By Kelly Silva Fine
Last year I decided, with the help of my hubby, to finally do a surfing trip, since I was turning forty-five.
I convinced my childhood BFF, Kari, to join me, so we traveled to Nicaragua for a week during the end of May for surfing, yoga and other activities with Amigas Surf and Yoga Adventure Retreats.
Leading up to the trip I would tell people, “I’m going to Nicaragua to learn how to surf before my aching, aging body is unable to try.”
Responses varied: “Wow, that sounds awesome!” and “I would love to do that!” or “Why are you going there? Isn’t that where all the political unrest is?” and “Are you crazy? Women are stolen from those countries every day!”
But the haters could just keep hating, because I was determined to go. Never mind the thought going through my head as I got ready for the trip…”Am I having a mid-life crisis?” Who in their right mind would decide to travel to a third world country to learn a sport, in a bikini designed specifically for surfing that young women wear, and decide to have ALL their bits waxed in order to do so? Yep, that would be me and, yes, I probably am having a mid-life crisis.
Crisis aside, I took off early morning on Friday, May 22, out of Fresno to LAX, and met up with Kari, where we promptly toasted our trip with a Mimosa at 7:30 a.m. We flew to Houston and promptly toasted again with a Margarita. The Houston flight was delayed for over two hours, due to a late flight attendant and a bag needing to be retrieved from cargo. The last bag pulled out of that damn plane was the one, and then they had to reload the plane.
It was around 10 p.m. when we landed in the capital city of Managua with light rain falling. Customs was okay, but the scary part was seeing a multitude of people leaning against the windows looking in, some with signs, most without. I thought I was in a “Walking Dead” episode.
We managed to struggle our way through the crowd and were trying to figure out how to get to the Best Western La Mercedes. After a helpful man showed us that it was right across the street, we walked to our hotel.
The next morning we walked back to the airport to meet up with six other Amigas for the three and a half hour trip to El Coco Loco Resort near Chinandega. We stopped several times as we made it through the dry countryside: Nicaragua is also in a severe drought. Four and a half hours later we finally arrived! Apparently, one of the main roads was closed, so it took a lot longer.
After getting settled and having drinks and appetizers for the meet-and-greet we, all changed into yoga attire and headed to the platform.
Our yoga instructor Nikki asked us all to say our name, where we saw ourselves currently in our lives, and what our goals were for the week. I was near the end of the introductions. After hearing that people are either in transition, stable with their current life or needing a change, I was trying to figure out how to describe where I was. Finally I thought, screw it, and said, “Well…I’m trying to get over the death of my mother last month.” By the silence and expressions, I figured the other Amigas weren’t expecting that as an answer, but, hey — I’m in a transition stage — not quite stable. And yes, I needed a change.
My goals for the week: to find peace and have many adventures.
Our first official morning at Coco Loco was a 5:30 a.m. breakfast of fruit, yogurt, amazing homemade granola, bread, and peanut butter. It’s difficult to get fresh groceries in the area, so the local staff was trained to make just about everything from scratch, which was very tasty. After breakfast we all got ready and walked to the bay where we would start our surfing. It was probably about half a mile down to the beach and to the bay. The Amigas have a covered area on the beach that we use, along with a beach house where they store all of their gear.
After some initial beach instruction, we hit the white wash. The ocean was a bit rough and the waves were continually pounding in. I worked with a couple of gals I called the Aussie Posse: Britney and Kasey. They helped get us lined up and would give us a push with instructions on how to stand up. It is quite difficult to figure out where to position your body on a 9′ 2″ board when you are only 5′ 4″ tall on a good day! Being too far forward causes the painful nosedive known as pearling, and results in bruises. My first one was a doozy! The best thing they taught us before starting was to always put your hands above your head when you wipe out so you don’t get hit by the board. I cannot tell you how many times I felt the board and the fin going over my head.
The amount of strength you use to just get the board out to even try to surf a wave is enormous. And when all the stars of the universe line up and you finally stand up, even for a split second, it is a time for celebration. What an amazing feeling when you hear and see multiple instructors and amigas with their arms in the air celebrating the fact that you stood up on a board for less than one second on a one foot wave. Sign me up for the Amateur Senior Classic!
After several hours of “surfing” we headed back to the resort for second brekkie, a wonderful hot breakfast buffet. We then had some time before restorative yoga for an hour on the best place of the resort. Have I mentioned how freakin’ hot and humid Nicaragua is? Well, let’s just say you are never dry…anywhere. The breeze blowing through the yoga platform was pure bliss and thankfully yoga was restorative…Nikki asked where we were all hurting for the morning session…There were maybe a few body parts NOT mentioned. After yoga we had lunch and then videos of the morning session. The surf videos were a favorite of mine, because you learn so much from every single one and you get to see how all the other Amigas were doing.
Surf continued to be strong that day, so we had pool instruction followed by happy hour and dinner. Needless to say…we went to bed early that night.
Thank you, Amigas and Cydney Connor for some of these photographs.
