Last Thursday we finished up our last day of school. It is such a relief to be done with our first year of teaching! On Friday we finished cleaning our our classrooms and said goodbye to all of the staff, and then on Saturday we flew out of Costa Rica to Nicaragua with our friend Ashley.
We landed in Managua and got a cab to take us to the beachtown of Masachapa, about a 1 1/2 hour drive. Unfortunately we paid way more than we should have for the taxi, so now we will know what to expect next time.
Nicaragua was very hot and dry, but still really green. When we got to Masachapa it didn't look like much of a town. We saw a lot of rundown buildings and a few little places to eat, but no fancy hotels or tourist attractions that one would expect in Costa Rica.
We drove directly through the town (which seemed to be the length of a few soccer fields) and ended up at the beach. We saw a nice looking place directly on the beach and were pleasantly surprised to learn that it was the place we had reserved, the Hotel Summer. The Hotel Summer had an open restaurant right on the beach (and right over the water at high tide), a small bar, a swimming pool with Nicaraguan families splashing around in it, and a bright orange and green paint job. It was sort of like a mini-resort.
We went down to the beach, where everything was centered around fishing. Fishing boats were either launching or coming in all the time. Groups of people would flock to the panga boats to help haul in the catches and roll in the boats on big logs. Old ladies walked around with big bowls balanced on their heads selling ceviche in little cups, kids rolled around in the shore break, and stray dogs played with each other on the sand. We crossed a little river and found a spot in the sand with a little bit of shade from a nearby wall. The weather was ridiculously hot, but it was still nice to relax on the beach and read. Later on we hung out at the pool, ate seafood at the hotel's restaurant, drank Victoria and Tona beers, and played cards.
The next day after breakfast we walked south along the beach to Pochomil, a nearby beach town that is a little more touristy. There are huts along the beach where you can relax and have a nice meal, and the weather was so hot that we stopped at the first hut that we came across. For a while we just hung out reading and drinking soda and beer. Later I tried to surf, but the swell was too big for the beach break to handle and everything closed out. After a couple of hours we ordered a nice lunch. I got 3 langostinas (small lobsters) for about $10. Pochomil was pleasant, but it also had some downsides. For example, every 5 minutes you would hear the sound of shaking shells and someone would come up to you with shell necklaces that they wanted to sell. This literally happened all day, and some of the people would not leave after you said no. Guys with horses would come up to you and do the same thing, asking you to go on horseback rides. Perhaps the most annoying part was the ATVs that were constantly buzzing all over the beach. Pochomil was still pretty fun. That night there was still no rain, although there was plenty of lightning that lit up the ocean.
I knew that there was surf within the general area of Masachapa, although it became clear that you needed a car to reach the good spots. Fortunately I met a couple of surfers from Scotland, Pascal and Goony, who offered me a ride to a reef break about 1/2 hour south. We ended up having to cross 2 rivers in their Toyota Yaris (the Latin American Corolla) only to reach a giant, steep rock outcropping in the road that was totally impassible. Fortunately a little old man with a machete was driving his cattle along the road around the same time, and he told us that we had gone the wrong way. On the way back to the correct road we passed some gated areas that looked like they had beach access. The Scotsmen convinced me to use my Spanish to ask the guards if we could go visit our "friends" who were staying down at the beach. The guards called my bluff, walked up with their big shotguns, and politely asked us to leave. We eventually found Pochomil Viejo, a beach front town with a bunch of old houses that have been destroyed by storms. It was kind of surreal walking through the post-apocalyptic-like village of abandoned buildings, on our way out to the pounding surf. The waves at Pochomil Viejo were decent, and pretty powerful. Also, the wind was offshore all day. After our surf we went back to each lunch at the hotel, then headed up north to check some other surf spots. We ended up surfing in front of the Montelimar hotel, which had clean little waves peeling along the shore. Ashley and Allie spent their day taking another stroll to Pochomil, and then returned to the hotel to read and relax by the pool.
The following day was similar, except we hired a guide to take us to a secret surfspot up north called San Diego. San Diego was a great left point break out in the middle of nowhere. We waited for the tide to get a little higher before we surfed, and a strange little Nica man in his underwear (everybody swims in their underwear there, not just kids) decided to chat with us. I think that he was probably pretty drunk and he seemed like a strange guy, but he seemed harmless and made it very clear that he wanted to stay and watch us surf. When the tide finally got a little higher we paddled out to the point and were surprised by the size and power of the waves. It was really tricky to surf the fast, hollow left without falling, but it was really rewarding to get a good one. Our guide turned out to be a really cool guy, and was actually one of the first surfers in Nicaragua. He got old boards from his gringo boss that he would repair and give to the local kids in Masachapa so that they could learn how to surf.
The next few days in Masachapa was basically just more of the same. Pool, books, cards, eating, drinking, shower, and repeat. One thing that we began to realize was that Nicaraguan food is not as healthy as Costa Rican. Almost everything is fried in a lot of butter, and there are not many fruits or vegetables. Allie and Ashley don't eat meat, and we joked that Masachapa was a vegetarian's hell. In fact, when we went to a different restaurant in hopes of finding vegetarian food, the old lady working told us that there was not menu because all they served was meat. There was definitely some good seafood, but by the end of our trip we were ready for something healthier.
The people (Nicas) were pretty nice overall. It is definitely a poor country, and there are many beggars. Almost all of the kids know how to say "one dollar" in hopes of getting some easy money. The Nicas have thicker accents than Costa Ricans, and it was hard for us to understand them at times. Also, after our first few days, the staff at our hotel/restaurant began to ignore us and our service became worse and worse. We began to tip more and we noticed a slight improvement. Most of the people in the village are fishermen, and we did not see very many gringos during our stay in Nicaragua. There were a few guys on the beach who definitely looked like gang members because they were covered in tattoos (even their faces), and wore bandannas on their heads. Also, the police office was right accross from our hotel, but right next to the police station there was a run down shack with Sandinista graffiti on the front. A few times a day we saw people come out of this building wearing blue camouflage and combat boots. Often times they also had AK-47s.
When we left Nicaragua we hired a local taxi to take us to Managua (this was way cheaper). Our taxi driver was a huge man who seemed proud of his little car. He took us a different way through his little hometown of San Rafael. It was clear that he knew everyone because he honked his horn nonstop at everyone we passed. The ride was OK until our driver nodded off to sleep and drove onto the shoulder of the road and through the bushes for awhile. No damage was done, but it felt relieving to get out of his taxi at the airport. Once we got to the airport we bought Subway sandwiches with many vegetables. We had a fun and relaxing trip in Nicaragua, and although we did not see a lot of the tourist locations that most people visit, we did have a very authentic vacation and got to see some of the culture that you don't always find in the touristy colonial towns. With that said, it is certainly nice to be back in Costa Rica, out of the heat and in my own bed.