San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Quiet Town Developing into Leading Tourist Spot

SAN JUAN DEL SUR, Nicaragua – The southerncoastal town of San Juan del Sur has changed a lot in the lastfew years. This quiet town on the Pacific used to be composedalmost entirely of anglers.Now, area residents are heading off to universities in theregional capital of Rivas or Managua to study tourism. Smallrestaurants, bars and pizzerias dot the streets leading to thebeach. New hotels are opening all the time. Real estate is redhot.In this town of roughly 5,000 inhabitants, there are sixreal estate companies.Jonas Rodríguez, who grew up in San Juan del Sur, saidthe changes are positive as the extra people translate to extracustomers and shine a brighter light on the future for thetown. There is more work now because of it, he added.“The kids who used to go to the capital to study stayedthere,” Rodríguez said. “It was easier to find work in thecapital and it paid better. They didn’t want to come home.Now, though, more and more of them are staying here towork. Now, it’s possible.”OF course, not everything is rosy. Prices have risenslightly on everything from a loaf of bread to property, butthat is to be expected, Rodríguez said.“Obviously, when there’s more demand, prices go up,”he said.Brenda Bermudez sees things slightly differently. Shemoved to San Juan del Sur 10 years ago. She and her threeyoung sons ended up in San Juan del Sur and sell jewelrynear the beach.“We want the tourists to come,” she said, “but we don’twant them buying our land.”She proceeded to tell several sob stories about uncles,neighbors and friends who were talked into selling their landfor what seemed like a lot of money, only to find out that thereal estate agent would turn around and sell it for eight, nine,even 10 times the price to foreigners.Now, she says, those people used tofarming and living on the outskirts of townhave had to move to the center of town,while the more affluent foreigners are buyingup property in the hills overlooking theocean.RANDALL Granja is in agreement withRodríguez, and said that the economy andquality of life for the area residents havegotten better with the growing number offoreigners.“People who used to fish for a living cannow make their living working at a bar or arestaurant. Some use their fishing boats togive tours or take the surfers to the surfingbeaches. There are more options now.”The front rooms of homes have alsobeen converted into stores.“Even in just the three years I’ve beencoming here,” said Meghan Field, a graduate student, “I’ve seen so manypeople open up stores in the front of theirhomes. Every time I come here, there are afew more stores or restaurants. I think it’sgreat.”The foreigners are also starting projectsto benefit the residents. Field, on her timeoff from school, helps Jane Mirandette withone of Nicaragua’s few lending libraries (see related story).The library has made books available to people who do nothave the means to buy books, and most libraries inNicaragua do not allow the removal of books from the building.JEAN Brugger started the A. Jean Brugger EducationProject out of the hotel she co-owns, Pelican Eyes.“We think jobs and education are of primary importance,”she said. “The problem is that it takes money. Kidscannot go to school without a uniform, and many of themonly have one set of clothes and can’t afford a uniform.”The foundation began in 1999 and currently is supporting25 kids by buying their uniforms and paying theirtuition. Instead of buying the uniforms from the market, thefoundation has employed 14 women in town to sew the uniforms.Lucky for them, these women will probably never runout of work, because the kids are always growing.“A lot of the kids we support are studying tourism. If it’snot yet, it will be the No. 1 income producer in this country,”Brugger said. “I would like for them to stay here, but I thinkthe kids will go where the jobs are. Tourism will be either thesavior or damnation of this place.”

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