island. No golf carts here, just lots of cars. There are some sidewalks, in better repair than we’re used to in CR, but the roads have a lot of potholes and some cracked pavement with the same odd white clay that we saw on Green Turtle. We’ve done a lot of walking here! The cruising guide has a map of some of the towns and where various things are located. It showed a supermarket on the road right across from the marina, so we were excited about not having to do a whole lot of walking to get to at least some services. Wrong! The supermarket, Maxwell’s, an absolute wonder, large, air-conditioned, and containing practically anything you might want, was at least 8 blocks from the marina. We walked over there with the rolling cart and Paul’s backpack, then walked back, having bought what we’ll need for the next few days.

And here037 Bahamian courtesy flag, just as in Green Turtle (and, for that matter, back in Vero Beach), cruisers are very friendly, offering lots of great advice. There’s also something we really hadn’t encountered until Vero Beach: happy hour or, as the Canadians say, “sundowners,” put on by the cruisers themselves. Everyone in the marina is welcome, just provide your own beverage and (usually) an appetizer to share. At Vero Beach,”happy hour” happened every Thursday, and appetizers were sometimes quite elaborate. In Green Turtle, we think there was a happy hour every afternoon, though we only attended that first day. And in Marsh Hrbour at the marina where we’re staying, it’s every afternoon, but no one takes any appetizers. A pleasant way to trade information or swap stories, indeed! (My drink of choice is usually orange juice or ginger ale; Paul’s is red wine, of course.) Then we head back to DW, where I make something for dinner. (At Vero Beach,the appetizers were sufficiently substantial that there was no need for dinner!)

Next, it’s on to Hope Town on Elbow Cay, about 8 nm from here.

Jan
26
2013

East Coast Sailing: Dispatch 19

IMG_2496Friday, 4/13/12:

Charleston, SC

We needed to decide whether to continue heading down the ICW or go outside into the Atlantic. Unlike much of the coast north of here, South Carolina and Georgia both have lots of places (about every 20 – 35 NM) that are safe to duck into to get to more protected waters. Another complication is that the ICW is not as well-maintained in south SC and all of GA, or as one of the cruising guides puts it, “…the depths listed are more for historical reference than [reflecting] reality.” And, finally, although up until now the ICW has been reasonably straightforward, going north-south, as one goes further south, it makes a series of lazy loops with a lot more east-west legs. It reaches a point in GA where you may travel for 2 SM or more in an easterly or westerly direction for every 1 SM of progress south.

We talked to Chip at the Charleston Maritime Center about favorable weather and wind conditions for making the Atlantic run down the coast, and with his advice, we felt reasonably confident that we’d be okay on Saturday to go outside.

IMG_2522Leaving Charleston Harbor, we were reminded that we weren’t in the ICW any more:  navigational aids were reversed, with red to port and green to starboard because we were heading out to sea, and we didn’t have the banks of the ICW comfortingly close. After all those days in the Great Dismal Swamp Canal and the ICW, it felt very strange indeed to be in open water.

Although it was a fast run (188 NM in about 34 hours, for an average of about 5.5 knots), as the wind strengthened well beyond predictions (sound familiar?) and veered more to the south, conditions got rougher, though nothing like the Falmouth-Cape May run. It was quite a relief to get to the St Mary’s entrance, however!

Sunday, 4/15:

St George’s Harbour Marina, FL (yes, they spell it the British and Canadian way, you American philistines),

We got to the St Mary’s entrance to the St John’s River in Florida in the mid-afternoon, and no sooner did we stop than we noticed how hot and muggy it was. Welcome to Florida! Not much nearby the marina, but they had showers, water, electricity, and ice, and – added bonus – a vending machine with cold sodas. OSD was happy to escape DW for a much-needed walk, and OSC was just happy to have the motion stop.

IMG_2524The marina is very nice, with concrete floating docks. Left behind are the fixed wooden piers from farther north, as the tidal range here (and in SC) is sufficient that fixed docks are impractical. This is great for a short, not terribly agile person like me:  I had all sorts of problems managing the fixed docks when the tide was out. Paul broke down and bought a plastic stepstool for me early on, and it was very helpful (even he used it a few times). The marina has something we’ve never seen before: a free washing machine and dryer, which we were very happy to put to good use.

Monday, 4/16:

Jacksonville, FL

We’re staying at a free dock tonight, and what a dock it is:  concrete piers and slips, all floating and all new! Water is available at no charge and power is available for about $7.50. Very nice, indeed. The only problem is that the marina is a long way from a grocJacksonville Metropolitan Marinaery store or other services, so even though the limit for staying is a very generous 72 hours, we’ll probably leave tomorrow, as we’re starting to run a little low on supplies. As Paul cruised around (at very low speed) deciding where to dock, there was a blue heron guarding the dock on one side, and across the marina on the other side, a large egret. Quite the elegant bird, sleek and pure white, later in the afternoon, it reached down for a drink (the St Johns River is fresh, not salt, water, of course):  it stretched out its long neck and took a sip, then repeated its actions. Watching it was thrilling!

Later, we talked to another cruiser in a trawler tied up at the marina. He travels back and forth between Florida and Long Island every year and told us about Jacksonville Landing, just up the St Johns River a couple of miles, where we’ll probably go tomorrow.Jacksonville 1

Tuesday, 4/17/12:

Jacksonville Landing/Green Cove Springs, FL

We waited to leave the free marina until nearly 0815 because we had to have a bridge open (mast is about 43′, and the bridge 31′), and it doesn’t open during rush hour, 0730-0900. Paul called on the VHF just before 9, and the tender could not have been nicer. Bridge tenders have run the gamut from silent (no response to our hails, but the bridge opening at its appointed time) to IMG_2536quite friendly, but in this instance it was surprising because the bridge’s opening disrupts a fairly heavily-travelled roadway. He responded immediately to Paul’s hail and had the bridge open promptly at 9, and waited to close it until a slightly-late sailboat (not us, I’m happy to say) had a chance to rush through. Some bridge tenders are very hard nosed about it:  If you’re not ready to go through at exactly the the scheduled opening time, you will wait for the next scheduled opening, which could be an hour or more. Sometimes there is current to deal with, so it can get a bit dicey.

A few minutes later we arrived at Jackson Landing, which proved to be just beyond the bridge, and only about a mile from the Metropolitan Park Marina where we’d stayed the previous night .After a bit of confusion over the “no mooring” signs (space reserved for water taxis), we found a place to tie up along the nearly empty dock, another free 72-hour dock. In season, it must be quite a zoo: signs everywhere saying that boats cannot raft (tie up next to each other) more than five boats deep and that the third and fifth boat out from the dock must have lines tied to the dock! (Sorry: not a zoo, but three-ring circus!) A nice couple who happened to be strolling along the dock stoIMG_2532pped to take our lines and waited while Paul maneuvered to get close enough to dock, normally not an especially fast process (nor was this an exception).

As usual when we dock reasonably early, I was hoping for breakfast ashore. Cheerios get a little boring after a while. Jacksonville Landing didn’t have any places open for breakfast. We started walking and found a policeman doing paperwork in his car, and he didn’t seem to mind the interruption, directing us to a breakfast spot. We found a different place along the way, called “International Cafe,” where Paul and I got to speak a little Spanish and I ordered eggs with chorizo (a spicy Mexican sausage that we both really like) in half a pita, then Paul walked back to DW and I went to a bookstore we’d passed. Chamblin Bookmine isn’t the largest bookstore I’ve ever been in, but it has far and away the best selection of books I’ve ever seen. In short order, I found six or seven great books, put several back, then knew I’d regret not buying one of the books, so added it back to my pile. Things like this really make my day/week/month. Of course, I now have five rather large books that I’ll be lugging around until we get back to Vashon …..

Afterward, Paul reminded me (by phone) to stop at the Visitors’ Center, which was just across the street from the bookstore. The staffer was great! She had maps, gave me directions, showed me where West Marine and Costco were on a map, explained how to get there, and did research for me about veterinarian clinics nearby in case we needed to get health certificates for OSC and OSD.

