POPOYO, APOYO, AND PET RACCOONS
April 9, 2013 · by Sarah
With our new battery and solar panel installed, we moved along towards Popoyo, a well known surf break that Nate and Jamie had been itching to get to. After our day filled with running around Managua to get the battery, it was getting late but we pushed on, in hopes to make it to the beach before dark. When that didn’t happen, we succumbed to our ‘go-to’ method of asking a restaurant if we could camp in their parking lot for the night. We ended up in Rivas, one of the larger cities in southern Nicaragua, where we spotted a restaurant that looked like it had secure parking. We pulled in, asked the man if it would be okay, and set up camp. Deciding it was too late to make our own dinner, we grabbed a bite to eat at the restaurant. It was fairly dead with disco lights beaming around the room and techno music blaring in the back. Thinking nothing of it, we ate our meals and hit the hay, with the thumping of the music lulling us to sleep.
Every now and then, I would wake up and look out the window to find the music still thumping, women hanging out outside of our trucks and an unusual amount of traffic coming and going. The flashing blue lights peered through the doorway of the dance floor, where I would make my way to go to the bathroom. Something seemed a little fishy about this place. The next morning, we all compared our observations and came to the conclusion that we may or may not have camped at a brothel that night. No one will ever know. But the name of the restaurant displayed as “Rest…” and the obscure signs will only make our imaginations ponder.
From Rivas, we made a left hand turn down a bumpy dirt road which would lead us to one of our most favorite stops in Nicaragua. Ten miles later, we reached the end of the road. We made it to the next town over from Popoyo and asked a local restaurant owner, Jeff, if we could camp at his place for a few nights. Jeff owns “Da Surf Spot” near Rancho Santana and serves up the best fish tacos we have had since Baja. He let us stay with him for a few days while we explored the area. Driving more miles on dirt than on pavement in Nicaragua didn’t stop the boys from wanting more. They spotted a dirt path that wove along the beach and lead to a great place to hang out during the day.
The surfing was fantastic and we had the whole beach to ourselves. We spent quite a few days hanging out at Jeff’s and driving through the sand to our desolate beach. It was what we had been looking for and we were loving every minute of it. We even made a side trip to Playa Gigante where several overlanding friends were hanging out. We lazed around by the pool at Jeff and Monica’s new pad and made a delicious dinner, all while sharing lots of stories and laughs.
Isla de Ometepe was next on our list so we headed to San Jorge where we caught a ferry to the island. We camped at Finca Magdalena, an organic coffee farm where the trailhead to the smaller of the two volcanoes started. We pulled in at nighttime and one of the owners told us where we could park. He kept warning us that they had a ‘mascota’ (pet) and that it would be best to keep our dogs tied up so they didn’t get bit. When we asked to see the pet because we couldn’t understand what type it was, he motioned his hand to follow him and beemed his flashlight towards a tree where there was a raccoon tied to it. A raccoon!!! Puzzled, we agreed to keep our dogs tied up and went to bed.
The next morning, we all observed the poor raccoon as it paced back and forth, clueless as to what was going on. One of the workers walked up and fed it some food out of his hand and held the rope while Nate filled its water jug and placed it near him. He seemed so happy to have water. He reached in, cupping the water with his paws to drink it and even tried forcing his whole body into the jug to take a bath and cool off.
Later that day, I was watching him pace back and forth. He would stop sometimes, flop on the ground, try to fall asleep then get back up and start pacing again. He was very calm for a nocturnal animal and I felt genuinely bad for him. When I realized that he had spilled his water, I grabbed his jug and filled it back up. Being very cautious, I slowly pushed the jug in his direction. He came over to the jug and I stood up and backed away. Because I hadn’t pushed the jug close enough to him, he couldn’t reach it. So, I bent down, waited for him to walk away, and slowly pushed it a little closer into his ‘circle’. Out of nowhere, he lunged at me, clamping his teeth down on the palm of my hand. I immediately stood up, screaming, and shook my hand all around but he was attached. I had to take my other hand and shove him off as I ran away yelling Nate’s name. We immediately cleaned it with soap and water and Kellee grabbed their hydrogen peroxide.
After cleaning it, my mind started racing. When I think of raccoons, I think ‘roadkill’ and ‘rabies.’ ****, what if I get rabies?! I opted out of those shots when we were at the travel clinic thinking, “Ha! I don’t need to spend $450 on a rabies shot, how stupid could I be to get bit by a wild animal!”
A man with a machete came up to us and started to make conversation. We told him how beautiful the farm was and asked him about the raccoon. He told us that the policia at the border captured it and brought it to their farm for them to keep as a pet. Raccoons are not native to Nicaragua and it wouldn’t stay alive in the wild. Since they have had it, it has bitten seven different people, me being the eighth. The man with the machete told me that I didn’t need to go see a doctor because everyone else was fine and the raccoon has a rabies vaccine. He said to keep it clean and I would be okay. He made me feel a little better but I still had my doubts. In order to get to a doctor, I would have to leave the island. We just got there so I really didn’t want to do that. I read in our book, Where There is No Doctor, to capture the animal and watch it for 7-10 days. If it’s behavior stayed the same and it didn’t die in that period, it didn’t have rabies. Perfect! We stayed for five days and the raccoon showed no signs of change. I told Nate to watch for me to start foaming at the mouth and snarling at him. I actually just recently emailed the owner to ask how the raccoon was doing and he said that they still had it and it was doing fine. I can now check “Get bit by a raccoon and not get rabies” off my bucket list!
We hiked Volcan Madera while we were there and I am convinced that it was the muddiest hike I have ever been on! At the top, the crater of the volcano made a lake. When we got there, you could hardly see anything at all. I wanted to rinse off my hands and was told to be careful because the mud was like quicksand. Of course, I didn’t listen. I waltzed towards the water and my right leg sunk right into the mud. Kellee came running over to help, but not before taking advantage of a quick photo op!
While eating some snacks, the clouds quickly parted and you could see all the way to the other side of the lake. It was amazing!
Our last couple of nights on the island were spent free beach camping at Santo Domingo. We found a perfect tree to park under and made ourselves at home. We also made a day trip to Ojo de Agua to experience the mineral infused waters of the swimming hole.
Taking the ferry back to the mainland, we decided to go visit Parque Nacional Volcan Masaya to see some lava and do some night hikes through the caves. It sounded like so much fun! Our dreams were crushed when we pulled up to the booth and the woman pointed at Brady and said “no mascotas.” There haven’t been many times that we have been completely turned down from having Brady with us, but this was one of them. Oh well, onto plan B, Laguna de Apoyo!
The elusive access road to the lake is a series of steep switchbacks and rocky dirt roads. We arrived at the campground Pajaro Azul, right on the lake. We jumped out of the cars and headed straight for the beautiful, crystal clear water. We have never seen anything like this place before. It is absolutely magical! We had the whole campground to ourselves and the view was spectacular.
Jamie and Kellee let us use their paddleboards and now Nate has a newfound hobby. Our days were spent swimming in the lake, paddleboarding, lounging in the hammocks, making delicious meals on the fire and watching the monkeys swing from tree branch to tree branch above us.
It was a very relaxing, peaceful place that we could have stayed at for days, maybe even weeks! But our vehicle import permit for Nicaragua was expiring soon and we wanted to hit up Popoyo one last time before saying goodbye and heading to Costa Rica!