Nica beach cruising

July 15th, 2012

Riding the beach was something we’d long wanted to do on this trip – but so far it had never quite worked out.

Having battled the heat, trucks and tedium of the Interamericana for the previous few days on our dash across Honduras, we were keen to find an alternative route down through Nicaragua. And so, after a few days of rest and relaxation in León, Nicaragua’s revolutionary capital, we bid a sad farewell to Nate – who was off to the USA to buy some new tyres visit his girlfriend – and set off for the beach.

Our map showed a network of minor roads which in theory would allow us to keep west and track down the Pacific coast. On paper, it looked perfect – but not for the first time, our map was a triumph of optimism over the reality of Central American backroads. Gradually, the roads became rough tracks, then trails – and then disappeared entirely.

However – as has always been the case when we have given up on the map and relied on locals’ advice from village to village – it made for a memorable few days, and finally delivered our long-awaited fix of beach riding.

James

A welcome break from truck dodging - the almost deserted (and very straight) old highway from León to Managua. We followed this as far south as Santa Rita, where we turned off towards the seaside towns of Masachapa and Pochomil and stopped for lunch. We've learned that we always cycle better in the morning, and so the decision to stop to eat has turned into an epic battle of wills, as both of us fight to stave off the pre-lunch wobbles and churn out a few more km.

When one of us finally does crack, we fall into a heap at the side of the road - and almost always find a friend hoping for scraps. Needless to say, begging from hungry cyclists is very rarely profitable...

...even when you're this cute. If Bedders had her way, this guy would have been into her handlebar bag in a flash, and coming on a very long holiday.

After a night in Masachapa, we headed along the coast to Pochomil. As the closest beaches to Managua, this stretch of coast used to be popular in the past with weekenders from the city, but with the rise of the more fashionable San Juan del Sur in the south it has a faded air. Desperate restaurant owners chased us along the beach for our business, and most of the luxurious beach-front homes like this one seemed to be up for sale.

We started to ride the beach from Pochomil towards La Boquita - but were stopped by locals who told us with the tide coming in we would never make it across a deep channel which lay ahead. First lesson of beach riding - it's all about the timing.

Instead we cut inland, where we found a track which snaked its way through enormous sugar cane plantations and tiny coastal villages. Two friendly engineers from the plantation company on motorbikes stopped ahead at each junction to make sure we were headed on the right track.

Remember Anneka Rice? Well let me introduce you to her Central America reincarnation: Anneka Rice and Beans. She's been revamped for a new eco-friendly generation, ditching the helicopter for a bike. She eats hills for breakfast...

...fords rivers without a whimper...

...and limbos trees just for fun. The question is - what happened to the all in one lycra suit? So far, all I've seen have been the shorts...

Bananas have taken centre-stage in our Central American diet. They're cheap, filling and - when added to a hot dog roll like this - distinctly gourmet.

After popping out in La Trinidad, we hit tarmac again for an easy freewheel back down to the coast at Casares, the biggest fishing village along the coast. The boats were already hauled up out of the water for the day, and pigs snuffled amongst them looking for shade and scraps.

Beyond Huehuete, the "main highway" marked on our map came to an abrupt end - clearly the map makers' optimism exceeded the Nicaraguan government's funds when it came to road improvements. A quick consultation with some locals revealed that the beach was by far the best way to continue our route south - and this time we were in luck.

The tide was out, revealing a perfect highway of wet, hard-packed sand and a window of a couple of hours to reach the village of El Astillero 20km south, where we could rejoin the coastal road.

Finally we were riding the beach, making good progress until...

...SNAP! The metallic sound that every cyclist knows and dreads, and Sarah's first broken spoke of the trip. A quick beach repair and we were off again...then HISS! A puncture in the same wheel. Suddenly our window of time was looking very tight, and our water bottles almost empty. We decided to cut our losses for the day and find somewhere to camp.

As always, it was a local to the rescue. Ramón was looking after one of the beachfront villas nearby and had watched us struggling with the wheel. He filled our bottles and invited us to camp. A dove provided the evening entertainment, preening itself in Sarah's mirror before attempting a bizarre and suicidal landing in our pan of boiling pasta.

We were up at dawn, having worked out that we should have another window of time to ride the beach to El Astillero while the tide was out.

Some locals had beaten us to it, providing us with a perfect set of tyre tracks to follow. Squadrons of pelicans skimmed the waves just offshore, and hermit crabs scattered in front of us in every direction, racing to tuck themselves away inside their shells.

Stop for a minute though and they would nervously emerge: first, the eyes, like miniature periscopes; next a tentative claw; and finally, in a whir of legs, off they would scuttle.

We made good progress for about 10km until just before Veracruz, where the beach once again became steeper and the sand deeper, swallowing our heavy bikes. We were stuck. Luckily some local fisherman were on hand to help us drag our bikes off the beach. They walked us inland and onto a beautiful track that they assured us would lead us south...

...which it indeed did. And so, 12 hours later than expected, we finally arrived in the fishing village of El Astillero - just as the morning catch was being brought in and sold along the beach.

For me, there's only one meal better than breakfast - and that's second breakfast. We celebrated our beach ride with a typical Nica feast: gallo pinto (rice and beans cooked with herbs), tostones (fried plantains), scrambled eggs with tomato and onion and a slice of crumbly, fresh cheese.

With our beach jaunt over for the time being, we turned inland again and headed across the narrow isthmus towards Lake Nicaragua, where we had planned a few days on Ometepe Island. First we stocked up on water from this ingenious bike wheel well...

...before heading for Tola across a changing landscape. The roads became wider and faster, surfboards appeared strapped to flash 4x4s, and the signs suddenly all switched into English. We were clearly back in gringo holiday home territory.

After a drowning in a mid-afternoon thunderstorm, we arrived in Rivas tired and soggy. Feeling cheap, we thought we'd try our luck at the local bomberos (fire station) - who sure enough were happy to let us fire up the stove and crash on their floor...

...all under the watchful eye of their dalmatian, Capitán. But we were more fascinated by a particularly memorable fireman, who our friend Andy had encountered and photographed when he stayed here a few weeks before. We wondered if we were in for a repeat performance, and sure enough...

...here he is. Possibly the fattest fireman you'll ever see, snoring away peacefully on the pool table. It was all very Nicaraguan really - a flat green plain punctuated by a perfect volcanic cone. Apparently (and I'm not sure how this was physically possible), he actually shared the pool table with another guy when Andy was there - maybe since then they've had a falling out over one of them stealing the covers...

 

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3 Responses to “Nica beach cruising”

  1. Sam Wyld Says:

    Lovely pics dudes! And a meow! You’re only missing the dreaded Instagram for those tasty meal pics ;o) I hope cycling on the beach was more fun than pushing a buggy along one… take care, M has emailed you back re techie stuff xxx

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  2. Ma n pa Says:

    Hi sweeties. Read this on balcony overlooking the sea in blazing sun! Lovely to hear even while we are away. Technology is amazing. Lovely pics again and splendid definitely a book in it! Lots of love from all the old and mouldiest. Ma and Pa. xxxxxx

    [Reply]

  3. Anthony Shryane Says:

    Hi Y’both Allis well back here in Ely, my Sunday went well except ther were some very funnt mistakes, not done by me, but the computor , Ely became Eloy and Addenbrooks, Donnybrookes. There was lots of laughs and comments. Your journey still very interesting and colourful.
    I haven’t read your next instalment yet,
    Lots of love Tony

    [Reply]

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