A little later I went back to the boat. It was maybe 1030 or so and already getting very warm (low 80s) and sticky. A municipal worker was sweeping the plaza at Jacksonville Landing and I asked him what Jacksonville is like in the summertime – it’s only mid-April, after all – and his response, “It’s absolutely brutal. Just unbearable.” There’s a fountain in the plaza and he said that he sometimes goes in it just to keep from getting heat stroke.

Jacksonville has been an unexpected pleasure all the way around. We both vaguely knew about this city in north Florida, but never thought much about it. It’s a huge city in area, bigger than LA or Phoenix (turns out it’s the largest city in area in the entire country), and larger than Miami in terms of population. (I’d have thought that Miami would be the largest city in FL, but that would be wrong: it’s Jacksonville.) People are so nice here! There were all sorts of galleries and museums we didn’t get to because Paul was anxious to continue on to our final destination on this leg, Green Cove Springs. Like Charleston and, earlier on, Boston, I’d love to return one day, though not during the summertime.

After a few hours at Jacksonville Landing, Paul was ready to continue on to Green Cove Springs, farther up the St Johns River and our final destination for now. DW will get hauled out at Green Cove Springs Marina, spending the rest of April through November or December on the hard, until we resume our trip. We got to the Reynolds Park Yacht Center (not quite as grand as it sounds, but it has all the requisites: water, power, showers, laundry facilities, and – bonus! – a guest lounge that’s air conditioned!)

We fly to DC in a few days, then collect our car in Deltaville, VA, where it’s been stored at the local Napa Auto Parts dealer, and start heading west. Next December or January, we’ll continue down the ICW, which Ellie, another cruiser here at the marina, says is just fine, well-marked and with adequate depths, and leave for the Bahamas from West Palm Beach, which is a good place to cross the Gulf Stream.

As my friend and former boss Chris would say, TTFN (ta-ta for now). I’ll be posting occasionally about our road trip and our move to Costa Rica (which should happen in August).

Jan
19
2013

East Coast Sailing: Dispatch 22

1/14/12, Lake Worth, FL:on the ICW south of Vero Beach

We’re finally on the move again! We have resumed heading down the ICW, although Paul would rather be offshore. To me, it’s just so much fun (except when powerboats with large engines go by at speed and really rock slower vessels like DW) getting to see the houses of the rich and famous and the not-so-rich and not-so-famous. Watching birds, flying, swimming, perching on pilings and ICW markers; people in all kinds of watercraft: sailboats, of course, powerboats, small skiffs, 100′ motor yachts (more about one of them in a moment), people on paddleboards, small skiffs at a standstill while the people are fishing, and one water taxi, full of people. And the houses, sometimes every one grander than the one before it, and other times whole neighborhoods that could be anywhere, but happen to have front yards looking out on the ICW.

Suddenly lots of high risesThe ICW is suddenly much busier than it has been at any point up until now. It may be a combination of just being in a more populated part of FL, and people heading to the FL Keys, the Bahamas, or elsewhere in the Caribbean. (When we were stuck in Vero Beach, which isn’t such a bad place to be stuck, one cruiser airily told me, “Oh, we never go to the Bahamas! We like the Caribbean so much better.”) Whatever it is, the ICW has a lot of vessels and DW is one of the slower ones. We rarely pass anyone other than boats stopped for fishing.

Most boats pass us and it’s no big deal. Some of the time, however, (and I’ve mentioned this before) some powerboat skippers seem to feel compelled to run their engines flat out and wind up generating quite a wake. Couple that with limited room for maneuvering and a disregard for Manatee Queenother vessels, and you have, let us say, the potential for hard feelings. Three power boats with large engines passed us quickly in succession, each one’s passing wake adding to the confusion left from the one before. It was not pleasant, but Paul was able to warn me so everything was secured in the cabin. A lot of stuff rattled around, but nothing fell. I’m sure when you’re barreling along at 30+ knots, you don’t think of such things. Pity the poor paddleboarders!

On the other hand, there was this: a large motor yacht, 100′ at least, passed us going barely faster than we were, so gently that there was no wake whatsoever. The courtesy the captain extended to us and to the other stragglers will stay with me. Another boat, a smaller power boat, hailed Paul on the VHF radio to let him know that they would be passing us on the port side. I cannot recall the last time anyone did that, but, again, it was an unexpected courtesy. People can be so nice bridge openingsometimes!

Today we went through the nine bridges that had to be opened for us. All of the earlier ones were easy:  on demand, and many of the bridge operators had the bridges fully open before we got to the bridge, so it was very easy. Of the four or five bridges at the end that were on schedules, it really wasn’t bad at all for us. The longest we had to wait was for 25 minutes, and Paul spent some of that time commiserating with the skipper of another sailboat that had been doing figure 8s, waiting for the bridge opening time, and made one of the loops a little too wide, managing to go aground in the mud on an ebbing tide. He was waiting for BoatUS to free him, so he could continue on his way to … Lake Worth, so he could cross to the Bahamas on Wednesday morning. Not knowing that he was aground (I assumed that he’d just put an anchor down Lighthouse on the ICW approachiing North Palm Beachwhile he waited for the bridge), I commented to Paul about how nice the boat was. His response:  “Well, Perry (Bob Perry, the designer) likes long keels.”  When I asked the skipper where he was going in the Abacos (which is where we’re going, as well), he said, “All of them!”

The forecast weather window we were hoping for continues to hold. There are 17 or 18 boats anchored here tonight (don’t know if the sailboat mentioned above is one of them), and in talking to a few of their captains or crew, I suspect that many people will be doing exactly as we’re planning to do: and a close up...leave Lake Worth Inlet in the late afternoon and make the crossing to the Bahamas. Fair winds and an easy crossing to us all!

This will be my last post until we cross the Gulf Stream and clear into the Bahamas.

One reminder to everyone: if these dispatches do not interest you, please, please let me know, and I’ll remove you from the email list. Comments are always welcome! (After we get to the Bahamas, though, internet access may be a lot more sporadic, so it may take a few days for me to respond.)

yes, the house is as big as it looksFor anyone interested, since leaving Nova Scotia on June 17, 2011, we’ll have sailed and motored a total of 3,373 nautical miles (estimate). We spent a total of 136 days on DW in 2011, and 60 (so far) in 2012.

We visited NS, ME, (skipped NH other than Isle of Shoals, which was on the ME/NH border), MA, (missed RI, CT, and NY) NJ, DE, MD, DC, VA, NC, SC (skipped GA), and FL. We hauled out in Portland, ME, to avoid Hurricane Irene, and were lucky that Tropical Storm/Hurricane Sandy missed us entirely. Two offshore passages: Falmouth, MA, to Cape May, NJ, which took 44 hours, and Charleston, SC to the St Johns River, FL, a 35 hour passage.

We had major work done on DW in VA (none of it a surprise) and came away with a shiny new Yanmar paddleboarders20 hp diesel, a brand-spanking-new tanbark junk sail, and other odds and ends. We have an expensive, very heavy-duty new autopilot, purchased at the boat show in Annapolis,MD. And we saw amazing wildlife and met some great people. I honestly cannot say which place was my favorite. How do you choose between travelling down the Great Dismal Swamp, a canal whose location was laid out by George Washington, and the sight of Boston or Washington, DC, from the water? Different experiences, but each memorable and wonderful.

I think my only regret in all of this is that we weren’t able to cruise between Long Island and the mainland, up Long Island Sound and the East River to get to see and experience that greatest American city, New York City, from the water. Those of you who have been on the dispatch list for a while mayIMG_3487 remember our terrible passage from Falmouth, MA, to Cape May, NJ. We had to make the decision whether to go into Long Island Sound, which is shallow (and in high winds can be pretty nasty) and which really doesn’t offer many places to stop in bad weather, though is fine sailing when the weather is good. Alas, predictions weren’t for good weather, and it was late enough in the season that Paul feared (correctly) that the fall weather was upon us. Paul’s regret is that after a solid month, we were still in FL (though if I recall, he probably said the same thing about VA…).

