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Published: April 11th 2016
San Juan del Sur & Christ The Redeemer
On the hill in the distance is San Juan's version of Christ The Redeemer - which apparently isn't much smaller than its more famous relation in Rio.
Back in La Fortuna, Costa Rica, it wasn't great getting up at 5.30am - my sixth early start in a row - and it wasn't great doing it after drinking a litre of boxed wine the previous night
either. So luckily I had a shuttle picking me and then dropping me off over the border at my hostel in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.
I will go out there and say it; the Costa Rica-Nicaragua is probably the shadiest border crossing I have ever undertaken and this was despite having a shuttle employee guiding us every step of the way.
Even inside the actual building that serves as the Nicaraguan border office, there were jokers trying to scam tips out of you, saying that you needed "papeles" even though we weren't given any at any stage of the process. He then tells us that it is no problem and then after putting our bags through the scanner, asks if he can have a tip.
"Por que?" I ask him.
"No tienen papeles", he replied.
Basically he was trying to convince gringoes that they needed customs forms despite the fact we weren't given any; and then after 'letting them off', demanded a tip for doing so. I was on to
Life's A Beach
Enjoying the view at Playa Remanso.
him, so I told him where to get off. This guy wasn't an employee or anything - just seemingly a dude off the street trying to get money out of unsuspecting gringoes.
Nevertheless, I managed to get myself into a sticky situation.
Before crossing borders, I try to make sure that I have no currency left of the country I am leaving since I won't be able to use it in the country I am entering. This usually results in me having only as much cash as I need and little extra, if any.
So when the guy at hostel told me that I would only need to pay US$12 at the border, I spent all of my Costa Rican colones
and ensured that I had exactly US$12 for the border. I would then use an ATM to withdraw Nicaraguan cordobas
once on the other side.
The border is full of trucks - like queues and queues of them - plus lots of shady characters just hanging around.
Our guide takes us up to this dodgy-looking wooden shack of a booth where we have to pay a US$8 departure tax for Costa Rica. Milking you right up until
the moment you leave, that is Costa Rica.
We then have to pay another US$1 at the Nicaraguan border office.
Going up to the actual border officer, I am then told that I have to pay US$12. Fuck. I only have US$3 left. Why didn't the guy at the hostel tell me about those other charges? Then I would have made sure I had US$20 left!
"No tengo bastante efectivo", I tell the officer.
"Hay una cajero automatico al fondo", she replies.
So technically illegally, I went over to the Nicaraguan side where there was an ATM. Only for my card not to work. Of all times
. I was in a spot of bother now - I had no money to enter Nicaragua.
On my shuttle however, was a Canadian girl and the officer suggests that she lend me the money first and then I can pay her back later. The Canadian girl obliges and I can continue my journey. She has saved me from a difficult situation.
I am the first person in the shuttle to be dropped off so I ask the Canadian girl for her details, so that I can arrange to meet her later to pay
Excellent 'secret' surf spot.
"Oh no, don't worry about it", she says.
"Are you sure? It's US$12! That's a lot of money! That's one night in a hostel", I tell her.
"No, it's fine - I don't have a cellphone on me."
Wow, that is such a kind thing to do; although it also felt like she just couldn't be arsed meeting up and going through all the bother that would entail, which made me feel even worse for putting her in this situation. In the end, I had little choice but to accept her generosity. I guess I'm paying this one forward.
My first impressions of San Juan was that it was more like Taganga
than Puerto Viejo
Nicaragua isn't as rich as its Costa Rican neighbour so there definitely felt like there was a sense of resentment from the locals at all the young gringoes and their relative wealth, enjoying their lives in a way that these locals are never likely to be able to. There definitely seemed like there were more people here trying to take advantage of tourists in terms of an unofficial redistribution of wealth, something that didn't exist in Puerto Viejo - which meant that it
Hola Ola Hostel
Not a bad place to stay.
never really felt completely safe here.
The beach here wasn't as clean or as picturesque either.
There are tons of Americans and Canadians here.
It is actually
Spring Break right now and Nicaragua is cheap and relatively close to both countries so perhaps it isn't that surprising to see so many North Americans here. This theory doesn't explain the high number of Germans here however!
My hostel - Hola Ola Hostel - wasn't the cleanest or the newest hostel I have ever stayed at but it had a great family/community-like atmosphere which was probably helped by the fact that there were a few people - a core of people, if you like - that were staying there for a while rather than just passing through. We had a good group of fun people and drinking games were on most nights - although I declined on my first night, as I was exhausted from all the activities I had been doing over the last few days, as well being still hungover from the night before.
I think the togetherness is also borne out of doing group activities such as everyone eating the hostel-provided dinner and going on group excursions
I could watch them all day.
during the day - like to Playa Maderas the next day...
...which in all honesty wasn't the best beach I've been to. There isn't enough space to chuck a towel down and lie the afternoon away because the tide comes right in and covers almost all the sand. I also prefer calm, clear water and golden sand.
The beach was great for surfing though - and that is the main reason people come to Nicaragua's Southern Pacific Coast. The waves were great, both for beginners at the front of the beach and for the pros out the back.
The beaches further north from Maderas are nicer, particularly Bahia Majahual, which was more to my taste in beaches.
Despite this, it was rather inspiring drinking beer and watching the pros go at it on the waves out the back at Maderas. Some of them were really good and I'd love to be able to surf like that. One thing in particular that I have always wanted to do is to do a pipeline
. If I ever end up living close to a surf beach, perhaps I will take it up properly! I could've watched those surfers for hours.
