I rolled away from Hostal Zopilote on Ometepe Island early in the morning towards San Juan del Sur to stay with my old friend Tucker’s Dad, also named Tucker. It felt a little premature to leave Ometepe as I’d not yet climbed the big volcano and the island clearly had a magic to it that would take time to unpack. Hidden permaculture farms, coves, waterfalls, and creative innovative people abound. But Noah and Kali were in San Juan and I wanted more time with them before they pushed off back to the States. I was on also excited to see Tucker Jr (that’s the Dad) and the life he’d created in Nicaragua. I’d known him since I was about 22 years old, through his son and my close college friend Tucker 3.0. Incidentally T3 would be coming down with his rad wife Jessica and newborn child (you guessed it, T4) to stay in 10 days or so and I couldn’t miss the chance to spend time with the Teutch clan and 3 generations of Tuckers.
Bike shoes fade into bare feet and sand. It would be at least 10 days of down time around San Juan, time to explore the beaches, the back dirt roads along the Pacific Nico coast, and take in some surf culture.
I arrived in San Juan late afternoon, following T2’s directions to his home in the hills above San Juan. It was hot. I was dripping with sweat and completely dehydrated. I came around a corner on a tiny dirt road to see a clean beautiful swimming pool with sweet little houses decorating the hills around it. I hear a voice — “Scott, over here!” and in moments I was swimming, beer in hand. It was LOVELY.
Tucker was a FANTASTIC host. He let me help him with cooking some meals and other odd jobs, and very kindly offered me my own floor of his newly green-built home intended to be a rental in the future. NOTE — if you’re going to be swinging through San Juan, this is a GREAT place to stay. I can put you in touch, he’s on Air BnB!
Every morning Tucker would wake me just after sunrise with fresh coffee and relaxed conversation. Many evenings were spent much the same way. A calm, quiet life away from the hubbub of touristy downtown San Juan del Sur.
I spent many days exploring the back roads along the coast line, discovering myriad beautiful beaches. One day I took every dirt road to a beach I could find along a 20 mile stretch. I think it was either 8 or 9 enormous, vacant beaches. Most in fact were completely empty, leaving miles of open space all to myself.
Lots of good packed sand for perfect beach riding and rock rumbling…
Some of the beaches were MUCH more crowded. Playa Remanso, for example. The whole coastline has become a mecca for surfers from brand newbies to advanced. Each level having different beaches and breaks on which to challenge their skills. I did rent a board one day and take a lesson another. But I’ve come to realize, I’m a mountain guy. I love the power, peace, and wisdom the ocean shares when in its presence, but I just really prefer to go up really high and then go all the way down. Lessons learned…
Border Run. I had assumed that the 90 days provided to cross through the CA-4 Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua would be more than enough. But I spent nearly 2 of those months in Guatemala alone. The fines for overstaying a visa incur daily, so it made the most sense to take a day and ride the 45kms of road to the Costa Rican border for a renewal. Of course, it had to be turned into an adventure…
Leaving early from Tucker’s place, I took the paved San Juan road up to the Pan-American highway, where I encountered a rather large gathering of windmills. Pointed at about 10 o’clock to the direction of the highway, I got to enjoy a STRONG cross headwind the whole way down. I’ve come to smile every time I see a big windmill ahead in the distance these days. It’s just amazing how EVERY time I see them I happen to be riding against the wind in some way.
Ever wonder exactly how big a windmill blade is??? I always have. They seem both huge and only moderate when they’re up on the tower spinning off int he distance. But up close, everything was in perspective. Modern windmills are SO enormous.
Cuban refugees. Amidst all the news de jour of the horrible state of affairs for Syrian refugees, I found myself at the Costa Rican border, SURROUNDED by stranded Cubans. This was a particularly poignant experience given my experience of living in Habana many years ago, yet not having been around many Cubans for the last 10 years or so. Highly interesting. I learned that Ecuador is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t require a visa from Cuban citizens in order to visit. So, every year thousands of Cuban people gather all the money they have and fly to Quito in order to begin an arduous and highly dangerous land crossing of the Americas in order to set foot on US soil. By current law any Cuban who reaches US soil is permitted entrance, but there has been rumor as of late that this law might be lost with a new US president. So the numbers of Cubans making the journey have increased in the last year accordingly.
Unfortunately the steady Northbound flow hit a bottleneck, first at the Panama/Costa Rica border for a couple of weeks as they weren’t granted entrance Northbound. This lead to a backup of about 2000 people who were eventually given just 7 days of a visa to pass through Costa Rica and get into Nicaragua. But the much more significant back up happened at the Costa Rica/Nicaragua border, as Nicaragua did not grant visas to this group which rioted out of desperation. Nicaragua closed it’s Northern border entirely for a few days while they got the situation under “control” — the day I arrived, over 3000 people had surrounded the Costa Rican customs building, having created a maze of small ‘“rooms” out of plastic highway dividers. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for them. But spirits seemed reasonably level based on the few people I spoke with. Not much to be done. So many had had taken all their savings to make the trek to the US, only to be robbed by their own guides, by Colombian police, or other criminals of opportunity. Now, with no money and a long way still to reach their intended destinations, they were stuck. Luckily many Costa Rican (Tico) locals had offered sleeping space in their yards, churches and community buildings, gathering donations for food. Nobody was starving, but it was not a good situation. I wish I could have helped, but didn’t know how.
After talking with some of the folks hanging around the customs building, I got my Costa Rican entrance stamp, rode 15 feet into the country, then turned around and reversed the process to get a new Nicaragua stamp. 90 more days! I would only use about 10 of them, but still. I felt guilty gaining entrance to Nicaragua so easily when so many people around me could not. Privilege can be so painful.
Shortly after regaining the Nico border, I turned away from the Pan-American highway to follow a small dirt road to the coast, paralleling the international border. It started simple enough, then the hills got long, rocky, and steep steep steep.
Amidst a particularly precipitous incline, I saw a bicycle coming slowly down towards me, braking heavily to avoid loosing control. Wait, there’s two people on that bike. And… a trailer! Whoa! First other bike tourists on the road since sometime in Guatemala! This Swedish couple had flown in to Costa Rica with tandem and trailer, headed up to Managua. I was truly impressed that they seemed to be having a great time despite the rough roads via a “divorce machine”. I just can’t imagine traveling long distances with someone on a tandem. But that’s my own stuff….
After bidding farewell, I continued on to a progressively more rough and steep roller coaster road down to the coast. Beautiful. All by myself. No cars. Spider monkeys swinging through the trees. Birds. Spiders. Lovely. Eventually I made it back to Tucker’s tired, dirty and happy.
At long last, Nextgen showed up! Tucker III, Jessica and Tucker IV. Beyond my recollection was the last time I had a long time to connect with Tucker. It was a gift.
And his kid is pretty damn cute.
Three generations of Teutchs.
After a few wonderful days together I pushed off for Costa Rica. I’d only have a few riding days to get to the international airport in Liberia to catch a flight to Medellin Colombia. But that’s… another story.
Where I Rode:
Getting to San Juan: Santa Cruz (on Ometepe Island) –> Moyogalpa –(ferry)–> Rivas –> La Virgen –> San Juan
Around San Juan: Riding the coast road, taking every side road to every beach I could between Playa Ostional to the South and Gigante to the North.
Border Run: San Juan –> La Virgen –> Sapoá (Nico border) –> Peñas Blancas (Costa Rican border) –> Sapoá –> La Tigre –> Ostional –> San Juan