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?