It was 5am and I was in transfer in Mexico City when I received an email from my accommodation in Nicaragua saying they couldn't send a car to collect me because of the protests against President Ortega.
There were blockades on the roads, I was told, and the hotel couldn’t guarantee we would make the journey.
As I read the email, I was 4 hours from my connecting flight to Nicaragua. What the Jeff was I supposed to do??! Find a new location, a new country? Or just bail on the trip altogether??
I had my own immediate plans to think of, as well as the people coming to join my surf and yoga retreat.
I started contacting everyone I knew in Nicaragua, trying to find out what was going on, was the situation really that bad? I knew there were protests before I left but everyone had told me that you wouldn’t be affected as long as you avoided the city.
With bleary eyes, I messaged and called people who owned businesses or were living in Nicaragua. The overriding message was that the coastal towns were peaceful but protesters had set up some roadblocks on the Pan American highway through the centre of the country.
A friend found me a place to stay in El Transito, an hour away from the city, much closer to the airport and a drive that I could make. I also had a guest arriving the day after, so at least I was close to the airport to collect her.
So with a new plan only just pieced together, I boarded the connecting plane. There was only a handful of passengers on the short flight to Managua, some business people and a few hardened surfers (literally, they had leathery skin and bloodshot eyes), the kind of people who wouldn't let a political coup get in the way of good swell.
It wasn’t exactly reassuring that the airline changed our allocated seats because there were so few people on the plane that they needed to balance the weight...
As we flew over the capital, I noticed that the parks and public areas in the centre of city were deserted. I think I even spotted a police road block as the plane turned to land.
But thankfully, everything was calm at the airport and there was a driver waiting to collect me at the other side. His name was Steve, he had an iPhone and wifi in his car, and for some reason those capitalist hallmarks were the most comforting things I could have asked for after a morning of acidic apprehension.
As Steve drove towards El Transito, I noticed that the city getting more and more dense. I had assumed that our journey would take us away from the city, away from the protests, away from the conflict.
But as we came to a roundabout lined with stalls selling Nicaraguan flags and t-shirts, Steve pointed out a University building covered in graffiti.
“That’s where all of the student protests are happening. Can you see that road is now closed because of the manifestations?”
I noticed one of the graffiti scrawls read ‘Ortega asesino’ (Ortega the murderer).
Suddenly the iPhone was not reassurance enough.
But there was no sign of any protest. Steve told me that the manifestations (protests) only start in the evenings and we made it safely to El Transito, a sleepy village on the West coast.
I arrived at a surf camp called Solid Surf Adventures, run by an American woman and her Venezuelan husband. A place so chill that I have yet to actually take my key out of my bedroom door.
I met two travellers from the UK (Ned and Chris) who were on a surf trip from Costa Rica to Nicaragua in a Suzuki Swift – unfazed by the fact that they could barely surf and Chris had only passed his driving test 3 weeks ago.
Ned and Chris had driven up the Pan-American highway that day and had even come across a roadblock in their trusty Swift but they were waved through once they were recognised as tourists.
That evening I drank wine with Allison, the owner, and talked about life in the city while we played with her 3-month old baby and watched the sunset, grateful to have found a home in all of the madness.
Day 3 began with the aggressive honking of a large vehicle in the nearby village. From the comfort of my bed I could only assume the worst: an angry husband was parked outside the family home threatening to mow it down, or worse (and most likely) a new roadblock had been built outside the village.
The prospect of a roadblock so close to us filled me with dread, we were told that the protests were only in the cities and that we were safe on the coast. If the protests had reached this far, what did that mean for us? The first guest for the surf and yoga retreat had arrived the day before and we were planning on driving to Popoyo that morning. I got out of bed looking for explanations but everyone was asleep.
When the horns started honking again at 6am, again I got up, but again everyone was sleeping. By the time the horns blazed at 7am, I had accepted our fate, if there were roadblocks in the village we would just have to deal with the consequences, maybe end up living in Nicaragua, who knows.
I was sat in the garden attempting to meditate when one of the owners walked in for the morning shift at 8am.
“What is going on?!!” I asked as I ran up to him.
“Eh?! Oh, the honking? It’s the bus to Managua. Most people don’t have alarms, so they wake all of us up just in case.”
Since there were no immediate roadblocks, or marital disputes, to get in our way, we climbed in our taxi and started the 4 hour journey south to Popoyo, our original destination.
The countryside was so green, you expected tendrils to start growing through the car doors. The roads were barely holding their footing in a bursting jungle.
And if the landscape is lively, the people are on soma. At one point we stopped behind a crowd of slow walking villagers in a funeral procession, we slowed the car and turned down the music out of respect. Then the woman next to us started frantically waving and smiling at her friends driving past, we noticed that the rest of them were beaming from ear to ear.
Next, we came across a roadblock, we could see young men, barely in their 20s, wearing scarves across their faces and holding homemade rocket launchers. We shrunk away from them, sliding down into the car seats, as we drove past.
But looking around, everyone else on the road was unfazed. One tuc-tuc drove through roadblock and handed a protester a bottle of Fanta, probably his mum dropping off lunch. The roadblocks had become so commonplace that locals had started selling nuts to drivers stuck in the queues.
It was even more confusing when at a second roadblock, we heard the pop and whistle of these homemade rocket launchers in action, some of the masked kids scattered in the confusion, and still the old mujeres sat back in their chairs at the side of the road, laughing at the furore.
Our taxi (it was blessed Steve again) sped through the roadblock in the middle of the chaos, and still the Nicaraguans smiled.
We couldn’t tell if some school children were being scolded for misbehaving or whether a political uprising was being quashed.
We made it down to Popoyo about an hour later, passing only quiet farmlands where the kids ride to school on skinny mules.
Popoyo is a scattering of surf camps and beach restaurants across three beaches, Popoyo, Santana and Guascate, with a range of breaks, from fun beachies to long left point breaks and one beast of a wave, the outside spot on Popoyo main beach.
Our crew of hardy travellers finally convened that night at a surf camp in Playa Santana, to begin our slightly delayed week of calming surf and yoga.