Cyn and I stumble out of bed and try to suit up as quickly as we can. We’ve lost any possibility to even rent surfboards, but we manage to make it out to the pier, breaking out into a run 3/4s of the way out. As we reach the dock, we see the boat pulling further away.
“Hey! Hey!” we yell back at them. We are more than half an hour late and they have to turn the boat around to come get us.
The hour it takes to get to the first beach is brutal in the morning sun. I sit on top of the cooler and want to die. When we reach the beach, Playa ? Jessie Chela is the first to toss his board overboard and cannonball out. Everyone else follows out of the small fishing vessel powered by a Yamaha motor. The scene is irrevocably, undeniably beautiful. Floating listlessly on a small fishing boat off the coast of the Pacific.
Almost everyone has a surfboard or boogie board of some sort.. Except Cynthia and I, stranded and hungover on the boat. We watch the surfers swim towards shore to catch waves. I am upset but it’s my own damn fault. I sit on the ledge and dip my feet in the water.
A girl is also on board. I don’t quite feel like surfing, she says. She and Cyn suit up to go snorkel a bit but the water is so crystal clear that we already see that there are no fish, no vegetation nor any coral to look at. There’s only sand. They are back in the boat within 10 minutes, complaining of stings.
Alex comes back early. My arms are exhausted. Paddling, he tells us. He offers to share his gear with me, but when he tells me there are jellyfish in the water, I freak. No way, forget it, I say. I’ll help you with the sunscreen though.
Within the hour, the surfers return to the boat.
“Hay many jellies,” Jessie Chela says to us, his dreads glistening in the sun. We’re not too sure where comes from but he is not from Austrailia and not from here. The girls and I had giggled last night that he walked around semi-naked most days.
We head to the second beach in pure bliss–Playa Hermosa, and this time, the three of us take a long swim to shore, can of Tona in hand. I’ve never tried to swim 300 meters with a beer in one hand before. It is well worth it: the beach is isolated and desolate, not a single soul to be seen.
It’s a relatively small alcove, although most of these beaches are, and we wonder if it’s even possible to reach here by car (although judging from yesterday, you probably wouldn’t want to). Cyn and I build mud mountains in the warm shallow water and blissfully think how wonderful our lives are. It’s like a photograph and I want to kick myself for not bringing my waterproof camera case.
What is this beach called, I ask my friends.
My God, it’s beautiful.
That’s why they call it Playa Hermosa. You don’t hear them calling places Ugly Beach or Dirty Beach. Haha, Playa Fea.
After returning to the boat, we jump out again to play catch in the water. And then I feel it. A warm grasp rushing by. The sensation of something tingling on your skin. You bat at it but feel nothing. And then, all of a sudden, there’s the sting. Jellyfish.
They hit me.. Two across the knees, one on the left foot, and when I come out of the water, I see speckles of red and little bumps, all in a line formation. Not so bad, I think.
We head to the next beach, Playa Tamarindo, like in Costa Rica, although by simply looking out, Jessie Chela tells us that 360 days out of the year, surfing is good here. Today is not one of those days.
No matter, our friends say. We’ve never surfed this place. Let’s do it.
So they head out to the surf and Cyn and I head for shore. Within minutes, I can feel the sting of jellyfish again. S.O.B.
Again Cyn and I play in the waves as the surfers try to catch a few waves. Jessie Chela is right and the waves aren’t so good.
And then it hits me. As we jump the waves, there’s one on my knee. Then one on my wrist. Another on my wrist. Another across the thigh. Jellyfish. My wrists sting so bad that I have to get out of the water cursing. It had been a long swim from the boat and I’m terrified at the prospect of swimming back. Unfortunately, there is virtually no other way out of this situation.
They sting so bad, I say to her. I can’t stand it.
Yep, she says laughing. And you thought I was a pussy when I told you I got stung. I didn’t believe her when she said there had been animals.
