2010..9..8 San Juan del Sur! Happy New Year!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

It was about as organized as I have ever been travelling: I had booked somewhere to stay for New Years Eve almost two weeks in advance. Generally, I prefer the showing up and finding what you find approach. At first this approach might seem laden with stress and worry, but with time and enough experience showing up and finding something that works, there is actually less. You don’t have to scour the internet and reviews, find phone numbers, wait for emails, book with your credit card, and then hope you can find the place you booked. Instead, you show up, make your way to the centre where the hostels usually are, and then browse, reviewing the hostels – in person – and assessing their atmosphere, cleanliness, security, and location for yourself. Usually, you go with a few recommendations from fellow travellers heading the opposite direction in the town you just came from or, worst case, a starting point from the Lonely Planet. We had been recommended Pacha Mama’s by Fran and Ronja, a couple Aussies we’d met in Leon that were also going to spend New Years Eve in San Juan del Sur and after a tense couple days with no reply and some hunting of other places (booked, booked, booked), we received the email that said they had space.

The hostel itself was pretty nice. Pacha Mama’s is less than a month old, clean (except for the bathrooms which had a perpetual sludge of black sand on the floor in spite of the foot wash faucet at the entrance) and there was a decent common area, a little backyard bar, and hammocks and rocking chairs. That said, the vibe was not as good. This is always a mystery: the same travellers in another hostel would be social and outgoing but in this hostel that seemed to be absent. You expect it from groups traveling together – especially if they all speak the same non-English language - and this hostel did have a large contingent from Israel that did just that. But generally other independent travellers are more social. The owner or manager of the hostel plays a big part in making this atmosphere happen, and while we found him amusing initially, that soon faded. In fact, without fail every traveller we met said they liked the hostel, but not the owner. He wasn't great but I wouldn't specifically avoid this place and I guess if I were making a recommendation for my readers, it would be the much more amiable Hostel Esperanza. If I come back, this is the place.

Now then, for those that don’t ever want to run a hostel, you can start reading here. We got in to San Juan del Sur, Phil, Jez, and myself, freshly bruised and wearied from a hellish ordeal at Ometepe the day prior. The beach was beautiful. Clean (except for one spot where the storm drains empty into the ocean), and with cliffs on either side, one of which had a large statue of Jesus, Rio style. We didn’t do much but relax after our noon arrival, as we had some serious recovery to do. Dinner at Comedor Margarita was quite tasty and affordable in this town, after walking around and seeing that it was difficult if not impossible to eat for less than $7 anywhere else (generally we were paying $3 for a meal and when put in terms of back home this all sounds cheap, but when you travel this way you get into a local’s mindset and paying double what you usually pay is still paying double). The next day was likewise pretty relaxed, hammocks, breakfast at Jerry’s (best and most affordable breakfast in town), visiting with people and we met up that night with some girls that had been staying at the same hostel as us in Ometepe, from Texas.

Now, we’d drank at the hostel bar the night before and tonight we were looking to cut prices by picking up our own rum and coke and drinking in the hostel’s common area. The problem was, with the hostel so booked, it already had a couple people asleep. So we took a table in the backyard, as far from the bar as possible (even though there were only about 10 people drinking), and didn’t take any bottles of booze or anything like that out with us. Then we got out the Drinking Game Jenga, which is always a lot of fun if not trouble, and an hour later were scolded by Alex for doing so. Understandable, but the thing is that some hostels allow it and others do not. The ones that do not usually make a point of saying so when you check in, with signs, and so on. Even without these indicators we were discreet. The common area where drinking in this hostel would normally be allowed would result in waking people in his overbooked hostel, and we were simply trying to be polite. But I understand where he’s coming from, obviously. We moved back to the common area where the girls that had been sleeping were now awake anyway (two of the Israelis had started playing Ping pong near them) and resumed our game before heading to the beach for a swim and then hanging out at the Pier beach bar.

