“From Las Salinas, you’ll want to find a road that has a painted sign of the Pink Panther sitting cross-legged in lotus pose. The road is about half way through the town on your left. This path requires walking across a waist-deep section of the river and then crossing the river again (which can be 7ft deep depending on the tide!). The tide should be low around noon, and even after then you can just carry your bag above your head.”
These are the directions from my friend Mike, the Hawaiian who Couchsurfed with me two months ago in Granada, on how to get to the hostel in which he has been staying in Playa Popoyo. Located on the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua, about 60 miles southwest of Granada, this beach is not the most accessible. In order to get to the beach from Granada, one must take a bus from Granada to Rivas and another from Rivas to Las Salinas. After arriving in Las Salinas, follow the directions from above. The entire trip took me about 6 hours. I could honestly bike there faster than what it takes to get there by public transportation. The good part is that the entire trip costs about $2.75, so at least it’s affordable if you have the time.
Mike is a great example of why I continue to Couchsurf. He’s a creative person who is living life the fullest and truly making the most of what he has. After becoming a rock climbing instructor in Hawaii, an unfortunate accident occurred with a separate group where a girl was hurt badly. Being afraid of lawsuits, they immediately closed down the rock climbing wall and two others close by. Within a few days of an accident that he had no part of, Mike was out of work. He spent the next four months lobbying to get the wall opened back up. With a halt in progress, Mike decided to pursue a dream of his…to surf one of the world’s biggest waves which is called Pipeline, located in Hawaii. To work his way up to the challenge, he has come to Nicaragua to train and will also be making other trips to improve his craft. Along the way, he’s writing a book about his journey. He’s a very thoughtful, insightful, honest, and open-minded person. I have no doubt that he’ll publish an entertaining book after his adventure, and I hope that he works up to the challenge of Pipeline, which he plans to do in February 2015.
More about my trip: after arriving to Las Salinas, I didn’t find the Pink Panther statue since I got off the bus too early. After some small talk with a guy of about 28 years old, he told me that he’d show me how to get there. Wanting a bit of help, I agreed. We walked back in the middle of nowhere, between many salt flats. Because we’re in the rainy season, the salt flats were small pools with about two feet of water. It reminded me of how the mud volleyball courts look like back in Northwest Illinois. The salt flats were lined up, one after the other, where salt forms in the dry season and is packaged and sold in Nicaragua.
Joan originally told me that he’d show me how to get there as a friend, but as I had expected, he asked for money afterwards. He was nice, but all I had was 7 córdobas ($0.30 USD) and a 500 bill ($20). He was disappointed when I gave him just 7 cords, but I guess that’s more than enough when he said he’d show me as a friend.
Playa Popoyo is known for its surfing, and that is easy to see immediately after arriving as gringos and locals alike are seeing along the beach carrying their boards to the best spots. For its beauty, it’s surprising that there are not more hostels and people in general. There were about 5 hostels and just a few hotels on the beach, which stretched for several miles. Recently, a lot of land has been bought up by foreigners and I am sure it will be developed in the coming years. But for now, it’s a relatively quiet place relative to its beauty. The stretch to the south wraps around a few bends and eventually arrives at Magnific Rock, the hotel with arguably the best location. Located about 100 feet above ground on the rocks rising up behind the beach, it overlooks the ocean as well as the rock formations below.
In my days in Playa Popoyo, I can honestly say I didn’t do much. And that is fine by me. I was there for two solid days and was able to meet some new people, catch up with Mike, and enjoy the beach. I did some reading, cooked, and just took it easy. It was exactly what I had needed, a break away from Granada.
Funny story: while at Magnific Rock, I had seen a group of Chinese along with several armed Nicaraguan military guys. It was when I first arrived, so I was a bit lost and asked them if they knew where the hostel was. The guy in the military told me that I would need to go ask the Magnific Rock hotel and they’d be able to help me, so I did. On my way out on the road, I noticed there were several military guys in a caravan with the Chinese. Having a caravan of armed guards is quite the way to travel, so I started wondering what was going on. With the current project of the Nicaraguan Canal (if you haven’t heard of this, read about it here) I thought that it must be something with this. A massive project projected to cost around $50 billion in total, Nicaragua has partnered with a Chinese company to build this. The project is meant to compete with the Panama canal. Unfortunately, there will be many implications on the environment and the government has not released much information on the current plan.
Walking out to the main road to Las Salinas, the caravan was about to pass me but stopped, and a Chinese girl asked if I wanted a ride. I jumped into the back of the pickup truck along with two Nicaraguans armed with pretty large looking guns. I tried to figure out why the Chinese were there, but all I could get out of them was “estudios”, studies.
Fast forward to my return trip to Granada from Rivas. A gentleman sits down on the bus next to me, in his mid-twenties, and we strike up a conversation. He tells me he works for a part of the government security called Ejercito de Nicaragua. After a bit more of talking, he says that he was just at Playa Popoyo with some Chinese. I told him that I was there that same day, and we had a laugh. A few minutes later, we realized that he was actually the guy who I had asked for directions! Very funny coincidence. I had to pry a bit more about the canal, as I had someone right next to me who has had direct contact with the project. He said that the Chinese are there studying the land to decide on the route of the canal. They obviously want to limit the destruction of the land, so a large study is taking place. I tried to get his opinion on the canal, but he didn’t say too much. It was still interesting to hear a bit more about the project, and obviously a coincidence to be sitting next to him on that bus!
Overall, I was able to make the trip extremely affordable. The entire trip cost about $40.50 ($5.50 transportation, $25 for two nights at the hostel, and $10 for food). Being so cheap to get there and away, I may have to make another trip. I found a small camping place which gives me the option to bring my tent and pay even a little bit less. A relatively undiscovered beach for that price is hard to beat!