Category Archives: Nicaragua

Days 16 and 17- The Long Journey Home

January 2 and 3, 2014
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Casa Ola

When I decided to stay the extra week I booked my ticket home through Liberia in Costa Rica. It was way cheaper and another person from our group happened to be on the same flights home to Toronto so it would all work out nicely. All 6of us left the house this morning; two going to Popoyo, two going to Tamarindo, Costa Rica and two going to the airport which meant four of us would be crossing the border. We were supposed to leave at 9am with plenty of time to cross the border and make our flight, but instead we left closer to 1030am thanks to Nicaraguan time. We got a driver to take us to the border and we said a quick goodbye to the two staying in Nicaragua.

There we were, four scared gringos in a rush to cross the border. We blindly followed two Nicaraguans who claimed they could get us across fast and as we scrambled to the first checkpoint we were trying to fill out immigration forms and not lose each other. We made our way to a nondescript building and each paid $1 for a tiny paper receipt. We then got to a window where a woman checked our passports and asked for another $2 each. In return is another piece of paper. We exited the building and started walking to yet another checkpoint. One of the guys got there first and through with no problem. Another gets through ok and then it’s my turn. “Ticket.” I showed him the first paper receipt. “No. Ticket.” I showed him the second paper receipt. “No. Ticket. Ticket!” I’m absolutely confused. I have no idea what he means. The other guys just shrugged. As a guess I pulled out my phone and found my airline confirmation and showed it to to him. Success. He waved me through. The last in our group goes through the same song and dance and ends up showing the guy his original inbound flight. It works and now we have officially left Nicaragua.

The walk across No Mans Land didn’t take long but felt like forever as the clock tickef down to our departure time. We made it to the Costa Rican side and standing in line we filled out identical forms to the ones we just handed in in Nicaragua. All four of us are soaked in sweat, part from the sun, part from the rush and part from the panic of it all. Entering Costa Rica was more or less painless and we found the driver to take us the rest of the way.

Arriving at the airport, we said our goodbyes to the boys going to Tamarindo and grabbed our bags. We paid the $29 departure tax and checked into our flight together. Good news. The flight was delayed and we had time to grab an overpriced airport lunch. We’re paying the bill when I heard what I think is my name over the airport speaker system. Uh oh. When is this ever good? I approached the counter and I could see the bad news in his eyes. “I’m sorry miss. There is a problem with immigration and you cannot leave Costa Rica.” My heartbeat quickened. He wouldn’t elaborate on the “immigration problem” and a family in the same predicament decided their course of action was to yell. I stepped back to wait and considered my limited options. My friend came up and said goodbye. The family is still yelling.

The entire flight boarded and the hope it was all a mistake is fading. I watched the flight status change from BOARDING to CLOSED to DEPARTED. Staff came out and removed the stanchions and signage. The status board went blank. The agent, tired of being yelled at, said he’ll be right back. He doesn’t come back. I waited 30 minutes before my good nature turned sour. I understood if there’s a problem, I didn’t understand being stranded at the terminal with no information. I started to walk, looking for any United signage and someone behind a counter who will help me get home. At the other end of the airport I found them. The group of travellers who like me have been stuck and watched their flights home leave.

Through these people I found out that some poor guy has misplaced all those little immigration forms we always fill out and never think matter. I don’t know how my friend made it out but he’s lucky. When I got to the counter the agent confirmed the rumours and promised he’ll help get me home. I just have to go to Houston first and spend the night. As I waited to board I crossed my fingers every time they made an announcement, “Please don’t say my name. Please don’t say my name.” I didn’t relax until I was in my seat, buckled in with the wheels off the ground.

I made it to the Houston Holiday Inn with $15 in food vouchers and one clean shirt. I’m ready for home.

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Day 15 – Sunsets

January 1, 2014
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Casa Ola

Not much really happened today, I don’t think anyone was really up for anything and despite our best efforts everyone was asleep by 9pm. But today did start and end on the beach. I was up before anyone and went for a walk by myself. I’ve never had the experience of being on a private, totally isolated beach before this trip and there’s something so special about walking a beach completely devoid of footprints. It’s as if you are the first person to ever step there and when you look back and see only your prints, partially washed away by the surf you’re reminded that tomorrow morning there will be no evidence of you at all. I stayed out there until the sun became too hot then took evidence that yes in fact I was there and maybe one day I’ll come back.

