Sunday was our last full day in San Juan del Sur. I woke up early around 5:30am, and snuck out onto the patio so Andi could continue to sleep in our room. I never slept past 6:00am during our vacation, yet I felt rested and ready for each day. I guess there's something to be said for sleeping through the night without interruption! Shortly after I sat down by the pool under the morning sun, one of the Orquidea del Sur staff brought me a pot of fresh coffee to enjoy while I watched the ocean view before me.
Andi joined me an hour or so later, and together we walked to the upper terrace for breakfast. Once again, we had a private table set out for us. We selected the same breakfast option as the day before - two eggs with fresh fruit, a pancake and a side of toast. During our meal, Orquidea's property owner named Joanne, chatted with us about our plans for the day. We told her we'd like to have massages, so she arranged to have a therapist from San Juan del Sur come to us at the Orquidea del Sur property. Andi also said we wanted to rent an ATV in San Juan del Sur for the afternoon, so Joanne offered to have one of her Nicaraguan staff call to set up the reservation. Out last full day in Nica would be a busy one!
Shortly after breakfast, our masseuse arrived. She set up her massage table underneath the gazebo next to the pool, and one of the Orquidea staff tied sheets around the sides for privacy. Andi went first while I sat next to the pool and soaked up the hot sun already blazing down. My massage followed Andi's. We were the only guests staying at the five-bedroom bed + breakfast that day, so once again we had the whole outdoor area to ourselves. I felt pretty lucky to be so pampered in a gorgeous open-air space with ocean waves lapping in the distance.
Nothing like a relaxing massage to set the tone for a rugged afternoon ATV adventure! Shortly after our massages, Andi and I hopped into Orquidea's truck with Francisco to ride into San Juan del Sur. I loved the seclusion and the beauty of staying up in the hills outside town, but I'm not sure I'd want to live so remotely myself (or, more pointedly, travel the bumpy dirt road 20+ minutes each time I wished to go to town).
Francisco dropped Andi and I off at the Easy Rent-A-Car office in town where we rented a Polaris Ranger UTV to use for the afternoon. I'd pictured a more traditional ATV quad, so I was happy to see a side-by-side Ranger waiting for us in the parking lot. It'd be just like our weekly cabin adventures! Andi and I hopped in and hit the road.
First stop -- lunch! It was close to 2:00pm by now, and Andi and I were starving. We wanted something quick, so Andi selected the Taco Stop. I ordered a burrito bowl and Andi had one fish taco and one steak taco. The food was tasty and familiar, like something we could order at home in the States. For 35 Cordobas each, or $1 USD, it was perfect though.
With no concrete plans for the rest of the afternoon, Andi and I decided to beach-hop along the coast of San Juan del Sur. First, we headed toward Playa Maderas. This is a popular surf beach in the area with a few restaurants nearby. We parked our UTV and walked along the beach, taking in the view. The sand seemed to stretch on forever. Maybe it was low tide?
We continued down the road to the next beach called Playa Marsella. Our Ranger started to sputter and billow puffs of smoke as we pulled into the beach parking area, so Andi popped the hood to take a look. Fortunately, Andi has experience trouble-shooting simple Ranger issues on work photo shoots! He disappeared into a nearby beach restaurant and came back with a spoon and a butter knife to use as tools. Apparently, our Ranger needed more coolant and a hose had sprung loose, so Andi added water to the coolant tank, tightened some bolts and we were on the road again. I have to say, I was quite impressed with my husband's fix-it skills!
Andi thought we'd better go back to the rental car place to fill up with actual coolant, so we made a pit-stop at the shop in San Juan del Sur. While we waited 20 minutes or so for the shop mechanic to fix our Ranger, Andi tried to negotiate a free gasoline fill-up upon rental return for our trouble. I had to laugh because the Easy Rent-A-Car employee, who only spoke some English, did not understand Andi's petition for a deal. It wasn't that he didn't want to give it; he simply had no idea what Andi was trying to achieve. "You fill up the gas tank for our trouble?" Andi politely requested. "Yes! You fill up with gasoline by the market!" the worker reconfirmed.
Back on the road, we headed to San Juan del Sur's famous Christ of Mercy statue which overlooks the cresceant-shaped bay. It was quite the hike to get up there, luckily we had the Ranger to tackle most of the mileage. Toward the top, Andi parked our UTV in a parking lot and we walked up a steep slope to the statue. The view was breathtaking! We could see the whole town from up there.
Next, we hopped back in the Ranger and drove to Playa Remanso on the south side of San Juan del Sur. This is another popular beach with a small ocean bay and a couple of beachside restaurants. We grabbed a few chairs in the sand and ordered refreshing mojitos to drink while we watched the surfers and boogie boarders play in the water.
Just before sunset, we continued on to Playa Hermosa. Every time we drove past this beach on our way to and from town, the Orquidea del Sur drivers always pointed it out to us. "Playa Hermosa!" they'd say with much enthusiasm. It was either a tourist trap or one heck of an area gem. Playa Hermosa cost $3 USD/each for entrance, and was set back in the trees away from the main road. It was fun trail riding along the path; it reminded Andi and I of our country drives at the cabin, only this time we saw cows, horses and howler monkeys along the way.
Andi and I found some lounge chairs under a thatched straw roof, and ordered cocktails to enjoy as we watched the setting sun. Almost every restaurant in San Juan del Sur offered free wi-fi, so we decided to FaceTime Tory and Aden back at home for the first time during our vacation. I wasn't sure seeing their faces screen-to-screen would be such a good idea (aka: make Aden freak out!), but the kids didn't seem phased at all. We chatted with Janie and the kids via iPhone for a while, then hopped back on the Ranger UTV for the 30-minute drive back to San Juan del Sur.
Francisco was waiting at the Easy Rent-A-Car office to pick us up when we arrived in town. Andi and I hopped in his truck and headed back to Orquidea del Sur for our final evening in Nicaragua. The cook had dinner prepared for us when we arrived -- grilled chicken with roasted vegetables and pasta -- so Andi and I once again ate underneath a blanket of stars on the terrace. It really was our own slice of paradise! Joanne, the property owner, joined us on the patio for after-dinner drinks and we talked with her for quite a while. It was fun to listen to stories of her various Nicaraguan experiences, as well as her tales of parenting.
Andi and I woke up around 6:00am Monday morning, and enjoyed breakfast on the terrace at Orquidea one last time. We were both quiet during the meal; sad to see vacation coming to an end and dreading the travel day ahead of us. After breakfast, we hopped into a shuttle bus from Macau Tours and drove toward the Nicaraguan / Costa Rican border. Andi hired a guide from Macau Tours to help us navigate the border crossing once again. I *think* we could've navigated it on our own, but we weren't sure what we'd encounter there. Better to play it safe than sorry!
The drive to the border was an uneventful one. We watched the wind turbines circling around Lake Nicaragua, and I promised myself we'd come back one day to visit the Ometepe Islands in its center. As we approached the border, our driver parked the shuttle van and led Andi and I through the first series of check-points. The conditions seemed less sketchy than when we entered Nicaragua the week prior. I think it was because we'd normalized to the environment, and suddenly delapitated buildings and hawkers didn't phase us.
Dare I say the transition home to real-life in the U.S. was more difficult than vacationing in Nicaragua? It made me think twice (x 10) this past week about how Americans take luxuries like driving on paved roads and homes with running water and hard flooring for granted. I am fortunate to have all that I do, and spending a week in Nicaragua helped me remember that. Great trip!