After these two full weeks with our friends, we felt the need to decrease the pace a little bit, to take time for errands and internet for example. We didn't have much more miles to cover anyway, as Yalçın was to leave to the US for a dozen days in two weeks time. We did have to come up with a plan for what I would do with the boat, but it would certainly be in the area, either in Puntarenas or in the calm Gulf. But in the meantime, we had two weeks to spend before Yalçın's departure.
After dropping Graeme and Nico, we lazily spent the day anchored by the ferry terminal trying to use the free wifi offered at the facility from the boat using our wifi extender, aka "the light saber". By the end of the afternoon, we moved back to Jesusita, lazily trailing our dinghy with the motor still on. There, we saw the first sailboat we came into chatting distance with for a while. It seemed a local boat for the very reason it didn't fly a Costa Rica courtesy flag, and who other than locals are allowed not to be courteous to the locals themselves! In a perfect English, the skipper told us not to leave our dinghy in the water over night as there had been dinghy thefts around here. He then continued on along the channel between the two islands past the point we were anchored. There was an outlet over there, supposedly barred by an electric cable 50 ft up that supplies the island, from a similar one that runs from the shore to the other island; they are tricky to detect, but we did see the one from shore. The boat seemed to know about it as they hugged the shore of Cedros island, but where were they trying to go? Apparently nowhere as they came back and anchored at a reasonable distance from us. We would later meet this local sailor and rigger and become good friends, but that night, each of us stayed in the privacy of their cockpit. The next day, they left in the morning. We were slow to follow their advice about the dinghy and we are pretty sure a boat from Cedros island came to check it out, when two men and a kid paddled their sad boat with shovels, not far from our stern, seeming to pretend to do something in the water but promptly paddled back to where they came from, only returning our "hola"s quite uncomfortably... A good incentive for us to secure Freddy-the-engine on deck and to decommission Bouchon: we would use the kayak until a repair session had been completed!
We later pursued our exploration of the Northern part of the Gulf. Past the abandoned yacht club island, there was the abandoned prison island, Isla San Lucas, and we figured we'd check it out. During our sail North, we painfully realized that tidal currents can run strong in the Gulf and that fighting an ebb wasn't the smartest (a recurring problem of ours!). Yet, we were able to sail at first, past several little islands, one of them looking Scottish to me for some reason (perhaps because it had none of these broccoli looking trees which cover most of the Costa Rican landscapes). Later on, trying to circumvent Isla San Lucas to the East (the West passage is quite narrow), we encountered a curious phenomenon. If it was due to the tide, and there's a good chance it was as we had seen many tide lines, it wasn't of the kind we had ever encountered in the Bay area. A line of quite marked chops had been awaiting us with a really strong separation from the otherwise flat water. Sailing in there felt surreal, as if we had entered a magical place with its own character, a little bit like in the Lords of the Rings. Slowly due to the current, we made it into the Northern bay of Isla San Lucas. In the nascent night (a late hour we clearly didn't imagine arriving), we did our best to anchor far from the two wrecks that populate the bottom of this bay.
We spent 2/3 days there but didn't find the courage to visit the prison. Trying to pump me up, Yalçın pulled up the history of the place that included the gloomiest stories possible and had the opposite effect on both of us. We thus moved on to the next point of interest in the Gulf: Playa Naranjo.
Also the port for a second ferry to Puntarenas (when I tell you it feels like bridges have become a big deal!), Playa Naranjo was appealing because the anchorage is by a hotel, and hotel means possibly a wifi in the boat (Yalçın's main source of excitement) and the possibility of a shower (my main source of excitement!). The anchorage was nice despite the boat moving back and forth with the tidal currents every 6 hours and the water being too gloomy for Yalçın, okay for me for the necessary cool down dips, yet overall quite unappealing. We kayaked to the beach and secured the kayak on the hotel lawn. After enjoying a lunch at the hotel, we walked on the road until we reached the ferry terminal - this place looked remote, like the countryside! Cars were starting to line up for the ferry ride. We checked that the times we had from our guidebook (the Sarana cruising guide) were still up to date, which they were, and went for a little desert drink in the Tico palapa overlooking the terminal and the Gulf, from where we had the chance to see the large but slow boat do its maneuver to dock by the pillars We decided, we'd take the first 8 o'clock ferry the next day to Puntarenas.
