Discovering Costa Rica
"Many articles have been written about Calypso Cruises during the last 40 years that Calypso Cruises has been in business. Here are a few:"
by Barbara Adams - Ticos times
When asked how he and his wife Cecelia found Costa Rica, this is what long time resident and owner of M.V. Manta Raya said: 'We were sitting on the idyllic beach in Hawaii in the early seventies, taking in the incredible beauty. I remember I was trying to learn how to surf. A surfer came by and sat beside us and said : “Pretty neat, huh?” We said it was the most gorgeous place we'd ever seen. And he said, “You think this is nice, you ought to see Costa Rica.'' The Reid's story of their discovery of Costa Rica is, in many ways, a stereotypical one; they heard of it by chance.
Relatively unknown in the seventies to all but the most savvy travel agents, Costa Rica was one of the best-kept secrets in the hemisphere. The typical question was, "What island is that?" The country was frequently confused with Puerto Rico, or if thought of at all, it was lumped into the Third World as part of the green tangle of small countries south of Texas.
For the Reids, it was the surfer on the beach in Hawaii who planted the seed of seduction. That began to germinate with an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle, a kind of open invitation to anyone interested in Costa Rica. "There was going to be a party on Mount Tamalpais outside of San Francisco, and we went. The party was crammed with all these people who were so excited about Costa Rica. They were passing around photos, and showing slides, they were just flipped," said David with a wide remembering smile from his graying beard. "We decided we'd better go to Costa Rica."
In a snapshot from the time, David and Cecelia fit in the profile of that era's American icon of youth, bellbottomed and long-haired; they joined the baby boomer exodus out of North America, but instead of thumbing around Europe, they hit the new Baja Highway south in a camper they'd out-fitted for the trip down the stretch of banana republics to a country whose name they were going to learn to love.
The first trip to Tortuga Island- January 5, 1975
How did the Reids stumble onto Tortuga Island? "We rented a boat in Puntarenas to go sport fishing and the captain took us to Caldera. It wasn't the Port it is today and we learned later that a fish hasn't been caught in the area in more than 70 years", David smiled as he told me.
'We were hot and had fished all morning without even a nibble. I could see the islands in the distance and decided I wanted to explore. I asked the Captain to take us for a tour of the Gulf of Nicoya and some place nice to swim. The Captain didn't want to go but since we had rented the fishing yacht for the day he finally agreed to take us across the Gulf of Nicoya and he took us to Tortuga Island. The Captain dropped anchor and we swam the turquoise waters to shore. There were no footprints in the white sand, only ours.”
We sat under the swaying palms enjoying the view wondering why no one was there when three deer wandered out from the Tropical Dry Forest to see who had invaded their pristine paradise; a tropical paradise as beautiful as Hawaii', David said, remembering with a smile.
'The sun was low in the sky and it was time to swim back to the yacht. On board once again, I asked the Captain why Tortuga Island was deserted and no one lived there. He told us no one wanted to stay on the island because no one would visit them, it was considered that remote.'
It was this special day that started it all.
Making their dream a reality
David and Cecelia purchased an unfinished shrimp boat in 1974 - their first yacht and named it Calypso. It took a few months to remodel and turn the shrimp boat into a yacht ready for tourism. They also bought the first Casa Calypso (it no longer exists) an empty shell of a beach house located on the Estuary side of Puntarenas that was once used to tan sharks, and turned the property into an evolving reception area, boutique, tropical gardens, bathrooms for guests, and home for Yacht Calypso and the Reids. They completed the unfinished boat and did anything with it to earn money: taxi service, sports fishing trips, and short cruises. David spent a lot of time in San José convincing travel agents and hotels on the idea of an island cruise with lunch on the beach. Unheard of at the time, the idea took almost a year to gel, a year before the first “Pacific Island Cruise", as it was called then; took a group of 25 tourists on the first ever island cruise in Costa Rica in 1975 with Tortuga Island as the final destination for a picnic lunch and a swim in the delicious crystal clear turquoise waters.
The Yacht Calypso
'Calypso was remodeled six times. We kept changing it to suit the different needs of our passengers,' said David. "It took 20 years but as the Pacific Island Cruise became more popular we were able to double our capacity, and the boat was more comfortable." One key to Calypso's success is the tour's delectable fare. Featured in Gourmet Magazine, Calypso's luncheon is an unforgettable dining experience served under swaying palms on one of the planet's most unspoiled snippets of land. The strains of Latin Marimba music from a handmade marimba blend with Pacific breezes. Life is good.
First Class Service
It's no accident that Calypso's lunch is outstanding. David and Cecelia both came from a serious work ethnic background and their work was in food. "When I met Cecelia in '70 she was the head chef at a Greek Restaurant in Marin County," said David, who himself had "done some chefing," but was more involved in food management.
After completing a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management in San Francisco City College, David was running the kitchens for SAGA Food Service, feeding thousands at colleges and institutions in two western states.
These days, Casa Calypso has a new location and dock facility and Yacht Calypso has been replaced by: the state-of-the-art catamaran,Yacht Manta Raya. Located on the property is the Reids' popular restaurant "El Shrimp Shack" with a commercial kitchen where full-time chefs create the sumptuous dishes served daily in the restaurant and on Tortuga island and their private reserve Punta Coral. Cecelia now oversees food production and on-board service, but at one time she did it all herself: the shopping, preparing, cooking, cutting and sewing table cloths and napkins, packing and laying out of a half-dozen dishes for dozens of passengers. "Cecs," as she prefers to be called admits it hasn't always been easy.
