The Forgotten Middle refers to the portion of Central America south of Mexico to Panama where few cruisers stop. Our stop in El salvador, one of two marinas, had a total of 4 boats in it. The Port Captain in Honduras, the only port of entry on the West Coast, said they have 4 boats a year check in and a trawler we passed going north said we were the first cruising boat they had seen since Panama. Where is everybody? 14 years ago we port hopped with about 10 other boats down this coast. As we cruised down the coast and got hit by different gap winds (winds funneling across the isthmus and accelerating), we quickly reflected on why more boats don’t cruise this area. It can be brutal out here! We’ve had sustained winds of more than 30 knots for 6-12 hours at a time, gusting to 40. These are well known weather systems and we hope they will be some of the bigger winds we see on the trip. We don’t always love living at a 30 degree angle, but our boat loves the big winds. The bigger the better, the more portholes underwater (we see a lot of green water at 30 knots), the happier she is. It is the crew that suffers. We have to hunker down, find a safe place to read, play games or sleep. Ana spends hours in the back bunk playing with her toys, oblivious to the fact that her world is off kilter. Meanwhile the floor of the boat is usually littered with everything that was not nailed down or behind a locking cabinet, and all the hatches have to be closed due to the spray so it is stifling hot down below. It’s tough living like that for an extended period of time but the kids have been such troopers.
The first thing we noticed after leaving Mexico, was that life appeared harder for the locals in El Salvador and Honduras and presumably in Guatamala and Nicaragua. The standard of living is much lower and locals struggle to survive in these countries. People are pretty poor and unlike Mexico, there doesn’t seem to be much of a middle class. In talking to the locals, there is still quite a bit of violence as well. Not directed at tourists, but gang violence and recruitment of young boys in poor rural areas of the country. Some of these kids have no choices if a gang targets an area. The church’s seem to offer some amnesty and there are quite a few evangelical missions offering safe options for the kids. Another difference in Central America is the lack of tourists. In the markets we stood out more, more people touched the kids’ heads and we got more stares in general. Even in our tanner than normal state, we still look pretty white comparatively. Fortunately the kids are natural ambassador and we eventually get smiles and friendly conversation from the locals, but it did take a little more effort than it did in Mexico. While we were in the country, El Salvador was gearing up for a national election. There is a communist and a conservative party and there were rallies and other impromptu gatherings throughout the country. Although that makes for interesting politics, we tried to stay away from potential hot spots. We keep to where the happy people are!
In Honduras we stopped at a old American CIA base at the top of a dormant volcano. Regardless of weather, Mike was so not going to miss this stop. Secret evil lair inside a volcano, how cool is that? Mike and the boys took a guide and hiked the grueling, overgrown, fully sun exposed trail to the top of the Mountain in 90 degrees. They were pretty beat on the return and Porters only comment was “Not nearly as cool as it sounds”. I think he was expecting at least some sharks with lasers guarding the base or at a minimum some ill tempered sea bass! I guess not having been alive during the cold war and hearing about weapon sales, proxy wars and civil wars in Central America, he couldn’t quite grasp the importance of this simple site serving as a listening center or place for weapons transfer. Honduras, one of our allies, was strategically straddled between two hotbeds of civil unrest. This stop was one of those, interesting in a historical sense, but not necessarily worth going back to sites.
When we finally sailed into Costa Rica we were all ready for a break. We were tired, we hadn’t eaten a real meal in several days and the wreck (messy) of a boat had to be put back together. On the plus side, no one got sick, nothing broke, the boat was bone dry below deck and other than being a little stinky and tired, we were no worse for wear. The bay was frothing with the wind gusts, but fortunately, in the far corner where we anchored, no fetch was able to build and it was flat. We arrived early evening into Bahia Elena, a huge bay in a Santa Rosa national park, and heard Howler monkeys in the distance and saw our first parrots. This park, with its arid scrub foliage and Acacia thorn trees, looks more like a scene from the African Savannah, but the wildlife is very Costa Rican. During the few days we were there, we explored the park by dinghy and by foot. In the early mornings we watched white faced monkeys forage near the edge of the bay, later we scared up some white tailed deer and listened to many different amazing bird calls. A highlight for the boys was taking our new machete and deforesting some of the world’s largest remaining stand of tropical dry forest. Our first stop in Costa Rica was fantastic! We look forward to many more adventures.
|view of the Gulf of Fonseca|