We hung around the airport for another hour, waiting for the rest of the girls to get in. The drivers, Louis and Omar, told us to go hang out inside where there was air conditioning. The humidity hung on our bodies like drapery. Emily and I happily agreed and headed back inside to find some chairs.
Emily also wanted to find her friend, Kristi, who would also be on the retreat. As Emily explained how she and Kristi traveled everywhere together, I literally ran into the pint-sized blond.
Kristi is probably as bubbly as you can get without adding carbonation. After hugging Emily, she embraced me before even learning my name. She then pointed us to a table next to an espresso bar. I liked her already.
Over the next hour, I learned that Kristi was also a travel addict. A massage therapist by trade, she spent her free time writing novels and recycling skateboards into jewelry. Her kindness could only be unmatched by her humbleness. Emily had mentioned what a ripper Kristi was on the Californian waves and the sidewalks (she skateboards too). Kristi would only try to hide a smile in response. She was so badass and didn’t even know it.
I remained quiet, letting Kristi and Emily catch up, watching the energy pass between them. I hoped the rest of the girls jived as well as these two did.
Joice was next to join us. She was another powerhouse. Without even knowing that she just received her Ph.D. in environmental policy and was going to be an assistant professor at an Indianapolis university in the fall, you could tell she was smart. With wits and humor, she and I immediately began explaining the perils of applying and going through Ph.D. programs to the other girls. We bonded over the suffering we had endured through academics and statistical analysis. She was definitely a strong-willed chick. She’d never been surfing before and decided to come on this trip on a whim after defending her dissertation. Throughout the week, we’d see just how much she could take, bearing the mosquito attacks and even taking a fin to the leg. She would wear her battle scars and bruises proudly.
The group was shaping up nicely.
Omar and Louis rounded us up to head to the van. There we met Jen. Immediately she struck me as the fashionista of the group. The New Yorker exuded beauty and trendiness without even trying. She seemed a little unsure upon first encounter, apologizing for not being able to remember everybody’s names. However, once in the van, she busted out with jokes and endless laughter. She also decided to come to Nicaragua on a last-minute decision, stating that she needed a break from city life. She would serve as the main comic relief throughout the week, entertaining us all with her horse impersonations and endless craving for fun.
Once we entered the van, we met our last travel companion to El Coco Loco: Andrea. Poor Andrea had spent the past hour in the stifling van waiting for the rest of our flights to land. She immediately struck me as a strong-willed and together woman. As we began our bumpy ride through Managua, she explained that she had recently turned 40. And to celebrate this new milestone, she had decided to start conquering her fears. After learning how to swim, she decided that surfing was the next thing she needed to do. This Brooklyn woman was on a mission and no-one was going to stop her (not even the surfboard she’d take to the throat later in the week). A writer, photographer, poet, and dreamer. This woman epitomized creativity.
Later that night, we would meet the last few girls to join our adventure for the week.
Talei was an adventurous spirit. She had been born in Canada, and lived in places such as China, England, and Australia. She had this crazy awesome English/Australian/Canadian accent that made you think she was faking since it would jump so much. She had been exploring Central America before the retreat and had plans to continue her backpacking ventures when she left. A worldly woman, Talei had an amazing sense of humor. She was always charming, even when discussing Dutch swear words. She would be one of my bunk mates. We would stay up way too late talking about random and inconsequential topics. It was just too much fun to sleep.
Then there was Suzanne. Suzanne embodies yoga and peace. But don’t let her fool you. As sweet and docile as she looks, she’s one tough cookie. In her spare time, when not teaching yoga or elementary education in St. Luis Obispo, she keeps bees. Yes, you read that right: she’s a hobbyist bee keeper. She also takes African dance classes and had a stint in the Peace Corps. You could not find a woman with a bigger heart. Throughout our stay, she would ground the group, as well as entertain us with African dance. She would be one of the first women in the waves, and one of the best surfers of the group.
For part of the week, I would also share my bunk with one of the girls on the previous retreat, Katie. Katie was an experienced surfer from Santa Barbara. She would serve as an irreplaceable guide for me on how to survive in Nicaragua for the first few nights. Katie’s extremely motivated and loves her adrenaline rushes. She would silently slip out of our room every morning before the sun to go run on the beach. She would then go surfing and spend her days stretching in the yoga studio. Just watching her go to and from was exhausting. I’m not sure how she did it, but it was impressive.
We began our three and a half hour venture to El Coco Loco by stocking up on supplies at a mini-mart. We drove through the city streets of Managua. With my face plastered to the window, I hungrily viewed sights of the second poorest country in Central America. Houses were made out of scraps of tin. Horses and cows grazed on the sides of the road. The animals seemed malnourished. I would learn this wasn’t uncommon in Nicaragua. Families could barely afford to feed themselves, let alone their pets.
Thunder clouds brewed overhead, chasing us down the road.
We passed the time on the road chatting like little birds, laughing together and learning about each other. Louis blasted Bob Marley for us and played us an informative DVD about Nicaragua. The windows were open to let in the fresh air (there was no air conditioning). Rain started pelting the windshield; water was pouring into the van. I didn’t mind getting soaked; it helped to squelch the heat. I counted 6 horse-drawn carts along the road. We also past many yellow school buses, which I was told was their form of public transportation. People were packed in like sardines.
We passed through the city of Chinandega, which is the closest city to El Coco Loco. The conditions in Chinandega seemed slightly improved over Managua. The buildings were splattered with turquoise, maroon, and yellow paint. Stop signs seemed more like a suggestion than an actual enforced rule.
After leaving the city, we started heading down another bumpy dirt road. The biggest traffic we hit came in the form of cattle.
Kristi pointed out the ocean view in front of us. We had to be getting close.
When we arrived at the estuary, we saw Holly. She was standing barefoot, knee-deep in mud with an ear-to-ear smile plastered across her face. She yelled out in greeting, “Whoohoo, you made it!”
As we unloaded from the van, my mind started racing through all the articles I’d read on her surfing accomplishments. She introduced herself to everyone warmly. She exuded happiness and an essence of adventure. I was star struck by the most personable and friendly all-star athlete I’d ever met. Huh. I mulled over the irony of this as we jumped into Holly’s truck.
We still had one last leg to go. El Coco Loco was just beyond the estuary. We followed the cattle.
On the way, Holly talked about how she hoped the surf would be good tomorrow, since we had such a downpour today. She would slow down to talk to the local villagers and laugh at herself for her poor Spanish grammar. I wanted to tell her how excited I was to be here, how I’d been waiting for this journey, how she had inspired me with her story and her successes, how my dad thought we were related, and everything else that was on my mind. But I floundered to find the words. I took pictures instead.
It seemed like everything was falling into place. All of the girls were super rad and inspiring in their own right. Even after the twelve hours of traveling, you could feel the buzz of excitement around our heads.
And we had finally arrived.