Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Puntarenas: Progress Report

My boat preparation here in Puntarenas is proceeding pretty much according to schedule. 

The heat has been a challenge. I try to get started as early in the morning as I can, but by nine a.m. the sun is intense and there is usually little or no cloud cover. Sweat pours out of my body at an amazing rate; I'm drinking more than a gallon and a half of water a day, plus a couple of beers.  After eleven, I find myself only being able to work in one hour blocks, having to take short breaks to towel or rinse off and regain physical and mental equilibrium. I thought that I would grow more tolerant of the climate and my productivity would increase. However, when I watch the local guys working on nearby boats, their work patterns aren't much different than mine. They start of strong in the morning and progressively slack off as the day wears on, always trying to stay out of the direct sun. Thankfully in the afternoon clouds typically start to form and block some of the sun and a breeze begins. By four p.m., I'm pretty much spent and make tracks for the pool to cool off. If I do that, I can sometimes squeeze in an hour or two more work in the evening. So, I'm putting in 10 to 12 hour days per the time clock, but when adjusted for heat related breaks and lethargy, I'm lucky if I'm getting eight hours of work done most days. Thankfully, that's enough and pretty much the productivity on which my schedule is based.

So far I have washed and waxed the entire topsides (that was a killer in the sun), polished all the stainless steel, installed hatch vents, arranged for canvas hatch, window and dinghy covers to be made, pickled the watermaker so that it can sit unused without damage, serviced the anchor windlass,  cleaned the entire port hull including the head (now off limits too all passengers and crew), cleaned the salon, including treating all the upholstery with UV protectant, cleaned the dinghy, flushed and waxed the outboard. As I'm cleaning the interior, I'm going through all the lockers, getting rid of perishables and superfluous items and then "pickling" the locker by wiping it down with vinegar with hopes of warding off mold and mildew.

Left do to is remove the two foresails, flake the mainsail properly, clean the "lanai" (cockpit), clean the BBQ, wipe down the engines, run the portable generator and treat its gas for storage, flush the holding tanks, fill the water tanks, clean the stove, defrost and clean the fridge/freezer, clean the starboard hull and head, do laundry, pack and organize and prepare written care instructions for the marina staff.

I have one week left to get all this done. I'm confident I'll make my deadline.

I'm going to move off the boat next Monday and stay at the hotel on the marina property. I have a very early flight on June 1, so I'm going to travel to the airport the day before and stay at a hotel at the airport.

I will be happy to be done with all this boat work. I'm looking forward to seeing my loved ones and being in beautiful, cool northern California again. I see a big transition ahead of me, leaving my nomadic marine (and often singlehanded) life and making landfall at what was once my home with its familiar, comfortable way of life but which now seems like a historic place, my present reality greatly changed and my future far more in flux.

Okay, enough philosophizing. I have to get to work...

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Puntarenas: Made My Decision, Moving Tomorrow

Well, I made my decision. I'm going to leave the boat at Marina Puerto Azul and deal with what comes after my 90-day import permit expires later. I visited the marina today to let them know and make arrangements to move Intermezzo their tomorrow. I received some encouraging news from the marina manager that Customs is likely to take a liberal view with regards to the need to extend Intermezzo's stay beyond the 90-days for "mechanical repairs and maintenance if I pay them $125 per month. I'm going to go down that path, but definitely have a backup plan.

Puerto Azul is a very nice marina/hotel property. The dockage fee of $773 per month is pretty high for me, but much less than comparable marinas in Costa Rica and only about $160 per month higher than here at Costa Rica Yacht Club or Marina Puesta del Sol in Nicaragua. What's really great is that Puerto Azul will wash the boat every week, clean the bottom and props twice a month and run the engines and air out the boat every two weeks, all included in the dockage fees. They say they will even wax and polish the boat just before I return. They are also helping with topping up the diesel tanks, getting some canvas hatch covers made for me and arranging for a haul out and bottom painting when I get back. While I'm here, I'll have good wifi at the dock and have the run of the hotel facilities, pool, gym, etc. The marina manager and his staff seem great and most speak good English. That makes the dockage fee a good value, in my mind.