Fair winds and fine sailing, everyone!

Jan
19
2013

East Coast Sailing: Dispatch 21

on the way to Vero Beach12/26/12, Cocoa, FL

 Well, sometimes things don’t exactly go according to plan. We’ve been here two nights because there was a pretty good blow predicted (and which arrived right on schedule) today. Paul took care of a number of boat-related chores, mostly wiring, including wiring up some 110 volt outlets so we wouldn’t have to have cords strung all over when we hook up to shore power. Great idea, and the outlets look very professional.

 Then it came time to cook dinner – have I mentioned that I’m the cook? – and when I flipped the propane switch, which usually lights up when that happens, it remained dark. Okay, maybe ipelicans in flightt burned out between this morning and now. So I tried to turn on the propane stove anyway, and, you guessed it: nada! (nothing) Paul tried to trace the problem back, but only discovered that a couple of other lights that had been fine were also not working. He couldn’t figure it out,so brought out the single-burner butane stove. I am nothing if not flexible, so quickly changed my two-burner dinner to one requiring just one burner. Dinner was just fine.

Tomorrow, we’ll head down the ICW to the next stop, Vero Beach, and Paul will either trace the problem and fix it or he’ll call in a marine electrician to sort it all out. (Since the autopilot hasn’t worked since DW went in the water, and not for a lack of trying on Paul’s part, having a marine electrician take a look doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.)

 We do have a sort of plan around the Gulf Stream crossing. There are a limited number of places where it’s safe to crosFlorida mansion on the ICWs from the ICW to the Atlantic. One of those places is at Ft Pierce. We may continue “outside,” in the Atlantic between the Florida coast and the Gulf Stream, heading south for a few hours. The Gulf Stream has such a powerful push to the north (around 2-1/2 knots), that we want to use it rather than fight it. Our first stop may be a place called Green Turtle Cay (all of the Bahamas Cays – usually very flat islets, really – are pronounced “keys”), which Paul hopes to reach about 24 hours or so after we start out. So we need a weather window of south, southeast, or southwest winds of at least 24 hours in order to cross.

view along the ICWI have really been dreading this part of the trip. We’ve heard about bad crossings, as well as good ones, and it all seems to come down to really paying attention to the wind. If there’s any northerly component whatsoever, the crossing may be very unpleasant. Paul isn’t the most patient person, so we’ll see how all of this goes. (How many times on this trip down the East Coast has he told me: “It won’t get any better than this,” followed by a passage that only got rougher and rougher? Answer: too many! But once would be too many for me, and that is very unreasonable on my part. We’d probably still be waiting for favorable winds in Falmouth, MA, had it been up to me.)

 

 12/27/12, Vero Beach, FL:

 We met a couple here, who are aboard a slightly smaller boat than DW, a Cape Dory 28. They have done some extensivhome on ICWe sailing in the area (Caribbean, Bermuda and East Coast), and told us that they’d just tried to head out the same inlet we were planning to use and wound up returning to Vero Beach because waves just beyond the inlet were coming at them from three different directions. No fun at all! So we’re rethinking where to exit. They’re recommending a location we’d initially planned to use that’s about a day’s sail/motoring further south.

1/4/13, (still in Vero Beach …)

 We’re still awaiting a weather window, then may head south outside to avoid the many bridges that would otherwise have to be opened for us. There are nine bridges that have to be opened betweeIMG_3530n here and Lake Worth on the ICW. Because of the scheduled openings (some on the half hour and top of the hour, others :15 and :45, and still others by request) and restrictions at morning and evening rush hour (varies by location), it can be quite challenging and many sailors choose to do this portion of the trip between the FL coast and the Gulf Stream, which closes on the coast, to a point just 3 or 4 miles from Florida at Lake Worth (West Palm Beach). The harbormaster told me that a counter-current runs in places, which may give us a small boost as we head south.

Vero Beach has been a great place to stay. The municipality offers free bus service all over the area. There is a bus stop right at the city marina, where we’re staying. A very small marine chandlery (West Marine) and large grocery are on the bus route. Transferring to another line(also free!) can get you just about anywhere in the area, including the large mall, which is at least a 45 minute bus trip from the marina. I’m pretty excited about getting to see “Lincoln”at the AMC Theater at the mall, as it’s been more than a year since we’ve seen a movie.

We always jmarina 2oin a line of cruisers at the bus stop, and the buses are also heavily used by residents. It’s funny that something as simple as convenient transportation makes such a difference to the cruiser’s lifestyle. The municipality has to spend money buying and maintaining the small buses and paying the drivers, but cruisers and residents patronize local businesses, helping to keep them in business. Sure,there are a few empty storefronts, but compared to the very depressed Titusville (where the end of the Space Program as it had been is playing out), or downtown Jacksonville, Vero Beach is thriving.

Wildlife in this benign region has been a lot of fun to observe. One very dignified great blue heron likes to frequent the dock near where our boat used to be and where we now land the dinghy to go ashore. It used to complain when we landed, but now simply takes a dignified walk away from the small power boats where it watches for fish, and either goes to another dock or flies a short distance away to resume its watch.

We watched a very noisy woodpecker the other day, probing a palm for insects, never letting up its complaints. Was it complaining about us, warning other birds off, or scaring the insects? I don’t know enough to hazard a guess. How a woodpecker can probe for insects at the same time it’s warning us and other birds, I can’t imagine. Later there was squirrel chattering away as it made its way up another palm, then went silent as it sat in the palm’s crown foraging for nuts. It seems very odd to see this small,furry rodent, much more familiar to us in northern areas, here in subtropical Florida. Seems islet at the marinaout of place, somehow.

 Not out of place whatsoever are the lizards – scores of them! – we see on the dock near the marina office on very warm, sunny days. Most of them are maybe 2 or 3” long and tan. Until they move, they look rather like dried leaves, but they skitter away very quickly! There are also some slightly larger ones that are either dark brown or black. Not sure if they’re the same kind, just bigger and older, or if they’re another type entirely. There are only a few of the darker ones. Someone told me later that the color variation is due to where they live. The lighter ones make their homes high in the trees, whereas the darker ones live lower down.

 channel marker

 1/9/13, (still in) Vero Beach:

 We visited friends from Vashon who had moved to the FL Gulf (west) coast. There was the perfect weather window while we were gone (of course): a sustained gentle breeze from the south, but we were on the other side of the state, and in any case,Paul still needed to sort out the problem with the autopilot (finally corrected today after a lot of detective work on his part). We had a great time visiting Norm and Linda, meeting their new puppy and seeing their typical south FL house and their Island Packet 29. Their boat is much roomier and much more nicely finished than DW. The truth is, though, that I love our Nova Scotia home-finished boat! Funky, but it suits us both very well.

paddleboarder at dawn All of the boat projects are completed, including the autopilot and installation of a solar panel, and we hope to head south over the next few days, so we’re in place when there’s a break in the weather. There are only certain places where it’s safe to go “outside” (into the Atlantic). The first one is a little more than 10 nm south of here, and the next one south of there, the inlet most cruisers use to clear in at Green Turtle Cay, is another 40 miles.

I’ll send a final short dispatch before we cross, then will resume after we reach the Bahamas, as internet connections are available.

Jan
19
2013

East Coast Sailing: Dispatch 20

12/18/12**, Green Cove Springs (back in the water at last):

(**Back to the US date convention, now that we’ve left CR)

Paul spent about two weeks preparing DW for our next voyage: new water tanks, dw 1212anew bottom paint and zincs, plus other minor repairs. I have no doubt whatsoever that regardless of how much Paul has done and what he’s fixed, other stuff will crop up! It’s just the nature of sailing.

