Leòn, San Juan del Sur & Playa Madera

I wake in Leòn and decide to spend a lazy day around the city, taking in the sights and enjoying not driving. I spend most of the morning trying to buy a map of the whole of Nicaragua, with no success. Apparently such things don’t exist, and if they do, it’s not possible to get them inside Nicaragua. The city has the oldest cathedral in Central America on which construction began in 1747 and went for over 100 years. It’s a beautiful stone structure on the edge of the town square and I spend lots of time hanging around the area getting the feel for the city. The heat in the concrete city is intense, making for a very lazy afternoon.

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The Leon Cathedral, from 1747

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Another beautiful building in Leon

In the morning I make my way to Jan Juan del Sur, arguably the surf capital of Nicaragua. The town itself does not feel like much to me and the bay seems to prevent swell from rolling in so I make my way north on a little gravel road to Playa Madera, which comes highly recommended. Tourists seem also to have heard about this place, arriving twenty at a time on ‘learn to surf’ tours. A few hundred meters further up the beach is Matilda’s, a great campsite right on the beach. I setup here and wind up staying for a few days, enjoying the surf, sun & monkeys that come right into the campground.

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I'm looking at you

I meet up with a bunch of different people, all hanging out around the area and am amused how most of the surfers are depressed at the lack of swell for the last few weeks and aren’t much to talk to. I meet a couple of crazy American guys who drink rum like I drink water and so of course we head into San Juan del Sur on Saturday night to see what we can find. It’s not hard to find drunkenness when beers are $1 USD and rum is equally cheap. The Iguana Bar is the place to go and it’s extremely crowded with both gringos and locals. I finally bump into my friend Ty, who’s car I saw in Antigua. He’s had an awesome drive down and his trusty old Subaru had done just fine, minus a couple of broken windows. He’s moving into Costa Rica soon to sell his car and then continue on foot and we’re both certain we’ll see each other again.

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Just hanging around

While hanging out one sunny afternoon two motorbikes roll up that are obviously geared up to ride a very long way. Quickly I recognize Adrian who I met in Stewart, Northern British Columbia many months ago. Riding with him is James, who has come down from Toronto in a few short months. We chat for a long time before Adrian has to move on, so James and I continue the conversation for many hours. He’s had an awesome ride down and we swap story after story, discussing everything and nothing at the same time. Checkout his blog at http://tripdown.regioncoding.com/

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Playa Madera

Hanging out on the beach is great for a few days and I’m thoroughly ready when it’s time to move on.

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The sunset at Playa Madera


11 Responses

  1. Avery says:

    Hey Dan,

    I have a question… During your travels and your conversations with local folks, do you run into much anti-American sentiment?

    The reason I as is- I just finished a book where a old British guy (he’s 73) rides from Mexico to Terra del Fuego on a small honda. It seemed like every other page he would talk with people who had a bad opinion of the U.S.. During my travels in Central America I never ran into any anti U.S. people but my spanish is pretty limited so perhaps I just didn’t recognize it.

    Anyway, just wondering what you experienced in this regard.

    Take care and keep up the good work.


    • Dan says:

      Hmm, Interesting question Avery.
      I would say not outwardly, no. I think most people here realize the amount of tourist money coming down from the ‘states and so watch what they say. Under the surface though, I think there is animosity there. Everyone accepts the US at one time or other has messed with the political situation in pretty much every country down here, usually for their own gain and not the local country. Most are still trying to recover and are not too happy.
      A massive bomb on display in Perquin, El Salvador had “Made in USA” printed in huge letters across it – the message obvious.
      It’s always funny to hear what fellow travelers think of Americans – it’s usually possible to see and hear them coming a few hundred meters away, and they are not universally liked in the backpacking community.
      I’m curious about the book you read – I was thinking it was Ted Simon’s second adventure, but I’m pretty sure he road a BMW that time. What was the title?

      • Avery says:

        Thanks Dan. The name of the book is: A Old Man on a Bike by Simon Gandolfi.

