October 31, 2015: San Juan del Sur

We did well getting up early this morning, getting everyone into the Yaris and hitting the road.  Today it is me driving and Dominica tried riding in the back with the girls.  It is really not that much driving.  Getting anywhere in Nicaragua just takes a really long time because the roads all move so slowly.

Don’t be fooled by the small size of the country of Nicaragua, just because there are not very many kilometers between the places that you want to go chances are it is going to take you rather a long time to get there.  I have heard the British give similar warnings around traveling around the UK: but you will need to multiply that effect here in Nica.

There are several issues that contribute to this.  First the speeds on the highways are slow, very slow.  The fastest highway that I have found in the country never goes about eight kilometers per hour.  That is just fifty miles per hour for the Americans and by contract Spain’s highways are generally one hundred and forty kilometers per hour – nearly double the top end speed.  And unlike in the US or in Europe, the top speed of the highway is rarely what you get to do.

In Nicaragua the highway just goes through towns and cities with continuous foot traffic on the sides of the road, never an extra lane beyond the two (two total, one in each direction) and never a shoulder to speak of.  The official speed drops from eight to forty regularly, often the top speed is fifty or sixty and during school periods the speed in an incredibly number of places, including all along the length of the PanAmerican which is the biggest highway in the country, drops to just twenty five!

There is traffic everywhere in the country, often in the form of slow moving trucks, pickups full of hitchhikers, scooters that struggle to get up to speed even going down hill and then there are pedestrians, bicyclists and, of course, horse drawn carts everywhere.  And that is not the worst of the traffic issues.  It is incredibly common for the road to be full of cattle, chickens or other animals. You never know what you are going to find.

Driving here is a continuous adventure and you need to think about how slowly you will be creeping down the highway when you begin to calculate out your plans.  That city might be only one hundred kilometers away, but it is going to be three hours before you have any hopes of getting there.

The drive was interesting, as they always are going into new parts of the country.  After not long we were able to see Volcan Conception on Isla Ometepe far south in Lake Nicaragua.  It is a gorgeous volcano.

We were on the road so early this morning that we were actually down to Rivas, the main settlement in the south west of the country, by ten thirty!  We were so early that we did not know what to do with ourselves.  I saw the turn off for San Jorge, where the big port is for the ferries that head out to Isla Ometepe which is so close that you can easily see it from here

We should have turned here to go to San Juan del Sur but we had not made any plans this morning beyond going to Rivas and figuring things out once we made it that far and I was not aware that our main turn off for San Juan del Sur was in Rivas so I drove right on through and apparently no one else in the car figured out that there were supposed to be navigating.

I thought that we would drive for a while yet, see a sign for San Juan del Sur as it is a major destination down south, and turn when we saw it.  The problem was we missed the first sign in Rivas and then missed the one in El Virgin.

I drove on and we got to see some lovely farm country and loads of new wind mills that have only recently gone up to generate electricity from the never ending winds that blow across Lake Nicaragua from the east.  That made for a very nice and interesting drive.

We got stuck in a horrible line of stopped trucks south of the wind mills and sat for a few minutes without moving before I decided that I was going to get out of the car and walk up for a ways to see if I could discover what was taking so long.  It did not have the feel of an accident and no one was turning around.  We were all quite confused.

I was getting quite far from the car when I started putting the pieces together in my mind and noticing tons and tons of the truck drivers getting out and just hanging out and how many seemed to know each other and how so many of the trucks were not carrying Nica licenses but were often Guatemala and then it hit me…. this was the line of trucks waiting to go through the security check point at the Costa Rican border!  I had accidentally driven all of the way to Costa Rica without realizing it.  That was quite a surprise.

So I walked back to the car and turned us around.  At least we had gotten to see the country all of the way south with our spare time this morning.  It was a really nice drive.

Our next mistake was the really bad one.  My overshooting of the turn cost us less than an hour, total.  Maybe little more than half an hour of total driving as we could easily turn west towards the ocean at La Virgin and in San Juan del Sur in no time.  Ryan was navigating and decided to turn us onto a backroad as a “short cut” to not have to back track.  Dominica and I should have stepped in with “this is totally crazy” but we could not see the map and we kept trying to verify that this was going to be an okay drive.

The drive ended up being, unbeknownst to us until later, a mountainous dirt trail running alongside the Costa Rican border.  It was a totally crazy drive where we had to creep over roads that were constantly bottoming out the car and I was unable to convince Ryan that we had pushed the Toyota Yaris beyond its limits until it started to stall out, with the pedal to the floor, trying to climb the mountain as it dropped to around two miles per hour.  After about an hour of some seriously intense driving we came to a downhill section so steep that we had little confidence in having the ability to return if we found the road to be impassable.  So very near the corner of the map where the Nicaraguan and Costa Rican shared border hits the Pacific, high on a mountain, we turned around and worked our way back to the PanAmerican highway.  We ended up losing more than two hours attempting that back road. Dominica was not amused.

Once back on the real highway we managed to get to San Juan del Sur in no time.  We drove into the city but did nothing more than drive in and immediately turn around since the city itself was not our destination and Dominica had found an available room at a resort nearby but wanted to get there right away in case they ended up selling out.

