I’ll never forget my five wild days and nights in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.
Weird and wonderful things took place in San Juan. Stefan’s friends had an impromptu sunset wedding on the beach. After weeks spent AWOL in Costa Rica, Ariel, our lyrical, mystical friend, appeared as if by magic through a cloud of marijuana smoke. I ate some of the best food of my trip, perhaps of my life: pizza, tacos, fresh fish, ice cream. (Food so good that I become one of those weirdos who take photos of their meals.) The warm strum of a ukulele was omnipresent. Memorable sunsets, the sun a blood-red ball igniting the Pacific Ocean. Every night there was quality live music at the Black Whale bar. Around midnight everyone was half-cut on Flor de Caña. To add an unusual element, transsexuals stalked the beach, chasing men down like in wolf-like packs. Those “ladies” could only fool the very drunk. I’m sure for some inebriated men adventure became regrettable misadventure.
When Daniel and I reached San Juan, we’d swapped views of Ometepe’s volcanoes for an inlet filled with fishing boats, flanking cliffs at the end of the crescent beach, a Jesus statue atop one of those cliffs, and a blisteringly hot, malevolent sun.
San Juan is a surf town. Until you start drinking there isn’t much else to do. We passed a day at playa Marsella, drinking beers, body boarding and playing beach football. Actually, you can make an event of a meal. Restaurant Cha Cha Cha is fantastic. Delicious spicy meals at Nicaraguan prices. It’s well worth checking out! Any of the restaurants should serve good fish. The fillets I had were amongst some of the best of my life. Simply cooked, simply served, enjoyed with view of the bay, the palms trees, the surf and sand. Casa de Oro is an excellent value for money hostel; Hostel Esperanza is not, and, according to rumour, plagued by petty thievery.
Despite it reopening the friction wounds from horse riding on Isla Ometepe, I would join the lads for beach football…with torn strips of a t-shirt for ankle bandages. I dived out of tackles with the panache of Ashley Young; I didn’t want a Nicaraguan digging his heel into my seeping wound. I realised how unfit I’d become despite the occasional trek or swim. With half-an-eye on the upcoming Madrid Half Marathon, I went for a run along the sand, fine-tuning my barefoot running technique on a forgiving surface. Rum, ice cream and partying were taking their toll.
It didn’t matter, I told myself. Panama was the next destination. I would head into Panama’s mountainous for high-altitude training. For now, the cheer of a simple and spontaneous wedding was in the air and I was in the company of three guys who had each left an indelible mark on my trip. During the rum-induced hazes there was excited talk of future reunions. And therein lies some of the magic of travel, and a small part of the answer to the question I keep hearing: why do you travel? Because when’s it’s good – sitting on Nicaraguan beach at sunset with a beer in hand beside a Norwegian, an Israeli and a Dutchman trading jokes about the night before and the night to come as surfer girls stroll past to the sounds of a salsa band covering The Beatles being an example of good – what more could you ask of life?