Monday, July 30, 2012

Sipping microbrews in the Costa Rican jungle

By Nicole

So what do you do when you a) have some time to kill while waiting for parts to arrive, b) want to treat your spouse to a getaway for all his hard work and c) are craving the taste of a good, microbrewed beer?  You take a trip to Costa Rica’s best (and only) microbrewery hotel, of course!

Truth in advertising


Volcano Brewing Company is located on a hill overlooking Lake Arenal (which sounds less like a kidney disorder if you pronounce it in Spanish as ah-ray-nahl), an easy two-hour drive from Marina Papagayo (no dirt roads!). It’s an all-inclusive joint, which means that for the price of a room (which is pretty cheap to begin with), you also get to eat all you want from their tasty restaurant AND drink all you want from the bar. You want to have four microbrews with lunch? Okay! You want to have five gin & tonics over dinner and then have two desserts? Do it! Although I don’t know anyone who’d do such a thing.

Craft beers in frosty mugs … it’s been a looooong time

They brew the beer right below the bar. How convenient.

P7243480 Mila, the Volcano Brewing Company’s pup, shows her appreciation (Aaron is the best dog-petter I know)

Our special keep-out-the-riff-raff gate

The view of Lake Arenal from our room. Pretty!

P7243404 Sunset at the Volcano Brewing Company

P7243410 Rainbow over Lake Arenal (it tried hard to be a double rainbow, but it wasn’t meant to be)

P7243393This is what happens when you have an all-you-can drink policy

The next morning after breakfast, we set out to explore the area with an eye toward hiking in the Tenorio Volcano National Park.  It was windy, gray, cold and drizzly (very Seattle), but the scenery was stunning!  Rolling, pastoral hills dotted with palm trees and cute cows fanned out in all directions. As we bumped and bounced down the red-dirt roads, we found ourselves mesmerized by the bucolic beauty. We even saw a pair of toucans!

DSC_3785Misty hills and palm trees

DSC_3769Baby cows! Nuzzling! OMG, the cuteness.

DSC_3774 Aaron said, “C’mere, cows!  C’mere!” The baby cows sensed stranger danger and ran away.

As I mentioned, it was windy.  Well, apparently that’s not a random occurrence, considering that in addition to farming cattle, they also farm the wind here. Dozens of giant wind turbines churned away on the hillsides.

DSC_3765 Wind turbines dominate the hilltops

DSC_3791Cowboys and wind turbines – a mix of old and new

DSC_3778Narrow wooden bridge

While we made it to the beautiful national park with hopes of hiking to a blue waterfall, the mist that became drizzle finally became rain … and we wussed out. Yes, we’re from Seattle and know the joy that is Gore-Tex, but we figured having a few beers in the warm bar of the Volcano Brewery sounded a bit more enjoyable. So back over the rolling hills we went, keeping an eye out for anteaters.

DSC_3786Watch out for, um, anteaters!

DSC_3859 A break in the clouds

After lunch and a nap, we set out again (this time in the sunshine) for a “secret” waterfall. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that the waterfall wasn’t really a secret, but it still made for a nice little hike. Besides, Aaron has a serious thing for waterfalls.

DSC_3845 Downstream from the falls

DSC_3813Shhh!  It’s a secret waterfall!

P7253459Aaron gets his waterfall fix


P7253481 An arm shot for you, Mom!

With our craving for delicious craft beers and gorgeous scenery satiated, we returned to Marina Papagayo refreshed and eager to get cracking. The very next day, more boxes arrived, and we got right back to work. Perfect timing, perfect getaway.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Home sweet (temporary) home: Marina Papagayo

By Nicole

Despite its isolation (or maybe because of it), Marina Papagayo has been a great temporary home for us while we put Bella Star back together.  Unless you count noisy howler monkeys or beautiful sunsets, there aren’t a lot of distractions around here!  There’s not too much else to say – it’s a beautiful, well-run marina – but a marina is a marina, and we’re looking forward to untying those dock lines and getting underway.  Soon!  Although we’ll still have lots of projects on the to-do list, we’re aiming to be out of here in 10 days.  (Keep your fingers crossed!)

View from the top – looking down on Marina Papagayo and across the gulf

See the white pole on the left?  That’s one of the lightning rods positioned around the marina designed to keep boats safe.  Now if only we could figure out how to tow one behind us…


Purple and coral sky with a crescent moon

Spiny-tailed iguanas wander around all over the place …

… and love basking in the sun

The Dive Bar (which is not at all divey)

Treating ourselves to steak night at the Dive Bar ($8.50 for a grilled steak covered in caramelized onions with a huge pile of roasted veggies and fries on the side)

Another lovely sunset over the hills where the howler monkeys and white-faced capuchins live

It’s time for some new scenery! :)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Bella Star’s Choice: Things we like!

