San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

The morning that I left Granada, I was hungover and hopped on a chicken bus to Rivas. (Chicken buses, otherwise known as the local buses, are retired American school buses, usually painted in bright colors, and always cheaper than taking the “tourist shuttle,” because mostly locals ride the chicken buses.) At the bus terminal (a large dirt parking lot next to the local market), I got bombarded with questions and offers, different bus drivers trying to convince me to ride with them so they make more commission. I did my best in Spanish, but was confused when I already decided on a bus to Rivas and another driver was trying to sell me a ticket to Managua that he claimed would take less time. A young local who was going the same way as me clarified that the driver was just trying to sell a ticket that wouldn’t actually take me to San Juan Del Sur, and would cost me more time and money. Since I wasn’t from the area (obvious white-skinned gringa with a huge travel pack), the driver figured he could scam me into buying one of his bus tickets instead. Thankfully my new friend helped me out. When the bus to Rivas arrived, we boarded and sat together. We talked for almost the entire two-hour bus ride in Spanish together, and I also helped him with his English homework. Normally I question the motives of any guy that pays that much attention to me without actually knowing who I am, because so many times I (and countless other women) have wounded up in awkward situations with men who befriended me only to get me on a date, or into his bed. But this guy was seriously just very friendly. I appreciated getting to know him on the bus ride. 

I also appreciated his help when we arrived in Rivas, because what happened with the bus drivers in Granada is not an uncommon occurrence in Central America. Obvious gringo travelers get ripped off and scammed all the time, because locals know that many of them don’t know the area well or aren’t aware that local businessmen, drivers, etc will straight up lie to your face and take your money. I understand why this happens (travelers are perceived to have more money than the locals, and often they do, even if to Western standards it’s not much; and because travelers are also usually new to the area and sometimes don’t know better) and I can to some extent have compassion for the worst scammers because I know it’s not personal – it’s just part of how they make a living. But it still doesn’t feel very good when it’s happening to you. I don’t like being lied to or misled, especially in a foreign country when I am vulnerable, when I don’t have all the information, when I have to rely on other people to get around, or to do anything at all! I don’t like being taken advantage of. I don’t respect any type of business that is founded on misconceptions and tricking people. I don’t like feeling like I can’t trust people, when it is in my inherent nature to do just that. 

And what happened in Granada, and at other local bus terminals in Central America and with some taxi or shuttle drivers, is nothing compared to what I experienced in Rivas. Rivas is a huge stopping point for a lot of local buses passing through the area. Pretty much every single gringo must pass through Rivas at some point or another if they are traveling through Nicaragua or Central America by bus. There are tons of chicken buses in Rivas, all going in different directions throughout Nicaragua. There are also tons of taxi drivers waiting for you to get off the bus to start trying to sell the taxi to you. Some taxi drivers will literally take your backpack and carry it to their taxi before you can say otherwise. 

When I stepped off the bus, even though I was with a local, I was immediately bombarded with “Where are you going?” questions and offers for taxi rides, shuttle rides, bus rides, to all different places. All of this was also happening in Spanish. All of these remarks were also coming from men, so there was that other layer of me being perceived as weak, submissive, easily manipulated because of my woman-ness. The men competed with each other for my business, each telling me something different. I was tired, hungover, overwhelmed, and wholly unprepared for the action. I had not experienced it quite this bad, where the men talk over each other and over you, tell you what you want to hear, etc. A couple bus drivers were telling me to take their bus to San Juan Del Sur, but then 4 or 5 other taxi drivers wanted me to go with them too. I didn’t know what to do. 

Thankfully, my local friend from the bus helped me out here. The taxi drivers were saying that the next bus to San Juan wasn’t for another 2 or 3 hours, but I wasn’t sure if that was true. My friend confirmed that it was. He showed me the way to his friend’s taxi, and let me bargain with the driver and figure out pricing to get to my hostel. It was a tiny bit more expensive than what I had planned on paying, but it would take much less time. And I did not want to stay in Rivas – the bus terminal was not a friendly place to wait around in. So I agreed to go with them – my new friend was also going in the same direction. Then they started walking towards the taxi, and the further away they walked, the more nervous I became. I lagged behind a little bit, feeling scared and vulnerable, wondering if I should have ever trusted this young man who befriended me on the bus, realizing that I was outnumbered 2 to 1 and that if they wanted to they could take me somewhere else and rob me, or worse. 

