Wild Ride

Traveling by bus from Costa Rica to Nicaragua.

I said my goodbyes to Bob and Mariah, and hired Gustavo to drive me to Tamarindo, where I caught a bus headed north to Liberia. I had a lingering sour stomach from the boat ride, so I commenced a fast for the day and decided to limit my fluid intake. The last thing I wanted was diarrhea on the bus.

In Liberia, I got on another bus bound for the Nicaraguan border. The moment I stepped off, I was bombarded by people anxious to sell things, get me a taxi, process my exit tax, and change money. Stupidly, I had stocked up on the local Costa Rican currency, colones, just the day before, and didn’t know the exchange rate for Nicaraguan cordobas. I fought off the money changers at the border, wary of getting a bad deal, and dragged my board bag about a quarter mile down the dirt road to the Nicaragua border.

After passing through several processing stations, I reached the last stop, customs, where I had to pay an entry fee. Only US dollars or Nicaraguan cordobas were accepted, and all I had was colones. The customs officer kindly explained how I could get to a bank close by and keenly observed that it would be difficult to take my garganta bag with me. He agreed to keep an eye on it for me while I went to the bank.

In my current state – tired, hungry, sick, and delirious – the clean, air-conditioned bank was an oasis of comfort and order, reminiscent of home. I handed the teller my crumpled wad of cash and waited patiently while she counted it. “108,000 colones,” she announced. “There is more than that, isn’t there?” I asked in surprise. I hadn’t bothered to count the money before I handed it to her, and it seemed short of what I had anticipated. She rolled her eyes at me, annoyed, and counted again, out loud, in a condescending tone. I saw 100,000 go by, and then, wasn’t that a 10,000 note?

I fumbled for the right words in Spanish. The wrong ones dribbled out as I tried, stupidly, to protest. The line was growing behind me, the teller was visibly exasperated. And I was tired, hungry, sick, and delirious. I couldn’t think. Maybe I was wrong. I was in a bank, for god sakes. I backed off, accepted the cordobas, and went on my way. But later on, this concession irked me. I added up my expenses since the previous night, and it was unequivocal – the teller had miscounted. Luckily, it only equated to a loss of about $20, a fair price for a lesson learned: Use up your cash before crossing the border, carry dollars if possible, find out the exchange rate ahead of time, and trust the border guys (their rate turned out to be equivalent to the bank’s).

Returning to customs, I paid my entry tax and officially crossed into Nicaragua. I was again bombarded by people wanting to get me taxis. “I’m riding the bus,” I kept repeating in Spanish, as they tried to convince me of the merits of taxis. I was finally ushered toward a dilapidated bus, my bag wrenched from my hands and loaded into the back. A circle of men surrounded me. “You need to pay him,” someone said, gesturing toward a disheveled looking young man. I had the weird feeling that I was being conned into giving bus fare to a crook, and apprehensively asked if he was the bus driver. “Claro,” the circle of men confirmed, becoming more insistent. I gave up and handed him the money, feeling a little ridiculous as the sum I was guarding so protectively amounted to about a dollar.

I stepped onto the bus and saw smiling faces, a surfboard, another traveler I had met on the bus to Liberia. The disheveled man to whom I had handed my money got behind the wheel. Clearly, I have a lot to learn about who to trust. I don’t know if it was instinct or reason speaking to me, whatever it is, it needs some tuning. Luke, the owner of the other surfboard, was also going to Popoyo, so we decided to share a taxi. He gave me tips on places to stay in nearby Guasacate and filled me in on the surrounding waves.

Initially, the waves were a bit of a letdown. The swell had dropped, and after scoring in Playa Negra, the waves at Popoyo seemed small and inconsistent. I was anxious to revisit Playa Colorado, a nearby break I had surfed with Annie Atkinson in 2010, which is a well-known swell magnet. One day I ran into a group of Brazilians that was headed there, and offered to give me a ride.

