Every time the gardener here at Tierra Mar cuts down a hand of bananas and hangs them from the deck roof, a large Olive Ridley sea turtle swims up for a handout. We know whenever this happens because the 5-dog alarm goes off and three of the dogs in particular get quite exercised at the sight of the turtle. Whoever happens to be nearby tosses a banana or two or three to the turtle, or enough to get a good photo.
Monthly Archives: July 2014
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The day we arrived in Golfito we met Don, whose funky little sailboat is at the dock here at Tierra Mar Marina. Don travels a lot for work, but we’ve spent a couple of memorable happy hours with him and we hit it off right away. We always enjoy his company whenever he blows into town for a day or two. The other day he was off again, this time for months as he starts a big project in Colombia and doesn’t expect to be back here until October.
Jack and I were headed for the customs office so we shared a cab to the airport and had a last beer together at Arturo’s favorite Golfito hangout until Don’s plane arrived. We’ll miss him here in the hinterlands and hope we meet up again somewhere down the line.
No such address
I was gobsmacked. I mean you can’t be serious. Our US documentation papers were so overdue getting to us here in Golfito, Costa Rica, that we might soon be kicked out of the country due to the fact that after sixty days Escape Velocity’s registration would expire and apparently so would we. Confused? Stay tuned.
Our official domicile is Miami, FL but all our mail is kindly handled by Marce’s sister Nancy in New Jersey and other family members. Somehow our US Coast Guard’s usual timely registration renewal flow was interrupted so when our stress level threshold became high enough an emergency call to the Coasties revealed the problem.
They never heard of us.
No longer back burner stress we begged for a prompt turnaround but of course that piece of paper can only be sent to the address of record which is New Jersey. A little bit of back time math revealed we were in store for another squeaker. The call went out to the Liggett Hotline for Wayward Sailors (Marce’s Coasta Rican family) and as usual the instantaneous response was “no problema”. Just send it to our family courier in Miami and they’ll get it to us and we’ll tell you when it arrives in San Jose.
So, just to recap we have the Coasties in West Virginia sending it to New Jersey, where Emily stood in for Nancy who was loafing in Maine at the time, readdressed and repackaged to the family courier in Miami, readdressed and repackaged to Roberto in San Jose, Costa Rica, readdressed and repackaged to us in Golfito.
What could go wrong?
Well, as it turns out, plenty and this is the main point that I wanted to make, dear Escapees. They don’t have addresses. No, not the Liggetts, the country! Costa Rica! Roberto was sending the squeaker document to Golfito by bus. Where is the bus station? I really don’t recall seeing a bus station in Golfito. Oh sure it’s the yellow building. You say it’s the yellow one? Yes it’s across from the INS building. Now we’re getting somewhere. Where is the INS building? Oh very close to the Bomberos. Which has got to be near, wait for it, the yellow building. Directions become a kind of Costa Rican Who’s on First. A full 25% of mail is returned as undeliverable in Costa Rica. One official address we saw in a web site was “50 meters south of the old fig tree,” a tree that died several years ago but has a nice new fig tree growing in its place but everyone still says the old fig tree. It’s no wonder they can’t tell you where something is. The streets don’t have names. There are no numbers. I’m not kidding, I’m not clever enough to make this stuff up. We wandered around the vicinity until we happened upon the tiny yellow bus station and there, patiently waiting for us, was our US Documentation envelope. Amazing.
So, with an official letter from our rigger in English and Spanish explaining how we are all going as fast as we can to make repairs, another written by your humble servant in both languages explaining how we got here, and our renewed US Documentation we felt confident as we went to the customs office that we would be granted at least another ninety day extension which should be automatic by international maritime law for vessels in distress.
Oh no, it’s the effing dragon lady who starts to frown with impatience the second she sees the two of us step up. The tiny room is massively over cooled and crowded with disappointed-looking skippers. Confidence shaken but not broken we smile and hand her the letters one at a time in English and Spanish. She is bored, points to a date three weeks away turns on her heel and we don’t see her for an hour.
