November 4th, 2016
So it was early afternoon in Granada and stinking hot. There are no camping spots in Granada with electricity so we wimped out and decided not to spend a night here. We headed back to the Pacific to a town called Popoyo which is not much of a town but the place we wanted to camp was a hostel right on the beach and it had power. iOverlander suggested to take the longer way through the undistinguished little city of Rivas as the more direct route was a bad road and very, very slow.
The hostel is owned by an Italian couple who were unfortunately away right now but have a friend looking after the place. Casa Los Cocos was a little hard to find and we met the “caretaker” who had no idea overlanders could park here (which was weird because he said he’d been there since April and we knew people had been then in August and September…..) but when we told him about iOverlander he said go ahead and he would reach out to owners by email and to find out what to charge us. We’d read from others that they’d paid $10 a night so we’ll go for that if he doesn’t hear back.
We spent the next seven days here on Playa Guasacate just enjoying the beach life again. This area has little infrastructure, dirt roads, very few shops, a few small hotels/hostels, a small number of bars/restaurants and little else – more of a slow laid back surfer town. The hostel here is small with four rooms and we have met Max and his girlfriend from Uruguay, Desiree from Sweden, Aaron and Charlotte, from Australia, as well as a couple of German surfers, Johannes & Daniel.
Joe and Josée joined us here on Sunday. They had spent a couple of nights in a hotel in Granada. Unfortunately they took the more direct route that we’d avoided and advised that it was a 5kmh drive after the highway turnoff! What took us 2 hours travelling just over 100 km, took them three hours to go a little more than half that.
We have had some nice laid back days here, swimming, reading, walking, chatting, enjoying some spectacular sunsets, the nearby rocks with tidal pools,. Every day a fruit and veg truck comes by and you can stock up on fresh stuff for the day.
Casa Los Cocos as viewed from the beach:
The sun shone from Saturday through the week with mostly clear skies. The beach is lovely to walk on and it’s wide and shallow; at low tide it’s a long as way out to the water to get deep enough to really get wet. It seems a little cooler temperature than the water at Las Peñitas so the currents must be affecting temperature. By no means is it cold, actually just more refreshing. There are surf breaks at either end with some surfer dudes and gals out hanging ten on the waves. The sand is soft and the typical brown of the Pacific Ocean coast that we have encountered in most places. We walked the entire length of the beach over our stay a few times and it’s very pleasant.
Wednesday night when we were more or less done our fresh veggies, we walked into the village with Joe and Josée and went out for pizza for dinner at a place on the beach. It had nice tables right in the sand and you could hear the surf while enjoying nice thin crust pizza and cold beer.
Thursday morning we awoke to cloudy skies and extremely muggy weather. It did rain a touch during the night and sprinkled on and off in the morning but in the afternoon the sun returned. We spent another chill day with Joe & Josée and packed up Friday morning as we had a few errands to run and we wanted to check out one or two more beaches before leaving Nica.
We drove inland and stopped in Rivas to get groceries, water, gas and tried to get propane but were unsuccessful. We stopped at the Burger King for a drink and met a Canadian couple, Mark and Anna, who are spending some time in San Juan del Sur, the big beach town down the coast that we’ll drive through to get to Playa Maderas. They gave us a recommendation on a place to get laundry done when we get there later today. They had a “driver” with them, Tony, who gave us his card if we want to do tours from that area.
We drove on to San Juan and found the laundry service, dropped off our dirty clothes then drove to our planned destination, Playa Maderas, about 8 km up the coast on a mostly dirt, rutted road. This is a surf beach with four little bars/restaurants on it and other overlanders had stayed here but no one had mentioned the access to power so we tried and the bar in behind the beachfront one said we could plug in behind the building; bonus! They only charged us $10 a night which was what we paid at Popoyo and here we had faster wifi, bars right on the beach and good waves. The bathrooms/showers are locked at this bar so you have to ask for the key each time but after the first night, the manager came and gave us a set of keys to use since we were staying more than one night so now it’s like we have our own private bathroom and the toilet has a seat and there’s paper! We had the added bonus of the company of the odd howler monkey in the nearby trees after a couple of nights.
