Where can you surf, practice yoga, and visit one of the largest statues of Jesus Christ in the world? San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua is home to all of these things and more. A town with an eclectic mix of local and ex-pats, San Juan del Sur has quickly become one of the most interesting places Drew or I have ever visited. As I write this, I am sitting in a restaurant right on the beach, drinking a cappuccino, being solicited for sunglasses (which is probably a cover for the drugs he’s really selling), watching pelicans float on the waves in the rain, with a large statue of Jesus Christ on the hilltop overlooking the whole town.
It seems that, more than anything, surfing is what brings people from all over the world to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. So, Drew and I decided it was time to take a lesson. We ran into a guy from Colorado who we had met on Big Corn Island and he told us about One Love Surf School through which he had just taken a lesson. We went down the next day and signed up for a lesson. The guy, when he asked where we were from, was surprised to learn a couple of Californians had never been surfing before!
The next day we showed up at the shop, ready to hit the waves. We hopped in their truck with the boards in the back and headed for Playa Remanso, South of town. Apparently, the best beach for learning to surf is Playa Hermosa but it is closed through September because the next season of Survivor is being filmed here. Playa Remanso was beautiful though, and not too busy which made it just that much better for learning.
The lesson began with our teacher talking to us about the nature of surfing. It requires patience and being able to relax and just go with the flow. He said you’ll spend 80-90% of your time waiting or paddling and only 10-20% actually surfing. After this brief talk, we got to practicing on land. We learned how and where to lay on the board, how to move our arms for paddling, and finally, how to actually stand up. We practiced over and over until we showed that we had the motions down.
Finally it was time to try it out in the water. We attached the boards to our ankles and walked out into the waves. When it got a bit deeper we hopped on the boards and started paddling out. This proved to be the hardest part for me as I am not a very good swimmer and my arms are not terribly strong. Finally we got out far enough and it was time to try to catch a wave. The first time I basically just stayed down on the board and felt what it was like to just ride the wave. The next time I was able to get up into position 1, which is basically Cobra pose in yoga. For the next 2 hours or so we kept trying, again and again. We were both able to stand up for at least a few seconds by the end of it all.
Overall it was a lot of fun and something I might try again but I wouldn’t call it my new hobby. I can see how it requires the ability to relax and just stay focused on where you are. In this way it is very much like yoga, which is something I really enjoy. The day after our surfing lesson, in fact, I found a yoga studio and joined a class. My body was a little stiff and in need of some good stretching. It turned out that most of the people in the class are here for a surf camp and so the class would be focusing on restorative poses for surfing. Perfect!
Now one of the things I love about yoga is the quiet relaxation it brings. This class turned out to be far from quiet. Imagine you are on a serene rooftop with soft music and birds chirping. Now throw in a live band, amplified for miles, and cannons and fireworks going off every 30 seconds or so. The entire building shakes every time the cannon sounds. So much for peaceful yoga class, right? It actually turned out to be pretty amazing how class was able to go on and we could stay focused despite the uncontrollable distractions.
You will read more about these “distractions” in Drew’s post, but in short, we happen to be in San Juan del Sur during the festival of San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist). This is a huge celebration in this heavily Catholic town. As I mentioned earlier, a huge statue of Jesus overlooks the town. We decided to hike up there, along with our new friend from the Netherlands, Alouette. We headed out, with directions from the owner of our hostel. He said it would take about 50 minutes…not too bad.
We started off along the beach and then began to wind our way up through the streets leading up the hill. We rounded a corner and the road just got steeper. We were beginning to question our desire to go all the way when a guy with a pickup showed up and offered us a ride. We gratefully hopped in the bed of the truck with another guy and his bike and rode up the rest of the hill. At the top we still had a steep set of stairs to climb and a $2 entrance fee to pay but finally we arrived.
The view from the statue was incredible. We could see all the way south to Costa Rica. The hills are scattered with huge houses that would cost tens of millions of dollars in the Bay Area but probably come in under a million here. The statue itself is quite impressive though is not as large as the famous statue of Jesus in Rio de Janeiro.
Having surfed, stretched, and hiked throughout San Juan del Sur, I find myself still intrigued by this town. We have already extended our stay here by a couple of days as we continue to explore the great culture, great food, and great people that populate San Juan del Sur.