This morning I laid out a plan for getting the boat ready so that I can head back home. I'm attacking it in four phases: Exterior Cleaning, Engines/Mechanical Systems, Interior Cleaning, Packing & Organizing. Based on very modest productivity due to the sweltering heat, I think I can get everything done to fly back home on June 1. I'm going to make air reservations tomorrow to give myself a hard deadline.

Today I finished installing vents on the four deck hatches which will allow some ventilation below when the hatches are closed, but will keep rain out. The acrylic plastic dust from the hole saw and drill is horrible stuff. I spent more time cleaning the decks of the nasty stuff than I did installing the hatches. I also started waxing the topsides to provide some protection from the sun while I'm gone, putting a coat of good wax on top of the fine polishing job Juanito did for me in Nuevo Vallarta back in January, which has held up very well.

Tomorrow Intermezzo moves to her summer home at Puerto Azul and I continue washing and waxing, plus make my flight reservations. It will be 15 days and counting until departure.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Puntarenas: Misinformation and Hostile Officialdom

I’ve been in Puntarenas on a mooring at the Costa Rica Yacht Club (CRYC) for five days now. I came because CRYC seemed like a good place to leave Intermezzo for the summer. I had called from El Salvador in early April and spoke to their guest and visitor service manager, a very friendly and pleasant woman. One of the primary attractions of the CRYC is that they have a Travelift so that Intermezzo could be hauled out and stored on land (“on the hard” in yachting terms), which was preferable to me over the boat being in the water for six months growing barnacles and eating up zincs. I asked if the CRYC Travelift could accommodate Intermezzo’s nearly 20 foot beam and was told it could. I asked if I Customs would allow the boat to be stored on land for longer than the normal 90-day temporary import permit period. I was told that shouldn’t be a problem.

Well, yesterday I measured the Travelift. It is only 17 feet wide. And today I learned from Customs that the only way to keep the boat here longer than 90 days is to request an extension because “repairs or maintenance” are needed (wink-wink). Bummer.

The marina next door, Marina Puerto Azul, is a nice place but more expensive than CRYC and no Travelift, so wasn’t at the top of my list. However, “Sarana’s Guide to Cruising Pacific Costa Rica and Panama” states that this marina can “bond” boats so that they can remain in Costa Rica beyond the 90-days, provided they don’t leave the marina. So, after the double blow at CRYC, Puerto Azul ascended to my number one option. I went over and spoke to the marina manager, a really nice guy whose girlfriend’s small Prout catamaran is moored right next to me at CRYC. He told me that Puerto Azul does not bond boats but that he would contact Customs, as his experience is that they treat permit extensions on a case-by-case basis. Unfortunately, he was told the same thing by Customs, that the only way to extend beyond the 90-days is to “play the mechanical repair game”, which he didn’t like doing.  I suggested, okay, how about I take the boat out of Costa Rica after 90 days and then return and get a a new 90-day permit? He told me that the boat has to be out of Costa Rica for 90-days before another temporary import permit can be issued. He also said there are only three marinas that bond boats, one is always full and very expensive, the other two are in Golfito further south where it’s really rainy and your boat grows mold. Again, bummer.

A couple of short gripes. First, the cruising guides, Sarana’s and also Raine’s “Cruising Ports, the Central America Route” are horribly out of date and inaccurate, despite being advertised and sold as “regularly updated”. Unfortunately, there are no alternative publications, so these authors can get away making a few minor updates and misrepresenting their books as being current. The Raine’s book particularly ticks me off because it costs $70. Secondly, why is Costa Rica so unfriendly to foreign boats to the detriment of their tourist and marine businesses? Mexico issues 10-year permits, El Salvador and Nicaragua have no set limits, Panama issues one year permits. Costa Rica’s 90-day permit seems to be aimed towards deterring foreign boats from visiting and spending money in the country. It makes no sense to me at all. 

So, now I have to decide what to do. Turn around and return to Nicaragua? Leave the boat here for the 80 days remaining on my permit? And then what?

I’m feeling pretty lonely, a bit frustrated and somewhat worn out by the tropical heat.  I really want to head home. So I figure I will leave Intermezzo here, fly back in late July and then sail back to Nicaragua and leave Intermezzo in Puesta del Sol until October. It will result in an additional roundtrip airfare, sailing during tropical storm season and wrangling with insurance to modify coverage, but I just don’t have it in me to backtrack right now and it isn’t a good time for Renee to leave her mom to help me sail back. I’m going to sleep on it, see if I feel differently in the morning.

