Saturday, September 7, 2013

My Buddy Got Stung By A Stingray & All We Did was Drink Beer: Nicaraguan Tales – San Juan del Sur version

San Juan del Sur prior to wealthy, yacht people invasion
Why go to Nicaragua? Seemingly very random spot, safety of debate, best known for Contras (if only Oliver North knew about UUDDLRBAS). Some friends suggested I visit this Central American country for a handful of reasons: everything's cheap, great for surfing, there's a volcano you can board down, but most importantly again - it's cheap. As in beers cost $1 cheap – at least Tonas do, the Nicaraguan beer that tastes like water but is surprisingly refreshing when ice cold. Coincidentally, the New York Times recently listed Nicaragua as the 3rd best visit place in 2013 ( Ahead of the game NYT! By the way, there's supposed to be a tilde over the "n" in Tonas, but I never know how to add those when typing.
I don't know those people. What a creeper.
Five of us traveled to Nica for about a week – staying the first few days in an eco-friendly residential neighborhood called Balcones de Majagual, about 15 minutes from the southwestern coastal town of San Juan del Sur and a 10-minute drive from beaches like Playa Maderas and Playa Majagual -- then staying the last few nights in Leon, located more centrally in the country.
Eco-friendly community = no flushing toilet paper
Pool in the trees! (Spiders not shown) 
Our lovely pad.
After reading about options to stay in a tree in Nicaragua, my heart was set. Balcones de Majagual was filled with vacation rental homes for ridiculously affordable prices. We stayed in a two-bedroom, two-bath treehouse with a pool, for around $120 each… for five days! For the mathematically-inclined, that’s $24 per person each day. The house wasn’t exactly Swiss Family Robinson either; we had a full kitchen, wifi (which was surprisingly abundant throughout the country), Boggle, and an awesome selection of blockbuster DVD titles like “Behind Enemy Lines 2” and “The Wiffler.” Needless to say, we were set.

Living room, aka "Starsky & Hutch" viewing room
View from our patio. Feet come with rental.
What was an interesting discovery for us spoiled American tourists, was that the plumbing is suspect in much of Central America. While the toilets worked, we were informed we could not flush toilet paper down the toilet. Instead we had to throw used toiled paper into a trash bin. This is the case for much of the country and certainly in San Juan del Sur. Of course, this led to much fear of the impending aroma, so as a result we played a point system of Chinese poker to determine who would have to take out the trash if the scent became overwhelming. Lose five times – earn five points, and you’re on trash detail! The threat of earning points loomed heavily over our trip, and as it were – no one had to ever take out the trash because we had cleaners. But believe you me – that fear was palpable.

Smiles are misleading. Petrified here.

Playa Remanso is behind the 900 sq feet of longboards here.

If you’re not surfing in San Juan del Sur, chances are you might get bored. The beaches in the area aren't Cancun-style - it's relatively isolated and quiet, there aren't many huge resorts (although eco-tourism is rising). If you're looking to rage like in your college days, there are better places to serve you than Nicaragua. Our concierge, Mandy, a friendly woman from North Carolinas, said she had to open a bar (Republika) to keep herself occupied in the lazy town. Most of the tourist attractions are geared for the more physically active – surfing, yoga, horseback riding – and the collegiate – booze cruises and pub crawls. Per the suggestion of a few locals, we went on the pub crawl which hit five bars and included seven free drinks for the price of $7 US. Have I mentioned how cheap Nicaragua is??? That being said, those free drinks at each bar tasted like the wrong side of an airplane cushion. The first spot we visited had a tiny pool in the corner of the bar, which seemed phenomenal but lacked execution. I can’t tell you the name of said bar because I jotted down the notes in my iPhone, which was destroyed a couple days later in the surf when my Lifeproof case proved to not be life proof. In addition to a pool, flip cup and limbo tournaments were featured on this crawl, which ended at Henry’s Iguana, a two-story bar that was the closest thing you’ll see to Cancun in Nicaragua.

Mitch enjoying bar pool.

