Nicaraguan New Year’s

This blog entry about the events of Sunday, December 30, 2007 was originally posted on February 01, 2008.

DAY 40:  New Year’s.  Every year, it’s the same question:  Where do I want to be when one year ends and another begins?  This question has troubled many people, with all the pressured expectations of the overly-hyped holiday.  Everyone wants a good answer to the post question:  “So what did you do for New Year’s?” 

Faithful readers of this blog know that I’ve had many eventful New Year’s in my life as a traveler.  On New Year’s 2002-2003, I stayed in and read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, which convinced me that I would follow my dream of going around the world for at least a year.  On New Year’s 2003-2004, I reflected on this decision with no regrets, as I trekked down the world’s deepest canyon in Peru with a young Aussie girl named Heidi.  The following year, as the calendar turned into 2005, I was with my Spider-man costumed cousin in Manila, Philippines, where he’d won a contest that night and ended up on national TV with Filipino supermodel Giselle Toengi.  The two following New Year’s Days were spent back at my base camp in New York City:  one at a rooftop party in the East Village with Elaine and her animator friends at Blue Sky Studios (a.k.a. “The Ice Age Guys”), the other running around the midnight fireworks in Central Park with 5,000 other runners — including my friend Adam (a.k.a. “Balls”) — in a four-mile fun run/concert, where there were champagne stations next to the water stations.

But another year later, the questioned remained.

“LOOKS LIKE THE BIG PARTY is in San Juan del Sur,” said Ashton from Seattle, having heard the same hearsay as me and Elaine.  Word around the proverbial campfire was that the surfers’ beach town, two hours away from the Isla Ometepe, was already preparing for a big, town-wide New Year’s extravaganza, building temporary dance floors and stages in concrete (to be destroyed after the fact).  Partying in San Juan del Sur was a novel idea; originally Elaine and I were going to go back to Grenada to find a New Year’s party, but figured if it was only going to be at a place like El Club, we could do better.

For all those looking for a loud scene at the turn of the year, San Juan del Sur was the place to be.  For those seeking a quiet and peaceful one, they’d stay at the island camp/resort on the lake — this included Jonas (a.k.a. “Brooklyn”), and Suzanna, one of the three Canadians that traveled with us there, mother of 23-year-old nursing student Cory, who really wanted to be young and go with the beach with everyone else.  After a few rounds of mother-daughter negotiations, Suzanna finally felt comfortable with letting her daughter go, provided that Elaine and I looked over her like chaperones.  (I’d been through this before.)  Suzanna and I swapped cell phone numbers — but I said it probably wasn’t necessarily because Cory would be in good hands.

And so, a journey to the Pacific coast was all set — it was a fine idea for New Year’s and I wasn’t alone; there were eleven others going as well.  Leaving the island was a bit sad though; we’d leave our new friend Jonas (a.k.a. “Brooklyn”) behind, as well as Scott, this Kiwi who, much to Elaine’s surprise, had the same hobby of jumping in photos whereever he was.  “Oh man, it’s a competition now!” Elaine proclaimed.  Despite our sad farewells,  I’d also leave behind the plump scorpion that found its way into my bag — the second one on this trip now.  Fortunately for me, it landed on the floor and not on my back — otherwise I’d have a really memorable albeit painful New Year’s.

A HIRED SHUTTLE VAN that played cheesy 80s love ballads took our group of twelve back to the ferry port, and in no time we were back on the ferry — some of us still tired from the night before — for the ride back to the mainland.  Back at the San Jorge port, our group started to split up into two camps over matters of money:  some wanted to take a taxi to the bus stop in town, to take a chicken bus to the coast ($2-$3 total each, depending on haggling skills); others just wanted to just take an hour-long taxi straight to the destination ($4-$5 total each).  I was in the latter camp, especially since it was New Year’s Eve and any available accommodations would be booking up fast — if there were any available at all.  The hagglers opted on the side of frugality.

“They’re doing the backpacker thing of arguing over a dollar,” I told Elaine, who didn’t mind spending the extra buck to get to San Juan del Sur in one quick shot.  “It’s times like these that we figure out who has a job, and who doesn’t.”