I appreciate that my little boating problems are trite compared to the awful daily struggles many people face each day. I try never to lose sight of that and remain grateful for the opportunity to take this journey. Even when officialdom and inaccurate information deal me frustrating blows.

Costa Rica Photos

I finally found a wifi connection and the time to post pictures from my passage with Hannah from Nicaragua to Costa Rica.

Here are links to the narratives associated with these pictures, in chronological order:

Sailing...there's an app for that.

Hannah on watch

Hannah off watch

Me on night watch

Hannah on night watch. She's smiling, not scared, in case you were wondering.

Bahia Santa Elena

Intermezzo looking very small in the pristine, deserted Bahia Santa Elena

Entrance to Bahia Santa Elena

Back in civilization at Playa de Cocos

Chicken shishkebab with curry spiced yogurt marinade cooked on Intermezzo's grill

Deserted beach in Bahia Culebra

Shell collecting

Sunset at anchor in Playa de Panama

Village of Tambor in Bahia Ballena

Our neighbor yacht in the Bahia Ballena anchorage

House in village of Tambor

Bahia Ballena anchorage and beach at low tide

Nature's sand art 
On the way to Puntarenas

Self-timer shot while flying Code 0 and sailing around 8 knots

Intermezzo moored to a floating dock at the Costa Rica Yacht Club

Sunset in the Puntarenas estuary

Lizard in the 'hood

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Costa Rica Yacht Club: Fast Sailing, Fairwell to Hannah and The Beginning of the End

Hannah and I sailed overnight on Monday from Playa de Cocos to Bahia Ballena, dropping anchor early Tuesday morning. We motored the whole way because the wind was on the nose the whole passage, even though as we hugged the coastline our heading changed 90 degrees. I couldn't believe it, but the headwind turned with us every time. The passage was uneventful, save for a deluge of rain and some very active nocturnal dolphins. The rain came down in buckets and then switched to fine fire hose spray. I felt cold for the first time in months and had to actually put on a jacket to warm up. The dolphins not only did their bioluminescent streaking around the boat, they also launched themselves out of the water in front of us. I figure they were feeding on fish attracted to our navigation lights. Or maybe they were just having a nighttime game.

After resting up and having some brunch, we took the dinghy to explore the little village of Tambor. It is very small, quite nice and was deserted when we visited. We walked a long way on the beach, looking at all the low tide sea life doing there thing in the wet sand. Before heading back to the boat we had a nice lunch at a small hotel, where the desk person was also the chef and waiter. Quite a good chef, actually.

Yesterday we sailed from Bahia Ballena to the Costa Rica Yacht Club (CRYC) in Puntarenas. It was a fantastic sail, beam reaching with the main and Code 0 at over 8 knots most of the time, sometimes breaking 9 knots. We were going so fast that I had to sail some extra distance so that we wouldn't arrive at Puntarenas with the tide too low to make it through the shallow channel to the yacht club. (The tidal range here is about 10 feet.) Despite my efforts, we did arrive a bit early, but the yacht club sent a panga to guide us in and although some spots in the channel were less than five feet deep, we made it to our floating dock mooring without running aground. Intermezzo is basically tied up to a wooden raft held in place by four anchors. When we want to go to shore, we just call a panga to come get us on the radio, available 24/7.

CRYC is a bit worn, but the people are really, really nice. The dry storage yard looks really good and secure to leave Intermezzo in for the summer. The cost is quite reasonable. Everything looks good, but the question of whether or not Intermezzo can stay here beyond our current 90-day temporary import permit remains. The yacht club manager doesn't think this will be a problem. We're visiting Customs on Monday and I really hope she's right.

Hannah flew back to NYC today. I took the bus with her to the airport in San Jose. It was quite a scenic ride through the mountains to between here and there. She got checked in and her plane took off. She'll hopefully be safely home a few hours after I post this. I had a bit of an adventure catching the bus back here, as I couldn't catch it at the airport where it dropped us off, but had to make my way into the city of Alajuela and then roam the streets looking for the right bus terminal. IIt didn't take me too long to find it and got back here around dinner time.