By Nicole

While we’re busy installing and sweating and generally filling our time with boring stuff (that is, stuff with few pretty pictures), we thought we’d finally post that list of “things we like” we’ve been compiling – some are essential, some are fluffy, all are favorites.

NESCAFÉ CLASICO. Yep, it’s instant coffee. What? Instant coffee = instant caffeinazation.

BOGS BOOTS. Our go-to shoe choice for 4,000+ miles of offshore and coastal cruising from Canada to Mexico. Warm, waterproof, comfy and cute (to boot). “Classic High” (with handles) for women and men,, $100.

IMG_1919Bogs boots in B.C., Canada – woohoo!

WATER BOTTLES THAT DON’T LEAK OR STINK. Enter our fave, the Contigo. It’s 100% spill-proof and won’t retain odors (from that time you chose to hydrate with a G&T instead of H2O). It even has a cool little carabineer thingy!, $10.99

FIELD GUIDES. Lots of them. Because who hasn’t said while on a hike, “What the heck is that thing?”

Capuchin monkeys and cashew trees and motmots, oh, my!

ICOM M802 MARINE SSB RADIO + PACTOR PTC-2 PRO. How else do you plan to email your mom when you’re in the middle of the ocean, download the latest weather forecasts and chat with other ham radio geeks like yourself? Bonus points for needing a license to operate it.

NO-SPILL GAS CAN. Tired of making a giant, smelly, environmentally unfriendly mess when topping off your outboard gas tank (or lawnmower, if you have one of those instead)? Well then stop using a crappy gas can! We’ve been using the No-Spill Poly Gas Can religiously for more than 3 years, and it’s still going strong., 1 1/4-gallon can, $15.99

It really doesn’t spill or dribble.  Ever!

DORCY FLASHLIGHT. Need to illuminate a jungle full of nocturnal critters? Find your boat on those nighttime dinghy rides back to the anchorage? Or just want to spy on your neighbors? Then try the Dorcy 180 Lumen High Flux LED Cyber Light. It’s tough, water resistant, super-duper bright and cheap., $20

KINDLE. Because library space on a boat is limited. And besides, reading a paperback book is so 2005.

iPOD NANO. This tiny iPod keeps me company during night watches and beach runs – and its handy-dandy built-in clip means I won’t lose it to the briny deep like my last iPod (oops)., $129

Itty-bitty and wearable –
perfect for solo dance parties

REEF “GINGER” FLIPPY FLOPPIES. I’ve worn these deliciously comfortable sandals literally every day for months and months (and months). I might die without them., $25

OLD NAVY BIKINIS and BOARDSHORTS. Between the saltwater, chlorine, sunscreen and bug spray (and that’s just before lunch), swimsuits get put through their paces out here. These ones are cheap, well-made and stylish. Dive in.


TERVIS TUMBLERS. Unbreakable cups with lifetime warranties that keep hot bevs hot and cold ones cold, without all that messy “sweating.” An added perk? You get to choose which sweet iron-on patch you want sandwiched inside. Aaron’s pick? A pirate flag, of course.

MICROFIBER TOWELS. You grab for a towel, wrap yourself up, take a deep breath and … gahhh! Sour towel smell. No one likes that. No one likes washing bulky towels in a $2/load washing machine or finding a place to store all that fluffiness either. What’s a cruiser to do? Invest in microfiber towels! We swear by the Sea to Summit DryLite towels and use them every day. They dry quickly (no stinky towel smell!) and take up sooooo much less room in washers and lockers. Adult-sized people should go with the large (although we went with medium and are making due):, ~$22

Four soft, absorbent DryLite towels – compact towel-y goodness

SIMRAD HYDRAULIC AUTOPILOT. For those times when hand-steering might dirty your white linen trousers (or if you really just want to maintain a proper heading without having to, well, steer the boat). This guy faithfully and reliably steered our course for thousands and thousands of miles—even through steep, confused seas—without getting seasick.

SNAPWARE AIRTIGHT FOOD STORAGE CONTAINERS. Organization is mission critical on a boat where storage may be ample, but reaching the one thing you need requires either an advanced yoga pose or the disembowelment of an entire locker’s contents. We’ve been keeping things fresh, neat and orderly with Snapware containers since leaving Seattle 15 months ago. Thumbs up for durability and effectiveness. Available online and in stores like Bed, Bath & Beyond and Fred Meyer.

