Obviously the next logical step after Cuba is Nicaragua. Dasha and I flew into Managua, jumped on the internet at the airport and started doing some research about the place. We read lots of warnings about how dangerous the country is and particularly not to share taxis with other people – ok, that’s good to know. Our search for cheap accommodation was not going well. The information desk didn’t speak English, but much worse than that, they didn’t have any information! A taxi driver was paying me plenty of attention so I thought I would see if he could be of any assistance. Eventually information found me a phone number for the hostel I wanted to stay at. I called them, they had plenty of space and our mate the taxi driver drove us there. Nice place with a kitchen, swimming pool and wifi – back in civilisation! We walked down to the food court. It was horrible. Full of every American franchise you could imagine. I can’t believe the atrocious effect America has on surrounding countries who imagine one day living the American dream.
The next day we spent almost all day by the pool catching up on hundreds of emails and the like. The remaining portion of the day we spent in the pool, at the supermarket or in the kitchen making the world’s most delicious fresh salad sandwiches and vego pasta – so, so good after a month in Cuba. We had a few beers locally with a couple of Canadian dudes we met, but didn’t find too much action. Managua’s not a place that you can safely go wondering around anywhere you want, so really need taxi’s to cross town.
The next day, a taxi to the bus station, straight on to a bus to Rivas, 20 min wait and on to the next bus to San Juan Del Sur. Found ourselves accommodation 20m from the bus stop and after a few hours found my brother, Jozza!! Beer beer beer happy happy happy!
San Juan is a very touristy (mainly Americans) town on the beach. One of the main reasons for coming here is to surf, but the surf beaches are a short drive, or long bicycle ride as it was for us, away. We were looking for accommodation for a month, but with Semana Santa, or Easter Week, approaching everything was booked out. Apparently the town goes from 20,000 to 200,000 people for the busiest weekend. We hopped in a cab and went to El Gigante, following some advice of locals and the internet. We stayed one night in this small, quiet town to check out the area. It was a 15 min walk to the first surf beach, Amarillo. Another decent hike along the beach and around the point and we arrived to Colorados, the main break in the area. Here there were a few big fancy houses on the beach. We saw a few people sitting on their front fence and went for a chat, to see if they knew of any accommodation available. Turns out Seth and Lindsay were managing a few houses and had just one left. We went and checked out the two storey townhouse overlooking the golf course. By our standards, it was quite luxurious, yet surprisingly affordable. With only a 5 min walk to the closest beach, Panga Drops, we took it immediately.
This was our new home for the next month. It’s part of the Hacienda Iguana golf and surf resort. There‘s really nothing around, no shops or supermarkets, only two choices of quite uninspiring restaurants and a few friendly neighbours. There’s constant security, the head of which is a reptilian type character by the name of Eric Phillips, who has been known to eat small animals if they cross his path.
We spent the entire month surfing once or twice a day as we felt necessary with the boards we hired. We spent most of our time at Panga Drops – not the easiest wave for beginners, but we gave it our best crack. Jozza spent a bit more time at Colarados and was super stoked to get into a few barrels.
We only had a few days each without surf. Mine was after copping a fin to the face and splitting my nose open to the bone (or is actually cartilage?). The very next day I was feeling pretty crook and actually collapsed on the beach, apparently due to food poisoning. I’ve only felt similar to that once before – the first day of this trip at the airport in Melbourne. I also missed one day due to a severe hangover the day after my birthday. I thought that was reasonable. Dasha kept smacking herself in the nose with her board, but I think the only thing that kept her out of the water was her strained ribs. Joz had just a couple of days off due to a cut on his leg. It seemed like pretty much every day one of us was hurting ourselves somehow.
I mentioned that this was a very remote place. Most of the time we were lucky enough to get a ride with a neighbour in to town to do our grocery shopping. Without this help it would be very difficult, especially for the large quantities of beer required. One morning I went on a mission to Rivas using the public transport. It was a 50 minute walk to the front gate, which I timed very well – the next bus (big old yellow American school bus that you see in all the movies), which only run every two hours, was there within a minute. It was already quite full as I climbed in the back door. There were still some women with bags waiting to get on, so I got out to make room and climbed up the ladder and onto the roof with a few of the locals. The whole journey we were ducking and weaving to avoid trees. At one point a monkey howled loudly at us as we drove directly underneath him, only a couple of metres away. After about an hour we arrived in Tola, a small village. Here we all had to get off. The bus drove around the corner and parked again to pick up more passengers. It was very confusing. The bus was totally packed and I had to stand there and watch it drive away with locals barely hanging on to the bars on the back of the bus – crazy buggers. Everyone else who didn’t get on were waiting for communal taxis. After maybe 15 minutes another bus turned up and we all piled on. Surprisingly, I was back on the roof. I think it was another 40 minutes and I finally made it to Rivas. Close to 3 hours for about 30km.