The Calypso Family
The Reid children, Celiece and Bryan, for example, rode an academic roller coaster as they switched three times between schools in Puntarenas and San José. In the early years, working out of a home that was also a business left David and Cecelia with little or no "off" time, and building up the tour during the lean years was just plain hard work. But the good has been very good. "The whole family has become marineros," pointed out David, unable to squash the pride in his voice." Now adults, both of our children are totally bilingual and at home on boats and in the water." Celiece has graduated from Chef school and also works as a Naturalist Guide. Bryan is busy working as Calypso's supervisor in Puntarenas.
The Original ‘Pacific Island Cruise'
The Yacht Catamaran Manta Raya’ has replaced the original Calypso on the same Pacific Island Tour. Dedicated to passenger service as always, David and Cecelia had the sleek, dual-hulled craft designed for ultimate comfort with suggestions from passengers in the past. Manta Raya even has two small fresh water deck pools for added luxury.
"The catamaran design means we can pull the boat right up on the beach and ramp the people off rather than put them into a dinghy," explained David. "It means more safety and comfort and more time on the island since the 'Manta Raya' is faster than the retired Yacht Calypso." The ramp design also means greater ease for passengers using a wheelchair. David and Cecelia's 40 Costa Rican employees run the gamut from secretaries to chefs, captains, crew, carpenters, mechanics, musicians and Naturalist Guides. Every need is met.
Perfection in Paradise - A ONE-DAY-COMPLETE-VACATION
David and Cecelia have spent more than 40 years in this business polishing the tours like jewels. Greatness, as they say, is in the details, and the Calypso Cruise is a multi-faceted gem, from a hot Typical Costa Rican breakfast served in their restaurant, El Shrimp Shack, a glide across the Gulf of Nicoya onboard the beautiful yacht Manta Raya with Tortuga Island as Calypso’s port-of-call. A sumptuous BBQ lunch including a delicious ceviche and a salad bar and an entree of juicy chicken covered in a delicious tropical sauce is served in their private dining area under the shade of giant parachutes on tables covered in white linen each with a white umbrella. After 5 hours at beautiful Tortuga Island, including a Snorkel Excursion and Banana Boat Ride, included in the price of a ticket, to a sunset cruise taking a different route back to port in the afternoon, A Tour of Discovery, Calypso has it all. “Calypso Cruises has a tradition of quality and we’ve been holding up that tradition for more than 40 years,” said David Reid. "I think we've been getting better and better."
'Don't Be Afraid Of The Rain!'
by - Costa Rica Outlook
La temporada de lluvia (the rainy season) is now called la temporada verde (the green season), at least according to ICT - Board of Tourism. This is designed to encourage visitors all year round. Never mind what they call it, it's a great time to come visit Costa Rica.
First, it doesn’t rain all the time, maybe a couple of hours in the afternoon after a clear, sunny morning and before a clear, fresh evening. Actually, this is a lovely time for napping, lunching or contemplating. In five years of living in Costa Rica I have woken to rain less than five times and experienced an all day rain only once or twice.
Second, tours and hotels are offered at low season prices and there are never problems with reservations. In fact you don't need reservations and sometimes can even bargain for a better deal.
Some of us who live here took advantage of a Labor Day Special (US, September 1), cruising with Calypso Cruises and we had a perfect day. Everything was super organized and coordinated by the nautical crew in crisp whites. They loaded us on to buses, as scheduled, from two different pick up points, then pointed out highlights in English and Spanish, on the way to the Port of Puntarenas. A hot typical Costa Rican breakfast is served in Calypso’s Restaurant El Shrimp Shack. After a sumptuous breakfast we readied ourselves to board the big Yacht Catamaran Manta Raya. Before boarding we were introduced to the crew. As we boarded, our shoes were checked for the slip factor and some people were advised to go barefoot. Safety and comfort were an important concern to the crew. We were given safety instructions and shown the life jackets and asked to stow our belongings under the seats.
We numbered about 80, and 1 thoroughly expected the boat to be jammed, but after everyone sorted themselves out, no area was crowded and we were able to meander from the bar to the back deck to the top deck and the two trampolines. Tropical drinks and platters of fruit were served and empty glasses and napkins whisked away before one had time to wonder where to put them.
The trip is to Tortuga Island, but this time 20 of us were transported and dropped off on the owners’ private reserve at Punta Coral, the easternmost tip of the Nicoya Peninsula 45 minutes from Puntarenas, and the rest of the group continued on to Tortuga Island. Once on shore at beautiful and private Punta Coral we found a thatched roofed cabana with lots of hammocks for the idle to relax with a view of the sea. When we worked up to it, the beach was right there for a swim. There was a guided nature walk for the energetic.
After we were served a delicious ceviche at the bar we gathered under the shade in the dining area for an elegant lunch. It was a delicious seafood BBQ lunch again served by our starched and still smiling crew. We were served an ice cold mixed green salad followed by a delicious filet of fish covered in a mouthwatering cream and fresh mushroom sauce and topped with toasted macadamia nuts and a complimentary glass of white wine. Dessert is an amazing baked chocolate fudge, a chocolate lovers dream. The affable owner, David Reid, worked right alongside of the crew, demonstrating his attention to detail and service. After lunch, a short walk through the jungle led us to a hillside overlooking islands and boats. After spending a wonderful 6 hours in some of the last Tropical Dry Forest left in the world we were picked up by the beautiful Yacht Catamaran Manta Raya for the return trip to Puntarenas taking a different route for aTour of Discovery. Our day with Calypso was perfect and the best day of our vacation in Costa Rica.