Being back in the US has felt very strange. We’ve had a rental car and I understand Paul’s complaints about the roads: wide, good roads with bright striping, but everyone drives so fast on the freeways! We’re so used to driving in CR: there is one stretch on the road we take to Alajuela that’s actually signed for 90 kph (about 55 mph), but that’s only for a few km; for most of the way, it’s 80 kph (50 mph) or less. So 70+ mph feels very fast, indeed.

And the supermarkets! I’d forgotten how big they are and how much variety there is, not to mention all of the out-of-season produce that’s available. One “innovation” we see here in FL is shrink-wrapped vegetables. I thought that maybe it was just at the one supermarket, but, no, we saw it at other chains. Just what I always wanted: shrink-wrapped bok choy! Maybe the shrink-wrapping extends the shelf life, so it makes sense. So used to just seasonal items being available, it was very surprising to see not just carrots and lettuce and cabbages, but … artichokes? green beans? Now where do they come from at this time of year?

JacksonvilleIt was very exciting to see hoisin sauce, which we haven’t seen anywhere in CR, not even at the American-style supermarket, which carries a lot of US products. Will I use it on the boat? Probably not, but again, my mindset really is Costa Rican: better buy it now because next time, the store may not have it in stock….. So of course I bought a jar.

First stop Jacksonville, then we spend about 8 – 10 days heading down the ICW, and then renting a car to visit friends on FL’s Gulf Coast, and waiting for a weather window to cross the approximately 55 nm to Freeport.

 

12/21/12, Palm Coast, FL:ICW

Back to the cruising life: pump your fresh water from the tap with your foot pump, make sure you have plenty of ice for the ice box, and heat the hot water you need for dishes on the two burner propane stove. Given the variable weather, we’ve had to dig out heavy blankets one night when it got down into the 40s, and then threw them off the next night when the low was in the 60s. Paul had to find the foul weather gear he bought for our Alaska trip (back in 2005) because today it was sunny, breezy (around 15 knots), and cold, with highs in the This is Florida???50s. Lows tonight and tomorrow night will be around freezing, so we’ll use the propane heater to stay warm. The heater is tiny, but keeps the cabin toasty. Welcome to subtropical Florida!

As always when cruising, we’ve met some very nice people. It is surprising how generous people are with their knowledge. Paul and I have both asked a number of people about crossing the Gulf Stream and about the Bahamas. Differing opinions about where to go, but everyone is enthusiastic, and everyone talks about the clarity and color of the water.

In the meantime on the home front, our housesitters are settling into our house and getting used to las mascotas. CRD (Costa Rica Dog, AKA Oksana) immediately bonded with the husband, and, in fact, she spent the last night I was there sleeping in their room rather than on her blanket near me, so smitten was she. CRC (our 17-1/2 year old cat Mischa) took longer to adjust to the new people, but evidently is also doing fine. It was very hard for me go on board DW this trip and not have OSC (OSC=Official Ship’s Cat) and OSD waiting. I really miss them, but Paul pointed out that this is much easier for them and for him, as well. He was always the one to row ashore when OSD needed to relieve herself.

The other day when we were tied up in Jacksonville Beach, I watched a great egret pelicanscarefully wading in the shallows, followed by what almost could have been babies, except that they looked very duck-like and colorful: probably harlequin ducks, about half a dozen of them, just waiting for any small fish the egret stirred up, and bringing up the rear was another high-stepping wader, a great blue heron. A short distance away there was a pair of pelicans. Pretty amazing bird life within about 15′! (And it must have been very good fishing.)

12/23/12, Daytona Beach, FL:

The weather has broken and it’s actually pleasant to be outside in the cockpit. Afterfishing along the ICW days of seeing no one other than bundled-up marina staffers, we’re increasingly coming upon men out fishing in the warm sunshine, as well as that peculiarly Southern thing, people lounging in their chairs or leaning over the railing on their private piers. Some of the piers are designed to handle small power boats, but others have no purpose other than as a place for people to take advantage of being on the ICW: long outdoor decks that happen to be over the water. Everyone is friendly, returning our waves as we go by. Calm or light winds, sunny days: it’s all very pleasant and the bitterly cold and windy conditions are past, at least for now.

Lots of wildlife as we travel down the ICW: I stood on the wooden benccormorants, gulls and pelicans...h seat in the cockpit, taking everything in while Paul was driving DW (can’t say “sailing,” when all you’re doing is running the engine and the sail cover hasn’t even been removed from the sail). Not quite warm enough to be sitting at the bow, as when we were in the Great Dismal Swamp, it was still possible to see most of what was passing by. It was a thrill for us to see one or two egrets, those snowy white birds as large as great blue herons, but today we saw them in flocks, congregating along the shore, on sand spits, and on a few low grassy congregating egretsrises. Hundreds of them in one place! We saw pelicans, including one perched rather precariously on an ICW channel markers.

Dolphins surfaced alongside the boat, close enough that it was startling. Paul said that one swam alongside DW for a bit. Used to orcas in the Pacific Northwest, it’s surprising how much smaller these dolphins are, maybe only 6 or 8′. As we crossed Mosquito Lagoon, a very wide, though quite shallow, body of water, we saw four playing a distance in front of us, another small group well behind us, and several near the boat. They didn’t seem to be hunting, just playing in the warm water.

houses on the ICWAs in many of the places we’ve been along the ICW, lots of “McMansions” line the waterway, some quite grand (at least as grand as those we saw in NC and SC). But continuing along the ICW, a short distance beyond, we’d see mobile homes or RV parks, with equally beautiful views of the ICW. And on many stretches, nothing but grasses, palmettos and other trees, or scrubby brush. One of the cruisers I talked to said, “Oh, the ICW is so boring,” having taken it for close to a dozen trips. Maybe after a dozen times, I’d feel the same way, but for now, it’s sheer pleasure.

 

Nov
8
2012

Moving to CR: Dispatch 5

12/10/12:

I am more than a little embarrassed to admit that I haven’t driven here yet. I think I can handle the traffic in San Ramon, the speed bumps (“reductor” here in CR, for reductor de velocidad), stray dogs, and people walking on the side of the road on the road we take through Los Angeles Sur to get to San Ramon. But our driveway is fairly steep, you need some speed in order to make it up to the top, and just as you get to the top, you need to slow down to take the bump at the correct place between the differing angles of the driveway and dirt road so you don’t “bottom out.”

I’m short enough that even though in most circumstances I can see just fine, because of the angle of the driveway, I cannot see it. And added to that, there’s a pretty good hill on one side of the driveway, so if you get off the driveway into the softer grass, it would be difficult to get the car back onto the driveway. The place where the car gets parked is also at a 90° angle from the driveway and there’s not a lot of room to turn around (and the hill alongside gets steeper). Sounds intimidating, but it’s really not much different from thousands of other driveways in CR. There’s a second driveway up above, which Paul initially used without incident. Unlike our lower, steeper driveway, the upper driveway consists of two concrete tracks, each a bit wider than a vehicle wheel. Not a problem if you’re exactly on it. Paul discovered, unfortunately, that if you make a slight miscalculation, you wind up with three wheels on the concrete tracks and one wheel in the air. After having to have a neighbor help pull the car out once and putting a loose concrete block below the airborne wheel beneath it on a second occasion a day or two later, he’s parked below ever since.

Some driveways are perfect:  paved, nearly flat, wide (so it’s easy to turn around), and with good visibility of the road. Most, however, are much more like ours, but may be even steeper, dirt (and very muddy when it rains). There may be no way to turn around once you get to the house, and the driveway may be both very narrow and winding. So in the scheme of things, we have a very good driveway, although that doesn’t actually make it any easier to navigate if you’re not familiar with driving to and from the house. Of course our neighbors across the street and next door both have flat, wide, easy-to-turn-around-in driveways. I keep trying to remind myself that the terrain is different in each of these places, but that doesn’t prevent me from wishing our driveway were flatter and wider.

