Article Published in Latitude 38, October 2000

Article published in popular sailing rag, “Latitude 38, Changes in Latitudes” October 2000:

Sea of Cortez

We left our homeport of Anacapa Island Marina in Channel Islands Harbor in April of last year and have slowly been making our way south. We arrived in beautiful Costa Rica in June and plan on hanging out here through the end of hurricane season. As with most every other cruiser we’ve been privileged to meet, getting a copy of ‘Latitude 38’ ‘out here‘ is a real treat. And it’s even more fun to read now because so many of the contributors are folks we’ve met along the way. Anyway, we thought it was time for La Roja to add her tales.

Our agenda for the last 18 months has been to take it real slow and enjoy each place as we go. This has proven to be a magical formula. We spent last summer in the Sea of Cortez. The abundance of sea life along with the beauty and tranquility of the area was awesome. Almost every night we fed ourselves as though dining at a smorgasbord of the sea. We often had choices: trigger fish, grouper, mullet, yellow tail, Dorado, sierra, as well as many varieties of rock scallops. We often would discuss what we wanted for dinner before heading out so we could be selective in our kill, and we almost never came back empty handed.

La Roja at anchorWe sailed – yes, sailed, which is what we try to do at every opportunity – as far north as Refugio above Bahia de Los Angeles. All along the way we enjoyed the friendliness and hospitality of the people. In Aqua Verde, we were invited to a ‘Quinceañera,’ which is a party for someone turning fifteen years old. In Santa Rosalia, we sat in the street watching the De La Hoya/Montoyo title fight on a television propped up on a fence. In Bahia de Los Angeles, we attended a pig roast. At Lemona we swam with whale sharks. At Refugio, we delighted in the sights and sounds of huge numbers of sea lions. And throughout the Sea we often sat mesmerized by the beautiful sunsets as manta rays and pelicans played in the background. We reluctantly took our leave in September, promising the locals – and ourselves – that we would return the next summer.

Once we made the crossing to the mainland, however, we found more magic! We spent the next seven months enjoying the beauty of mainland Mexico and the warmth of her people. We stopped at isolated anchorages where we were the only boat, and we also stayed at luxurious marinas where we were totally pampered. When we travelled by bus, we often found ourselves sitting next to chickens or buckets of fish while being serenaded by a guitar-playing singer. We attended many a street party, and marveled at the colorful parades with many simple but well-decorated floats depicting the Christ child – while the masked demons danced alongside. We were invited to local houses for meals, and marveled at the generosity of our hosts. We dined at wonderful restaurants, but also had food from street vendors that was equally delicious. At one cockfight we were the only gringos, and learned how to bet on the different games. We rode a Panga (a “Panga” is a type of modest-sized, open, outboard-powered, fishing boat) through the jungle to a crocodile farm; took local children and their parents sailing; rode in the back of pickup trucks; and laughed and danced at many a fiesta until the early hours of the morning. We were awakened by the music of bands playing on the beaches in small towns, practicing for yet another fiesta. We sat atop fences enjoying rodeos and cheered at many a local soccer game. When we finally left Mexico – after making our way through the dreaded Gulf of Tehuantepec (an area prone to heavy weather; hurricanes often form there) unscathed – we were filled with wonderful memories of incredible people and places – and again vowed to return soon.

When we lowered the Mexican flag and raised the Guatemalan flag, it was almost a year to the day that we had left the United States. Some of the boats leaving Mexican waters elected to head straight for Costa Rica and bypass the “forgotten middle.” In retrospect, we’re so glad that we decided to continue trekking slowly and thus stop at Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. They are not to be missed. In Guatemala, we took the bus from Bahia Naval to Guatemala City, which while very busy, has a number of historical buildings and museums. Our next stop was Antigua, which was like stepping back in time. We stayed there for three days and will visit again from the Caribbean side.

El SalvadorWe add our voices to the cruiser chorus praising the loveliness of Barillas Marina in El Salvador, and the generosity of its owner, Juan Wright. There is only one word to describe our experience there: “Wow!” From even before we arrived, we were treated with love and respect. Somehow word had reached them that that we were experiencing engine trouble, so Ameritas, one of Juan Wright’s employees who speaks fluent English, worked on her day off just to be able to assist us! She did not relax until we were safely tied to one of their moorings. When we rode the dinghy over to meet her, she tearfully welcomed us. I know this will sound overly dramatic, but I feel that Ameritas exemplifies what all of humanity should strive for: unconditional love. She treats each and every cruiser that comes through with the same level of love, concern and graciousness. And she is just one of Juan Wright’s many employees who share that attitude.

We were the first Americans he had ever seen.

We were the first Americans he had ever seen.

