A few bumps in the road, Nicaragua
Our drive to the next nicaraguan beach has a few bumps in the road, and our plans change again.We continue to explore and enjoy popoyo and the tiny villages around our surf camp.
Beach time is limited due to the intensity of the sun and the shockingly cold waters. The gusty winds that keep us cool on the patio keep driving the warm water down, ensuring that a dip in the ocean goes far beyond refreshing to pacific northwest cold.
It’s also semana santa weekend, so even on this extremely remote out of the way beach, the locals are flocking in. They come in by the truckload, literally dozens of people crammed into the back of pickups, delivery trucks, dumptrucks and anything else willing to take them to the beach. Drinking heavily certainly seems to be the required past-time both on the beach and back at the surf camp bar. We try to keep up as best we can.
Sunday morning is officially the holy day, so we try to leave early and make the trek to our next location before the roads (or those driving on them) get too crazy. We rumble along down the rough dirt roads and finally pop back out onto the panam highway. Oddly, its almost vacant...maybe everyone is already at the beach or getting a late start after yesterdays celebrations? We’ll take it either way.
We collect a bus-full of produce, groceries and supplies as our next destination is a remote beach house pretty far off the beaten path and completely without services. We load the bus up pretty well so bailie and karma have to squeeze in the back. All goes well until we turn off the paved road and get a few miles into dirt roads on the way to the beach house. We come across two trucks that decided to play chicken and see who could get through a narrow section of road, which basically left them both stuck, squeezed together by the incline on either side of the road. Probably not the way they wanted to start the holy day.
Traffic is backing up around them on both sides, but as if built for us, there’s an incline up and around on the left. A bit rough, but other than the ditch we had to clear at the far end not too terrible. We figure Bailie set the whole thing up just so she could experience a bit of offroading in the bus, and we discuss how it feels like a ride in an old wooden roller coaster, especially on rough roads. We creak and shake and bump along and the view out the safaris make you feel like you should be throwing your arms in the air as we reach the peak of any hill.
Back on the road we figure from the directions that we’re about 6 minutes from our destination and the ocean when we approach a fork in the road and an uber-steep incline. This hill is almost as steep as the final ascent at the end of our offroad day at guanajuato rocks during the rally, but theres no sign or indication of whats coming. I see a vehicle struggling up from afar so we gun it and rock our way up the heavily pot-holed ascent... at least up to about 30’ from the peak. E stalls out and gives up after a well fought run at making it. Were we not loaded with people and gear it might have actually happened, but regardless we now have no choice but to go back down. Jen hops out to try and close the rear hatch (which popped open due to the incline) and i notice that we already have a lineup waiting at the bottom. A few locals saw us head into the hill and knew we would be coming back down. This quickly turned into the sketchiest 2 minutes of our trip to date.
Even as jen is trying to close the hatch i have the E brake fully engaged, brake pedal to the floor and were still creeping backward between slippage of the brakes and simply skidding on the gravel beneath us. As we continue back, we get to the steepest part of the ascent and neither brake will stop us from skidding on the loose stones and pickig up speed. I back off trying to at least keep control of the tires, trying to get the engine to help slow us down and we regain a bit of traction but pickup speed way too fast. The bus starts to fishtail and im putting everything i’ve got into simply holding the wheel straight and staying on the road versus in one of the giant ditches on either side. As the bus starts to swing to the side i check the rearview for bailie thinking momentarily i should have her bail out the cargo door in case things go poorly. She’s stemmed out with both arms and legs and has karma clutched beside her. In hindsight, we probably should have installed a seatbelt back there for guests. doh.
Maybe halfway down, the fishtailing increases and the tires are skidding completely out of control. It’s like hydroplaning down a 30degree slope backwards and blind...the bus is out of my control and eventually makes a hard cut to the right despite the fact i have full strength bearing down on keeping the wheel straight and the inertia feels as though we’ll topple over sideways and surely roll all the way to the bottom. I’m now wishing i had stemmed out like bailie or thought to at least put on my lapbelt, but the bus finds a way to stop just before the right hand ditch and somehow we stay upright. I check in with the passengers in the rear, we do an 18 point turn to point the front downhill and quickly coast down to the first flat spot at the foot of the hill.
We sit silently for a few moments while i pry my white gripped fingers off the steering wheel and we get out to walk around the bus and assess things. That could have easily gone so much worse, and we’re thankful to simply be sitting flat and safely where we are. There’s a resort directly to our right (clearly the first guy that couldn’t make it over the hill years ago) so jen runs in to see if there’s another way around while bailie and i try to gather our wits and i jog up the hill to see if its worth another run at it. My walk up assures just how steep this is, and the decline on the other side is even worse. Even if we got over the top we surely wouldn’t be getting out without the help of an oxcart. I guess thats one way to choose where to live...
We talk about parking the bus, shuttling all our things in to the house. We eventually find someone who knows where were going and there is in fact a different/better way there. First we get a chance to regather ourselves over lunch and a dip in the resort pool. We see several vehicles make an attempt at the hill and watch 1/2 roll back down while those with experience wait for them at the bottom. If you haven’t stopped to engage 4wd before this one you don’t stand a chance.
I do a walk around and all seems okay with E. The right rear has leaked some brake fluid, but not enough to be alarming and we pump the brakes to make sure we still have pressure- check. Pull out and head for the back way and get less than 5 minutes down the road when we here a POP and the bus stops on its own. Easy to tell one of our wheels seizes as we skid to a halt. Our idiots guide tells you to listen to your vehicle and that you’ll be able to tell the difference between cheap noises and expensive noises... this one clearly went into the expensive category.
We walk around the bus again, can see from the skid which tire seized and as i back up my heart sinks. The wheel is sitting at a pretty dramatic negative camber and clearly isn’t okay. Change of plans for the day. Sadly it must be what primarily stopped our momentum down the hill and kept us from up-ending, but it paid the price for its service. We setup a safety triangle to warn cars coming around the curve and then start looking for blocks to help jack it up and assess the damage. Jen and Bailie go out looking for help, which luckily isn’t far. It seems we’ve skidded to a halt right in front of the mango rosa eco resort. We had talked about wanting to go check this place out, we just hadn’t anticipated staying here...
Once jacked up, i see the wheel is definitely seized and a quick assessment is that it isn’t good and as i can freely wriggle the tire back as though we broke the axle. I am able to get it at least back to straight and spinning so we gently lower the bus and push it the 40’ into mango rosa’s parking lot. The girls had already been inside to meet the owner, who happens to be a bus owner. He’s crazy busy with the days celebration but mentioned that if we could get it rolling we could park it in his lot while we come up with a plan. He also confirmed what we thought we already knew- it’s the sunday of semana santa (easter sunday) and we have zero chance of getting a mechanic, a tow truck, or even an oxcart out here today, and more than likely for the next 2-3 days. There is however a booze cruise departing in an hour or so, if we decide to join them.
We wanted to give Bailie a snapshot of how we travel and what life is really like on the road. Looks like she’s getting a bit clearer image than any of us had imagined, and now she knows why we had a hard time making plans or guessing where we could meet her. This day looks like most- a bit of good luck, a bit of bad, a lot of figuring it out as we go and a little bit of laughing at life because there’s simply no other answer. When it comes to making plans the bus gets to decide, but the noticeable difference with the additional infusion of Bailie’s positive and laid back energy to our mix- instead of sitting on a dry dusty road in the middle of the desert, we broke down directly in front of a resort with a beautiful pool and bar.
Could be worse...and i’m guessing once we get in to see what happened, it probably will be.