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A Surfing Trip Is the Ideal Solution to Forget All This Mess

Nicaraguas magical coast is where this travel writer plans to gather friends and clear her head post-pandemic.

By Jen Murphy
5 de mayo de 2020 15:14 GMT-5
Surfing at Mukul Resort in Nicaragua.
Surfing at Mukul Resort in Nicaragua. Source: Tropicsurf SHARE THIS ARTICLE Share Tweet Post Email
At the moment, all of our plans are on hold. But that doesnt mean we here at Bloomberg Pursuits arent planning the experiences well rush out to enjoy when its safe to do so. Were sharing our ideas with you in the hopes that they will help inspire youand wed love to hear what you are daydreaming about, too. Send us your ideas at daydreams@bloomberg.net, and well flesh some of them out for this column.

Almost 20 years ago, Nicaragua won Jen Murphys heart as she rode its waves. And for the Hawaii-based travel writer, therell be no better place to celebrate a return to normalcy than a country where resiliency has been ingrained in the local spirit.

Surfing is a freedom I never imagined could be taken away. After all, thats why many of us fall in love with the sport in the first place. To paddle out into the vast expanse of ocean is freedom in its purest sense. You leave behind your worries and stress, not to mention your iPhone and the inescapable news cycle back on the shore. Youre able to truly disconnect. You find yourself humbled by the power of the ocean as it surges beneath you. You lose yourself in the thrill of riding across the face of a wave. You marvel as a glistening backspray showers down on you as you paddle out over a fresh set.

Ive watched in disbelief these past few months as the ocean has been deemed off-limits to surfers in Spain, South Africa, Brazil, and beyond. Surfers in Los Angeles are getting $1,000 fines, and one at Playa Hermosa in Costa Rica was shot at by a police officer as he got out of the water. Just as Africa depends on safari-goers to support its conservation efforts, the ocean relies on surfers to be some of its biggest stewards. (See: the Surfrider Foundations 2019 victories; the World Surf Leagues philanthropic initiative, PURE, which works in conjunction with Columbia Universitys Center for Climate and Life to support research on ocean health.)

Hawaiis Paige Alms performs at the Jaws Big Wave competition off Maui on Dec. 12, 2019. Photographer: BRIAN BIELMANN/AFP
Im blessed to live in Maui, where surfing is not just a sportits deeply ingrained in Hawaiian culture, having been brought over from ancient Polynesia and embraced by alii, Hawaiian royalty. Throughout the pandemic-induced lockdown, the Hawaiian government has allowed surfing to continue, and locals are taking full advantage of the lack of foam-top-riding kooks (people who have no idea what theyre doing in the water), often tourists, dropping in on their waves. Although, with tourism down 95% in some cases and 1 in 3 workers having filed for jobless claims, leaving little else to do but surf, breaks here feel more crowded than evereven with social distancing.

For me, surfing has always been about more than a physical thrill. Its been about the search and sense of discovery in a time when everywhere feels discovered. From the remote icy waters of Easter Island to the barreling waves of the Azores, Ive angled for writing assignments that have taken me to destinations with still-under-the-radar surf. So as I patiently wait my turn in the lineup, I cant help but get wistful for Nicaragua, where a dozen people in the ocean is considered a crowd.

Throughout most of the 20th century, Nicaraguans were focused on survival, not surfing. The Somoza dictatorship that began in the 1930s led to almost five decades of revolutions and counterrevolutions, interrupted by a disastrous earthquake in 1972. Violent conflict between the leftist, Communist-backed Sandinista government and American-backed Contra rebels consumed the 1980s.

relates to A Surfing Trip Is the Ideal Solution to Forget All This Mess Mukul Beach, Golf & Spa in Nicaragua.Source: Tropicsurf Unlike in Costa Rica, its politically stable neighbor to the south, Nicaraguas more than 155 miles of western coast remained largely undiscovered until intrepid surfers started to trickle in following the end of the civil war in 1990. Undaunted by a lack of tourism infrastructure, they were rewarded with a surfers paradise: warm water, long golden beaches set against wild jungle, and every imaginable type of wave, from point and reef breaks to sand-bottom barrels.

Nicknamed the Land of Offshores by surfers, the country is home to trade winds that blow unobstructed from the Caribbean side across Lake Nicaragua and Lake Managua to the Pacific side, making Nicaragua one of the few places on the planet with at least 330 days of offshore winds each year. Those unicorn winds create a consistent swell, which means the surf is up all day, nearly every day. And although it might not have the postcard perfection of Hawaii or Tahiti, thats part of its charm. Theres a raw beauty that feels refreshingly real and untouched.

Ryley Haskell, a California-born surfer and guide for boutique surf operator Tropicsurf, has worked in bucket-list wave destinations like Fiji and the Maldives. And yet he, like me, would return to Nicaragua in a heartbeat. With peak wave season approaching in June and July, heres the surf safari I plan to take with my girlfriends once Covid-19 travel restrictions have eased.

Road Trip Down the Coast relates to A Surfing Trip Is the Ideal Solution to Forget All This Mess The Tribal Hotel in Granada.Photographer: Julien Capmeil No longer a secret, as selfishly as Id have liked it to remain, Nicaragua now caters to more than just budget-minded surfers. You wont find luxury chains, but there are plenty of hip boutique hotels, like Tribal in Granada, and amenity-rich eco lodges, such as Morgans Rock in San Juan del Sur. In addition to waves, the country shares many of Costa Ricas other natural wondersvolcanoes, pristine beaches, charming colonial towns, wildlife-rich rainforest. And in Nicaragua they can be experienced for a fraction of the price.

Id fly into Augusto C. Sandino International Airport in Managua; international and domestic flights are currently suspended, but American Airlines and TACA typically fly direct from Miami, and United Airlines from New York via Houston. Once there, Id head right out of the congested capital and drive northwest on Highway 3 toward Chinandega.

