Golfito, Costa Rica

Blue Sky's Voyage
George & Michael
Sat 6 Feb 2010 14:58
Dear Friends                    "8:37.3N 83:09.3W"
We're just about to set off westbound, so here's a few notes to bring you up to date.
Simon joined us ten days ago, after an arduous journey from Stockholm via New York, Houston and San Jose finishing with an eight hour bus ride across Costa Rica to Golfito. He did look a little jaded on arrival, but after being fed & watered, showed a quick recovery. He's one of our more experienced crew, having skippered a fair bit in Europe but is unused to low latitude sailing. Apparently it's a lot hotter here in Golfito than it is currently in Stockholm.
Simon says that it's not usual to sleep outside in hammocks in Stockholm in the Winter.
We should point out that Simon doesn't sleep all the time - here he is helping with the 10 trays of beer we decided would help us on our way.
Golfito is a sleepy little place which was once a banana export town until the sudden departure of the banana company 25 years ago. But the Ticos are a happy lot and despite a lot of obvious poverty there are plenty of smiles and greetings around.
One of the measures taken to stimulate Golfito post-bananas was to create a 'duty free zone' (a concrete circle topped with razor wire) where you can purchase up to $500 of goods without import duty. We did visit last week as the duty free also includes alcohol and we topped up our reserves before heading to (expensive) French Polynesia. As an exercise in killing the planet, the duty free zone is a show stopper. Goods arrive we believe at either Balboa (Panama Canal, Pacific side) or Limon (CR Caribbean side) and are trucked to San Jose for processing. They are then trucked to Golfito to be sold duty free - mainly to people who have travelled down by bus from San Jose. The goods (typically large domestic white goods & flat screen tellys) then go back on a truck to San Jose and the buyers jump back on the bus to retrieve their purchases near home.
And that's just the trucking... Despite all shops being linked to the Customs central computer, we must have generated several hundred pieces of paper on our morning's shopping - simply sheaves of the stuff, all carefully signed and stamped as is the fashion here. In contrast with the European shopping experience of a few comfortable minutes on the internet followed by a knock on the door the following morning, they have a long way to come. Anyway let's not moan too much, we did fill the lockers and magnums of decent Chilean cabernet sauvignon were about $6.

And for all those who think I'm too hard on what must be the third world (whatever that means in the 21st century) then read what the boat check-in and checkout procedures are...
1    Take 4 copies of all passports, boat registration papers and the zarpe (sailing order) from your last port.
2    Check in at immigration - where they take at least half an hour to record your details despite the fact that you've given them copies of your passports and they have an electronic reader anyway.
3    Proceed to Quarantine. "Do you have any pets on board?" .... 'only the crew' .... "that will be $47 then". And another half hour.
4    Proceed to Customs and wait another half hour while they crank up the typewriter and type out your temporary import permit.
5    Then off to the Port Captain who has his copies of everything, presumably to make him feel important as he seems to have nothing else to do other than receive more paper copies.
... and to check out, the process is similar though you have to go to the Banco National to pay the departure fee. Since we have internet, I found out from there that the fee was $25 which was handy since no one in Costa Rica seemed to have a clue and just asked me how much I wanted to pay. There is no advice available in Costa Rica for how you go about all this process by the way, you just have to know.
Bear in mind that if all these people are handling a single boat, then it's a busy day and they are all on the government payroll and a burden on the state and the taxpayers. Anyway, according to the (excellent) CIA World Factbook the GDP per head is more than $11,000 so they manage, but one feels they could do so much better for themselves.
Here's Golfito this morning...
We've been provisioning pretty seriously and most of the lockers are now full, as is one of the aft berths. George is just off to get a few more last minute veggies and we'll settle our bill at the dock and head out shortly.
Like it says on the website, we'll try to post blogs every few days, but if you don't hear from us it probably means that Michael's computer has died or that the satellite won't talk to use, so don't worry. We expect a frustrating first week as we try to get off the coast with only light winds, then we're going to head west actually slightly north of our present latitude to avoid the Equatorial Counter Current and to get better wind. Once we're 1000 miles or so off Central America we'll cut across the ITCZ (doldrums to you) and head direct for, probably, Nuku Hiva.
Best Wishes
George, Michael, Alex and Simon