I love to travel, but I guess that’s no secret. I love to meet people and hear their stories. For me, that’s a key part of the travel experience. Actually, I guess it’s really part of how I like to experience life. I’ve struck conversation with grocery store baggers, the guy who collects my garbage in Milwaukee, tollbooth operators. I’ve actually gotten to know one tollbooth operator that I’ve seen a few times on my way in and out of Chicago. People are interesting and most have a story. Hearing them is what fills in the gaps of being on the road and adds color to the destinations I’m visiting. Sometimes the travel experience I’m after is all about seeking out interesting people and stories. This is what a road trip is all about. On Day Eight I’d like to invite you to join me on a road trip through Costa Rica and Nicaragua. You don’t have to say anything, I’ll do all the talking. I’ll share my story. Ok, let’s roll.
On this road trip my travel companions are a guy named Will from Pennsylvania who’s a psychology therapist that works with clients in nature-based therapy programs. He’s an avid rock climber and marathon runner. The rest of our road trip tribe is made up of my favorite travel companions, my boys Ryan, Michael, and Will. We were heading north along the Pacific coast in search of some great waves to surf, then crossing over into Nicaragua to check out a few more surf towns. After that the plan was to head East to Lake Nicaragua and the twin volcano island of Ometepe. We set aside a week for this adventure.
Our first stop was Playa Avellana and the beach restaurant known as Lola’s, named after a 500 pound pig that hangs out on the beach with the restaurant guests. The beach has a decent right break and
the restaurant has a great ceviche. The pig? Well he was not as impressive as I thought. Kind of looked like Jabba the Hutt sitting in the sand. The surf was good and the food was marginal, but the conversation was lacking. The pig had nothing to say and most of the guests were tee shirt tourists from Tamarindo and the all-inclusive resorts surrounding that area. We packed up and continued north to the border town of Peñas Blancas.
You really get to know people when you’re on a road trip with them and often times you discover things you didn’t know about them. For example, I didn’t know that my buddy from Pennsylvania had anxiety issues with military men holding machine guns barking orders at you in Spanish, or sweaty fat guys telling you to “come over here, I’ll take care you, don’t worry about it, come here, amigo come here, what’s your name, hey what’s your name caballero?” This guy Will was sweating bullets and looking like he was going to bolt. He was definitely unraveled.
We’ve been over the border a few times so we knew this routine. You either join the line that looks like it might take you three days to get up to the counter, and then when you do get up to the counter you’ll have to understand what’s being asked of you in hyper-Spanish. Or you can rely on one of these little fat sweaty guys will take your passports and go behind the building to get them stamped presumably by an official who will then escort you past the line to a officer in a room, who then goes through your stuff and then moves you on to the next checkpoint where your passport is
reviewed and fees are paid. You return to your car and then you’re directed to pass under a gate and wait in line for the vehicle fumigation process. After each process there’s always another line to wait in. The whole time your personal immigration guide (the sweaty little fat guy) is walking along side you ready to defend you from… well, I’m not sure what but it seemed like this is our guy for all matters of border crossings and will make things smooth when things take a terrible turn south. After your car is fumigated you get to cross the border. This is where our border protection guide says goodbye, but introduces his compadre from Nicaragua to take over. This is also when their fees for services are settled. Another big lesson we learned was to negotiate these fees before you get to this point. But even when you do negotiate in advance, there’s always this uncomfortable moment where the in-control, confident border crossing guide shifts into that little sweaty guy who pays off the guy behind the building who took care of stamping out passports, and he has a kid trying to raise money to buy books for school and another kid in the hospital and a mother who is dying and a wife due any day now and no means to get home for the holidays. So we pay a little more.
My buddy Will looks relieved, but only for a brief moment because now our Nicaraguan border crossing expert takes over and the whole process starts again.
After about another hour of monkeying around in Nicaragua at the immigration office, we’re on our way up to San Juan Del Sur which fortunately is less than an hour away because Will is fried. We pull
in right at sunset and hit the first beach bar we find. After a couple of Toñas for the guys and orange Fanta’s for the boys, all is good.
The next day we headed up to a beach called Playa Maderas, a quiet spot with no businesses or Stabley Schomann’s, but a favorite hangout for surfers in the area. One guy brought along a hand crank blender and was whipping up vegetable smoothies for all interested parties. He was from Israel and making his way to Chile, financing his journey by cranking out delicious glasses of green goodness. I’m not sure how many glasses it took but I don’t think he was too worried about it. As long as there’s a cool buzz and some tasty waves, he’ll be all right.
We spent a couple more days hanging out in San Juan Del Sur, exploring different beaches and meeting people along the way. One afternoon we approach a kid walking along the side of the road with a waiter’s uniform slung over his shoulder. We pulled over and offered him a ride. My buddy Will shot me the stink eye. The kid lived another 45 minutes down the road by car and was very grateful for the lift. We pulled up to his house and he insisted that we come in and meet his family. So we looked at each other, got an even stinkier stink eye, shrugged our shoulders, rolled up the windows, locked up the car and walk through a nondescript door on the side of the wall. This young man’s mom came and greeted us with hugs, kisses on the cheek and motioned for us to walk into this amazing colonial style home that you would never imagine existed behind the wall. A table right in the center of the courtyard was set and before we know it we’re having coffee, nibbling on fruit and hearing all about our host, his family and their farming business. Really sweet people.
Later that evening back at San Juan Del Sur we hung out on the boardwalk with street vendors showing the boys how to make their own bracelets. Will turned in early while the boys and I hung out with these Nica street vendors talking about life.
Stay tuned for Part 2, the journey to Ometepe.
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