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August 26, 2007

Nicaragua... part II

Even the best laid plans fall apart... Well actually I'm not sure our plan was that well thought out but whose judging.

Josh and I both felt a need to get out of the States for a while and after some convincing he was keen on a mission to Nicaragua. The way it worked out we flew a day apart. The plan was simple. Fly to Atlanta and then down to Managua (Nicaragua's capital), get on a bus for four hours, get off in San Juan Del Sur and then some how get another 12km up the coast to a random backpacker's called the eco-lodge. No wucker's aye.

Down Town San Juan Del Sur - tough finding a park...

Turns out that the eco-lodge didn't exist any more as it had been brought out and was in the process of being turned into some big arse ugly military looking resort. Bugger!

Now that this wasn't an option I elected to stay at the Playa Maderas 'chicken shack' about a km back down the beach and then try and find Josh later, after I went for a surf... and maybe a few beers.

It's funny how things turn out some times. After surfing for a few hours I headed back into the beach (in search of beer) and wadayaknow, Josh is standing on the beach drinking beer - a day early and in the wrong place. Some how he had knocked almost a day off my travel time and turned up on the right random beach at the right random time. Go figure.

A sudden rain storm offers cooler temperatures, temporarily


After being slightly weirded out by this we settled into a few local beers (Victoria) and let Nicaragua soak in. The scene at the 'chicken shack' was pretty cool with a mix of local surfers and non-surfers as well as a bunch of foreigners such as myself staying upstairs. After about 5pm things would empty out a bunch with the last of the shuttles heading back to town and the cafe (if that's what you could call it that... do cafes cook there chicken on the ground outside?). This left us with hour or so to surf before dark and then plenty of time to chill late into the evening, perhaps chill is the wrong term as it was often still in the 30's, so we were left with time to be more 'less hot'.

The beach would come alive after dark with masses of orange and purple crabs scouring the sand for morsels left over from the high tides. The local hermit crabs were also very active during the evening as well. The are much like kiwi hermit crabs only four times bigger and everywhere.

The real locals at Playa Maderas. Its the quick or the dinner for Frigate birds that hover above.

After all the beer had been drunk and bugs swatted it was time to douse yourself in as much bug spray as you could stand to help ward off the malaria mossies. This process had to be under taken in a well ventilated area due to the severe nature of Central American bug spray. I figure that it was probably illegal every where else in the world, but when in Rome.

Our days would usually start at about 5.30am with a stumble out onto the deck to check the surf through sleep encrusted eyes. This was more of a formality because we knew the surf was going to be great but it brought us time until our basic motor skills got going (walking, grunting and scratching).

Starting the day Playa Maderas style
Photo: Josh Neilson

The early morning surfs were always great because it was just a few of the temporary locals out and there were plenty of waves to be had for those you were awake enough. Back in NZ you would be awake after the first duck dive and maybe already in the early stages of hypothermia, but here it was already in the mid 20's so waking took a little longer.

Josh Neilson getting amongst the action at Playa Maderas

This became our daily ritual and I still can't think of a better way to start the day (well maybe one). After a few hours out surfing hunger would start to call and it was back to the shack for some chips or crackers. Food wasn't a major for Josh or myself.

It was about now the crowds would arrive from San Juan on the first of the days shuttles so we would then head into town for more exploration of the markets and stalls and to find new unsuspecting people to practice our appalling Spanish on.

Our Air-Conditioned Shuttle

Tucked away in the middle of town was a fantastic little market. First impressions weren't that flash but after I realised that this wasn't the local supermarket then things went fine. Although the major challenge lay in trying to communicate with the locals and stall vendors I found smaller challenges in little things like finding bananas that weren't black and 'what is that thing' and 'will I die or become seriously ill if I eat that'. From the market then it was down to the local store to pick up a few more supplies. Namely big containers of water and packets of salt and vinegar chips. Its amazing how much you sweat just walking around so we would always have a plentiful supply of chips.

Actually, Nicaragua is the first place I have broken a sweat drinking a beer.

From here it was back onto the shuttle (back of a truck) for the bone jarring and always entertaining ride back out to the beach. Here we would drop off the supplies and straight into the water to escape from the heat. Surf for a few hours with the crowds and then back to the shack for a quick break. This usually involved drinking a few litres of water, downing a pack of chips and a local beer - Tonya (our new favourite) before heading back out to surf until after dark. Repeat steps daily.


