Life is an adventure, and so was each day during our trip in Central America. We boarded down an active volcano in Nicaragua, white-water rafted through the jungle of Costa Rica, was dropped off by boat in the middle of the ocean to surf for hours with nothing but a board in Panama. We released baby sea turtles into the waves, ate the local cuisine, rented dirtbikes and found hidden beaches and walked local farmland. We rented a car and went off-roading through mountains, across a few small rivers and through towns with no gas stations but with a lovely lady named Mary who saved us from being stranded by selling gas out of her shed (poured through an old Coke bottle).
The most exciting, the most exhilarating part of the three weeks, the times we were truly on Cloud Nine, were during the conversations with incredible people doing their part to improve their communities through education and our ability to take part in their projects.
We started in Granada, Nicaragua by staying at the Hotel con Corazon, an organization I had reached out to while researching hotels and learning that 100% of their profits go towards education in their rural community. We had the ability to sit down with their managers and their impact assessment researcher to learn more about their business model and the impact they have made in the community over the past eight years. Their desire to employ, education and support the local community was inspiring - more to come on their projects!
We then headed north to Managua where we synced up with the rest of the crew participating in the Journey Wellness Retreat - a blend of impact through service and integration through yoga and wellness classes to take place up north in Jiquilillo. We boarded the bus the next morning to head north to our home for the next few days, having no idea we'd fall in love with Monty's Surf Lodge, the place, the projects, and the owners.
Monty is a Canadian who moved down to Nicaragua with the original intent run a surf lodge and also give back to the community. As a former teacher, education was his top priority. Monty's big heart and dedication to helping others coupled with his business partner Jerry's knowledge of the needs (and the language) of his fellow Nicaraguan's has made the Surf Lodge an integral part in providing food, homes, and education in northern Nicaragua.
Visitors at Monty's Surf Lodge have the opportunity to participate in the programs that he runs. During our time there we worked on the foundation for a new set of homes, hand-mixing concrete and evening rock. We made dinner and fed a community in El Limonal, a village living on the town garbage dump. We also had the privilege of touring a school that Monty built using plastic bottles packed with beach sand. This school, complete with jungle gym shipped down from Canada, will provide children and adults with traditional education, computer skills, and job-training. To say that Monty is an inspiration would be an understatement.
Back at the surf lodge, we had the opportunity to get to know Monty and our fellow Journey tribe better through yoga classes, family-style meals, hammock time and wellness workshops on health, wellness and pursuing our passions. The blend of impact + integration was a balance I hadn't seen before on service-oriented trips. Having participated home-build and empowerment travel before, we had planned a few days of relaxing/regroup time after the Journey portion and were ready to fill the days entirely with work and service to the community. However, for many, this was their first time in a developing region, and they were returning to work the day after they landed back home in the United States. This format allowed them to give of themselves completely during service days and then have a few days to reflect, take some workshops to work on themselves and return home whole. It was a great model, and Monty's was the perfect setting.
After leaving Monty's with the promise to continue to do our part to open his school, we ventured down to San Juan del Sur to NomadLife. NomadLife is a CoWorking & CoLiving House that I came across, and it seemed like the perfect place to relax, but also reconnect after our time up north. We were welcomed by friendly faces, gorgeous views of the bay and fast wi-fi, we felt right at home. We explored the town, caught up on work, connected to the outside world, had conversations with our fellow housemates who were all doing pretty amazing things with their lives and even had a family night style potluck followed by a game of mafia. The day we were supposed to leave to go to Costa Rica ended up being one of those surprise best-day-evers. Over coffee that morning one of the veteran houseguests Alex asked Mike what he was up to that day, and he responded probably working then heading down to Costa Rica. Alex kindly reminded him that work could wait, and instead, why don't we rent dirt bikes, go to his favorite surf spot then he would show us his property that he was developing into local farmland. We were in. Needless to say, the day did not disappoint as we swam and surfed the clearest, warmest water we had come across and witnessed Alex's beautiful piece of property and his vision for it firsthand, all while zipping through the countryside on a dirt bike. We extended our stay and wondered if we would ever be able to leave NomadLife and make it down to Costa Rica.
PS - We did end up leaving Nicaragua, walking across the border to Costa Rica and continuing our journey down to Panama, that part of the trip coming soon :)