The days kind of flow into one another but it was now the 30th and Jez, Phil, and I went to the beach finally (we’d avoided it mostly in the day because we’d all gotten too much sun in Ometepe) and kicked around Jez’s soccer ball. Actually, it was pretty funny – I’d finally finished my final Bourne book (The Bourne Ultimatum, which was probably the best of the three novels) – so I arrived a little after Jez and Phil at the beach. I got there, they passed me the soccer ball. It was small and quite bouncy and two dribbles in, flew over my head. When I jogged to pick it up again and start dribbling, I dribbled it right into my head, sending my glasses flying off my head and knocking me a step backwards. There were some locals watching and they couldn’t stop laughing, but then again, neither could we. A great introduction to Dynamite Dean. After adjusting and passing it along the beach, we stopped for some Licuados (fresh fruit juice and ground ice, sometimes with milk) at Pier. It’s a nice place, they have a very cute server, and the licuados are pretty reasonably priced.

This is an example of why Nicaragua is probably my favourite country so far. There are people everywhere selling sunglasses, which gets annoying, but after definitively turning down one guy, we ended up chatting with him for almost an hour in our broken Spanish and making friends with him. He was from Managua and was heading back after New Years died down but he always said hi and chatted a bit when we’d see him from then on, never once trying to sell us more glasses. Just a cool and friendly guy. We also made friends with a cigarette guy (they walk the beach selling those too) and played a bit of soccer with him, plus some locals wanted to have a game with us but by then we’d had too much sun and were walking back to the hostel. And when we arrived, everybody (including taxi drivers who obviously benefit from people taking a ride because they can’t find a place) was happy to point us towards our hostel. Just friendly, friendly people.

Speaking of which, we were delighted to come across two more friendly faces when we got back from the beach that afternoon: Anabella and Maria, our Columbian Christmas Cousins (tm) had just arrived from Ometepe along with Lizzie and Andrea (England and Switzerland respectively). Unfortunately, they had no place to stay as the hostel was overbooked and Lizzie had not “confirmed their confirmation” meaning she’d emailed saying “I’d like to book for 5 of us from Dec 30-Jan 2” and they’d replied “OK, from the 30-2 for 5 people, it’s $12/night, cool?” the day before and she had not been on the internet to say “Cool”. So they looked for another place but could find nothing affordable and eventually gave up (Lizzie and Andrea were going to share beds with the girls and the Columbians had hammocks). Then we all went out for some pretty decent pizza, Jez and I split a Pizza del Diablo (who could resist taking that on?) and caught up. We now had our Christmas Crew back together and ready for New Years Eve and it felt about as close to being home as one can down here.

At last the day came: it was New Years Eve, it was 9 AM, and somehow in spite of celebrating a bit the night before, I was out and about taking photos. I noticed that quite a few places had life-sized dolls outside their houses, usually with booze and sometimes a little sign, which I discovered are effigies of the bad things they are burning away from the year prior. If only it were that easy. The plan for the day, after my little photo shoot, was to go to the beach, come back, get ready, and try to get a nice table at a beach side restaurant for sunset. We went to the beach a little late, Phil, Jez, Maria, Anabella, and myself, probably around 1:00, and sat at the Pier drinking licuados with rum in them. I went swimming with Anabella for quite a while and tried to teach her how to Body Surf but it turns out that I’m not very good at it myself. Generally I jump and maybe paddle once or twice but with these bigger waves that doesn’t work so well. Nevertheless, we had a lot of fun and both did end up catching a few waves. We were also joined by Phil and Jez’s Swedish friends that they’d met in Rancho Tranquilo, who were both pretty hilarious if a little unhinged. They were trying to hide from some woman that they’d been talking to the night before, whom they later discovered was married to a mobster from somewhere, which in writing sounds a lot more serious and less funny than it was, because they really hadn’t done anything terrible they were just wanting to avoid getting into trouble.

Back at the hostel, they were doing New Years Eve around the world, with different drink specials every hour depending on which country it was midnight at that particular hour. A pretty good idea, I think. We tried to get ready for sunset but we missed it entirely (I even ran to the beach about 5 mins too late) and so we wound up having a few drinks for England/Jez and then went out for dinner on the beach. These are the pricey restaurants, by Nicaragua standards, but I ordered the lobster anyway (the most expensive thing they had) and with a beer my tasty meal (and tip) came to $20. We returned to the hostel and Phil, Jez, and I bought a 1.5 L of Flor de Cana rum (excellent Nicaraguan rum) and a bunch of mix, and I made the unfortunate choice of also buying a cigar. Back to the room, I made my second mistake in letting Phil pour my drinks. The rum is so tasty you don’t really notice but you’ve just drank four or five shots with your coke. I had two or three. It was enough.

