Final Day at Chicabrava or Anna finally learns to chillax

When last we left Anna’s adventure…

The wind whipped through my hair as Cowboy Nick navigated the hills of San Juan del Sur towards Playa Hermosa. A horn honked and I pulled my eyes from the square of his jaw, and his sun-browned shoulders to see the Chicabrava truck whiz past. Anna Leigh our well-organized leader was motioning for me to get in with them. What? No. I guess there would be no spicey romance blogpost after all.

But there was surfing. It’s no secret that I’m a pretty serious person. The two wrinkles at the top of my nose are only getting deeper as I knit my brow over ever little thing. Yes, our mothers were right…your face does “stay that way.” But my horse adventure at Rancho Chilamate on the morning of Friday Fun day had chipped away at my Serious and left me with confidence and calm. (The shot of rum didn’t hurt either.)

All week the girls had been telling me to let it go, not be so hard on myself, be here now, and have fun. Well, it was my last day of surfing and as I sat in the turquoise waters off Playa Hermosa, I was struck by the natural beauty of Nicaragua. The next day I’d go home to leafless trees and cold weather. I was going to try for every wave I could. The waves were slow to come but the sets were in groups of four to six not too scary manageable waves. I paddled hard that day and got some good rides. I even started to “ride the line” looking left or right depending on the way the wave was breaking. The Chicabrava photographer, Jerson, got some great pictures.

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So… Do I love surfing? Am I already jonesing for that next wave–planning my next trip?


I liked it. I really did. Especially that last day. I’d like to learn how to ride the line and relax more so that I don’t always look like I’m practicing warrior pose when I surf. I’d like to smile more and concentrate less and I suppose that comes with practice and comfort. Here in Maine the water is cold (pretty much always), but I’d like to rent a board and try surfing in the summer months. My arms and abs are pretty ripped right now and despite the lingering ache in my biceps–I don’t want to go soft. I haven’t made it to the pool the last two days either.

I’m so thankful to the instructors at Chicabrava. Their youth disguises their amazing experience and teaching acumen. They answered my many questions, encouraged me when I did well, corrected my errors, and rested with me when I was beat by the big rollers. They pushed me into waves and taught me how to catch my own. They were gentle and kind and understanding. I cannot say enough about this experience. I was a nervous first-time solo traveler, but Chicabrava and the camaraderie of my fellow campers gave me the support and community I needed to face the emotional and physical challenges that came with learning something new.

The owner of Chicabrava, Ashley Blaylock, has made community a priority in many ways. The surf camp sponsors beach clean-up days. Children who collect a full bag of trash get free lessons. They sponsor weeks of surf camp for women involved in the sex industry. They read to students at the local school in an effort to teach English. They employ locals as often as possible and their lead instructor was one the first Nica woman on the competitive circuit there.

I am happy to call myself chicabrava and hope to carry my new-found bravery into all parts of my life.

Rancho Chilamate: one girl’s horse dreams come true.

I am blogging from the comfort of my own bed–partly because there’s no place like one’s home bed and partly because I physically can’t seem to leave it. The journey home from Nicaragua was relatively uneventful but because of my flight times the van, to hotel, to taxi, to airport, to waiting room, to flight, to customs, to waiting room, to flight, to bus, to car, to home process took 28 hours. I’m so exhausted. But wait… I’m sort of skipping ahead, as I left you hanging on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Day was the day I opted out. I woke up early in the morning with stomach issues. “Stomach problems in Central America?” said the email from my Mom, “How unusual.” Right. Not unusual but still not fun especially since I had made some surfing progress Wednesday. I struggled. After all, I’d paid to be at Chicabrava to learn how to surf. Could I really just not go. I tried to eat some breakfast and loaded my board on the truck, but the closer it came to surf’s up the less I wanted to go to the beach. Add to this that I was getting photos texted to me of my beautiful boys on Christmas morning. The first Christmas morning that they’d do without me. I was teary and crampy and exhausted after four straight five-hour beach days. Finally, I told our instructors I was taking the day off. I went back to bed and slept for three hours straight.

When “Friday Fun day” arrived, the stomach issues were a little bit better and I knew it was the last day of my adventure. I had signed up to go for a horseback trail ride at Rancho Chilamate and I was psyched to do something that was in my comfort zone. (You’ve got to click on the link just to see the amazing photos of this place which I don’t have permission to repost. Come right back and I’ll tell you about the ride.)

Okay… so a horseback adventure at Rancho Chilamate is like City Slickers meets Beach-Horse-Cowboy-Romance Novel. You’ve got the image, right? After transport from Chicabrava to the ranch in an open Jeep Wrangler with a horn that sang “La Cucaracha”, I got all cowgirled up. That’s right: jeans, cowgirl top, hat, boots, the whole sha-bang. Then the owner Blue, a savvy Canadian woman entrepreneur with a joyful smile and sparkle in her eyes, took pictures of me with the beautiful ranch building as the back drop. (I’ll get the photos in about a month.)

