Sunday, December 1, 2013

West to Mexico

On our passage from Costa Rica to Mexico, we had time to reflect on our visits to Panama and Costa Rica.  Both countries have amazing and beautiful places to see but we were surprised to see such a difference in the amount of litter on the beaches.

The windward shores of the islands in the remote San Blas Islands were covered with trash.  

Again and again, we saw the same story.  Plastic bottles, bottle caps, plastic outboard motor oil bottles, shoes, flip flops and crocs. Just about anything you can think of that's made of plastic could be found here.

In Las Perlas on the Pacific side of Panama, the story was the same.  We wondered where could all of this trash possibly come from?

Seeing this, we thought about the act of throwing trash in the ocean.  We can't remember ever tossing trash in the "big blue litter bag" from Moonshadow, but here before us is testimony to thousands of individuals who have deliberately and perhaps habitually trashed our world.

The Survivor TV crew must have had quite a job cleaning this beach before filming here in Las Perlas.
On both the Caribbean and Pacific, Panama is on the receiving end of trains of debris that prevailing weather brings from elsewhere. In the Caribbean, the trade winds blow from East to West bringing everything that makes it into the water from huge trees and logs that float down swollen rivers in the South American continent to tiny plastic bottle caps.  When this floating debris from all over the caribbean runs out of ocean it all comes to rest on the beautiful islands of San Blas where the Kuna Indians have no trash collection or land fills.

On the Pacific, Panama is at the end of the line for two giant ocean currents, the Humbolt current flowing north along the west coast of South America, and an equatorial counter-current flowing West to East.  Both of these currents terminate in the Gulf of Panama depositing floating junk from far away on Las Perlas Islands.

Panama also is exposed to the more than fifty ships per day that transit the canal, so some of the litter on both sides of Panama no doubt comes from there as well.

But at Panama's remote islands in both the Caribbean and Pacific sides we were appalled to learn that Moonshadow's trash that we had paid the locals to dispose of for us was later just tossed into the water! Sadly, it is also evident that there's been little to no development of infrastructure on Panama's offshore islands to deal with even their own trash, let alone the floating junk that is blown their way.

By contrast, we saw none of this in Costa Rica.  Besides being lucky enough not to be situated at the receiving end of two rivers of refuse, Costa Rica is taking very deliberate and conspicuous measures to deal with their basura.

Putting out trash cans seems like an obvious solution, but in Panama's islands, they don't appear to have the infrastructure or facilities to dispose of trash.  

Costa Rica is building a healthy economy from attracting visitors to their country, and it's obvious they want to make a good impression.  

We got a kick out of finding signs that provide a friendly reminder.

Besides signs and litter bins, Costa Rica has recycling systems in place.
Some signs were evidently intended for us visitors!

To us, it seems like Costa Rica's efforts are paying off.
We still loved Panama.  We think they get a raw deal from the world's litterbugs.  But it was great to see Costa Rica making the extra effort to keep from having their beautiful country spoiled by the sight of trash.

A pristine beach at Isla Pargo, Panama, near the border with Costa Rica and well away from the Pacific's "river of refuse".
On our passage to Mexico we skipped Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, leaving Costa Rica at dusk and arriving at Marina Chiapas, Mexico at dawn after almost 60 hours at sea.  

Along the way we had time to marvel at abundant sea life, especially porpoise...

It is common in every ocean for dolphin to come over to check out passing yachts.  They will often swim playfully under the bow, twisting their bodies to look up at us.   

Here you can see how this pair exhales under water just before breaking the surface for a breath of air.
We never get tired of watching. You can't help but wonder what these amazing sea mammals think of Moonshadow and those funny looking creatures peering down.

But on this passage, the porpoise were performing acrobatics, jumping and even flipping somersaults in the air.

We were floored when first one then another jumped higher than our lifelines right in front of Moonshadow, each turning on their side for a look at us before splashing back into the water.

They seem to be just having fun like puppy dogs frolicking in an open field.

But the porpoise weren't the only sea life to keep us company.  We also saw several very large sea turtles, some so close, they were lucky we didn't run them over.  We also saw sea snakes, brown with bright spots, wiggling along on the surface, and hooked some fish.  Finally we had these two Brown Booby Birds aboard adding to our growing list of freeloaders.  

Here's a link to an ongoing collection of Moonshadow's other  Stowaways.

A new marina opened last year at Puerto Medero, just across the border with Guatemala.  As you can see below, our chart plotter's Mexico chart does not show the new Marina Chiapas or the channel that was dug to get there.  The blue line is Moonshadow's track and no, we didn't drive Moonshadow across the land to get there!

Once in the harbor, we saw what became of some of the huge San Diego Tuna fleet.  These massive seiners were a common sight in San Diego Bay back when we were dating.  As we are approaching our 40th anniversary, I guess you could say these are pretty old tuna boats!