Every day, there’s a schedule written on the white board for daily activities. It changes often due to surfing conditions, so we know not to expect anything until they actually tell us for sure what the plan is. The routine continued for the mornings: first brekkie, surf, second brekkie, yoga, lunch, and videos. Then, they would announce what the official plans were.
On the evening’s schedule was French Restaurant. We were to dress up if we brought cute outfits, load up in the “people mover,” a large covered truck with benches in the back, and drive to this fantastic restaurant the instructors raved about. Granted, we are driving down very bumpy dirt roads to another slice of “where the hell are we?” and I can’t help but wonder how any kind of restaurant could stay in business out in the middle of nowhere. Check out
Northern Nicaragua specializes in Rums…they have gold medal rums and Al Cielo infuses the rums to make spicy, pineapple, coconut, coffee, etc. So we were able to taste them, mix them and continue to drink. I started with the spicy and when they say spicy-they mean it! Mixed it with the pineapple and that ended up being a tasty, not quite as spicy, beverage.
This surf and yoga retreat kept us very busy and quite active, so we were always starving. That’s why the morning and early afternoon included three meals. The food at Coco Loco is scrumptious, and they always offer vegetarian and sometimes gluten-free meals. On some occasions you can have fish or chicken with it. I always opted for meat, because I craved protein.
So, when it was time to order at the French Restaurant I ordered their big steak dinner to soak up the rum, for a whopping $11. The American dollar goes far in Nicaragua. After dinner we had a fantastic dessert, and then hit the bathrooms before climbing and stumbling into the “people mover.” Our group was extremely loud on the ride back, exploding with non-stop talking and laughter, with some of the gals having difficulty climbing down, once we arrived back at Coco Loco. Another fun day was had by all… and then we realized we needed to go to bed since, 5:30 a.m. comes around quickly. So our sore and sweaty bodies stumbled to our cabanas for much needed rest.
Surfing is the main focus of the Amigas Retreat. Some gals go just to try to learn, like me, while others are trying to improve their surfing abilities. We had one day where we surfed in the morning and then went back out in the late afternoon for a fantastic sunset surf. The tide was lower so we had long gentle rides. I was actually able to paddle and catch my own small waves that afternoon.
The instructors at the retreat were wonderful. Three of them were brand new and the other two, Holly and Jackie, are the owners of Amigas Surf. They helped all of us improve, regardless if it was just getting some of us on our knees, or some of us catching the biggest waves ever. They adjusted the surfing schedule to satisfy everyone’s abilities.
The sunset surf was a highlight for me, relaxing after another day of hard work trying to just get out there and on the board. Beer and cocktails at the beach while watching the sunset, chatting with new friends and watching the waves… priceless!
El Coco Loco resort is owned by several families, and was started by three men with a vision to live in Nicaragua while helping the community. They were recently featured in an article which you can see here. They started a non-profit organization called Waves of Hope.
During an afternoon break, one of the owners spoke to the Amigas, letting us know what they do and what they offer the community, and how we could help if we were so inclined. They are proud to say they have offered jobs and education to their area. Children can now go to school and graduate in the 11th grade. Family members are earning money to support others, and the women in the community are learning about empowerment. One way the women get to demonstrate what they have learned is through a kickball League that has been started in Nicaragua. Surf Amigas found out about the League a few months ago. A challenge was thrown down between the local team, Social Butterflies, and the Amigas. During the first game the Amigas were killed by the Butterflies. The second group of Amigas that played ended up beating the Butterflies.
Another challenge came up during our week for a play-off game, in order to give the Social Butterflies some practice for their Championship game later in the week. Unfortunately they ended up losing, but 2nd Place was still an honor. Holly, co-owner of the Amigas, is just a teeny, tiny bit competitive, so we were all loaded into the “people mover” and driven to the local school for a game of Kickball. Imagine our group of twenty-to-forty-somethings gearing up to play a game that we played in elementary school. Most of us couldn’t even remember the rules! “Can we hit them with the ball to get them out?” No, you have to tag them with the ball. “Well, aren’t we using a big rubber ball?” No, they use a soccer ball. “Aaahhhh…so that’s why we can’t hit them!”
We were all excited and pumped up for this challenge, but as we pulled into the school we realized this must be a big deal since there were a lot of local people there to watch.
But we stepped up and had an amazing game. Our first out against them was me tagging a gal out at second base, or rather, hitting her square in the stomach as she ran toward me. The poor gal limped off the field holding her stomach while I was saying “Yo lo siento!” and my teammates were razzing me for being so mean. Well, that was nothing. Holly, our somewhat competitive leader, ran home for a score. Since the gal was standing on home plate to catch the ball that was being thrown to her, Holly proceeded to plow into her, knocking her flat on her back and going down for the tackle. My earlier transgression was soon forgotten, as Holly kept saying she was sorry, as she helped her up and brushed her off.
The game continued and then the other team announced we were done and our team won by one point! The celebration began. We pulled out beer for all, and tequila for me, and took photos. We had so much fun! I highly recommend starting a League, because it was hilarious! After returning back to the resort we took off for the ocean and jumped in with our clothes on since we were so hot and sweaty. Amigas rocked!
