If Peru was fast paced then we officially hit the slow-mo button once in southern Nicaragua’s San Juan Del Sur. Where Peru was culture-rich, Nicaragua was equally cocktail-rich. There is just something about a beach environment that is conducive to happy hour beginning early and often. Mart always had a few beers on the go at any one time, rotating a partially drank can the moment it began to get warm for another frosty one waiting in the freezer.
Casa Arbol is an Eco house we rented for three weeks just outside of San Juan Del Sur and part of Balcones de Majagual. Nestled in the hillside, it has unobstructed panoramic views of the ocean and jungle from every room, even the shower – absolutely spectacular. There are no windows and practically no walls, only enormous screens safeguarding the interior. Whether you are inside or out, nature surrounds you. An ocean of wind roared through the trees day and night, keeping the temperature comfortable, and unfamiliar birdcalls of parrots and magpies and growls of howler monkeys were among the background noises to which we quickly grew accustomed.
At night when the lights were turned out and we slipped into bed, there was only the glow of the moon and stars illuminating the sky and a steady hum of insects lulling us peacefully to sleep. Not a single manufactured light could be seen in any direction – complete isolation.
Visiting during the dry season had at least one huge reward – no mosquitos! – a most welcome surprise and great news for Oscar who welts up like crazy when bitten. I suspect another benefit would be the driving conditions. The roads definitely warrant having a four-wheel drive — we got a flat tire, our neighbors too, and we saw another set of tourists at the side of the road, mid tire change. Imagining the roads wet and muddy makes me very glad we didn’t need to navigate them with a baby in tow.
No mosquitos should not be mistaken for no critters, though. On the fourth night, Mart was startled upstairs in the living room by my trembling, panick-stricken cry for help , “I think you’d better come down here!” Such was the tone in my voice that he flew off the couch and down the stairs, stomach twisting and throat clenching over in fear that something had happened to Pru (a touch of the SIDS?) to find me quivering in the doorway to Oscar and Stella’s room, sheet-white. I pointed to the gigantic spider now only a few feet from his own. He breathed again, relieved at the triviality of the situation, scolding me for being so ridiculous. But it was huge! And a tarantula at that – terrfyingly hairy and bulbous.
We had been forewarned of scorpions (stings not deadly, but like bee stings, with a remedy of strong black coffee and vigorous exercise, preferably a swim, to flush the poison through the body more quickly), but not tarantulas. Mart quickly extracted the beast using a pot, flattened cereal box and a cutting board, but I didn’t sleep a wink that night. We were later told they don’t bite but will spit hairs if you get too close. I’m not sure if this is comforting or not, but Mart elected not to get so close to them the next times, which happened every two to three days thereafter. The second one Mart unknowingly carried in his surf shorts from the towel hook to the bathroom counter, serving only to increase the general level of paranoia and led to nightly pat-downs of everyone’s beds (by Mart, of course) and a vigorous shaking and inspection of all towels and clothes before use.
The scorpions proved a more wily prey and had to be killed on sight lest they amble away through some crack and escape. The knots in the softwood floors imitated spiders from the corners of my eyes, and the scorpions melted into the colors of the wood, requiring constant scanning (in my opinion at least). And to think that initially Mart suggested Pru could sleep on a make shift bed on the floor as the house had no baby cot. Luckily common sense knew enough to invest in a playpen before we left Granada. Other critters were much more friendly.
The town of San Juan del Sur itself was small and charming. Like any good Central American town, SJDS burst with vibrant-coloured buildings. We were pleased to find several shops to meet all our culinary needs for cooking back at the treehouse. Pan de Vida made amazing cinnamon bread, which we sliced and heated in the oven every morning for breakfast, plus great breads for our sandwiches and such. Across the street, Mi Boguedita Deli had the most delicious spanish sausages (which we barbecued up as hot dogs, made spicy spaghetti sauce with, put in burritos, and ate cold as leftovers), a nice selection of cheeses and salami and some good jarred treats. Our trips into town every third day or so always stopped at these stores, plus the local veg market, and the ‘Import Shop’, which had just about everything else an expat could want. These gems certainly made our stay that much more delectable!
Surfing Playa Madera
There really weren’t too many other outings apart from short trips to Playa Majagual, the nearest beach, but the wind didn’t make it terribly inviting most of the time. We did do Da Flying Frog Canopy Tour though – a 17 platform zip line ride through the treetops – which was great.
And, of course, Mart surfed just about everyday at Playa Madera, one beach over. Off-roading to the beach and back was half the fun, according to him. Come to think of it, that’s when he got the flat tire …. hmmmm! The waves averaged 2-5 feet, with a few 6 footer days thrown in. It was a blistering offshore wind, gusting up to 35 mph at times, and the water was surprisingly cold. We joined him a couple of times at Playa Madera for the best fish tacos in Nicaragua.
Kids in the Hood
The house which shared a connecting swimming pool with ours stayed empty for the first two weeks, and we wondered if we might have the place to ourselves the entire time. But in the third week, a near-mirror image of our family moved in next door, with 3 kids of similar ages, plus grandparents. Just when we thought things couldn’t get any better here, Oscar and Stella began disappearing for hours at a time to play with the kids, leaving us to tend only to Pru, or our beers.
We quite enjoyed the adult interaction as well, joining them for a dinner and some evening drinks on their balcony. The kids played spectacularly well together and will be sorely missed. They collected shells, seed pods, swam and played with the garden hose for hours. They discovered that the rock foundation of the house and hillside could be traversed, and even though they’d seen tarantulas and scorpions first hand, they didn’t seem to be phased by the possibility of what they might encounter. We might turn Oscar and Stella into nature kids just yet.
Place and Time
This stop on our tour was all about place and time – a spectacular environment and the time to enjoy it. A place where time slowed and the ‘everyday’ of everything became moments unto themselves, finding magic in the mundane. The days were ultra relaxed and easily slipped by, melding into weeks. It was a perfect rest to recharge before two days of travel to get to the chaos that is Marrakech – what a contrast!