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Day 4 San Juan del Sur

Written on: Friday July 27th, 2007

A journal entry from: Central America Road Trip 2007

I seem to be writing a lot about people I meet rather than things to do or sights to see. The sights are exotic and interesting, but so are the people, so IŽll continue a bit more in that vein. One of the things that people seem struck by when I mention my eventual dream to travel around the world is that I plan to do it solo. They think that must be a very lonely way to travel. I usually ask them who they know who can take that sort of time off from their usual life, afford it, and are willing to travel in the same style and to the same places as them? To me it seems the only practical way to go and besides what may seem surprising to some is that you are rarely ever completely alone unless you want to be. There are nearly always people to meet especially if you can speak at least some of the local language, which I can, though not nearly as well as I would like. Its great to talk and interact with locals but your fellow travellers and ex-pats can be very interesting too.

When I got up fairly early this morning, I went to sit on the sea wall in front of the beach and watch the sun rise further in the sky, though it was still too late for the real sunrise. After a while this guy came along and sat down near me and struck up a conversation. I turns out he was a 63-yo gringo from California, ex-biologist for the state of Calif. wildlife agency, if you could believe him. His name was Preston and he carried with a thermal pitcher filled with beer and already seemed a little buzzed even though it was still early in the morning. Okay, IŽll call him what he was - the local gringo barracho. But he was reasonable lucid and intelligent and seemed harmless enough so I listened cautiously to his banter. He claimed to have a biology professor girlfriend who was working on a grant in Madagascar and a wife he rarely spoke to living in his trailer on 5 acres he owned back in Bakersfield California. He had been living in an even bigger dive hotel than I was up the street from my hotel (I know because that was one of the places I had checked out the day before) and was in town looking to buy some property.

I decided to go for some desayuno (breakfast) up at the central market and he followed along. Okay, whatever. He didnŽt try to pitch anything to me as many such gringos often seem to be or ask for any handouts and just seemed to like to talk with people and content with his beer, so we talked a little more. He told me some more about the local scene. How land titles are even more screwed up then they are in CR because of the war and various and often poorly documented previous land reforms that often left several people claiming title. He said the beachfront properties were already pretty pricey with several million dollar ones along the northend of the beach and in the nearby surrounding hills overlooking the bay. Prices got a little cheaper as one moves further in land and cheaper still once you get over the crest of the mountains that seperate the Pacific from Lake Nicaragua. His plan was to find something for about $20K and build a decent place for maybe $20 more, then live on his $2500/mo disability.

Let me describe the other inhabitants of the town. Lots of tourists, some local from other parts of Nicaragaua (or perhaps Central America), some Europeans and a surprising number of Gringos. Most of these seemed to be younger backpacker/surfer types. There was even a pack of US highschool kids staying at my hotel. About a dozen girls and 4-5 guys. I was sort of surprised there werenŽt more male tourists in town as it seemed it was disproportionately women. Perhaps the guys were all off surfing at one of the nearby surfing beaches whereas the gringas just enjoyed laying on the beach in town. There were also a few older couples around but not many single old farts like myself. And there were a good number of gringo ex-pats. Most of them seemed to come from California (with Holden from NC being a notable exception).  I snapped a interesting picture of one of them which IŽll try to post later. She was older gringa lady, who I later learned from Preston was Cathy from California who owned a local T-shirt shop,. What made her interesting was that she was running along the surf backwards with her 3 dogs on leash (dogs on leash seem to be a real rarity in Central America) and a Cockatoo on her arm. I guess that the California way to stay in shape, but more power to her.

