This is the second part of a two part blog post on my recent return trip to Nicaragua; my first trip back since I completed my service. Check out Part 1 here.
One place in Nicaragua I could never convince myself to visit during my service was San Juan del Sur. San Juan del Sur has become a backpacker paradise, filled with hostels, pool parties, and bars. It’s not really my scene. In fact, I dislike backpackers for the most part. It’s such an inbred culture that brings out some very bad qualities in very good people. Nevertheless, on this trip, San Juan beckoned. I had some friends who wanted to go, and my desire to spend time with them overruled my aversion for a place I had never been to.
The history of San Juan del Sur is actually quite interesting. For most of its history it was nothing more than a Pacific fishing village. However, in the 1800’s, it became an important stop on the shortest and safest route from the Eastern United States to California and the Gold Rush. Rather than braving the Oregon Trail, 49’ers would take a steamboat (likely from New Orleans) across of the Gulf of Mexico to San Juan del Norte, Nicaragua. San Juan del Norte (now known as a San Juan de Nicaragua due to a land spat with Costa Rica) sits at the mouth of the San Juan River on the Caribbean Sea. This allowed pioneers to travel up the river, enter Lake Nicaragua, and then cross the narrow land isthmus separating them from the Pacific Ocean. San Juan del Sur, with a gentle bay, was the most convenient point of embarkation for the journey up the Pacific coastline to California.
The passenger ships have long since left San Juan del Sur. However, the gringos still come in waves, and San Juan is a thriving party and expat town. As you can expect, I didn’t love the town. I’ve never been a fan of manufactured tourist experiences. However, it is a very pretty location. The bay is picturesque, and the locals have constructed a large Jesus statue on a ledge overlooking the bay. It’s a short, strenuous walk up, but it affords excellent views of the town and the bay.
Interesting fact about San Juan del Sur: the only Chabad House in Nicaragua is in San Juan del Sur.
San Juan del Sur is in southwest Nicaragua, one of the parts of the country that I know that least. I had only been to one other beach, Gigante, as well as Ometepe Island two times before. With some more free time on my hands I chose to go to Ometepe for two nights to see some more of the island. After some consideration I chose to stay at El Zopilote, a working permaculture farm and hostel on the less populated Maderas side of the island.
I wanted to stay over at Maderas because the Waterfall of San Ramón is on that side of the island. Unfortunately, when I got to the island I was informed that the rainy season had not set in enough to make it worth visiting the waterfall yet. Due to this setback, I chose to instead rent a bike and go back to Ojo de Agua and the nearby lakeside beachfront.
Near Ojo de Agua the tube on the bike exploded. The rubber was so shredded I couldn’t even wheel the bike along the road. I had to pick it up and walk it along the road for a kilometer, enduring the ridicule of the local elementary school children and the occasional ripe mango falling treacherously close to my head. I sweated so much I was not able to dry out the shirt I was wearing for the rest of my stay in Nicaragua. It stunk up my whole travel bag.
After visiting a few shops that I thought might be able to help me get a new tube, it became clear that repairing the bike would take considerable time and likely more money that the $5 rental. I was quite upset at the family that rented me the bike (I could see all of the patches that the tube had already received), and I decided to just leave it at a furniture repair shop. They were happy to look after it for me, and I just took down their information to hand in to the rental shop. Then I walked the rest of the way to Ojo de Agua, met up with some other people from El Zopilote there, and then we spent the rest of the day there, and walking back to the hostel along the beach, stopping for lunch and a swim along the way.
Back at the hostel that night (after I had presented the shredded tube to the bike rental people) we also claimed first place at hostel trivia night, winning ourselves a piece of banana-pineapple mush cake and a shot of homemade herb liqueur (the hostel called it homemade Jägermeister, but it wasn’t nearly as syrupy-bitter).
Just how many herbs are there in Jäger, you ask?
We actually got that question wrong, but we weren’t far off from the right answer.
On Friday, as I was leaving Ometepe, I stopped in at Punto Jesus de María. Punto is a long, shallow sand bar that runs from the island out into the lake. In effect, it seems like you are walking on water. It affords great views of the Concepción side of the island, and is not far from Moyogalpa, the main port on the island. I also got to meet Jimmy there. Jimmy is a Business Volunteer from the group after mine, and it was great to hear about how the second half of his service went.
Sorry, no pictures. There was too much water.
From Ometepe I stopped in Managua and León again before heading back to North Carolina. I had to get back home to make the move down to Atlanta (from where I currently write this post) for my internship this summer.
Someone I spent a lot of time with on the trip is Matt Martin, one of my best friends from my Peace Corps group. Matt extended his service and later was hired by Peace Corps Nicaragua to train the new business volunteers. Matt is a great guy and has learned and developed himself a lot in the past 3+ years. It was great getting to spend time with him, and I hope he does very very well in his new role.
Inevitably, nearly everyone I visited asked me when the next time I would be visiting is. Of course I don’t know the answer to that question, but I think that there will be a number of years between this visit and my next, not just one, as it had been this time. It’s simply too burdensome to try to visit so many people. Just yesterday I severed ties with someone who was mad at me for not visiting him in a city that I did not go to. He said that I was making excuses to avoid his city, and I simply had to say, “Adiós, please contact me in the future when you don’t have such a cynical attitude.”