After my first bad corporate experience and leaving Minnesota, I decided, to hell … I want to travel & surf somewhere new. First stop: Nicaragua. On my connecting flight from Atlanta to Managua, I met a college student returning home to Esteli. While we were discussing all things Nicaragua, he had asked me how well I spoke Spanish. “Not so good, I didn’t take Spanish at all,” I replied. “How are you going to get around?” he asked. “Well, I guess I’ll find out when I get there”.
I got off the plane, and of course, didn’t know if I wanted to take the taxi only to Managua to catch one of the chicken buses, or take the taxi straight to San Juan del Sur. With my limited knowledge of Spanish, I couldn’t communicate to the taxi driver that spoke no English. Oh great, I thought, day one of learning Spanish on the spot. Instead of getting lost in Managua trying to find the right bus, I decided to take the 2 hour taxi down to San Juan del Sur. Luckily, I was able to bargain down the price to $40 for the long ride.
On the ride down, I couldn’t help but think of how much the scenery and buildings reminded me of my trip in the north coast of the Dominican Republic. Everything was so bright against the baked, yellow dry landscape. I passed by several small towns including Masaya and Rivas, seeing distant volcanoes in the background and Lake Nicaragua. Finally I reached town where I was dropped off in front of Casa Oro, the hostel where I’d stay for the first 3 nights.
The first thing I noticed with San Juan del Sur, was that it was incredibly windy. Almost too windy. I remember reading up on a surf website that mentioned Nicaraguan coastline having great surf year round due to the off-shore winds that blow off from Lake Nicaragua. For those who don’t surf, off-shore winds are ideal to keep the waves breaking clean & glassy, not mushy.
So, during my 2 week stay in late February/early March, the winds were continuously blowing, day & night … where some nights, I thought the roof would blow away. Many days at Playa Maderas, the strong winds would pick up sand and blow it in places you wouldn’t think sand could go. I’d say winds were sustained between 20-30 mph, with gusts up to 45+. You would also need to place rocks on top of surf boards or they would become dangerous flying missiles.
During the first week, I met up with two British girls (known as B + P) and a Colorado couple (Jackie & Brett) on their honeymoon. We all explored San Juan del Sur and then later surfed Playa Maderas. Besides the windy conditions I described before, the beach had more surprises that I didn’t expect.
First, when I jumped into the water, I couldn’t believe it was cold. I thought, I totally did not come all the way down to Central America to get water as cold as New Jersey. I was glad to have met some Chilean surfers that also couldn’t believe the water was so cold, as they escaped Chile to get away from their cold coast. The water temperature had to be somewhere between 60 to 65 degrees F. Some of the local surfers even wore wetsuits! I asked several of the people that lived in the area if the windy conditions and water temperatures were normal for this time of year. They mentioned that both components were abnormal, that the offshore winds should blow no more than 15 mph, and water should be warm.
The second surprise was less of the physical environment and more so with sea creatures. Since the water was abnormally cold, the sting rays made Playa Maderas their home. Yes, you could paddle out and see the sting rays right underneath you. I didn’t notice because without my glasses, I couldn’t discern much underneath the water. When I saw Jackie running out of the water, I thought, shark? So I took a second hard look under the water and noticed round shapes at the bottom. Sweet, surfing with some stingrays below. Sadly, many of these sting rays are hunted I believe, for their tails and then left to die on the beach (check out the second to last photo at bottom page).
After staying three nights in Casa Oro, I was moved up to Casa Maderas since the other hostel did their weekly Thursday fumigation. Although far away from San Juan del Sur town, this newly open eco-lodge was a great place to stay, super clean, and close to the beach. As I met more backpackers each night, I would soon make two new great friends. Well, both were great friends to all of us. And those two friends were: Flor de Caña & Toña. Yes, le ron y la cerveza de Nicaragua. What else to do in paradise than to relax from a day of surfing to some nice cold Toña & cuba libre.
Have you traveled to a place where you had other expectations?
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