There were just two of us on the trip, myself and Wyatt. We had grown up together surfing on the eastern seaboard of the United States, mainly in the Long Island area. After graduating from college I had flown down to Costa Rica to start working at a hostel in Jaco, where Wyatt had been working for close to a year. Jaco, Jaco, Jaco, with seedy expats, cheap thrills and pick pocket night clubs. But its also a melting pot of cultures and has a strong group of do gooders improving its image à la Brooklyn meets Vegas nestled in the rainforest of the central Pacific. Yoga studios and surf schools are as common as drug dealers and working girls, yet everyone gets along.
While I was visiting, Wyatt did some research and found that Land Rover used to have an assembly plant in Costa Rica and there was an abundance of near pristine, antique Rovers sitting in sheds in the mountains that could be purchased at a low price. This is how Wyatt came to purchase Bessie, a 1976, diesel, 4 cylinder Rover that would transport and shelter us on our journey from Costa Rica to Los Angeles over three months.It wasn’t until Wyatt’s parents asked, “You’re really going to let him go alone?” that I cancelled my plane ticket home to assume my role as copilot.
We left Jaco in the middle of March, just in time to catch the summer swells of the southern hemisphere that promised great waves as we drove along the coast. These five vignettes from the ensuing three month, 4,000 mile, 7 country traverse illustrate our travels with Bessie and the cultures and characters we encountered. Central America still has a frontier feel, perfect for the intrepid spirit weary of the overdeveloped, the ultra-regulated, and the thoroughly discovered.
Our Swiss friend Elias helps decorate the Monkey House. Photo: Wyatt Fowler
Perched on the precipice of the headland that separates Playa Gigante from Playa Amarillo in southern Nicaragua is a small pink house. Waves thunder on the reef below. A rickety barbed wire fence encircles the edge of the cliff face. From the hammocks underneath a palm frond structure, travelers look north past the cactus studded headland onto the world class waves of Playa Colorado, and further still, to the reef break Panga Drops. On the south wall of the pink house are the words “Monkey House”, sketched out in large cursive lettering.
Oliver is a local Nica man and owner of this hostel. He’s quiet, and modest with a limited grasp of English. You’d never know he’s one of the best Nicaraguan surfers by the way he quietly greets newcomers. He has a calmness to his nature, which seems at odds with his specialty – riding some of the biggest waves Nicaragua has to offer.
The Monkey House was at capacity when we pulled up in Bessie at the top of the cliff, but he told us we could camp. “Todo está tranquilo” Everything is chill he told us.
On our second night there, tragedy struck The Monkey House. Oliver’s mother, who had been ill in the hospital, passed away. There were only five guests, Wyatt, me, Riley, a Canadian who had driven down, and two Swiss named Dom and Elias. When Oliver left to console his family, he put us in charge. It was a significant gesture, and one that showed us some of the character, generosity, and trust endemic among Nicaraguans.
I can think of worse places to camp. Cliffside at the Monkey House. Photo: Wyatt Fowler
During our stay a large swell swept in and awakened the reef at the base of the cliff, dubbed the Monkey Reef, and produced large A frame faces. We surfed and when we were spent, we had the best seats in the house to watch the giant lumps appear on the horizon, suck the water off the rocks, and then crash back into them. The chaos of scrambling out to sea when we saw the same image from our boards seemed distant as we peacefully watched the waves, swinging back and forth in our hammocks. When the Monkey Reef wasn’t working, we could navigate down the sketchy staircase and walk to the barreling beach break of Colorado.
A far cry from the modern, amenity filled hostel we had left in Costa Rica, The Monkey House looked as if it had been pieced together by amateur architects using whatever wood they could scavenge. The stairs leading off the cliff to Playa Amarillo had been haphazardly carved into the rocks and dirt. Navigating them with a surfboard meant having faith in the structural integrity of the driftwood handrail lining the almost vertical stairs.
The labor for the hostel was mainly done by Oliver himself. Travelers would donate possessions and their time to help him out, and the collaborative effort was one of the qualities that made this place so special. It was a simple place. The laundry machine was outside and had to be filled by hand. The bathroom didn’t have a door, and the kitchen was minimalist at best. It meant we all made meals together to get the best use of limited resources. The doorless bathroom meant that while using it you were able to stare out over the cliff and into the Pacific. I hope he never puts a door on that bathroom. While we were there we built a surfboard rack out of wood recycled from a luggage rack on our friends van. We tried to reconstruct the staircase to make it a bit safer. It was the type of place that you felt a connection to, even if you were only staying a short time. We traded Oliver some power tools in exchange for our stay, and after two weeks, left our fellow Monkey brethren to keep trekking north.