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Back Home to Nicaragua
About 6 Pages. Photos can be found at: http://picasaweb.google.com/peacepedalers/BackHomeInNicaragua?feat=directlink
June 18, 2010
I thought the day would never come. Finally riding through my “home away from home” where I spent many of days in 2005 and 2006 in between my Asia and Africa expeditions. In case you did not know it, I feel in love with Nicaragua in 2005 and purchased a small plank wood home from a fisherman named Francisco. Since then I have returned numerous times to remodel the house as a vacation rental in hopes that it would generate some riding revenue and eventually pay off when the ride was finished and sold it. Well, the time arrived and here I was, coming back to my Central American home.
My tour of the country was not going to be much of a tour since I had so much business to do in San Juan del Sur it only left me about 4 days to do much riding. And with only four days, the only place I wanted to explore was my favorite place in the Latin world—Ometepe Island. I first discovered Ometepe in 2006, exactly four years ago really, during the 2006 World Cup. I came over to take a break from the crazy remodeling effort and found myself in awe of the raw beauty and peace on the island. I spent most of my time relaxing in a hammock by the lake, but vowed to return with the bike to dive into the culture and natural wonders.
I decided to b-line straight after my surfing adventures with Dave and the Rip Jack family in Playa Grande, Costa Rica by hopping a lift with my bro Andy who was taking our surfing partner Susana back to the airport. It was a good day to hitch a lift as the pouring rain and wind combined with the busy Pan American highway would not have been the most pleasant day in the saddle. And these days, I'm all about pleasant riding! I crossed the muddy, polluted border and into Rivas at lunchime where I’d get my ferry to the fairytale world of Ometepe.
I built up the rig in single mode, knowing that I would have to maneuver I onto a boat shortly after a brief yet scenic ride to the town of San Jorge, and pedaled along with a warm feeling of excitement in my stomach. Unlike heading into mainland Nicaragua, where there’s far more crime and dishonesty, Ometepe is known for its friendly people and is virtually crime free. After my recent robbery in Costa Rica this was just the type of reentry I needed to life back on the bike. I rolled in with the cameras rolling, introducing my favorite island just as the rain magically stopped and the two volcanoes Concepcion and Maderas of Ometepe, normally covered in clouds, showed their beauty. I knew I made the right choice with the ground transport mission and felt as in the flow as ever.
I arrived just as a boat was shipping off and was escorted to a perfect parking spot for the bike. We shipped off soon after and all the backpackers were sent downstairs but I was given VIP treatment on the deck with a few of the locals. Within about 10 minutes I struck up a conversation with a hip looking young man named Pedro and his buddy Larry. Pedro had lived on the island nearly all his life, but spent a lot of time in Costa Rica where his mom lives. I had a nice connection with Pedro and asked him to show me on the map his favorite spots. Turned out he lived in the town of Los Angeles, just before Sacramento (California dreaming!) only about 7 kilometers from Moyogalpa where I had planned to stay that night to recharge before my adventures. We made a plan to meet up the next day and, just like that, I had my first friend in Ometepe.
I spent the evening charging batteries, offloading footage, writing my journal and connecting with friends and family before heading off the next day on my 4-day adventure. I got munched all night by mosquitoes so woke up in a less chipper mood than I had hoped but hit the bike towards Los Angeles excited to reconnect with Pedro and experience life on Ometepe. He led me to his father’s tire repair business where he was busy fixing two tires of a tobacco cart owned by a farmer named Johnny Cortez. Johnny and I did an interview to discuss further his complaints about being “poor”. By the end of our interview it became clear that although he had little financial resources and had to reuse the same tires over and over on his cart, he was quite wealthy due to the level of peace and happiness in his life and that of his family.
These two tires led to two more, and then a huge tractor came in so I decided to walk around the village and just watched the world go by. One thing that was evident was that the desire for material items and bling bling has not yet reached this island. Simple pleasures like riding old beat up bikes, gardening, sitting on the porch with family and playing with the kids was still treasured. The pace of life is slow and the nature in every direction clearly put people in a mellow mood. By the time I finished my own stroll I was feeling super mellow and lost my desire to have Pedro hurry up and finish his work so we could go riding. I had stepped into Ometepe Time.
