If you come down to the River
Bet you’re gonna find some people who live
You don’t have to worry ’cause you have no money
People on the river are happy to give~ Proud Mary sung by Tina Turner
Every now and then, I kind of like to do things nice and easy. Rollin’ on the Rio San Juan was one of those nice and easy kind of days. However, life on the river was not always tranquil. What a deep and rough history this river has: pirates, slave traders, William Walker, Cornelius Vanderbilt; cannons, forts, rapids, and crocodiles the size of dugout canoes.
Yet, embarking on our three-hour journey meandering down the olive-green waters of the Rio San Juan, I felt like an explorer perched on the edge of discovering a new way of life…a much slower-paced life…one in harmony with the rhythm and beat of the waves gently lapping the shore in the wake of our long, flat-bottomed panga.
What discoveries lie ahead? Will we find human imprints? Join me as we leave the sliver of civilization known as San Carlos, and glide slowly down the river into the depths of the jungle. Turn up the music! We’re rollin’ on the river Tina Turner style.
A stick, a string, and a dugout canoe that has weathered the tests of time on the river…I think the fishermen veins are made of worms.
What must it be like to be raised on a river? Fishing provides time to think, or maybe time to just enjoy the moment. The virtue of patience must run through every fisherman’s veins. Casting alone, I imagine one reviews everything once learned about the grand themes of life on the river.
Children play along the banks, while a father ponders, “How the heck will I erect the roof of my new house?” Enlarge the last picture. I guess not every child is happy to see a boat packed with tourists floating by his home.
Houses perch on stilts and colorful laundry waves to us as we continue our journey down the Rio San Juan.
No electric lines, yet I spy solar panels on the roofs of many clapboard houses.
Boats dock in front of every home. They come in all sizes, shapes, and colors.
Life along the river…ahhh…step outside, climb a coconut tree…sit on the dock and watch the world pass you by.
What do river people do all day?
Do I change like a river, widening and deepening, eddying back on myself sometimes, bursting my banks sometimes when there’s too much water, too much life in me, and sometimes dried up from lack of rain? Will the I that is me grow and widen and deepen? Or will I stagnate and become an arid riverbed? Will I allow people to dam me up and confine me to wall so that I flow only where they want? Will I allow them to turn me into a canal to use for they own purposes? Or will I make sure I flow freely, coursing my way through the land and ploughing a valley of my own?”
― Aidan Chambers, This is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn
We float past a few resorts. Here is Hotel Sábalos.
Montecristo River Lodge
We pass under the new bridge. A new road was built in anticipation of increased traffic to a new, more direct border crossing between Nicaragua and Costa Rica following the construction of the Santa Fé bridge across the Rio San Juan. The bridge, which is four lanes wide, 1,187 feet (362 meters) long, 131 feet (40 meters) high and was built by the Japanese at a cost of US$30 million, is now finished. However, the bridge and the border remain closed due to bad relations between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Stay tuned.
We stopped to pick up passengers with wiggling sacks. Riding the boat is a similar experience to riding on a chicken bus. We made several stops with people loading mysterious sacks of wiggling things into the boat.
Next stop, the river town of Boca de Sábalo, which functions as the capital of the region.
We are almost to El Castillo. Does anyone need a bathroom break?
It’s been a wonderful river journey. A small refreshing nap is just the thing to renew one’s strength.
Rounding a bend in the river, we see the historical town of El Castillo ahead. This is to be our home away from home for the next few days.
Rollin’ on the Rio San Juan was one of those nice and easy kind of days. But, like Tina Turner says, “We never do nothin’ nice and easy because sometimes we like to do it rough”. Stay tuned for pirates, cannons, rapids, river battles, and a trip to the local medical clinic.