I’ve been thinking about how to solve the problem. We cannot do anything about the angle at the top of the driveway because it would cost a fortune to rebuild it and the angle also serves to channel the water from the frequent downpours here. I believe there may be a solution of sorts regarding visibility: putting something in along the driveway that won’t grow into the driveway to make it even narrower, nor out into the grassy area, making it harder for Chico to mow.

The solution I thought of was to ask Chico if he could cut some bamboo from our neighbor’s bamboo patch (forest is more like it), about 2 meters long, maybe 14 or 16 poles. He’d cut off some bamboo for a banister going down the stairs to the lower yard, and thought that would be the right diameter, but I asked for them to be a little smaller. I told him in bad Spanish how I wanted them staggered (and even showed him the word in the dictionary), then, because he didn’t understand, showed him what I was talking about. Ah, he said, zig zag! (Who knew?) So a few days later, he had 13 bamboo poles that he’d cut. He cleaned them, scraping off all the mold, and what I didn’t realize is how gorgeous they are:  each one different, striped with green, dark spots, plain: I can imagine an art project with them. Paul put several coats of varnish on them, and they were even more beautiful. In a few days, Chico will put them in the ground next to the driveway, and we’ll see how that works out. If nothing else, we’ll have some gorgeous bamboo poles marking the driveway, but if the bamboo poles work, I’ll be driving here before long. Only nine of the poles were used, so the remainder will be used in other projects. Sturdy, lightweight, and durable, the bamboo poles are very versatile.

People living here have told us that materials (concrete, steel rebar, and other construction supplies) are expensive, but labor is not. We see this in municipal projects and other projects every day. It’s quite surprising to watch projects up close and see what workers are able to accomplish with little more than a shovel. When we lived in the cabinas, we watched workers clean out a culvert and line it with concrete. In the US, it would be constructed with backhoes and other heavy equipment, putting in those very large diameter concrete pipes, which are great so long as the volume of water doesn’t exceed their capacity. Here in CR, the culvert was fairly deep and U-shaped, but the top of the U was about twice as wide (or wider) than at the bottom. It will carry a lot of water! And in the rainy season, every bit of that capacity will be needed. Workers cleaned out the culvert, widened it, flattened the bottom of the ditch, then mixed their concrete, spread it out and scraped and shoveled until it was smooth. They did a great job, and the torrents of rain will be contained nicely.

Our neighbor is having a retaining wall constructed next to the road, which will serve two purposes:  to flatten the slope of his lawn, making it easier to mow, and to help keep the dust down when cars drive by in the dry season. Aside from the delivery van delivering the mountain of supplies required for the project and the cement mixer on site, everything is being done by hand. Mauricio, the superintendent, and two or three workers are doing what is truly a masterful job on this wall. The trench for the foundation for the wall is ramrod straight, and the concrete blocks and rebar look very well-constructed, all of it done using mostly hand tools!

29/10/12:

The wall is now completed, save for the final coat of paint. Right now, it’s painted a light blue, which is quite attractive, though it doesn’t match the house or other fences near the house (house is almost a mustard yellow; other concrete fences, wind breaks, and retaining walls are a sort of red-purple). The light blue is evidently primer for the concrete wall, and it will receive its final coat of paint in a few days ,when the weather is warmer and drier.

 

4/11/12:

We thought we needed to go on a border run before our 90-day visa expired on 29/10, so I made arrangements for us to go on a package trip to Bocas del Toro, Panama, 32 km from the border with Costa Rica on the Caribbean Sea. (Summary of a long story:  turns out that we didn’t need to go after all, but decided to keep our reservation, anyway.)

The airplane was tiny, a DeHavilland DHC 6, which carries 19 passengers. It was a very noisy, but short flight, just 50 minutes from San Jose to Bocas. Because the plane was not pressurized, it flew low above the countryside, and the scenery was spectacular:  first passing over the city of San Jose (at around 500,000, smaller than Seattle or Vancouver, BC, and completely dwarfed by places like Phoenix, LA, or Mexico City), but which seemed so large because we were flying so low over it and it took so long to do so. Not much later, we saw isolated communities here and there on the slopes of impossibly steep mountainsides; ridge upon ridge of mountains that were fairly high, but, this being the tropics, not a single one had any snow whatsoever. We did pass over or very near the highest mountain in Costa Rica, Mt Chirripó (12,530′). We also passed over flatter areas, where there were vast tracts of land being farmed, mostly in sugar cane or bananas. Here and there, as we flew slightly south and then east, I tried to identify what we were flying over. I didn’t think to bring a map, so never did quite figure it out. Suddenly there was the coast and breakers, and it became obvious:  the Caribbean!

We landed at Bocas right on time, and the lower elevation – sea level instead of 4000′ – really hit us:  it was hot and it was humid! The package deal was for two full days (land at 0830 on Tuesday and depart at 0900 on Thursday) and we both wondered how we’d cope with the heat, but the day we landed turned out to be the hotter of the two days and the hotel had excellent air conditioning. A lot of people really like Bocas. It’s a slightly down-at-the-heels beach town, with that tropical Caribbean ambiance. The first day we wandered around the town and had the best Indian food we’ve had since having dinner at Maharajah’s in West Seattle. 

The second day we signed up for one of those package snorkeling/birdwatching-boat-tour-around-the-island trips. We stopped several times, first at a rather dark and rickety windowless store for snacks and bottled water, then at a beach where we could swim and buy lunch and souvenirs. (Lunch was about what you might expect.) We went to a place called Bird Island (Isla Pajaros, pronounced EEs-la PAH-ha-ros), which was wonderful, with birds the likes of which we’d never seen before, and eroded arches covered with vegetation. After we got back to the hotel, the man who arranged the tour told us that Bird Island is his favorite place for snorkeling, but I had to tell him that it was too rough to stop and do any snorkeling there that day. It turns out that the tropical storm and later hurricane named Sandy was churning things up.

All in all, we enjoyed our trip, though are not in a hurry to rush back. Several people we talked to while we were all waiting to fly back to CR had travelled all over Panama and suggested going to Panama City for its history and to Boquete, which is in Panama’s highlands, for its beauty. At some point we may do so, but there is so much else to see elsewhere in Central America and in South America, it may be a while before we manage to go back to Panama.

 

5/11/12:

It hardly seems possible that we’ve been here for three months. Paul has been extremely busy with consulting work and I’ve been teaching, ”facilitating,” an English conversation class with some adult students. They have impressive English skills for being at an intermediate level, and we’ve had some wide-ranging discussions, ranging from the major earthquake on 5/9 that shook most of the country that Wednesday prior to the first class, to government inefficiency, to illegal immigration in CR and in the US, to a real shocker of a comment made by a high school teacher who sometimes attends. He told us that a gringo had told him that American high school students are well-behaved and listen to their teachers! It was hard to convince him that perhaps the other gringo was pulling his leg. Oh, misinformation ….. The first day of class, I pointed out that all of them spoke better English than I did Spanish. All of them can express complex ideas in English. Me? I can express the ideas of a 2-year old, maybe.

For both of us, Spanish continues to be both a source of frustration and one of some pride when one of us actually understands something in the real world where people speak at normal speed. And it’s interesting what I understand that Paul doesn’t and vice versa. It’s rarely the same thing! And there are so many times when neither of us quite gets it. Sometimes I feel as if I’m just on the verge of understanding, and on other occasions, I understand absolutely nothing. Unfortunately, those are often, though not always, the times when Paul understands not a word, either. If people would only speak   s l o w l y   for us poor recent arrivals. (I’ve said this before, but please think about this when you meet someone in the US whose English may not be the best.)

When we return to CR at the beginning of April, I’ve talked to Paul about doing one of those one- or two-week Spanish immersion classes. A couple we know from the cabinas is taking a class in Heredia (ay-RED-ee-ah), about 45 minutes away from San Ramon. The institution they attend also has an immersion program. Both of us will likely forget a lot of what Spanish we’ve both worked so hard to learn during the more than three months we’ll be away from CR when we’ll be aboard “Dragon’s Wing.” Other than Puerto Rico and Cuba, in most of the Bahamas, where we hope to head to in December, most of the people speak English. Pimsleur tapes and Spanish-language books and other learning tools are all well and good, but nothing really substitutes for being in a Spanish-speaking country speaking and hearing Spanish. Doing an immersion program when we return should help jump-start our skills and maybe help retrieve some of that lost language.

