Believe it or not, I, Steven Melnick, found Jesus. Yep. Not kidding. Right there in Nicaragua in the most unlikely place. Those who know me well are aware the last time I went to church regularly was for a date (seriously). But there, looking out over the beautiful beach of San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua, I found Jesus.
Perhaps a little background might put this revelation in context. On an earlier road trip my new friend Robert showed me the “real” Nicaragua as we spent the day visiting some places slightly off the tourist map (see earlier post). On this trip, Robert and I went to San Juan del Sur in the southwest corner of Nicaragua just to the north of the border with Costa Rica. San Juan del Sur lies 140 kilometers south of Managua and is a beautiful little beach town that is very popular with surfers, beach lovers, and tourists. We were there on a week day and it appeared to be a sleepy little town with just a modest amount of activity. Street vendors, small shops selling souvenirs, t-shirts, jewelry, and all manner of chatzkees abound. It is a charming place on the Pacific coast that I could envision spending a good bit of time there when Heide and I go back. Many thanks to my friend Robert for showing it to me.
As we drove through town, we spotted a small hotel high up on the hillside that appeared to have a spectacular view overlooking the town and, importantly, a restaurant. Robert shifted the car into “vertical” and we climbed the hillside making it past security posted at the gate thanks to Robert’s flawless Nicaraguan Spanish. I understood not a word of the conversation but I have no doubt we were important dignitaries on serious business as the guard enthusiastically raised the gate. The view was simply stunning from the top of the hillside overlooking the beach and the harbor. Clearly, Mother Nature’s artistic hand was at work here. As we gazed out at the clear blue skies, beautiful ocean sparkling to the horizon, and the picturesque fishing and recreational boats bobbing at anchor, a sense of tranquility settled over us. It just doesn’t get better than this. One could envision spending all eternity in such a beautiful setting. Surrounded by hills, the beach is a white sand crescent that was intended to be nature’s postcard beckoning to the world.
Standing on top of the hill overlooking San Juan del Sur, one couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the view. As we scanned the hilltops surrounding the beach, something stood out to us both. Look closely at the top of the hillside in the left-center of the photo on the left. At first, we weren’t sure what it was but the zoom lens on my camera suggested a mountaintop shrine. Intrigued, after a delightful lunch of fish caparccio of course and some Nicaraguan beer (Victoria Classico), we jumped in the car and started touring the town working our way toward the mountain top to see if we could discover what sat atop it.
It was no easy trek. We saw no signs pointing toward it and the roads were typical Nicaraguan…potholes tied together with a little asphalt here and there or simply dirt. Since the hilltop was an easy landmark to keep in sight, we eventually made our way to the top. The drive was harrowing enough for its near vertical climb, but the steps up to the top should have had portable defibrillators every few feet. It was an amazing incline. Clearly those who designed it wanted to make sure only dedicated pilgrims were able to complete the journey. The destination at the top, however, was nothing short of breathtaking. As I rounded the last corner of the top step, I found Jesus.
At the summit, overlooking the town of San Juan del Sur and seemingly blessing the town and beach, stood a huge statue of Jesus (Cristo de la Misericordia). It rises 134 meters above sea level and stands 24 meters high (that’s about 440 feet above sea level and almost 79 feet high for my metrically challenged friends). In the base is a small chapel along with a few facts and figures about the statue. I was surprised by its size and, according to a poster on the wall, it is one of some 17 such shrines around the world. Perhaps the most famous is the iconic Christ the Redeemer keeping watch on the antics going on in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Of particular note, Christ the Redeemer stands 30 meters high making the one in Nicaragua just 6 meters shorter. Yet, Cristo de la Misericordia in San Juan del Sur probably remains relatively unknown to much of the world. It is an impressive presence on the hillside. As can be seen in the picture on the left, a group of young people were having a wonderful picnic in the shade of the shrine and were having a great time. Robert and I weren’t quite sure, but it appeared alcohol played an important role in this picnic. Assuming it was wine, it somehow seemed fitting and proper on such hallowed ground.
It is hard to describe the view from that hillside. Perhaps it was a sense of spirituality or the majesty overlooking the town and beach, but it was simply beautiful. The solemn quiet instilled a reverence even though I was pretty sure I’d simultaneously hear the clap of thunder and feel the bolt of lightning upon entering the tiny chapel. Off in the distance from that height, beyond the spit of land at the end of San Juan del Sur beach, one can see the Pacific northwest coastline of Costa Rica. We explored the town on the way down the hillside and stopped at a beach front bar for a quick drink and one last look at the beach. A few people were beach walking and one couple was constructing something indescribable on the sand. Otherwise all was quiet and peaceful. Certainly a place that warrants a return visit.