23 wake-ups in Nicaragua.
So, what did we do while there….
Well, let’s backtrack for a moment. We rolled into Assedores, a small village in Northern Nicaragua, on the 18th of February. It was just before sunset. It had been a long day on the road, which included a double border crossing. We were cranky. We navigated the area, searching for a spot to set up camp for the night. We pulled up to Pedro’s, whose hand painted sign of surfboards and tents caught our attention. This should do the trick. I ask, “Podemos acampar aqui?” Two white pick ups with Cali plates had just rolled in, and Pedro informed us that his lot was full with campers and vehicles. Luckily, Hugh, a Canadian expat who happened to be buying water at the time, kindly offered us a spot to park on his nearby farm. It was 2 nights at Hugh’s farm amongst goats, pigs, dogs, and chickens. We met David, Carlos, and Sarah, a trio from California, who also stayed on the property. I practiced my Spanish with Layla, the 4 year old daughter of the neighbor. Lupe frolicked amongst the various animals. Dean sampled some weird fruit that he claims is the best thing he has ever eaten.
We drove North, arriving at the village of Jiquillo early in the morning on the 20th. We scoped the small coastal dirt road for a spot to possibly set up shop for a bit. We pulled up to Rancho Esperanza. It seemed perfect. Perhaps, just what we were looking for? It was 4 nights at the Ranch. It was like a vacation. We met travelers from around the world, ate some tasty food, and enjoyed their extensive library consisting of every book a traveler could desire. There was some surf out front, an abundance of hammocks, and Lupe was able to make some friends. Oh, and how about that $2 fried whole fish next door?! That was a game changer.
Popoyo. Well, then there was that day driving from Jiquillo to Popoyo which turned out to be a little tricky. It began with some transit cops pulling us over, outside of Managua, with claims that were not wearing seatbelts. Tough chance, Matlock. We always wear seat belts. We were not budging and homeboy knew he was in the wrong. We continued on our way. Well, the roads in Nicaragua were slightly more rugged then we had anticipated, and our map was definitely not up to date with the latest road construction (or lack there of). From dirt road to dirt road, we searched for the route to Popoyo. I swear it was on the map! We followed the coast through small villages until the road… suddenly…ended. We inquired with some locals. Does this route exist? We are informed that it would take 30 minutes of driving on the beach to reach our destination. Okay, we can potentially handle that. Let’s give it a try…
So, we began. It was smooth traveling consisting of hard packed sand, late afternoon sunlight hovering above soft breaking ocean waves, open windows, and fresh breeze. Everything was cool. That was…until…the sand…started…to get….deeper. Wheels were spinning. We were stuck. Okay, everybody stay calm. 30 minutes, some frantic shoveling, strategic positioning of rocks and we were, once again, ready to roll.
So now the sun was going down quite rapidly. We would need somewhere to camp…PRONTO. We rolled up to a little nook on the beach, slightly hidden amongst some trees. This would do. Lupe would be securidad for the evening. There was a house nearby and we agreed that it was probably best to check-in with the people and inform them that we were sleeping nearby. This is when we met Lionel. Lionel owns the property and he is building a house on it, along with his brother-in-law. Lionel kindly offered us to camp on his land. It was a beautiful ocean front lot, surrounded by secure fencing. We pulled in, set up, and found a temporary home for the evening. We had a conversation with Lionel, in which he shared stories about his life and travels. He proudly told us about his children who are successful professionals in the States. He also informed us that he had just written a book of poems. It was a nice conversation, and we felt thankful for his hospitality. We were up at sunrise and enjoyed our morning coffee on the rocky point out front.
But wait, there was the morning of driving. We leave Lionel’s with Popoyo as the destination, but somehow we found ourselves back on uncharted dirt roads. It appeared that a wrong turn had brought us off course, but, luckily, we managed to find our way to the meeting of “Eagle”. “Eagle” is a retired Floridian who is now living in Nicaragua. We converse, trade some stories, and he kindly put us back on track. Right on, Eagle!
En route to Popoyo. We rolled into town. We think this is the spot? It is quiet….somewhat deserted. We were unable to locate any signs for camping. Hmmmm…..We started asking around. A Spaniard named Paco, who lives at the Mini-mart, offered us help. He directed us to a nearby restaurant and provided assistance in talking to the owner: $4, shower, close to the break. Perfect. There was 1 night there, but some concerns about security had us looking elsewhere.
We arrived at Finca Popoyo. It is a 10 minute walk down the beach from our first spot, in town. Apparently they don’t usually allow campers, and word on the scene is that we are the first. We are proud of this. There were 10 days here. We formed a small camp/community of sorts. Along side of us, there were 4 surfer dudes from Basque country (turns out that they were the white truck with Cali plates at Pedros’ up in Assedores), and 2 hilarious Spaniards who we had met at the ranch in Jiquillio. There were other travelers, as well, who were part off our nice little community. There was Fer, a surfboard shaper from Basque country, and his beautiful, kind girlfriend, Huen. There was Don, a well-traveled, sociable chocolate maker from Asheville, NC. We also met Elijah and Gideon, two easy-going travelers from Cape Cod. Oh, and Jorge! He was the securidad hefe who LOVED our truck. It was easy living with long, quiet days and familiar faces. Well, that is until Lupe got attacked, I got a surfboard to the head, and we all got fleas…but, hey, it is all part of the adventure. There were surf day trips, goose barnicle hunting expeditions, hamburger nights, Tonas aplenty, nightly Spanish lessons consisting of Dean and I attempting to understand the group. Que pass tio? So, we did learn that, while in the States we say, “What’s up, man?” apparently in Spain they say, “What’s up Uncle?” Who knew. So, we learned something.
Popoyo was really good. It was invigorating.
We then found ourselves in Astillero. We were there for 3 nights. It was just the 3 of us (me, Dean, and Lupe). We enjoyed the quiet of Hostel Hammocas. Mario hooked us up with a fan, we had showers, and uncrowded surf. There were only a few other people staying there, and it was a peaceful spot. Midday was hot, but we camped beneath the shade of tamarindo trees and the ocean was nearby. It soon became time, though, to move….onward.
There was Playa Gigante for a night where we reconnected with Becca and Mark, an Australian couple, traveling in their Kombi to South America. We walked the rocky coastline, before sunset, soaking in the vibe of the village before it was time to continue onward.
Our last night was spent in Playa Maderas, outside San Juan Del Sur. The Taco parked beside Cafe Revolution, at a beachside campspot. We both got in the water, connected with some fellow travelers, made final preparations for the next border crossing, and within a day it was decided that we would be moving on to Costa Rica. Our time in Nicaragua had come to an end.
Nicaragua was rather extreme for us. It had it’s challenges, but they seem to be forgotten amongst the many wonders of the country. As I write these words I recognize that ‘challenges’ seems so relative when traveling through a country. I imagine that this also reflects the country, though- this experience of extremes. There were hot afternoons, water impoverished landscapes, skinny dogs, and the faint smell of burning trash in the air. It was common to see men in oxen-drawn carts, children on horseback, and pigs freely roaming the landscape. There was a seriousness in the people. It was not unfriendly, but there was sense that life is tough. You see it in their brow. There were also the big shady tamarindo trees, expansive beaches, powerful surf, and playful children (so many children!)- all symbols of the life and energy present in the small nation. There was a sense that people work hard and they go out of there way to offer assistance. For that we are thankful.
It took me a little bit to warm up to Nicaragua, but now that I have, I have fallen. I hope to see you again someday, Nicaragua.