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La vida loca! Wished you were there? We did, so here we are on our big adventure! A year in central America, to make sense of this vida loca...

San Juan del Sur - Tyres: 500, Turtles: 0

NICARAGUA | Friday, 28 November 2008 | Views [2122]

A rather gorgeous sunset over San Juan del Sur

A rather gorgeous sunset over San Juan del Sur

We waved Finca Bona Fide goodbye, and caught a collectivo bus from Balguè to Moyogalpa (on the south coast of the Concepciòn side of the island), via Altagracia (on the northern side).  This was one lumpy, uncomfortable journey - the road was somewhat worse for wear from all the rain we´d recently had, and Rachel had various ladies´ bottoms in her face for most of the way.  Eventually we hit the one paved road on the Concepciòn side of the island – and saw a bus going straight to Moyogalpa going the other way.  After a minute´s in-decision, we grabbed our packs, ran off the bus and launched ourselves at the other direct, empty one.  Rachel managed to stop it leaving without us by yelling and hammering on the side.  I didn´t know she had it in her…  That´s what bums-in-face does to you, obviously.

Once in Moyogalpa, we bought tickets on the regular lancha to San Jorge on the mainland.  The usual waiting room was under a metre of water, as the lake level was very high due to all the rain Nicaragua had been having (much of northern Managua, the capital, was under water), so we waited with a coffee in hand at a comedor next door.  The journey across the lake was uneventful, except for the slightly alarming list on the ferry (potentially from the 5000 empty bottles they´d stacked up in crates on the deck), and a surprising swell caused by the November winds, which made us both lakesick.  And so on to San Juan del Sur by chicken bus – the only real beach destination in Nicaragua.

Sorry, another gorgeous sunset over San Juan bay - we didn´t see any for 5 months, give us a break!

We were pleasantly surprised by San Juan.  We´d been warned that it was a dump – but in actual fact, it had a good mix of local and ex-pat businesses, it hasn´t been spoiled by too much inappropriate building, and as usual, we were there in the off season, so other tourists were few and far between.  Boy, did we enjoy sleeping in a bed.  We also enjoyed a couple of really nice restaurants – the best we´d been to since Panama City.  The beach isn´t anything to write home about, after the likes of Manuel Antonio and Zapatillos, but we got our first sunsets over the sea since we´d been in central America  – of course, with a G&T in hand…. (our first sunset in five months was in Ometepe – before this the rainy season kind of got in the way).

On our second day there we arranged to meet Brooke – an American estate agent, who we´d contacted after we saw an article in an ex-pat paper about an Earthship project (Casa Llanta or ´house of tyres´) just south of the town.  Brooke kindly drove us there (on a Sunday!) and showed us round the first house which is well on the way to being completed.

The Casa Llanta conical roof and rainwater harvesting

Back last year before we left home, we´d tried (and unfortunately failed) to get an internship with Earthships Biotechture in Taos, New Mexico – who are the originators of this very individual approach to zero-carbon building.  The structures are based on reusing old tyres rammed with earth for the walls, have rainwater collection systems, passive air management and are usually energy independent.  Even the grey and black water systems are linked to permaculture beds to allow inhabitants to grow their own food.

It was great to see one of these projects in the flesh.  The guys running it have trained and used men in the local community to do the building work.  The idea is that there is a skilled local workforce to build earthships on the surrounding plots, whilst also giving livelihoods to local families – another example of proper sustainable development that integrates local people.  I´m sure Brooke would have loved to sell us a plot – but it wasn´t the right time or place.  We´d also have loved to help out on the next stage of the project, but unfortunately that wasn´t going to start until December, when we´d be long gone.  Still, we´ll keep a close eye on how the project develops and some day maybe we´ll get to work on one somewhere else!

Bottle window wall, Casa Llanta

Our only other trip out of the town was to go and watch turtles on the famous beach of La Flor, a reserve 20 miles south of San Juan.  The beach is one of the most important breeding sites for the Olive Ridley turtle, and also gets the very rare leather-back turtle. After an introductory video we piled into a four wheel drive and drove along a very bumpy road for 90 minutes until we got to the ranger´s hut.  Over 20,000 Olive Ridley turtles nest on this beach every year.  This is up from 200 before the beach was protected a couple of decades ago – mainly from egg poaching. 

Anyway, we saw….zippo.  That´s right, we got there at the right time of year and saw nada in two hours of wandering up and down the beach in the moonlight, getting bitten by sand flies.  Mucho disappointment all round.  Still, we did see the best star-field we´d seen in decades (isn´t that sad – but in the UK there are very few places now that you can get away from the light pollution).  We had also wanted to volunteer at a sea-turtle project further north, but it turned out that the project did not have enough funds to carry on after October – when we were there.  Eh well, maybe there´ll be other turtles to see – I hope!

The only other thing to note in our time at San Juan was the omnipresent electioneering for the upcoming country-wide mayoral elections.  Like other towns we´d been through, San Juan had various buildings taken over for the purposes of supporting the different candidates.  Not content to plaster their respective posters and bunting everywhere, however, they also go around towns in loud speaker vans advertising all the wonderful things the candidate is going to do.

They also set up big speakers outside said buildings and play very loud music – we had one next to our hotel.  And this isn´t just the standard repetitive reggaeton or cumbia, but popular music with political lyrics, saying why you should vote for dodgy-guy-with-moustachio number 37.  Trouble is they only had about three songs, and repeated them for hours on end.  We therefore have fond memories of such classics as ´vote next mondaaay´ and ´our guy will only pocket 10% for himself´ and ´the other guy´s moustachio looks like a drowned raaaaat´.  You get the drift.  Luckily though, the music stopped by 4.30pm.  Something we wouldn´t have benefit of later in our travels…

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Tags: casa de llanta, earthships, la flor, political songs, san juan del sur, turtles


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Argh!  Well, maybe not pirates this time, but dig the colour-coordinated bandanas!

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