Author Archives: Sam

 Geography Report: Costa Rica

Basic Facts

Capital: San Jose

People/Customs: Population is about 4.9 million. Most Costa Ricans, or “Ticos,” are mestizo, descended from Spanish settlers and natives, but Costa Rica is a multi-ethnic country. There are still some indigenous tribes living in Costa Rica.

Language: Spanish is the official language; local dialects are also spoken, like Bribri, Patois, and Mekatelyu.

Climate: Costa Rica has a tropical climate with two distinct seasons: dry season (December to April), and rainy season (May to November), temperature and precipitation are affected by elevation and two bodies of water, the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

Food/Farming: Costa Rica’s most important crop is coffee. There are also large rice, banana, and sugarcane plantations. Costa Rica also produces cattle for beef and dairy, poultry and eggs, teak wood, beans, palm oil, oranges, mangoes, pineapples, and other fruits and vegetables. A typical Costa Rican meal, or “casada tipica,” consists of meat or chicken, rice and beans, tortillas, salad or roasted vegetable, and fried plantains.

Government: Costa Rica is a democratic republic with a constitution defining three branches of government. The current president is Luis Guillermo Solis.

Currency: Costa Rican Colόn, or CRC. It takes 573 CRCs to make $1 USD.

Art/Music/Culture: Costa Ricans usually learn to dance at an early age. Merengue, salsa, cumbia and dub are the four main Costa Rican dances in addition to traditional folk dancing with costumes. Over time, Spanish beats mixed with the indigenous tunes and made a new kind of music special to Costa Rica. Local artisans produce crafts like decorative oxcarts, wooden carvings, pottery, leather work, and jewelry. Holidays celebrated in Costa Rica include: Christmas, New Year’s Day, Easter and Holy Week, Fiesta de Los Diablitos, Independence Day on September 15, and Labor Day on May 1.

History

Before Christopher Columbus came to Costa Rica in 1502, there were hundreds of thousands of natives from different tribes. There is archaeological evidence that they traded with other tribes in the lands of North Central America and South America. When Columbus “discovered” Costa Rica, he was on his fourth trip to the New World. He confronted a hurricane, was blown off course, and landed in Costa Rica. He traded with the natives and claimed to see more gold in 2 days than he had in 4 years on Hispaniola–that is how Costa Rica, or “Rich Coast,” got is lasting name. It became a Spanish Colony in the 1560s, but San Jose was not established until 1737. By then, the Indian population had been all but destroyed by disease and hard labor, and only a few tribes survived in the jungle.

For the Spanish, Costa Rica did not live up to its name because its wealth is in the cultivation of the rich volcanic soil and not in mined minerals. Costa Rica’s history is also unique in the Caribbean because it never had a slave-based economy. Instead, smaller self-sufficient farms of the Central Valley became the precursor to a rural democracy. However, as in all the other Spanish colonies, society was ruled by men, with power being held by white landowners and the Catholic Church.

Spain ruled Costa Rica until September 15, 1821, when they became independent. Costa Rica separated from Spain peacefully, but without Spanish control, conflicts inside the country arose, leading to a short civil war. The Liberals gained control, moved the capital to San Jose, and joined the CAF, Central American Federation. In 1824, the Nicoya-Guanacaste province left Nicaragua and joined Costa Rica. While other Central American countries struggled with long, bloody civil wars, Costa Rica remained relatively peaceful and was able to focus on agriculture and infrastructure.

When it was discovered that the highlands of the Central Valley were perfect for growing coffee, the government subsidized the planting of saplings. By the mid-1800s, Costa Rica was growing and processing coffee for European markets. By the century’s end, coffee represented 90% of the country’s exports. The coffee processors, rather than plantation owners, became the country’s ruling elite.

In 1890, the first railroad was completed by an American railroad man, Minor Keith, in order to transport coffee to the coast. He planted banana plants along the tracks, which he eventually began export to the United States. The fruit became so popular that by the end of the 1900s, banana exports surpassed coffee, and Costa Rica became the world’s top banana producer. Banana money bought power—the United Fruit company controlled local politics and communications. But in 1913 a disease struck the banana plantations and ended the powerful monopoly.

Despite following the normal Central American pattern of dictatorship and civil war in the first half of the 20th century, Costa Rican leader Jose Figueres Ferrar established the world’s first unarmed democracy (meaning Costa Rica has no military) in 1949. Costa Rica got dragged into the conflicts with the United States and Nicaragua in the 1970s, but the elections of 1984 reaffirmed their commitment to peace. President Oscar Arias later won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in negotiating a peace plan which ended the conflicts.