En route, Id stop in the colonial town of Len, with its pastel-hued churches. Behind the main cathedral, you cant go wrong at any of the fritangassimple street-side barbecues where abuelitas fry everything from chorizo to plantainsand I always detour for a double scoop of tres leches gelato served in a handmade cone at artisanal ice cream shop Kiss Me.

relates to A Surfing Trip Is the Ideal Solution to Forget All This Mess The city of Len.Photographer: Alexander Schimmeck/Flickr When I first visited Chinandega nearly 20 years ago, there were two hotels and everyone was on horseback. The locals were fishermen and subsistence farmers. Gringos toting boards on mopeds came through to surf the BoomNicaraguas most famous wave, just a short drive away in the village of Aserradores. The fast and heavy A-Frame is not for the inexperienced, but the area has plenty of mellow surf, too. Former pro surfer Holly Beck chose this area to launch her pioneering womens surf camp, Surf With Amigas in 2010.

When Id surf in Mexico, I always ended up with diarrhea and had to worry about gang violence, says the California native. Nicaragua was cleaner, safer, and more affordable. I never saw guns. The waves were always good. The people were super friendly. Id finally check off my wish of spending a week at one of Becks retreats (from $1,800 per person).

My friends and I would then make our way south, connecting on Highway 1 until we reached the Emerald Coast, just over a four-hour drive. (You can also fly private straight into Costa Esmeralda Airport, which remains open). On that first trip, I fell hard for the sleepy fishing villages of Gigante and Popoyo and even harder for the 10 world-class breaksfrom longboard peelers to deep, hollow reef breaksin a span of 30 miles.

The waves remain as epic as ever, but a true surf community has emerged thanks to cool hoteliers such as Jade Sheppard, local surfboard shaper Giezi Amador, and a youth surf team. My friends and I would stay at Malibu Popoyo, Sheppards 2-year-old, 12-casita hotel, where the price includes board rentals and surf guiding. Wed wake up and take a boat trip to Lances Left, a seemingly never-ending rock reef break of amazing consistency and beauty. Then wed recharge by the hotels pool with fish tacos and locally brewed kombucha. A sunset surf at Playa Santana, a wedgy beach break a short walk from the hotel, would cap off the action. Wed share highlights from the days rides around the hotels fire pit while listening to live music and sipping Toa, Nicas ubiquitous lager. By the third day our shoulders would be paddle-weary, so wed indulge ourselves with massages at Rancho Santanas new 6,000-square-foot spa, located just down the beach.

The final leg of our trip would take us 90 minutes south to San Juan del Sur. I remember visiting this laid-back port town in late 2017 and fretting that it was on the verge of becoming sceney Tulum. But in April 2018 political unrest, once again, sent the countrys tourism industry reeling, pushing pause on some of the less salubrious developments.

I was there again last September, and I must admit I quite prefer the area without the Insta influencers. Instead, theres a Bohemian-cool clan that gathers for happy hour by the infinity pool of Arte-Sano Hotel & Cafe. Here, tucked away on a cliff above popular, rippable beach break Playa Maderas, would be my base of choice. The owners, along with the couple behind craft brewery San Juan del Sur Cervecera, also run nearby Machete Market Caf, where wed gather on Fridays for pizza night, a rowdy get-together of live jams, brick oven pies, and artisanal brews.

Non-Surf Days

At some point even the most die-hard surfers muscles need a rest from paddling. You wont regret taking a break from the coast to explore the colonial town of Granada, a 90-minute drive north of Popoyo. (You could also head straight here from Managua, skipping the more raw north, which is definitely for the hardier surfer.)

Enlist Granada-based Brit Dominic Allen, founder of travel company Real Latin America, to help with your planning. On my last visit he steered me to Garden Caf, where Id return for the spicy curries and superfood smoothies, but also to shop at Thousand Cranes, its well-curated shop dedicated to local artisans, designers, and impactful groups including UPNicaragua. If youre a chocolate snob like I am, pop into Argencove, an impressive bean-to-bar operation in town. And if theres one souvenir you must take home, its a hammock, which should be purchased from nowhere but Tio Antonio Hamaca, a store that provides jobs to at-risk youth.

In Nicaragua a private island experience is also within reach for more than the 1 Percent. When the Mombacho volcano erupted hundreds of years ago, it scattered its top into Lake Nicaragua, creating 360-some islets.

relates to A Surfing Trip Is the Ideal Solution to Forget All This Mess A pool at El Coyol.Source: El Coyo My friends and I would either splurge and rent El Coyol, a stunning four-bedroom villa just off the shores of Granada, or wed book a handful of the nine treehouse-style casitas at Jicaro, an ecolodge operated by the Cayuga Collection, one of my favorite sustainably minded hotel brands. Just a 10-minute boat ride from town, the lodge helps guests disconnect with yoga, wildlife viewing, stand-up paddleboarding sessions, and hammocks strung from the decks of every room so you can sleep beneath the stars, dreaming of still better days ahead.

Every surfer has experienced the moment when they think theyve made the drop down a face of a wave, only to be unforgivingly pummeled, or sucked over the falls into a washing-machine spin drive of a beating. Many countries have faced wipeouts from political and natural disasters, but few have taken the licks and popped back up, ready for another set, like Nicaragua. After war, Zika virus, Tropical Storm Nate, and the political upheaval that all but shut down tourism the last two years, the country has been on a roller coaster of highs and lowsand now a pandemic.

I like to think the resilience its shown over the decades will kick in as the world slowly reemerges from lockdown. And when it does, although most surfers dream of having the ocean as their own private playground, Ill be more than happy to share its perfect waves.