There were a few taxis available for us; we couldn’t fit all twelve of us in a little car, even if we did put on clown make-up.  Elaine and I ended up in a car with Justin, a young guy from New York who had some sort of a finance job, and with him, his old college buddy Colbey, a young guy working his way up the corporate finance ladder at Morgan Stanley in New York.  (I thought it was funny that on his vacation, he was reading Alan Greenspan’s book.)  The Finance Boys paired up with me and Elaine, and we were driven by a friendly Nicaraguan guy in his worn out, but usable car.  The road to San Juan del Sur wasn’t exactly the best road to drive on; we had to take it slow on all the dips and divets in the unpaved dirt road.  To our surprise, we noticed another car drive passed us; it was a taxi with the hagglers, who managed to haggle down their direct taxi fare for the price of going their original taxi-to-bus route.

Like The Amazing Race, three teams of four head off to San Juan del Sur, each in their own transport trying to beat each other for an accommodations without getting eliminated.  Team No. 1 consisted of the hagglers:  a couple of Irish dudes, Liam and Maurice; Jason, a hipster from Austin, Texas; and Hideo, an aspiring Japanese filmmaker trying to make it in L.A.  Team No. 2 consisted of me, Elaine, and The Finance Boys, while Team No. 3 was everyone else, including Canadian Cory and Seattlite Ashton.  Team No. 1, despite the time used to haggle (they’re good at it), managed to get in town first with an incredible head start on the search for a place to stay.  However, playing conservatively with money again, they rejected any place that wasn’t five bucks — and those were hard to come by with every place jacking up their prices for the New Year’s rush.  In fact, Casa Oro, the big popular hostel in town, was charging three times the amount — a whopping $21 for a measly dorm bed (early morning rustling plastic sounds included). 

Our team zoomed into town for the frantic accommodations search.  Lugging our bags under the hot Pacific sun, we scrambled around the area of town near the main plaza.  As expected, most places were booked.  “There’s a sign on that building over there that says ‘Rooms for Rent,’” I told everyone.  Our team of four split up like the Scooby-Doo gang; The Finance Boys watched our bags at the Casa Oro lobby and asked around for leads, while Elaine and I went to check out the pink house with the rental sign.  It turned out to be someone’s house with a few extra rooms, owned by a friendly woman named Martha.  She offered us a big room with two single beds and one double — perfect for a team of four — but she also told us she could put in an extra bed for a fifth person.  It boiled down to just $14/person — cheaper than a dorm bed in the big hostel, and for a more private room too.  Plus, with two bathrooms in the house, the person-to-toilet ratio was kept in the single digits.  (I hadn’t had such good luck with an impromptu home-stay since Pamplona, Spain.

I ran back to report to the Finance Boys.  “Yeah, we’ll take it,” Colby said. 

“I’m down,” his buddy Justin seconded.  It was a no brainer.

“The fifth bed, we’ll give for Cory,” Elaine suggested.  We did promise to take care of her, after all.  Soon, Team No. 3 arrived, and we gave her the good news — only to leave Ashton out on the streets like a six-foot-two stray puppy.  Fortunately Martha suggested that, if he didn’t mind, she could put in a floor mattress.  Later he thanked Martha with a big hug.

Meanwhile the others were left to wander town to find a place to stay.  Eventually the hagglers realized they couldn’t do better than $15 on New Year’s, and settled to pay $10 more than anticipated.

WITH A PLACE TO HANG our proverbial hats, our crew of six (“Team Sin Ropa” Elained dubbed us) head out to check out the town.  San Juan del Sur, with only a population of 20,000, is every much a surfer’s paradise, a coastal community full of ex-pat surfers and the establishments that come with that scene:  gringo cafes, bars, bookstores, surf shops, internet cafes, and even a Subway sandwich shop.  The town, like La Libertad, El Salvador (but better in my opinion), is the main base of surf camps in the outerlying area, and most recently, it has been the center of attention in the widely-reported Eric Volz story, where a young American surfer was accused and jailed for a murder he did not commit — even with plenty of substantiating evidence to prove his innocence.  But not even the possibility of being framed and prosecuted for murder stopped the thousands of travelers who came to party there for New Year’s; there were plenty of them walking around like we did, including a few middle-aged tourist package people wandering around town for the day for their cruise ship’s port-of-call day stop.

Colby, Cory, Justin, Elaine, Ashton, and I went to explore the town before heading to the beach.  Scattered around the streets were drunken dummies, a local New Year’s tradition — they are supposedly filled with gunpowder, and are set ablaze as part of the midnight festivities.  Anyway, we made our obligatory ATM runs (only one in town seemed to still have cash in it) and had a quick lunch.  For kicks, I again, ordered something off the menu that I couldn’t comprehend — turns out it was a measly slice of ham, and I salivated over everyone else’s juicy roasted chicken. 

