We knew from the very start of this trip that we weren’t going to travel around Honduras. Also, we heard that the two border crossings were the worst in all of Central America and we were planning on doing both in one day. That’s right folks, we crossed both Honduran borders in one day. Not to worry, we had this all planned out, thanks to other overlanding blogs we had step by step directions for both borders and we had the help of our friends from thelongwaysouth.org. We were golden.
With the alarms set for 4:30am we got to bed early in hopes of getting to the border and be first in line when they opened at 6. With coffee in hand we pulled up to the border at around 6:30 and were only about 5th in line, so far so good. Then we made the mistake of getting out of line to park but we parked in the wrong spot. We ended up having to wait about 45 mins for the semis to clear before we could ease our way back in.
Once back in line we drove up and parked and went about the border crossing. Throughout the day various issues arose. We got stamped out of El Salvador but the man forgot to stamp my passport so we had to go back. Then aduana/customs wanted Nate and Jamie to drive 15 mins away to get the permits for the dogs taken care of. We didn’t want them to go because we didn’t know if they would ever make it back. In the end only Nate ended up going and we had to wait 30 mins for him to get back.
After being at the border for almost 4 hours we finally made our way into Honduras. Cruzing through Honduras was pretty fun. There were boys standing on the side of the road holding up iguanas and numerous checkpoints, I think we counted 10 total. We got pulled over at only two and they were quick and painless. We had all the necessary items required for Honduras and Jamie’s trusty International Drivers License, which has been a lifesaver on this whole trip.
Little did we know, things were going to get even more time consuming at the second border crossing of the day. First we pulled up to Honduran aduana only to find out that they were closed for lunch and that we would have to wait 45 mins for them to reopen. Then we bought Nicaraguan Insurance (which is mandatory) and got ripped off. A rooky mistake, but we were tired and hungry. Once out of Honduras and in Nicaragua we mentioned the dogs and things started to get really sketchy.
After we told the guys about Reina they talked for 30 minutes and made some phone calls, then wrote an amount and an account number on a torn piece of paper. They told us we had to deposit said amount into the account before we could get Reina’s permit. This process seamed a little odd to us and we expressed our concerns to the guys. We explained that we didn’t feel comfortable putting our money into an account before seeing the paperwork. All we wanted was for them to show us the paperwork as proof that we were going to receive something in return for our payment. It was at this point that I really wished that I were fluent in Spanish. Without the language barrier we would have been in and out of there in a flash. Unfortunately we spent about an hour just trying to figure everything out. In the end after some nice and not so nice moments we made our way into Nicaragua to continue our beach hopping.
Our first beach stop on the agenda was a surf break called “The Boom”. Obviously this wasn’t a wave that I could get out on but Jamie was really looking forward to it. We pulled into town a little later than we had wanted to but still had enough light to drive around for a bit to get the lay of the land and find a place to stay for the night. We spotted a restaurant when we first pulled in, but decided to push on to see more of the town. Of course we ended up back at that restaurant. Paulo, the manager, was super accommodating and let us camp out there for a few nights. We were able to use the bathrooms, showers and fill up our water jugs. Not to mention eat some of the amazing pizza he made. Jamie didn’t end up getting to surf here but we really enjoyed our time and even got to see some brand new puppies.
After a few nights in Playa Jiquilillo we made our way to Playa Penitas. We heard that this was a cool spot to stay and we were pleasantly surprised by what we found. Pulling into town we noticed and noted a few promising camp spots but continued to push on. While in town we stopped at a few hostels to see if we could camp in the yard but were turned down. At the very end of the road we drove down an ally and with fingers crossed we walked up to a restaurant with a big open yard and palapas. Peter, the owner, was so nice and accommodating. He opened the gate right up for us and we drove through. We spent 2 nights in Las Penitas, one of which we decided to head into town, play tourist and get some drinks at the busiest bar.
Pushing on with dreams of finding the perfect wave for the three surfers we headed south to try to reach Playa Popoyo, more than half way down Nicaragua. Unfortunately we didn’t make it all the way to the beach after we went inland. We ended up having a ton of errands to run in Managua and didn’t get out of the city until around 3. After a few roadside stops we ended up camped out in the parking lot of an interesting hotel in Rivas. There were lots of strobe lights, loud music and ladies dancing. Luckily the party didn’t last all night and we were able to get somewhat of a decent night sleep. Needless to say we got up early and got out of there fast.
Playa Popoyo is at the end of a long dirt road that reminded Jamie and I a little of driving down the dirt roads in Baja. At the end of the dirt road we hit the beach and took to foot to try to find a place to stay for the night. Jamie spoke with a restaurant and they gave him a super hard time before begrudgingly agreeing to let us camp. We never want to stay at a place that doesn’t want us so we pushed on and it’s a good thing we did! We ended up staying at a place called Da Surf Spot at the end of the beach. The owner, Jeff, made us feel right at home and extremely welcome right from the start. We hung out at Da Surf Spot for three nights. In the morning we would get up and make the drive over to the Finca to surf and hang out under the shade of giant trees for the day. By night we’d be having dinner and drinks while listening to old 80’s music at Da Surf Spot.
At the other end of the beach from Da Surf Spot is a big cliff with a restaurant on top that has amazing views. Every morning we would make our way up there to check out the waves on the other side. You can hang out at the Restaurant all day, just lazing with the cool breeze blowing over you while you watch the surfers down below. We loved the area around Playa Popoyo we found ourselves coming back there a few times. Saying goodbye to Jeff happened so often that the last time we said goodbye he didn’t believe us.
From Popoyo we jumped a few towns down to Playa Gigante to hang out with some long lost friends. Joe and Kylee from Patagoniaorbust.com are working at a hostel there for a few months; Anaka and Ken from 30forthirty.org and Jeff and Monica from Overlandtheworld.com were renting a house for a few weeks.
When we pulled into town Jamie and I decided to explore a bit before making our way to the house. While we were wandering around we ran into Joe and he gave Jamie the info on all the good surf spots in town. We followed Joe’s instructions and made our way out to the first beach. Once at the end of the beach Jamie got out of the car to take a look at the dirt track that went up and over the hill to another surf spot he wanted to check out. Joe had mentioned that we couldn’t drive to this specific spot but once Jamie looked at the road he decided to give it a shot, up we went and man was it fun! On the other side we found a beautiful beach that unfortunately we couldn’t drive onto. Also, we were told by a few locals to be careful because there were a lot of thieves in the area. After a quick lunch we headed back over the mountain.
Back on the other side, Jamie and I hit the water for a couple hours before Nate and Ken showed up and told us that they weren’t allowed to come back to the house without us. Obviously we weren’t going to turn that down! It was a fun night hanging out with friends, drinking wine and exchanging stories about our time on the road. We camped out on the beach that night and made our way back up to Popoyo in the morning, we just couldn’t get enough.
Next up volcanos, ferrys and pet raccoons on Isla Ometepe.