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It has become a daily tradition for my friend and I to walk the beach at sunset. Sometimes one of the guys joins us but more often than not it is just us two. Tonight, our last night, everyone came out to see the sunset and walk on the beach one last time.

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The sunsets are pretty spectacular here and tonight’s was the best of all.

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Day 14 – Dancing in the Rain

December 31, 2013
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Casa Ola

Hanging around the balcony on the house are a few shell wind chimes that look like they were made by past guests. A few days ago we decided to carry on the tradition and started looking for suitable shells on the beach, but pickings were slim. Someone told us that the next beach over, Playa Yankee, had tons of shells so we made a plan to hike over there. A crudely drawn map was made and we traipsed off into the forest only to promptly get lost. Perfect. Then the heavens opened and a guy and his son roared by on a dunebuggy and asked if we wanted a lift. Why yes, yes we did.

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We made it to Playa Yankee in record time and spent the morning playing on rocks and finding shells that would work for our craft.

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Most of the shells were a little banged up but once in awhile I’d come across a perfect pair that to me looked like a pair of lungs.

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We also found the tie-dyed remains of a lobster on the rocks. We looked around for any live guys that we could subsequently kill and eat, but were less successful.

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The walk back to the house was decidedly less fun than the ride out but cold showers were waiting for us and a little siesta before we started making the best wind chime to ever exist anywhere.

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Considering it was New Years Eve everyone agreed a dinner in town would be the plan for the night. Little did we know Gonzalo was out fishing and would come back with 31 tunas. Yep. 31. A huge haul.

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He was more than happy to take us into town for dinner which meant he would be able to sell his catch to the locals. He tied down a cooler to the top of the truck, filled it with a hundred pounds of fish and off we went. Every time we passed a group of people or a house where Gonzalo knew the occupants we would pull over and a sale would be made. He’d climb onto the roof of the car and take out however many fish the buyer wanted. By the time we made it to town Gonzalo had sold most of the fish and blood was running down the windshield.

We had dinner at a restaurant on the beach (nothing special) and then headed to the bar for the night, a local place with a huge dance floor. On our way we came across a group of fire performers in the middle of the street stopping traffic in both direction. We watched for a bit and then it started to rain, then it started to pour and it never let up. We spent about 20 minutes huddled under a storefront before we decided to just make a mad dash for it as we were running out of time before midnight. Soaking wet and out of breath we made it to the bar with ten minutes to spare.

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Cinco…cuatro…tres…dos…uno… ¡Feliz año nuevo!

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Day 13 – Playa Replay

December 30, 2013
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Casa Ola

The guys wanted to try surfing on a different beach this morning so we hopped a ride on their boat and ended up at Playa Hermosa, the beach Jeff and I visited last week that didn’t make that much of an impression on me. The boat ride was fun, just a tiny motorboat packed full of people, surfboards and a cooler of beer. We shoved off from beach and got the guys to push us out before they climbed in.

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While the guys surfed and us girls wandered the beach, Gonzo our guide went fishing for dinner. On our first night he caught a tuna but had been less lucky since. On our way back from Hermosa we decided to see if we could catch any dinner. They don’t fish with rods here, the have a wooden board wrapped in fishing line and a hook. No bait. No lure. You look for either the splashing of a school of fish or a flock of birds diving into the water and then you head over there as quick as you can and throw your line in. It took about an hour of fishing before one of the lines went taut, then the other and the guys started reeling them in.

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Two large tunas for dinner, caught right from the ocean in front of the house. Totally crazy and super tasty.

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Day 12 – Heaven and Hell

December 29, 2013
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Casa Ola

Sleeping alone can be a double edged sword but in this heat it’s sort of a blessing. The sun woke me up around 5:30am, normally a terrible hour but here it’s a little bit magic. The air isn’t hot yet, it’s mostly quiet and the sun is hiding behind the clouds. With a tea in hand the hammock is the perfect place to welcome the day.

The guys have been surfing for a couple days and are pretty sore so someone suggested getting a masseuse to come to the house in the afternoon. She set up in the yoga studio overlooking the beach and didn’t need any of that “relaxing music” they usually play in spas, we had the ocean itself provide it for us. I can say without doubt that it was the best massage I’ve ever gotten, I’m sure the atmosphere helped but the masseuse was thorough and gentle and all around awesome.