With a bottle of rum that Ashton bought, we head out to the beach to go for a dip.  We hiked the extra mile (literally) away from the main beach of sand, across the rocky shore, until we found a recommended little alcove to swim in.  The surf was rough, but one area was sheltered by a big boulder that took the hit of crashing waves for us while we swam and enjoyed the day.  “We have to take a jumping photo!” Elaine suggested. 

The group jumping photo in the water only spawned for more on landElaine is actually more of a shutterbug than I am (if you can believe that), taking pictures of everything (including food).  “I have to document everything!” she’d say. 

And document she did, the rest of our New Year’s Eve festivities, from our impromptu chilled out sunset cocktails on the beach with another Isla Ometepe stragger from North Carolina named Harvey, to the time I met and shook hands with the supposed mayor of San Juan del Sur, who not only spoke English and recommended some parties to go that evening, but took the definitive jumping photo of our trip (picture above), with two local beach kids“Saltando!” Elaine would encourage everyone.

Team Sin Ropa gathered back at Martha’s house to freshen up before heading out for New Year’s that evening, and it was then we added another member to our repetoire:  Oscar, the big bear of a dog of the house that wasn’t supposed to be inside — until silly me opened (and left open) the back door to go to the other bathroom.  “Oscar, you’re a bear!” I called at him.  While he had a frumpy Marmaduke demeanor about himself, Oscar was quick to reclaim his territory, pouncing on Ashton in the hammock, biting his finger.  It was all in good humor though — Elaine couldn’t stop laughing, and Ashton was only nicked — and eventually we collectively tried to get Oscar back outside.  “Oscar!” I yelled.  “Venga aqui!”  It barely worked. 

The excitement only set the tone for a crazy night of jumping, dining (on lobster, Ashton’s first), more jumping, and, of course, drinking — this time with our entire Isla Ometepe posse with self-made drinks on the beach (as well as some curious crazy locals).  It was then the night started getting a little fuzzy for me, but Elaine and Co. were quick to get me a miche lada, that hangover drink I learned about one night in San Salvador.  It got me going again, well enough to pose with cops when a bunch of them surrounded our little beach circle, trying to see if we were up to no good.  (They smiled with us, and let us go on our way — no murder charge or anything either!)

THERE WERE SEVERAL OPTIONS to party on the beach in San Juan del Sur; every bar on the beach extended their establishment to the beach, many of which were fenced off from the public so as to minimize party crashers looking for a free open bar.  Down the beach, there was a fancy, glitzy party, geared towards celebrities — but at $100 a head, it wasn’t really our scene.  Others charged half that, but one place — one the mayor recommended — was only $10 entrance, with an open bar.  Done and done.

Not surprisingly, the night was a blur.  The beach party was a crowded scene, with people drinking and dancing their 2007 days away.

“Cinco… quattro… tres… dos… uno…  FELIZ AÑO NUEVO!!!”

Fireworks exploded in the sky at midnight, but that was just the beginning of the night.  To make a vague story short, people danced on stage and on the beach to the loud rhythms of varied party music, and just enjoyed each other’s company:  me, Cory, Ashton, Hideo, Colbey, Maurice, and a few others we met.  Of course the night wasn’t complete without Elaine getting pictures with the MC and the DJ — plus there was at least one more jumping photo.

The rest of the night was a blur, but I remember leaving the party to check back at the house as I sent my New Year’s text messages to loved ones back home.  At the stoop in front of the house I sat and chat with another guest there, a drunk guy who I just called Montreal (he was from Montreal).  Soon, I was met by a very drunk Cory, being walked and taken care of by Colbey.  The three of us were attracted to the music across the street, and joined in on this family street party that was going on.  It was a nice local New Year’s scene to experience, away from the loud generic scene on the beach.  A guy there wasn’t even offended that we imposed; he even offered up some beers. 

As the night/morning progressed, more and more people were dispersed and wandering around town.  Elaine and the Irish guys tried to get into the glitzy $100 party.  Others went off to try and get lucky with local girls.  Seattlite Ashton stumbled back to the house for fear of getting locked out (there was only one key, and Colbey held it), but then accompanied me for more inebriated wanderings the rest of the night.  We walked back to the club to see what was going on, but couldn’t find anyone.  Starving, we looked for any where in town that would serve us food.  To our disappointment, the hot dog cart in town ran out of hot dogs, and the pizza truck wouldn’t have another pizza done for another twenty minutes — and there were at least a dozen people waiting in front of us for a slice.  Fortunately, we found this one makeshift bar shack that apparently only served beer — until Ashton, quite drunkenly, asked if they had food. 

