Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Scratching Them Off the List
Words: Dustin Franks
Photos: Daniel Franks
In the midst of the winter doldrums, the travel bug had set in between a group of surfers, brothers and friends. An international jaunt to escape for a bit before the madness of a California Summer was in order and we were left with the task of deciding where to capitalize on a stirring Southern Hemisphere. The willing group eventually came about and when the tickets were finally booked, Steven Thomas of Santa Cruz, Grant and Andy Gold, and the three brothers Franks, Danny, Steven and myself, Dustin were ready to go.
Central America had proven itself time and again, and between the six of us, every nook and cranny of the chain-linked countries had been explored. The last on our collective list was Nicaragua. Surf tourism has been blossoming in the country for the past five years despite a tumultuous past and the expectations of fun surf, good accommodations and enough adventure to keep it interesting looked promising. Recent experiences from friends and fellow surfers had reassured the decision, so we took notes geared up and hopped on a plane set for Managua.
La Policia say, "Give me 20 bucks"
Steve Thomas With an Early Morning Fiver...Dang!
Driving in Third World countries is always a hair-raising experience, and our trip from the airport to the coast was just that. Having frequently traveled to Baja, our posse was heavily trained in the ways of Gringo extortion, keeping our loaded down 4x4 in one piece despite horrible roads, reading road maps in Spanish, and playing slalom with livestock. We ran the three-hour gauntlet and stopped in Rivas at the closest thing the region had to offer in terms of a grocery store.
The sights, sounds, and smells of the bustling city harped back to previous experiences. There seems to be a formula to which these types of cities are comprised of all throughout Central America. There's usually a large church, the token super market, hordes of street vendors, the cars with enormous speakers bungeed to the roof advertising God-knows-what at full volume, and more foot traffic than Times Square. Towns like this are everywhere throughout Latin America and always worth a bit of exploration. Cruising down the street is a shot of life and an immediate reminder that you're out of your element.
Steve Thomas Back snap
We hopped back in the car and arrived an hour later at the gates of where we'd be staying for the first five days of our trip. Nicaragua has been heralded as being "the next Costa Rica" and for good reason. Since the stabilization of the political climate, international investors have bought up land in prime locations and developed "haciendas" which offer up decked out surf pads, and community amenities. These amenities include the waves out front. There are two communities, which lie next door to each other and span about a 10-mile stretch of coast. These 10 miles contain 4 of the best spots in the region. Access is definitely an issue and the vehicle of choice for really being "on it " in terms of surf is the ponga. The variety of surf crammed into the countries southern stretch of coast is absolutely mind-boggling. With near constant offshore winds from sun-up to sundown, it really becomes a matter of what you feel like surfing that day. A beach break that looked like Puerto Escondido's friendlier little sister kept us content for the first five days. A big outer reef A-frame down the beach had us bouncing back and forth between the two.
Steve Franks Getting a Higher Perspective
Grant "Double-G" Gold Driving High on the Nose (Photo by: S. Thomas)
The typical evening found us back at our pad fighting off surf-comatose with cold beers and hearty meals (a la Chef Steve Thomas). Nights in Nicaragua are interesting. The daily offshores completely die, bringing the humidity level and bug population to near unbearable. The beat up roads and nightly rainsqualls made things interesting for getting around after dark, and make it easy to write it off. Not about to see what was really on tap, we usually defied good judgment and went cruising. We caught wind that the local cantina had satellite T.V.; we managed to leave the homestead and cram in with fellow stir-crazy gringos to watch the Lakers get creamed in the finals. The rousting was brought to a new level with our California posse on one side of the bar and some new East Coast friends on the opposite. Wagers were made, drinks were drank, and after the game it was nothing but handshakes and laughs. Another more adventurous night found us plowing through knee deep mud trying to find a little nook and cranny town where a friend from home had set up a surf camp years before. With crummy directions, some knucklehead co-pilots (myself included) and the blind-as-a- bat Grant Gold behind the wheel, we ended up pulling into a little town hours later that looked straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean. Beat down from the drive, we sat on the beach amidst the palms as our host treated us to a gourmet meal and some cold beers. It was definitely worth the drive.