The Marina Chiapas is nice and new, and in a great location at the southern end of the Gulf of Tehuantepec where some fierce winds can blow.  Fed by weather fronts far to the north, these winds come roaring across Central America through gaps in the Sierra Madre mountains.  Just south of the band of wind they call Tehuantepeckers, yachts can now tie up at the marina here and wait for a good weather window before making their crossing of the Gulf. That's exactly what Moonshadow and several other American yachts are doing now.  While watching WiFi weather forecasts and waiting, we arranged a spur of the moment Thanksgiving pot luck dinner which turned out to be great fun for all.  

Next up will be a three day passage across the Gulf of Tehuantepec then up the coast to Zihuatanejo, Mexico, which is a little north of Acapulco.   We'll go a lot further West than North!

We're hoping for more sunsets like the one we enjoyed before arriving here in Chiapas.  

Would it be asking too much to hope for jumping porpoises in that picture too?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Southern Costa Rica

 When we arrived in Costa Rica and tied up to the dock at the Banana Bay Marina in Golito, our first impression was what a tiny boat Moonshadow was, tied up next to the mammoth 121 foot trawler yacht Dardanella.  Though only twice Moonshadow's length, this super-yacht has ten times the space.  We were suddenly glad for our relatively simple systems and maintenance requirements!

While ashore attending to the procedures checking into Costa Rica, we saw some evidence of Golfito's historic significance. Once a banana exporting port, Golfito has rail and dock infrastructure that was once magnificent.  Now in decay, the town is experiencing a rebound as a sport-fishing and tourist destination.

A look at Costa Rica's currency reminded us that here is a country that is aware of it's true intrinsic value:  the natural beauty and attraction of the jungles and wildlife within the rain-forests.  With 28 national parks utilizing 12 percent of the country's land, you appreciate they're working to preserve what they have.

We had decided that after lavishing so much attention upon Moonshadow, attending to her every need, it was about time to give ourselves a little treat.  After doing some research, when we booked a cabina at the Bosque del Cabo Eco Lodge located within a preserve on the Oso Peninsula, we already had an idea we were in for something special.

But we were blown away by the beautiful grounds at the lodge.

Staying in one of just 12 cabinas on Bosque del Cabo's 750 acres of prime rainforest near Punta Matapalo was out of this world.

You know you're someplace special when they don't issue a key to your room.

And the bathroom is outside.

 But for us, the best thing was a king size bed!

Just outside our window was a 400 foot cliff to the Pacific, with lots of wildlife, including this black hawk.

You can spend hours watching the day go by from here.

But we had to pick from a long list of activities like hiking the lush rain-forest.

It was really majestic walking through the stillness of the jungle.

High above in the canopy, you could barely hear the wind in the tree tops, but all was still on the floor of the jungle.

Speaking of trees, we climbed one.  Actually, not a tree, this is called a strangled fig.  About 150 years old, this growth started with a host tree that reached 180 feet to the forest canopy.   Seeds left by birds germinated in the foliage up top and sent vines to the forest floor where new sprouts sprang up the host tree's trunk.  

Over the years the vine literally strangled the life out of the tree, which later decayed, leaving just the outer criss-crossed structure of the interlaced vines.   We learned that Matapalo, the name of the nearby point and beach, translates to tree killer.  That is what we were about to climb.

Our guide fitted us with rock climbing gear and up the hollowed core of the tree we went.  

We finally arrived at a spot about 70 feet up, just a tad higher than Moonshadow's stubby mast. 

There we then were taught to rappel down the outside of the "tree".

Further down the trail, we found this beautiful waterfall...

... and enjoyed the refreshing cool fresh water shower at the bottom.
Back at the lodge, there was so much to take in.  Crossing this suspension bridge, a troupe of spider monkeys rushed by swinging from branches with their hands and tails.

This tropical garden has a pre Columbian stone sphere located in the center of a circle of palms.

(click on photos to enlarge)

Closer to our cabina, we saw more palms...

...and more palms...

...and in the palms, beautifully exotic Tucans! every turn, still more beauty.

We also ran into these white faced Capuchin Monkeys hanging out in some bamboo

Still later we saw a family of Howler Monkeys lounging way up in the tree tops.

On another hike, our naturalist guide showed us a younger version of the strangled fig we'd climbed before.  

These guys grow fast.  It took just 11 years for the vines to span the distance from the hole (where a fallen log, later decayed away, was trapped) to the spot where Deb's resting her hand.

From there we hiked to a zip-line ending on a platform high up in the jungle canopy where 90% of the living things hang out.

But for those of us preferring terra firma, another rappel, 100 feet this time, to the jungle floor was the only way down.

After a couple of fabulous days we were on our way back across the Golfo Dulce to Golfito and Moonshadow, still stunned by the wonder of the beautiful Oso Penninsula.