There are lots of Canadians here (many come in for the day from surrounding hotels/resorts); we picked up Sam, a young man from Vancouver on the dirt road down to the beach on our way in, then met a group of Quebecers at the bar, an American from California, more Canadians on the shuttle bus back into San Juan Saturday morning to get our laundry, a American brother and sister from Texas, Katie & Jason, a PanAM motorcyclist from Wyoming, Chris who was tenting here
The beach here is quite nice, shallow with big tides, some rocky outcroppings and again, lovely sunsets. The beer is good and cold at the bar, the water is pleasant, again a little cooler than we’re used to but not cold and the view is gorgeous.
View from our umbrella and from the rocks:
So as mentioned above, we took a shuttle bus back into San Juan on Saturday to pick up our laundry and some veggies. There is a hotel in San Juan that is connected somehow with a hotel close to our location (owned by one of the Quebecers we met on Friday) and they have a service that brings surfers from town and that other hotel right to the beach so there is vehicle (or two) that runs five times a day for $5 return.
We walked along the town’s malecon and a few streets, hit the market for some veggies, picked up our laundry and caught the shuttle back. The town is nothing really to visit but we did learn later, that cruise ships actually come here, hence the abundance of little shops near the beach.
Turns out although our clothes were machined washed, they were hung to dry and nothing was dry so we had to string two lines up and dry it ourselves back at Tigger. This was especially annoying because the price was about the highest we’ve ever paid for laundry; Fran was happy she washed our undies and small stuff back at Popoyo last week.
After our laundry was dry, we got into our bathing suits and tried out our boogie boards at the beach. Tide wasn’t quite right so we didn’t do so well but after skyping with the grandkids, we went out again before sunset and had a blast! It began to rain during the sunset and we were treated to a lovely double rainbow (sorry didn’t have a camera with us!). I think we had more luck than the surfers as the tide was going out and the waves were not big.
Sunday we walked the beach which leads to more beaches on either end. Later we put up our umbrella and enjoyed the beach, (they do have umbrellas and chairs for rent at this beach but since we are here for so long, that would get pricey) did some more boogie boarding and then met a couple of overlanders with BC license plates; he’s actually Colombian and she’s German/Swedish – they met in Sweden and flew to Canada to buy their SUV and are also doing the PanAm. As it was getting dark and the bugs were coming out, we invited them in for a couple of beers and we enjoyed some fun conversations.
Monday was a really high tide day; we put our umbrella out near the edge of the high water line as usual but for some reason (maybe the super moon?) the tide went well beyond that point and unfortunately, when we noticed it, we got up to adjust some stuff, Doug threw his kindle on the seat of his chair and the next wave went high enough to wet the bottoms of our chairs! We took it out of the case right away and he went up to the rig to put it in some rice but so far it’s not showing much signs of recovering.
Ours is the striped one:
After boogie boarding around sunset we had dinner and then went out to see if we could see the super moon. There are a lot trees around us so we went out to the beach but saw nothing. When we went for a short walk a bit later, we saw it above the trees to the east so not on the horizon at all where it would have looked much bigger. Shame!
Tuesday, Fran was out to the clothes line to get our swim suits and saw a branch fall down beside her; she looked up and lo and behold there was a howler monkey roaming the tree tops! She went to get Doug and her camera and we spotted about six. They were no longer howling, but just hanging around.
The fruit/veg truck came (comes here Tuesdays and Fridays) and we bought a few items to enable us to not have to leave or go into town for a few more days. These trucks usually have a freezer on board where they keep some of the veggies and sometimes cheese and chicken (naturally it’s not plugged in but they use it as a large cooler box). They usually carry eggs as well. They come into communities that don’t have markets and sometimes not even tiendas; very convenient. It was a super sunny day today and the walk doing Spanish was pretty hot this morning.
