Wow, that last post was a really sleepy one… We returned to the mainland and boarded another boat. This was a slow boat to El Castillo, a late 1600’s fort, half way down Rio San Juan. It is a three hour ride on a majestic brown river with primary jungle on both sides. There are birds, lizards and turtles dotting the shoreline with the occasional crocodile disappearing in our wake. Little blue swallows catch up to us to escort us down the river in the same playful way a dolphin escorts a ship.
My imagination is treated to stories of pirates and heroines. This river was once a secondary route to the Gold Rush in the US and even Mark Twain made this journey. At one point in time steam ships brought passengers from the Caribbean to Raudal del Diablo (the rapids) at El Castillo. The passengers would disembark then make their way past the rapids on foot to board another steamship to take them across the lake where they’d catch a stage coach to board yet another boat in the Pacific. Some ‘shortcut’!
The Fortress of the Immaculate Conception is a less visited national landmark and fits our criteria to a T! We walked the walls that the Spaniards built back in 1659 and take in the same lofty view as they would have done, so long ago. It was built because Granada had been sacked three times already by pirates like Henry Morgan and they felt that a little fortification was needed. It was a young woman who saved the day when she soaked sheets in alcohol, lit them on fire and and floated them down the river to thwart a would-be fourth pirate attack.
The village has no motorized vehicles and no internet. Our hotel overlooks the Rio San Juan at the rapids and there is white noise ringing through head as I write this. The people are friendly and we were ‘adopted’ by a gentleman named Napoleon who would have liked it if Brad could speak Spanish.
Napoleon serves the best coffee in town from his restaurant with no name and is very patient with my own spotty Spanish. One morning he led us on a walk all through town to a Cacao Coop and processing place, greeting people we met on the street with a friendly ‘Buenas’. He points out pinto beans, cacao beans and achiato pods drying on porches and sidewalks along the way. The hospital, preschool and college are also on our way and he explained a little about their free education system. To top it off he negotiated with the woman at the Cacao Co-op to allow us to enter without taking a tour then leaves us to explore on our own. By noon we have walked all through town, done our ‘tour’ and are reading on our hotel porch. This place is so small that once you start down the path you are done. We keep bumping into the same other tourists as we walk around, snickering about how small the place is.
Our hotel advertised wifi, cable tv and hot water. We were told that the wifi and cable did not work as we moved in but we discovered in the morning that the hot water was also an issue. It’s not that it wasn’t hot, it’s just that there was no water. They had a leak somewhere in the system and their holding tank kept emptying out. When we could no longer flush the toilet I would go downstairs to find the owner and he would say ‘momentito’ and then disappear. An hour or two later I’d have to go find him again and be more demanding. It was on the second request that he’d go talk to his wife and he would refill the tanks! It wasn’t just our unit either, none of the guests had water. I think most of the time the other guests would just give up after being ignored a first time!
We stayed three days and had seen it all so were excited to be moving on back up-river to Boca Sabalos.