I should emphasize again what a great group we had. Sitting around in the girls’ dorm was probably more fun than actually being out was, at least for me. Good music, plenty (too much) to drink, good company, and we had a few newcomers from New Zealand that were hilarious as well. Still, we ran out of our rum pretty quickly considering its size and were soon out at the Iguana which is not so different from, say, the Sutherland, except that there is a beach in front with a bonfire. One thing we were missing, however, was a countdown. Phil was wearing Maria’s watch, a stylish pink number that really only he could pull off without looking gay, which was set to Columbian time, so he tried to get us counting an hour early. I do remember looking at my own watch at 11:50 when I saw fireworks, but fireworks and firecrackers especially are pretty much a daily thing in Latin America. As for the actual countdown, well, one minute it was 2009 and then next it was 2010. We lit our cigars and I tried to pass mine on to anybody who would take it but wound up having it mostly to myself. I should’ve thrown it in the fire but I do hate wasting things.

So needless to say, I went home early. And moreover, I don’t remember a lot of anything. I don’t know what’s happened, I guess I eat less and drink less here, but my tolerance is gone. I’m always the first one to feel the effects of alcohol which is good in a budget sense but this particular time it kind of wrecked my New Years Eve/full moon party. Oh yeah, I didn’t mention that it was also a full moon, did I? I would have loved to stay and watch the sunrise like Maria and maybe one or two others did, but I was the first one back to the hostel. I woke up that morning still coughing and tasting that cigar and then eventually, as the others awoke, tried to piece together what else had happened on New Years Eve from everybody and what I had missed out on. The others have some pretty good stories, but I’ll leave it to them to share. Apparently, I was pretty funny but by the end could hardly stand up much less walk straight. This usually doesn’t happen to me unless I’m really far gone, but I did make it home okay and with all my stuff on me which is pretty good or else lucky.

Our first day of 2010 was, aside from the slightly rough morning (I’d gotten sick the night before so I was actually pretty okay aside from that taste and cough). We got a cool cab driver named Jorge to take us (Andrea, Maria, Anabella, Phil and I) to a nearby surf beach called Maderas and bring us back after sunset for $5. The beach was really nice and we had a great day there. Maria and I swam the longest and I have to admit I’m really looking forward to hopefully catching up with both Columbians again when I make my way further south. If today was an indication of things to come in 2010 then it should be a great year. We had our final dinner together, the whole group that is, after a beautiful sunset at Maderas and it did feel a bit sad. I had some pork which I noticed was quite pink in the middle but absentmindedly did nothing about it as I was thinking of beef and only later did it click that, “Hey, that was pork. It shouldn’t have been pink”. I paid for it that night with a crazy fever and a really vivid dream that borders on hallucination that I was telling everyone about my fever and that I thought I had malaria and I would see how I felt in the morning but I might have to go to San Jose for the hospital.

In truth, I said nothing to anybody except in my sleep, though it felt like I was awake almost the whole night. By the time I woke up my fever had died down from the heights reached the night before to normal again though I still felt terrible. At least with the fever subsided, I was probably not dealing with malaria. I realized talking to people in the morning that most of what I thought I had said to them had, in fact, been dreams, and we went for breakfast as a whole, which was our last time together. From there, Jez, Phil, Andrea, and myself were heading to the Costa Rica border, Ronja and Fran were heading up to Belize for some diving, and Maria and Anabella were going up to the Bay Islands of Honduras to hopefully dive the Caribbean coast as well. I feel bad now that I was in a pretty poor disposition the day we left, not that I think I did anything rude I just wasn’t very smiley or talkative, but I hope they understood. The hostel owner called Jorge for us and we got in a cab headed for the border waving goodbye to everyone else, most of whom we’d probably never see again. You get used to the idea of it when you travel, but sometimes it’s harder than others. Still, for the next few hours, at least, I had Phil, Jez, and Andrea at my side.

San Juan del Sur Photos

No comments: