Grand River Lodge
Catching the morning longboat from San Carlos, we headed downriver for about 1-1/2 hours. Rio San Juan flows from the southeastern shore of Lago Nicaragua all the way to the Caribbean about 199km distant (the small town of El Castillo is about equidistant from either direction). Our final destination was Grand River Lodge, with an anticipated stay of 15-days. Initially I wasn’t sure if we were going upriver or downriver, but as it turned out the river flowed from Lago Nicaragua towards the Caribbean, confirming that we were in fact traveling downriver. Our riverboat captain almost motored right by the landing, but a couple of sharp raps on the roof combined with a shout or two, caught his attention and he made a quick U-turn to the opposite bank to drop us off. As he nudged the bow of the boat into the soft mud, we hastened to throw our packs ashore before climbing over the side.
We quickly shouldered our packs, and climbed to the elevated boardwalk connecting the shoreline with the lodge overlooking the river from a distant hilltop. Footing was a bit treacherous given our muddy boots, the rain-slick boards and the missing planks, but about 15-minutes later we lugged our packs into the compound. Marvin, the owner, was not to be found, but Fran got us settled into our Cabana within the hour. Marvin is 33-years old, native to Nicaragua, speaks fluent English, and is a seasoned traveler himself having worked for Royal Caribbean for about 8-years. He opened this lodge 4-years ago, and is now enjoying some modest and hard-won success. The thatched Cabanas sleep two, have a private bath (albeit with cold water) and on again/off again electrical. There is no internet service at Grand River Lodge, this can be a blessing or a curse depending on your perspective. The $10 USD pp per night cost includes breakfast, and the onsite kitchen can provide a basic dinner for very little money as long as it’s chicken, pork or beef. Side portions include sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, fried plantains and the ubiquitous rice & beans (Pinto de Gallo).
Thatched Roof Accommodations (Exterior)
Thatched Roof Accommodations (Interior)
Outside Open-air Kitchen
The next closest village is La Esperanza (The Hope), a 1-hour walk, a 20-minute horseback ride or about 5 to 8-minutes by pickup truck if you can thumb a ride. La Esperanza is very small and very quaint, and is stereotypical of rural Nicaragua (and of Guatemala and Honduras for that matter). A future post will highlight our day in the village attending the local Rodeo with all of its attendant activities (mostly imbibing copious amounts of cerveza. The main forms of transportation in the Rio San Juan area are riverboat, horseback and your own two feet. Rural “Chicken Buses” also ply the country’s dusty backroads, as well as the occasional thumbed ride from any manner of private vehicle. This is basic living at its very best. The pace is slow, the people friendly and the environment pristine. The jungle-lined river is beautiful, and home to three kinds of monkey: the Howler, the Spider and the Capuchin. The large, roving troops of Howler’s bring the jungle alive with sound every morning and evening. Birds of every size and description abound: both Great and Snowy Egrets, Blue Herons and their brethren, Parrots, Black-headed Vultures and any number of smaller birds. Turtles, Caiman, Snakes and Iguanas prowl the shoreline (along with the dramatic Jesus Christ lizard that can run on top of the water), and various fish inhabit the gently flowing river.
Great Egret Taking Flight
Even the thatched roofs on our Cabanas provide their own unique biospheres, including insects of every description and even bats that hang from our ceiling (and under our beds) during the daylight hours. If not for the provided mosquito nets and plastic sheeting separating our beds from the abundant critter-life, I suspect we would be sharing our beds with all manner of living creatures. These, then, are my first impressions of Rio San Juan and the Grand River Lodge. More posts and photos will follow as time permits, but for now I can attest to the fact that this is an “authentic” wilderness travel experience. Increasingly, it is becoming more and more difficult to locate these kinds of unique travel experiences around the world, as countries continue to develop and eco-tourism becomes a more viable worldwide source of revenue.
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Reporting from Rio San Juan, Nicaragua . . .