I was warned. I can't say that I wasn’t. I had visited San Juan del Sur before and knew the bay is ringed with steep hills. I had thought I had seen what I was up against. Plus I’m from Halifax, with its almost vertical downtown. It’s not like hills are something new for me. But this hill is something else.
Before Alex and I had ever set eyes on our little house, we were depending on our friends, Elisha and Gordon, to describe everything to us (Elisha and Gordon run a popular home finder service here and are to thank for the place we’ve been calling home for a year. They also have a great blog you can check out here). They took a ton of photos and we loved the place immediately. There was just one thing, though. It was up a very steep hill. No problem, we said. We can do hills.
The Hill from the End of Our Driveway
It only gets steeper from here.
Driving up it the first time, I was too filled with excitement to notice the incline, thinking only about checking out our new home. It wasn’t until the next day, when we had to tackle it by ourselves for the first time, that I truly got to meet The Hill (from that point on, capitalized in my mind). I started down slowly, and immediately, I felt the pull of gravity, trying to whisk me down as fast as possible, on my feet or off. Taking the smallest steps I could to control my speed, I focused on my feet and not on the fall I felt was coming at any moment. I reached the bottom, my legs shaking. I felt a moment of triumph before it dawned on me that I would have to climb back it later. I knew that was definitely going to be harder than going down. I’ll spare you the details of me huffing, puffing and sweating as I hauled myself back home. Just know that up is definitely worse than down.
It wasn’t long before I fell afoul of The Hill, one of many people who has fallen victim to it since we arrived. It only took a moment of inattention and one wrong step for me to realize I had underestimated it. Coming back from paying my rent to our landlord who lives farther up The Hill, I stepped on a patch of slippery concrete and before I knew what was happening, I was tumbling down the hill. Luckily I was close to home and came to a stop in our driveway. My left knee was torn up and probably needed stitches, but that was a complication I didn’t feel like dealing with and decided just to resign myself to the scar. I vowed never to underestimate The Hill again.
The Steepest Part of The Hill
The picture doesn't do it justice
Mostly, I managed fine. That doesn't mean that I didn’t curse at it under my breath, especially on really hot days, when I was really tired or when I was carrying a lot in my backpack. All our groceries and laundry needed to be carried up, the sun beating down on me mercilessly. It was the barrier between us and town, making me weigh whether going somewhere was worth having to climb back home later. I would try to plan my day around The Hill, sometimes skipping things because I didn't want to deal with it more than once. Being drunk made the climb seem less painful, filled with the false buoyancy that alcohol gives you. One stumble the wrong way, though, and you might find yourself at the bottom, probably minus some skin that had been there moments before.
Wow, you must be thinking. Why would you live there if this hill was such a pain in the ass?
This isn’t the first time that I’ve been asked this question. The Hill isn’t just notorious with my neighbors, who need to face it everyday. Many expats have had to deal with The Hill once and they never forget the experience. I have been in more than one car that has tried to climb it and failed half way, sliding backwards and crashing into the yard near the bottom (this is an common enough occurrence that the neighbors have erected a barrier to catch any sliding cars so they don't continue onto their property).
There are a few reasons why we’ve decided to stay here, despite the climb. We loved our place as soon as we saw it, and although it isn’t perfect, we like living here. It's quiet and safe and we like all of our neighbors.
Hard to care about the climb when you have a view like this.
But there's more to it, at least for me. In all honesty, I’m glad The Hill is there. While I was an undergrad student, I had to take two science courses to graduate. Being an arts student who didn’t want to tax my brain too hard with math, I chose to take Natural Disasters, a course that was supposed to exist to give arts students an easy science credit. In that class I learned a lot of terrifying things, lots of material for my anxious brain to create interesting nightmare scenarios. Earthquakes were obviously in the forefront of my mind since I was living in Vancouver. But this was also shortly after the 2005 Tsunami and all the footage that had been shown had ingrained itself into my mind.
When we first started talking about moving to Nicaragua, it didn’t pass my notice that it’s a major earthquake zone and that San Juan del Sur has had tsunami in the past. The warning sirens go off from time to time and every time it happens I feel gratitude for The Hill. The whole town might be destroyed, but I will be fine. Unless I’m not at home, then I’m thinking about how fast I can get to the nearest hill.
These days, though, The Hill is not so daunting. This is because, six months ago, we bought the Green Monster, our quad. Gone are the days of lugging twenty pounds of laundry from town. Driving up The Hill has its own trials, though, so I'm in no danger of underestimating it any time soon.