Surf by day, beer by night and next thing a whole month is gone. We all progressed with our surfing, but still have a lot of work to do. We called in to Granada for a night on our way back to Managua. It was nothing special, but much more comfortable and relaxing than Managua.
While in Managua, I got to have a day trip to visit my World Vision sponsor child. What a brilliant day! I caught a taxi to the office and met Odeir there. We drove down to the Masaya office where we met Carlos, his Aunty (Arlin?) and her son Cristian. We went to Carlos’ school which was incredible. Carlos took me by the hand and led me into his classroom – he was the king, showing off his gringo donor.
Then we had a full school assembly, opening with prayer and the national anthem, then followed by dancing and singing performed by some of the secondary students on the stage in front of the welcoming banner and balloons that had been set up for me.
Carlos took control of the photography for me, taking about 180 photos. There was speeches by the principal, parents committee and a community leader. It was amazing how genuinely grateful everyone was for my support. Even though I was the first ever donor to visit this community, I had no doubt that they knew the money was coming from real people, not just some imaginary endless foreign fund. I received a certificate of appreciation and a gift and then had to make a speech myself. This was followed by a tour of the arts section. Apparently government schools don’t have these kind of facilities and materials. And all of the students choose to take these courses as extra curricula activities outside of normal class times. Everyone was very proud of what they had, so nice to see. We sat in the computer room for a bit of a chat with the principal, community leaders and world vision staff and facilitators. The sincerity shone through. After that it was off to a restaurant with una buena vista. Then it was time for farewells. Arlin was also very grateful for the visit. It was a shame I couldn’t meet Carlos’ mother, but she had to work. Carlos was of course very shy at the start of the day but I scored a big hug at the end of it. He looked so funny with his new oversized Essendon jacket on clinging to his frisbee.The only big shame for the whole day was that my Spanish is so poor. Maybe again in 5 years time….
From Managua Joz and I shot up to Leon. It’s the country’s second largest city, but much more vibrant and flowing than Managua. The highlight here was our trip to an active volcano. We didn’t get to see any lava, just a bit of stinky steam and smoke. But the entire outside of the mountain is covered in volcanic rock, on one particular side, about the size of gravel. This makes it possible to slide down on a sled, or bum board, at potentially high speeds.
Yes, very fast, but I didn’t break the mens record of 84km/h, or the womens, 87km/h! But when I got off at the bottom I was shaking, adrenalin pumping. A few mojitos and I was back on the level. Luckily, because we had to focus on the mission at hand. Our bus was departing at stupid o’clock, so we had to push through. Along with some new friends, we found a reggae bar for some beers, then followed it up with a late night venue, which was surprisingly, yet not disappointingly, empty. We left there at 3, finished packing our bags and wandered up the road for a taxi, which luckily was there within a few minutes. We were at our bus stop (petrol station) by 3.30 for our 4.00 bus as required. There weren’t any other passengers waiting with us, but there were quite a few locals hanging around boozing, in a few different groups. A little bit of a sketchy place to be hanging out, especially in a Central American country! Joz just started playing his guitar and trying to make friends with everyone, with the theory that if one group started hassling us someone else would stick up for us. The petrol station sold beer which was handy. It got to 5, still no bus, starting to worry. A dude told us we could go with him at 8 for free…. maybe, we said. Joz had a girl doing a bit of a pole dance for him in the petrol station while he was buying beer. All a bit random really. We asked the staff at the petrol station, they said the bus is often an hour late, but never 2. It was after 6 by the time it came. Pretty glad to get out of there and farewell our cocaine sniffing ‘brother’.
I think that’s the first time I have ever slept through an entire country – Honduras. And so we made it to El Salvador.