After breakfast I finally ditched Preston and went off to explore the area a little more. I walked all the way out to the rocky tidal basin at the southern mouth of the bay and was quite sweaty even after that relatively short walk by the time I got back to the center of town. Well who should I run into again, but my old pal Preston and once again he tags along while we walked to the northern end. One good thing was he showed me where I could get a good map of the area at a local dive shop. I asked about their rates. They wanted something like $80 for 2 tank dives with a morning and afternoon departure. I had already missed the morning tour and I figured the afternoon tour would be too hot. They described the dive sites as mostly rock coral with some tropical fishes and mainly just things like manta rays and such. This didnŽt sound too exciting to me and with the prospect of cheap diving in the Bay Islands of Honduras later in the trip I decided to pass on the diving.

Preston and I continued along the beach. This guy had a knack for striking up conversations with people we passed. We met a couple of 40ish gringo ex-pats (again from California), who added to my knowledge. One of them had owned a trash hauling business (and he and Preston discussed the arious virtues of dumpster diving - I guess there is sometimes gold in them thar trash). He had made his fortunes and was living the Dolce Vida in SJdS. According to him, most gringo expats in SJdS were like him and his buddy - fully retired, rather than like Cathy and Holden. They may come with an idea of starting up a small business, but quickly give that up and just relax.

I asked about highspeed internet access in town since one of my ideas for financing my semi-retirement was to continue my consulting work through telecommuting. ACcording to them when they arrived the only highspeed connection was through the local RE Coldwell Banker RE agency, which many people piggy backed  off of redcuing the effective bandwidth to less than dial-up. They suggested that if I knew enough about computers, maybe I could setup a highspeed satelite connection in a high location and sell wireless access to the locals and expats. IŽm more of a software guy, but who knows, maybe that could be done.

On the way back, Preston become stumbling drunk and got knocked over by the surf (why he wasnŽt walking further ashore on the sand I still donŽt understand. He seemed to be having trouble getting back up and fearing he might drown I went back to help him up. I got him back to town and said he should take it easy and maybe get something solid to eat. Then I excused myself and  finally went off on my own.

There isnŽt a huge amount to do in SJdS if youŽre on your own. There is surfing at nearby beaches, of course. But I discovered on previous trips at my age thats not my strongest suit and that day I really wasnŽt into it. ThereŽs also fishing. I had heard one can find guys to take you out in their pangas for $25/hr, which would be well in my price range and interest level for maybe 3-4 hours. I asked at one place and they said they could charge $125 for 4 hours for up to 6 people, which would have been great if I could find others to split the cost with me. But I declined and enjoyed just lazing around and hanging out. I sit on the beach, get up after a while and maybe grab a cool drink or an ice cream at one of the local beachside bars. I got another interestng picture of a local shorefisherman throughing at some sort of lure in the surf and occasional feeding the seagulls something out of his bait bag. IŽll try to post that later as well.

At the end of the day, watching the sunset seemed to be the thing to do. Unfortunately I just missed it, at least in terms ofwhen the lighting was right for the best shot. The first night I was at an internet cafe and just lost track of time and I donŽt recall why I was late the other time. I went back to me room to freshen up for the night. But around then the power went off in the town. The started up a generator which got the lights going again but the AC and TV seemed to be on a different circuit. So I figured I might as well take off again and see what else I could do. I found aplace on the beach that had power and had a nice dinner of fish in garlic sauce and of course a  nice cold Victoria beer to wash it down.  A little while later the power came back in town and I went off to check out the nightlife. The big place that night, at least for the toursits, was the Iguana Bar on the central part of the beach. The night before the place across the street from that was pretty hopping with reggae music and lots of rasta types, but not this night. Everywhere else seemed pretty sleepy, with maybe 1-2 small groups sitting around their tables drinking, talking and listening to whatever music that bar was playing. And there seemed to be a couple of places that seemed to be more hangouts for the local guys to drink. Again, not really my scene that night. I was planning to catch the early express bus to Managua the next morning for my get together with a local novia of a buddy of mine, who would show me around central Nicaragua, so being tired once again from all teh hot sun and humidty (again no rain today) so I settled for that and hit the sack around 10:30-11.

Total cost for today, again pretty cheap but staisfying at just under $36.