Nicaragua, Part Six: From Sports to Sledding
Another exciting side trip during our Amigas Retreat was a visit to Volcan Cerro Negro and sled down the side of it. We had all seen pictures and videos, which really excited some of us and caused trepidation in others. The volcanoes in Nicaragua are active and this one is a cinder cone that last erupted in 1999. It’s labeled as a new volcano and continues to have steam and sulfur coming out of several areas. Cinder cones are basically lots of broken hard lava rock. Our nervousness increased as we realized just how active this volcano is, as well as the potential for getting hurt if we fell hard while sledding.
We drove to Leon to the Big Foot Hostel which runs the sledding tours. We did a quick walking tour to look around, had a sandwich, and then once again loaded up into a “people mover” for the hour drive to the base of the volcano. Cerro Negro is a National Park and the drive is for 4-wheel drive vehicles. As we got close to the volcano and could see the sledding paths down the sides, we were thinking WTH!
We finally made it to our destination were each given a wooden sled and an orange outfit to wear. The hike up to the top was an hour long in wicked heat and carrying up the awkward sled was not too enticing. The tour leaders announced that we could pay one of the guides $5 to carry our sled. Well, hell yes! For $5? You have got to be kidding me! I’d pay the guy $20 to do it!
The hike wasn’t too bad. They had us stop often and we drank lots of water. The views of the nearby valleys were spectacular, and we were able to see the taller volcanoes which were spewing out steam and smoke as well. After getting to the sledding area we dropped our stuff and continued to hike to the very top to look into the crater. Sulfur and steam was creeping out of several areas, but the real crazy thing was, they had us scrape some dirt away with our shoe and then touch the ground quickly with our hands. Could not believe how hot it was! Made us realize again that we were on a live volcano.
So the time came to gear up and head down. Leader Ashley asked for two volunteers to go first, since there are two “tracks” down the side. There really weren’t too many people stepping up and I thought, “What the heck, I should just get it over with so I don’t have to sit up here and stress about it.”
So there I was, the first of our Amigas group to sled down, and nervous as hell. Our feet, and the position we sit in, is the braking system for going down the cone.
I was braking so damn much I thought my legs were going to fatigue and I’d end up hauling ass down the side and crashing. I was able to maintain and then, when I did try to speed up at the end, my tired leg touched down and I ended up going crooked, and falling off the sled. But no injuries and I was able to make it all the way down.
They clock your speed and I went 20 mph. Our two fastest sledders went 40 mph, which was crazy. But the record is 95 mph, and I can’t even imagine what that looked like.
After returning to the Hostel, we had dinner, drinks, and one group of us went back earlier than the second group of Amigas that wanted to stay and party a little longer. What an adventurous day. I was exhausted!
Our last full day at Coco Loco had us on a more regular schedule, with surfing and the sunset evening activity of horseback riding on the beach. Surfing that day for those of us beginners still at the bay was pretty mellow. We were so sore and exhausted from the previous days we couldn’t even paddle to catch waves. The time just hanging on the beach and chatting was priceless, since we all were leaving for our different homes the next day.
There were so many times of laughter during this trip. A lot of those times were with my childhood BFF Kari, and the rest of the time it was with women I had barely met, but felt like I had known forever.
Our group of Amigas was lucky that way… so many of us just clicked.
Here are some of life’s lessons I learned through laughter that week:
***If you fall off your tall composting toilet and get injured, be sure to tell everyone at home it was while catching a 10-foot wave. Luckily this never happened, but Kari and I joked about that freakin’ devil-of-a-toilet all the time!
***Always get dressed/undressed with your roommate readily available to help you. With the soreness and constant sweat I always needed help, especially with my yoga tank tops. I don’t know how many times Kari would catch me caught in my tops, saying “a little help here!”
***Make sure your surf instructor is nearby when a hermit crab decides to latch onto your toe, and that she is brave enough to pull it off. This happened to me in waist deep water and I ended up throwing my leg up on the board saying, “Something is biting me!” and then having to see her horrified expression. It took her several attempts to get the damn thing off while I was yelling at her “Get it off! Get it off!”
***If an activity is offered that you don’t feel like doing or never thought you would do, just roll with it, embrace it, and you’ll have the time of your life! My personal rule that week was that I would try everything offered no matter what. I couldn’t do the horseback riding though, due to hip issues that day, but then they didn’t have too many “healthy” horses available to ride.
Our last evening was drinks on the beach, good silliness and continued bonding. We were sad our week was ending, but also excited to get back home to our family and friends.
As for me, I did find peace and adventure in Nicaragua. There were several times I was walking down the beach and I could hear my mother say “Never turn your back on the ocean,” something she drilled into us growing up. So I knew she was watching over me.
Sometimes things don’t go as planned in life, but you really shouldn’t give up any dreams because of that.
I recently read an article on Facebook that a friend shared, written by a woman who had lost her husband the month before. She wrote about a powerful one-line prayer shared to her by her Rabbi friend: “Let me not die while I am still alive.” One line… so powerful.
And even though this trip was less than a month after burying my mother, I did not cancel because I knew she would be telling me the same thing.
Kelly Silva Fine is a Surf Amiga living with her family at Bass Lake.