I'll be chilling here until Monday when I go with the yacht club manager to visit Customs and find out if I can leave Intermezzo here or not. I'm going to start planning what needs to be done to layup the boat properly, try to purchase what supplies I'l need and get started on some of the prep.

It's hard to believe that this phase of our Sailing Intermezzo might draw to a close in a couple of weeks and I"ll be heading back home.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Playa de Cocos: Exploring, Sticker Shock, Officialdom and Off to Bahia de Ballenas

We weighed anchor in Playa de Cocos just before 1 pm this afternoon and are sailing southward to Bahia de Ballenas which is just inside the entrance to the Golfo de Nicoya. It's another 24 hour passage through the night. Hannah is doing a great job as crew. She's calm, easy-going and willing to learn and take on sailing duties that are unfamiliar to her. Fortunately Intermezzo is a very easy boat to sail and the weather is nice, so sailing is mostly babysitting the boat to make sure it behaves itself and doesn't get into trouble and Hannah is an experienced babysitter.

We first left Playa de Cocos on Saturday afternoon after partially completing the checking in process on Friday and doing some grocery shopping on Saturday morning. We had a short but very satisfying sail to Playa de Panama, flying the Code 0 and single reef main on a pretty tight 50-55 degree reach in 12 knots TWS. I didn't think the Code 0 would work as close the wind as we were sailing, but it did and Intermezzo hummed along at 7-plus knots. I was enjoying myself so much, I cut a couple of corners near some rock reefs so that I didn't have to roll up the Code 0. It was high tide and I assumed the charted positions of the rocks were correct, a gross assumption for Central American cartography. When we motored back today, it was nearly low tide and I was a bit surprised by how close my track had come to some pretty nasty rocks that were now poking their ugly heads out of the water. I am usually a very conservative sailor, but the thrill of going fast got the better of me. Fo
rtunately the chart turned out to be pretty accurate and no harm done.

After anchoring in Playa de Panama, Hannah and I took the dinghy to see if we could find a good place to snorkel. We anchored the dinghy and dropped into the water near a rocky reef at the southern point of the cove. It wasn't very good snorkeling, the sun went behind the cliff and made the already somewhat cloudy water too dark to see what little marine life there was. So we were back in the dinghy pretty quickly. As Hannah hauled in the anchor line, she announced, "I think we have a problem" and then showed me the end of the anchor line with just an open shackle hanging off it. Yes, a problem. I hadn't remembered to wire the dinghy anchor shackle pin so it can't unscrew, like I do for Intermezzo's anchor shackles. I quickly put my dive gear back on, dropped back into the water and started swimming a classic box search pattern around the estimated position of the anchor. Given the poor visibility and fading light, I was pleasantly surprised when I actually found the stray a
nchor sitting on the bottom. Hooray, a successful recovery!

Sunday we packed a picnic lunch to take an extended dinghy trip around the bay. We stopped first at a rock reef on the other end of the Playa Panama cove to snorkel. This time, conditions were much better and we didn't lose the dinghy anchor. We then crossed the main Bahia de Culebra (Snake Bay) to a deserted white sand beach to eat our lunch. We did a bit of sunning, swimming, Hannah collected some shells and then we were off to visit Marina Papagayo at the end of the bay to see if it was a possible place to leave Intermezzo for the summer. It is a beautiful marina, but almost empty, save for a couple of mega-yachts and a few large sport fishing boats. It has over half a dozen fuel dispensing stations on its fuel dock, all in pristine condition.

When I went into the marina office to inquire about rates, it's no wonder the place is empty. They want $28 per foot per month, plus a 10% resort fee, plus 10% tax. It would cost $1,260 per month to leave Intermezzo there, plus the cost of periodic washing and bottom cleaning at $15 per hour. On top of that, they would charge $1,000 to $1,500 to make the arrangements necessary to allow Intermezzo to stay in Costa Rica beyond our 90 day import permit. I have never encountered monthly dock rates like this in the US, although I've heard that dockage in Europe is higher. It would cost only half as much per month to leave Intermezzo at Marina Puesta del Sol in Nicaragua.