Not to be confused w/One Republika - Nica's hottest boy band.
They advocate piano freestyling at Big Wave Dave's.
Playing some Left, Right, Center #2ndBestDiceGameEver
I lost a $5 exacta on that slow white pony.
Beach at SJDS. There's a mini Rio-esque Cristo statue on the hilltop.
Whether you’re a novice or Kelly Slater, Nicaragua has a manageable wave for your skill set. Our crew was certainly closer to the Shia LeBeouf-voiced penguin in the beginning of “Surf’s Up” – as opposed to the end when he was crushing waves like a legend. What? Nobody saw “Surf’s Up”? Totes good, yo. The first beach we hit up was Playa Remanso, which had mostly smaller waves. Aside from two small beach huts that serve food and drink, the beach is completely isolated. The rain started to dump when we there, but the water was comfortable so we stayed out on our boards, which cost just $15 to rent for the entire day.  They’re not great, but what’s it matter for us – we suck! My friends were able to get a private lesson for several hours at just $30, as well.
You see, because there are rocks. 
Playa Remanso 2
I don't know what they're doing. They're your friends.
Pete showing the ocean who's boss.
Why are people w/boards compelled to give hang loose signs?
Another beach to surf is Playa Maderas, aka Otter Head Beach (self-dubbed). Interesting name, you say? Well, it’s not a compliment. When we arrived in the afternoon, it was crowded, with lots of stray dogs running around. Maderas is a smaller beach, but it feels like more tourists camp out here. Surf companies usually decide which beach to take you to solely based on the day’s currents. Anyway, when we set our towels down, dogs hounded us like panhandlers in San Francisco. I noticed one dog was very territorial over some chew toy in his mouth. It was an f’n otter head! One might be inclined to ask, how do you know it was an otter head? Well, rest assured, you can tell! This trampy dog dropped the otter head very close to me, then started playing with another dog who grabbed the otter head, much to the dismay of the new dog’s owner who begrudgingly had to grab the head out of her dog’s mouth and toss it aside. That’s a run-on sentence I hope I never have to write again. That’s Otter Head Beach. We weren’t there very long.
This is the most photogenic thing at Otter Head Beach.
Just a 5-minute drive away from Maderas is Playa Majagual, a very isolated beach that you have to walk by private property to get to -- private property with a rather intimidating skull and cross bones sign that says not to trespass. Majagual is open with lush greenery, but didn’t seem like a very swell surf beach. Swell?!!! Oh puns.
Playa Majagual. Yo vivo feo.
The true beach gem of San Juan del Sur, is the fittingly titled Playa Hermosa. We were the first to arrive at this beach, and as Dirk Nowitzki would say, we shut it down and went home! There’s a summer camp vibe here, with volleyball court, bars, and hotel right in front of the beach, which is big enough that you don’t have to worry about surfing into anyone if that’s a concern (and the way we surf, it is a concern). The waves started strong, but died quickly when we were there, but there are nice, rolling waves ideal for longboarding.

Hermosa. I regret we didn't play Top Gun volleyball here.
Stretching time 'cuz we're old.
The waves disappeared for several hours.
Stingray attacks are common at Hermosa, and it’s imperative that you shuffle or stomp your feet when entering the water… as my friend, Stu, learned. After catching a wave – who am I kidding – after getting demolished trying to catch a wave, he stood up and got shanked by a stingray in the big toe. Bastards! When we got back to the bar, there were already people sitting nursing stings. The anecdote is hot water, which apparently burns out whatever it is stingrays do to you. (I’m not Wikipedia, go over there for accurate, verified info!) The bartender could not be more indifferent to Stu’s plight. He slowly grabbed a bucket of hot water, as Stu’s faced started looking like the Japanese dude at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Some Australian guys we hung out with the previous night likened the pain from a stingray sting to a bullet wound, and his friend apparently had that experience to compare. The friend was Russell Crowe. That’s a lie. Anyway, after Stu got stung, there was a lot of sitting around drinking Tonas as we took turns heading back out to surf.

Unnecessary CU of Stu's sting.
Post-sting Stu. He's fine.

When I did head back out, I basked in one of the greatest, most exhilarating rides of my life. As I paddled back out, I decided to capture the moment with my Lifeproof-cased phone, which was zipped up in my side pocket. When I took it out, the latch was hanging open as water oozed out – akin to a recent situation when I went surfing with a waterproof camera in Puerto Rico. So why did I take my phone/camera out surfing in the first place? Glad you asked, first, my GoPro randomly stopped working days before the Nica trip, so I didn’t have an alternative waterproof device… and I’m always compelled to capture the moment. Second, my memory is so lousy that I need to take pics to document what I’ve done, otherwise I wouldn’t remember anything! (Partially the reason for this blog, actually.) Third, I love taking pictures and assumed that my Lifeproof case would be life proof. Whatever mom! Get off my back, I don’t have to explain myself!  When I returned to the bar to show everyone what happened to my phone, the bartender immediately asked if I needed rice and grabbed a bag for me to soak my iPhone. It didn’t work, but I appreciated it on two levels – one for the obvious assistance, but two – for the urgency he showed me compared to Stu and his girly little sting. Poison? Whatever, I’ve got Angry Birds to save!

Lost my phone here. CU would show anger.
Lost phone remedy.
No filter. Looks like the backdrop in "Three Amigos."
Eat: El Colibri – best food in town, Mediterranean cuisine, run by English expats – (my boy Stu asked where they learned English… oh Stuart!); Big Wave’s Dave – good breakfast, ridiculously slow service; Bad Ass Eats – fast, cheap tacos; Taco Shop – street tacos; El Pollito Pescador – recommended chicken place that ran out of chicken, decent; El Timon – seafood, excellent ceviche, good value, beachfront.
El Timon sunset.
Seafood casserole. #FoodPorn
Lobster ceviche. #MoreFoodPorn

Drink: Republika (we played a game of Jenga here and the only reason I mention it is because it was the worst game in the history of Jenga – 5 people were playing, and after 3 people went, the game was already over… 2 peeps didn’t even play!!! Pathetic); Henry Iguana’s.

Jessica is the worst Jenga player ever... and two hands is cheating!

Sunset from the treehouse
Sunset at Hermosa.

Next: Volcano sledding in Leon.

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