        I think you are probably correct in you assessment the there may be a under current of resentment.

        Some of the resentment is deserved, Im sure. I learned that it is widely believed that in the mid 50’s the CIA initiated a successful coup against the President of Guatemala (Jacobo Arbenz) in behalf of American owned United Fruit company. Apparently Mr. Arbenz was going to hand over thousands of acres of as yet cultivated land to peasants. Unfortunately United Fruit owned most of the land in question and so the CIA stepped in. Some of the share holders at the time were Allen Dulles, head of the CIA and on the board of UF. John Foster Dulles who was the Sec. of State and who law firm’s biggest client was UF. Ann Whitan who was President Eisenhower’s personal secretary and just happened to be married to the head of UF’s public relations.

        Anyway this action led to the 36 year war that eliminated 1000’s upon 1000’s indigenous people in Guatemala. All of this is according to Mr. Gandolfi in his other book “Aftermath”.

        No doubt the US has dirty hands in various instances, I still don’t understand why it took all the military resources it did to arrest one man in Panama (Noriega). Many Panamanians lost their lives needlessly, IMO.

        But I will say it again, being myself an “American Gringo”, I have only felt welcoming and good tidings from the people of Latin America, I feel at home there.

        The feeling I get from traveling Europeans is a different story, from out and out rudeness to hostile contempt, I have experienced it all from them.

        • Dan says:

          Hmm, those are very complicated topics you cover.
          It’s great you have had nothing but positive experiences down here. I think listening and learning are key, as is making an attempt to learn Spanish. There sure are a lot of traveling Europeans around!

      • David says:

        I’ve heard a number of people from different countries share their opinion of my fellow countrymen. Unfortunately, the accurate words often used to describe Americans include arrogant, rude, entitled. They’re right of course; I see it every day myself. While those words are not universally applicable to everyone from the States, they are sadly true in far too many instances……


        • Dan says:

          David – you are absolutely correct, a stereotype by definition does not apply to 100% of a population, but sadly it’s the majority.
          My perspective on the world has changed so so much being down here. I wish everyone could see and experience the outright poverty that I have. Amazingly, these people are still extremely happy. They have no money, but they don’t want any either.

          • David says:

            I remember traveling through the countryside in northeast China some years back – the farmers and their families lived in generally squalid conditions, often times with no electricity or running water. A life revolving around sow, reap, sell at market, repeat. The local guy I was with said they were happy anyway when I asked and that they lived fulfilled lives. I’ve seen similar things in South America and Mexico too – it’s a good reminder that money and possessions don’t necessarily equate happiness and the abundance of either or both aren’t guarantors of it either….


  2. Katie says:

    Hi Dan-
    I just got hooked on your site the other day from a friend- and I love hearing about your adventures!! I must say, you’ve got some guts doing this on your own! But kudo’s to you…like one of your little quotes: “beyond fear lies freedom”…so true! It’s pretty crazy to hear about all the scamming going on; it’s cool you figured out a good ploy to get past most of it! It’s definitely inspiring to read about your travels! Have fun and stay safe!

    • Dan says:

      Hey Katie, I’m glad you found my site. I really enjoy writing my adventures and hearing feedback from people puts a huge smile on my face! thanks!

  3. Avery, firstly thank you for reading OLD MAN ON A BIKE. I have been criticised on the web for being anti-American. Such criticism is ill founded. I record Hispanic American criticism and antipathy to US Government policies in Central and South America. This antipathy is inescapable and well founded. If you have doubts, read the history of US involvement in the area. However, let me stress, this is an attitude to Government. Individual US citizens as with everyone, are either liked or disliked according to their attitudes and behaviour. Most US citizens behave with consideration, humour and generosity.
    I rode back north from Tierra del Fuego to New York on the same Honda 125,(75th birthday in Guatemala) and returned this May from a six month ride round India (77th birthday in Goa). Most recently rode Baja California trying out a new model US bike – see California Scooter Company. Blog is on my web site at http://www.simongandolfi.com
    Keep safe and have fun…

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