Nicaragua has been one of our most favorite places in the world for years. We fell in love with southern Nicaragua many years ago. Until last year, we had never traveled to Northern Nicaragua and when we did, we fell in love all over again. Since our epic trip last year we have gotten many updates about the kids and their progress. The guys at El Coco Loco kept telling us how the kids surfing have really improved since we donated 10 new Firewire’s last year. Needless to say we were ecstatic to get there and see for ourselves.
Accompanying me on this trip is Kerri Smith, a friend of mine who was one of our sponsors for the South Africa stoke mission. She has been a supporter of STSF for several years. When my original traveling partner backed out of the trip, I knew I must get Kerri on board. I asked, she thought for about a nano second and said yes. I was stoked!
Saturday came and I picked Kerri up and we sped on off to the Miami airport. We made our flight with no problems. Even our boards made it to Nicaragua without a scratch. Our driver was waiting and soon enough all the kids boards were secured to the top of the van and we were headed towards Coco Loco. It was about a four-hour adventure full of several stops, erratic drivers and gorgeous views of the volcanoes. We were really hoping to catch a surf session before dark and between the rain squalls. Luckily, we arrived, grabbed a board and sped off to the surf.
Later that night we had our first epic meal of coconut curry, rice and vegetables accompanied by a delicious coffee cake with ice cream. Over dinner we talked a lot about how tomorrow would shake out. Because tomorrow was Sunday it forced us to have the smaller kids tournament since they would be heading to school on Monday. Once we agreed on everything and dialed in the plan we headed to our casitas and drifted off to sleep by 9:30.
Sunday morn came early. The sun is up already by 5:30am. We headed to the community area for some coffee and breakfast and soon enough the kids were here. I saw a lot of familiar faces. It is wild to see what a year can do to people. Young kids now seemed older and mature and some of the babies had turned into kids. The kids were all smiley and super stoked about the big day. After all they would be competing for a new surfboard. Most of the competitors have only been surfing for a year. They have learned to surf by using the library board system (LBS) that we set up last year. This is a program where kids can use the boards based on their performance in school and their community. Most of these kids are products of the LBS. It is awesome to know that systems and projects put into place last year are thriving and prosperous.
We all walked down to the point where the contest would go down. Kerri was chosen to be a judge while I captured the event on film. We had nine kids show up wanting to compete so we broke them up into two initial heats and then the top three and two from those heats move on to the finals where a winner would be crowned. The first heat kicked off and the kids were out of the gate ripping. You can always see a kids potential as soon as they are up and riding on a wave and there were several kids with loads of talent. During the finals I stepped away from behind the lens and grabbed the gopro and fins and swam out to get some action shots of the kids close up. It is always fun to be in the water with the kids yelling for them to GO! As the finals came to a close we all headed back up to Coco Loco for a delicious breakfast for all the kids and spectators of pancakes, fruit and passion-fruit juice. We also crowned the winner with a brand new Tomo Firewire. Luis was so stoked and the smiled proved it. Second and third place also got some boards. After the ceremony all the kids were sizing up their boards and the smiles were flowing.
As the buzz wore off we headed down for a surf to cool off.
We now had a couple of days before the next surf contest for the community. We spent those days surfing, sightseeing and relaxing. It was so awesome every time we surfed we were usually surrounded by kids on Firewire boards, some from this year and most from last year. I remember one evening in particular that everyone had gotten out of the water except me which freaks me out a bit. I saw some locals surfing the point about 500 yards away. I decided to paddle down to surf with them to keep from surfing alone. I had never met these guys before but they were eager to share their waves with me. About thirty minutes before dark I saw a kid on the beach walking down with a board under his arm. Even from so far away I could see that it was a Tomo (futuristic Firewire shaped board) and I knew instantly that it was Luis who had won the juniors event. I was stoked. He paddled out and I paddled in to where he was so I could chat with him to see if he liked his new board. Needless to say, he loved it and his enthusiasm proved it. He caught wave after wave. It seems so easy for these kids to catch waves. They just paddle and go. I got a few waves and surfed until I couldn’t see and said goodbye to my surf buddy and headed back to camp.
