Saturday, April 12, 2014


Sunset over the Pacific.

Hotel El Jardin

Like the blind men and the elephant, our reflections on our brief stay in San Juan Del Sur are limited to a very small slice of what is available. We didn't experience any of the apparently expansive night life or the adventure sports. We didn't hang out with the giant Jesus on the hill either. So this post is less a travelogue and more a reflection.

 This photo of El Jardin is courtesy of TripAdvisor
At Hotel El Jardin, breakfast (included in the room rate) and dinner were served on the patio, a lovely place to start and end each day with a balmy breeze, Nacascolo Bay and the blue Pacific in the distance. However, we found to our disappointment that El Jardin doesn’t have a shuttle van to take guests into town. Marilyn had checked out so many places on Trip Advisor before deciding on El Jardin, that she’d confused it with a different hotel that DID offer shuttles. So if we wanted to get to town, we’d have to call a taxi.
Looking out on the Nacascolo Bay with the Pacific in the distance.

But after breakfast, on our first day, we decided to walk down to the bay for a swim  We had heard that during the dry season, Guanacaste, the Costa Rica canton just south of the Pacific Nicaraguan border, is hot and dry, like West Texas. We had seen this for ourselves on our bus the day before. The trees were bare, the ground covered with brown leaves. Save for the occasional palm trees, it could have been October in Delaware. The same was true for this part of Nicaragua. Our walk down to the beach was hot, 90’s for sure.  And unlike our mountain home in Grecia, where the foliage remains green year round, the mountains around the hotel were brown and dusty.

We also walked to the bay on our second day, but started out a lot later and had to walk back up the hill at high noon (For some photos of our swim and hike, check out Marilyn’s photo essay). So on our first day, after cooling off in the lovely El Jardin pool, we decided to take a taxi ($10 – should have negotiated a better price) to go into town for lunch. The main street of San Juan Del Sur parallels the beach with shoulder to shoulder thatched-roof restaurants, beer joints, sodas, surf shops and little hotels, a few of which one might want to consider for an overnight. 
Beachfront restaurants and hotels at San Juan Del Sur
Really good pizza!
Watching sand and surf from
our table at Pizzaria San Juan del Playa
We wandered in to an open-air restaurant (Pizzaria San Juan del Playa) that provided welcome relief from the blazing sun. We had a brochure-perfect view of the bay – a few swimmers and many boats. On the advice of a guest back at El Jardin, we ordered beers and a pepperoni pizza (our first pizza in more than six months!!). The pizza was so good we immediately ordered another. Since it was about three in the afternoon, we counted the first pizza as lunch and the second one as supper. 
Fishing boats, San Juan Del Sur
Bocce ball on the beach.

After happily stuffing ourselves, we strolled on the beach at low tide. A group of expats were playing bocce ball, and a few people were wading in the shallows. As we made our way down the seemingly pristine beach, it was unsettling to see a drainage ditch or sewer leading from under one of the restaurants out to the water. This does not appear in the brochures.

Umm ... what is draining into the sea from this ditch?
Street paralleling the beach.
A block or so off he main drag.
Wandering in a block or two from the beach, we were reminded that this is a third world country and poverty is everywhere. The difference between the touristy beach row and a few blocks in was striking. 
One of several charming clapboard houses in the tourist area.

Looking for a market to pick up some fresh fruit, we found our way to a mercado that can only be described as squalid. A single light bulb cast shadows over piles of half-rotten bananas and shriveled vegetables. Unlike Costa Rica, there were no Holas! Or Buenas Tardes! for the Gringos. No smiles. Groups of people and naked children chatted with each other in the dark as if we were invisible. We left fruitless, buying a few bags of chips from a snack vendor. When Marilyn picked up the bags of chips from the shelf, several cockroaches scurried for cover. It says a lot about how much I knew I would need Doritos later that I bought them anyway.   
Funeral procession.
Outside it was easily 95 degrees, and people were sitting and lying on the sidewalks in the shade to get away from the heat. With no room on the narrow sidewalks, we walked in the street. 

Soon we were crowded off the street as well, as a funeral procession passed by. The lead vehicle was a white pickup truck carrying the flower-covered coffin. Contemporary music blared from the truck, so the deceased was probably relatively young. A second pickup, overflowing with flowers, followed, then at least a hundred solemn people on foot passed by. Some bystanders watched quietly, respectfully; others continued to drink their beers and tend to the minutiae of the day.
Iglesia San Juan Bautista

We continued through the town, heading for the town square and the church. Like Costa Rican churches, this one faced west and was the center of San Juan Del Sur. 
Wooden interior Iglesia San Juan Bautista
Welcome breezes from the church's open windows
The church was a wonder to behold. Massive wooden trusses tied together with intricate joinery held the walls and the roof in place. All the doors and windows were open. A few votive candles burned by the altar. We sat quietly as faint sea breezes played over our heated bodies. A parish priest chatted genially with two women. Another woman, gnarled and bent, keened loudly as she rocked to and fro in a pew several rows in front of us. She was obviously a regular, because neither the priest nor the women gave her any notice.

Because our budget wasn’t going to allow us to do any tours (including what looked like an incredible sunset horseback ride on the beach), we decided there was nothing much more for us to do in the town. Before returning to El Jardin, we arranged our return to the border at a hotel. Rather than going back to Rivas to pick up a bus, the shuttle from the downtown hotel would be dropping us right at the border so that we could go through customs on our own without waiting for a busload of people to be checked through. The $45 fee included picking us up after breakfast at El Jardin. We’d read that there were bus kiosks right at the Costa Rican border, so it seemed like it would be easy to arrange for a bus back home. More on that in the next chapter. 

When Marilyn posts our March expenses, she’ll have a breakdown of all of our costs for this trip. But for our one day in San Juan Del Sur, we spent $25 on our two (delicious) pizzas and beers and $20 for the round-trip back and forth from El Jardin (after we returned to the hotel, we talked to another couple who’d negotiated $6 one-way for the taxi – obviously, we could have done better). Oh, and about $4.00 for two bags of Doritos and two Snickers bars. These would come in handy the next day. After our swim in the bay and our hot hike up the hill, we were too tired to go into town to eat. And dinner service didn't start until 6:30. After carefully inspecting our snacks to make sure they were free of "visitors" we ate our hearty lunch of chips and chocolate. Next:  The return home