“Damn, Melanie…here we are again.”
Randal says with a mix of elation and awe. She’s right. Over the past two months, we have traveled all over the country together and now we are expanding our exploration outward. It is 8am on Friday morning and the two of us are on a bus winding through the jungles as we head toward the Nicaraguan border.
Due to the fact that we aren’t Costa Rican residents, we are required to leave the country every 90 days in order to get our visitor visas re-stamped. Only then are we allowed to return for another three months. (And, no, this isn’t exactly what you’d call ‘legitimate’, however it is a great excuse to explore other parts of Central America!)
Not far past the entrance to Nicaragua is a beach town known as San Juan del Sur. Though I’ve never been there before, Randal vouches for it, and she is definitely trustworthy when it comes to this sort of thing. The longer I live in Central America, the more attached I become to the healing power of ocean waters, thus I am more than happy to spend three consecutive nights right near them.
Randi and I spend the majority of the six hour ride talking and laughing as we make our way north, only to be interrupted by young boy, two rows up, who sporadically looks over the top of his seat to show us his ‘Hulk’ doll. On cue, we ‘oooo’ and ‘aaah’ to his obvious amusement.
Once we near the border, we are shuffled off of the bus and into the Costa Rica customs building; a stand-alone structure on a dirt road in the middle of seemingly endless forest. The ‘money exchange’ consists of teenage boys who stand on the opposite side of a fence waving piles of Cordobas (the Nicaraguan currency) at the visitors in exchange for either American dollars or Costa Rican colones. Randal and I decide to hold off until we consult our good friend ‘Google’ about the going exchange rate, at which point we will have a better informed negotiation tactic.
We board the bus again, only this time we have one extra person with us: A nurse in a facemask holding a small, pistol-like thermometer. One by one, she comes around to take everyone’s body temperature; no doubt a fruitless tactic to ensure that the Ebola virus does not invade their country. When she gets to me, she lays the device against my forehead before looking at it inquisitively. Shit. Do I have a fever? She points it at me again and this time seems satisfied with the result.
Now we are officially in Nicaragua! The bus slows down again as it pulls into a small, open-air station.
As I step outside, the hot sun immediately puts my skin on alert. Though I am significantly more tan than I was when I lived in the United States, a sun as strong as this is still a shock to my system. Randi and I take solace under a wooden roof that also lends shade to dozens of vendors who have set up camp in hopes of selling their home-made food and knick-knacks to tourists.
Moments later, everyone is instructed to lay their suitcases down an a long, wooden table. One by one, the officials take a peek inside before allowing us to re-load them. The bus driver subsequently calls out each of our names as he hands us back our passports and we are allowed to re-board the air conditioned vehicle.
45 minutes later, we arrive at the town of Rivas where we share a taxi with a woman name Anita who is filled with giddiness as she tells us about the reason for her visit. An interior designer in New York City, she often escapes to central america in order to unplug. The last time she was here, she fell for a local man and the two of them are reuniting tonight at a house that she has rented for the weekend. Her energy fills me with a peaceful happiness. I hope that the weekend is everything she hopes it will be.
By the time we arrive in the cozy beach town of San Juan del Sur, the sun is beginning to dip down and settle in for the evening. Randi and I locate a cheap hostel and pay $10 each for a private room with a shared bathroom. Thankfully, it is on the third floor, giving us a partial view of the Pacific Ocean and a nice, salty breeze which helps to dry the sweat from our sun-kissed skin.
Stomachs beginning to growl, we opt to meander through the little streets, past the restaurants and shops, keeping an eye out for a good place to satisfy our hunger. The town is filled with colorful, one or two story charming-yet-run-down buildings, complete with ornate balconies and rocking chairs, which gives the place a distinct New Orleans flavor.
We find a lively spot on the beach and select a table in the sand right next to several tiki torches. Live music from inside the restaurant fills the air as we dance in our chairs and wait for our food to arrive. Soon, Randi is presented with a beautiful filet of fish swimming in a garlic butter sauce. I am given a green salad with seasoned shrimp a la plancha, the entire plate bursting with color thanks to the array of various vegetables. The food is deliciously fresh and just what we need after a day of snacking on whatever junk we could get our hands on during the long ride up here.
As we are finishing up, we notice a man sitting in a long, blue beach chair next to us and so we decide to strike up a conversation. Before we know it, he and his three friends have joined us at our table as we order drinks and talk about life and travel. It turns out that Joel, Josh, Keith and Trent were working in the oil industry in Australia, but decided to quit their jobs and travel around the Americas for at least a year. After a few rounds and fun conversation, my stomach is in pain from laughing so hard. This euphoria combined with a slight, alcohol-induced buzz gives me a rush of energy, and plans for an early evening are quickly dismissed.
Instead, the rest of the night is spent bar hopping and meeting various other characters, including Peter, Joel’s brother who is so intoxicated by the time he stumbles over to our table that I can only make out every other word he is saying. Watching him interact with his brother and friends is pure entertainment.
It’s funny. I’m not quite sure why these drunk, immature guys are so much fun to be around until I pose the question to Randi who turns to me and says, “It’s because they love each other.” She’s right. Beneath all of their crazy antics, these are simply a group of great friends who are having the time of their lives. Their energy is a delight to witness.
We part ways sometime in the early morning. Randi and I head back at our hostel under the pitch black sky as a gentle wind wisps through the quiet air. We are completely exhausted but happy as clams. Based on the taste we got today, we can tell that this weekend is going to be epic.