A lot can change in five years. Nearly all of the beach front property at Playa Colorado has been privatized into Hacienda Iguana, a gated community of luxurious villas and manicured golf course that shelters rich travelers from the harsh realities of Nicaragua. I went out for a surf with the Brazilians, but the waves were lackluster; the wind was strong and the lineup was crowded. After catching a few waves, I went in and did yoga on the freshly cut grass while I waited for the Brazilians, thinking how fortunate I was to be able to blend in there so easily. I wondered how a nica would fare if he wandered in to surf on his ancestors’ land. Probably not so well.

The Brazilians were staying at Colorado, so that meant I had to find my way back to Guasacate, about 30 minutes away by car. Needless to say, there were no buses at Hacienda Iguana – only rental cars and hotel shuttles. I headed onto the dirt road on foot, the midday sun beating down on my hatless head, the wind struggling to wrench my surfboard from under my arm. I stuck out my thumb for the odd car that passed by on the way out of Hacienda Iguana. No takers.

I resigned myself to walking, hoping I could make it back to Guasacate by dark. Eventually, a motorcycle stopped ahead on the road and a stoutly man waved me over. “Where are you going?” he asked in Spanish. “I want to get closer to Guasacate,” I replied. He motioned me on behind him. Though the stoutly man was decked out in boots, a full face helmet, and heavy duty clothing, I just had flip-flops, sunglasses, and a cumbersome board. I weighed the danger of getting on the motorcycle against the agony of the impeding trudge and inevitable sunburn. I decided to take my chances.

Throwing my leg over the seat and gripping my board tightly under my right arm, I held onto the stoutly man’s shoulder with my left hand and hoped for the best. From the moment we set off, it became apparent that this system wasn’t going to work. The wind whipped at my board, threatening to tear it from my grasp. I needed to use two hands. I threw out prudence as a sacrifice to the violent wind and gripped the stoutly man’s hips between my thighs. Thankfully, his ample girth provided cushion and traction for my knees. I let go of his shoulder, now hands-free, and wrapped my other hand around my board to steady its bucking.

Thank god for my years of horseback riding, being put to practical use as I struggled to retain my balance. We flew at top speed over bumpy, grated dirt roads. I braced myself for each rock, pit, and speed bump as my butt went airborne, the viselike grip of my knees on the stoutly man my only anchor. I was acutely conscious of the wind in my helmetless hair, knowing that one errant bump or gust could send my board, or worse yet, my body, into a severely disabled state.

Twenty minutes later, we arrived safely in Guasacate, and I painfully disengaged my cramped legs from the stoutly man, pried my white-knuckled fingers from the board. Glowing with the thrill of being alive and unharmed, I asked the driver how much I owed him. “Nothing,” he said. “But I want to give you something,” I protested, “a few dollars, a beer?” He politely declined, assuring me that he was headed this way anyway. I thanked him profusely and watched as he rode off in a cloud of dust.

Shell shocked, I stood there dumbfounded, just happy to be standing in the road, off of the motorcycle, with my board in one piece. As the blood returned to my fingers, I became aware of the feel of the board beneath them. It felt…different. I probed the rail with my hands, flipped it sideways for a closer look. Indeed, my death grip was stamped firmly into the rail of the board. It hadn’t cracked the glass, but there was the distinct imprint of a pressure ding, a momento of the wild ride that will persist for the remainder of this board’s life. Funny enough, it’s in the same spot that I grip when I duck dive, a new handle custom shaped for me, a reminder to hold on tight.

2 thoughts on “Wild Ride

  • Posted on May 26, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    Aloe, every day seems packed with the spirit of adventure. I pictured every bump and turn on your motor bike ride in this installment. Fantastic!!

  • Posted on May 24, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    Worth waiting for…real exciting blog. But I’m glad I didn’t now about the motorcycle until you were safe and off of it : – ). I love you sooo much. Nana


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