Cover image taken by Amrita during a boat trip turned booze-cruise around Lake Nicaragua.
“You’ll find the best surfing in Central America down there”, a Costa Rican tells us. We take a group decision (even backpackers live in a world democracy and compromise) and we book a private van to take us to San Juan del Sur. Surely there can’t be a beach down here, I think, an hour later, as the bus trundles down a dirt track through dense rainforests, monkeys swinging from the trees. I’m proved wrong. A 20 metre strip of sand separates the trees from the sea, and I am reunited with the Pacific for the first time since leaving San Diego. A quick barter with a local and I’m armed with a surfboard for the first time since Ventura. I’ve learnt my lesson already; and I leave my GoPro on the safe haven that is the beach.
We’d spent the last few days in Granada, another colonial town in the middle of Nicaragua. If Copan felt dodgy at dusk, then this place was downright dangerous. Our guide bans us from certain areas of Downtown, and we are told to expect trouble if we wander from our accommodation to the main plaza after certain hours. A line is etched into our maps of a relatively safer way to walk in daytime hours, but we still leave everything in our rooms and tuck our money into our socks. Our precautions pay off, and we are the first group that our guide has had that avoided being robbed by desperate locals. I could see why: our hotel was the most luxurious I’ve been in this trip; and it was built amidst, literally next door to, houses that were barely houses- four pieces of plywood and a tin roof balanced on top. It did seem unfair.
Having explored the craziness of the Granadan markets, visited the crater of active, lava-filled Volcan Mayasa, interacted with locals during a ‘treasure hunt’ and unwound next to a pool (unfair again, how travellers/tourists – I’m beginning to struggle to tell the difference – had water to swim in whilst next door children didn’t have any to drink); I find myself in the familiar situation of being clobbered by 6 foot waves whilst I tried to remember where to put my feet in order to stand up surfing. I’ve got 3 hours to refresh my memory, and I soon get there. Cruising inland on a piece of buoyant fibreglass, I can admire the incredible scenery of San Juan del Sur. It’s like The Beach in Alex Garland’s novel; or similar to the one that Channel 4 abandons explorers on for Bear Grylls: The Island. I fall in love – and then fall in the water. Focus, man.
That evening, I’m boarding a boat that looks too tall to float properly, on route to Isla de Ometepe. Ometepe rings a bell… crosses my mind, and I remember my friend, Tom, and his company Twin Cafe which imports coffee from Nicaragua to sell in Sheffield. My thought is interrupted by the boat operator handing out life jackets. A few years ago, one of the boats literally toppled over and killed several tourists, and this is a new precaution. It did seem inevitable; a boat 4 storeys high and only 10 metres wide. I bump into Hannah, or Cyclops as I’ve nicknamed her (after accidentally mistaking superglue for her contact lens fluid and gluing her eye shut), who was part of our first tour. We catch up and land safely, and are chosen again by huddles of families, who have volunteered to put us up for the night.
James and I are picked by Jose and Martha; along with their daughter, Ana, and two sons, Jose Jr and Manuel. Our Spanish has got us to a level where we can enjoy a 2 hour dinner with only two English sentences- and we learn that he is a bean farmer, and his wife makes a wine only available in Ometepe. I use my familiar script to discuss football with the sons. I enjoy Liverpool’s style of play. James laughs, he heard the same phrase during the last homestay.
We spend a day on the island exploring; catching crowded chicken buses around, visiting beaches, splits and the natural springs ‘Ojo de Agua/Eye of the Water’ on the volcanic island. Half of the group pay to hike up Volcan Conception, the largest of the two that make up Ometepe (which literally means ‘two volcanoes’ in the indigenous language). Early the next morning, after a fairly rushed breakfast with Martha and Jose, we are on the ferry back to the mainland and begin our weekly haggle with the money-changers who loiter at the borders.
Familiar scenes for me before moving onto unknown territory: Costa Rica.
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