Where Did All the People Come From?

Managua, Nicaragua

When we awoke on New Year’s Day, the beach was packed with children and families. It seems that they arrived during the night by the busload from Managua, Granada, and all across Nicaragua. The beaches of San Juan del Sur provide the perfect playground with ample space to set up camp (literally, with tents) and enjoy the holiday.

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Crowds on the beach

While last night was filled with young partiers, eager to get into the discos, today was filled with families eager to enjoy a day together drinking Flor de Cana rum and eating traditional foods.

After packing up our very dirty stuff, we walked down to a beach restaurant we’d been eyeing for days: Meson Espanol. This Spanish restaurant featured fresh paella and the waiter had been encouraging us to join him for the past few days. Today was finally the day. We got a great table beachside and enjoyed a few beers, glasses of wine, and tapas. Steve and Sam went crazy over the paella, which included fresh mussels, shrimp, clams, and fish. The nice waiter even had a gift for us—a large patch that says, “Made in Nicaragua.” For two hours we sat there and ate and drank and it cost us less than $40.

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Made in Nicaragua

Once we got back to the Hotel Victoriano, our driver Sergio and guide Raymundo were waiting for us. The service we’ve received from Adventure Life and Careli Tours has been fabulous. We were driven back to Managua in the same spacious, clean van in which we traveled the entire country. Bottled water was available the entire way and the crew is friendly and fun. When traveling to a country as “foreign” as Nicaragua, it’s nice to have consistency in some ways. Sergio and our guides (and our little van) have been the consistency that we needed.

We’ve met a lot of other travelers along the way who have not been so lucky to have the kind of luxuries that we’ve had during this trip. Others have traveled by bus or taxi and searched high and low for available lodging. Some have told stories of crazy nights in hostels. We are grateful that we put our trust in a company that took such great care of us. Traveling is not always comfortable, especially in a developing country like Nicaragua. However, we’ve felt lucky to be able to stay in nice hotels and travel in air conditioned comfort most of the time.

Upon arrival in Managua we checked into the Hotel Contempo, the same hotel where we spent our first night. Again, it was nice to be at a familiar place with familiar faces who recognized us from two weeks ago.

Our adventure is coming to a close but these memories will last a lifetime. Back to the original question, “why would you want to go to Nicaragua?” The answers are endless but the best answer is, “Why not?”

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Feliz Ano Nuevo!

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Nicaragua is certainly the place to ring in the New Year. It’s not exactly Times Square but it’s close. We intended to “pace ourselves” through the day so that we could make it through midnight but it’s hard to do when the beach is calling. Our morning was spent wandering the four streets that make up San Juan del Sur.

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Church in SJSD

A little shopping, a stop for a beer, and some people watching; it’s easy to stay “busy” in this little hamlet.

After a siesta we headed back out for lunch at a little comedor across from the bus station. A comedor is a local restaurant where you can get a big plate of food for about $3. From there we joined the famed Dario at San Juan Surf and Sport for our pre-booked all-you-can-drink fishing, sunset cruise. We probably didn’t need to pre-book, as we were joined by another couple from New York and about 25 young partiers. At first we worried that we would be the viejos but Dario is a smart guy. He put us and the other couple on one boat and the wild group on another. We were assured a peaceful, yet age-appropriate cruise (and a lot more alcohol per person).

Our cruise consisted of a quick tour of the SJDS bay and then we headed south along the Pacific coast.

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Party on the sunset cruise

With beer and rum drinks in our hands (Sam drank water) our panga anchored off of a beautiful little cove and we were instructed to “jump.” Marnie went first and Steve quickly followed. The water was crisp, yet refreshing. And then our captain Luis handed us our drinks while we paddled in the ocean! Who could ask for more?

From there we boarded the boat again and enjoyed a cruise further south, viewing the gorgeous Nicaraguan coastline and a few seaside mansions here and there. As the sun began to set, we turned back to the north to return to SJDS. We’re not sure how much we drank but our cups were never empty.

We moved on to dinner at the so-called best restaurant in town. Luckily we got the last available reservation and joined the expats in SJDS who gathered at El Colibri to ring in the New Year. Sangria, filet mignon with gorgonzola, and chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream sealed the deal.

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Dinner at El Colibri

Around us the fireworks began to explode as the excitement built for the grand finale of 2011. After we closed the restaurant down we wandered the streets once again to take in the New Years festivities.

As on Christmas Eve, New Years Eve is celebrated with copious amounts of fireworks. The streets were filled with families, young and old, lighting sparklers, rockets, and bombs. Above us big colorful explosions filled the sky. Around us children lit firecrackers. In the streets stuffed dolls representing the old year were set aflame. What we didn’t realize, but soon learned, was that the dolls are filled with explosives. We stood with a Nicaraguan family outside of their front door and watched the doll, who we named “Carlos,” blow up.

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Marnie, Carlos, and Sam

Steve describes the street scene at midnight as controlled chaos. While Carlos burned, cars drove over him, people on bikes rode by, and couples danced in the street. Down the way hundreds of people danced the night away to pulsating beachside discos.

Our parents will be happy to know we were safely in our room by 1:00 a.m. but could hear the party rage on. We’ll never have another New Years Eve like this one.

Tomorrow we head back to Managua to prepare for our Monday flight home. Happy New Year to all of our family and friends!

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Surfs Up

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Our big adventure today was focused on surfing. Before we met up with our surf instructors we stopped at the local panaderia (bakery) for some snacks to take to the beach. Sam has fallen in love with the pineapple cookies. The lady at the bakery knows us now.

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Our bakery

After a 20 minute drive through the countryside we landed on the most beautiful beach, Playa Hermosa, which means pretty beach. On Playa Hermosa sits the Playa Hermosa Surf Camp, which was our base for the day. The Surf Camp is newly opened and consists of a “hotel” of dorm rooms, hammocks, an outside bar and grill, and endless waves. Our instructors Saul and Roberto led us onto the wide, flat beach and explained the fundamentals of surfing. We learned the parts of the board and the technique for getting on it. It was a LOT easier to do on the sand than it was in the water!

After about 20 minutes of instruction we hit the waves.

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At least we look like surfers

Roberto worked with us while Saul worked with the other guys in our group. So, we basically had private instruction. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to make us “real surfers.” Steve was able to stand up once during our two hour session and Marnie chose to stay on her stomach or knees. Nevertheless, we were amazed at how fast you could go on the long board when you caught the wave just right.

We are grateful that we also had our own photographer with us. The photos are courtesy of Sam, who documented the entire experience.

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His first beer, really!

Two hours in the water was enough for us and we headed back to the surf camp for a few beers and our tasty snacks from the bakery. Another hour or two in a hammock and we were ready to head back to the hotel. We’ll never be pro surfers, but today was an experience we won’t soon forget. Surfing is really fun!

Our day ended on the beach in San Juan del Sur with grilled whole snapper at a popular restaurant, El Timon.

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Whole snapper

We watched the sunset and enjoyed a live Latin band. Steve and Sam finished up the evening poolside at the hotel drinking Flor de Cana, the local favorite.

Evenings and days like this have made us fall in love with this warm, friendly, and beautiful country. Despite its political and economic challenges, Nicaragua is endearing and we are so happy we’ve spent our holiday here.

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