San Juan del Sur(e)!

$25 dollars each got us a comfortable shuttle bus from León through Granada (beautiful Colonial style city), San Jorge (the port for Isla de Ometepe, from which you can see the amazing island formed by two volcanoes) and on all the way to San Juan del Sur in about 6 hours. In an ideal world we would have stopped at both places for a couple of days, but time and money make the rules here.

It was so comfortable that we giggled all the way.

“You could add a Venn diagram to your blog. Venn-erate.”
“Oo, why did you go there?”
“I thought we were just doing words beginning with ‘ven'”
“…. you took the words right out of my mouth…. and you didn’t get my first joke did you?  2 for 2”

It is interesting to watch the change in countries as you travel by shuttle. You only see a snippet of the country, of course, but outside the cities and tourist spots. Guatemala was mostly corrugated shacks, dirt yards and some breeze block structures. El Salvador had more tiled roofs, bigger houses, flowers and fairy lights. Nicaragua has plenty of shacks, but fewer – more tiled/brick buildings with gardens and barb wired boundaries. It is important to remind yourself how most people inhabiting this planet live, and how lucky we are. Its clearly better in some countries than others, you can see the a small differential here but most of the World is significantly less well off than us. Nearly half the World population lives on $2.50 a day, 1/6th in extreme poverty (under $1.25 a day). If we did this trip again, we would choose fewer countries and spend time volunteering.

Arrived in San Juan and walked down the beach into town.

Geared up for tourists. Prices to match. Lots of waterfront restaurants, although the town is still quite small and we could find a couple of cheap eateries with local food.

It has come to our attention that a lot of travellers are sporting moustaches. And not because the ladies no longer have access to beauty salons. Its a curious trend, obvious in its clamouring for identity as opposed to aesthetics. We spent the evening developing a new game… Merv Hughes Cookie Duster Challenge! Its cricket, but you win runs by spotting a tache. Black or brown is one run, grey is a 4, and blonde is a 6. If you spy a ginger one, however, you’re out and its the next person’s go.

Jim is now on 20. And all because older American (or German like Clemens, the owner of our hotel) men have their own trend going on – “the silver lip surfer”. We have had to readjust the scoring in response. Those greys are relegated to 1-pointers.

We spent a good deal of time battling with the terrible wi-fi trying to book onward travel, hotels and a rafting trip. Eventually managed it and went out for a day/night on the town. Plenty of Nica Libres (Flor de Cana rum – yum!- and coke) at Republika chatting to the expat gang.

Not much else to report about San Juan. It has a cliff top Jesus we didn’t end up having time to hike up to, and some nice beaches just outside of the town (Hermosa, Maderas) which we wanted to visit but were reluctant to pay the $35 dollars quoted for transport.. phew!

Got a taxi on our last day to the Tica bus stop. We got our backpacks out of the boot, and just as the driver pulled away we realised we had left the snorkel gear in the boot. We waved frantically but off he went. Nothing to be done. Pretty annoying as we bought the gear in Mexico intending to save money in Costa Rica and Panama, and had taken it across 5 borders.. only to lose it immediately before we needed it. Gah! Always something when you’re en route…

León – A Tale of Two Cities

Another day, another travelling saga. We had to drive out of El Tunco 2 hours late, in the wrong direction, to rescue a shuttle coming from Antigua that had suffered a late start, two flat tyres, and a bag falling off the roof. Doubled back after picking up an insane amount of people (16!). Upshot was that we arrived in León at 11PM (instead of 4PM) and our hostel had given our room away.

Found an alternative for a night (with pool and air con and a bigger price tag) and then had to try and get our heads around the comparison when booking back into the hostel the next day. It was fine as a hostel, clean but basic. But there was no AC (although we had booked it). No pool. No cool communal area to sit – just some uncomfortable logs. Rough around the edges.

