Nightmare in Nicaragua: Playa Yankee Power Outages

I’d been eyeing this place as a possible vacation spot since I had started planning our trip over a year ago. We had originally intended it to be a ten-day vacation but I splurged and extended it specifically so we could stay here. We stayed at the great Casa Las Mareas in Encanto del Sur, just north of San Juan del Sur. As good as our stay was there, we were excited to come here. I’d had visions of teaching our eldest daughter to swim in the pool here while my wife enjoyed the view with our younger daughter. We got there on a Wednesday. The view heading to the water was spectacular but immediately marred by the sight of the green pool; hornets were swarming in the shallow area as well as some elsewhere in the pool. My daughter was understandably freaked out. I asked Gilberto, the caretaker, about it and he said (translated quote), “It’s an open area, there’s nothing you can do about them”. I thought back to our stay at Casa Las Mareas and its pristine pool, also in an open area. I let the idea of asking him to put out wasp traps slide after I realized I didn’t want to dip my head in a pool that looked like this.

The first time the power went out was before 11:00 PM our very first night. My wife and I woke up within five minutes of one another, sweating and wondering why. The fan, our sole source of ventilation, had turned off. We chalked up this outage to the planned power outage the entire San Juan del Sur area goes through on Thursday, figuring maybe they were getting an early start. We had our girls (three years old, seven months old) with us in bed and sweltered through the rest of the night. The following morning, the power came back on briefly, then went out again after about thirty minutes. We (my wife, our two little girls, my uncle and I) took a day trip and came back to the house. The power stayed on for a little over one hour this time, just enough to give us hope that the power issues were behind us. The power went out again and we settled in for another sweltering night.

I arose before sunrise and walked outside. The houses below (known as Beach House Beauty when it was listed on the market) and Casa Alta both had power. A five-minute walk in the opposite direction revealed Casa Monet had power as did Orquídea del Sur. The next day I spoke to the caretaker at length about the issues. I asked him why we were having power issues if we had a solar power system (after I heard the humming and spotted the batteries and put two and two together). He explained to me that the “solar system” had broken six months ago and the panels had been removed. The main power appears to be inexplicably running through the solar power inverter and more than likely through the batteries, as they were humming.

I asked him if the owner was aware of this and he eventually admitted that the owner was in fact aware of the issue with the power going down constantly. It was on this day, our second-to-last full day of our time here, we were told there was a generator available for us. At this point we still weren’t sure if the power issues would continue. My wife and I thought about the sound of the generator and how it would decimate the sound of the ocean way down below, but at least we’d have power. I asked him to please set it up and he agreed to do so. Ten minutes later I heard an engine start and unfortunately for us it was his motorcycle’s and not the house’s generator. Gilberto took off and I didn’t see him again until the next day. My wife tallied our time without electricity and including a three-hour spurt, we had four hours of power and communications (no cell phone reception at the house, no wifi without electricity).

We ignored the groceries we had purchased and placed in the refrigerator for fear of letting out whatever cold air may have been left and spoiling our perishables (these ended up spoiling anyways). We reluctantly went out to dinner again, an hour roundtrip into town, so my uncle and I could get wifi and communicate with our respective jobs and clients. I grew up in El Salvador both during and after its civil war and it was a rare day that the power didn’t go out. I am well aware of the fragility of the power grid in this part of the world. So you can imagine my frustration when every house in the vicinity had power except for ours. This is a completely preventable issue of which the owner is absolutely aware, according to the caretaker.

The next day, Saturday, the caretaker was there and I asked him again, more urgently, to please set up the generator. We even discussed the best place to situate it. He said, “como usted quiera” (as you wish). Not five minutes later, I heard his motorcycle start and by the time I got out there all I saw was the dust rooster tail that disintegrated before my frustrated eyes. That dust cloud would be the last sign of Gilberto for the duration of our trip. Rather than enjoy our last vacation day, we planned our first of what would turn into three trips into town (down a VERY bumpy long stretch of dirt/rock road). We had to go there because the next day was our last day, and we had to confirm our trip to the Liberia airport in Costa Rica. We had no way of communicating from the house because of the power issues.

We didn’t know when and if or for how long the power would come back so we got ahead of the issue and drove into San Juan del Sur. We were able to message the shuttle company, the rental car pick-up person, and the surf shop from which I’d rented my surfboard to coordinate. We didn’t get to confirm with everyone, so another trip was necessary before our last trip in the evening to ensure nothing had changed for the next day and get dinner (more unnecessary gas and food costs we could have avoided had the owner cared). The power was out when we got back all three times, but came on for about four hours total again. We never saw Gilberto again. We left the keys hanging by the door hoping they’d make it back to him without issues. We never got any guidance on what to do with our trash and spoiled groceries. The shuttle came and we were relieved to be gone.

How terrible does one’s experience have to be when they can’t wait to get home from vacation? We were absolutely blissful at our first rental and are completely angry with the owners and manager for what amounts to fraud. The crystalline pool shown in the Airbnb listings was so inviting and we arrived to a hornet-blanketed science experiment. Lack of power to only this house meant stress for everyone involved. I couldn’t get in touch with work clients until I went into town. My uncle was dealing with an intricate project which he dealt with as best he could with the little time we had power and our too-frequent trips to San Juan del Sur.

This was supposed to be the absolute climax of our trip and it was an absolute nightmare. The pool was unusable (the owner did offer to have it “cleaned” our last afternoon there even though I’d sent him pictures where chemicals and time were clearly needed). Nicaragua is blessed with an almost constant wind thanks to Lake Nicaragua. Many houses are shrewdly built to take advantage of the natural ventilation possibilities. The roof eaves at Casa Pablo were short-sightedly dropped down to cover the ventilation holes throughout the house, including those facing the predominant wind direction. This means you won’t get the natural cooling effect as described above. If you have power issues approaching our massive ones, you will be soaking in sweat at night.

UPDATE: The owner wrote me to say I was lying about the generator. He said Gilberto told him he had hooked it up for us. He told me he had seen the above videos (presumably tipped off when I submitted a review) and he still insisted I was lying. Why would I write to him our second full day of our stay and complain if the generator was going and all was well? Why is there no power in the above videos? Why isn’t there the loud sound generators make in the video?

The listing still up on Airbnb as of this writing.

Posted in Airbnb Guest Stories and tagged , , , , , , .

2 Comments

  1. It amazes me the number of people who simply don’t follow procedures with Airbnb. If you had contacted them with the issues they would have intervened with the host and or rehoused you.

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