Our stay at Barillas Marina lasted a month. We were flown back and forth, along with Jeff and Ann from High Drama, to the capital of San Salvador in Juan Wright’s personal plane; stayed at his condo and were treated to an incredible dinner with five waiters anxiously waiting to fill every cup and plate; and were assigned a personal driver to chauffeur us around town. The driver, Hector, then took us to Juan’s beautiful crater-lake home high in the mountains, where we spent a week. We felt like royalty but protested to Hector that we couldn’t continue to accept all Juan’s generosity. “Do you want me to lose my job?” he responded.  So we sat back and enjoyed ourselves, as to do anything else would have been insulting. We later rode in a caravan through the jungle to watch a man call monkeys out of the trees; we attended a native’s 100th birthday party and were honored to be one of the first Americans the townspeople had ever seen. We also rode in a high speed Panga to a beautiful white sand island, where we basked in the sun and we were also thrilled to meet the President of El Salvador!

When we were finally able to pull ourselves away, we decided to bypass Nicaragua and head straight for Costa Rica. As we set out under perfect sailing conditions, we jokingly Nicaraguaasked each other: ‘Wonder what the traffic is like on the 405 today?‘ Within hours the sailing conditions took a turn for the worse, as we had strong wind and current on the nose with occasional squalls. At times we were down to two knots and less. Two days of battling these conditions wore us out, so we consulted our charts and decided to pull into the “No Name” (that is the name assigned to it on the chart) anchorage in Nicaragua. We hadn’t heard great things about the anchorage, but figured it would at least give us a break. As luck would have it, adverse winds and current were so strong it took us nine hours of tacking to make the final 20 miles! By that time we both agreed that the 405 would have been preferable that day. We finally made it into “No Name” – and were delighted to find a calm and pristine anchorage. We sat on deck that night watching the thunder and lightning in the distance, sipping our boat drinks and repeating over and over again: “Aren’t we lucky not to be out there!” We ended up staying at “No Name” anchorage for three days. There were a few locals fishing, and they were very pleasant. Two teenage boys showed us how to hunt octopus, then gave us one; along with detailed instructions on how to prepare it for dinner.

After heading back out, we decided to stop at San Juan del Sur, the last anchorage in Nicaragua. It was a 20-mile sail to get there, and we had one of our most exhilarating sails to date! With 20-knot winds forward of the port beam and flat seas, we occasionally hit 8.5 knots. Along the way we played tag with the Passage 52 “High Drama,” (another cruising boat) and marveled at the beautiful coastline. We dropped anchor in San Juan del Sur in less than three hours.

 Despite rumors to the contrary, the Port Captain turned out to be most helpful. He told us that if we stayed right in town, he would sign our Zarpes (A Zarpe is what the Spanish-speaking countries call an outbound clearance document, obtained from customs/immigration officials when you depart from a country or in some cases, from any port within a country) from El Salvador as a stopover, and not make us go through the entire check-in process. While the town of San Juan del Sur was charming with colonial architecture and very clean; the water was very rough out on the bay and lots of boats were on questionable moorings. In fact, we watched one sink. So we left after two nights. But we promised that we’d return – by land- as it’s easily accessible from Costa Rica.

Costa RicaWe left Nicaragua on May 31, and while having a beautiful wing-on-wing sail, entered Costa Rica. What a jewel! We stayed in Bahia Elena for a week, enjoying the sounds of monkeys and parrots, and swimming in the beautiful water. Some fishermen came up to the boat and gave us eight lobster tails. When we asked them what they wanted in return, they said a jug of water. When we threw in some baseball caps, their smiles of delight lit up the anchorage – and our hearts. We were hooked!

 We’re now in Playa Panama, Bahia Culebra, anchored off of Hiram and China’s (Her family nicknamed her China because she looks Chinese. She does not know what her given name is!) “Costa Cangrejo” restaurant. Hiram and China operate a poor man’s version of Juan Wright’s Barillas Marina in El Salvador. Not only do they offer wonderful hospitality and fantastic food, but they also arrange different activities, such as horseback riding, trips to the river with catered food, canopy rides and so forth. They also make diesel and gas runs, and have water, showers and laundry facilities. The anchorage is so calm and protected that locals bring their boats here for shelter during “Papagayos.” (The Papagayo wind is a north to northeasterly extremely strong wind and can last up to several days.)  Each morning we’ve been entertained by dolphins, and dorado literally swim around our boats. We haven’t figured out how to catch them yet, but we will! It rains about 40 inches a year here, which is about a fifth as much as it does further south. China gives the cruisers Spanish lessons on Friday mornings for the price of “desayuno” (breakfast) and salsa lessons at night. They also have cable TV, so we get our news fix. There just doesn’t seem to be any reason to hurry along!

 As they say in Costa Rica: Pura Vida! (Pure life.) Thank you for letting us share La Roja’s story.”

Cover for Cruising Book From: Dolphins Forever On Her Bow