We eventually have to make our way back and as I swim backstroke, kicking furiously, trying to draw out the former competitive swimmer in me. I feel the stings again, across my legs and back. FUUUUUUCK, I think to myself. Every now and then I jerk up and curse, almost in panic. And yet, there’s absolutely nothing I can do. I’m never getting in this water again, I think angrily, and Cynthia warns me that there’s even more in the Caribbean coast. I am the pansy apparently.
When we get up on the boat, I am still bitching up a storm.
Come on, our friend Jamie from Chicago (of all places!) says. Use the local remedy.
Cynthia, for whatever reason, had packed our bottle of rum in her bag. And so the Flor de Cana comes out, and out comes a Tona. We pass around the communal bottle of rum. I have a beer. All is forgotten.
The cruise back is gorgeous, and we are all merry and friends.
When we get back to shore, we get in just in time to see some local Nicas pulling in a huge fish that they had speared. We all snap photos, ridiculously fascinated. Pete even goes to pick it up. The thing is huge.
We look over to the horizon where there is a Jesus statue standing atop a nearby mountain (or hill.. However you look at it), and we make plans to climb it at dusk to catch the sunset.
After grabbing showers, Cynthia asks me if I’m hungry. Sure, I can eat, I say, and we head back to Panga because I am DYING to hit up that garlicy baba ganoush again. They’re closed.
Shit, we think, and head for the beach where we instantly see El Timon, a restaurant a fellow hostel-er had told us about the day before that apparently had HUGE red snappers for $12 that could feed a small family. We are intrigued and sit down.
The restaurant, like the others on the beach strip, is cool and airy, shades pulled down to block out the afternoon sun. Right outside, the beach and water glisten. People lay out and run around in the sand. Sunlight reflects on the water amid a backdrop of greenery. It is breathtaking.
We order a couple of waters, the white snapper (no hay red snapper today, amigos..) and chicken fajitas,. We get a pack of Belmonts for 30 cordobas and stare out into the water as we puff away. We still can’t believe we’re here and we are in love with San Juan.
Our fish does not disappoint, and it is by far the largest we’ve had so far–the length from my elbow to fingertips . It is smothered in large chunks of garlic.
We eat our fill.. Or more of it, and ask to take it to go. They return our fish to us in a pink plastic bag. Okkkaay, we think, and take it paying the 556 cordoba bill with 557 even. It is literally EVERY LAST PENNY we are carrying on our bodies. We certainly had no plans to consume so much. The night before, for four of us at Panga (and eating generously), our tab had been 775… And that was including the 7 or 8 beers.
Do you mind if we go, I ask her. I really want to climb that mountain for sunset.
When we’re back to the hostel, I find Alex coming down the stairs. I was just looking for you, I say. Let’s do this climb.
Do you think there’s enough time, he says, It’s probably cutting it quite short.
But, it is our last night here and I am determined to get ‘er done, so we strap up, pick up a bottle of Flor de Cana and start walking… first down the long stretch of beach, then up the dirt road.
Are you sure this is the right way? I ask nervously.
I think so, he says. It seems like we’re heading in the right direction. We were on this road yesterday when we were heading for the surf camp.
I am still nervous. Cooper had told us two nights ago that we would be safe so long that we stayed where all the lights were. This was definitely off the path of lights, and I worried for our safety descending the mountain when it would be undoubtedly dark.
Coca in one hand, rum in the other, we ascend. Past the dirt road, the walk is brutal. A stony walkway that ascends at least at a 60 degree angle or so branches off, and we can see this is our way to the top. Should we run? I ask Alex, nervously scanning the sky for signs that the sun may set soon.
I will if you do, he tells me, so we make off in a jog for the top. I am in pain.
I don’t think I would have survived Concepcion, I say to Alex, gasping. Sweat dribbles down my forehead. We forge on, working against the clock. We are terrified that we will miss the sunset that we are working so hard to see. Dammit! I trudge on as sweat trips down my face onto my tank top. Break open the rum, I tell Alex. We take swigs and set off running again.
There are beautiful houses on our way up the hill, and I stop to take a few pictures of the magnificent scenery, evergreen, cast over with the yellow/reddish glow of the setting sun.
