After a couple of weeks studying and sightseeing in the heat and humidity of Granada and Leon we were in need of sea breezes and some hammock time. We like to get off the beaten track
and to act on recommendations from other travellers and this is how we found ourselves heading for the small beachside community of Aserradores in Northwestern Nicaragua. A friend of a friend had reported that Joe’s Place was “the” place if you wanted good surf in a low key area. Although I like the idea of spontaneity and going somewhere on a whim, I sometimes find the reality to be somewhat uncomfortable, so just to be sure it was the place for us I checked the website and availability and it all looked very promising. As the bird flies, Joe’s Place is not far from where we were, but it took most of the day on various forms of transport to reach. First was the “chicken bus” for a 40 minute ride from the village we were in back to the city of Leon. Chicken buses are great ….. on the whole! They are retired North American school buses that have usually been re-painted and are often decorated with colourful art work
and they are the main form of transport for the majority of the population as owning a car is only for the relatively rich. Most people earn less than $50 per week and need a cheap way of getting to work, to school and to market so there’s a wonderful variety of people who use these colourful, beaten up jalopies. Ancient, wrinkled women with their plastic shopping baskets, plump mommas with small, cherubic faced children, young men in crisp white shirts and neat haircuts, teenagers in tight jeans texting on their phones and cheerful school kids wearing smart uniforms and colourful backpacks. They have been dubbed “chicken buses” not just because livestock is often riding the bus along with humans, but that at busy commuting times those humans are jammed in like chickens in a crate. With all the seats taken there is often standing room only. It’s hot and dusty but generally there is good humour and a helpful attitude as everyone jostles together in an effort to make room for the next influx of passengers, or gives a hand moving bags or holding a baby. Despite the discomfort I always enjoy these journeys – so long as they’re not too long!
The roads between the main towns are well paved so we should make good progress, but the driver stops not only at all the formal bus-stops but anywhere in between when someone flags him down or asks to alight. In some of the more remote areas, which buses may only service once a day, they also act as a delivery system. All sorts of things are transported – the most common are large sacks of provisions which are unloaded and placed at the end of dirt tracks waiting collection and empty metal milk churns that are replaced with full ones. And then there’s the more unusual cargo such as a coffin …..
There are usually two fit young men on the bus in addition to the driver and they double up as conductors and muscle, hustling people on to the bus and hopping on and off the roof as various packages and bags are bundled to and fro – it’s an efficient service.
If you want a faster ride with no stops then a microbus would be your choice. These vans, which vary greatly in their general condition, leave when they are full, they have no schedule. They usually accommodate 16 people and although it is a bit crammed you are guaranteed a seat, though it may be a sticky, sweaty plastic one! These can cost twice as much as a chicken bus but as this may be only an extra $1 it’s often worth it.
So, after five hours riding in two chicken buses, one microbus and a short taxi ride we arrived at the end of a bumpy rough road and walked the last 50 metres to Joe’s Place. From the website I was expecting a white tiled room with a private bathroom. Nothing fancy just clean and comfortable. So it was perplexing to be shown to a windowless, rough walled room which looked more like a stable than a bedroom. There was however, a double bed, a bunk-bed and a bare bulb providing some weak illumination. There were also a bunch of mosquitos welcoming us with many uninvited kisses. I asked about the bathroom and was shown to a tiny room several metres away and across the common sitting area. It contained a curtained off area with what was essentially a tap coming out of the wall just above head height, a small basin and a toilet with a large dead cockroach floating in it. It was fairly clean and functional, but not what I would call private or ensuite. So, what to do? My Spanish is not sophisticated enough to discuss the ins and out of our booking and Joe wasn’t around. We needed a place to stay and sometimes you just need to rock and roll with what is presented, so we took the key and asked the way to the beach. It would all look more appealing after a swim.
I donned my bikini and a sarong as we assumed the beach was only a short walk away and they’d be lots of other folk in similar attire. We were wrong. The tempting glimpse of sparkling water we had seen just round the corner turned out to be the estuary which was too busy with fishermen to be safe for swimming. The oceanside beach was a 20 minute walk passing through the community of Aserradores
where many people were out and about on foot, on bicycles, kids collecting water in large blue containers transported on homemade carts, women sweeping the sandy yards in front of their simple wooden homes and tending fires on which to cook their evening meal. I didn’t know whether I felt under or over-dressed I just know I felt uncomfortable. Nevertheless the beach, once we got there, was long, deserted and beautiful and we had a short swim before the sun began to descend to the horizon forcing us to leave before being engulfed by the darkness.
The tap in the wall proved to be an effective shower, the cockroach had been flushed away and we hung our mosquito net to provide a bite free zone. Finding a used needle and syringe under the bunk-bed was a bit disconcerting, but it was soon disposed of and forgotten.
At supper we met our portly Portuguese host, Joe who reminded us of Marlon Brando. He was affable and apologetic as he explained there had been a mix up with our reservation and we had inadvertently been directed to his next door neighbour who acts as an overflow when his place is full. So, it was all beginning to make sense. We also realised, as we joined the long dinner table populated by over 20 young, tanned men most of whom were speaking with Australian accents, that this was a “hard core” surfer’s paradise. We learned that they boated out to the bigger off shore breaks from the jetty in the nearby estuary. We didn’t learn much more as they ignored us to talk amongst themselves in their harsh twang about the “sick waves man” they’d conquered that day, tall tales of past surf adventures and their “wicked” experiences of being stoned. If they weren’t trading stories they had their heads bowed over their phones, physically still present, but in all other ways lost in another world. For such a social environment it felt isolating and exclusive.
So, it turned out to be not quite what we were looking for, but it had been a great journey through a remote and rural part of Nicaragua that we might not have seen and a great reminder that it is often the journey not the destination which gives the greatest pleasure.
One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things. Henry Miller
Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it. Greg Anderson
Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome. Arthur Ashe