Dutch girl Anne figuring out her next move. Check out how tall this one is (the tower not the Dutch girl, although she, like the majority of Dutch girls, is pretty tall too)!
hostel dinner that night was a delicious chicken pasta - but there just wasn't enough of it. A game of giant Jenga then got started and it is surprising how far the game can keep going when it looks like all is lost. Flip cups was also fun and although I'm usually awesome at it
, my team kept losing.
But where there is never a winner and only a loser in giant Jenga, everyone is a winner in flip-cups because inevitably everyone gets drunk. Which is exactly what happened that night as we all headed into town to Iguana Bar, a two-storey, bamboo, beachside, party shack and then Howler Bar, one-storey, bamboo, not-quite-beachside-but-close party shack where we all danced the night away. There weren't any incidents of note and the music was luckily not too-geared towards Latino and reggaeton. It was just fun.
The drunken-feed tacos were a great way to cap off the night.
The next day, the hostel outing was to Playa Remanso, a nice little beach with gentler waves but once again there wasn't a lot of space to lie down. There were a couple of beachside bar/restaurants that were cool although the service and music choices were questionable.
Preferring our spot under the shade in the middle of the day.
Playa Tamarindo which four of us took off to, two of us being pro surfers (not me, obviously). Playa Tamarindo can only be accessed via a private dirt road so we pretty much had the whole beach to ourselves when we arrived. Which is exactly how I like my beaches.
There were some fantastic waves for our pros here; but again, the wasn't any space to chuck down a towel.
Nevertheless, chilling out under a tree behind the beach and watching the pros go at it on the waves, this was probably the best beach time I have had so far in and around San Juan del Sur.
There are definitely differences in landscape between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
In Nicaragua so far, I have noticed that the land is a lot more arid and dry as opposed to the lush jungle that exists on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. The water is much cooler on the Pacific side as it was on the Caribbean side too.
I didn't go out that night because the next day was the day of what has become an institution on the Central American gringo trail - Sunday Funday!
Over Playa Maderas.
basically a pool party crawl to three different hostels with pools, bars and DJs - it is basically everything you imagine Spring Break to be; hundreds of hot, young people in bikinis and board shorts, around a pool, all off their faces, dancing to the frenzied electronic beats being laid on by an afro-ed DJ. It was wild.
On arrival, it was quite clear I was way behind everyone else there - and it is the kind of place that you really can't stand sober, so I started drinking nica libres
(rum and coke - but made with Flor de Cana, the national rum of Nicaragua which is a good drop too!) like a fish. Not hard to do when the drinks are cold and the weather is so hot.
The nice libres
soon did the trick however and I have to say that it was fun dancing and talking to people - even if the British girls from my hostel were some of the meanest girls I've ever met; they weren't being mean to me but they were fully slagging off other girls in our posse behind their backs. It was all a bit unnecessary.
The final hostel on
Outside Howler Bar.
the Sunday Funday crawl was The Naked Tiger, perched atop a hill with a magnificent view of the sunset. Not that I could take any photos - there was no way I was taking my phone to a place where you could quite easily lose it or get chucked in the pool.
The crawl eventually finishes up at Arriba, a club on the beach in town...where I was finally reunited with Kurt
He was meant to arrive in the morning for Sunday Funday but had arrived far too late in afternoon instead. He did however, find out where everyone headed afterwards and found me there! It was good to see him again and it seemed like a miracle that he found me at the time and we had one last drunken night out which involved drunkenly singing and dancing to the Backstreet Boys and NSync, along with other assorted gringo-friendly hits.
I finally got back to the hostel having literally spent everything I took out with me - so at least if I'd been mugged on the beach I wasn't going to lose anything - at about 2am...which meant that Sunday Funday turned out to be a 12-hour bender.
From our spot on the beach at Playa Hermosa.
It has not
however, been the longest bender on my trip so far...
It was relatively expensive though - US$30 for entrance into Sunday Funday and then another US$30 on drinks, which at US$2 a drink, meant that I had 15 nica libres...
Unsurprisingly, I didn't feel to flash the next day and there was no hostel outing either which meant that Canadians Carter and Ryan, plus Swede Freja, and me, all took a cab to what is supposed to be the best beach in the area - Playa Hermosa. Which is one of the annoying things about San Juan compared to other beach towns - the fact that all the beaches are a little bit of a mission to get to.
And it certainly seemed the most chill-out, lie-down friendly beach of all the ones I visited with its long, wide stretch of white and gold sand. It was my most enjoyable day out on the beach so far as we chilled out under the trees. Only the big gusts of wind took away from our day out.
On my final day - two days after what was supposed to be final day - I decided that being in a surf town, that I should
Perhaps the best beach I visited during my time in San Juan.
probably give it a go. So that was exactly what I did on the hostel trip to Playa Maderas. It's not my first time surfing
but hopefully it would be better than the last time I did it
The waves were messy, making them difficult to catch, but I managed catch some decent ones nevertheless including one which I rode for ten seconds all the way into the shore. The long board I hired makes it a lot easier to stand up - pushing down on the front of the board when attempting to catch a wave and faceplanting into the water does not!
I was just planning to have a couple of quiet beers on my last night in San Juan, but then Flip Cups happened.
I managed to get on the winningest team this time and four beers in 40 minutes later, we were going out.
Town was really quiet that night as we were almost the only ones in Howler Bar and the other bars also seemed pretty empty. But a couple of tequila shots for everyone meant that no-one really cared leading to drunken attempts at salsa and some good times.
It was a fitting way to round off six chilled-out yet boozy and
The Hola Ola crew walking along Playa Maderas.
enjoyable days - I will miss my Hola Ola family.
But it is definitely time to move on...to more chilled-out, activity-based times on Isla de Ometepe!
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