I’m determined not to reveal how upset I am so I’m left smiling like the village idiot while we shiver, cooling our heels waiting. Marce is not so reticent to show how pissed she is. So we step up to the counter, steam rising up out of Marce’s ears while I’m grinning like a simpleton, reciting the check-in skipper’s mantra, don’t get mad, don’t get mad. That’s when I find out Marce actually knows the Spanish word for lawyer.
So it’s another call on the Liggett Hotline. Marce got a call back from one of the family’s lawyers before we left the office. It’s Fabio and he says not to worry, everything’s going to be alright. Marce tells him he sounds just like Roberto. He laughs and says it’s no problema.
We hope so.
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The view from the back porch
Goodbye, San Jose
On our last night in the big city we were invited to dinner at the home of Roberto’s son Gustavo and his wife Margarita. It’s the first time we’ve had a home cooked meal in someone’s house in forever. We were delighted to meet more of the family and enjoyed the delicious food, too.
We were up way past our bedtime, slept in the following morning and had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel before Roberto and Grettel picked us up for some last minute shopping and hanging out. Douglas also left the same day to return home to Colorado.
We were surprised to find in many stores displays of classic hookahs, right out in the open. Laws against anything that might be classed as drug paraphernalia prohibited these things from most jurisdictions in the US many years ago.
I mentioned this to Grettel and she shrugged. “They make nice lamps,” she said.
When it was time, they dropped us off at the bus station and we made the 6-1/2 hour journey back to Golfito.
It was supposed to be a non-stop trip, but all along the way people asked the driver to let them off near their destinations. We figured we could do that too and had him drop us right in front of the marina, even though the bus terminal is just down the street.
We opened the gate to Tierra Mar and set off the five-dog alarm that must have awakened the whole neighborhood but at least everyone knew we were home again. Someone had kindly bailed our dinghy and we motored slowly back to EV, sitting pretty, just as we left her.
Crater no, mounds yes
I have a thing about volcanos. I haven’t traveled widely enough to see very many, but missing a couple of serious volcano opportunities are some of the few regrets I count in my life. We planned to visit at least one while we’re here, if we can ever get our customs issues sorted out.
Our Costa Rican family knows about my volcano thing and picked us up one morning to take us to one fairly close to San Jose. It was a chilly morning and Jack and I came to the big city completely unprepared for the weather, so Roberto and Grettel brought a jacket for Jack and a poncho for me and we started up into the mountains. As Roberto drove up and up and up we found ourselves in the clouds and visibility dropped to nearly nothing.
When we reached the park entrance the attendant told us the crater was completely socked in and we wouldn’t be able to see a thing, so we reluctantly turned around and headed back down out of the clouds, enjoying the spectacular views along the way.
We were all a little bummed until the ever-enthusiastic Roberto suddenly exclaimed, “I know where I’ll take you! It’s a place I’ve always wanted to go!” And we were off on a narrow bumpy blacktop deeper into the impenetrable Costa Rican forest.
I pulled out my map and asked Douglas where we were going. He pointed to a spot that told me nothing about what to expect, and after what to my butt felt like hours we parked on the berm by a sturdy timber hut on one side of the road, and a collection of smaller huts on the other. We had arrived at Guayabo National Monument, a place we’d never heard of and our Costa Rican family had never visited.
Guayabo, it turns out, is an ASCE Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and the most important archaeological site in Costa Rica. It was inhabited from about 1000 B.C. to 1400 A.D. and is important because of the extensive roadways, water supply, retaining walls and other structures. The aqueducts are still functional today. The name of the city and the people who lived there are still a mystery to researchers but the structures archaeologists have uncovered point to a large and complex civilization.