Sep
30
2012

Moving to CR: Dispatch 4

9/9/12:

We did our usual trip to the feria (farmers’ market) on Friday. I have gotten into the routine of stopping at one booth, where there is a large griddle set up and a woman (sometimes with a helper, but usually alone) makes tortillas with a variety of toppings, or pupusas (Salvadoran turnovers), using the same masa or dough. She has an enormous white bucket filled with the prepared masa, pulls out just the right amount of masa for a tortilla or pupusa, gets out a heavy plastic round and places the masa on it, then starts using the side of her hand to pound the masa until it completely fills the template. Next, she takes the plastic with the tortilla and flips the dough onto the hot griddle, peeling the plastic off. Then she grabs a large handful of cheese or other ingredients she has at the ready, depending on what the customer ordered, and puts the toppings/fillings on. Then when the bottom of the tortilla is sufficiently browned, she either covers it with another piece of dough (for a pupusa) or simply flips it without the additional dough on top. Why the cheese doesn’t stick to the griddle is a mystery, but it never does.

I always order a pupusa. It’s filled with refried beans, some spiced meat, cheese, grilled onions and peppers. She usually cuts it into four or six pieces and hands it to me on a paper plate. It’s so hot that I force myself to wait a few minutes before I start tearing pieces off, but always manage to burn my fingers in the process because I can never wait long enough. It’s one of my favorite things, and costs ¢1100, or around $2.25. Paul finds a place to sit and waits for me.

We don’t always stop at the pork vendor, but this time we got some chuletas, those divine smoked, very lean and nearly boneless, pork chops. One acquaintance refers to the vendor as “the pork boys,” and the name has stuck, even though several of the staff are women. They’re one of the vendors with a refrigerated case and usually have an assortment of sausages, ham, bacon, the aforementioned chuletas, and other meats, though no chicken or fish (other vendors have those). We were having friends over for dinner on Saturday night, and I was making a dish with sweet potatoes, carrots, black beans, and smoked pork. At another stall, I bought some sweet potatoes – much drier than their American counterpart, but delicious nonetheless – and something for which there is no American equivalent: pejibayes, or “peach palm.”

At PriceSmart (started by the same founder as Costco), a while back they were offering samples of canned pejibayes: pay-hee-bah-yays in regular Spanish, but pay-hee-bah-jays in Costa Rica, where the y and the ll are both pronounced as j. Or as our Spanish teacher, the excellent Johann, said, “You don’t want to speak with an accent do you?” PriceSmart offered their pejibaye samples with mayonnaise, the traditional way of serving them. Paul and I thought they were delicious, so I bought several cans. (It being PriceSmart, like Costco, if we only wanted a single can, too bad.) They’re long gone, so I got some cooked ones at the feria to go in the stew. Pejibayes need to be cooked for several hours prior to being used, and at least one vendor offers cooked ones, which get fished out of the hot water in which they’re kept. They’re a bit smaller than a peach, have a skin which must be removed, and, like a peach, orange flesh. The texture is a bit like a slightly-undercooked winter squash, and the flavor is mild, slightly nutty and very rich. There’s one large black seed inside, a bit smaller than that of a peach, and easily removed. I like them with mayonnaise, too, but they were wonderful in the stew!

When I remember, I also pick up a bunch of flowers at the feria, the cost of which is between ¢1000 and ¢1500. Paul has to have half a papaya for breakfast every morning and always goes to the same vendor, who now greets Paul as a regular, shaking his hand and picking out a couple of very nice papayas for him each time. There are other vendors selling papayas, but Paul has developed a nice relationship with “his” vendor.

Each week at the feria, I try to remember to pick something up that I’ve never used before. One week not so long ago, several vendors had some green or orange “things” that were on a stalk, each of the things maybe a little bigger than those tiny new potatoes you can find at the grocer’s. I asked about them at one of the vendors, using my best bad Spanish, how do you cook these vegetables? “Cook?” he replied, “no, they’re fruit! You don’t cook them.” Then he told me they were very rich and sold me a bag of reddish and orange ones. They’re called jocotes (ho-CO-tays), and I had to get on the CR forum to ask how to handle them. Turns out that they get blanched to make them easier to peel, then you pull off the peel and pretend that the peel is an artichoke leaf, and use your teeth to scrape the jocote flesh from the peel. Then you’re left with an enormous seed, with a very thin layer of jocote flesh adhering to it. It takes a lot of effort to eat them, it’s true, but they are delicious. I really cannot describe the flavor, but the vendor was right: muy rico (very rich), indeed!

 

17/9/12:

A neighbor told us about the lecheria (dairy) about a mile north of us. It’s a tiny place, but crammed with a refrigerator case with dairy products and piles of packaged items on top of the glass case and in wire shelves next to the entrance, beside the back door, behind the glass case ,and against the wall. For such a small space, it has a remarkable variety of food!

They have wonderful fresh sour cream, cheeses, milk (raw, don’t tell the USDA), and all sorts of packaged items, including very good sugar cookies that we always buy. The same neighbor told us that if we arrive shortly after they open at 7, they’ll have available milk from cows that have just been milked. We show up at other times, too, but if I need milk, that’s the time we arrive, The milk is delicious, although Paul refuses to drink it (though that is the milk I use in cooking). I guess maybe I’m taking a chance, but, I haven’t been sick. (And the milk is so good that I sometimes pour myself a glass just for the pleasure of drinking it, which I haven’t enjoyed so much since I was a kid!)

Paul’s favorite thing there is the gleaming commercial espresso/cappuccino maker, and on those mornings when we pick up some milk, he gets a café con leche for ¢600. It seems so out of place with the bags of sour cream and cheese, but there it is.

They have all sorts of interesting cheeses, some of which we like better than others. My absolute favorite is a cheese that comes in small balls, a dark tan on the outside and pale tan on the inside. It’s a gouda-type smoked cheese, and everyone we’ve introduced to it has liked it. I am sure they smoke it in-house, as the outside sometimes has burned bits clinging to it. They also have a few varieties of goat cheese and fresh mozzarella. One of those things we were warned about is how terrible the cheese is in CR. Of course, you cannot get traditional cheddar, and the parmesan is either imported or from Monte Verde (a premium cheese-maker in CR) and very expensive, but some of the other cheeses are delightful! Fancy? No: you won’t find the variety of a good cheese importer like PFI, Pacific Food Imports, in south Seattle, with their 25′ long dairy case with 50+ kinds of spectacular cheese, but we’ve found very good basic cheese here. No doubt we’ll notice the lack of cheddar at some point, but we’ve also heard that there’s a new cheese shop that’s opened in San Ramon, so you never know…..

And this brings us back to the feria and my favorite grocery store, Gran Bodega:  If you choose to eat more or less as you ate in the US, you will pay a fortune. American-style meats, cheese, and prepared items are available here, but they are a king’s ransom, far more than you’d pay for the same item in the US. If you use the foods available at the feria and local markets and eat, for example “spinach,” which bears only a passing resemblance to spinach you may be used to in the US, but which is quite good as a gently cooked vegetable, you will do just fine. Many familiar produce items, like tomatoes, beautiful, sweet cucumbers and zucchini, onions and garlic, gorgeous eggplants, and even broccoli and cauliflower, are all available here, not to mention all the tropical fruit and vegetables grown here or in Panama. Most weeks, including my pupusa and flowers (and Paul’s papayas), we spend around $20 or $25 at the feria.

If we cannot find what we’re looking for at the feria, it will usually be available at Gran Bodega. It’s not a large store, but they have a small refrigerated case with meats, chicken parts, and fish, along with all sorts of fresh fruit and vegetables and beautiful fresh herbs, which are used medicinally rather than for seasoning in CR. I’m always happy to use fresh thyme, basil, parsley, etc in cooking!