Some dude called Action Jackson running the left line.
Photo: Josh Neilson

Sadly with my body totally ruined from hours of surfing abuse day after day, it was time for me to leave and head back north to the U.S. I was a little wiser now a forked out the extra cash for an air-con taxi all the way to the airport. This changed a four and a half hour trip into just over two hours. Just as well because some of my 'farewell' Tonya's were coming back to haunt me.

My trip back to the U.S. was pretty straight forward apart from the two ladies who did there best to convert me to the ways of Jesus on the flight to the States. Then my bags were lost between Atlanta and Sacramento and the mighty Subaru had managed to blow a tire out in the airport car park. Always a welcome discovery sometime after midnight. Go the space saver tire.

August 12, 2007

Nicaragua... part 1

Trust neither the chicken nor a fart… Ahh the joys of travelling in Central America. With a some time off work and a need to get out of North America I took the trip south to explore Nicaragua.



My initial plan was to head down to Costa Rica and search out some off the world famous surf found along its coastlines. After talking with some folk in the know, plans changed and Nicaragua’s capital Managua was my new destination. From there I was going to head to the Southwest coast to surf.

Cuba from 30 000 feet

Six hours in the car had me at Sacramento Airport and onto a flight to Atlanta, Georgia. With a short stop over it was onto another flight to Managua, Nicaragua’s Capital city. Not speaking a lick of Spanish I picked a phrase book in Atlanta and decided that now was a as good a time as any to start learning. I was fortunate enough to meet a Danish girl of the plane who spoke fluent Spanish so she gave me a few pointers.

San Juan Del Sur's CBD at rush hour

The phrase ‘Culture Shock’ springs to mind as I have never been to a third world country before nor a country that spoke another language. This all became very apparent to me as I sat on a bus and trundled my way south with every man and their Spanish speaking dog. Here I was sweating hard in Central America having travelled non-stop for almost 24 hours, tired, dehydrated and needing to piss (I know, go figure) and paranoid about sleeping in case some dodgy bugger tried to steal my bag. In a matter of hours my Lonely Planet phrase book had become my life line.

Ono momento por favor…. One moment please.
Abla oon poko de espaniol…. I speak a little Spanish.

Of course the spelling is all wrong as I had to write everything down phonetically which then would back fire more when 'who ever' tried to read what I was trying to say...

We got to meet some of the locals while out and about in town


As useful as my treasured book was at helping me communicate with people it was completely useless as soon as they spoke to me. It’s pretty funny how folk feel that if they say something slow enough and loud enough that you will, all of a sudden learn Spanish. Needless to say I got used to being talked 'at' pretty quickly.

My four hour, 120km/ 75 mile bone jarring ride deposited me late in the day in the coastal town of San Juan Del Sur. Weary from all the travel and in need of a shower and sleep I checked into the least scummy place I could find and called it good.

Local fishing fleet at San Juan Del Sur

After exploring town and a quick shop, by quick I mean 20 minutes to buy five items due to my lack of Spanish, I was ready to head north to my final destination. Playa Maderas (Maderas beach). I caught the 11am shuttle and left at the crack of 1.30pm (Nicaragua time) and bounced my way 20 minutes north to Playa Maderas, home to the best surf in the area for good reason.


Home sweet home... bed bugs and all

With left and right hand breaks on offer and bath temperature water it was the perfect place to spend a few days getting back into some surfing. I hired a surfboard from a couple of brother who ran a surf shop in San Juan Del Sur. After haggling offer boards and prices in my limited (extremely limited) Spanish I picked up a near new 7’2” for US$10 a day or C$180 (Cordoba).


US$5 or C$90 a night is tough to beat with this view. Playa Maderas doing it's thing

After checking into my new home it was straight into the water to score some long over due waves.

Famous for its sunsets for good reason. My first night in Central America

Nicaragua is unique in the fact the wind blows offshore all day for 330 days a year. For the non-surfers - off shore winds help clean the waves making them smooth, glassy and fantastic for surfing. In most places this only happens early morning and later in the evening before localised sea breezes pick up during the day. Sweet running.

Stay tuned for more soon…