While checking the surf one morning, we started conversation with local Nicaraguan surfer Ivan Saballos, who had gotten into the business of running charters throughout Nicaragua. We quickly got to talking about the region's endless surfing resources and he began telling us about the area's crown jewel; a shelfy, secluded left point break that changed moods with the tide and offered up the best waves in the area. Ivan Saballos and his partners, Armando Segura and Fermin Guerrero run www.nicasurfing.com, which offers up five star accommodations at some of the country's best waves. The trio had a few days before their next crew arrived and extended the utmost hospitality by offering to drive us in to the left point break they had been raving about. We immediately jumped at the opportunity.
Obey My Monkey!
The next morning found me in the back seat of their car getting a socio-political science lesson on our way to what proved to be our best day of surf of the trip. Having grown up in Managua through the political turmoil, the three gave a stunning insight to the dark times the country had suffered and its gradual rebuild. During the 1980's, the country had seen a whirlwind of instability -- internally and externally. The Contras (anti-communist Guerilla later found to be supplied in a round about manner by the U.S) wreaked havoc on the Sandinista party and attacked from neighboring Costa Rica and Honduras. Meanwhile, economic pressure was placed from the U.S. in the form of a full-fledged trade embargo. Stories of blackouts, bombings, guerilla takeovers, dictatorships, and food shortages left me with my jaw on the floor. They explained how the country has had a gradual rebirth since the open democratic elections of 1990. Nicaragua seems to have it feet firmly planted again, and all three men seemed truly proud to show off the beautiful country and extremely grateful to see it flourish. As we pulled up to the picturesque cove, it was hard to imagine the chaos and bloodshed that had once ran rampant. I rejoiced with the crew as a flawless, empty left peeled off the rocks. We waxed up and scurried out into the lineup before our minds could wander back to more serious issues.
We jumped ship the next day to our second destination a little further north up the road. A warbly, shelfy left-hander that reminded us of Big Rock beat down in front of the house and most of our sessions took place at a wedging beach break up the road. The wave definitely kept us on our toes. The southern lines would bounce off a giant coral wall at a higher tide giving it a full-blown side wave effect. Head high, dredging tee pees dotted the seascape and we traded off waves with the local crew, some pro-shortboarders and some ex-pats that called the wave home.
Dustin Franks Getting All Emotional
Steve Franks Passing By
The remainder of our trip found us doing some exploring between sessions, lounging in hammocks, sampling the local cuisine and finding 400 different species of insects larger than a size 9 shoe and figuring out which ones you probably shouldn’t screw with. We made way too close of friends with small primates, drank beer and the finest rum in the land with our new Nicaraguan friends, and found a new shade of pink to apply to our skin. As our last night rolled around we went out in style and migrated to the more high class and touristy San Juan Del Sur. A huge fishing tournament had just ended and the town was going all out. We went out for the most amazing Italian food I've ever had (cooked by a pure blooded English woman to add to the irony) and had a full blown dance off in the local discoteca to close it all out.
The next morning found us foggy headed. We groaned as we packed up our behemoth board bags and tried to scrap together a pile of goodies to give to the locals in gratitude. Nicaragua had proven to be well worth the trek. We arrived back at the airport that afternoon itching to change our flights and figure out how to blow off the obligations of home. The good surf, warm vibes, and laid-back lifestyle was nearly impossible to leave. Surfed out, sore, and garnishing trophy sunburns, we hopped on the flight headed back to California, vowing to reinvestigate this little nook of the globe again as soon as possible. This name on the list was worth a second look.
Man and Oxen
Steve Thomas Driving to the Lip
Timeout for the Thizzle...What?
Steve Franks on the Nose
Male Modeling Has Had A Shadow Cast Over It for Nearly a Decade With One Man and 3 Syllables: Ste-Vie-Franks
Dustin Franks Getting A Lil' Loosey Goosey
Another Beautiful Evening
Dustin Franks Getting Deep...
When Asked What Super Hero Steve Thomas Would Like To Be, "He-Man, Master of the Universe" Was An Easy Choice
Dinner Is Served: Rice, Steak, and Plantangs
Dustin Franks With a Fat Bottom Girl
Dustin Franks On the Nose...Really?
Hit Lips, Not Ladies
Too Many Boards, Not Enough Seats
Steve Franks Laying Down the Law
Grant Gold "Wacking It"
The Rare and Endangered Nicaraguan Pig Dog
Dustin Franks Driving It Backside
Andy Gold- Boogie Boogie On Down
Steve Thomas Milking One Two The Beach
Steve Thomas Hyphy
Dustin Franks Releasing
Steve Thomas hit
Steve Thomas Launch