We mounted and started on a three hour tour that meandered up and down the hills of Nicaragua. Children came out of their homes to greet us as we walked the roads. I waved and shouted “Buenos Dias” and “Feliz Navidad” and was rewarded with their lovely waves and smiles in return. We passed by working fields of sorghum, and shushed through fields of overgrown grains that were taller than eye level even on my trusty and spirited horse, Capitán. Breezes blew in grasses mimicking the waves that I’d spent so much time on but here there was Earth and solidity and comfort. We said hello to grazing cattle and horses, and were awed by the size of old growth trees and the sounds of howler monkeys in the jungle.

We arrived at the beach, had our choice of Toña (beer), soda, or water and then we were let lose to run our horses on the beach. (This is the Beach-Horse-Cowboy-Romance Novel part.) I grew up loving horses. I watched The Black Stallion, read Black Beauty and various other novel series that included horses. I learned to ride in summer camp, taught there when I became a counselor, was on the equestrian club team in college, and leased a horse in Florida when I lived there in my early marriage days. My dream has always been to ride on an empty beach kicking up spray from the surf. The experience did not disappoint.

Capitán knew what the beach meant and he was already prancing as we approached the ocean. I was able to hold him back with a few tight circles as I felt his power gather under me. I had been warned that he’d veer toward the mountain side and away from the sea so I got him in a couple of inches of water before I gave him his head and squeezed his sides with my thighs. We were off! His hooves thundered through the sands and I had to grab onto the back of the saddle to stay upright. I willed my heels down farther to keep my balance and pushed with my hips egging him on. I wheeled him around before the beach ended in a large rock outcropping and got ready for the gallop back. Why had I stop riding and doing things I loved, things that made me–me? I wondered as we cantered and galloped back and forth.

With a grin still permanently fixed on my face, we started the ride back. I was a “plus one” to a group that included a family, and two couples so I enjoyed the company of Cowboy Nick the wrangler that led the tour. (Really sorry, no picture here either. Just imagine the Marlboro Man meets an older Brad Pitt and you’ve got it.) We chatted about my life, his life, New York Ciy, bikes, farming, surfing, the pitfalls of online dating and the amazing work that Rancho Chilamate does in the community. In fact, back in the main hall waiting to be delivered, were the 50-5 gallon buckets for the people of their community that Blue and the staff had stuffed with: machetes, mosquito nets, and other necessities.

It had been an amazing morning.

Back at the ranch… (ha- I’ve always wanted to say that) we had a shot of Flora de Caña (Nicaraguan Rum) and chips and pico de gallo before Cowboy Nick drove me in the Jeep to the beach for my last day of surfing.  More tomorrow!

Feliz Navidad!

‘Twas the night before Christmas and the streets of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua were rockin!

Tonight children and their families are out and about. They have on their best clothes as they stroll the streets and visit with friends and family.

A burro and horn section led a posadas parade. Children dressed as travelers and angels wore taffeta costumes. They stopped at a house where a teenager appeared as Mary with a Joseph by her side. Mary and Joseph sang to the travelers. Mary, with her crown of stars and flowing blue robes, mounted the burro side saddle and continued on to the church square.

Bells pealed and their noise filled the square. More people entered the church, made the sign of the cross, and sat for services. I chose to add to the offering and be on my way with my Chicas.

The square in front of the church is lit up–every palm tree, the crèche, the surrounding houses and shops. Little kids play in the playground, and wave sparklers, while older ones light fireworks. The bangs and pops fill the town. It will be a Christmas miracle if no child blows off their fingers or loses an eye. The fire trucks cruise the town slowly tonight. There will be little sleep for weary surfers I’m afraid.

Merry Christmas to all and a Happy New Year!

Today was a better day!

The Chicas all get ready for a day of surfing at Costa Dulce. Those are our boards!

But first– yoga in this beautiful open air studio.
The view from the yoga studio.

The beach. Those mountains on the horizon are Costa Rica.

The beach.

The Chicas enjoying the view.

Our host, Kent. Costa Dulce is a yoga retreat with bungalows and a private beach. If you teach yoga, you totally want to lead a trip here!!!

The table is set for our feast provided by Chef Manuel. Muy delicioso!

Howler monkeys in the trees. They sound like water being sucked down the tub drain.

Definitely a better day. I caught a number of waves in the white wash today and made a valiant attempt at some of the larger waves that were breaking. I worked on my transition from paddling to pop-up and got a much stronger paddle. Mostly I tried to have fun, not get mad at myself, enjoy the amazing natural beauty, and remember “there will always be another wave.”

Tough day

Yesterday was pretty tough. There’s nothing like being pummeled by waves to remind one of the emotional pummeling one has experienced. Such was my situation as I learned to paddle for, and catch my own waves.

While I actually caught one or two, I spent much of the time waiting for waves and learning to read the ocean. When I got it wrong, the wave crashed on top of me or I didn’t pop up quickly enough and I rode it on my belly (not an entirely bad thing). Even though my swim experience had me paddling like a champ, I had a hard time transitioning from paddle to pop up. The more waves I missed, the harder I was on myself and my mind wandered to other times in my life that were difficult.