An assortment of our Snapware containers

JET. What tastes like all five flavors of Skittles+glitter+unicorns and is guaranteed to get you through those afternoon blahs?  It’s Jet Refrescso Energizante!  Or Jet Energy Soda.  If Red Bull “gives you wings,” then Jet gives you an SR-71 Blackbird.  Boom.

DSC_3692Jet. Fueling Bella Star’s lightning repairs since 2012.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Lightning update: Christmas in July!

Ho! Ho! Ho!  Santa arrived this morning (in a flatbed golf cart) and delivered our first shipment of replacement gear.  Woohoooo!  This feels like PROGRESS! 

We used a freight shipper based in Miami to handle the logistics.  They received all our assorted packages, bundled them up, shipped them to Costa Rica, got them through customs and drove them to the marina (a 5-hour drive).  How long did all this take, you ask?  Well, the shipment left Miami Tuesday night and was on our front doorstep this morning at 7:45 a.m.  It’s Thursday.  Holy geez, that’s fast!

DSC_3652Digging in

Just like Christmas morning – minus the tree and tinsel.  And snow. 

The first project – the top priority item that trumped all others – has already been checked off the list.  Yep, the new stereo is installed and cranking out the tunes.  Now the real work begins… :)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Steamy bubbly volcanic treats

By Aaron

Before we went to Monteverde, Zack, Nicole and I took our first inland trip to the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano National Park. It was a pretty easy drive, even though it was mostly dirt roads to get there.  It’s a beautiful place to visit, and we highly recommend it.  We only saw two people on the whole hike.

DSC_3245 Beginning our hike on the rusting chain link and rebar suspension bridge with rotted boards over a raging river of death.  Of course that didn’t stop Nicole from jumping up and down on it as soon as I was half way across.


This buttress root on this tree made it look like it had its arm around the boulder.  They’re jungle buddies.


The flora was incredible and exotic with trees bending and twisting up every which way.  We stopped many times to try and see where all the strange bird calls were coming from.

DSC_3265 DSC_3279DSC_3261



DSC_3295You gotta have at least one waterfall per hike in Costa Rica.

The volcano is active (the last eruption was only 10 months ago), and there are many fumaroles to be found in the park.  Fumaroles are openings in the Earth’s crust that spew out steam and gases.  Geoflatulance if you will.  It looked like fog as we approached the first one, but it was really hot and it sure didn’t smell like fog.

The first fumarole we came to had a ghostly noise and made the whole area steamy.  It was a creepy effect under the dark canopy.

DSC_3304 DSC_3305DSC_3319

DSC_3306Ah, the fresh air of the jungle.  Except when you’re downwind of a fumarole.  There your lungs get filled with a rotten egg medley of sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, and hydrogen sulfide.  But don’t worry!  It’s all natural from the Earth, so it can’t be bad for you.


DSC_3321 DSC_3322DSC_3331



After a few kilometers, it was time to stop for a lunch consisting of a Spanish cheese platter, various meats and a couple baguettes.  We found a great spot next to a mudpot with the jungle around us and a lizard begging for Pringles at my feet.  Not bad.  And that’s not Coke in Nicole’s cup.  We learned a nifty trick from my mom to bring red wine on trips like this. 






Some boiling ponds….


As a sidenote, I’ll mention the bugs here.  They’re frigin huge.  A lot of them are friendly.  But there’s a few that look like they’ll kill you just because they can.

Nicole and Hopper Nicole and Hopper 2

DSC_3622 DSC_3391
Nicole doesn’t mind them crawling on her as long as they’re sans fangs, stingers, and offensive pincers.  I particularly like the stick bugs which I’ve given the Best Camouflage Award.  The cicada on the bottom right, makes an ear piercing RRREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!! noise that is impossibly loud for something that size.  The cicada is actually the worlds loudest insect and can produce sounds up to 120 dB – enough to cause permanent hearing loss if it were just outside your ear.   


DSC_3376 DSC_3372  DSC_3373
We passed some really muddy mudpots.  We probably spent an hour here just watching them burble and bubble. 

The jungle eventually gave way to some grassy hilltops.

DSC_3383 DSC_3396
Gotta watch your step around here.  The gasses coming out of that hole look to have done a nice job eating away at the rock.  If you step in it you’ll just pull a skeleton foot out of the hole.

 DSC_3395 From any vantage point with a clear view of the canopy it’s easy to spot other fumaroles.

Well that’s it for our inland trips for a week or two.  We’ve got a vanload of gear clearing customs as I type this, and it’s expected to arrive at the marina Friday.  So we’ll be pretty busy with boat projects and getting Bella Star ready to get underway again.  But we’ll post some updates on that as well.