My instincts about people are usually accurate. But sometimes I am wrong, especially because I have a natural tendency to trust people. I tried to become more in tune with my instincts in that moment, and there was nothing about either of these men that set off an alarm in my head. I felt like they were okay. But I was skeptical about the situation. I had heard too many stories of travelers getting robbed or hurt in some way for me to completely let my guard down. I was still in Rivas, and had already been in two situations that day where people tried to take advantage of me and my situation. I wanted to trust them, but I wanted to test them, rag on them a little bit, see how they reacted to my doubt. So when we finally got to the taxi, I stopped, still slightly in fear, thinking that if this was a real taxi it wouldn’t have been so far way from the bus station. I hesitated, unsure if I should get in. The two guys noticed, then began explaining to me the color of the license plate – it was red. Apparently in Nicaragua, taxi license plates have red trimming. I wasn’t aware of this discrepancy beforehand, but I took their word for it. My friend from the bus told me that I could trust the driver, and the driver himself seemed genuine enough. Not having many other options, and not picking up any serious bad vibes from either guy, I agreed again to go with them and got in the car. Once we started driving I politely explained in Spanish why I reacted that way, and why I feel like I have to keep my guard up wth strangers traveling in a foreign country. They understood and weren’t mad at all. 

After about ten minutes, my friend got out of the taxi, kissing me on the cheek (a custom in parts of Latin America). I told him thank you so much and that I really appreciated his help. We continued driving, and within 20 or so minutes, I arrived at Naked Tiger Hostel unharmed and happy that I listened to my instincts and trusted (rather than let my fear control my decisions). Below is the incredible view from my hostel up on a hill, where you can see the town, the ocean, the giant Jesus statue on a cliff in the distance, and all of the surrounding farms and hills.

I walked up the driveway and entered the hostel to find reception. And who were the first people I saw? A few of the Aussies, sitting at the bar drinking beers. They cheered when they saw me, and I gave them all big hugs even though I had seen them just a week before. 

San Juan Del Sur is a really beautiful surfer beach town with good, chill vibes. Along the beach front, there are tons of restaurants and bars. A couple streets up in the town are more restaurants, clothing shops, surf shops, tattoo shops, hostels and hotels. Where I stayed wasn’t in the town, but up on a hill overlooking the view. The hostel had free shuttles running into town every couple hours, and shuttles that ran to other nearby beaches for surfers and anyone else who wanted to hang out at the beach. The giant Jesus statue previously mentioned is accessible if you go into town and then walk along the beach for a while until you find the road that leads up to the statue, which also happens to be an amazing lookout point. I wandered up there one day to check out the view. 

This is one view of the cliffs on the way up to the statue.
This view is seen from the top! Jesus stood right behind me. I walked from all the way where the boats are on the other side of the water.
And the pictures below are from the day a group of us went to Playa Hermosa to surf, explore, or lay on the beach. 

I spent about 5 days in San Juan Del Sur. Mostly, I hung out at the hostel, in town, or on the beach. It was a time for relaxing, for partying, for swimming, for being a little bold, for trying new things. The hostel I stayed at here has actually been one of my favorite hostels I’ve stayed in – it was fun, had good vibes, and was absolutely beautiful. I was with the Aussies while there but I also met some really cool people and made some good, once-in-a-lifetime memories. I won’t go into specific details about those memories because they aren’t appropriate for some readers of this blog (Hi Mom). You can make your own guesses… Or just ask me. 

When I left San Juan, I said goodbye to the Aussies again, not sure if I would see any of them ever again. Even though I had just met them a few weeks previously, I had really come to adore all of them – they were loving and generous with me and with each other; they were definitely a fun time, constantly cracking me up and being clowns; and I could just click with their vibe. Some of them were going home to Australia, some were splitting off from the group to travel elsewhere. Most of them stayed in San Juan for one or two more weeks after I left, surfing and partying. A few of them were headed to Colombia in a month or so, as was I, so I thought I might see some of them again later. But for the meantime, I was on my own again, heading to my last stop in Nicaragua, Isla Ometepe. 

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