“Managua, Nicaragua is a beautiful spot. There’s coffee and bananas and the temperature’s hot…so take a trip, get on a ship, go sailing away…across the agua, to Nicaragua…” The tune bounced off my lips as we were engulfed in the whiteness of yet another thunderstorm. Rain and more rain pelted the decks of Swell as Shannon and I slid south down Nicaragua’s coast once again. A procession of tropical depressions was marching right over our course. As we approached a remote anchorage that I’d had my heart set on, the rain came down so hard we couldn’t see ten feet off the bow. The sloppy windswell was funneling straight into the cove. After circling in exasperation, we agreed that the place looked miserable and downright dangerous against the lee shore, so we headed back out to sea. We tried again at the next possible stop, San Juan del Sur, but the same conditions prevailed. Fortunately, there was one last option, so we pressed on to make northern Costa Rica’s well-protected Bahia Santa Elena before dark. In the last hours of the passage, the skies cleared and we played a nauseating and intense game of chess while rolling in the troughs of the leftover seas. We made it into the calm waters of the glorious bay just in time to set the hook before dark.
If a giant had painted Central America onto the earth, he made a pretty straight stroke with his brush from Mexico to Nicaragua. But have a look at any map, and you’ll see he kicked over the paint can at the northern border of Costa Rica. The fingers of land spill out to the north and west, creating a haven of forested natural bays within the Santa Elena National Park. We spent the next three days enjoying this spectacular bay. It had almost 360 degree protection from wind and swell, lush green rainforest tumbling from the steep hills to the sea, fish breaking the surface all around us, mantas leaping, and hardly a single reminder that man had ever existed on the planet.
The first afternoon we set out on a fishing/snorkeling excursion. We trolled across the bay and Shan got a few bites on the small Krocodile lure. Without much action we decided to check out the reefs outside the bay and see if we could spear some dinner. Instead, I came face to face with a decent sized bull shark. The water was murky and I was only 4 feet from him when I could make out his shape. Upon recognition of my company, I spun and swam straight for the dinghy. I signaled to Shannon, but she just casually lifted her head and despite my anxious tone, put her face back in the water and continued kicking. I couldn’t let the shark or Shannon’s fearlessness get the best of me, so I moved the dinghy closer to the reef for a quick exit if needed and jumped back in. Rather than dragging around bleeding shark bait on a spear, I clung to my Hawaiian sling purely as defense. Eventually the Crocodile Huntress got bored of looking for the bull shark and so we continued our quest for dinner with the rods and reels. Right away Shannon hooked a nice sized needlefish. We could have eaten him, but decided to try for something a bit tastier. Low and behold on our last troll over the reef she hooked a beauty — a little snapper. We fried him whole that evening with onions and garlic and raised our glasses to our catch, to life aboard Swell, and to the giant who spilled the green paint can.
The following morning we geared up for a jungle safari. Without a ripple of a wave to be found nearby, Shannon had convinced me that despite warnings in the guidebook, we should attempt to climb to the top of one of the high peaks that looked down on the bay. I looked again at the literature that morning about the Santa Elena National Park. “This tropical forest region is home to five species of cats: jaguars, margay, ocelot, puma and jaguarondi,” I read to Shannon. She just got more excited. So, I sighed as I had done after the shark sighting, and we pulled on long pants, man-shirts, and for the first time in months, wiggled our tanned and calloused feet into shoes and socks. With our six-dollar machetes strapped at our hips, we headed to shore. We found an opening in the mangrove, tied the Ripple (our inflatable dinghy) to a fallen log and proceeded into the rainforest. Beneath the cool canopy of outstretched limbs and leaves, the earth emitted a damp, pungent odor that hovered back and forth between decay and rebirth. The mutant mega-mosquitoes didn’t have any trouble locating us, but thankfully we were totally clothed and even our faces wore a thick coat of DEET. We came upon a dribbling creek bed leading up through the low jungle shrubbery and figured it was the best way to make some easy distance through the thickly forested lower part of the hill. After swinging from tree branches to rock tops, Shannon gave up trying to keep her shoes dry and tromped right through the shin deep water. I “Jane of the Jungled” a little farther, but soon caved and submerged my dry shoes with a grimace, then sloshed and stumbled over the slimy stones to catch up. The creek bed dissolved after about a half mile.