We walked the forest path in a chilly drizzle past rectangular tombs, carvings and glyphs until we were lead up a stairway to an overlook revealing the entire layout of what’s been uncovered so far.
The Costa Rican archaeologists did a great job in the first phase of developing the site. The paved roads apparently go many kilometers in all directions but only a small section has been reconstructed so far; the rest is swallowed up in the forest. The whole site is a reminder of how completely our human endeavors can disappear, and how quickly our history is forgotten.
This surprise excursion was right up our alley and we’re so grateful Roberto and Grettel thought to take us there. We’d have never found it on our own, and the drive to and from showed us more of the beautiful Costa Rican countryside.
To top off the day we went to a lovely farm restaurant for a typical Costa Rican lunch. The owners produce a variety of cheeses, which Roberto and Grettel took full advantage of, and Douglas talked the boss out of one of the strings of flags left over from the World Cup.
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Put another nickel in
Douglas got us checked into the hotel at the Costa Rica Tennis Club where Grettel is a member and then we were off to Roberto and Grettel’s house to reconnoiter before going to dinner. Roberto has a music room that he was proud to show us, with a super-high-end stereo system and what seemed like every album ever recorded. He’s a fantastic guitar player, too and demonstrated a couple of his prized guitars.
Jack and I were delighted to be in someone’s home for the first time in nearly a year, to sit on a sofa, listen to music and share favorite artists and tunes. It was a throwback to times gone by for both Jack and me, when most of our friends either played music or were serious listeners, when every gathering centered around sharing new discoveries and comparing old favorites. Roberto is full of that same enthusiasm and for that reason we felt an immediate kinship.
We’re so happy to have met Roberto and Arturo, two brothers who couldn’t be more different, one an artist and poet, one a musician. We connect so completely with both because Jack and I have both the art and music genes. It’s a joy to meet new family and discover we not only share our family history but our aesthetic souls as well.
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Of bellies and underbellies
I’ve found that when you don’t speak the language you never really know what’s going on, so when Marce’s cousin, who came down to fetch us from San Jose and spent the night on Escape Velocity, suddenly pulled off the coastal road I just looked up and thought I wonder what we’re up to now. Just ahead I could see a long, low bridge with no sidewalk or sign and little else. Earlier that day we’d pulled off the highway and found another black steam engine and a whole collection of stone spheres unearthed while Chiquita Banana tore up the jungle planting banana trees. The authorities had the foresight to arrange them in a nice little park.
So as I was saying, we teetered along the narrow concrete curb on the bridge while trying to avoid the wind blast from trucks thundering past just a few feet from the tenderest parts of our bodies, towards a low-lying gravel river. Soon, as we closed in on the river, snowy egrets came into focus and an unusual collection of large logs. Where are we going? Something always gets lost in the translation but I suspect an intentional lack of information. Wait a minute. Did I just see one of those logs move?
The place was lousy with them!
As it turns out, a while ago somebody started throwing frozen chickens off the bridge and soon, as any self respecting reptile has a wont to do, several dozens of the beasts set up shop waiting for the next frozen chicken popsicle, kinda like a cargo cult, but with crocs. From the size of these monsters I can only conclude that chicken agrees with them.
Let me emphasize that this is no Tarzan-like theme park and if they decide to cut us off at the end of the bridge, we become the de facto frozen chickens. And what’s to stop them? Nothing, and I really don’t think I can outrun Marce, so I’m hoping that it’s just easier for them to wait for the next cargo plane.
The amazing thing is that this is not the first time I’ve come face to face with these monsters without a plan B. I think it was Florida 1971 and my band’s equipment manager from Gainesville Music decided to show us the sights. This included a park with nesting eagles and to properly see them we were told to walk out on a particular peninsula and look up at the large nests in the trees. In a few minutes Mr. Gainesville Music, let’s call him Fred, showed up and quietly said, hey guys do you know how fast an alligator can run? No? About twenty miles an hour and those two logs about ten feet away from you are alligators and you are way too close. Of course you can always zig-zag, he added, they’re not good at that, but after a day with Fred I knew that zig-zagging was out of the question and in my present state, I wasn’t sure if I could outrun our drummer either. With hearts tapping out a lively tattoo, we beat a timely retreat.
