The colonial cities of Granada and Leon were wonderful, but quite hot, so we were excited to get back down to the beaches with the notorious offshore winds created by Lake Nicaragua. Fellow travelers had told us of a great surfing zone known as Popoyo, so we busted a kruise to the waves.
Popoyo is famous in the wet season for big surf and the coastline is capable of handling extremely large swells. Areas of soft beginner waves resided near fast and hollow point breaks for intermediates and experts. Just walking through the area was striking, with bizarre rock formations and outcroppings that help create the dynamic wave conditions.We stumbled upon an informal hostel run by 2 Italians that boasted a nice laid back vibe. They were happy to welcome overlanders and it turned out to be a great spot to be for a couple nights.The Pacific coastline of Nicaragua is simply stunning with more than enough beaches and surf breaks to keep beach bums busy for lifetimes.
Conrado, an energetic Argentine we met in El Tunco, El Salvador, stole our attention with a beautiful love story. He met a nice girl from Moab while working in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. They spent time together and when it came time for her to go, they bid each other a bittersweet farewell. She was heading to Nicaragua and left him with an invitation to meet her in Playa Gigante. Enamored, he left his job and traveled non-stop from Mexico to Nicaragua to see her again and profess his love to her. Now we were in Nicaragua, on our way to Playa Gigante, curious if their fairy tale had a happy ending.Gigante Bay is incredibly beautiful with soft white sand surrounded by rocky points to create calm water perfect for swimming. A short walk around the rocky point provided fun surf at high tide in the gorgeous Playa Amarillo. Shortly after settling in, we were greeted by a fellow T3 Vanagon owner from Austria, Flo (short for Florian). A poker player by profession and a van lover at heart, we quickly became friends and proceeded to enjoy the beach together. That night, we were mere moments from calling it a day when Flo walked by and said “you’re not going to bed are you?” He quickly reminded us of the party happening at a hotel down the street. Dragging us from the van, he invited us to a beer and together we were off again. The DJ kept us dancing, smiling and having a great time late into the night.The following day, as we were performing our morning ritual of drinking coffee and deciding where to head next, who but our Argentine friend Conrado knocks on our van to wish us ‘buen dia!’ Surprised and excited we quickly found out he made it safely and was volunteering with his American love Quincy at a nearby hostel. Morning yoga was about to begin and he invited us over to join so we could meet Quincy afterwards. We had a great meet and greet with her and other volunteers, so we decided to stay put for a few more days.Our days here were amazing, full of slack-lining, surfing, soccer, sunsets with happy-hour drinks and good meals with new friends.Another friendly face we had the pleasure to meet was the man known as ‘Legend’. He is a Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) ‘angel’, who during the summer months provides support for thru-hikers on the famous west coast hiking trail. Providing support via camper to sleep in out of the rain, food, water, or just a pat on the back, he is there to help as much as he can. He earned the name Legend from sheer determination after walking part of the PCT a few months after being told he’d never walk again following a major back injury. True to form, he made pancakes and coffee every morning and spaghetti every night to share with others who were hungry. Never short of stories to tell, Legend created a memorable experience for us while we hung around the back-packers paradise of Playa Gigante.We also had the pleasure meeting some fellow Swiss over-landers, Tim and Andrea, who started their trip in Alaska and are headed to Argentina like us. With similar interests and goals to ours, Tim, Andrea, Conrado, Quincy, and Koru decided to concoct a plan to escape the beach during Semana Santa. We decided on hiking April 12th for the full moon, and to celebrate Matt’s birthday together. Heading over to the Isla de Ometepe to climb the big, bad, Volcan Concepción was just the ticket.Semana Santa is the holy week where almost all of Latin America seems to descend to the beaches by the busload. It is chaotic and the beaches get trashed mere minutes after people arrive.
San Juan del Sur-Playa Remanzo
We left Gigante a few days before our planned trip to the island to get one more beach day somewhere new. It was Sunday and our first Gigante friend Flo wanted to head into San Juan del Sur to enjoy the event known as “Sunday Funday”, where party-goers can go crazy all day and night. Happily, we said hop in and headed out together. On the way down, he recounted his night meeting two beautiful Canadians he was hoping to rendezvous with. Immediately arriving in the city, we serendipitously crossed paths with a truck that had the Canadians in the back! Quickly saying farewell, we all laughed and decided to “go with the Flo” more often!
Leaving the bustling town of San Juan del Sur, we made our way south to Playa Remanzo where a nice beginner wave exists and is a little more low-key, right up our alley. The beach-side restaurant didn’t care that we parked front and center, so we happily stayed put and chatted with locals and tourists in between surf sessions at the quaint little beach.After two peaceful nights at the beach, the time came to make our way inland to meet back up with our fellow traveling friends.
Isla de Ometepe
We opted to take the van over to the island via ferry, but were a bit nervous about space due to the holiday week. Upon our arrival, we were quickly told there was no room unless we had a reservation. Sarah, unwilling to take no for an answer, kept asking about cancellations and sure enough, right before a 9:30a ferry departed they rushed us over to squeeze in behind a large truck with about an inch of room to spare, phew.Happily on the island with Koru, we headed to Altagracia to scope out the trail-head for the hike and to find a nice budget hotel for our friends with parking. While waiting for their arrival, we explored the small town with stunning volcano views, interesting murals and a nice park to play cards and get harassed by the wildlife.Just before sunset, we reunited with the crew at the hotel and began food preparations for the following day’s hike. A quick spaghetti dinner at the nearby restaurant helped send all of us to bed early to prepare for the day ahead.Up at 3am, we shared a large batch of cowboy coffee with the group and all had a quick breakfast. It happened to be the full moon, so a nice bright sky helped guide the start to our hike. It didn’t take long to exit the nice flat road and get to the consistent steeps of the volcano. Covered in jungle and clouds of mist, we all seemed to keep our heads down while we slowly and meditatively clambered our way up Concepción. Clouds remained upon our successful summit attempt, but we still had very high spirits. What had been warm and humid in tropical jungle below, now opened up to ripping wind with a serious chill in the air. Hoping the clouds would clear, we hung out and ate lunch just below the summit. Steam vents helped keep everyone warm while we waited, but alas, we needed to descend after folks began to get really cold. After descending 500m, the clouds broke and we were treated with a majestic view of Lake Nicaragua and Volcan Maderas, the extinct brother of Concepción on the south side of the island. It was very rewarding getting the view, and descents always make one appreciate the true slope of the hike. Safely on the flat ground, we looked back in awe at the amazing volcano we had just conquered. From 245ft in Altagracia to 5300ft at the summit and back, thoroughly exhausted, pride permeated our bones.Feeling accomplished with our day, we celebrated Matt’s birthday and our time together with beer, food, laughter and long naps. The following day, we bid farewell to our friends and made our way to Finca Mystica, where we’d visited on a previous trip in 2013.The owners Ryan and Angela lived in Steamboat once upon a time and kindly allowed us to park Koru on their beautiful Finca. They are truly inspiring people, successfully starting a business and raising a family on the remote island. Almost all of the food served is grown on the farm and all of the accommodations were built with recycled materials by Ryan. They have made a huge impact on the community and live true to what environmental eco-tourism seeks.After a night and morning of good food and pleasant conversations, we headed back to the mainland to poise ourselves for our next stop. We knew we’d see our Swiss and Argentine friends again, and made tentative plans to see each other among the world famous surf and relaxed lifestyle found in the country known for Pura Vida, Costa Rica!