The Trooper

I had some minor [major] car troubles yesterday, while Justin was out of town, and it reminded me of this early experience I had in Nicaragua…

Shortly after Justin and I moved to San Juan, he took off for a weeklong bachelor party in Colombia.  I knew the trip was planned before we even set foot on Nicaraguan soil, but I don’t think I truly believed that Justin would actually leave me sola in Nicaragua just 5 weeks into our adventure, until he did.  Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to be the girl who stood between Justin and his best buddy’s bachelor party, even if it was 1,000 miles away.

We had just purchased our new (old) car – a 1997 Isuzu Trooper, so I drove Justin to the airport in Managua and then planned to drive back to San Juan on my own.  Even now, after 4 years of life here, I can’t believe that I actually agreed to drive back from Managua, on my own, with absolutely no knowledge of Managua, the route to San Juan, or the transit “laws.”  I did it anyway.  Thankfully, our new friend, Baldo, was in Managua the same day and offered to ride back with me.  So after leaving Justin at the airport, I went to meet Baldo at Metrocentro, a mall just 15 minutes away and also a place I’d never been, but was certain that I could find easily.  A mere 4 hours later, I pulled into the parking lot and we were on our way.

I handed the keys over to Baldo, exhausted from my half-day trek around the winding streets of Managua, and we set off for San Juan.  As we neared Rivas, and dusk, our new (old) car began to show signs of distress.  First the interior dashboard lights began to dim and shortly thereafter, the radio stopped working.  Baldo assured me that we were fine, so we continued on our way.  We rounded the corner at La Virgen and embarked on the final passage home.  These days, that last stretch of road takes about 15 minutes to cover, end to end, but 4 years ago, that tiny stretch of highway required a 45-minute commitment thanks to giant potholes and endless desvios (detours).  So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that shortly after we made that turn, the sun set, the car stalled, and our headlights went out.

I encouraged Baldo to pull over – perhaps we could call a tow truck, I suggested.  Baldo just laughed and pointed out that not only were we in the black hole for cell phone signal, but it would be a long wait for Triple A.   Instead, he hopped out, push-started the car, jumped back in and we continued down the highway.  This time, Baldo only accelerated when climbing a hill.  The rest of the journey, we relied on dear old Newton and his Law of Motion, chugging up hills, using the gas, and coasting down hills using sheer momentum.   He did his best to get behind other vehicles (which were few and far between) to light our way home.

To reassure me [and to calm my intermittent hysterics and quiet my naïve mechanical suggestions], for the remainder of the ride, Baldo regaled me with stories of his teenage years.  He’d been in this very situation before, except that when the headlights went out, his buddy walked alongside the car, illuminating their way home with a Bic cigarette lighter.

At one point, the wind picked up, swirling dust into the car, so [naturally] I closed my [electric] window for protection to which Baldo sighed loudly and reminded me that we were trying to conserve the car’s energy, not deplete it.  You can imagine how thrilled he was when, a few minutes later, I began to lower the window to relieve my forehead from the beads of sweat forming across my brow.

Eventually, we rolled [quite literally] into town, stopping at the Texaco to charge up the Trooper’s battery for the final push up the giant hill in Pacific Marlin, where we were staying with friends.  Barely in the door, I burst into tears, cursed Justin and our dear Trooper, and fell into a dead sleep.

The following morning, I rose early in an attempt to get a jump on the day and a jumpstart for the car.  I walked out the door only to find a flat tire and decided it was the Trooper waving her white flag in surrender.  I laughed to myself, turned around, walked back inside the house and gave her a nice 7-day rest.  Because a Trooper she is.

Shameless self-promotion alert!

MOON LIVING ABROAD IN NICARAGUA, 2ND ED., BY J...

Image by Joshua Berman via Flickr

At the risk of self-promoting a little…I posted a blog over at Mom’s the Word about our 4 year Nicaversary.  The highs and lows, pros and cons, etc.  I thought it might be relevant to some of you readers here, as well.  Rather than re-posting, please visit me over there and check it out.  Thanks!