One of the other highlights of our trip was a trip to Telica, an active volcano. Rumor had it that you could literally walk to the edge of the crater. I was pumped. We made the hour and a half trek to Leon where we sat and had a drink and bite to eat and checked emails for the first time of the trip. After we organized pickups for when we arrive in Miami we shut down the phones and jumped in a 4×4 customized to seat 10 people in the back along each window. The first 45 minutes or so of the adventure was on a dirt road that seemed to me to be an old riverbed. As we slowly ascended the ride got bumpier and bumpy turned into super rocky and sometimes steeply inclined. All of us in the back seat were getting jostled around and were bumping into each other. It was pretty fun, especially the part like being packed in there like sardines sweating our behinds off. After an hour and a half we made it to the farm-house. When I say farm-house, my first instinct is to think of a super nice house sitting atop a large field with flowers and animals running freely. This was not that kind of setting but had a beauty in its own way. As soon as we pulled up the folks living there all came out to see us. There was probably at least 10-15 people living in what seemed to be a one or two room house of the very basic variety. There were several dogs barking loudly and a momma cat with some babies hanging around as well. We quickly made a pit stop to the out house to where on our way we noticed a large pig eating a sort of hodgepodge kind of meal in a bowl. This place was feral and I loved it. I appreciate the lack of sophistication and modernization that I find on almost all of the trips I go on. I love seeing how others live their lives. I appreciate the simplicity that I see or what I make up in my mind that life is like in Nicaragua. I wonder if they see it as simple or if life is a burden and super hard to make enough to support their basic needs. I feel a bit of envy as I see how they live with so little and they are happy. It is a reminder that things will never make me happy. For me it is experiences, fleeting moments that remind me that life is precious and to take nothing for granted. It is a reminder to seize every moment, laugh, make jokes and spend time with people who you love. Okay enough with all that☺ Our guide Freddy led the trek and we all followed suit. At times the hike was mellow and sometimes it got a little steep. We were all definitely huffing and puffing at times. As we came out of the trees and got pretty high up you could see in pretty much all directions except in the direction of the volcano because it was so high. We took some photos and oohed and ahhed. We kept on and headed up the trail towards the big plume of steam that was being emitted from inside the huge crater. Soon enough we were right at the crater and it was a super eerie feeling. We knew this volcano was active and it was producing this loud noise from within. To the bottom It was 130 meters I had heard someone say. You couldn’t really see the bottom too well because of all the steam. It was also hard to breathe from the sulfur in the air it was constantly producing. You could have literally jumped into it of you had wanted to. There were no guard rails. It was super scary. After we had our fill of the sulfuric air we trekked over to the side of it and posted up to catch the sunset. We sat around talking and laughing with our buddies from Paris, Kelly and Lorenzo, who were also staying at Coco Loco. Unfortunately, the sunrise didn’t produce anything to write home about. When it was pretty dark we walked back over to the crater to look inside to see if we could see any lava. We did!!! We were all super stoked. They had told us we probably wouldn’t see any because of the steam that is produced by water and heat combining. Because it is rainy season the volcano stays very steamy. We couldn’t see a ton of lava but we definitely saw several patches. Finally it was time to get back down to the farm-house. Freddy asked if we had flashlights with us. Ooops! We didn’t bring any which made for a tricky descent down the volcano. Funny enough the only one that fell was Freddy☺ Before we knew it we arrived at the farmhouse where the whole family was hanging around ready to serve us a traditional Nica meal of rice, beans and egg. I’m pretty sure that I was the only one who didn’t mind the meal:) It certainly wasn’t five star but it certainly filled our bellies. We made it back to Coco Loco around 9:30 pm which was the latest any of us had been up since we had arrived. It was our big night out☺
The next morning was the older boys contest. We had heard that the swell was supposed to be bigger that day so that is why we chose that day. Well, mother nature forgot to produce for the event. There were waves but it wasn’t ideal for a competition where a bunch of guys were ready to strut their stuff. We had about 25 guys compete. They were all pumped. Ben had told me they have been talking about the competition for about eight months now. I know that the competition is one of the things that is most important to them. Ben, Kerri and Earl were the judges of this event and were like old pros scoring the guys on their waves. I videoed the guys and tried to capture the moment that is so important to this community. By about noon the contest was over and we caught a ride back to Coco Loco where there was full on pancake feeding frenzy in full swing. The top four boys would get to pick which Firewire board they would receive and if any of them had won a board last year they could take a new one or keep their old one. If they took a new one they had to donate their old one to the surfboard library. Ben called out the boys starting with fourth place up to first. First place got first pick. They all grabbed the ones they wanted. They would pick them up and get a good feel before carefully selecting the perfect stick. It is awesome seeing these guys get a new board, something that we can experience over and over again in the states but they will most likely never have that experience other than when we come to town. It feels nice to be able to give the gift of surfing. It is the essence of what we do. We love to reward good kids with amazing boards. All of the guys in the contest had to volunteer at the local high school for a minimum number of hours to earn their entry into the contest. They also had to show up and support the younger boys during their event as well. After spending a week there you get to know the guys and see how they are a gentle group. I watched them all surfing just having the best time hooting and hollering us into waves. Once again, this was an amazing trip full of adventure, barrels, love and making new friends. There is never a bad trip, they are always amazing and that is because we always meet the right people and are in the right place at the right time. Thank you Nicaragua for sharing your culture, love and plentiful waves. See you in 2015!