Motorcycle Diaries: San Juan del Sur to Pearl Lagoon, Nicaragua
Our trip to Pearl Lagoon was the most EPIC motorcycle journey we’ve taken yet in Nicaragua.
The Lagoon – located on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua and 400 kilometers east of Managua – isn’t on the average tourist trail. A large river and two long peninsulas – which only allow very restricted access to the ocean – form this unique setting.
The fresh water is calm and stays very shallow. It is tinted brown from the river, but clean and refreshing to swim in. Locals are seen fishing, crabbing and shrimping at all hours of the day.
Most locals in this region of Nicaragua speak Spanish and English, but either is as likely to be their mother tongue. Their English sounds like the Jamaicans I grew up amongst in Toronto, Canada but with an even thicker accent and with more slang. I often found it easier to communicate in Spanish.
My wingman and wingwoman Adam and Tina were the impedance for this trip to Pearl Lagoon. They had a gap in their personal chef (In Your Home Dining) and classical violin gigs and wanted to spend some real time in the saddle.
Griff almost missed the trip. He didn’t clock the fact that the closing on his new business (Casa Rana) was on the same day we were leaving. Thank goodness for power of attorney.
Video credit for this post goes to Adam. The photos were collected from all of our phones.
We always look for new roads to ride. To get from Granada to Juigalpa we saw two routes on the map.
One was 80 kilometers shorter, but estimated to take the same amount of time. The only impediment we saw was a huge river cutting through the road and no bridge. We later realized this was the least of the challenges to be faced on the “short cut”.
GETTING THERE: DAY 1
The first leg of our trip from San Juan del Sur to Granada was uneventful. A beautiful ride but most of us have driven it a hundred times. We were all excited for the new stretch of virgin blacktop. The paved portion of the ride wound alongside Lake Nicaragua.
We eventually came upon a surface I can only describe as sand on top of hard packed dirt. Any sudden movements had the bikes drifting across the road with our hearts in our throats.
At the river we found a barge ferrying bicycles and other motorcycles to the other side. $1.25 USD paid for all four of us to cross.
On the opposite side of the river we stopped for a beer and rest and marveled at how early we would arrive at our final destination for the day.
On the map Juigalpa looked to be about an hour’s drive. We discussed pushing on past Juigalpa to the next town.
Then came the road filled of washboard, boulders, mud and rivers.
This ride left Tina emotionally frayed and raw vowing never to travel that section of road again. Two hours after our pit stop we were all super pumped to make it to the highway.
We agreed Juigalpa was as far as we were going on day one and we were ready for an easy ride on the pavement.
Then we rode into the heaviest rain I have ever ridden in and it poured down on us for the last 45 minutes. I felt my bike hydroplane once while changing lane positions too quickly.
At this point our only goal left for the day was finding a place to stay with a hot shower. Somehow we found a way to be cold in Nicaragua.
GETTING THERE: DAY 2
After a good night’s sleep we hit the open road with renewed vigor.
The highway from Juigalpa to Rama is full of tight curves and hills. We all leaned forward on our bikes and twisted the throttle for a couple of hours of unadulterated riding bliss.
The last 80 kilometers from Rama to the Pearl Lagoon was an unknown piece of road for us. We had heard accounts of travel time being anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, but none by motorcycle.
What we discovered was a road in the middle of a large construction project. Some of the surfaces were hard packed and easy to travel. Some sections were covered in marble sized gravel that left us gliding from side to side at the slightest twitch of the handlebars.
Then there were the parts of road not even under construction yet.
These sections were reminiscent of Tina’s hell road from the previous day. Throw in a river crossing or two and you get the idea.
We made it to town in about three hours and were ready to take a well earned couple of days rest in Pearl Lagoon.
OUR PEARL LAGOON EXPERIENCE
We all live in San Juan del Sur and are used to the mañana (tomorrow) way of life, but Pearl Lagoon took it to the next level. It’s a very relaxed community that provides a nice escape from tourism.
We have dozens of stories and great memories from our trip. The tales below are only a sampling.
On day one I desperately needed my wet and stinking clothes washed. My moto also needed a bath.
After a few conversations I’d ascertained that one person in town owned a pressure washer. Upon finding him I learned that he was too tired to wash our four motorcycles. He said if we returned the next day while he was washing his bus we could use his equipment for free.
I came across a woman washing a huge pile of clothes and asked if she was taking in laundry. She said sure so I gave her my clothes and asked for a price. She explained that she was washing the family’s laundry – and this was not a laundry business – but she would still wash my clothes.
There was a man standing in front of the house. I asked him if he knew anywhere that I could get my moto washed.
He replied, “Of course. Right here!”
He went inside and a minute later came out with a bucket and a sponge. He set them down beside the hand turned well.
I thought to myself, “Without a hose washing the bike was going to be a great deal of work for him.”
I was wrong.
As the man sat down in his rocking chair I realized the work was for me.
KICKING IT LOCAL
On day two we rode around town to get a feel for the area and even picked up a few hitch hikers on the way.
Later we stopped for lunch and happened to see a three-wheeled motorcycle delivering goods to local businesses.
Since there was a seat and even a canopy we had the bright idea to hire the driver by the hour. We asked him to take us to all the bars and local scenes we wouldn’t find on our own. This was a first for Eyner and he really didn’t know how to take us.
It didn’t take long before Eyner was letting us drive the bike and taking us to the nearby town of Haulover where he lives. Just in case we were in the market for some real estate he stopped at his uncle’s hotel which was for sale.
We made a pit stop at a shack to buy moonshine on route to a girl’s softball game. The game was super one sided so we carried on our way.
Soon after we stumbled upon a lively dominoes tournament. We could hear the tiles slamming on the table over the sound of the motorcycle. The smoky clouds of homegrown billowing up from the tight circle at the domino table primed us for dinner and an end to our tour.
Once back at our hotel we spent the evening with a few coolies and watched an incredible lightning show come across the lagoon.
All lodgings for this trip were between $10 and $20 USD per person per night.
The real standout accommodations were Hotel Los Arcangeles in Juigalpa and Casa del Agua in Granada. Both hotels were near central park. They had hot water, air conditioning and insanely comfortable beds. Breakfast was also included. Casa del Agua also has two pools and a freakin’ air hockey table.
We returned home without any mishaps – which is always an achievement on a motorcycle trip.
After 977 kilometers and six days on the road – with as many river crossings and driving on every type of road surface imaginable – we felt a sense of accomplishment arriving home.
Traveling to and visiting Pearl Lagoon was an exciting and memorable excursion but we were all ready to be “Home for a Rest”.