My research indicates that the cost of dockage or yard storage in Puntarenas is much more reasonable. More expensive than Nicaragua, but within my budget. Now it's just a matter of figuring out how to get the time extension. That's next week's mission, after Hannah flys back.

Fortunately, I am being assisted in my search for Intermezzo's summer resting place by Bill Odio, a friend of my Mom's who is from Costa Rica and seems to have family members throughout the country. Bill is an enthusiastic goodwill ambassador for Costa Rica and has provided contacts who can help with negotiations and legalities related to dockage. I sense that Bill would be very disappointed if Intermezzo turns tail and ends up leaving Costa Rica to return to Nicaragua for the summer. I am very, very grateful for Bill's assistance and will work hard to prevent this disappointment from occurring.

Today we completed the Costa Rica check in process. We returned to Playa de Cocos and first visited the Port Captain's office. That went pretty smoothly and our next stop was Customs, which required us to take a bus to near the airport in Liberia. I asked the bus driver to let me know when we arrived at the Customs office and he did. However, where he let us off did not match the description of the location of the Customs office described by multiple sources. We walked to a small building on the side of the highway with a small sign indicating it to be a Customs office of some sort and walked in. We were told that this office could not process the paperwork we needed, but that the Customs officials at the airport could do so and we should catch a bus to there. We waited on the side of the road and waved at two buses marked Aeropuerto which didn't stop for us. We finally caught a local bus that could drop us off a the entrance to the airport and from there we walked about a mi
le on the access road to the terminal. The Customs people at the airport were very pleasant and we got our clearance and document within about 30 minutes. The Customs adventure had taken longer than planned, so we took a taxi back to Playa de Cocos. I negotiated the original $60 fare down to $25...I'm detecting a possible pattern of trying to charge really high prices in Costa Rica to those who don't know better or are just willing to pay. Finally, when we arrived back in Playa de Cocos, it was back to the Port Captain to get our national "zarpe", the document that allows us to leave the port and proceed to Puntarenas. I would like to think that one day this will all be simplified and able to be done online, but I think it would mean the elimination of too many easy public sector jobs and so is politically infeasible until perhaps the next century.

Okay, enough complaining. Overall, I'm finding Costa Rica to be a very beautiful country and am appreciating some of its upscale comforts, like craft beer, that are difficult if not impossible to find in El Salvador or Nicaragua. As the saying goes, "you gets what you pays for". The streets are cleaner, there is less poverty, there is a greater variety of food, of very high quality, and you can drink the water out of the tap.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Playa del Cocos

We weighted anchor and left Bahia Santa Elena at 0700 this morning. I was a little sorry to leave, as It is such a beautiful, isolated, natural spot. But sitting around on the boat all day admiring it was not what we wanted to do.

It was a very scenic sail, west to to round Punta Santa Elena, turning south and threading the boat between the Islas Murcielagos (Bat Islands) and then a straight shot across the Golfo Papagayo to Playa de Cocos. Golfo Papagayo is usually a body of water that is crossed carefully, often waiting for a weather window to avoid the fierce winds that blow in from the Caribbean. Not today. There wasn't enough wind to sail and the sea was calm, with a gentle southwest swell.

We dropped anchor south of the reef that bisects the Playa de Cocos anchorage. Hannah took a swim, we relaxed for a little bit and then decided to head to shore to start the check in process with the Port Captain. We arrived just before their 4 p.m. closing time and were told to make haste to Immigration before they closed. We did so and spent a sweltering half hour getting our passports stamped. This involved about a half dozen forms.

I didn't consider that we had arrived on a Friday afternoon. Both the Port Captain and Customs are closed until Monday. So, Hannah and I have been legally admitted into Costa Rica, but Intermezzo is still officially in transit. Having to spend Monday finishing our check in is not what I had planned, but can be accommodated without a problem.

Playa de Cocos seems like a nice spot. It is mile long beach with a small one-street tourist town. Their are quite a few nice restaurants, some good grocery stores, ice cream, cafes, bakeries. The only negative is that you have to navigate the dinghy through surf onto the beach and there isn't really a good place to leave it once landed while you visit town.

It occurred to me while walking through town that Hannah had come straight from bustling Manhattan to spend her first few days in the middle of nowhere, either on the ocean sailing or at anchor. Quite the contrast in surroundings!