We drove north up a few beaches and found the Casa Bahia Family Adventure & Surf Hotel which sat high up on a hillside overlooking the Pacific.  It was a truly gorgeous location.  Another amazing hotel find by Dominica.  This was far and away the neatest place that we could have been staying in this area.  Nothing that we had driven past anywhere near here compared to it at all and the prices were not bad at all.  We looked at a few different rooms and ended up talking them into just $150 for the giant “has its own building” three bedroom apartment that exits directly out onto the pool and has three hundred and sixty degree views!  It was three bedrooms, two baths, four televisions, a living room and a very large kitchenette.  It makes no sense that this was called a hotel room, this really was an apartment.  We would happily live in an apartment exactly like that.  It has more than enough space for our entire family and would work for having visiting guests too with that spare guest room.  And one of the three rooms had two beds too!

In the girls room Dominica found the body of a dead scorpion.  It was huge (which is actually a good thing since the bigger they are the safer they are – both less venom and easier to spot.)  From what we can tell it was an adult bark scorpion.  Not particularly dangerous but they will sure wreck your day.  Dominica said that it had been dead for a long time – it was on its back behind a door and desiccated.  She called the desk to have them come down and sweep the place just in case anything was hiding somewhere.  Other than seeing where it was we did not look at it too closely after Dominica had determined the status. The girls were not even afraid of it and were fine playing in the room but were careful to stay away from just playing on the floor.

Later Dominica came out and asked if Ryan or I had been playing with the scorpion because it was not in the same position has before.  It was on its side rather than its back.  I got everyone out of the room and got in close and blew on it…. yup, it was alive and moving.  Not moving fast and certainly not a significant threat to anyone but dead and desiccated it was not.  The front desk ran down and someone jumped on it for us.  It was definitely dead then.

That was our first adventure with a scorpion anywhere, ever.  Neither Dominica nor I have ever seen one in “real life.”  We have seen them in museums and such, like at the zoo, but never in the wild.  Scorpion allergies run on Dominica’s side of the family so we have to take them as potentially more of a threat than normal people do.

Ryan took the master suite since it had the en suite bathroom.  Dominica and I got the small room.  The girls got a huge room with two beds so that they could spread out and play.  It was really perfect.  If we ever return to San Juan del Sur we will be staying at the Casa Bahia for sure.

It was barely after noon at this point so we were in the room very early.  We made the judgement call to do nothing else today but to enjoy being in a resort by the ocean.  We will get a great value out of this as we have so much time at the resort because they were mostly empty and we managed to arrive so early.

We were all hungry having eaten nothing all day, thus far.  So we went up to the resort’s restaurant and had a latish lunch out on the balcony.  The food was good.  Dominica got her first ceviche, which is the regional food of at least southern Central America.  You can get it absolutely anywhere in Panama with cevicherias being incredibly common even in poor areas and rural districts and I have seen ceviche reguarly in Nicaragua.

After lunch it was right down to the ocean.  Ryan was very keen to get to swim out in the surf.  The girls played and played in the sand.  I had to stay right with them.  A few times the water hit them so hard, even not being in the water directly and just playing up in the sand, that Liesl was dragged back with it and I had to stop her from being pulled out farther than she could handle.  Even here where the surf is considered tame the Pacific is very dangerous for swimming.

We had a really good time down on the water and we stayed until the sun had set and it was dark.  We spent some time hanging out with a local and talking about the Halloween customs locally since we were unsure how it was treated in Nicaragua.  More or less they are aware of the American traditions around it but do not celebrate it themselves.

We walked back to the hotel in the dark.  Once there we got the girls into the pool.  We had promised them swimming and they were very excited to get to swim at the hotel.  That our apartment sits right at the pool was awesome.  We pretty much had the pool in our living room (like back at the house.)  This was super convenient and nice.  We loved it.

There were three Brits there on holiday as well.  They work up in the Shetlands and work three weeks on and then get three weeks to travel.  So they are busy seeing the world in little bursts.  We hung out with them for an hour at least, possibly two.  Liesl and Luciana got into the hot tub with them and talked to them, continuously.  Liesl went on and on about how she travels the world and how they want to go to China and that she finds Egyptian studies so interesting that she considers herself to be part Egyptian.  They were adorable.

After they were out of the pool we hung out for a while and got Dominica dinner from the resort restaurant before they closed.  The restaurant accidentally serviced the girls chicken fingers instead of fish fingers and because the girls have no idea what chicken is they ended up eating some.  I took a bite and spit it out realizing what it was.  They girls had very little, but some.  Mostly Liesl.  The restaurant had added beef to Dominica’s vegetarian poasta too but she had figured it out and sent it back.

After Dominica and the girls had eaten and Ryan had hung out up on the terrace above our apartment and we had gotten everyone in for the night, Ryan and I went for a walk towards the beach to check out the Villa Mar which was the best rated restaurant in the area for our dinner.  Ryan had found it on TripAdvisor and wanted to check it out.

It was super hot and muggy sitting outside on the Villa Mar terrace but the food was truly fantastic.  We tried several different things and everything was really great.

After dinner it was back to the Casa Bahia and off to bed.  Probably no later than eleven.  We had a nice walk back to the Casa Bahia as the sky was relatively clear and there was very little light pollution.  So the stars were really nice.