Street art in San Juan del Sur

World’s Worst Pickpocket – San Juan del Sur

Heat radiated from the makeshift grill standing crookedly beside the sidewalk. The early afternoon was already hot. On the grill was a wok of oil-boiled empanadas. Pieces of chicken and pork lay directly on the grate next to the wok, sizzling above the smoldering firewood. Trin pointed to the piece he wanted and asked, “cuanto cuesta” ( how much). The lady responded with the price in cordobas. It came with a full bag of homemade plantain chips and a side of Nicaraguan cabbage slaw.

The Crooked-Toothed Thief

Trins lunch in San Juan Del Sur

Standing by the busy street that had items of local produce on display, waiting for the meal to be ready, I felt somebody’s hands press against both sides of my waist. I looked over at Trin. He had one hand holding his cell phone and the other by his side. By then, the hands were feeling over my pockets.

I twisted around to the would-be thief behind me. There stood a woman bedraggled with age. She smiled at me unapologetically, exposing brown, crooked teeth. I felt a small surge of anger at this intrusion of personal space, this insolent act taken with such liberty. She didn’t even try to hide her intentions. I told her to keep her hands off me. I had spoken in English, but my tone delivered the message unequivocally.

She stepped back as the crazed grin disappeared from her face. After a moment and then she raised one hand in the air and let out a jeering howl. It seemed to me that behind her facade, a pang of embarrassment spurred this juvenile attempt to save face. The surrounding people didn’t seem to notice, as if this was a daily occurrence in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.

Finally, our meal was ready, the food placed directly in a plastic bag and handed to us.

Market in San Juan Del Sur

We had read about the rise of petty crime directed towards tourists in this town, an erstwhile, small fishing village that has developed into a popular tourist town that offers surfing, sailing, and fishing. There’s a lot of construction going on, entrepreneurs taking advantage of the rising popularity of this small little town. There was a cruise ship docked just off the shore beyond the numerous fishing boats that were anchored near the beach.

Sunset in San Juan Del Sur

Refugee Camp

Yesterday, we passed a refugee camp on our way out of Costa Rica, just before crossing the border into Nicaragua at Peñas Blancas by local bus. We later learned that the camp was primarily composed of refugees from Africa, Haiti, and Cuba, all hoping to reach the United States. This surge in migration is partly driven by fears that U.S. asylum rights for Cubans might soon be terminated. Many immigrants initially travel to Ecuador, attracted by its liberal immigration policies, and then journey northward. Recently, however, Nicaragua has been denying these migrants’ entry at the border.

Our border crossing went relatively smoothly. After reading numerous articles by travel bloggers about their experiences, we were prepared. As we reached the Nicaraguan side, we encountered a squad of border guards armed with AK47s. Exiting the Migration office, it felt like swimming through a sea of taxi drivers, each inquiring about our destination. A border guard advised us that the bus fare should be only 30 cordobas, yet the drivers charged us double. Despite our attempts to bargain, we ended up paying the “gringo price,” just like the other tourists on the bus.

Police on the Nicaragua border

A Hold-Up of Sorts

Inside the bus, every seat was taken and the aisle was crowded with people. Locals jostled and shoved as they made their way toward the back. We were on an old school bus originally from the United States. Most of the windows were cracked. At one point, someone had tinted the windows, but the film had mostly peeled off. We were on a chicken bus.

Crowded bus in Nicaragua

After taking on a few more passengers, the driver finally pulled out onto the highway. Just five minutes later, the bus halted and a uniformed military officer boarded. He instructed everyone to present their passports and began inspecting them, working his way to the back of the bus. Outside, three other military personnel armed with AK47s stood watch. The bus sat idle for about twenty minutes during the passport check.

Police on the way to San Juan Del Sur

Finally, the bus started moving again. We disembarked at La Virgen to take a connecting bus to San Juan. This time, we paid the same fare as the locals and we made it to San Juan without further incident.

San Juan del Sur

San Juan del Sur is perfect for those who like to party. We are not into the party life but enjoyed walking around the small town and felt very safe despite the run-in with that mediocre pickpocket.

downtown San Juan Del Sur
Downtown San Juan del Sur
beautiful gates in San Juan Del Sur
Doors, they really know how to make doors. Lots of beautiful entryways.
Monkey in San Juan Del Sur
You never know what you may see next, such as someone’s pet monkey

The home we stayed in was made of concrete, with bars over the windows and doors, allowing us to enjoy the ocean breeze without worrying about security at night. Another guest occupied the adjacent room—a journalist who was very respectful and concerned about not being intrusive. We spoke only a few times; he usually slept through the mornings and spent his nights out at bars.

Airbnb in San Juan Del Sur
Trin on his laptop in our living room figuring out the transit details to our next destination.
The beach is guarded by an enormous statue of Christ at the top of the hill to the right.

1 thought on “World’s Worst Pickpocket – San Juan del Sur”

  1. Love seeing the pictures. Keep posting them and writing your blog. I feel like I am right there with you enjoying the countries.

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