The second stop on this Central American adventure has come to an end. It was a great, relaxing week in the small town of Las Penitas on the Pacific coast in northern Nicaragua. We rented a house right on the sand with a small pool, housecleaner/ cook, and dog named Travi. The list of activities for my family and me were some combination of reading, writing, walking on the beach, swimming in the ocean or pool, eating or napping. The one main activity we did was go on a boat ride through the mangrove forest, which was fun and interesting. There were iguanas, crocodiles, and roughly 12,000 species of birds that our boat guide was flawless at picking out. His ability to spot an iguana from twenty five yards away from a moving boat was truly impressive.
During the mangrove tour, we also stopped to visit some freshly hatched turtles who were quite literally born that day. Before getting to the mini-turtles on the beach, I was introduced to my first experience with sand flies. I had heard of these jerks from my time in SE Asia, but had never had one eat my flesh before. These sons of biscuits are small flies that hop on your skin, chomp open a bit and drink some blood. Before I knew what the hell was going on, I had several sand fly bites, which are like nuclear mosquito bites. They swelled up bigger, itched more, and lasted longer. Add sand flies list of things I want wiped off the earth, along with the only other thing on that list: mosquitos. Thankfully the mini turtles were pretty cool to see, as they were crawling around in a small makeshift sand box, slightly making up for the fact that I had to survive the sand fly forest.
Las Penitas also had a few small restaurants that we frequented for our afternoon snacks or lunch. Most of them were right on the beach, which makes for an impeccable setting for the consumption of a meal of food or fruit smoothie. Prices for everything were relatively cheap, especially considering 100% of the patrons of each establishment were tourists. A plate of chicken, rice/ beans (called gallo pinto), salad and fries or fried plantains could be had for less than $4, while beers were $1. No complaints there. One of the eating establishments, called the Lazy Turtle, was owned by a Candadian couple. The male half could easily star in a Canadian version of the Big Lebowski. He sported several necklaces and bracelets, had a pet parakeet, and was easily in the top 1% of laid-back humans on the planet. For anyone visiting, the Lazy Turtle definitely had the coldest beer in town.
While the town has food made to order, it did not have anything resembling a food market. There was a small village of locals which we dubbed Waffle Town based simply on the fact that the eight streets looked like a portion of a waffle on a map. Waffle Town consisted of several dirt streets, a church, and a baseball field that probably hasn’t been used in several centuries. There are a few places to get bare essentials, which was enough for us: eggs, bread, veggies, water, gatorade and snacks. If you want more than that, you need to take a bus or taxi into the city of Leon, which is about 15 miles away.
The housekeeper also doubles as a cook, and made our dinners six out of seven nights we stayed in Las Penitas. We needed to provide the food (although she bought us food from Leon once), and she charges $5 to cook an entire meal. Quite a bargain. It was amazing to be able to relax at the house and get served a huge dinner made by a local. Everything was super tasty as well, and the dog Travi appreciated every morsel of meat we chucked his way. He was one of the pickiest dog eaters I have ever seen. He wouldn’t touch any veggies, and didn’t even like peanut butter. Chicken, fish, or beef would disappear in a microsecond, but he wouldn’t eat anything else.
Overall, it was a really fun and relaxing week in a quiet beach town. It doesn’t have much in the form of activities, so if you are planning a trip to Nicaragua and need to zipline onto a jetski that is picked up by a helicopter, Las Penitas is not the place for you.
Today was the rest of my family’s fly home day, and I was going south to San Juan del Sur. That is Saint John of the South, for those of you who don’t speak Spanish. Getting from point A to point B in a foreign country is always an interesting experience, and today was definitely no exception to that rule. My family hired a car to take them from Las Penitas to Managua, and I planned on joining to Leon, at which point I would (hopefully) take a bus to San Juan del Sur. The driver let me know that any busses in Leon would have to go to Managua first anyway, so it made sense to stay in the car until after the airport. Fine with me, as I certainly didn’t want to add an unnecessary bus ride to whatever was in store for me today. Little did I know that my transportation day was only just beginning. I should expect these types of days now after doing an above average amount of world travel, but I just never quite know what is going to happen.
The driver almost dropped me off at one series of bus stops, which, in hindsight, he probably wishes he did. We asked a few people at this first stop if there was a bus to SJDS, and no one said yes, so I got back into the car to try and find another bus stop after we dropped of my mom and bros at the airport. We made it to the airport no problem, I said goodbye to the rest of the Kaplans, and I got back in the taxi. Before heading to the bus stop, the driver offered to take me all the way to SJDS. I asked how much, and he said $145 in American currency. At first I didn’t understand him because it was so much money, but he confirmed I heard him right. $145 USD in Nicaruaga is a small buttload of cash, so I politely declined his not so generous offer. I didn’t know how much the bus would cost, but I was positive it would be a small fraction of that amount.
My guess was that there must be some large bus terminal somewhere that has a big pile of busses going in all sorts of directions all over the country. WRONG. We drove around for thirty minutes and asked twenty people how to get to one area of town. Eventually, after asking women walking on the street and vendors and cops where this station was and twisting and turning all over Managua, we found the correct bus station. I gave the driver an extra $60 cordoba (about $2.50) and he was not pleased. He definitely had a look of “thanks for nothing, Mr Tourist Man.”
I got out of the taxi, grabbed all my stuff, confirmed which bus to get on, and entered said bus. I was positive I would have to wait at the bus station for an hour or three for the right bus, but before sixty seconds go by we are off and running. This is crazy timing, although it is a bit unfortunate as I really could have used a pee break before the bus started driving. Oh well, I can hold it for a few hours. I still don’t know for sure that this is the right bus, if it is going the right way, or how much it costs. Thankfully, after about three hours and hundreds of Nicaraguans getting on and off the bus, it went the right direction. As for the cost, it set me back $50 cordoba ($2). That bus took me to Rivas, which is about 15 miles from SJDS, so I needed to take another bus to my final location. The aforementioned urine still needed to be expelled, so before getting on the bus I asked where the bathroom was. Turns out, a bar across the street is where the local urine depository was. I paid $5 cordoba to the bartender, and went behind the bar to find the “bathroom,” which was quite literally a hole in the ground. Thank all the gods, both old and new, that I didn’t need to go numero dos. For anyone keeping score at home, I paid to pee in a hole behind a tiny Nicaraguan bar, and it was easily one of the best twenty cents I have ever spent.
The second bus successfully made it to SJDS, I grabbed my bags, and, roughly seven hours after entering a taxi in the morning, I exited my third vehicle of the day. I have officially made it to San Juan del Sur. Before leaving, I had taken a screen shot of where my hotel is located, so I started wandering in what felt like the wrong direction. After walking for a bit, and turning up and down a few streets, I couldn’t find it. I asked at a restaurant where I needed to go, and one of the workers pointed me in the right direction. Turns out I had been standing right in front of the hotel one minute earlier. Never underestimate my stupidity and the difficulty of finding a location without the assistance of live GPS.
So far I have checked into my hotel, jumped in the pool to cool off after my wander with all my bags, eaten two meals, dropped my clothes off to get cleaned, taken photos of the sunset, and asked about surf trips. So pretty much I am an official expert of SJDS. After a great ten days with my fam, I remain the only Kaplan residing in Central America. A new day, a new city, and the adventure continues…