After the rise and fall of coffee and bananas, the most valuable resource of Costa Rica turned out to be the wilderness itself. Starting with a nature conservation area in 1963, the “Green Economic Revolution” began with a few tourists coming to see the rainforest, but now about one-third of Costa Rica’s land is preserved as nature reserves, wildlife refuges, and national parks. It has a successful tourism-based economy, with people coming from all around the world to enjoy the natural beauty the country has to offer.

Land forms/Flora and Fauna

Costa Rica is bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the southeast, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the Caribbean Sea to the east. Costa Rica has 51,060 square kilometers (19,714 square miles). It has cloud forests, mangrove wetland, rain forests, desert, beaches, pastureland, volcanic mountains, and coastal farmland (banana and pineapple plantations). It is known for its diverse flora and fauna. Native birds include: the Scarlet Macaw, toucans, hummingbirds, Magpie Jays, Quetzals, Blue-crowned Motmots, and Northern Jacanas. Some of the mammals are Spider monkeys, Howler monkeys, Squirrel monkeys, sloths, Pacific Spotted Dolphins, Pumas, Margays, Pygmy Anteaters, Capuchin monkeys, Tapirs, Jaguars, many species of bats, Humpback whales, and Coati. There are also Caimans, Jesus Lizards, Leatherback turtles, Eyelash Viper snakes, boa constrictors, and many species of frogs, as well as insects and arachnids like scorpions, tarantulas, Blue Morpho butterflies, stick bugs, and fireflies, to name a few.

Things to do

Surfing on the Pacific side (Guanacaste Province), ficus tree climbing in Monteverde, night walk in Monteverde Cloud Forest (Curicancha Reserve), white water rafting, kayaking in rivers or mangroves, coffee tour in the mountains, Arenal Volcano National Park (hanging bridges, hot springs, and ziplining), Bat Jungle in Monteverde, waterfall tours, horseback riding, nature hikes in Manuel Antonio National Park or Corcorvado National Park, and other wildlife tours and refuges.

Bibliography

McCarthy, Carolyn, and G. Benchwich, J. S. Brown, J. Hecht, T. Spurling, I. Stewart, L.Vidgen, and M. Voorhees. “Costa Rica,” Central America on a Shoestring. Lonely Planet Publications, 2013.

For more information, look at these websites:

https://www.costarica.com/travel/geography-of-costa-rica/

https://www.govisitcostarica.com/travelInfo/floraFauna.asp

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/costa-rica/history

Geography Report: Panamá

Editor’s Note: We welcome Sam as the new author of the Take Two Sailing Geography Reports!

Basic Facts

Capital: Panamá City

People/Customs: Population is 4.1 million, made up of mostly Mestizo and Native people groups, also some Afro-Panamanians, Mulattos, and Whites. Most people are Catholic, with some Protestants and a few indigenous religions.

Language: Spanish

Climate: Tropical, with a wet and dry season. The rainy season is in between May and December, and the Caribbean side gets twice as much rain as the Pacific side. Panamá lies outside of the hurricane belt. Average temperatures are between 75°F and 86°F, though it is significantly cooler in the mountains.

Food/Farming: Fish, Beef, Pork, Chicken and Eggs are produced here. Corn, rice, and bread are popular staples, and a large variety of tropical fruits and vegetables, such as mangoes, citrus, passion fruit, pineapples, bananas, and plantains are grown in Panamá.

Government: Constitutional Republic with a President and a National Assembly.

Currency: the Balboa, equivalent to, and interchangeable with, the U.S. Dollar

Art/Music/Culture: The music and culture is influenced by a mixture of Indigenous, Spanish, and African traditions. The Guna people sew a kind of colorful quilted art called molas. A Christmas parade is held in the capital every December 25th with people dancing in traditional costumes, and Carnival is held in February with loud music, elaborate costumes, and parades.

History

In 1501, Panamá was discovered by a Spanish explorer named Rodrigo de Bastides. Until his death in 1506, Christopher Colombus governed the area stretching from Panama to Honduras. In 1513, the Spanish conquistador, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, was the first European to see the Pacific Ocean. In 1519, a Spaniard named Pedro Arias de Avila founded the city of Panamá on the Pacific side. The Spanish used the isthmus for transporting gold looted from South America to ships headed for Spain.  In 1572, English privateer and explorer, Francis Drake, destroyed one of the first towns built in Panamá, and after he did this he sailed away with Spanish gold. In 1671, the buccaneer Sir Henry Morgan sailed up the Chagres River, looted, and destroyed the city of Panamá. The city was rebuilt, but there was no way to stop pirates from taking Spanish gold. In 1739, Admiral Edward Vernon destroyed the fortress of Portobelo, so the Spanish decided to sail all the way around South America rather than carrying their gold across the isthmus.

