As a teenager spending my summers surfing in San Diego in the early 1990’s, I distinctly remember watching an episode of “Surfer TV” that featured Nicaragua. After a half hour of absorbing warm, playful waves being savored by a few friends a stone’s throw from relatively pristine coastline, it was clear to me why the production staff chose, and my brother and I instantly came to associate, “Alternate Roots” by the Cardiff Reefers as the theme song for such special occasions! Nearly 15 years later, I have just returned from such a trip to Nicaragua, and was delighted to find that despite the swarms of foreigners that are gobbling up the land, it is still possible to escape the crowds, surf to your heart’s content, and appreciate the novelty of savoring a culture intact.
We stayed at the Hidden Bay Surf Lodge (http://www.nicasurf.com/) in a little fishing village on the shores of Bahia Gigante. Population about 200, a single dirt road thoroughfare, and pigs and dogs sleeping side-by-side in the tire ruts at night; yes Toto, we’re definitely not in Tamarindo anymore! Although an all-inclusive package, the pampering was predominantly having clean beds and air conditioning at night, and a generator to keep the AC and the water flowing (which actually became a guilty pleasure when our generator pierced the otherwise silent dawn on one occasion). And while some travelers might have expected more resort treatment for paying resort price, in our eyes it was money well spent to be able to use broken Spanish to communicate; to feel serenity in and out of the water; and to meet and subsequently bond with the local people.
Considering that our lifestyles could easily be misunderstood by those who are not as fortunate to be able to travel for recreation, the opportunity to leave a favorable impression with the residents of Gigante was paramount. Although our first instinct was to leave things like magazines and surf wax, it didn’t take long to realize that there were more pressing needs and better ways to go about addressing them. Amongst the animal waste and garbage that lined the road like some twisted version of “Hansel and Gretel”, several brightly colored and decorated trash cans labeled “Pueblo Limpio” stood out. Upon discovering that “Pueblo Limpio” (firstname.lastname@example.org) was an effort supported by local merchants to establish a garbage service in the town, it immediately became clear that we should organize a beach and town cleanup to give this program a boost. So, on our last lunch break of the week, we got together with some of our new friends, and conducted what is definitely my most memorable beach cleanup ever.
There are numerous Gigante’s out there, and many more surfers who will visit them. In almost the same amount of time needed to make a bad impression (take for example the gringo who carelessly clipped one of the pigs in the road with his SUV a few months earlier), a favorable one can be made instead. So the next time you are lucky enough to seek out and hopefully find waves abroad, minimize your footprint and give something back. Bring your water bottles back home to be recycled (great board-bag padding!). Leave your bi-lingual dictionaries, other school supplies, or First-aid supplies that are in high demand and short-supply. Like the Cardiff Reefers said, “Seeing comes from the heart and the soul; feeling is more than touch, it’s the product of an open mind; my eyes no longer see the same world, but a brave new world, with passion on the horizon.”