There’s been a lot of difficult this year. I haven’t really brought it up here but my marriage of twenty years dissolved this year. The divorce finalized in September. In addition to dealing with all the legal stuff, finding a place to stay, looking for a new job, completing a major book revision, and parenting, the grief of the whole situation has been surprising. The divorce was something I wanted, something that needed to happen yet no one plans for divorce. The grief for plans we once had that would never come true, for time lost, for bad decisions and regrets– that grief is powerful and unexpected– crashing into me when I’m not quite ready for it and like yesterday, it stings my eyes with salt water and leaves me spluttering.

Yesterday, the more emotional I got, the worse I surfed and the harder I was on myself (see you couldn’t make your marriage work and you can’t do this either). I couldn’t let it go or stay in the moment (already an issue for a planner/manager like me). It was less and less likely that I’d actually surf. I finally came ashore, had a walk and a cry and a Coke in a cold, curvy glass bottle. I’d try again the next day.

Mastering the Pop-up: day 2

First, I’ve learned that if one turns on the AC it provides a nice hum just right for sleeping. Second, a day at Chicabrava feels like two days anywhere else.

Today started with a wonderful breakfast of fruit, beans and rice, and eggs with scallions then it was time to hit the waves. We loaded up our newly assigned surf boards (mine is white with blue racing stripes) and drove to Playa Remanso. There, I worked one on one with Elsie my amazing instructor who taught me to pop up like a champ and keep my trasero (butt) in. I rode a few green waves and had a blast.

The swells were pretty big at Playa Remanso so they taught us how to do a “turtle roll.” Basically I would size up a wave: 1) holy shit that’s big 2) maybe I could catch that 3) the ones that my instructor actually let me try. If it was number 1 or 2, I’d grab the end of my board by the edges (or rails in surfer lingo) and roll it over my my body while taking a deep breath going under and letting the wave crash over the board that shielded me while I was underneath. Since the number 1 and 2 waves were breaking in sets if 3-6, I did a lot of turtle rolls. By the end of the morning, I felt pretty beat up in addition to being really happy.

After awesome fish tacos and a nap, the second half of the day was a trip to Playa Madera where our instructors showed us what experienced surfers could do. They played on their short boards maneuvering down and across the waves and through the barrel of the wave. Denise said it sounded like the inside of a conch shell in there. I took a great walk with a fellow surf student and discovered that we could see Costa Rica. Then we all dried off and watched the sun slip beyond the horizon. After sunset, the clouds were brushed lines of white and orange across the deep blue sky.

I hurt in places you wouldn’t expect: the middle of my chest where my bikini top cut in a bit, the inside if one toe where I kept curling it into the board to pop up, the bruises on the insides of my knees where I banged them hopping up into the board, the fat lip I got when the wind sent the board into my face. Still, I’m smiling.

We are discouraged from taking phones and cameras with us for safety reasons, but I’ll be purchasing a DVD with photos and videos of my week. I hope to post some in the near future. Tomorrow, I see today’s video. My ego hopes I’m surfing well.

More tomorrow.

Nica Style

So it’s 2am here in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua and the music is pumping! Okay, the music is pumping and I’m in bed not sleeping. I just shoved orange foam things in my ears and found a George Winston radio station on Apple Radio to try and get some shut eye. Chances that might happen? Doubtful.

This is unfortunate since I’m trying to rest up from the 28 hour journey that got me here. A 12:30pm bus from Portland to Boston Logan. A 5pm initial flight to Fort Lauderdale followed by a four hour lay over. The second flight left at midnight and arrived in Managua at 3 am. (Did I mention I won’t fly Spirit again if I can at all help it?) I got a few hours sleep and a great breakfast before I was in a very bouncy truck with two other young women and our intrepid driver Norman zooming through the Nicaraguan countryside. We zipped by a “chicken” bus (an old school bus now used to move everyone and all their stuff) and a tractor trailer that had dramatically driven off the road–probably due to the haphazard and reckless passing that goes on. That said, who wants to be behind a slow going donkey and cart, or truck with passengers jammed in the truck bed? Not Norman that’s for sure.

We stopped part way to pick up two of our surf instructors who had gone to market. They were so young and full of zest that I ignored my growing car sickness for another half hour or so. Finally though, I had to cry “uncle” and ask to pull over to get some lunch and a break.

The rest of the drive, was better with something in my belly. The land opened to numerous sorghum fields and a wind farm. A volcanic island rose majestically from the middle of a giant lake (I’ll get you names when it’s not 2:30 am). Skinny dogs, horses and cows continued to line the roads but we also saw a wedding and other celebrations.

In San Juan del Sur at last, we found our bedrooms in the Chica Brava Surf House, and had quick orientation so we wouldn’t miss sunset. Good thing too. It was absolutely beautiful. Coral skies over grey ocean with boats silhouetted black on the horizon. We toured the town, ate tostones (fried mashed plantains) and drank Mojitos with fresh mint, then had gelato. I fell into bed at 8:30.

The music has isn’t shaking my bed quite so much. Oh. Wait. I spoke too soon. Anyway, I’d better try to sleep again. We start early tomorrow with our surf board assignments and surf safety and theory. My goal? Get a consistent pop up by midweek. Pictures of the Board Room and surf house when it’s light. Hasta mañana.