I think we'll head up the couple of miles north into Bahia Culebra tomorrow and spend the weekend exploring the bay. We'll hoof it back here on Monday to finish our check in. Then we'll push off southward again for the Golfo de Nicoya. Hannah's short visit is going by quickly.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Bahia Santa Elena

We dropped anchor in Bahia Santa Elena just before noon. This place is amazing.

It is a deep bay, about a square mile in area, surrounded by steep vegetated terrain with mangroves at the water's edge. The bay and surrounding land is completely undeveloped and the water is crystal clear.

We are the only people here. Intermezzo looks very small anchored alone in the bay with its majestic landscape backdrop.

The land here is a national park and I was looking forward to taking the dinghy to shore and going hiking. We tried that this afternoon, but had to turn back. The first rains of the season resulted in an overabundance of ravenous mosquitos. We applied repellent, which did a good job in preventing us from getting bitten, but the clouds of mosquitos buzzing all around us took all the enjoyment out of hiking. So we returned to the dinghy and took a tour of the bay, followed by a swim.

After dinner, we sat at the front of the boat looking at the stars and enjoying the peaceful isolation of this place.

Even though this is a really beautiful spot, we decided that since hiking is not a viable (pleasant) option, we're going to move on tomorrow to Playa de Cocos, where we will officially check in to Costa Rica. Right now we are illegal aliens.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Puesta del Sol > Bahia Santa Elena, 5 May 0530

Hannah stood her first two night watches successfully. She sailed her entire first watch, the wind dying just as I came on at 2100. On her second watch, she had to dodge a large thunderstorm using the radar. Other than the thunderstorm, it was an uneventful night, with only a few fishing boats a few miles further off the coast than the course we sailed. The lightening during the thunderstorm was exiting. It was only cloud-to-cloud, so not dangerous, but some of the flashes lit up the sea dramatically all around us.

We're going to need to get used to lightening; this area and south has a very high frequency of lightening strikes. Lots of anecdotal evidence of boats getting hit. The real statistics must represent a significant risk as the deductible on my insurance policy is doubled for damage caused by lightening.

We've logged 109 nm of our 137 nm passage. ETA is currently at around 1130 this morning, local time. I expect we'll be securely anchored in Bahia Santa Elena by 1300.

Puesta del Sol > Bahia Santa Elena, 4 May 15:30

It's been a great day sailing!

I picked up Hannah on Monday from Managua airport. We drove the 2.5 hours to Chinadenga, stopped to pick up a few groceries and then continued on to Marina Puesta del Sol. Intermezzo was in decent shape, although pretty filthy in a few spots. It had rained a couple of times while I was away, but the rain couldn't get to all the spots covered by sugarcane field ash.

Tuesday we cleaned up the boat, returned the rental car and officially cleared out of Nicaragua. Hannah was officially in the country for just over 24 hours.

It was hot and humid at the marina and the only way to sleep halfway comfortable is to lie directly under one's cabin fan. I am definitely getting tired of this climate.

Today we left the marina at about nine a.m.. The wind was light and on the nose so motored for the first hour until the wind started building and shifting enough to raise the mainsail and motor sail into a gentle swell. By noon, the wind had shifted, we had unfurled the jib and were able to shut down the motor and actually be a sailboat, something I have experienced for some time. We have been loping along nicely at just over 5 knots since, the wind at about 60 degrees apparent and blowing about 10 knots true. The sky is clear hazy-blue above us, with cumulus clouds in the distance all around us. I bet we see some thunderstorms tonight and hope we can avoid going through any.

Hannah is going to take the 9-12 and 3-6 watches tonight. I'll sleep in the salon so she can rouse me if she needs me and I'll get up every hour or so just to make sure things are okay. It will be way better than singlehanding! We haven't seen any fishing boats and there isn't a major port along our route so it should be a relatively easy sail. Barring a thunderstorm.

I hope we can continue sailing tonight, but I think the wind is from a diurnal effect, from the land heating up and sucking wind in from the ocean. If that's correct, then it should die down when the sun goes down and shift to a offshore breeze during the night. We'll see.

ETA to Bahia Santa Elena entry waypoint is currently about 10:30 tomorrow morning- about 19 hours left to go.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Granada: Wrap Up

This is my last day in Granada. I'm leaving around noon, heading for the Managua airport to pick up my daughter Hannah, Intermezzo's crew for our sail to Costa Rica.

