Las Penitas is the a great place for your first night in Nicaragua. Leon would be the first choice to visit when coming from the north but there is a major problem with the colonial town destination. There is no rig parking. There is no camping. If you are looking for a place to stay and your truck isn’t huge, we got the impression that parking on the street is pretty safe. If you doubt the security, it was suggested to us that we pay the local cop that patrols the street out front of certain areas an extra couple dollars to seal in the protection. We would visited Leon on our return trip.
It was told to us that you cannot have ceviche without a beer. I couldn’t agree more. As soon as we crossed the border into Nicaragua, I celebrated with a long awaited Tona. Once we pulled into Playa Roca in Las Penitas, I celebrated again.
On the way here, it happened. We were pulled over. No flashing lights behind us, no sirens, just two cops standing in the middle of the road between Leon and Las Penitas/Poneloya with some orange cones, waving over whoever they please onto the shoulder. We made the crucial mistake of speaking Spanish. We had the game plan ever since we had rolled into Mexico to never speak Spanish if and when we would be pulled over. It hadn’t happened yet, we had been speaking Spanish as much as possible to practice our new skills… whoops. Don’t do what we did, DO NO SPEAK SPANISH WITH THE COPS. We have had other travelers look at us like we are nuts to suggest this tidbit but trust us… Our friends were pulled over the day after us, no Spanish… no bribe. We would be pulled over 2 more times in Nicaragua… guess what, no Spanish, no bribe! Here is how our one and only bribe of our entire trip went down. As I started to say, two cops were standing in the road and waved us over onto the shoulder and of course, you comply. We had our passports, car import and insurance paperwork ready and the cop simply handed them back without looking through them. We knew right there what we were in for. So many police and military stops are placed throughout the Americas, and 9 out of 10 are looking for this paperwork… He wasn’t looking for our paperwork. He kept Dave’s license, luckily a fake we had made for this exact situation, and asked Dave to step out of the car. He asked immediately to see our roadside emergency kit and fire extinguisher… CHECK! We brought it all that way and at last, we finally got to show it to try to beat the bribe game. The policeman was not amused. He then asked for Dave to show him a vehicle maintenance report. He waited patiently as Dave translated the words from Spanish into English in his head, he must have felt pretty confident that he had us with this one. Unlucky for him, we had a 50 point inspection record in our glove compartment from July before we had left. When Dave stated he had one, the cop didn’t think he had understood what he had asked for and asked Dave again… and again. Finally he let Dave grab the paperwork and show him. He was pissed. He told Dave that we could go but quite simply that he was keeping his license… Talk about desperation. When Dave said that was fine because he had another, the cop threw it into the car and allowed us to leave after glaring at us pretty hard. We won but it wasn’t fun.
Playa Roca, found on the iOverlanders app, is a beach side restaurant/hotel. They have a couple rooms with bunks in them to cheapen things up but we decided to decline these rooms (they were… in need of some upkeep to say the least). Lucky for those traveling in a car, they will allow you to camp in your vehicle for a pretty cheap price and about 100 feet from the edge of the water. The food is decent, the sunsets are awesome, the beach is packed with seashells. We would collectively spend a whole week living in their parking lot, enjoying the sun and surf.
The surf the first time around at Las Penitas left a lot to be desired. Mid tide would bring in some waves but anyone in the area would all be going after the same spot. I spent much of my time just watching from the beach. We were lucky enough on our way north to hit a swell that moved in… When these waves decide to pump, they pump.
Our first trip we were lucky to meet back up with Sara and Erdem from Nonurbia for a night. It was raining very hard so we opted to split a hotel room for a good nights sleep. The rain would continue the next few nights and we no longer wondered why Nonurbia needed a break from sleeping in their rig. The night before we left Guatemala, an earthquake hit off the southern coast of El Salvador. Our friends in northern Nicaragua had to be evacuated due to tidal wave threat… When you are sleeping in northern Nicaragua the next week and the ground shakes in the middle of the night, for whatever reason, you don’t sleep well. The thunder was so loud and so powerful each night we slept here, it shook the car, and not just a tiny bit. Lucky for Dave, he sleeps through everything and I get to write about what he missed in his solid slumber.
We were lucky to make more friends as our days past here. Lots of cards were played and even more Tonas were put down as we all talked late into the night getting to know everyone. This was still considered the slow season in the area and meeting people was fun and easy. On our return, we regretfully didn’t have the same experience. Nothing beats playing Euchre on the beach in Nicaragua with a couple you just met from Ontario.