I got my hands and body plenty dirty on the last task of a water logged tractor tire. Damn, those suckers are heavy, especially when flat and full of water! But we finally got the bike rolling about 4:30PM, much too late to go anywhere far, but Pedro was all smiles and brought a day pack ready for whatever adventures came our way. We were soon off pedaling towards Maderas volcano and I set us up for a rolling interview to philosophize while we rode. Pedro has a heart bigger than his chest and a desire to do something positive and great, yet is still just 25 and has plenty of young, energetic Latin ego in him ready to prove himself worthy to the world, especially the woman.
The sun was getting ready to go down and a wind was picking up, signaling the afternoon rain was nearby. Pedro knew the owners at the Finca Venecia so we rode our bikes all the way to this lakeside gem of a hotel and into the arms of the owner Alicia. Alicia loved the project, the bike, our combined positive energy and agreed in our prediction that the heavy rain was soon to fall just before the sunset. So she walked over with a set of keys and a smile and we had found our first home for the night. We were off to a good start indeed and sipped a cold Tona just before the rain hammered down.
We got moved into our room, showered up and got ready for dinner. On the way out we noticed the rain had not only cleared but the sun was setting through the clouds and an epic Ometepe sunset was in the making. The sunsets there are magical—and the hues change rapidly, as do the shadows and silhouettes of people washing clothes, swimming and life before bed going down on the lake. It’s not to be missed!
Pedro’s buddies in the bar and restaurant took great care of us with plenty of lovely food and cold beverages at friendly locals prices. Pedro soon grew an interest to a blonde German gal at the other table and wanted me to be his wingman to reel her in. Pedro speaks about 8 words of English but his smile and charisma could go a long way. Maybe she spoke some Spanish too. There was only one way to find out. I approached the jolly sunburned species and asked if we could join them. I likely killed the momentum some other local Nico boy was making with her friend but that was besides the point. I was Pedro’s wingman. So we were soon 5 at the table and Pedro got off to a good start with some big smiles and laughter that was contagious being with him. But within 10 minutes the conversation began to die down as they both has exhausted the limited English and Spanish they knew. Pedro somehow too this as a sign to start touching her and playing footsies, and there was nothing this wingman could do to save him at this point.
I hit the hay early as I was eager to ride around Maderas volcano the next day, with or without the now intoxicated Pedro. Pedro was more than welcome to stay but got a call at about 9pm from him family saying he had to work early the next morning. He headed home and I hit the sheets. Our plan was for him to catch up with me later in the afternoon via bus and we’d continue riding. I somehow doubted he would make the journey, which would involve at least 3 buses to catch me on the other side of the island.
The next morning I was fired up as ever for the ride. The sun was out and the Concepcion volcano showing her greatness. I did some filming in the morning and was soon off pedaling a nice climb to the other side of the island. Before I knew it I was on a pretty rugged off road detour set up while the new road was being put in down to Santo Domingo. I love to mountain bike so I was soon flying over bumps, rocks and even some small drop offs with my 200+ pound steed riding like butter. I made it to Santo Domingo in time for an early lunch and hoped to hit the rugged volcano road to La Palma in the afternoon. But God had other plans, clearly.
Just as I was rolling into Santo Domingo I noticed my tire seemed to be hitting my rack and collecting rocks and mud more than normal. When I rolled in I realized that one of my rack mounts had cracked during the last decent and I did not have a spare! Doh! My heart sank. I looked up at the Maderas volcano and wondered what the heck I would do now. I decided to have some lunch and make a plan afterwards. As I sat in the hammock after my veggie curry I asked the locals about the closest hardware shop and they said my best bet was back where I started—Moyogalpa! I gave a call to Pedro to see if he was coming and he said he had too much work to do until the next day and to come back to Los Angeles as soon as possible.
I sat in the hammock bummed out as ever and finally drifted into a sad slumber. But when I woke up, I somehow felt much better! I felt directed and excited. Somehow I felt it was meant to be that I could not ride anymore rugged roads. It meant I “had to” go back and play with Pedro on the paved roads and meet all the people he said he wanted to introduce me to! “The Flow Knows” was my new mantra and I surrendered to it fully. The rain began to fall and just next door was a pretty posh hotel. I decided to chat with the owners who happily set me up with a lakeside room for only 10 bucks where I met cool folks from all over the world. It was far cry from my plans to rough it with the locals in La Palma and ride the rugged roads with the locals but I was somehow at peace with it. I slept like a baby to the sounds of pouring rain and crashing lakeside waves.