 

20/9/12:

Our Spanish is getting better by millimeters, but it is improving nonetheless. I went to our next door neighbors’ today to ask them a question. We got to talking, then a friend of theirs stopped by. They switched to Spanish because that’s all their friend speaks, and they spoke slowly enough that I understood maybe a third or more of what they were saying, including some of the jokes. Ernesto (our neighbor) translated parts of the conversation some of the time, but I didn’t always need it. Paul was here at the house getting ready for our Spanish lesson, but I figured that I was learning Spanish without the lesson!

But just when I begin to think that I’m making real progress, someone speaks to me in Spanish, and either I don’t understand the words themselves (more on that in a moment), or people speak so fast that I don’t have any idea what they’re talking about. My guess is that they’re often just making polite conversation, and here I am, totally mystified! One of the interesting issues is that so much of Spanish in Costa Rica – not all of it, by any means, but enough – are words unique to CR, called “tiquisimas.” There’s also a manner of speaking and words used by campesinos, called “pachuco,” which are also not in my dictionary.

Chico, the wonderful man who comes to cut our grass (using a weed whacker) and do whatever gardening he thinks should be done. He speaks just a few words of English, but is patient and he and I can talk after a fashion; Paul is also usually able to talk to him. He is a lovely, lovely man, and uneducated, maybe, but very smart, nonetheless. Paul and two of our neighbors were using bamboo poles that Chico had cut down from another neighbor’s property and prepared, and Paul had varnished, as supports for a ham antenna, which also required installing guy wires. Chico saw that they were struggling, assessed the situation, and then both worked alongside the other three and helped direct everyone so the four of them together installed the two large (about 25′ or more high) bamboo poles, the guy wires, and antenna materials. He’d never done anything like this before, but was able to figure it all out! At one point all four of them were trying to determine the right angle/location for the tethers for the wires, while still avoiding the trees and bushes that were in the way. Chico tied the wires off, then eyeballed things and determined where everything should go. So there he was directing an engineer, artist, and PhD. It was pretty funny to watch, but thanks to Chico, it all worked, and the ham radio is fully operational.

 

Sep
27
2012

Moving to CR: Dispatch 3

 

31/08/12:

This week marks San Ramon Days, which culminated in the parade of saints yesterday. There have been all manner of activities and events: food vendors with a different theme each day; singers, dancers, horse parades, parade of the oxcarts (elaborately painted oxcarts, with boyeros, oxcart drivers, urging on their oxen – and from what we’ve heard from observers, the boyeros have usually begun imbibing early enough that their driving can get downright interesting), and more.

We saw a poster a few days ago, and everything was in español, of course, and without a dictionary, I could only guess as to what the events were. We noted the “dancing horses” parade happening on Wednesday evening, the procession of the saints on Thursday morning, and the boyeros on Sunday.

On Wednesday evening, a few kilometers north, it was cloudy and threatening rain when we left. Paul had his umbrella and his windbreaker; I only had my windbreaker, preferring to carry less rather than more. We parked a few blocks from the park and main San Ramon church where events were centered, sat on one of the concrete benches in the park for a while, then wandered around, finding temporary booths with tin roofs that had been erected the previous week lining the perimeter, especially along the street between the park and the church. A few catered to kids (cotton candy, peanut snacks and the like), but most offered basic Costa Rican food. There were hundreds of people milling around or sitting in makeshift dining areas, at long, rough tables and sitting in plastic chairs. We got our food from a couple of nearby vendors and found a place to eat, moving on to let others sit when we were done.

Earlier while we were outside sitting in the park, we watched the weather change, from broken clouds to overcast skies, then flashes of lightning, but no thunder. After we had something to eat, despite the noise of all of the people talking, music blaring from some of the vendors’ booths, and people shouting to each other across the street, we could hear the unmistakable rumble­ of thunder and a pretty good rainstorm hitting the metal roof. I wanted to see a little better, so we moved to the wooden walkway, which was raised about 3” above the concrete pavers covering the area.

About 10 minutes before the dancing horses were scheduled to begin, a band began to play, and an announcer spoke about the evening’s activities and upcoming events (we think that’s what he was talking about, at any rate). And the heavens opened up and it started to pour! The roll of distant thunder could be heard, and there was more lightning. (The band was playing in a covered area across the street, next to the church.) I wondered if the equestrian event would be cancelled, but San Ramon Days always happen during this week in August and the rainy season is well underway by this point. I guess everyone is used to the rain.

Perhaps five or ten minutes after things were scheduled to begin, the first horse and rider appeared, drenched by the rain, but the horse gamely going through his paces. Then the next horse and rider, and the next and the next, each doing different fancy steps. But then the rain started coming down even harder, the streets and sidewalks were streaming, and the riders changed their routines, still with horses stepping high, but more safely, less likely to slip and fall. It could have been deadly for both the well-trained horses and their riders. At one point as a horse was going by, there was a bolt of lightning and a very loud crack of thunder at the same moment. The horse winced, but remained calm. It was amazing. The performers were fantastic, but I felt for all of them: performing in the torrential rain on inundated streets, and both horse and rider sopping wet. At least the rain was warm…

And that wooden walkway where we were standing? The concrete pavers were also streaming with all the rain that simply couldn’t run off as fast as it came down, so nearly everyone standing on the concrete wound up with wet feet. The hundreds of us on the wooden walkway? Feet dry, thank you very much, although once we headed back to the car, Paul stayed dry under his umbrella and I carefully made my way through the rain, protected from the deluge only by my windbreaker. (and all that just to avoid carrying the weight of my fairly small collapsible umbrella. It was not worth it.)

A friend here told us that we could skip the parade of saints and just look at them all lined up inside the church tomorrow or on Saturday, but, oh, we would have missed everything! We arranged to meet some friends near the end of the parade, when the saints are paraded into the church.

I imagined a bunch of grim-faced people shouldering some large statues, doing this as penance, and was not so sure what we were in for. Paul dropped me off a few blocks away, and I walked toward the meeting place. There were wagons and flowers and platforms, and saints of all description and size; marching bands practicing. Grim? No, a joyous occasion for each community group and school or church to celebrate its patron saint! People were gathering everything together, assembling and beginning to march to join the procession.

Thousands of people, participants and well-wishers, the rector of the church going to the sound truck (parked for just this occasion), explaining over the loudspeaker what was happening (and he spoke slowly enough that I even understood some of what he was saying), and then introducing each group as it made its way toward the church. The San Ramon police had their saint; the firefighters, theirs. Some school bands had the traditional glockenspiel and drum combos, but there were guitars, accordions, horns. Some people were in uniform, while others were just wearing matching hats,and still others just marching and singing in their everyday clothes. Paul and I both had a great time and it would have been such a shame to have missed it! (See the saints lining the church walls, indeed.) I’m trying to figure out how our community can get its own patron saint so we can march next year.

Afterward, we wandered around, going through a chainsaw-carving area (yikes! though the carvers switched to chisels when they were done roughing out the basic shape), then on to painters. I found one painting I really wanted to buy, but couldn’t talk Paul into the ¢110,000 ($220) cost. Artists were painting, and it was fun to watch. It really seemed as if there was something for everyone to enjoy.

 

2/9/12:

The final day of San Ramon Days celebrated boyeros, oxcart drivers of those often fantastically-painted oxcarts. (CR was a mostly rural society until perhaps 40 years ago, maybe less.) Unlike the horse parade on Wednesday or the Procession of the Saints on Thursday, both of which started very close to the time originally scheduled, the oxcart parade was seriously delayed. We arrived maybe 10 minutes prior to the original start time of 10 am, scoring a place behind the barricades with a great view of the street. Skies were filled with broken clouds, but at least for the moment, seemed benign. There weren’t many bystanders at that point.

