Rio San Juan Series #9 of 11: Delta House to the Sea and San Juan de Nicaragua (Nica Nugget #75)

Although we would spend two additional days on the river, one as a layover day in San Juan de Nicaragua on a tour of the colonial cemeteries, and the other on a ferry panga churning our way back up river to our origination point at San Carlos, this day would be our finale paddling.

We woke up at the Delta House and clambered out of our beds and hammocks, gathering our gear up to go. By this day, our sixth on the river, we had our routine down. In no time at all, we had eaten our breakfast, packed our bags and carried ourselves and our kayaks down to the bank and below.

Yarlen Diaz’s daughter joined him and the gals in the canoe for a few miles down the river. She had her pet parakeet with her, Raul. He liked to travel on the top of her head. And what a funny-looking crew they were: JoAnne Stoltz with her white gloves, Eve Kohlman with her face bandanna and Yarlen’s daughter with her pet parakeet on top of her head. And of course Yarlen, as cool as he could be, paddling in the stern as though nothing was unusual.

We were tired from our prior day’s crazy-ass-long paddle of 42 miles, but we were all feeling strong and anxious to arrive at the sea. We were hot from the sun that had come out again. We were thirsty and running low on water.

Daughter with bird on head, Eve with bandanna, JoAnne in white gloves.

We stopped at military checkpoints, rounded islands formed in the middle of the now-slower-flowing channel, and began to smell the sultry smells of the sea.

Gone were the hillsides of tangled jungle. In their place, as the river slowed into lagoon, were grasses and mangroves and sparser-looking trees.

We paddled up to a raised barrier strip of sand and could hear the crash of waves on the other side before we could see them. The sand was dark. There were other people further down the beach. We were silent and we dispersed in all directions, like half-awake sleep walkers stumbling over our private sun-scorched dreams.

Success! We arrive at the Caribbean Sea!

We had made it. From source to sea. It was a first for John and me.

“Don’t swim in the lagoon,” said Yarlen, as John and I were about to wade in for a swim before climbing back into our hot boats. “Too many crocodiles right here.”

And he wasn’t kidding either. No sooner did John get into his kayak and start paddling back upstream towards the lagoon that would take us to our night’s destination than he spotted a crocodile the length of his boat just floating along the surface. As he neared it, the crocodile submerged and John counted his blessings as he paddled over it. “Surreal,” he described the experience. “Surreal.”

The Caribbean Sea!

We all paddled back upstream and then hung a right and wove our way along narrow stream channels between grass islands. Flocks of Jacanas rose and settled, their yellow wings flashing outwards from their chestnut and black bodies.

We passed the mouth where the Rio San Juan would enter into the sea and continued on, up the Rio Indio to the settlement of San Juan de Nicaragua. There we checked in with the military of course. And JoAnne and Yarlen both quickly got on their cell phones to check in with work.

Yarlen and JoAnne immediately get on to their phones.

Back at our hotel on the river, Hotel Familiar, I climbed out of my kayak at a covered boat bay and proceeded to unload the gear in my boat for the final time. My back went into spasm, screaming in pain. We’d paddled 19 miles that day. And a total of 125 miles in six days.

Yarlen had come through for us. Paddling strong and fierce for days without complaint. Pointing out wildlife and plants, and encouraging us all along the way. And then at the end of each day, feeding us and hanging our hammocks.

The restaurant at our hotel was right on the river.

“When I first met you guys at El Castillo,” he later told me, “I had my doubts that you’d be able to make it. But instead, you all surprised me and did great! Most clients don’t like to paddle.”

Fortunately, we all really love to paddle. And yes, we all did great. Despite the sometimes pain.

The hotel was lovely and the food was fantastic. And the town was great, without cars like El Castillo.

Our hotel room came with bathroom and shower.

At the hotel the restaurant was right on the river. There were rocking chairs on the veranda. Cool breezes. Showers and porcelain toilets that flushed. There were fans and electrical outlets for charging our devises. And I’m guessing that over the next two days we’d possibly use up every spare bit of the restaurant’s ice.

We hired a local indigenous guide who Yarlen found for us, to show us the colonial cemeteries the next morning. But for now, night was falling and the mosquitoes chased us away from our riverside table and game of Rummikub. It was time to call it a day.

Today’s video: Delta House to Sea and San Juan de Nicaragua.

To be continued…