It struck me afterwards how different our first week in Nicaragua compares to our second week. In our first week we lived in town, next to locals and had to go and find all our meals. We made it a game to see how cheap we could eat and if we could find the best local restaurant in town. If we needed something we had to go find it and then deal with the language barrier on top. At the house we are pretty isolated and whatever you need is brought to you. There’s a driver so you don’t have to worry about taxis and he also cooks so you don’t have to worry about meals. It’s definitely luxurious and very different than what I’m used to.

We went into town for dinner tonight and decided to hit up some bars. So far my impression of SJDS was that it was a quiet port town, growing thanks to tourism, but mostly just surfers and locals. Tonight I saw a different side. Tonight I saw hundreds of drunk backpacker kids, stumbling through bars and throwing up on the beach. At almost 30 I’m too old for this shit and think it’s a damn shame that these kids are disrespecting the area and locals with their idiotic behaviour.

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Day 11 – I Decided to Stay

December 28, 2013
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Casa Ola

This morning we piled into the car and had breakfast in town. It was a special occasion, my husband’s last $2 breakfast and last day, in Nicaragua. Deciding to stay was not easy, a lot of individual factors worked together to make the decision make sense, but it wasn’t easy.

In front of everyone at a crowded breakfast table I started to cry when the reality hit that soon, too soon, I was going to have to say goodbye. It wasn’t that I was going to miss him, that’s obvious and goes without saying. It was the fact that I know how lucky I am because I know my husband is truly one of a kind, a rare breed that is in equal parts encouraging and supportive. I know not everyone would be so willing to let their spouse stay in a dream destination while they returned to reality, but my husband encouraged me to stay. He went so far as to guilt me into it saying, “You might not have an opportunity like this again. You’d be a fool to turn it down.” And that’s why I cried. Because I was touched by his selflessness. I am grateful for my husband, for his understanding, patience and unconditional love.

After leaving him for the airport shuttle and walking away I felt the tears well up again but pushed them down. I am here because he wanted me to be here. I am here because I decided to stay.

We did a quick grocery shop for the house and then returned for an afternoon of napping, writing and posting selfies to Facebook. In the evening we played a round of Cards Against Humanity, which I won. If you haven’t played the game you should. It’s dirty and competitive and goes best with alcohol, any kind will do.

I don’t know who but someone got the idea to head to the beach for a night swim. Flashlights out we made our way down the stone steps to the pitch black beach and started walking. It was quiet except for the surf and other than a couple lights on in the kitchen of our house on the hillside (and our flashlights) there wasn’t a single man made light source to be seen.

We bailed on night swimming, probably for the best, and instead switched off our flashlights and looked up. The sky, a black navy sea, was blanketed in stars. More stars than I’ve seen in a long time twinkled down at us and we were silent, taking it in and remembering this as the sky of our youth. There aren’t any stars in Toronto, they’ve had to compete with the light pollution for so long they’ve just given up, no match for all the building lights and street lights and billboard lights. Sometimes I forget that they are up there at all. Here they are clear and bright, strong in the night sky. Defiant.

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Day 10 – Good Morning Paradise

December 27, 2013
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Casa Ola

We woke up this morning in paradise. When we arrived at Casa Ola last night, after a very bumpy ride, it was pitch black and though we could hear the ocean we couldn’t see it. We were shown our room and left to fall asleep to the crashing waves that were so loud I could have sworn our room was right on the beach. In the morning light it’s easy to say that this place is magnificent. It’s hidden away from town, on a private beach and has been designed so most rooms have an open air feel and stunning views.

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We only have one full day here before our flight tomorrow but my friend is working hard to convince me to stay…and I think it’s working.

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After breakfast we explored the private beach, which is huge, and tried to catch crabs (not a euphemism) on the rocks.

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There’s a brand new yoga studio on site so we had an impromptu session overlooking the beach.

The house comes with a guide/driver/chef named Gonzalo, who is also an excellent fisherman. In a boat, right in front of the house he caught a huge tuna which he cooked for dinner and we all devoured. By the time we were ready for bed I had decided to stay until January 2 and had rebooked my flight. I was hoping Jeff could stay as well but he is all vacationed out and anxious to return home. Just for the record I think he’s crazy.