The next day made my way back up to the paved road and gave Pedro the news that I’d be arriving back in Los Angeles that afternoon. He was so excited and assured me that the broken rack mounts were a blessing in disguise since he had some special people to introduce me to and some lovely places to explore. The ride was bliss—racing with smiling school kids, waving to cowboys on horseback and sucking in priceless views in every direction. Before I knew it I saw Pedro’s smiling face in front of his family ranch as he promised.
Pedro gave me a tour of the ranch where he spent many years of his childhood with the horses, cows and corn fields. He knew every tree’s name, every plant’s purpose and was proud of his land. After this he was giggly as ever to share the neighboring business, an elderly woman who brews the best tequila on the island over an open wood fire. For one dollar you get a “media” bottle, half a liter of pure island gold. We had a few drinks and it was indeed pure and made with love. The woman was sweet as sugar pie too, spending about 10 hours a day in a smoky room cookin’ up with sauce for locals and guests from around the world. Of course, there were a few victims of her magic brew about—a few alcoholics who both admitted their disease and were ripe for the pickings of any AA aficionados out there.
From there we rode back to Pedro’s house to meet his mom, sister and more family. The cycling fever spread through the family and neighborhood and it seemed like more and more bikes were popping up all over the place. Pedro’s nephew of just 3 years of age was hammering with a huge smile as Pedro got ready to take me to visit his friends who lived on the lake. He was so excited for me to meet them and as we pedaled the tandem he was grinning with pride. We rolled through the beautiful roads of Ometepe and finally onto an adorable path covered with trees with birds singing as the sun was slowly beginning to set. We took a left into the doors of a modest yet well-built ranch right on the lake and were welcomed with open arms by one of Pedro’s best friends named Antonio and his charming family.
From the moment I met Antonio I knew I had a new brother in Latin America. There are some guys who you just know from the get go, and this was the case with Antonio. Antonio’s an ambitious business owner of 38 years old like me, but values lifestyle and family first and foremost. He works hard—farming, working the land, running his farm to perfection. But he also plays and relaxes like the best of them—tons of time with his children, wife and friends to enjoy each day to the fullest. He has a warm, genuine smile and truly cared for my well being from the moment I asked him if I could spend the night on his front lawn. I knew it was going to be an unforgettable 24 hours or so with he and his family.
Pedro was proud and excited to share this special friend with me, and now I knew why. And his neighbor to the south was his brother Eduardo and his other neighbors his mom and dad. What else could a guy ask for? Oh, maybe a lakeside view with a chillin’ thatch hammock area overlooking it all, hammocks and swinging chairs on the porch and an adorable 2 years old new daughter to die for. I was thrilled to be part of the family and felt at home right from the get go. Fresh fish were soon to follow, caught that day, cooked to perfection by his lovely wife Reyna with love. I was in heaven.
All this good fun and I barely left the port! Sure, I had grand plans to cycle around both volcanoes those two days and meet all sorts of people. But as my ride gets closer to finishing, and I grow closer to “landing in a community”, I feel I’m already getting more of what I truly desire—connection. When I’m just riding by and saying goodbye the connection starts but can’t really get anywhere meaningful. I spent several days with Pedro and now felt connected to him. From this connection it made it easier to connect quickly with Antonio. And by the time nightfall came we both felt like we knew each other for years.
The rest of the evening was about chillin’ to music, having great conversations, listening to the endless sounds of the water, crickets, frogs n critters, and swinging in the hammock. Then came a serious soccer game where the friendly match ended up with me and 12 year old Karryck kickin’ the butts of the two older kids who did not know what him em—slide tackles, bruised shins and plenty of sweat. Just the ingredients I needed to take a nighttime swim in the lake then get ready for bed.