Manhandling Managua

I need to take a moment to brag a little here…

Justin and I crushed it in Managua last week.  I mean, we freaking rocked.   Anyone who has ever ventured into Managua on a day trip understands this accomplishment.  If you plan on 4 hours to complete your errands, you can expect it to take 8.  If you hope to get home before sunset, you should assume that you will return before sunrise the following day.  If you dare to say “this shouldn’t take long,” it will take longer.

Managua days are tough for San Juaneño transplants.  Us Expats are used to having 5 malls within a 20 mile radius.  But not here in Nicaragua.   Two hours there, two hours back, and 14 hours of navigating labyrinth-style roads, stop-light window washers, semis and oxcarts in between.

Normally, we leave San Juan later than planned and get home much later than we hoped.  But last week, we put Managua to bed.  Just like that.  We got out of the house by 7:30.  We rented a [reliable] car with functioning a/c and managed to drive more than 80 kilometers per hour without fear of a breakdown (car or mental).  We rolled into Managua just after 9:30 and were so early that we even had to wait for stores to open.  In 7 hours, we accomplished this:

-Bank
-PriceSmart
-Doctor
-Migracion (visa renewal – arrived to find a minimum 2-hour wait, but jumped the line thanks to the awesome migracion ladies who remember and adore Lucy from her passport application
-Lunch (I resisted the BK urge that often accompanies stressful MGA days and leaves me feeling nappy)
-Transito (paid a multa from our last trip to Managua)
-Lab (pesky thyroid)
-Stop and Go (a little slice of heaven for Expats craving Dr. Pepper, red curry paste, Butterfingers, and anything else that you can’t seem to find anywhere else.)
-Bavaria (sausage kings)
-La Colonia (stocking up on Cheerios and chocolate)

And we still made it home in time to put Lucy to bed, too.

Activities in and around San Juan del Sur

When my parents visited us in San Juan for the first time in early 2008, they both commented that it is a beautiful town, but they didn’t know how to access the various activities our pueblo claims to offer.  So, this post is for you, Mom and Dad.  Enjoy!  And FYI – this is really just an expanded list of Rancho Chilamate’s A to Z Guide, with the exception that all of these activities are within 30 minutes (más o menos) of San Juan.

Horseback Riding with Rancho Chilamate

Canopy Tour with Da Flying Frog

Take Surf Lessons with NSR, Chica Brava, Casa Ariki

Visit La Flor Wildlife Reserve to see the Olive Ridley Sea Turtles

Visit to surrounding beaches (Marsella, Maderas, Playones are all about 25 minutes north and Remanso, Yankee, Hermosa, and Coco are between 10-40 minutes south)

Practice Yoga at Zen Yoga Studio or Nica Yoga

Get a massage, mani/pedi, and more at Spa del Sur, Bonnie Lassie, or Pelican Eyes

Go Sailing with Pelican Eyes or Nica Sail and Surf

Go Deep Sea Fishing or Spear Fishing with Aquaholic

Play a friendly game of Paintball

Try Kitesurfing on Lake Nicaragua

Learn Spanish

Volunteer with Comunidad Connect, Barrio La Planta Project, A. Jean Brugger Foundation

Join the annual Howler Mountain Bike Race (seasonal)

Play Frisbee Golf

Take a Helicopter Tour over Playa Ocotal or Playa Hermosa

Rappel from the Lighthouse

Real Estate Tour with Justin at Aurora Beachfront Realty

Hike to the world’s second largest Jesus

Rent a Kayak from Kyle’s Kayaks, found at Pau Hana Restaurant

Try to Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP) in the San Juan Bay

Tour San Juan on an ATV

Itinerary for a 10-day trip to Nicaragua: Lake/Beach/Volcano Style

Justin and I have been fortunate to travel a decent amount of Nicaragua while living here.  Every trip we take, I deign to say it was my favorite, until the next one comes along.  I have documented various sojourns throughout the country in previous posts:

Purisima in Leon, Leon Viejo, Volcano Boarding, PoneloyaGranada, Granada IsletasOmetepeCorn IslandsEsteli, Condega, Miraflor, and TiseyJinotegaLaguna de ApoyoMasayaTolaMontelimar

But I am often asked for ideas for a solid 7-10 day vacation for first-time visitors to Nicaragua.  Though this particular itinerary may not reflect all of my favorite locations, it is a good first primer on the country.  Check back later for further itinerary ideas.

Airlines flying to Nicaragua:
American Airlines, via Miami
Continental Airlines, via Houston
Delta Airlines, via Atlanta
Spirit Airlines, via Ft. Lauderdale
Taca Airlines, via San Salvador
Copa Airlines, via Panama City

Upon arriving in Managua, you will want to have a shuttle or a car rental available.

Shuttle Companies Servicing San Juan del Sur Area:
Iskra Travel
Adelante Express
Pelican Eyes Resort

Rental Car Companies
At the Managua Airport
In San Juan: Dollar, Alamo, Classic Cruisers 

Should you arrive in Managua late at night, I highly recommend spending the night in a hotel.  If you want to stay near the airport, try:
Hotel Camino Real

Unless you have a lot of shopping needs (i.e., you’ve bought a home here and need to furnish it, buy sheets and towels, etc), I recommend skipping Managua altogether.  It is rather chaotic and not very tourist-friendly.  Upon departing Managua, your vacation truly begins!

For an itinerary, you might consider the following:

Day 1: Arrive in Managua early afternoon, 45-minute transfer to Granada. Granada is a beautiful little city and always a favorite of first time visitors. It has the brightly painted buildings, the horse-drawn carriages, etc.  Relax at hotel pool, wander city in the evening. Stay at Hotel Plaza Colon or Hotel Dario 

Day 2: Take Panga Tour of Isletas on the Lake Nicaragua in morning, relax in afternoon.  Good chance of seeing Howler Monkeys here.

Day 3: Transport to San Juan del Sur in the morning – possibly stopping at Mombacho Volcano for a hike before heading to San Juan.  You will need a solid half day for this excursion.

Days 4-7: Stay in San Juan del Sur.  Click here for further ideas on activities in San Juan.  Stay at Pelican Eyes Resort and SpaPosada AzulVillas de Palermo or rent a house from Vacation Rentals Nicaragua.

Days 8-9: Visit Isla de Ometepe, on Lake Nicaragua, home to Volcan Concepcion and Maderas.  You can access Ometepe via a ferry from San Jorge, a town located just outside of Rivas and appx. 30 minutes from San Juan del Sur.  The ferry takes about 1 hour to get to the port at Moyogalpa.  Taxis and buses are available at the port or you can arrange for a private transfer ahead of time.  Once there, hike the San Ramon waterfall, ride horseback to the Ojo de Agua (a natural swimming pool), kayak on the istian river, and rent bicycles to explore the island and visit the museum in Altagracia, home to view pre-Columbian Nahuatl Indians petroglyhps.  Stay at Hotel Villa Paraiso or Totoco Eco Lodge

Day 10: Depending on what time and date you plan to depart, you could stop in Masaya on your way out of town.  There is an artisan market there and/or you could drive up to Masaya Volcano.  There is no hiking involved with this volcano.

The itinerary allows for flexibility.  Some prefer to skip Ometepe altogether or visit the island before relaxing at the end of your trip in San Juan.  For people with more time, I would also recommend a visit to the colonial city of Leon, located approximately 3.5 hours north of San Juan.  For extended vacations, consider going further north to Esteli, Jinotega, Matagalpa, Somoto.  Don’t forget to pack your sunscreen, bug spray, camera, and bathing suit and have a great time!