We waited and waited: 10:30 passed,then 10:45, and the streets started filling up with audience members. Around 11, Paul craned his neck and said that he could see some of the boyeros and their oxcarts way down the street. By this time, it was very cloudy and the wind had picked up a bit. The areas behind the barricades were packed. Finally, finally, around 11:15, the boyeros and their pairs of oxen started their slow march down the street, and after the first boyero, pair of oxen and cart passed by,it started to pour, and by “pour,” the rains were torrential. We were under cover,but at one point,the wind drove the rain into the barricade, and a number of us stepped back a bit, trying to avoid stepping on those behind us. I felt just terrible for the boyeros and their oxen. They all stolidly proceeded, some of the carts partially covered with tarps to protect them from the worst of the rain.

The first “float” consisted of about eight women dressed in white, gamely waving, who were being honored as women (mothers) of great distinction, all of whom had ben selected and nominated by their communities. All were helped off the truck as soon as they passed by, perhaps to get them out of the sudden downpour. The next to appear was a girl of about 4 or 5 who was dressed in a pink rain slicker and using reins to pull the yoke of two enormous oxen and the cart they were pulling. [I will update the website within the next day or two – it's woefully out of date! – and will post her picture along with several others.] She was so cute and such a trouper! No complaints, just doing what she’d rehearsed. It was great. Most of the boyeros were wonderful, and the carts were not decorated,but were extravagantly painted. There was an award to be given for the best cart, and I cannot imagine how anyone could choose: so many of them were just stunning! (Maybe the skills of the boyeros driving the carts also came into play, but my Spanish skills are still so inadequate, it wasn’t possible to find out.)

We needed to leave around noon to grab a bite to eat and then head back home, so didn’t quite get to see all of it. About 12:30, the rain stopped and the skies cleared, so everyone dried out and no doubt had a great time on that final day.

It has been so much fun for us to get to be part of it all. And we heard from friends that the best food is actually served in the church, so next year we’ll have even more to look forward to!

 

 

Aug
19
2012

Moving to CR: Dispatch 2

15/8/12:

We’re starting to settle in. Public transportation isn’t as convenient as it was at the cabinas, (anyone taking the bus or ferry in Seattle knows about schedules for commuters, and that’s the case here) so we decided to look for a car.

Paul had already been thinking about buying a car. It couldn’t be too large both because of fuel consumption and parking issues; it had to have high clearance due to the rocks on our road and the angle at which the driveway meets the road. It also needed to have four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. It needed to have four doors so we could accommodate friends and family who may visit. And parts have to be available in CR. Lots of great cars are out there, but if the parts have to be imported from the US, it could take a while should anything break.

Cars are just a little more than they are in the US. CR imposes taxes on the importation of all cars whether new or used, though used cars are subject to a higher tax rate. And just because NADA or Kelley’s Blue Book says that a car equipped with X accessories and with Y mileage is worth $Z, it doesn’t mean that that’s what CR authorities would say about the value. It doesn’t matter what you paid, the value is determined by Hacienda. So that $4K car you’d find in the US (late 90s, high mileage, but mechanically sound?) It sells for around $10K or $11K or more in CR.

People have done all sorts of things around having a car in CR: shipping one in a container; paying a car-finding service here in CR to find a car in the US and import it; or buying a car here from a private party or a dealer. Although we’d heard good things from friends here about the car-buying service, we decided to go looking on our own. We did exactly what we’d do in the US (before we discovered Costco’s car dealer list), and went looking. Because of the need for high clearance, smaller size, relative affordability and reliability, we narrowed it down to a Toyota RAV4 or a Suzuki Grand Vitara (though they’re 6 cylinders and not as economical). One dealer almost talked us into a diesel Mitsubishi Montero: fantastic mileage, but they’re so big! Parking something like that in downtown San Ramon, let alone somewhere like Alajuela or San Jose would be tough.

Some dealers specialized in newer cars, others had mostly near-wrecks on their lots. We looked at cars in several used car lots, finally stopping at a used car dealer in Naranjo, about 15 km or so from here. He had several cars in our price range ($9 to $12 or 13K), and we both liked a ’96 Toyota RAV4 and a ’98. The ’96 didn’t drive as well as the ’98, so we took the ’98 to a recommended mechanic in San Ramon (who instantly became our mechanic). He and two helpers went over the car carefully, spending about an hour, and he said the car was in good condition. We wound up buying it.

One of the comments about car buying in CR is that the odometers are frequently rolled back. We paid to have a CARFAX report on the car, which showed its history (a VIN, vehicle identification number, is needed for them to run the report). It was sold at auction in VA in Feb and had 195,XXX mi on the odometer. When we looked at the car, the odometer read around 83K: what’s 112,000 miles between friends? When Paul raised the issue with the dealer, I wouldn’t have wanted to play poker with him because he said (poker-faced, of course) that it must have happened at auction before he got the car. Right…. Still,it’s a decent car and is competitively priced, and the dealer has a good reputation. We picked the car up yesterday and hope to have car insurance tomorrow. Where’s Island Insurance and Mutual of Enumclaw when we need them?

18/08/12:

I stopped to watch a thunderstorm today. Our house faces east, which is the direction from which the clouds and weather arise. We’ve learned that if the weather is sunny and warm in the morning, there will be some pretty impressive thunderstorms later in the day.** This may only be the case during the rainy or green season; we haven’t lived here long enough to know. (A neighbor told us that the sunny mornings and warmth draw the much cooler clouds over from the Caribbean side, hence the development of thunderstorms most afternoons.) So I settled in to watch developments after the clouds rolled in and the rumble of distant thunder began. I began reading on the veranda, often glancing up at the valley and nearby hills, which is not a very enjoyable way to read. A few streaks of lightning, which I saw out of the corner of my eye, followed by thunder. Then a little rain. Then more thunder, but no lightning that I could see. Then a bolt of lightning which I couldn’t quite see, and a huge BOOM immediately following. CRD was very scared, and even I went inside for a few moments. I was a little dazed from the noise. Then a little more rumbling and I thought things were done. Still sitting on the veranda, I saw a streak of lightning strike behind a copse of trees on a small knoll probably about 800′ from us, and simultaneously a series of booms at least as loud as the earlier one. Too far away for the ozone scent of nearby lightning strikes and my hair wasn’t standing on end, but I’d hate to experience anything closer.

**a couple of days later, when it had been cloudy and misty all day, there were STILL impressive thunderstorms, so that shoots that theory. It sounded impressive, anyway.

 

20/08/12:

Ah, biodiversity. I thought I knew what the word meant, but really had no idea. The land in CR is a topographer’s dream: hills, valleys, active volcanoes, extinct volcanoes, rivers and those seasonal streams called quebradas. The land goes up and it goes down and up and down and … We are at one end of “our” nameless valley; the next valley really starts maybe 500′ away on the same dirt road you take to get here. I walked down the road far enough so I could see most of the next valley, and immediately noticed a large blue morpho butterfly, bumbling its way along. We don’t have blue morphos on this side, but we do have smaller lemon yellow butterflies.

There are coyotes in our valley; a neighbor told us that there is a black panther in the next valley that came over one day while another neighbor was making coffee and grabbed one of her two chihuahuas from the porch. The cat was gone with her dog before she could even shout. Our neighbor was surprised when it happened because panthers generally stay away from people, but I guess this one was hungry. There are also howler monkeys that are said to live on the valley floor of both valleys. Between the coyotes and the monkeys, it can be quite noisy after dusk!

I’ve never been an early riser, tending to stay up late instead (but married lo these many years to a morning person), but most people get up early here, and I find myself awakening about 5:20 or 5:30, when it just starts getting light. I don’t know why I rarely got up at dawn in the PNW (okay, in the summertime, it starts getting light before 4:30!), but it is so wonderful to feel thefresh air, listen to the birds, none of which I recognize, and watch the sky and the clouds. We open the front door as soon as we get up, and both CRD and CRC are happy to go out to reconnoiter things.