It was another early start since we had lost the afternoon of the previous day to take Anry to the ferry port. The 2 things we really wanted to check out on Ometepe were the volcano hiking, check and the mineral pools or Ojo de Agua in Spanish. Since we didn’t manage to fit in the pools after the hike we opted to check them out before our mid-morning ferry back to the mainland. We packed up the car first thing and drove over since we had been told they opened at 8a.m. When we arrived it was clear they were not accustomed to having tourists rock up so early but a nice local guy explained we could pay once the staff arrived and just to head on down to the pools. We ordered some breakfast while watching some local guys doing crazy flips off trees and removing the silt off the surface for the tourists and then went for a dip.
It was cold but quite refreshing and so we swam about for a while taking in all of the mineral goodness. It was really nice to have the place to ourselves and so I would really recommend this time of day for a visit as opposed to tourist o’clock later in the day. The only negative is that it took around 2 hours for them to bring the food we ordered. The friendly local man who had showed us in clearly wasn’t affiliated with the restaurant and so a minor communication error had occurred. It was worth the wait though, the local breakfasts are one of my favourite things about travelling. It seems like every country has great breakfast food apart from the UK. Give me rice and beans any day over boring old toast or cereal.
After a few hours of relaxation we headed back to the port town to catch the ferry back to the mainland. Thanks to Maeve we had a reservation for the 11.30 boat and I managed pretty well in my very broken Spanish to decipher that I had to get 2 tax receipts (one for the car and one for us visiting the island) and then checked in with the reservation lady to make sure our spot was secured. Thankfully they had one car booking under a strange name that sounded a bit like Samantha and so they let us on after a bit of hand gesture negotiation.
It was only a 45 minute drive down the coast to San Juan Del Sur, our next stop for surf school! As divers Carolyn and I were both pretty unsure about the idea of surfing, we like to be underneath the waves, not riding them precariously and getting swept up. However, San Juan is a surfing town with some of the biggest competitions in the world for surfing held here. With this claim to fame, we couldn’t really pass up an opportunity to try out the new sport. Thankfully Anry had booked us into an afternoon private tutorial with the ‘best school in town’, Arena Caliente.
It took us a while to locate our accommodaton – Moke Huhu which was on the main street as you drive into town, just further than the GPS claimed. Thankfully the owner spoke good English and was able to give me some directions. We literally dropped our stuff in the room and were picked up soon after by one of the surfing instructors, Eric who walked us around the corner to the surf shop. The instructors gave us some rash guards and picked out some huge boards for us (apparently the best for beginners) before taking us out to Playa Maderas for our lesson.
The instructors didn’t have much chat on the way over and when we arrived no-one explained what was happening or when so we sat in the bar for a while until we got the heads up we were good to go. The beach was north of the town by about 30 minutes and has quite a backpacker feel to it as well as a tonne of surfers. We each had our own instructor, mine was Axel and Carolyn’s was Juan. We started out on the sand and worked out based on your balance, (Carolyn was left foot forward, I was right and so ‘goofy’), how to stand on the board. I was surprised how difficult it was to get into the right position on a completely flat surface and did not have the best hopes for my abilities in the water. Once we had mastered the 3 step stand-up procedure it was time to hit the waves.
I was pretty nervous as we paddled out. The thing I disliked most about the surfing was the paddling out. The waves are coming in big enough for people to surf and so as a result you have to try and manoeuvre yourself and a large board so the wave doesn’t send you spinning each time it hits you. After a few times though we got the hang of jumping the waves at just the right angle or pushing through them so you didn’t get caught up in them. As was to be expected we were not the best to begin with. I had to build up confidence by first kneeling on the board for a couple of waves before I took the plunge and got to my feet. Obviously with everything practice makes perfect and by the end of the lesson I had managed to ride 2 full waves standing up which I was pretty impressed with. In one of my euphoric moments of paddling back out after a particularly good wave I misjudged an incoming wave badly and so ended up getting spun in the wave and getting hit pretty badly across my legs with the board. Although it wasn’t too bad at the time, I have had 2 epic bruises across my thighs for the remainder of the trip which have caused quite a few raised eyebrows.
After the lesson I chilled out on the beach while Carolyn and her instructor who was quite the flirt did some extra practice. Again the communication was not the best with regards to when we were leaving and so there was a lot of waiting around wondering what was going on before the signal came to get back in the car. I would definitely recommend the surf company, its local and is one of the best in town for beginners. However, the attitudes of the instructors vary greatly and some clearly are not as enthusiastic about teaching as others. There is a laidback vibe throughout the whole of San Juan, people come to surf, party and smoke weed and so bare that in mind when deciding whether to stop by here. The instructors invited us out that evening to Pachamama the backpacker hot-spot as that evening was ‘beer-pong’ night. However, we decided to get some take-out nachos and tacos and chill out in our nice quiet hotel away from the mayhem. It had been a really long day!
The next day we had planned to check out the local beach and shops before heading back to Managua in the afternoon. However, unfortunately Carolyn got really sick and so had to spend the day in bed resting up. We managed to check out El Gato Negro for breakfast which is a really cool coffee shop/bookstore. I had the nicest iced coffee with lots of flavoured syrup and a mammoth surfer bagel with egg, cheese, garlic mayo, bacon, avocado, tomato and salsa! It was so good!! The rest of the morning I spent reading by our lovely chilled pool while poor Carolyn slept off her sickness. Before we left we made the daunting trip to the local doctor to see if he could give Carolyn anything to help her feel better since my trusty medicine cabinet was not managing to shift it. San Juan has no private medical centres and so when we entered it was bustling with people and noise. We found the pharmacy who directed us to the numbering system ladies who directed us to the emergency section. At this point it was clear there were some really sick people here and they clearly had no idea what to do with us so we bought a load of different drugs from the pharmacy (no prescription necessary) and left.
San Juan was short and sweet, perfect for us. We are not big party people, especially when travelling for such a short time and so it was great to experience the surfing and vibe without having to embrace anything too crazy. After we checked out we drive back up to Managua where we stayed at Hotel Valerie for the night. Anry was in town and so he came over to say hi and we went to Churrascos for dinner. Carolyn and I both got the house specialty of Chimichurri Steak which was delicious with a glass of Chilean red. It was a lovely night and nice to check out a fancy restaurant for our last night on mainland Nicaragua. We had an early night ready for our 3.30 wake-up call the next day.