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Paco y Buerto’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 13 Dec 2007

Location: USA

Map What Is It About Oceans?

We left the small town of El Sauce, Nicaragua with one thing in mind, the Pacific Ocean. The eight hour sweaty ride in the chicken bus was worth it. I thought this, as I stared off into the great Pacific Ocean, in the beach bum town of San Juan Del Sur. San Juan is located on the southwest corner of Nicaragua, just north of the border to Costa Rica. I felt as if I was worlds apart from the States. Sure I’ve seen the Pacific Ocean before, but this was different. There weren’t multi-million dollar houses lining the beach. Instead, there were several miles of sand, with the rhythmic sound of waves painting the shoreline. The breeze came off the water with the fragrance of the ocean’s salts. I walked along the beach, letting the foamy water lick my toes. The beach was setup in a way that made you feel like you were at a concert. Mountains to the left and right side of the ocean formed the bowl shaped amphitheater. Looking out into the ocean, I watched as the main event unfolded. A never ending amphitheater where the ocean stretched further than eyes could imagine.

I didn’t need to know Spanish there; my brain was at recess, on the merry-go-round. My senses took over. How many people has the ocean hypnotized, and how many more will it after me? I let it captivate me; let it seduce me with its beauty. A new love. I told Brent I could live there forever, get a little apartment with a balcony overlooking the ocean, and wake up to the smells and sounds of the ocean every morning. His realist side came to life, asking me what I’d do for money, and how I’d be able to afford the Land Rover I’d want to be driving to the surf spots. I didn’t want to think about the reality of leaving this place.

The next morning I bought my first surf board for two hundred and fifty bucks. The top was blue, with a red stripe outlining the sides, and dividing it down the middle. The bottom was tan with a gold stripe down the middle. It is the coolest thing I have ever purchased. Brent’s board was tan with a gold stripe down the middle, and had a couple gnarly stickers near the tip of the board. The main beach in front of San Juan Del Sur was enormous, but the waves weren’t normally big enough for surfing. We were told we would need to get a ride a few miles down the coast to Playa Romanso, where the waves were perfect for beginners, or a longer ride to the north, to the infamous Playa Maderas, where the waves get bigger, and the ocean gets busier with professional surfers, hoping to ride the perfect wave. The Lonely Planet agreed.

As we decided which beach to surf first, Brent suggested that we get a few days of surfing in before we kill ourselves at Maderas, and I agreed. As we rode out to Playa Romanso in the box of a small two wheel drive pickup I gazed at the open landscape picking out a plot of land I could purchase someday. I secured my surfboard on my lap, being careful not to ding or nick it up. The truck pulled up short of the beach by a few hundred yards. We hopped out of the truck to walk the rest of the way. “Surfing really isn’t that hard.” I assured Brent, with an air of confidence having surfed a whopping seven times in my illustrious career. But seven times more than he had, I thought to myself with my head held high.

As we walked to the beach we joked with each other that surfing isn’t really that difficult. We had both been wakeboarding our entire lives and thought it would be enough experience on a sideways sport to figure things out quickly.

Then we saw it—the beautiful blue ocean. Then we smelled it—the beautiful blue ocean. The beach was scarce other than one other surfer about fourteen years old. It was like we had the ocean to ourselves for the entire day. My heart started beating faster, as my flip flops dug into the sand, making it awkward to walk. I took off my shirt and felt the sun warm on my skin. I looked over at Brent smiling as if we had just won the lottery. We laid our boards down on the sand, and sat staring at the intimidating ocean. I put my board leash around my left ankle, picked up my board, and looked at Brent ready to go into the water.

“What about the sharks?” Brent questioned with a deadly serious look on his face.

Never knowing for sure whether he’s joking or serious, I laughed saying, “Jeeeez, who asks that right before you go surfing! You don’t even think about it—besides they don’t like the taste of human flesh anyways.”

We treaded out into the foamy water like five year olds deciding whether to enter a swimming pool. Just as the water reached below my waist, I put my board on the ocean surface, and saw the board become a partner to the ocean. It floated naturally above the water, as it had done a million times before—but never with me. The amphitheater was filling up now; you could hear the people talking with anticipation for the show to begin. The bells started chiming, the trumpets, and the flutes, all in perfect harmony. The sound of the ocean waves chiming on the water. I hopped on the top of my board, and Brent did the same—and the dance had begun. I felt the wax on the board rub up against my skin. With my legs crossed and balanced gracefully in the air, I began to paddle out into the deep blue. I could taste the thick salt in the water, as waves splashed over my face. There it was, a big wave, coming right towards us. I paddled faster reaching the wave just before it crashed, and ducked my head with the tip of my board into its body. I came up on the other side of the wave and looked over relieved to see Brent alongside me. I continued paddling to get out beyond the breaks before the next set of waves came in. Finally, we made it out to where we needed to be, no more fighting with the waves. I sat on my board, and learned to balance it between my legs. With my back turned away from the shore, we looked out into the ocean, trying to decipher a large wave from the smaller ones.

