From Granada to San Juan Del Sur
So, having moved myself to Nicaragua at the end of August in order to begin my retirement, I spent a month staying at a guest house in Granada, a town I already know fairly well from previous trips. I wanted to see if Granada felt right for me for a more permanent place to live. Meanwhile, a long-time friend from Southern California came to Nicaragua in May with a plan to make a new life for herself here, but her health had a different idea, and so she stuck it out for five months before booking a flight back to the U.S. Because she was staying in San Juan Del Sur, and I in Granada, I decided to come to San Juan Del Sur at the end of my Granada month, and spend the next five days with her before she left.
In the time we had together, she did a fine job of introducing me to some restaurants, some bars, places to buy various things, a beach or two, and some good people.
A New Home
Only two burners on the four-burner stove work well, and the little fridge has a small and definitely not frost-free freezer inside it, there is a dearth of comfortable chairs, but I have good WiFi, a tiny television, a front door of my own and a padlocked gate outside of a small patio/garden area with plants and two trees—unfortunately not habitable by humans because it is occupied by two chickens, a rooster and a variety of pigeons who help themselves to the chicken feed. Those of you who have lived with poultry will know that roosters cannot tell time and have zero interest in being your morning alarm clock. Consequently, they crow whenever they darn well please, including at strange hours of the night. I don’t think there are other roosters in the neighborhood, which can cause them to crow out challenges to each other. This guy is the sole proprietor of his territory and I will admit, some nights, to having dark thoughts about his final destiny in a soup pot.
Recently, I joked to a friend that perhaps it was time to put the “gallo” (rooster) in the “gallo pinto” (Nicaraguan-style rice and beans). It made them laugh! I made a joke in Spanish that was actually funny to a Nicaraguan!
The House on the Corner
But my auditory callenges do not end with Mr. Rooster. Kitty-corner to this house is the Catholic church for this small community. Part of the church’s responsibilities is to “ring the bell” to summon congregants to services and possibly for additional purposes. In practice this sounds like frequent repeated banging on some piece of metal that is not obviously a bell. For all intents and purposes, this takes place right outside my window. There is also a fair amount of road traffic passing by, beginning early in the morning: trucks, cars, school buses, horses and carts, street sellers calling out their wares, and, on occasion, including a full carnival float with music blaring from it. Another characteristic of Nicaraguan towns and their people (and probably much of Central and South America) is the frequency of festivals, many of which celebrate saints and other religious figures and events. Most festivals involve some sort of parade around town, loud music, and the lighting of “bombas” or firecrackers. I don’t know if the intention is to deter evil spirits, or what, but the bombas and parades sometimes start around 4:00 a.m. on the day of a festival, and again, if it’s a religious festival, at the church right outside my window. The first time I heard bombas here early one morning, I was fast asleep, and being most recently from L.A., immediately thought it was a shooting! Furthermore, due a lengthy silence, my befuddled mind actually hoped that perhaps someone had shot the rooster! Imagine my surprise to learn that the loud bangs were not gunshots, or vandals, but firecrackers being ignited with great deliberateness and impeccable timing by personnel from the church across the way. Mr. Rooster’s silence was probably a result of his taking offense at the church usurping his dawn duty, for once.
Oh, and did I mention that this street corner is also close to three separate schools, and across from the town’s park, meaning that at certain hours one hears crowds of children laughing, crying, and calling out to each other. There is also a Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall on this block! My Spanish teacher has told me she believes that this corner is actually one of the noisiest in the whole of San Juan Del Sur. However, after living in a seniors’ village where all you heard was birdsong, and people moved there with the expectation of finally leaving the place in an ambulance or a coffin, I rather being surrounded by such youth and vitality. My retirement was clearly not destined to be an overly quiet one!