So as I was saying, back in the car with all limbs present and accounted for we decided that lunch was next and somehow managed to miss a charming little falafel joint but stumbled upon a restaurant built inside a 727 Boeing jetliner. Allegro Airlines apparently went belly up owing the maintenance company money so they sold this plane to a restaurant. It was closed.
After a circuitous climb up a mountainside, as luck would have it, we stumbled upon another airplane/restaurant combo.
We walked right in the tastefully appointed restaurant, amazing when you consider it’s built around a Fairchild C-123, opened the menu and there staring back at me was Eugene Hasenfus, whom the owners proudly display right there on the inside cover.
Maybe you remember this bizarre crime in recent American history. Ronald Reagan wanted to support the Contras fighting the Sandanistas in Nicaragua but Congress voted an emphatic no. Undeterred, Reagan and his band of clowns devised an elaborate scheme to illegally sell arms to Iran and use the profits to illegally send munitions and parts to Nicaragua. The CIA bought two C-123’s and built a runway on private land in Costa Rica to secretly ferry the cargo across the border. In October 1986 one of the planes was shot down with Mr. Hasenfus parashooting into the jungle and the waiting arms of the Sandanistas. His capture eventually exposed the whole scheme and lead to fourteen indictments and eleven convictions of high-level members of the Reagan administration. They were all pardoned by Bush the First.
Of course Reagan swore he couldn’t remember anything and for once I kind of have to believe him. He really couldn’t remember much of anything.
The other plane was abandoned in San Jose and eventually bought by these restaurant owners and transported to Manuel Antonio. Eugene’s butt may have actually been in the seat of this very airplane without tail numbers.
It’s a long bumpy slog from Golfito to San Jose so when we found ourselves deposited into the relative luxury at the tennis club a long relaxing sigh escaped from both of us. San Jose awaits.
We venture again beyond Golfito
Our cousins cooked up a scheme to get us to San Jose for a couple of days. This involved Douglas driving to Golfito and staying in our presidential suite aboard Escape Velocity. It’s the first time we had an overnight guest since Nancy and Dave in Panama. He arrived just in time for the World Cup final and we watched it on the big screen next door at Banana Bay, then went for a dinghy ride around the bay.
The next day we drove to San Jose with a lot of touring on the way, including more stone balls and another banana train.
We also visited Marina Pez Velo where we plan to have our new rig installed. It’s in Quepos, a tourist hub because it’s right at the entrance to one of the most popular national parks, and Jack and I immediately got excited to move Escape Velocity up sooner rather than later and enjoy a little more hubbub than Golfito has to offer. Our excitement grew when Jack saw another Manta at the dock and the yard manager called the owner over to meet us. What fun it would be to have Manta friends nearby!
Then we talked to the marina manager about a multi-month dockage rate and our hopes were completely dashed. We knew they were expensive but expected since the marina is still under construction, mostly empty and it’s off season that we’d be able to negotiate a more affordable rate. But Mr. Unbending only offered a break on a “catamaran surcharge” which wasn’t even listed on the rate card. He actually suggested we could save money by hauling the boat out and renting an apartment on land for the duration. You can imagine how expensive they are if paying for storing the boat on the hard plus renting an apartment is cheaper than a 40′ boat slip.
“It’s our home,” I said to him and he just shrugged and said slip availability would depend on upcoming reservations. I asked when those reservations started and he said November. Funny, just about the time we’ll be leaving. We went around in circles for a few minutes but he made it clear he didn’t really care if we came to the marina or not and made no effort to lure us with service or price.