“[I can get chicken,]” the man said in Spanish.  “[Five minutes.]” 

Ashton and I were wiped by that time, and were speechless and lethargic to each other as we devoured the fried chicken at our table at four in the morning.  As untalkative as we were, we agreed on one thing:  “This is the best chicken I’ve ever had in my life.”  Around us the streets were still lively, with people wandering around, regrouping, going to other parties or going home — but all we cared about was the meal in front of us.

THE NEXT MORNING, I was not as hungover as everyone else (it’s my superpower) and was awaken by the sun as always.  Elaine, who doesn’t drink, was her usual energetic marathon-running self, and was already up and rustling plastic.  She noticed that I was half-awake, even with my eyes closed.  “What time is it?” she asked me. 

My first words on the first morning of 2008 were, “Time to get a watch.”  (Oh, if only Stephanie was there to roll her eyes at me.)  Elaine laughed when I continued to mumble about the rest of my night.  “We had chickennn at fourrr in the morrning,” I said, all slurred and half asleep. 

Eventually our commotion woke up Ashton and Cory, and the two of them joined us as we wandered back to the beach to look for coffee.  Cory disappeared on us (she was still drunk and wandered back to the house), while the three of us were enriched by coffee and some smoothies — a great idea.  As the morning progressed, everyone woke up and bumped into each other — it’s a small town — and we all eventually regrouped up for breakfast at El Gato Negro, a total ex-pat hangout, combining the idea of a coffee house, a restaurant, and a bookstore in one.  (It was not a library, despite one old man who started casually reading a book and was scolded that he would have to buy it.)  There we chilled out over coffees and delicious eggs benedict platters, before everyone disbanded to go about their lives for the rest of 2008.  For some, that met going off surfing, for others it meant making headway towards another destination.  Cory would regroup with her mother.  For me and Elaine, we would start the journey back towards Managua — but not without one more night in Grenada to give it a second chance.  Ashton didn’t know what he was going to do; in the meantime, he was trying to floss his teeth with one of Elaine’s long hairs.

“That’s pretty disgusting,” Justin pointed out. 

What a way to start a new year, I thought.  Must’ve been the fried chicken.


FUN FACT:

For Elaine’s photos and comments of the trip, check out her gallery here.  Also, her collective video clips are here on YouTube.





Next entry: End Of An Eviction Tour

Previous entry: Agua In Nicaragua




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  • Oops, I lied… there’s one more to go after this one…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/01  at  06:45 PM


  • Eric…..all the best in 2008.  I know I am a little late, it’s February!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/03  at  01:56 AM


  • ROSE:  Thanks, you too!  I’m late as well!

    Posted by Erik TGT  on  02/03  at  03:51 AM


  • Yours sounds more exciting than mine was… it’s always a let-down… except for next year!! (that’s what I always say, though!!) Happy New Year a month late…

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This blog post is one of thirty-nine travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: The Central American Eviction Tour* (*with jaunt to Colombia)," which chronicled a six-week journey through Central America, with a jaunt to Bogota, Colombia.

Next entry:
End Of An Eviction Tour

Previous entry:
Agua In Nicaragua




THE GLOBAL TRIP GLOSSARY

Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

NIZ: acronym for "No Internet Zone"; a place where there is little to no Internet access, thus preventing dispatches from being posted.

SBR: acronym for "Silent Blog Reader"; a person who has regularly followed The Global Trip blog for years without ever commenting or making his/her presence known to the rest of the reading community. (Breaking this silence by commenting is encouraged.)

Stupid o'clock: any time of the early morning that you have to wake up to catch a train, bus, plane, or tour. Usually any time before 6 a.m. is automatically “stupid o’clock.”

The Trinidad Show: a nickname of The Global Trip blog, used particularly by travelers that have been written about, who are self-aware that they have become "characters" in a long-running story — like characters in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

WHMMR: acronym for "Western Hemisphere Monday Morning Rush"; an unofficial deadline to get new content up by a Monday morning, in time for readers in the western hemisphere (i.e. the majority North American audience) heading back to their computers.

1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.




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