Enamored at 10°N: Costa Rica turns up the charm

May 2015

Isla Tortugas to Bahia Ballena_mapOn the morning of May 11th, we weighed anchor and motored a few miles west to Bahia Ballena, where we’d spent a couple nights before Mark and Helen arrived. Along the way, we ran our watermaker, and Mark hauled in a jurel (aka crevalle jack). Although the fish is often dried and consumed by locals, jurel don’t have a reputation for being all that good. We promptly returned the fish to the sea.#Isla Tortugas to Bahia Ballena_Mark with Jurel#Tambor_Dock1The southerly anchorage (where we stayed before we called on Puntarenas) bore little resemblance to the piece of paradise we discovered when we revisited the bay and dropped our hook along the northern shore.

The southern anchorage, off the town of Tambor, has numerous lanchas med-moored to the old cement dock at the end of the pier and a few speed boats tethered to moorings. The water has a dingy color to it, but town is accessible.

Save a small floating boathouse a few hundred yards off the beach, the waters of the northern anchorage were deserted and lovely. We dropped the hook behind a natural rock jetty that curved south and west. For peace of mind, Neil dove our anchor and then we readied ourselves for a daytrip inland.#Ballena beach_Breaking surfTo the falls!
Situated on the southern shores of the Nicoya Peninsula is the small town of Montezuma. The beach town attracts all manner of tourists, from dreadlocked, peace-loving backpackers to well-to-do ecotourists. As such, it boasts a plethora of restaurants, a few hotels and hostels, and even yoga classes. In calm weather and mild seas, anchoring is reportedly feasible, but protection is limited. The town itself was charming, but our primary reason for spending a couple hours on a chicken bus that day was to explore the waterfalls a few kilometers from town. We arrived around lunchtime, snagged a bite to eat, and headed up the canyon!#Montezuma_Map of town #Montezuma_TownThe literal translation of “Montezuma” is the Lord frowns in anger; however, the gorgeous trio of waterfalls near the sleepy town exudes anything but rage. The trek to the lower waterfall was much like a nature walk. Intermittently, a path would emerge, but a great deal of the “trail” consisted of hopping from one stone to another, back-and-forth across the wide stream fed by the falls above. My decision to wear flipflops was not wise, as the hikes to the middle and upper falls were more demanding than we expected. The looks on Mark’s and Helen’s faces say it better than words. We had not anticipated the ascent ahead!#Montezuma falls_Intimidated#Montezuma falls_A long way downAt times, we had to climb a near-vertical face of a cliff, clutching onto tree branches, and using exposed roots as footholds. The experience was worth the effort, however! The falls were fantastic!

Eternally a daredevil child, Neil swung from a rope swing into the chilly fresh water below and jumped from small cliff after small cliff, until he eventually decided to jump off the gigantic one. He stood atop the 25-foot drop, gathered his courage, and catapulted himself off the cliff and into the water below. Fortunately, he didn’t strike any of the rocks that jut from the cliff wall, and he landed in deep water. He surfaced grinning. Call me a wimp (in many ways I am), but such a jump is simply inconceivable to me!

We returned to Tambor at dusk and zipped across the bay to The Red Thread, feeling sleepy and relaxed. Cruiser midnight came extra early. We all tumbled into bed well before 9 pm, but not before filling our bellies with more delicious snapper, which Neil prepared with a mustard cream sauce.#Ballena beach_Anchorage


“TURTLES! Look, another one!”


Sea turtles and Neptune’s tax
We had yet to see any sea turtles while at anchor, and we were excited! We had seen several in the span of a few minutes. Our curiosity piqued, Mark and Helen boarded the iSUP with binoculars, and Neil and I pulled on snorkel gear and grabbed the GoPro. The prehistoric reptiles outsmarted us, however. We swam and swam, with Mark and Helen scouting the turtles’ whereabouts from the surface. After several amusing but fruitless minutes, Neil began to holler and swear. The strap on our selfie stick had broken and the GoPro had sunk to the murky depths.

Mark, Helen, and I stayed in the water, doing our best to stay as near the site of the loss as we could in the ebbing current. Neil hurriedly swam back to the boat and donned his scuba gear as quickly as he could. Despite his best efforts, the visibility near the seafloor was poor, and the GoPro was nowhere to be found. Disappointed, we reconvened on the boat. We must all pay Neptune’s tax, I suppose.#Ballena beach_Beach1#Ballena beach_Neil & Jessie1The best beach between 48° and 10° north
Our consolation prize for losing the GoPro was spending the afternoon on the best beach we’d found in our entire 5,000-nautical-mile voyage. Surf break guards the sandy shores of Ballena Beach, as we decided to call it. It was a small miracle that Helen and I managed to “paddleyak” to shore together without flipping our iSUP in the pounding surf! Neil and Mark rowed in aboard the dinghy, loaded down with food, drinks, the guitar, and lounge chairs. We walked on honeycomb-colored sand and palm trees arced almost unnaturally toward the water, perhaps begging every ray of sunshine they possibly could, a sentiment with which we could all relate (well, all of us except shade-loving, fair-skinned Mark).

Helen and I foraged for more shells, each one more beautiful than the next. Mark walked nearly a mile out onto the jagged volcanic jetty that serves as a breakwater for the anchorage and reveals tide pools twice daily when the sea retreats in its timeless tidal ritual. Our iSUP became our bench, and Neil’s naptime pillow. If one photo could serve as a mascot for our day, it would be my bearded husband snoozing in the sand, his wicker fedora tilted over his eyes and his toes pointed toward the sea. #Ballena beach_Neil snoozingMark’s normally clean shaven face was bearing the signs of being free of the office. His cheeks and chin were covered in ginger and silver stubble. Helen’s face was sun-kissed in a most beautiful way, as if she’d been in the tropics for weeks, not days.#Ballena beach_Tsaosons1What a gift it was to make memories with friends in a space unencumbered by the chaotic demands of everyday life.

Ballena beach anchorage waypoint: 09°44′.54 N 084°59′.35 W

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7 thoughts on “Enamored at 10°N: Costa Rica turns up the charm

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