Spain lost nearly all of its colonial possessions in the 18th century in the Napoleonic Wars, and Panama won its independence from Spain in 1821 as part of Gran Colombia, liberated by Simón Bolivar. In 1846, the U.S. was granted permission to build a railroad across Panamá, which grew wealthy from people traveling across the isthmus. In 1881, the French tried to build a sea-level canal across Panamá, but the mosquitos and rainy season made this impossible.

The United States, in a bid to get control of the project, helped Panamá fight against Colombia for its independence in 1903. In exchange, they would build the canal. They tried a new strategy, building locks, damming a river, and using a lake to get across. In 1914, the Panamá Canal was finished, and the first ship sailed through—they had succeeded in building a passage that connected the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, making trade and shipping much easier. The United States controlled the Canal completely until the 1970’s, collecting concessions and using the strip of land on either side as a military base.

After the death of the leader General Omar Torrijos in 1981, military leader Manuel Antonio Noriega took control of the Panamanian government and formed a dictatorship, declaring himself president and growing the military. He was accused of corruption and doing business with Colombian cocaine cartels, killing his opponents, and rigging elections. In 1989, he re-elected himself, and the first thing he did was to declare war on the U.S., who had imposed economic sanctions and refused to pay canal fees. Of course, the U.S. won in a very short time, and Noriega was captured, tried, and sentenced on conspiracy charges. He was flown to Florida to spend decades in jail.

Meanwhile, resistance to U.S. control of the canal had grown, and the conflicts sometimes grew violent. After a series of treaties in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the United States ceded complete control of the Canal to the Panamanians in 1999. Also, in 1999, the first female Panamanian president, Mireya Moscoso was elected. Noriega did not return to Panamá until 2011.

Today, Panamá is exporting tropical fruit and building its tourism industry, attracting people from all over the world to its beautiful islands, beaches, mountains, and national parks, and is continuing to profit from the ships that transit the Panamá Canal. A new set of larger locks were finished in 2016.

Land forms/Flora and Fauna

Panamá is an isthmus, a land bridge that connects North America to South America. There is a 50-mile canal across the middle section. Panamá is about 35 miles wide at its narrowest point. Tropical forest covers fifty percent of Panamá. Mangrove swamps line the coasts, and the interior has mountains, the tallest of which is Volcan Barú at 11,4oo feet. Aside from tropical plants like palm, mangrove, banyan/fig, banana, papaya, and breadfruit, the mountains have deciduous trees like oak and elm, many varieties of epiphyte, fern, and moss. Animals you might find in Panamá include pumas, jaguars, tapirs, anteaters, agoutis (and other large rodents), coatis, peccaries, armadillos, sloths, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, and capuchins, poison dart frogs, boa constrictors, and tropical birds like the three-wattled bellbirds, quetzals, toucans, parrots, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and sea birds like tropicbirds and frigates.

Things to do

White-water rafting, climbing, going to beaches, ziplining, surfing, hiking in the mountains, visiting the Panamá Canal, snorkeling and SCUBA diving, fishing, taking a helicopter tour, horseback riding, and sailing to the San Blas Islands.

Bibliography

“Panama.” Random House World Atlas and Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Random House Reference, 2007.

“Panamá History.” Lonely Planet Travel Information,  http://www.lonelyplanet.com/panama/history, March 27, 2017.

 

 

Fun in Bonaire

On December 5th, our new friend Cliff took us to explore some caves on Bonaire to celebrate Sky’s 11th birthday (s/v Abby Singer). For the first cave, we had to climb down a ladder, crawl through a tunnel, and then we could stand up. It was hot, and the oxygen was low because it was so far back in the cave. You could go back even further, but we were not allowed to. When we turned all the lights off it felt like we were blind, then when we climbed out, it seemed so bright!

Caving in Bonaire

Before we got in the truck, we saw a wild parrot; it was very pretty. The next cave was a tunnel with bats and a very small exit.

Caving in Bonaire

The third cave was the cave with the swimming. We climbed down into the cave, but when we got to the water we could barely see it, it was so still and clear. We snorkeled into the first chamber using dive flashlights to see, but to get to the other chamber in the cave, we had to swim about 4 ft. down and 12 ft. forward. When we got to the other side, there were more rocks and stalactites, and there was an underwater pit that we could swim down into.

Caving in Bonaire

After the caves, we went to the windsurfing beach at Lac Bay. We got burgers at the beach bar, then rented windsurf boards.

Windsurfing in Bonaire

The day ended with panini and gelato at Luciano’s. It was a lot of fun and I had a great day.