Here's a catch up of the last few days.

On Thursday, I hiked up the Mombacho volcano. It's about a half hour's drive from Granada to the parking lot for the preserve. When you get there, you can opt to take a 4WD truck to the trails at the top or walk up the narrow road. Most visitors choose the truck. I chose to walk. It was about a 4 mile uphill slog in the ever-present heat and moist air. Two young women also took the walking option, to get some exercise and enjoy the experience, like me.  We each walked individually in varying order and varying space between us, but all at the about the same pace, so we arrived at the top about the same time.

The crater at the top of the volcanic cone is densely vegetated, with a trail around it's circumference.  Leaning over and looking down into the crater, I was hoping to see a trail leading to the entrance to a mysterious subterranean world, like in the movies. It wasn't hard to imagine such a thing. There were beautiful views of the Grenada, Lago Nicaragua, Las Isletas and the surrounding volcanic mountain landscape looking outward from the crater rim. 

I met up with the young women again at a lookout point and, since I had a rental car, offered them a ride back to Granada after the hike. That sounded good to them and we ended up hiking most of the way down to the parking lot together, enjoying conversation over a wide range of topics, including me summarizing the history of the Sandinista revolution and it's immediate Cold War aftermath. I took a particular liking to one of the women, Natacha, who seemed to be curious, adventurous and really getting a lot out of her travel experiences which made conversation easy and enjoyable.

The three of us drove back to Granada together and I dropped them off near their hostel and then struggled to find my way back to my "villa" through the maze of deadend and one-way streets for which Google map directions failed miserably, resulting in me having to pull over in a not very nice barrio to manually reorient myself and figure out how to escape.

Natcaha had to get back to her hostel to catch a shuttle bus to Hostel Paradiso at Lago Apoyo, a nearby lake in a volcanic crater. I mentioned to her that I was thinking of going to Apoyo myself, tomorrow of the next day and that maybe I would see her there.

On Friday, I decided to indeed visit Apoyo. I did some research and decided that the Monkey Hut offered the best combination of swimming, facilities and food on the lake. When I arrived, the place looked great- nicely landscaped grounds, well-kept buildings, a wood-fired pizza oven blazing away, a pleasant beach.  Only there were no people. I had been feeling pretty lonely over the past few days and just couldn't bear to hang out all by myself for the whole day there.  So I decided to check out Paradiso.

When I go there, the place was buzzing with people enjoying themselves, which was great. However, I felt a bit apprehensive on two counts. First, I was worried that Natacha might see me as some creepy old guy that was stalking her. Second, I was about twice the age of just about everybody there. I felt kind of shy and self-conscious on both counts.

I needn't have worried, though. I said a brief hello to Natacha, had a beer and some lunch and then floated in the clear, warm water of the lake, enjoying the nice weather and scenery, natural and human. It wasn't too long before Natacha came out for a swim and introduced me to two friends, Sebastian and Emilia. The four of us hit it off well and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening enjoying each other's company. They are all in their mid 20's, Sebastian a securities analyst from Paris, Natacha from Geneva, taking a break between studies, and Emilia, a grad student from Toronto. Despite my age difference, I felt very comfortable hanging out with them, very much reminded of the time when I was their age and Carol and I were backpack-traveling around the world, but also realizing that I have lived through so much since then. Natacha told me the three of them really enjoyed being able to talk with someone my age so comfortably and listening to my stories about traveling, sailing, kids. It was a great day and I am so grateful for the friendship they extended to me at a time when I was feeling pretty lonely.

For my last two days in Grananda, I decided to take advantage of the air conditioning and fast wifi to tackle some administrative and financial chores. I also binge-watched The Man In the High Castle series, the first TV I have watched since leaving California. I took breaks to continue exploring the city and checking out different restaurants.

But now I'm off to pick up Hannah and start the next leg of the Sailing Intermezzo journey.

The Mombacho volcano crater, with Lago Nicargua and Las Isletas in the background
Panorama from top of the Mombacho volcano

Lago Apoyo from the top of Mombacho

The Hostel Paradiso on the shore of Lago Apoyo