I actually enjoy the sounds of the children passing by and playing in the park. Unlike the rather scruffy, somewhat stinky and run-down central park of Granada, with its trinket stalls, sleeping drunks, and wandering street vendors, this park has brightly painted metal benches, a food/drinks kiosk and a children’s play area that is clearly popular with the younger age-groups right down to toddlers. Sadly, it lacks grassy areas and many old trees were felled to create its present incarnation. Like many public parks now, there is free WiFi so the benches are often occupied by folks staring at their phones, but it’s a busy place, it is used for a variety of ceremonies and celebrations and feels comfortable and safe to walk through even at night-time (though not super-late, of course).
Virtually everything in the central area of San Juan Del Sur is five blocks of home, making multiple trips to various locations easy and speedy. There is even a hostel just up the street with a small swimming pool that is accessible for the price of a drink. That could come in handy when the weather heats up in dry season.
When I arrived here at the end of September it was hot and humid, and doing pretty much anything resulted in the production of abundant perspiration. I carried a kerchief everywhere to use as a sweat-mop, and couldn’t even tolerate my usual capri-length shorts—I switched to short shorts with nary a care for how my chubby and veiny old legs looked to others—I just needed to dress as coolly as possible. More recently, though, rainy season set in in earnest, and it has been cool enough, some days, for t-shirts with short sleeves, while walking to Spanish school on rainy mornings required water shoes (thank God for Keens!), careful attention to the “rivers”
flowing through the streets, and an umbrella! I even wore a light-weight rain jacket some days on the way to school to keep my t-shirt completely dry so not to be studying for four hours in a soggy shirt where the rain snuck around the umbrella.
When it rains hard, all over Nicaragua, streets become lakes and rivers, sometimes for only an hour or two, sometimes for much longer. Some days might offer a break from rain in the afternoon, but sometimes the longest break was maybe half an hour all day. Tropical jungle doesn’t get all green and beautiful without abundant rain and we are grateful for it after a couple of very, very dry years.
Although it is off-season in town, there are quite a few surfers from various countries in the hostels here, and generally heading out to the surfing beaches on the various shuttles each day. Not many Americans, but Europeans, Canadians and Australians, in particular. I guess they keep the bars (and some restaurants) busy during this relatively quiet time of year.
One Sunday I was relieved to discover that at least one festival in town didn’t begin with bombas (firecrackers) before dawn! I woke at a reasonable hour and was up and ready to tackle the day in good time to check out the ceremony for San Juan Del Sur’s 164th anniversary of cityhood. It took place at the end of a lengthy church service with a lot of singing—all heard clearly from my bedroom. The ceremony involved more singing, speeches, and the admiration and cutting of a large cake (actually two) depicting features of San Juan on the blue icing. Prior to that I heard, but did not see, a marching band with dancers, who wandered into the square afterwards in their colorful costumes. I was happy to catch them later in the day down by the waterfront.
There, there were shade tents set up under which vendors were selling typical Nicaraguan food, crafts, and so on and families sat around watching the activities. The aforementioned marching band reappeared in town and eventually marched to the Malecón where everything was happening. Later in the evening, there were fireworks. I’m sure it was a fun day for families. Apparently the majority of expats did not attend. I saw few foreigners there, and I guess the surfers were either at the beaches (the day being sunny and warm until later in the evening) or pub/pool-crawling on the weekly “Sunday Funday.”
So far, I’m liking this little city. (it’s really not that little, because people live in neighborhoods further away that require a long walk or bus-ride or other forms of transportation to go back and forth). I’m starting to find the places where one can eat out affordably (a change from my boring cooking), and at the same time I’m lining up my sources of decent fresh food to cook at home. I need to stick around through high season and see how I feel about retirement here when it’s full of tourists!
Tourists or no tourists, San Juan Del Sur does not disappoint with its sunsets. Whether seen from a bar at the beach, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, or through the shutters, by turning one’s head at exactly the right moment, they are breathtaking! What does one do, when catching a glimpse of the entire sky turned bright pink, but run outside in the rain to try to capture its neon intensity before it’s too late!