Big Papa with Sky

Cliff “Big Papa” with Sky

Catch of the Day: Fresh Tuna

 

Blackfin Tuna

We caught a barracuda on the way to Carriacou, but it was too small to keep so we had to throw it back. A few days later, we caught a blackfin tuna on the way to Bequia. I think he was about 12 pounds. He fed all 7 of us—tuna steak for lunch! We grilled it and served it with lemon and an Asian aioli that Mom made. In our fish-catching history, we have caught two Mahi, several barracuda, and now, finally, a tuna. It is almost as good as swordfish, in my opinion.

Tuna Steaks by Sam

Grenada Taxi Tour 

Last week we went on a taxi tour of Grenada. The first stop was Concord Falls. It was a waterfall about 55 feet high. There were stepping stones across the pool below, and then there was another waterfall below that. I am looking forward to swimming there another time.

Concord Falls

Then we went to the nutmeg factory. They process and prepare nutmeg for shipping all over the world.

Nutmeg Processing Plant

Next, we went to the Jouvay Chocolate company. We saw how they sort, roast, grind, melt, and mix chocolate. We got free samples; my favorite was the 60% dark chocolate. We also stopped at Carib’s Leap where the natives jumped off a cliff rather than becoming captives of the French.

Carib's Leap

Last, we saw how they make rum the traditional way at Rivers Rum Distillery. The vats of fermenting cane juice were disgusting!

Antique Equipment

Vats of Fermenting Cane Juice

Rivers Rum Distillery

Finally, we drove back to St. George’s through the Grand Etang Rain Forest, but we did not see any of the Mona Monkeys that live there. It was a long day!

The Hike Up Gros Piton

In St. Lucia, Mom, Dad, Sarah, Rachel, and I hiked up Gros Piton (peak on the right) while Eli and Aaron climbed Petit Piton (peak on the left).

The Pitons, St Lucia

It was maybe the longest and steepest hike in Sam history. It was steeper than the Quill, but took about the same amount of time. Also this hike had log stairs, which made it harder.

Gros Piton Hike, St Lucia

At the halfway point, we stopped for granola bars. Meanwhile, I saw a bird spying on us in case we dropped any food, so I held out my hand with some granola crumbs in it and the bird hopped down and ate out of my hand.

Bird in the Hand, Gros Piton Hike, St Lucia

It took about two and a half hours to get to the top of the mountain, but getting down was the hard part, because it was raining and the stairs were slippery. I was pretty sore from the hike, but the view was well worth it.

Gros Piton Hike, St Lucia

Ti Piton, Gros Piton Hike, St Lucia

Nudey Booty

We anchored in Pond Bay in Virgin Gorda. Fortunately, it had nice beaches. Unfortunately, there were nudists on the beach in front of us. Fortunately, there were two beaches. Unfortunately, we had to dinghy past the nudists on the way to the other beach. Fortunately, they were behind a bush. Unfortunately, the bush was small. Fortunately they were far away, and fortunately I had a great time at the beach. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), we didn’t take any pictures that day.

El Yunque National Forest

El Yunque

Last week we hiked on El Yunque Mountain on the eastern side of Puerto Rico. El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. park system. We hiked down La Mina River trail and climbed on rocks and fallen logs in the river. At the end of the trail we swam in the pools of the waterfall, which were surprisingly cold. Then we hiked back up the hundreds of stairs to the road that led to the car. It was a great day and I highly suggest visiting the park if you are ever in Puerto Rico.

La Mina Falls

Photo by Mary

Fishing Success!

On April 2, we caught a thirty-three inch Mahi-mahi on the way to George Town, Exuma. It was the first really big fish besides Barracuda that we have ever caught. We were trolling with a cedar plug, which is a piece of wood with a led cap on the front end. It is made especially for catching Mahi. When we got to George Town, we invited friends over for dinner to help us eat our fish. We still have half the fish for another meal.

Mahi Jump

On our way into Puerto Rico this week, we caught a second Mahi and what we think was a Tuna using a couple of squiddy lures. Although the Tuna broke the line, we managed to reel in the Mahi and ate him fried that night for dinner as a celebratory meal for arriving in the Caribbean. I plan to try to catch more delicious fish in the near future.

Mahi Catch

Thunderball Grotto

When we were near Staniel Cay, we went snorkeling in Thunderball Grotto. There were four or five entrances to the grotto, with two of them being bigger than the others, and the rest small. At high tide, they are underwater. I swam through the smaller holes in the grotto wall, which were covered with coral. There were fish everywhere. There was someone who jumped in through the top of the grotto. I wanted to, too, but Dad said it was too dangerous. Still, it was really fun. Later, we watched the James Bond movie that was filmed there.