The next day didn't work out, but we took off for Puntarenas the day after. It was quite exciting to take the ferry! Our missions in Puntarenas were to visit the two options for leaving the boat over there, either Puerto Azul marina hotel or the Costa Rican Yacht Club. The latter offers to tie to moored docks one week at a time and seemed more suited for storing the boat and going on a land mission. Puerto Azul marina was a set of docks with short fingers inside a luxurious hotel with a nice swimming pool. Both places were sadly quite far from downtown and checking those out occupied most of our time on the peninsula. The rest of the time was spent walking by the waterfront and getting breakfast when we arrived (I even tried the local "Churchill" milkshake!!?), unsuccessfully boat part shopping and grocery shopping. We got our ferry in time at 2PM with just enough time to grab delicious to go food from the buffet place in front of the terminal. The rest of the afternoon at the boat was spent blaming myself for asking the hotel in Playa Naranjo if we could shower at their facility (we had spotted the shower by the toilet during our lunch there), prompting the reply of the necessity to buy a $20 resort day pass for each of us! Too bad, I really feel we could have just gone for it if we hadn't asked. As programmer Yalçın puts it, "better ask for forgiveness than for permission".
The following day, we noticed another sailboat had anchored by us. It had a light blue hull and could totally be the boat we had cross paths in Northern Costa Rica. They were going North but we think we'd had seen them going in the Gulf of Papagayo later, so maybe? And indeed, it was them! Hilary and Liam, a Canadian couple about our age, were sailing their blue Wild Rye from British Columbia. Over two seasons, they had taken pretty much the same route as ours, only quite a bit longer! They stopped by to say hello as they were dinghying to shore. They had recognized our French and Turkish flags (both! when usually people are puzzled by the Turkish flag!) which we had left flying after Bastille day! We exchanged quick tips and phone numbers, and promised we'd meet again for longer around a drink soon. The next day at sunset, they came over with delicious popcorn (Yalçın had been trying to perfect his recipe for our movie nights but not quite as successfully!) and we shared our stories over a beer. They turned out quite similar, except shifted by a couple of weeks! We had met the same people in Huatulco, in Marina Chiapas, had run into the same issues for checking in and had probably benefited our cheaper (yet quite expensive!) price for the agent in Marina Papagayo from them turning him down a couple of weeks earlier! Sadly, we had plans to leave the following day, but since we were both going to Panama, we were hoping our paths would cross again soon, perhaps even maybe in Puntarenas!
We had decided to spend a few days in a "real cruising destination" (understand swimmable) before bringing the boat to the marina. We had decided to go with Puerto Azul marina in the end, where the monthly slip wasn't much more expensive than the yacht club's and where we could use the extra time for a trip inland and some boat projects in a nicer environment and, most importantly, with an easy access to land (it would turn out a curse and a blessing later...). The only place where we had seen clean water around the Gulf of Nicoya was Islas Tortugas (where we'd been with our friends), so we sailed back there and our first task was to give our hull a good scrub! It had been a while (since Acapulco I'd say) and the barnacles, algae, microorganisms and whatever grows down there hadn't waited for us to start proliferating massively... It took us two days to complete the job, in tiring sessions on 2 hours at the time. The next day, we rewarded ourselves with a cruisy day! We kayaked to the large beach on the island that had the tourist camp (but on a different beach) and spent some time, chatting, walking, snorkeling and taking in the natural beauty. Yalçın had been ready to be in the Caribbeans for a while now, but he admitted that the vibe was here! The snorkeling was the best we had seen in a while. We had gone back one morning, with Yalçın this time, to the islotes with the kayak. And sure, there were fish, but the visibility wasn't great... and there were actually almost too many fish! They arrived greedily as soon as we jump out of the kayak and schools would commonly surround us, a behavior I hadn't seen before (except if the fish were already there when go into the water) and that made me suspect that the camp was feeding the fish every morning (we were the first to come that day) to maintain their lucrative attraction... But who knows! The snorkeling by the "Caribbean" beach felt more genuine and it was fun to see the fish swing back and forth with the accelerated current between the rocks. On the beach, a multitude of little (and not so little!) crabs would appear and dig the sand out, if you were patient enough to sit away from their holes until they felt safe to go out. We spent a long time trying to capture videos of the funky dance, slowly getting closer but not close enough to frighten them as they'd disappear in their sandy houses. To finish the day on a good note, we went for a well-deserved clean bottom celebratory cocktail in the tourist camp! We arrived right after the tourists had left and drank as the staff was starting to relax with a crew of Instagramers/power boaters. A woman, who also seemed as part of the island staff, was feeding her pet parrot in the back. I don't know if the bird was part of a tourist performance but we did enjoy its presence! On our way back to Tirb, we stopped by a little beach that materializes only at low tide and which I had been eyeing for a couple of days now. It felt quite special to wander on this ephemeral sand... That night, a thunderstorm kept us awake as it was a little too close for peace of mind. So we set our battery cables and sat on our deck to enjoy the lightening show. The following days, we were planning to pull into Jesusita first, for a single night, on our way to Puntarenas (as we had to arrive at high tide around noon to work our way through the shallow estuary up to the marina) and this little vacation of ours would be gone...