Our Last Days in Costa Rica with Saltbreaker

Approaching Isla Tortuga

After a calm 6 hour sail from Tambor which included a textbook spinnaker run, we found ourselves at Isla Tortuga. After about another hour of nervously watching the depth finder we were able to firmly anchor off of Alcatraz, a smaller island adjacent to Isla Tortuga.

Isla Tortuga is an odd place. The island is clearly a tropical paradise, but one of the beaches is set up as a commercial resort that tourists boat in and out of each day from nearby towns. The gift shop and beach chairs seemed out of place, but we were glad to find that cold beers were available. Our afternoon on Isla Tortuga was relaxing, and once again we were joined by Ustupu. Since we had caught a Sierra mackerel earlier that day and had quite a bit meat left, the only logical thing to do was to bring the fish, some rum, and guitars to a secluded beach on the uninhabited island of Alcatraz and have another fire with the Ustupu crew. Once we landed the dinghy I was immediately struck with vertigo; it appeared the entire beach was moving. This actually turned out to be not far from the truth, and we realized that the beach was covered with thousands of hermit crabs. I always foolishly assumed hermit crabs were solitary creatures, but this beach blew that notion out of the water. Once again, we had a great time eating fresh fish on the beach. Nick and Alex, guitars ready, sat on logs late into the night asking for song requests. Even though I remember them pretty much shooting down everything that was suggested, I also remember that somehow quite a few songs were played. After heading back to the boat we were treated to a difficult night of sleeping on rough seas, with Alex up most of the night to make sure the anchor didn’t slip.

The next day we decided to go snorkeling at a few other very small islands nearby. I am terrified of snorkeling, so I stayed on the dinghy to really focus on the sunburn that was quickly forming on my back. As a bonus, Nick and Alex were able to spear us several sea bass and hawk fish for lunch. After making sure that the sunburn had really taken hold, we returned to Saltbreaker and raised anchor, anxious to avoid another night of getting tossed around by the waves. We quickly sailed over to the nearby bay at Curu, a monkey sanctuary. In retrospect, we were probably better off staying where we were.

Nick shopping for lunch

The next morning we were all well rested and set off in the dinghy for shore, fortified with the tequila we had drank the night before in celebration of the absent Dosh’s birthday. After safely stowing the dinghy above high tide, we headed down the beach toward the monkey sanctuary. I am almost positive that, had we listened closely and not been distracted by the soft-shell crabs scurrying about on the beach, we would have heard the ominous music playing in the background. At the sanctuary we encountered a family that had wisely chosen to hire a guide to take them on a tour. To our shock a spider monkey, which it was later explained was a rescue monkey that was very personable, walked out of the shadows and literally took a small child by the hand and walked him over to a building to point out an interesting sight. By this juncture of the trip my tropical survival instincts had developed to a razor sharp edge, and I immediately thought that the monkey was stealing the child. Thankfully I was wrong, but we would later find out that I was justified in not trusting these evil, evil monkeys.

We were disappointed to find that the monkey sanctuary did not sell cold beer, but still decided to check out the trails. We opted for the “Monkey Trail.” After this mile or so hike we all agreed that this trail was named this way as a warning, in the sense that the monkeys own the trail and do not appreciate you walking on it. Ignorant of this at the time, however, we happily set out, foolishly eager to see monkeys. Halfway or so through the trail we were discussing how it does not appear that there are any monkeys at all on the monkey trail when, out of the blue, a dozen or so white-headed capuchin (probably latin for man-eater) monkeys crossed in front of us. Through the trees, on the ground, through the canopy above; there were monkeys everywhere you looked. We eagerly ran around the upcoming bend to watch them for a little longer. At the exact same instant, way out of left field, another group of these monsters decided to cross the path in the exact spot we were now occupying. Chaos ensued.

Note the cold, calculating eyes

While we stood there, more monkeys than I thought existed were flying above, below, and through our group. One lost its grip and slipped to a lower branch. Then a baby monkey-cretin, who must have been startled by our presence, fell to the ground mid-leap from about 15 feet up. Don’t worry, he was unfortunately unharmed. At the same time, much to our amazement and dismay, the first group of monkeys started making unfriendly sounding noised and doubled back towards us. What I believe to be the alpha monkey and a few of his lackeys stopped about 3’ from us and decided, by way of greeting, to bear their razor sharp teeth and start growling (or whatever you call that terrifying sound monkeys make). The monkeys were able to very effectively make it crystal clear that we were not welcome. At this point I was, like an idiot, not yet scared out of my mind. I nervously laughed and turned back to Alex, Michael, and Nick. Alex and Nick were both armed with sticks at this point, and Alex was hunching up his shoulders, trying to look gigantic. Michael and I were relieved to see that the Kleemans found weapons until Nick quietly explained under his breath that it was just for show and lightly hit the stick against a tree, shattering it into a million pieces and somehow causing dozens of fire ants to cover his forearm. At this point, hoping desperately that the monkeys did not just see that, I was officially scared.