Apparently they’d rather leave the marina mostly empty all summer than fill one small slip for four months at less than full freight. Plus the place is bleak, all concrete with no landscaping or pool or other niceties you expect from a high-end marina. On top of that, Mr. Unbending so annoyed me in his attitude that we’ll be looking into alternatives for getting our work done. Good job attracting customers, Marina Pez Vela!
Still, Quepos and the adjacent town of Manuel Antonio are very tempting destinations, and with plenty of rental car companies and touring options we see how limited we are in remote Golfito. We’ve got some thinking to do.
Big balls in Cowtown
With apologies to Mr. Wills, all I can say in my defense is that I grew up in Pittsburgh. What I mean is I like to think of myself as an observant person but this is the kind of thing that shakes your world. Oh I’d noticed one or maybe two, here or there, mostly kind of presented to you like some kind of conspicuous marker, as if it was announcing an entrance to something grand but they really didn’t register. And here, dear escapees, is the part that rankles, we’re in Golfito, Costa Rica, which is decidedly devoid of grand architecture, not saying it isn’t nice but…well, I find myself in shoal water here so let’s just agree to call it quaint. Now, and here is what I’m getting at, growing up in Pittsburgh where one lives amongst a certain amount of monumental architecture in your every day life you see them everywhere to the extent that they no longer really register. You see them…but you don’t.
I guess I always thought they were cast in concrete or manufactured in someway or other out of stone, you know, by big machines with push buttons, levers, and such but, and this is my point, if I may have another, por favor, I never really gave them much thought, if any at all. There were a lot of them, often adorned with dragons or gargoyles, employed you know to mark a grand staircase or the driveway to some monumental old mansion or library. Conspicuous, probably very heavy, and round…very round.
The brochure I’m reading says that here In Pre-Colombian times they carved stone spheres using fire and, I guess, other stones to make smaller round ones out of larger squarish ones, and isn’t that always the way? Why, you ask, would they go to all that trouble to carve an eight foot 25 ton ball? It seems the authorities are not entirely sure. You know the brochure I’m reading says something like it may have marked a monumental house of a V.I.P. or a grand staircase…I guess the library is out.
As it turns out the spheres have been moved, pilfered, pillaged, and re-purposed so much that they’ve given the activity a name. They call it “huaquerismo.” Sounds better doesn’t it? So how did Gofito rate a couple of two meter stone spheres? The authorities are not entirely sure but the balls are here and they’re round and probably very heavy, marking nothing much of significance.
As I was saying I usually take notice of my environment, all recent evidence to the contrary, and one thing that caught my eye here in Golfito, aside from an unusually robust steam ship pier is several large but proper wooden buildings built up on the so called high road. Lets call them in the Victorian Industrial style, and it turns out it’s all related because Golfito is the town that Chiquita Banana built.
If one is observant you can find several stone grand staircases (no balls) leading up to the warehouses that overlook the town and we even stumbled onto the Banana steam engine that we may have walked past a few dozen times but at this point I fail to be surprised, what with the large pre-Columbian stone ball fiasco causing no end of agonizing reappraisal here aboard Escape Velocity.
Now I guess, in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that Soda on a store front sign in Costa Rica isn’t the soda that you or I think of as soda. Well…it is but they’ve fleshed out the meaning a bit from the narrow definition I might normally give it. Once on a particularly hot and muggy afternoon I’d had visions of kind of a specialist soda fountain featuring outrageously delicious indigenous local fresh fruit flavors, like an industrial sized Sodastream only with good flavors. It turns out to be actually a kind of local fast food — “deli” is too kind — emporium that in addition to hamburgers, may also sell coke, flavored teas, Limon, and maybe some pre-made ice cream bars. This Soda is close to the American section of town on the high ground facing the bay where Chiquita Banana housed it’s workers in charming raised dwellings.
Anyhow it’s all here in lovely Golfito, all you gotta do is get here…I’m not entirely sure how we got here…but we’re here.
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