We went out and tried to have a nice day, found Paz y Pan for a really great lunch (proper multi-grain bread that was so good it was like eating cake!), but had to retire for respite back at the hostel because of the heat. León can be ridiculously hot.

However, the hostel offered no respite from 36 degree heat of the city. Stifling. We just sat on the logs in the “garden”, staring and sweating, not talking. I was finding it nearly impossible to accept I had to stay here, but the guy had kicked out the people he let stay in our room so we felt beholden, and we really have to stay on budget. To be frank, were it not for the former reason I would have ignored the latter. What is the point of being somewhere if you’re so hot you can’t move?

Once darkness had fallen, we spent a couple of hours drinking beer in a tapas restaurant trying to jump-start my brain out of some kind of heat malfunction:

“Beer won’t be good for sunstroke”

“But at least I won’t be miserable. Tough choice”

Eventually had a nice night learning the Nicaraguan pool rules at a local hostel/restaurant (“Pool Ocho”) and discussing the Panama-esque Canal they are building with the Chinese through Nicaragua. Not everyone is happy (those that will be displaced) but everyone recognises the potential benefit to the economy.

The night in the hostel was, as expected, uncomfortable. Bad beds, woke up at 5am to shower and cool down, my hands and feet and brain were strangely swollen and stiff. And, as expected, I have an instinctive response to a lack of basic comfort – I didn’t like Leon and didn’t want to do anything the next day. So, we went to the nearest hotel with AC and booked a room.

“You have a syndrome. Princess Syndrome.”

We felt really terrible telling the hostel (he’d made the AC room ready for us and didn’t understand why we were leaving) – but not as happy as we felt moving to a hotel with a great pool, and wonderful room with balcony and queen-size bed, and really cold/quiet AC. Elation!

That day, León became a different city. We swam and read, had a couple of beers, and planned an evening out to sample Nicaraguan steak. I woke up the next day in reflective mood, brain engaged, ready for some investigating and fun. We went to the roof of the Cathedral and we learned how to “Revolution” Leonese style with Rodriguez at El Museo de la Revolucion. Rodriguez, who talked us through their Sandinista and revolutionary history in Spanish (we understood just enough) was in a photo with a rifle as a 19 year old in the uprising against the Dictatorship. Amazing. The Museo, run by Revolutionaries, is very simple – just photographs, newspaper cuttings and a few artifacts in the old Courts of Justice where Somoza hid – but very effective at telling the story.

The day after we went to see modern art at Centro de Arte, Fundacion Ortiz-Gurdian. They had art from all over Central America, and one particular piece (a painting of a coca-cola bottle with traditional colourful woven fabric as the fuse of a Molotov Cocktail) really resonated after seeing a real one at the Museo. Fascinating and enriching.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a shop and bet on which would be the quickest queue:

“My shopping line was SO much faster but you made me stand in this one. I want that time back please that you’ve just cost me.”

“Oh, we’re talking time back are we? I’ll have the last 8 years please.”

And of course on the 5th we watched Liverpool vs AFC Wimbledon on our little balcony.

León has a great history and culture, I really love the city now!

Also makes for a good tan if you have a pool:

“I can’t tell what’s tan and what’s dirt to be honest, León is a swirl of dust”

“Your tan is coming along leaps and browns!”

Relief is a wonderful emotion. We revelled in it for 3 days. Its like the World is suddenly back at a safe distance again, having encroached too heavily on your senses forcing you to focus entirely on your discomfort rather than the things around you, creativity or playfulness (note the lack of jokes and photos!). Yep, Princess Syndrome it is. Comfort is a First World luxury. Comfort allows you to find your centre of gravity and everything else evaporates out into the ether.

And of course, with this realisation that I want to read and investigate and write and play in comfort, comes the notion of “champagne backpacking” and the fear of (shhhhhhh) budgeting. We are going to have to tone down that busy itinerary I have roughed out and do less if we need some basic comforts. Isla Ometepe loses, and its straight to San Juan del Sur to a place with AC and a pool.