The trek from southern Mexico to Balboa, Panama is 1000 miles as the dolphin swims. Six countries have jurisdiction over this coastline, with their varied entry requirements, fees, and proximity of supplies to their harbors. The Tehuantepec and Papagallo wind systems hold court as well, and COVID precautions continue – although we’re happy to report 70%+ vaccination rates in most countries.
Several of the guidebooks onboard recommend beelining for Costa Rica, largely due to its nice marinas and reputation amongst us gringos.
We chose to stop sooner in Isla Tigre, Honduras after hearing a great report from other sailors in the Panama Posse. This way we could rest up from our last six-day passage and wait for nice weather off of Nicaragua. The town had basic provisions, a friendly restaurant run by three generations of family, and an easy entry procedure on the pier for 35 lempiras ($1.44). The port captain told us that only fifteen sailboats had stopped in the previous year. We had a great time at this stop off the beaten path.
A day or two after we arrived at Isla Tigre, two buddy boats joined the anchorage, each with a different strategy for hopping down to Panama. Our thinking was to skip Costa Rica due to its $650 entry and exit fees and required stay in a marina during those proceedings. Others planned to stop in Nicaragua, remote anchorages, or sail straight to Panama. Pluses and minuses of each option abound, but we personally needed to prioritize diesel, groceries, and fun while minimizing expenses and making miles with hurricane season inching closer.
After comparing notes with the other sailors, we set our sights on Nicaragua. There are two towns with fuel docks, the country entrance fee is less than Costa Rica, and the surf break is reportedly great. The downside was that Nicaragua requires a PCR COVID test no more than 72 hours prior to arrival. Checkout procedures would require a day and the trek to secure a nose poke and negative results would take another day. That left 36 hours or so to navigate to Nicaragua and canceled the option of San Juan del Sur further south. So Puesto del Sol was the spot!
We spent the next couple days relaxing, heading to town for dinner, and prepping the boat to leave (resecuring the tricolor light at the top of the mast, fixing the wiring on the water pump, and replacing the wiring on our engine gauges). Good thing the Azimuth crew loves fiber arts!
Nearly two years after we started isolating on the boat, it was time for our first COVID tests. Our 2020 selves wouldn’t have predicted this day! Our friends abroad Coddiwomple shared the details and the day unfolded.
We drove our dinghy to town, hired a lancha to Coyolito, hopped on a school bus to the larger town of San Lorenzo, wandered around looking for an ATM, waited in line for an hour to withdraw money, took a taxi to another bus to the larger town of Chulateca, and walked to the Labratorios Fleming. We had made loose appointments via What’s App for the PCR tests, and within 15 minutes we had completed the tests and began our return journey. When we arrived back in San Lorenzo, the sun was getting close to the horizon, so we asked a taxi to take us the rest of the way to Coyolito. We approached the lancha dock in the waning light and secured a ride back to Tigre. When we got to the dinghy, a father/son duo reported that they had kept an eye on it all day, adjusted the lines for the 12 foot tidal range, and anticipated payment for their services.
Our bus rides included a standup performance by a magician, a sales pitch for vitamin supplements, some delicious cornmeal and caramel galletas, and a wide array of Hondurans going about their days. We saw solar and ag farms, cattle, horses, mango groves, ceiba trees, and a small coal plant. Twice we asked taxis to take us to the next town on our route to save time, but they helpfully guided us to the bus stops instead for a fair of 20 lempiras (less than a dollar). We went through four police checkpoints and there was noticeable surprise that we were aboard the buses. These stops took less than a minute before we were waved on. One driver explained we were boaters going from place to place and said “todo tranquilo”. While this was certainly one of our more complicated days, I’d have to agree that todo was tranquilo.
We checked out of Honduras the next day and weighed anchor as the sun was coming up. As we were exiting the Gulf, we received a text from friends on another boat — no fuel at the fuel dock! This Nicaragua stop had been losing some of its luster as the sail approached: additional fees for check in, no potable water, no grocery store, and now no fuel. We saw the next Papagallo winds in the forecast, and would need to stay either one day or more than a week for the weather to clear. Hmm. We had good weather, enough diesel to rely on if the wind died, and provisions to make it a few extra days on the water. Onwards to Costa Rica!
Here’s where it might be tempting to knock ourselves for all the effort of the previous days or the time spent hemming and hawing on where to go when. We’ve learned a few times over that this activity bears no fruit — it’s best to keep looking ahead for which lilypad to jump to next.