“There’s one now!” One of would yell. We turned our boards around facing the shore to get in the right position. I paddled slowly, as I looked over my left shoulder at the wave coming towards us. Just before the wave came in I looked at Brent as we laughed both knowing this wave was going to demolish us. We paddled as frantically as we could, but the wave strode right by us. We laughed about how impossible it was, then turned to see the fourteen year old Nicaraguan kid get up effortlessly and ride the wave practically all the way in. Then another perfect wave would pass us. “Ahhh, that was the one, we gotta be ready for these.” Brent would joke. As we sat on our boards staring off at the waves coming in we learned how they would come in sets, and when there was one big one, another one was soon to follow. We sat on our boards, our legs dangling in the water below us, slowly paddling to where we guessed the next big wave would come in. Wave after wave passed us, but then finally one of us caught one. I felt my board as it was propelled forward by the wave, now, stand up now, I told myself. I grabbed the sides of my board with my hands and began to stand up. Standing up awkwardly on my board I raised my hands in the air. The board slipped away from beneath me sending me tumbling like a rock down the side of a cliff. I swallowed tons of water and got up after the rollercoaster ride, looked for my board, then hopped back on it, and paddled out past the break.

As I paddled back, I saw Brent riding a wave in, his eyes focused directly in front of him, hands raised to his sides like he was walking across a balance beam. Seconds later he crashed into the wave, and come up laughing. “Did you see that?” He yelled over to me. I started paddling out faster, eager to catch a wave and ride it in longer than he had done.

We became friends with the fourteen year old Nicaraguan kid, prying for advice on catching a wave like him. Along with some helpful advice, he taught us the word, “olas” or waves in Spanish, and it soon became my new favorite Spanish word, right up there with “zapatos.”

“This is it, this is the one!” The wave was coming closer; I started paddling again, but faster this time. The wave was directly behind me and I felt my board catch the wave. The fins of my board stuck in the water, and I began to stand up with the curl of the wave speeding my board along the water. I was up, and felt like I had just reached the peak of Everest. In less than twenty seconds the board skidded away from underneath me and my right foot would fly in the air as I fell backwards into the wave. I learned quickly to get into a ball position, and cover my head as I tumbled with the wave. Holding my breath, I waited for the wave to release me from its grip. I took a breath, and swallowed a mouth full of salty water. I stood up on the sand. The waters waist high again—the wave carried me nearly all the way back to where I started. I held my board under my right arm and looked out at the massive set of waves crashing the surface. Laughing at what had just happened to me, that was awesome, I thought to myself, and hopped back on my board to do it all over again.

Everyday we went to surf after Spanish class, feeling mentally exhausted from all that learning, and every night we left the ocean with a new sense of energy. The ocean had lifted us to a new level neither of us had experienced before. We didn’t even need to say anything to each other; we could just look at each other, and know how great of an experience it was, one we’d remember it for the rest of our lives.

After surfing Romanso for a week we made plans to head out to Maderas to conquer the bigger waves. With a friend we had met earlier in the trip, we left to Maderas to camp out on the beach, praying for clear skies. After getting throttled by waves that were scary big, I sat in the beach hostel and videotaped the pro’s ripping up these waves that will simply make one shake their head from side to side, saying, “Oh my God, that is so dangerous, I cannot believe those people are doing that.”

The last day we surfed we couldn’t say goodbye, but after baking in the sun all day, we were all worn out. We set up our campsite, which consisted of one king size bed sheet, and another bed sheet for our blanket, that the three of us would all share. We used a log for some reason at the head of our make shift bed on sand, and lined the sides of the sheets with our surf boards, one at each side, to block any breeze the night might bring. But we didn’t have fire. Neither Brent, nor myself were boy scouts, so we decided to walk down the beach to the one and only surf hostel at Maderas. We lucked out—they had a bonfire. After kicking it around the fire with some “real surfers,” we headed back to our spot with a burning log. As we heated up some canned ravioli by the fire, we reasoned with ourselves that camping out on the beach under the stars made us practically as hardcore, if not more hardcore of surfers than the dudes back at the hostel—especially when it started raining.

“We’re hardcore.”

"Yeah we are. Hasta manana.”

Note. This essay is best when read while listening to Sufjan Stevens.