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March 12, 2012
Day 24: San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua


Getting sandblasted by the 50-mph winds in Nicaragua

We have written about how much we love the “At Sea” days on the cruise. At sea, there is nowhere special to go and nothing special to see (other than the daily Sudoku and trivia challenges). In port, there is a rushed need to get up early, go out, experience the town, have an excursion and go shopping in the few hours before the ship departs.

Not only do we have two ports in consecutive days right now, but Gail scheduled day-long excursions for both. In Puntarenas, Costa Rica, we fed monkeys, saw crocodiles and went zip lining. In San Juan del Sur, our only stop in Nicaragua, Gail scheduled us to tour Mombacho Volcano, go on a hike and ride four-wheel-drive vehicles.

So it was with a mixture of disappointment and relief when we were informed last evening that our excursion was cancelled. According to the letter slipped under our cabin door, “the above tour has been cancelled because the roads to Mombacho Nature Reserve have been closed due to a severe traffic incident and the road will not be opened during our call in San Juan del Sur.”

(For those keeping track, this is the third Princess excursion out of three that we have not gone on. Our Princess excursions in Ushuaia, Argentina, and Callao, Peru, were similarly cancelled. Strangely enough, every non-Princess excursion has gone terrifically well.)

We thought of booking a similar tour privately (apparently, other routes to the destination were still open), but we were afraid we might not have enough time to get back. Instead, we decided that this would be a good day to go to the beach.


The view of San Juan del Sur from the ship

It’s a good thing we opted for an easy schedule, because there was a severe delay with the boat tenders. The captain made numerous announcements that the winds were borderline dangerous, and they might have to cease tender operations. We didn’t end up arriving on land until after 10:00 am.

Princess Patter: San Juan del Sur is on the Pacific side of Nicaragua, the largest country in Central America. What sets this large fishing village aside from so many other tourism meccas is its simplicity. San Juan del Sur has yet to be truly “discovered.” While there are many creature comforts and amenities, the place is growing by leaps and bounds. Yet, here resides a still primitive suchness.


The tenders had to battle 50-mph winds to get to shore

We were very pleasantly surprised by this town. Given our complete ignorance of Central America and Nicaragua, we weren’t sure whether we would see an overt military dictatorship or an overt drug war in the streets.

What we saw instead was a small town of very warm and welcoming people. The architecture was a mixture of poor shanties and rich mansions. The street looked like something out of a quaint European picture book.


The harbor is full of fishing boats. On the mountaintop is a huge Christ statue.

         
Some street scenes

    
We saw palatial mansions and poor hovels

The street market stalls were full of exquisite hand-made wooden boxes, ceramic vases and other crafts. Husbands proudly proclaimed that their wives were the artists behind these creations, and showed us the family names carved into the works. We were amazed and disconcerted to see hours of work being sold for $4 and $5 U.S.


There was a huge tourist street market just beyond the pier

Bypassing the Cyber Cafés, we stopped instead at an open-air restaurant to use the free wi-fi. At the Lago Azule we had a couple of soft drinks and French fries. Unfortunately, it took Russell more than half an hour to connect successfully to the Internet. It was particularly difficult because it turned out to be a combination of two different problems (both an incorrect security protocol and a typo in the password). Ultimately, we were able to update our website.


Gail had a gorgeous view of the beach while surfing the Internet

This still left us several hours to spend at the beach. Due to the extremely high winds, there was barely anyone on the beach. This didn’t stop Gail from laying out a towel and sunbathing. We also walked the length of the beach looking for shells and feeling the warm water on our feet. Gail found numerous pink shells and the largest sand dollar she had ever seen.


Gail enjoys a private beach experience


A Nicaraguan sand dollar!

Our expectations about Nicaragua were completely wrong, and we wish we had more time to spend here. We came away with a very relaxed feeling of warmth and welcome.


The end of yet another beautiful and fulfilling day

 

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