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Day 9 – A Dolphinless Day At Sea

December 26, 2013
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Casa Ola

To start with, I can get a little seasick. When we were in Costa Rica last year we took a sailing trip to see dolphins. I took so much Dramamine I basically slept through that magical moment when they appeared and have been kicking myself since. Determined to fulfill my dolphin wish this year I booked an afternoon boat tour with Nica Sail n Surf who pretty much all but guaranteed an afternoon filled with porpoise.

We, and 22 other people, picked up the boat from the San Juan dock and headed out. The boat itself was really nice, very clean and the crew made sure that nobody had an empty glass in their hand.

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I sat right in the front, eyes peeled, waiting to see a school of happy dolphins playfully chasing our boat.

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But I didn’t. After sailing for an hour or so we pulled into the bay of a private beach, Playa Blanca, and dropped anchor. Some chose to stay on the boat but most people grabbed a pool noodle and a snorkelling mask and hopped in. The water was pretty clear but there was little to be seen beneath the surface except a few interesting looking creatures.

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We swam to shore and sat in the shallow water, taking in the view briefly, before we were rocked sideways by the surf. You know the famous beach scene in From Here to Eternity? Pretty sure even they got saltwater up their nose.

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Hungry, we swam back to the boat where the crew had made fresh ceviche and salsa. We ate our fill and then settled in for the boat ride back. They had timed it so halfway back to San Juan we had a gorgeous view of the sunset.

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The trip had been fun, a nice way to spend the afternoon and get out of the city, but we hadn’t seen any dolphins so that’s a 2 point deduction. Pulling into San Juan del Sur after dark meant the shoreline was lit up and we had to meet up with friends for dinner and a change of accommodations. We checked out of Buena Onda this morning and will be staying at a private rental house for the next couple of nights. It’s a tough life.

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Days 7 and 8 – A Very Merry Nica Christmas

December 24 and 25, 2013
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Buena Onda Backpackers

Today started with a $2 breakfast, honestly everyday starts with a $2 breakfast of fresh fruit and a pancake with coffee. After sampling only three of the six breakfast places we’ve decided on our favourite, Comedor Angelita, the very first place we tried and happily, the owner knows us now. After breakfast we wandered the downtown core for a while, stuck on what to do on Christmas Eve. Thinking about it, back home we would probably be finishing up purchasing last minute gifts, wrapping them up and packing the car for the ride home. There would be discussions about where to spend the night, making a schedule for all the people we had to visit and choreographing meals so they wouldn’t overlap too much. Instead, for the second year in a row, we chose to remove ourselves from the holiday equation. Not because we don’t love Christmas or our families (we do!), but because we don’t like what this season has become. There’s just too much of it, from November 1st until Boxing Day, there’s constant pressure to buy the right gifts, attend all the parties, send all the Christmas cards and still enjoy yourself too. I know plenty of people who love this time of year and all the social engagements/expectations that come with it, but I am not one of them. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Sitting on a beach Christmas Eve, any beach in the world, is something I recommend everyone do at least once in their life. Sure, it might piss off family and friends who want to see you, but with your toes in the sand and a remarkable feeling of calm that you can only get when you’ve unplugged for several consecutive days, you’ll begin to see things a bit differently. It is absolutely lovely to be away from the hustle and the bustle of the holiday season and we spent most of the afternoon realizing just how lucky we are.

In the evening we came across a parade of students with the requisite Joseph, pregnant Mary and angel, complete with lots of townfolk and a six piece band. There was singing and music, a couple frantic teachers running around, trying to get the boys to stop screwing around and the girls to sing louder. They even had a police escort for crossing the streets, though SJDS is a small town there aren’t a lot of stop signs. I’m not sure what happened after they made it inside the church, probably more singing and dancing with parents crowding each other for pictures.

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Just after midnight we were woken up with what sounded like gunshots, but was actually just fireworks, tons and tons, and tons and tons (!!!) of fireworks, going off randomly all over town. Hello baby Jesus! After ten minutes or so I think everyone ran out and it quieted down until 6am when the carols started from a loudspeaker. Familiar tunes but in Spanish (of course) played for hours, on loop, until some decent soul switched them off. Feliz Navidad, whether you wanted to wake up or not.

