San Juan Del Sur, 25-31 May 2008

Our sketchy tour of Nicaragua finished with a week in San Juan del Sur.  We needed to be in one place for a while, spread out our stuff, get to know our surroundings… After one (overly warm) night in Casa Nina we found a lovely room at Hotel el Puerto for 23 dollars a night.  Money well spent on a lovely airy room with a view over the hills. 

We spent our time here surfing and learning Spanish.  It may strike you as odd that we chose to learn Spanish in our last week in Central America, but it was the only place we wanted to spend more than a few days.  We managed to dovetail 3 hours of Spanish daily with surfing trips.  Our teacher Jorvin was excellent.  It definitely helped that we had absorbed some Spanish as we travelled around over the past 3 months.  Now it was time to put some grammar on our attempt at sentences!  We really enjoyed the lessons, which we had on the breezy deck of a beachside restaurant, sometimes with beer in hand. 

And the surfing…It turned out to be a mixed bag, more good than bad.  Cathal was still on a high from his great experience in El Salvador (sizeable smooth point breaks), so was initially disappointed with what was on offer.  There is no surf to speak of on the town beach, but there are 4 beaches north and 4 south that offer surfable waves of varying sizes.  All are reached by dirt roads which become almost impassible with rain.  Our first couple of days, we visited Playa Maderas to the south, a 30 minute shuttle from the town.  This is the most popular beach for travellers who want to catch a few waves.  It is a lovely beach break, but the problem is that everyone descends on it at the same time so it´s quite busy!  Nevertheless, Cathal and I both enjoyed the couple of days.  I had my first experience of being truly ´out back´and catching some green(ish) waves, which greatly encouraged me after my ´washing machine´experiences in El Salvador. 

  Playa Maderas

 Playa Maderas

Day 3 was impeded by illness, on my part, and tiredness on Cathal´s part.  The bug we had both picked up progressed to an amoebic dystentry level for me (you can look this up if you really want to know how it was!) so I took myself to the pharmacy and loaded up with the required drugs.  We enjoyed lots of chill out time in the relaxed atmosphere of Él Gato Negro, our fave cafe in town.  They even roast their own coffee! 

Day 4 broke with torrential rain.  There had been some rain over the previous few days, but now we were reaching flood proportions.  The road to Rivas (ie back to the main Interamericana highway) was impassable in 3 places so travel was impossible.  Most of the town was out clearing drains of rubbish, strategically placing buckets and praying.   It continued for 24 hours almost unabated, which made us very glad that we were leaving Central America just as the rainy season was kicking in!  We managed to score a 4×4 taxi to Remanso beach, a beach to the south with nice cruisy waves.  The road seemed OK for a while, but soon we were driving along rivers and avoiding the deepest mud!  We had to abandon ship 5 minutes walk from the beach, where the road had turned into a small waterfall!  The beach proved unsurfable, we watched the stormy brown waves for a while, and managed to hitch a lift back with American Mark and his surf guide. 

Turns out that the weather was the result of the tail end of Hurricane Alama, first of the season.  There was serious damage in the north of the country, and some deaths, including one in San Juan del Sur when a jeep overturned on a muddy hill. 

Having checked CNN and seen lots of grey clouds and raindrops denoted for the week, we didn´t hold out much hope and nearly hung up our surfboards.  However, day 5 dawned sunny and calm, with a perfect off shorebreeze.  We hooked up with Mark and headed back to Remanso Beach.  The track was basically one long flowing river, the jeep managed fine until we reached a totally washed out part of the road.  Luckily for us, a local who hitched with us hooked us up with his roadworker mates who were doing the final leg to the beach in their tractor and trailer!  We loaded up, and bounced our way down to the beach with the lads.  Cathal was very sorry not to have the camera!  Remanso was still brown as anything, but the waves had cleaned up nicely and looked inviting.  We hopped in, avoiding branches and the worst of the river outflow!  We had a great morning.  I built on my previous outback experience and caught some great waves (even eliciting a ´woohoo´!), Cathal and Mark enjoyed it too.  And we hitched a lift back to the jeep with the roadies!  Saved a long walk.

We celebrated that evening with a visit to a new Italian in town, El Matarello.  Run by 2 surfing brothers from Italy, their fresh pasta would be hard to match in Nicaragua! 

On our last day, we got up early, and again the sun was splitting the stones, that lucky 10% chance!  On the cards was a surfing boat trip, a new experience for both of us.  Together with Dave the surf shop owner, Mark and Australians Bianca & James, we loaded up at 7.30am and headed out from the town beach.  Mark and I were dropped off at Hermosa Beach, where we found a perfect surf spot.  Being dropped off outback was fantastic – we didn´t have to battle our way out through the white water to start off!  Mellow waves, warm water, nobody around, not even a house on the lovely green coastline.  We enjoyed some great wave time!   The others tried their luck at Yankee Beach.  As Cathal dived off the boat there, Dave warned him that the wave could be a ´board breaker´and gave some other equally scary hints!  However, they were not needed, as there were no waves there at all!  They joined Mark and me at Hermosa for the rest of the morning.  It was a great final spin, as Cathal said, it has left him with a ´warmfuzzy feeling´about surfing in Nicaragua!

 San Juan del Sur provided us with the break we were looking for, unlike El Tunco, it had lots to offer beside surfing.  El Gato Negro for good coffee, several nice cheap restaurants, Spanish lessons, and other travellers to meet.  It is small enough that you know many locals by name after a couple of days!  The only downside is having to travel for the surfing beaches – at least 30 minutes along somewhat dodgy roads!  We might be back again!

Images of SJDS

 El Gato Negro – great coffee!

 Maderas beach


2 Responses to “San Juan del Sur”

  1. 1 Jennifer June 2, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    Not a bad way to learn another language, sitting at a beachside bar with a beer in the hand.

    Lot’s of love

  2. 2 JOHN ARNOLD June 4, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    Hi Jane,

    just a quick hello. i see from your travels that you are having an experience that most people could not even begin to dream of. Keep enjoying them.



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