The first thing I noticed was the sound of silence. And as my ears adjusted, there came the distant sound of the Pacific Ocean splashing up on the beach. And then came the sound of the gulls and vultures fighting over the poor creatures that were stranded in the sand at low tide. No traffic. No horns. No loud music. No vendors screaming out to passing shoppers.
It was perfect.
Las Penitas was highly recommended by a friend. It’s a small fishing village, located at the edge of the Nature Reserve of Isla Juan Venado, where tourists and scientists come to study the wildlife and turtle migrations. Surfers, backpackers, and foreign service workers made the area more popular, so now there is a smattering of hotels, hostels, and restaurants along the lagoon and beach. Fishing boats are anchored in the sand at low tide.
The beach is endless. It’s the one place I’ve been on the Pacific on this trip where you could have a kilometre of beach all to yourself, with only the birds and a few stray dogs as distractions.
I started the morning in Leon, about 18 kilometres inland. I was offered a shuttle to the beach for 100 Cordobas (about $5 CAD). Instead, I opted to walk for a half hour to the bus station and take a chicken bus for 13 Cordobas, or 65 cents CAD. The walk through the noisy city, plus the constant flow of vendors through the waiting bus, was enough to make this introvert want to crawl into himself. Besides, you can only have so many people walk by you trying to sell you street food before you succumb to the temptation. After watching one of the bus workers buy and eat a bag of nachos, topped with cole slaw and some spicy sauce, I paid my 50 cents and bought a bag as well. Carefully watching how the others were eating, I reached into my bag with my fingers and deftly transferred a handful of dripping morsels into my mouth. I noticed I was the only one who ended up with cole slaw on his shoes. Eating with fingers is a learned skill.
The bus trip was uneventful. I stood in the back, unable to see out the window. So I passed my time watching the worker operate the rear door at the frequent stops. When someone wanted off, he would whistle to the driver, and then as the bus slowed, but was far from a stop, the worker would open up the rear door and swing out onto the rear step as the concrete sped by below. And once the rider was off the bus, the worker would whistle again and the bus would speed off, leaving our poor protagonist with the challenging task of getting back on board the bus and trying to secure the rear door. It was poetry to watch him at work.
When I arrived in Las Penitas, I popped into the Lazy Turtle, where I was told I should meet the proprietor, a friendly Canadian named Ryan. I can only suggest that if you also go to Las Penitas one day, you must also go visit Ryan. Watching and listening to him is better than any reality television show I’ve ever seen.
I had a delicious veggie burrito and a couple of beers, while chatting with some other Canadians at the bar. It was like Little Canada on the Nicaraguan coast. Everyone I met there was a long-time traveller and well read, so the conversation was fabulous.
Feeling tipsy and adventurous, I left the Lazy Turtle to explore the little fishing village. The tide was out, but there were little rivulets and ponds of water scattered about, so I removed my sandals and went beachcombing. Wherever there was a committee of vultures or a colony of seagulls, I went to explore the thing they found interesting. There were all kinds of sea creatures, caught in the sand in low tide, in various states of being consumed. The birds ruled the dunes, that is, until a pack of street dogs disturbed their meals. It was nature at its finest.
There is an energy at the point where the ocean meets the shore that I find appealing. When I stand watching the waves crash, with that anticipation of sound as I see the wave about to fall over itself, and the sun on my shoulders, and the salty air in my nostrils, I can feel my energy building. And when I walk away, I always feel refreshed.
Along the beach, I met bohemian shell hunters, bikini-clad sun worshippers holding yoga poses, long sandy-haired surfers, local children chipping away at exposed rock with a chisel, and a number of other people scattered about who seemingly had nothing in common except that they were sitting cross legged, facing the ocean in a state of meditation. I was particularly impressed by a young local who was walking across the blistering hot black sand, barefoot, with nary a grimace on his face. For myself, even the heat from the few grains of sand that slid up onto my sandals made me wince.
Greetings were non-verbal, merely little waves of the hand, a nod of the head, a slight bow, and once a wink. It was as if nobody wanted to break the sound of nature with the sound of a human voice.
I found a little place in the shade of a rock outcrop to rest. Waves crashed into an alcove, spraying water into the air above me. The mist fell on my skin like the caress of a passing kitten.
Before heading back to Leon, I stopped in again to see Ryan. I only did so to say goodbye, but instead, I was drawn into the magic that is the Lazy Turtle. Like a long-lost brother, Ryan greeted me with enthusiasm. “Dave! Let me get you a beer, my friend, and come over and chill on the couch with me and my friends.”
And so it was getting dark by the time I left the Lazy Turtle for the chicken bus, intoxicated not only from the alcohol, but also from the energy of Las Penitas, its residents, and its visiting raving fans.
Las Penitas is my new favourite Eden. It may become yours too.