Michael, always the good friend, suggested that I just run past the clearly homicidal, in no way cute and innocent, 15 pound bully of a monkey blocking the trail ahead of us. Not wanting to be the hero, I instead graciously suggested that Michael perhaps take the honor of leading us past this all too real display of wildlife. He declined. Instead, we came up with the bright idea of running away and started to survey our surroundings. To our right was a river, which to my now terrified mind clearly contained crocodiles, so that was out. To our left was a hill with thick jungle full of several other monkeys watching us in a way that reminds me of the scene at the local deli during the lunch rush, so that route was also out. Turning around, we discovered that behind us was, of course, all of sudden also blocked by several more of these menacing monkeys who were busy striking all sorts of gladiator-esque poses.  I all of a sudden missed my couch back home very, very much. With no options and pretty much in a blind panic we all simultaneously decided to run ahead, trying to keep as wide of a path between us and the monkeys as was possible, which felt like being in a pinball machine. Luckily the monkeys did not foresee this cowardly tactic, and we safely made it through unscathed. We quickly took the next turn off the path and covered quite a bit of distance very quickly before stopping to look back. What we saw when we looked back was clearly some sort of monkey fight between the 2 groups. They were probably each angrily blaming the other for letting us get away. We covered the last half of the trail quickly. Extremely quickly once we heard the howler monkeys start screaming.

Upon returning to the base of the sanctuary, we all sat down to process what just happened. Except we sat down across from the previously mentioned rescued spider monkey, who was cuddling up with a sleeping teenager on a bench. I can’t speak for everyone, but all I could think of was this monkey suddenly turning on that poor boy, which in my mind was inevitable. This marked the second time in a matter of about an hour I fled from a monkey in fright.


This entire scene made our earlier decision to each jump 35’ off of the main shroud spreaders into the ocean seem perfectly reasonable and sane.

Not as easy as it looks

The rest of the trip proceeded at a much calmer pace. The next day we gathered what little courage we had left and set sail for Playa Herradura. We soon discovered a stow-away on our sail across the Gulf of Nicoya, however. It seems a dedicated hermit crab had crawled into one of our bags on the beach, I am guessing to get away from all the other socialite crabs, and was happily cruising around on the floor under deck. With lightning-fast reflexes Nick was able to capture the stow-away and made a little home for the crab, which we now called Hermie (proving once and for all that we are very creative with names). Hermie had already made his escape skills apparent just by showing up on the boat, and was able to quickly escape from the drinking glass Nick tried to keep him in. And that is how we had a fifth sailor on board during the half day trek to Playa Herradura, happily hanging out in the cockpit without a care in the world, letting the wind blow through its claws. After anchoring in Playa Herradura we were able to set Hermie free on the beach to enjoy his newfound solitude. We also made sure to release a Chinese lantern in celebration of Saltbreaker sailing 4000 miles since they left San Francisco.

With Playa Herradura as our base camp, we spent the next few days bussing back and forth between the harbor and the town of Jaco. Most of the time spent in Jaco was occupied with surfing and drinking pina coladas. This was a relaxing and welcome way to spend the last few days in Costa Rica, which went by way too fast.

All packed up, it was soon time to return home. After 150 miles and 2 weeks and with what seemed like a lifetime of adventure behind us, I was not even remotely ready to head home.  But our flight tickets said otherwise. This really had turned into an amazing trip. As I wrote these memories up, I often was unable to find the words to really illustrate how great this trip was. Everyone will just have to take my word for it that this truly was the trip of a lifetime.

I was not happy to have to go back home

After our reluctant goodbyes to our good friends, we boarded the bus to San Jose and Alex and Nick went back to Saltbreaker to continue the adventure. They were headed to Manuel Antonio to meet some of their family and start preparing the boat for the long Pacific Ocean crossing.

For me, after reliving the trip here, one thing is painfully clear: I will be joining Saltbreaker again. Once they get safely out of monkey country.


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7 Responses to Our Last Days in Costa Rica with Saltbreaker

  1. Judi says:

    Great writing! And confirms the adventurous courage I always knew “the boys” had. Glad you were a crowd within that crowd of monkeys. If it was just you, Derek – well, it might not have ended so well – just kidding. – Aunt Judi

  2. Mom (Sara) says:

    Derek, your posts are so, so good. I do believe that although you felt that you had a hard time finding the words to adequately describe your trip with Saltbreaker, anyone reading about your adventures would fiercely disagree! Readers of this blog are buzzing about it. (And I’ve learned not to have a cup of coffee in my hands while opening up the blog in the mornings because sipping coffee and laughing out loud while reading is not a good combination.) Thank you for your great writing.

  3. jennifer matuschek says:

    Such great tales! such swashbuckling adventure! And i’m taking your word for it on everything! Note to self: Avoid any monkey sanctuary that does not sell cold beer!
    thanks derek!

  4. Erin says:

    This was such a hilarious blog! Loved it! I already don’t like monkeys, but you definitely made me even more suspicious of them. Plus that photo that looks like the Outbreak monkey made me dislike him too (and that used to be one of the only kind of monkeys I did like). They all sound like they’re up to no good. I also loved hearing about all the hermit crabs and your stowaway! Glad to hear I hadn’t pegged them wrong, since I’ve always liked hermit crabs. And I sure hope you guys got a photo or a video of them swarming the beach. Definitely hope to find myself in Costa Rica one of these days.

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