Tonight is my last of six spent in the small town of San Juan del Sur, in the south part of Nicaragua, almost to the Costa Rican boarder. It is a great, fun little place, and it doesn’t surprise me that it is one of the main stops for any visitor to the country. While it is definitely more ’touristy’ than a tiny nowhere place like Las Peñitas, that also offers some benefits. There are plenty of restaurants, corner stores, and options for day trips out of the small town consisting of a handful of streets. So the white dudes with dreads are offset by all the other options available. There are also a lot more people who speak at least a minimal amount of english, which barely existed in Granada and definitely not at all in Las Peñitas. Being a main tourist destination also makes it a bit easier to get in and out of, although it is still “third world travel.” For example, to go from SJDS to Tamarindo in Costa Rica (which is another main tourist destination), it will take me at least three busses, and maybe more. I will find out the reality starting tomorrow morning.
This is the first stop on this trip that I am solo, as well. In Granada and Las Peñitas, I was with my mom and two brothers. While I miss their company, another main disadvantage to being by myself is that the level of accommodations have dropped off significantly. Instead of staying in awesome houses with private pools, I started off in a relatively shitty hotel that didn’t even have a mirror in the bathroom. I have stayed in worse places, and I am going for budget places, so I realize I get what I pay for. Another main change about this one man travel show moving forward is picking from the near endless options of what stops to venture to, whether in Nicaragua or Costa Rica. This time of year is high season, so I need to decide a few days in advance where I want to go, if I want to stay at a decent place at least. My option for hotel is usually middle of the road, meaning not a bunk bed in a dorm, and preferably under $50 a night. Based on my early research, and feedback from other travelers, Costa Rica is definitely more expensive than Nicaragua. This trip has been super affordable so far, so $10-20 extra per day fortunately won’t break the bank.
The main beach in the town of SJDS isn’t that great, since it is situated on a small bay. So for a few days, I ventured to a few other beaches to partake in the main activity I did during the week: I went surfing two times. And I got dominated. It turns out that only surfing a few times in several years does not enhance one’s skills whatsoever. When I was living and going to college in San Diego, I surfed a decent amount, and at my best could I may have been considered terribly average. The passage of time and my lack of surfing has sent me all the way back to beginner status. One day I went to Playa Remanso, and another I went to Playa Hermosa. Both days were super fun, just a little frustrating at how terrible I currently am at the surf game. I mildly improved from session one to two, but just barely. Playa Hermosa was also where the filmed Survivor Nicaragua. Now it is a beautiful beach with a small hotel, bar and restaurant, which I am quite certain were not there during the shows taping. Just being out in the water and catching waves was a great way to spend a day. There were also a bunch of pelicans all around me, flying and diving into the water for some fish. It was super cool to have those big birds swooping and splashing down within a few feet of me while I am attempting to surf and mostly getting chucked off my board.
On top of my duo of surfing excursions, living in a foreign, third world country has continued to offer its’ fair share of fun and surprises. Things like the pelicans feeding right next to me surfing. On the drive back from Playa Hermosa, which is located down a long dirt road, there were a few young kids standing in the middle of said dirt road. They said something to the driver, and happily jumped in the back of the truck. A few minutes later, they banged on the truck’s cabin window, as they had reached their destination. A “gracias!” from the kids and they were off to their respective houses. Then, pulling off the main dirt road and onto the paved main street back to town, there was a group playing baseball in the street. It turns out baseball is the most popular sport in Nicaragua, with most people I talked to liking either the Red Sox or Yankees. I would have guessed that soccer was by far the most popular sport, just like most countries other than the United States, so it was a surprise to learn that baseball was so beloved. Then, a few miles after passing the street baseball game, we passed a pack of cows walking down the street. Just add it to the list of subtle differences from back home, and another thing that I love about spending time random countries.
Besides loving baseball so much, another surprise about Nicaragua is the relative lack of people, and definite lack of traffic. After spending time in SE Asia, I assumed that most third world locations were filled to the brim with traffic, with a zillion scooters scurrying around. Relatively speaking, there isn’t much traffic to speak of. It probably has something to do with the fact that there are simply far less humans here. However, in Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, nearly everyone seemed to own a scooter. Here in Nicaragua, most people I have talked to don’t own any form of motorized transportation. Just not what I was expecting, but I am definitely not complaining either.
Overall, I would definitely recommend putting San Juan del Sur, and Nicaragua, on your list of countries to visit. The people are extremely friendly and nice, the food is tasty and cheap, and the hotels are very affordable as well. You should be able to find any sort of activity you are looking for, from surfing, to zip lining to ATV-ing, to just catching some sunshine or reading on the beach.
Tomorrow I head to Costa Rica. A new country, a new local beer to drink, a new location to explore. Nicaragua has been fantastic, and I would definitely like to return someday.