The entire family and crew of new friends all pitched in to set up the tent. They were all so courteous and made sure the lighting was just right, the land just level enough and no noises would disturb me. One magical thing about Ometepe that I truly love is that it’s almost void of mosquitoes! And it’s also almost void of dangerous, sharp rocks. So you can literally run around barefoot and almost naked at all hours in just about any state of mind you desire and not worry about getting hurt or eaten by bugs. It’s just one of dozens of reason why it’s one of my top places on the planet I’ve visited. But watch out for the barbed wire when coming back from the nightly swim—got an Ometepe tattoo on my arm, but it cured so fast with the love and Aloe by my doctors Pedro and Antonio.
After sleeping like a baby with the sound of crickets and the lake my alarm clock was an orchestra of birds singing happily on their land. (I recorded both nighttime and morning nature sounds so email me if you want a copy—stunning). So you can imagine the start to the perfect day I had that day. I hit the cameras early and must have filmed a few hours throughout the day—from animals, to food, to eating coconuts, to grooming the horses, to preparation of gallo pinto and farm fresh cheese, to the sad finale of finally having to say goodbye to everyone. The finale was our tentative plans to create a cultural guesthouse project that benefits the local community. You know me, always looking to create a new cool project. They sounded fired up about it—we’ll see. As of now it’s called Paradise: Cultural Adventures in Ometepe. It was a day I’ll never forget and they felt the same.
Antonio was my last guest rider on Ometepe and agreed to accompany me to the port to catch the boat back to the mainland. Antonio was like a little kid on the bike, giggling and having so much fun. We passed by Pedro’s house to say goodbye to all his family, set up the cameras, and rode the 7km to the port while chatting away about all sorts of lovely, inspiring topics. I made it back to The Landing Hotel where we celebrated with a cold Tona and caught the USA vs. England game during World Cup. How’s that for timing! When it finally came time to say goodbye, I realized I was not saying goodbye, but rather, until next time. And this time I really mean it—really. I know I’ll be back to stay with these guys again and hope anyone reading this will take me up on the offer to connect you with them when you travel to Ometepe. It’s not to be missed!
I had a goal to get to San Juan del Sur by sunset and connect up with my friends Will and Vanessa who were expecting their 2nd baby any day. I also had a huge week planned of getting my house ready for final closing of escrow including meetings with lawyers, broker, property managers, care takers, neighbors and more. It was idealistically thinking I’d get some riding and surfing in as well so I hoped to get one day to relax before turning on the engines in full speed to get it all done. I did make it by sunset and when I stopped by Will and Vanessa’s house she was literally on the bathroom floor delivering the baby! I was not quite invited to this but was so stoked to be able to meet their one day old baby boy Dante the next day!
I caught the sunset with my new neighbors Ana and family with some old friends who worked on the remodel of the house. Sunday I caught a nice day surfing at Maderas as my “day off”, that is, I did not bring my cameras to shoot for my documentary Ride the Tides. I figured I’d have more time over the upcoming days. But I figured wrong. From that Monday all the way to Wednesday night I was pretty much slammed with tons of meetings, work, more meetings and finally gave up trying to do much real filming and riding locally. Between the two illegal squatters endangering the sale of my house now in escrow, to meetings with all the folks necessary to make it all go down, I barely had much time to do much besides one more short surf sessions and a night on the town with my bro Carlos who came in from Managua to pick me up and take me to meet another lawyer before shipping off to El Salvador that Thursday at 5AM.
I know this closing to the adventure in Nicaragua does not sound all the positive or exciting compared to the gushy yumminess of Ometepe. But it’s 11.34PM and I’m getting up super early to travel with a famous group of musicians who play pre-Colombian fusion music in an indigenous villagers surrounded by adobe houses. So the last 4 days of in Nicaragua were just condensed into one paragraph. There were great new friends, reuniting with old friends and good stuff like that, but really San Juan del Sur is sort of like my home away from home. And this was a bit of a sad goodbye that I don’t really feel like reliving at this moment. I gave the keys to my caretaker Esperanza and almost started crying. I have some amazing memories and great friends in this town. And to think my house is no longer my house, and those neighbors are no longer my neighbors, and Barrio La Planta is no longer my barrio—it’s sad. Sure, I’m excited the house is sold and the headaches of owning a home in Nicaragua are behind me. And yes, the money will help fund my editing process and reentry into USA this fall. So all in all I’m pretty stoked as it’s all part of a grand plan that I still don’t know exactly what it is—but I know it’s going to be amazing :)
Big love from Santa Tecla, El Salvador!
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