Rio San Juan Series #7 of 11: Bamboo Camp to Yarlen’s Cousins’ House (Nica Nugget #73)

We slept in hammocks strung from bamboo. We slept under tarps to keep the rain off of us. I think I slept but I’m not sure.

Juan Alberto Aguilar Gomez cooked a yummy egg breakfast over the open fire and then we packed up. He was leaving us today and Yarlen would guide us the rest of the way. Yarlen was going to have his work cut out for him.

It was the start of day four on the river. With three days behind us, time wise, we were exactly half way through our six-days of paddling for this trip. But mileage-wise, we were way less than half way through.

Remember, our first day from San Carlos to Sabalos we paddled 27 sun-scorched miles. Then we had two short paddling days: a 10-mile day to El Castillo, which allowed us to explore the town and fort, and an 8-mile day to Bamboo Camp, which gave us time for the jungle hike. So, at this point we had paddled 45 miles of the 125 total miles to San Juan de Nicaragua, leaving us 80 miles still to go. In only three days. Ouch. We’d be almost doubling our previous three-day mileage.

But it wasn’t going to be happening on this day. This day we were paddling a decent 16 miles to Yarlen’s cousin’s house for the night.

We had entered the Indio Maiz reserve. We had entered the land without roads.

We were leaving the stretch of river that still had Nicaragua on both sides of its banks and were about to pass the blue and white flag-dotted line forming the border that would place Costa Rica on the southern shore and Nicaragua strictly on the northern one.

Houses became few and far between. Mostly, as far as we could see, it was all jungle.

Jungle as far as the eye can see.

I paddled close to the canoe so I could hear Yarlen as he pointed out wildlife along the banks. Howler monkeys screaming at us. And Spider monkeys demonstrating exactly how they got their name. I swear I watched one drop ten feet, in a free fall, from one tree to another.

Giant green iguanas and prehistoric-looking brown ones sunned themselves on bare branches hanging over the river. We even saw a sloth. How does one see a sloth in a tree in the jungle from a canoe as you’re paddling by? Yarlen did, and he pointed it out to us so we all could see.

John, paddling up to my favorite place – a swimming hole.

And crocodiles. Now we saw crocodiles. Not a lot of them because of the high water level, but we did see a few “babies” he called them, although they were as long as me, sunning on a fallen tree. During the dry season when the river is low and the sand bars are all exposed, that’s when you can really see the crocodiles, he said. Longer than our kayaks, he said. But for now they were mostly hidden in the water.

We saw parrots of course, and flocks of parakeets, and several different sizes of kingfishers. Egrets and herons, and Oropendolas: large black birds with brilliant yellow tales and a gurgling sound that always makes me laugh.

And Scarlet Macaws! Papagayos, in Spanish. What gorgeous, brilliantly-colored birds. Today was a Papagayo day.


It was also the day that we went to my favorite place on the river. And wouldn’t you know it – I was so spellbound that I didn’t take a single picture. It was our lunch spot. Although we didn’t each lunch either – we were still full from our breakfast.

It was up a side river which Yarlen took us to. We pulled over below a low section of rock stretched out part way across the river which made a great place to sit. Between the rocks and our boats was the perfect swimming hole and we all went for a long swim. Well, Yarlen didn’t but Eve Kohlman, JoAnne Stoltz, John E Field and I did. He assured us we would be able to see any crocodiles ahead of time, and sure enough the water was relatively quite clear.

For lack of a better name, we now refer to it as the pedicure place. So named, because of the schools of small fish surrounding and nibbling our feet. You’d pay big money for this in some asian cultures, I hear. And yes, the water here was clear enough that in the shallows by the rocks we could easily watch the nibbling schools of fish.

Pulling up to Yarlen’s cousins’ house.

Yarlen took us to another surprise spot – waterfalls! It was just a small grotto off of the main river but the falls were a surprise and very lovely.

By 2 pm we arrived at Yarlen’s cousin’s house, paddling into the slough in front of their farmhouse just as two of his cousins and one of their’s young son, were getting in their dugout about to go fishing. And another two cousins were feeding the cows.

The interior and exterior kitchen.

Yarlen spoke to them briefly and learned that they had never gotten word about our intended visit. It didn’t seem to matter though. They didn’t look surprised or bothered. The house was big enough for us all.

This is who was there: his 25-year-old female cousin and her young son, Bradley, and three male cousins ranging in age from maybe 14 to 18. Their mom had taken the ferry to El Castillo for a few days to take care of her sick mother. The father had died three years earlier from a hunting accident. And the oldest four cousins had moved away. So the 25-year-old female was taking care of them all, although they all looked pretty capable of taking care of themselves. And the farm.

Bradley and his pet river shrimp.

The young boy, Bradley, was playing with a live river shrimp when he first came up to the house. His mom (the female cousin) and the youngest boy cousin were intent on watching a movie they had downloaded onto their laptop the last time they had gone upriver to town. They had solar panels which gave them just enough power to charge their computer and run a couple of lights. Meanwhile, the two older male cousins went fishing with Yarlen for our dinner.

The house was large and spacious, with a great verandah overlooking the river, and was raised on stilts. It was sparsely furnished, with a table in the kitchen and a small table on the verandah where the computer sat and they watched their movie.

There were three bedrooms with simple beds covered with mosquito netting. And two bathrooms with toilets which were conveniently flushed by pouring buckets of water into them. There was a big barrel of water for just this purpose out on the verandah.

The front yard was full of chickens. And there were two dogs as pets.

Except for the little boy, the three males all go to school. They get there with their panga.

Yarlen and his freshly caught fish. Dinner!

We ate a delicious meal of fish. It was fun listening to the chatter of Yarlen while he visited with his cousins in the kitchen while preparing the meal.

That night we slept in hammocks Yarlen had strung up for us on the verandah.

It was a rough one for me. The hammock I was in was smaller than the one I had been in the night before. And it had a zipper that only opened from one end – the opposite end from where I needed it to be according to how I’d laid out my bedding and thus myself.

Drying out our paddling gear. And John and my sleeping hammocks for the night.

I tried to flip me and my bedding over while still in the hammock and got all tangled up. It was pitch black out by now, which happens quickly in Central America, and I heard grunting right below me. It sounded like a pig but I didn’t remember seeing a pig under the house. I saw a dark shape beneath me and screamed. It was a dog. We all broke out in hysterical laughter.

I wondered how I must sound to the Nicas inside, quietly going to sleep in their beds. Like a crazy gringa, I’m sure, who can’t handle my simple hammock and is startled by the grunts of a dog in the night.

And then my totally-out-of-my-comfort-zone hysteria passed and I fell asleep. Which was good because it was going to be an insanely long 42-mile day tomorrow…

Today’s video: Bamboo Island Camp to Yarlen’s Cousins’ House.