Another day was spent lounging around and consciously trying to stay out of the sun. I’ve finished two books so far, Fooling Houdini by Alex Stone and Paddle Your Own Canoe by Nick Offerman. Both of them really great books, slightly biographical, about finding your passion and pursuing it wholeheartedly. An idea I can always get behind.

For dinner tonight we wanted to do something a bit more special than fish tacos, though by god those fish tacos are good. On our walk into and out of town every day we pass by a small restaurant called El Colibri or The Hummingbird. There’s something very special about this restaurant in the garden with its brightly painted walls and Hindu art that serves mostly Mediterranean cuisine. It’s always packed and so we thought we would give it a try.

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We made reservations, a smart move on our part as people were turned away at the door, but the waiter warned us that there would be a sizeable wait for our food, considering every table in the place was full. From the time we ordered to the time our food arrived was about 90 minutes. I ordered vegetable curry and Jeff ordered falafel with Greek salad. Maybe we were doomed having such high hopes but the curry was really salted and though the falafel looked like falafel, it definitely didnt taste like falafel. El Colibri gets major points for decor and ambiance but the food we waited so long for was disappointing. I’d probably give it another try though, maybe it was just too busy because of the holiday.

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Day 6 – Volcano Island!

December 23, 2013
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Buena Onda Backpackers

Upon hearing we were going to Nicaragua a friend of mine insisted we visit Ometepe, an island created by two volcanos (Conception and Maderas) and an excellent place to explore. By the time I started contacting hotels everyone was full because of the holiday season so instead we booked a one day tour. Even though it is an island and not very big, the roads can be a bit scary and a guide is recommended for such a short visit. Through TripAdvisor I found Javier who designed a highlights tour for us and met us when the ferry landed in Moyogalpa.

The ferry, a one hour journey, made comfortable if you found a seat in the shade and horrendous if you ended up on the roof in the sun, costs only 60 cordobas one way (about $2.40).

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Luckily we were in the shade and after meeting up with Javier we headed to Charco Verde Nature Reserve for a hike to start the day.

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The reserve is a protected area with a green lagoon (hence the name), lots of trails to wander and a beach. We were on the lookout for monkeys and scorpions, but only found an angry snake, army ants, a massive cockroach (la cucaracha) and some grasshoppers.

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We hiked to a lookout point for an awesome view of the green lagoon before heading back down and hopping in a car towards Altagracia.

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On the way we pulled over to see a bunch of Capuchin monkeys on the side of the road. They were pretty brave and had no problem approaching people offering food.

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The grounds of a church in Altagracia houses 5 pre-Colombian statues, as well as the shell of the first church built on Ometepe. The early inhabitants of the area had a god for everything; a god of the air, a god of the earth, a god of water and so on. So far over 150 statues have been found on Ometepe, each representing a different god or their servant. Some of the statues are in museums in Nicaragua and some have been sent to museums all over the world or bought up by private collections. It was really neat to see the intricate carvings, especially on the god of air, who wore an eagle mask.

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They are in the process of restoring the church to be a museum for the statues and other artifacts, but I think it looks pretty cool as is and hope they don’t remove too much of the charm, like the painted floor tiles.

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After a quick stop at Santo Domingo for lunch we made our way to Ojo de Agua, two fresh water pools filled with thermal spring water from an underground well. The pools are nestled in the trees and are the perfect place to relax.

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Even though it is the holiday season it was pretty quiet and we spent most of our time fooling around with the camera and proving we could never be models.

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Ojo de Agua has a restaurant and bar, changerooms and showers, as well as tons of chairs and tables so you could spend the whole day if you wanted. I would have loved to stay longer but we were on a tight schedule and Punta Jesus Maria, our last stop of the day, was calling our name.

Punta Jesus Maria is a peninsula of sand that extends into the water and can make it look like you are walking on water, like Jesus.

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It’s also a cool place to swim (if you ignore all the warning signs) and affords a great view of the larger volcano, Conception.

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In all, we were on Ometepe about 7 hours and saw everything we wanted to without feeling rushed. It would have been nice to spend the night but I was happy to say goodbye and ride the ferry back to the mainland.

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