Wednesday, we went out walking (doing Spanish), boogie boarding and sat at the Maderas Sunset bar later in the afternoon before doing another sunset boogie boarding session.
Walking over rocks to northern beach while we do a Spanish lesson:
Thursday we actually fit in three boogie boarding sessions thanks to the tides and met more travelers; many people stay in San Juan and use the shuttle to come for the day. We met a Canadian woman, Shawna, from Nelson and an American from Santa Barbara, named Julie. She and her husband bought a house nearby ten years ago and come a few times a year to surf.
It was kinda sad after we showered and rinsed off everything today (chairs, boogie boards, sunglasses, camera and clothes) to think we were leaving tomorrow. Even the howlers were crying out to us “stay, don’t leave!” On to more adventure!
So to get to the border we had to drive back inland and follow the shoreline of Lake Nicaragua; enroute we saw a huge windmill farm:
Then we hit the border which was chaotic leaving Nica! We’d read this border is no walk in the park and Jose & Josée had advised us that the day before, they’d used “helpers” on both sides. These are people who help you through the process of which office to go to for what and ask for a “tip” in return.
We arrived at the border at 11:10 after passing a long line of trucks as we’d encountered leaving Honduras. We passed by them all and were accosted by many of these helpers. Since the description we’d read of this border crossing was quite complicated, we decided to use one. It turned out to be the right thing to do for exiting Nica.
Omar led us to parking area and filled in a form for us; he walked us to a woman sitting outside the immigration office on a stool to begin the process of cancelling our temporary import permit for Tigger – how could anyone possibly know that this is the first step? She wrote something on the form, and she went with us to the truck to confirm the VIN and Omar then lead us to a policeman in building that was less than a shack across the parking lot. This man wrote on paper and returned it to us; Omar said we’d lost the police check lottery with this officer and we had to take Tigger for a vehicle scan! We’d never read about this but it seems all the commercial vehicles go through this process and this officer was known for also putting foreigners through it. Omar said he could “pay” the guy out front to let us enter the back way, then “pay” another guy to let us butt in line as the line can take two hours to get through. He said the tip amount was up to us; but at end he said there was two guys and they wanted $5 ea! We gave him $8 to split as he saw fit.
Fran drove Tigger to the scanning spot, where she “butted” in line and drove up to the machine. You park your vehicle under cover beside the sliding scanning machine (the size of a tractor trailer) and get out of the vehicle and wait under a little shelter. (Fran was told NOT to take pictures but she snuck one in!)
While she did that Doug went to get copies made. After the scan she picked up Doug and Omar.
He sent us into another building with no instruction really and we walked up to a window and were told to go to the other window where we then figured out we had to await the results of the scan; there were about a dozen men waiting here as well. They told us it could take up to an hour! but then one of the employees took our paper and said “three minutes”. Subsequently, all the employees in that room left and we thought, “it’s noon so maybe they all went for lunch?!”. In about ten minutes, someone showed up and then two others and our name was called and we got our form signed.
Now we had to take that form to the original police officer to show him we’d been scanned and THEN we went to customs to get the final cancellation of out TIP. Ridiculous – and this is to LEAVE the country.
We still had not gone through the exit process at immigration so that was next we thought, but actually next was the payment of a $1 “toll” then immigration where they stamped our passports and we paid $2 for that privilege. Now we could drive to the exit barrier and leave the country. This was the longest exit process so far. Again, we were exiting not entering.
So in total, we spent a month here, almost three of those weeks at three different beaches, enjoyed numerous sunsets, met lots of travelers, drove to the top of a volcano (definitely a highlight!!!!), Doug went volcano boarding, swam in a crater lake, visited the Corn Islands and travelled 469 miles in total. Other than the disappointing police incident and the horrendous exiting process, we really like Nica and feel it has lots of potential.