The long, winding road to surfing paradise
By Bob Zulu
Editors Note: This is a report from Bob's Surf trip from last year. Bob works in Gainesville, enjoys Central American surfing adventures, plays in a local band, and is a BIG GLOB fan!
I was meeting up with 2 friends from Cocoa Beach I knew from way, way back in the day. Our destination was a surfing vacation in the Popoyo area, just north of San Juan Del Sur, on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua.
I try to go at least once a year. Popoyo has a great combination of good surf, great food, and nice people. Surfline.com has an excellent rover cam report describing this great surfing vacation getaway.
Most two-weeks-of-vacation-a-year surfers just want uncrowded good waves... and shifty, overhead beachbreak barrels are just fine. They want to go home exhausted and sunburned with aching shoulders and a kaleidoscope of saltwatery memories. Which is exactly what the Nicaraguan coastline offers.
This stretch of Nicaragua faces southwest, so any good south to southwest swell marches in here. The reefs and points really like the long-period groundswells (depending on direction), while the beachbreaks do a little better on the shorter-interval swells. Swells are biggest from April to June, but can get solid from March to November.
The saving grace, and what makes this zone so unique, is the 300-day-a-year offshore winds. Lake Managua, about 50 miles inland, funnels the wind from the Caribbean side and creates steady to gusty offshore winds almost every day of the year. Rainstorms tend to be glassy, and there are a couple weeks where it'll blow out in the afternoon, but generally it's offshore rainbows all day.
The 4wd taxi from the airport was expensive, but worth it. Our trip to Popoyo took about 2.5 hours, but washed out roads can increase the travel time. The road to Popoyo is sketchy, even if you live there. It's only paved for about the first hour.
Cow herds in the street - better known as a Nica Traffic Jam - are almost guaranteed, at least once or twice on the way. You never know what you'll see: Huge walking wedding or roadside processions, spontaneous Saint-of-the day parades, 3 people on 1 bicycle, and 4 (or 5) on 1 motorcycle is just how they roll, no pun intended.
We rented a house in Popoyo that was inland about a mile and up on the side of a hill/small mountain. Nice place with coconut palms and mango trees -- and an observation deck. We had the whole bottom floor of a 2-story house and it was very affordable!
A typical day on our surf vacation was routine driven with a serious focus on the beach, the ocean and, of course the great Popoyo waves. Each morning we would wake up at 5, have coffee, leave our house, drive through the jungle to our hot spot and surf til 10 or 11 in the morning. At lunchtime we would go back to our house, have breakfast or lunch, and take a short siesta. In the afternoon we would head back to surf from around 2-5 or until sunset if the waves are good. At the end of the day we head back to the house or to a restaurant for dinner, surf stories, and then sleep.
We would wake up the next morning to do it all again. It's a pretty active vacation.
I can't forget to mention the national beverage is Flor de Cana rum. Try it. You're in Nicaragua!
If you get to the local market early, you can get all kinds of fruit and veggies for next to nothing. Some towns have trucks that bring new produce to the market every few days.
The trucks have big (did I say BIG? I meant HUGE!!) loudspeakers on the back and you hear them yelling early in the morning "Buy frutas! Buy Frutas!! Buy Frutas!!!!!". Something tells me that kind of wake up call would not go over so good in the U.S.!
Breakfast is cheap in Popoyo. For about 3 or 4 dollars you can purchase fried eggs, beans and rice, salsa and a tortilla wrap - with a cup of coffee. This breakfast is good and a perfect way to get your engine started.
In Central America my favorite thing besides the surf is SEAFOOD for many reasons: Most meals can be had for just a few dollars less than what you'd pay here in the States. Some of my favorites are:
> Ceviche: You can get FRESH snapper ceviche for late lunch or dinner if you request it in the morning at certain coastal restaurants. For $4 you get a good sized medium bowl full, and it's fresh and fantastic. Ours looked like this, and we had it almost every day. One day they were out of crackers and substituted fried plantains â€“ called tostones. It was still yummy.
> Fresh fish: You can get it a variety of ways, just like here in the states. I tried a local favorite, a whole snapper deep fried. The snapper was tender, flaky white meat, and VERY tasty. For dinner it was about $9 for the meal, which included the fish, some rice, tostones and salsa--and yes, it takes a while to deep fry it properly. We waited over an hour, but what's the hurry? I was on vacation in Nicaragua! A smart tip I learned is if you request your snapper dinner early in the day so you can have it for dinner later.
> Lobster: There is lobster available up and down the coast of Nicaragua. There are no size limits or limit to how many you can catch. So you can imagine fresh cooked lobster is a big time local fave down there. This time we had our lobster dinner at a surf camp. Ours was cooked 6 different ways from fried or stuffed to baked or broiled. For this particular meal - It was all you can eat, and it didn't last long! NOTE TO SURFERS: Not all surf camps have this meal arrangement!
To quote the GLOB Master, "I'm going back" to make sure nothing has changed in this Central American surfing paradise.
Hang 10, & CHOW!