Back to nature . . .

January 12, 2009

I am about to have my most expensive meal in 3 months – the famous Rio San Juan shrimp – and I hope it´s damned good. It seems ridiculous that the locals who fish the shrimp can´t afford to eat it, but that´s economics (poverty and tourism) for you. The lack of available shrimp in the shrimping village of Boca de Sabalos, Nicaragua, means that I have to go to a super fancy hotel to eat some. At least I get a stunning river view to go with my meal. I guess for a once-in-a-lifetime culinary opportunity it´s worth it.


Sitting on the restaurant balcony watching the river twist past me, I have found the tranquillity I was looking for. Despite the fact that I have been travelling by myself for 3 months, I haven´t had much time on my own (a both good and bad fact) and after a hectic festive season in Costa Rica I felt the need to be alone with my thoughts. (By the way, having just heard my neighbour ask for turtle´s eggs, which the restaurant thankfully doesn´t have, I think I should stand up and yell at them for wanting to eat an endangered animal´s eggs and to point out that to collect, and eat, turtle´s eggs in in fact illegal. But I won´t. Because I´m scared to lose my temper with two middle-aged rich men. I hope I don´t find any, but it seems that there are some to be had in San Carlos. Grrrr.) I travelled up from Los Chiles, Costa Rica to the river-and-lake town of San Carlos in Nicaragua in what was the most calming border crossing of my life. Instead of immediately heading north as I had planned, I decided to explore the Rio San Juan, an isolated border river that runs alongside a nature reserve which covers 14% of Nicaragua´s land mass. Of course, its reputation for inaccessibility, nearly extinct man-eating bull sharks – the world´s only freshwater shark – alligators and jaguars made me even more determined to go. (Hilariously the guide book of a friend of mine went into a kind of hysterics over the area, suggesting that you pack both a first aid and a snake kit. Do the locals have snake kits? I think not.) So far, I haven´t seen any sharks, and I don´t really expect to, but I have seen a huge fish (tarpon?) and several turtles (so cute, who could want to eat them?) which swam up to me, maybe because they´re used to being fed by tourists. I´m sure that sandwiches and crisps aren´t the most healthy things for a turtle to eat. I have seen so many new river birds that I wish I had a bird book with me. I think my Mum would be ecstatic about the number of herons here.


The view from my hostel in EL Castillo

The view from my hostel in EL Castillo

Yes the shrimp (or is that crayfish?) were worth it . Almost the size of my wrist to my elbow – that is, my foot – they are like magnified normal shrimp so you can see the horrible detail of what you are eating. Kind of like the ant in Honey I Shrunk the Kids. Add on their unique thorned claws and they are even bigger. Apparently they can reach the weight of one kilogram! I wish I had my camera with me to take a photo.


To get to El Castillo last Sunday I took an all-too-quick two hour boat ride from San Carlos. Although it was too fast for me to appreciate the beauty, the river has since satisfied all my soul-filling requirements. I spent many hours (in fact, about two days) reading and writing on the balcony of the hostel I stayed in watching the rapids and birds. El Castillo is an old town, with fairly new wood buildings, but a Spanish fortress from the 16th century which was built to fight the British pirates and individuals over who got to colonize Nicaragua first. The river reaches all the way to the Caribbean sea and nearly across to the Pacific coast, making it an ideal trading-and-colonizing route. Apparently, the pirates were so slowed down by the surprising rapids next to the town that they would make easy targets for the cannons at the castle. Terrifyingly, local kids jump into the river and float down these rapids daily. I wanted to join them, but I thought I might die.

´I´m so cute, who´d want to eat me?´

´I´m so cute, who´d want to eat me?´


I did do something else which seemed to me risky, although it turned out to be fairly safe, which was take a boat out at night to look for alligators, or more accurately, caimans which are in the same species family. All the eight-footers slipped away as they could see us in the moonlight, but we got close to some babies, terrifying one by catching it and touching it. Drifting downstream in the dove-grey light was my only time on the river, and we heard the loud staccato of frogs who sound more like monkeys crossed with woodpeckers echoing across the water. They sing after rain, which, in this rainforest, is often. We also approached a large cluster of lilies, which then flew away having transformed into nesting egrets when we got closer.





I wanted to follow the river, past shipwrecks hundreds of years old, all the way to the sea. But with no ATM in the whole region, I need to hightail it on a 15 hour ferry to the nearest bank. WIsh me luck!



One Response to “Back to nature . . .”

  1. Becky Maxted said

    Hey chica,

    Good to see you’re well, though this was posted a few weeks back. Where were you for Christmas and New Year? Glad to see you’ve found a bit of peace in the beauty of Nicuragua, the shrimps sound amazing! Just a quick check-in will send a much longer message soon, but just to let you know am thinking of you, love you dearly and am learning a lot from your blog!

    Becky xxx

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