We spent more days indoors than any other country.
We spent more money on food than in any other country.
We saw more wildlife and crossed more rivers, than in any other country.
We caught the biggest and longest waves of our trip.
1 month and 9 days. It was the second longest time we spent somewhere.
Ticos really are nice. It is true. Pura Vida. They kept giving us stuff: mangos, fish, a place to crash, assistance with Spanish, tips on surf spots.
I remember one the first nights we arrived in the country. I walked down the beach, right after sunrise. It was so beautiful. I am not even sure how to convey the beauty, or what specifically made it more “beautiful” than the 100 other beaches that we have visited. I came back to camp and said to Dean, it cannot be denied that Costa Rica has really amazing beaches. They have a sense of life and health. There is that.
I must admit that we had a little bit of a bad attitude about Costa Rica (or perhaps it was just some resistance). We had been there before, and we knew it would be more expensive and commercial than the other Central American nations where we have traveled. And it is. But it is difficult to have a bad attitude when you have plentiful surf, kind people, familiar faces, and monkeys.
Day One. We crossed the border amped for our adventure to Witches Rock. There was a silence in the car, both caught up in our daydreams about the famed spot. It is known that if you camp there, you are able to surf (alone) prior to the arrival of the boats, which make day trips from CoCo Beach. We really wanted to camp there. So there we were, driving that 51 km from the border for Santa Rosa National Park. We see the sign, hang a right, roll up to the guard station, open our window, smile…and to our complete surprise…we are…DENIED. No mascotas. huh? This possibility hadn’t even entered our little brains. We were dumbfounded. Silent. Smiles turned upside down. It can’t be? What about? Can we? No, No, No. And No. A young, serious Costa Rican police officer with a buzzed head and mirrored sunglasses looks back at me straight-faced as I attempt to smile a little bit more in my final attempt to cross the line. No. Lupe sits on her little platform. Her expression is the same as it has been for her entire life. We turn the Taco around and the 3 of us spend the next 2 hours brewing in a silence of disappointment. I guess we go to Tamarindo? It will have to do for the night. This was our first day in Costa Rica.
In Tamarindo we camp in the parking area for the town beach. We are cheap and Tamarindo is expensive. It serves the purpose. A couple of drifters roll through. A drunk dude passes out near the truck, claiming to be checking the surf. Women in brightly printed cover ups, and children in sun shirts stare as I attempt to to find el bano de la playa.
Then there is Marbella for a night. We camp at a killer spot on the beach, shaded by trees with the expansive beach on display in front of the Taco. Dean splits his rail and I play in whitewater (that wave scares me). Lupe makes a boyfriend (aka Old Sport).
There is Nanci’s house. She takes us in, feeds us delicious meals, provides us with beds and showers. And how about that caramel corn? We surf some local waves, have good conversation, and enjoy the company of a our new friend.
Juiquillio, Playa Negra, Playa Grande, Avellenas, Santa Cruz, Nicoya
Santa Teresa, Manzanillo. We return to a spot we had been 3 years earlier. A landing in front of a rocky beach with tidal pools. I am really happy to be back in this spot. I have fond memories of a previous trip to Costa Rica in which we stumbled upon this little gem and spent the day frolicking in the water. It is real nice until we put it together that this “landing” maybe acts as a toilet to locals who party at the beach. Let’s get out of here. Our second campsite is beneath the palm fronds. A couple slow days of swimming, beach runs, yoga, spearfishing, cooking over fire and chatting with locals.
Mal Pais. 10 nights. We have a local crew at our campsite: David, Camila, Jake, the french dude who went drunk swimming in the rough surf at 6AM. Playa Carmen, Banana Beach, La Lorna. The owner of the campsite, William, is a kind man. He is an ex-Costa Rican futbol player. He cooks paella on my birthday. We spend time with our friends Marcos and Carlos, whom we left in Popoyo. We make dinner together and hang out at their hostel. Carlos gives Dean a tattoo.
Samara. We reconnect with Will, whom we met in Mexico through our friends George and Rachel. There is Pablitos, surf, tours of local beaches, and some good catching up and hanging out with our new friend.
Playa Camronal, Playa Barigona
Nosara. Playa Guinoes. Dean’s mom visits us along with her friends Cindy and Lois. It is a week of family, quality time, love, nourishment. A nice break. We are replenished, spoiled, and appreciative for all the attention.
Puerto Jimenez. Kaylor, the owner of the local surf shop, takes us in for a night. Dean had painted a mural at his shop a few years ago. We sleep in his garage.
Pavones for 12 days. 6 days camping at the point. It is hot! It rains. We cook over fire. It is hot! I am grumpy. I take out my crankiness in the water (and on Dean). We love the wave and trade time in the water. I practice. Get frustrated. I enjoy the challenge, but grrrr! We watch the waves from our campspot. Dean surfs until he can’t move.
Chinos for 6 nights (pavones part two) We are under a roof, have a bathroom and kitchen, and are in town. We reconnect with a bunch of fellow travelers whom we had met earlier in the trip. Familiar faces are so awesome when you are traveling. We eat hamburgers. I continue to practice. Dean surfs until he is “surfed out”.
Semana Santa is over and we decide that it is time to move on. We will meet Dean’s cousin, Cara, in Panama in a week. Me, Dean, Lupe, Carlos, and Marcos pack into the Toyota and head to the border.
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.
Here is some footage of our drive down the Pacific Coast of Mexico…
Here is a photo montage of our last couple weeks on the road. Included in this set you will find shots of Sara ripping the surf, new friends that we have made while on the road, wildlife, sunsets, and more. While there is no time now to write an extensive blog post right now, I can assure you that Sara is shredding the surf and the Toyota is running great. Within a few days we will be in the state of Oaxaca (located in the Southwest part of Mexico).
Once we departed the ferry from Baja we blazed down the central coast. Puerto Vallarta and the surrounding area is a full blown tourist zone with overpriced everything. So far camping in Sayulita has been the most expensive campground since we left Jersey. We decided to head South South South, more and more. We spent some nights here and there looking for a quaint spot to set up for a bit.
We checked out Playa Pascuales, which is know for its tubes. Traveling surfers from around the globe flock here for world class waves. The swell rolled in just in time to witness some real surfing. These dudes are no-nonsense surfers who know what they’re doing, and do it well. If your unsure of your surfing ability (which I am) its best for you to stay out of the water with the rest of the jokers.
About an hour, or two,South of Pascuales is the small Mexican Indian Village known as La Ticla. The wave at La Ticla is not as heavy and dangerous as Pascuales, but since we arrived there has been a consistent Southwest swell producing anywhere from chest to double over-head waves every day, all day. The camping is cheap, the village is minimal, and the locals (as well as the surf tourists) have been welcoming and generous. We have been here for about a week and plan to stay through Christmas (possibly New Years). There is big surf every day (all day), bathtub warm water, tamale ladies strolling through the camp, and Mexican surf tourists from the big cities telling stories.