At one of the houses, there is a boy watering some plants.
Is it far? Alex asks.
No you’re close, he says, so onwards we go.
We make it to a clearing finally and take a few pictures around. There is still sun, thankfully, but when I look around some more, I realize that Jesus sits on an adjacent peak and it is even higher.
Do we just stay here to enjoy the sunset, I think, or do we go for Everest.
We go for Everest.
The road descends for a bit and then it’s up again on a steep ascent up to see Jesus. The road branches off again, this time to another steep climb lined with a staircase. There is a clearing and a white fence on the way to the top, but we came to see Jesus, so Jesus we will so see.
I pray that the fence is open, but the lock is turned slightly to the side, so it’s difficult to tell.
A man comes to the door and points to the sign. $10 cordobas for nationals and $1 US for Gringos (20 cordobas). Again, the gringo tax.
Alex pays it and we literally run up the roundabout stairs, past a terrifying dog to catch the sunset. We can’t believe we’ve made it and take a hundred pictures. I am past snap happy. I’m snap ecstatic.
To the north, there are mountains and hills, one after another, in staggered, jagged lines, extending into the ocean. There is almost a hazy mist that extends and somewhere in the distance, smoke from a fire rises from the canopy tops.
In front of us, the sky is a million shades of pink, red, purple, orange to blue. It is magnificent and the sun is blood red, sinking beneath the horizon.
On the south side, we see the tiny city of San Juan del Sur, from which we have trekked. The waves crash into the bay and we finally get a good idea of what we’ve been looking at in the distance at night.
Up there we meet an Italian named Roberto who is here from Tuscany looking for work. He will begin as a restauranteur.. A chef likely… in February. The three of us kick it for a bit, taking pictures all over. I offer him some of our Flor de Cana and he refuses with a smile. I don’t drink when it’s hot, he says.
The mosquitos start swarming as it gets darker and we head down on the descent together. I ask Roberto to come with us because I do not want to get mugged walking in the dark and safety in numbers.
As we walk down, we ask what his plans are for the night. He says he will have dinner with his friend and maybe go for a drink.
“Tomas todas las noches?” I ask him laughing.
Siii, pero no.. no toooodas, he says sheepishly. Pero, me gusta cerveza. He pulls up his sleeve to tell us how much he loves it. He has a mug of cerveza tattooed to his arm!
Sometimes, he says, my girlfriend says I love beer more than her!
Haha, And you say, yes, but te quiero tambien! I reply.
When we are towards the bottom of the rocky road, before we hit the dark woods, a truck drives by.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if he could give us a lift, I say, and at that moment, the driver rolls down his window and shouts at us.
What? I say.
Where.are.you.going. He says.
Casa Oro, we yell back.
Do you want a lift?
Awesome, I say, and we jump into the back of his Toyota pick-up. It’s my first hitchhiking experience!
Roberto, Alex and I are in heaven as we fly down the dirty roads, bumping along in the back of his pickup. Now Roberto will drink with us. We pass around our bottle of Cana and snap pictures of our collective experience, promising to be facebook friends.
The ride is quick and we are back to Casa Oro in no time, profusely thanking our driver who turns out to be a doctor, a stem cell researcher to be exact.
I return to the room to see Cynthia facedown in her bunk passed out.
I quickly skype Martin to make sure that he is coming tonight. The reception is horrible, but I get a hold of someone. Somehow, between the horrible Spanish and even worse connection, we confirm that our taxi will come to Casa Oro at 2 a.m. tonight and take us to Managua to catch our Ticabus to Tegus.
“Feliz Navidad!” he says to me.
“Feliz Navidad.. Feliz Navidad.. Feliz Navidad, Prospero ano y felizdad!” I sing back.
He laughs and hangs up.
Tonight, there is a parade that goes by in celebration of Christmas. Music blares in the streets and the children are dressed up.
We have a long night ahead… Six more hours of drinking and hanging out until it’s time for the next leg. I can’t believe we are leaving Nica. We love it here and can’t wait to return.