Kitesurfing in Nicaragua

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Kitesurfing is an extreme, dangerous and rather addictive sport, so some people who practice it tend to become incurable kitesurfing maniacs. Nothing is more important for such people than kitesurfing. Their jobs, their families, their lives away from the shore don’t matter much and the only thing that really moves them is the wind. The most extreme kitesurfing maniac we have ever met is our friend Rado, who hosted us in Nicaragua. He would go kiting anytime, day or night, as long as there is good wind, sometimes driving for hours to get to a spot, and it doesn’t matter if a meteor strikes Earth and everything explodes… as long as there is water and the wind blows- he is happy!

Rado

Rado

Well, there is a lot of wind on the shores of lake Nicaragua most days, and most days, Rado is there flying in the air, alone or with some of his kitesurfing buddies. One of them is Dinko- another awesome Bulgarian living in Managua, and while in Nicaragua, Ivo joins in.

Dinko

Dinko

Ivo, Rado and Dinko ktesurfing in Nicaragua

Ivo, Rado and Dinko ktesurfing in Nicaragua

We arrive in Managua and spread our tent in Rado’s backyard. This is going to be our main campground while visiting Nicaragua for two weeks. The very next morning, we pack the kites. Rado has a bunch of different sizes kites and boards and he is always planing to get some more. We drive direction Granada for about an hour and then some more to a special place on the lake, where the beach is wide and the waves are big, driven by the easterly winds blowing west to the Pacific Ocean. The road becomes sand among cow pastures. We pass through a tiny village with poor houses. Dogs, chickens and barefoot kids roam in the dust. Giant spiderwebs have invaded bushes and trees, suffocating fences, climbing on roofs. And then we drive on the beach.

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We get to The Place. I love tagging along with Ivo and Rado just because these special hard-to-get-to kitesurfing places Rado takes us to are unbelievably beautiful and unpopular with the tourists. The beach is deserted except for a lonely white egret patiently staring in the water; the lake is dark and agitated by the wind. On the horizon, the perfect cones of Maderas and Concepcion Volcanos are perched on top of Ometepe Island.

Lake Nicaragua

Lake Nicaragua

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Lago Cocibolca (Mar Dulce- Sweet Sea) or Lake Nicaragua is a navigable tectonic lake with an area of over 8,000 km2. It is the largest lake in Central America and the 19th largest in the world, slightly smaller than Lake Titicaca. Even though it is much closer to the Pacific Ocean, the San Juan river joins the lake with the Caribbean Sea, and thus has provided access for pirates to Granada in previous centuries. A project to build a canal linking the Atlantic with the Pacific similar to the Panama Canal exists since over one hundred years now, but for various reasons (mainly financial) the project remains on paper only.

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The lake is a windy place, with a reputation for powerful storms, excellent for kitesurfing all year round.

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But kitesurfing is not an easy-breezy business… It involves a lot of equipment repairs, as the inflatable part of the kites tends to break and deflate, and the fabric tends to tear. Especially if you are a newbie, like Ivo. The first couple of times on the lake, he kitesurfs mostly around, on top and inside of trees…

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Practice makes a difference, though, and with time, even Ivo starts enjoying the ride.

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Ivo ktesurfing in Nicaragua

While Ivo, Rado and Dinko are flying around, Maya and her friend Cathy (Rado’s daughter) are playing in the lake, running among waves, making sand sculptures and drawings.

Cathy and Maya

Cathy and Maya, Lake Nicaragua

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And while the girls are having fun, I am negotiating with a local man for a couple of watermelons. He takes me to the watermelon field so I can pick the melons I want and he doesn’t charge me for the ones we break right there and then to try if there are red and juicy. Yes, they are.

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Mira and the watermelon man

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PHOTOS FROM THE LAKE

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Dinko

Rado

Rado

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Dinko

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KITESURFING AND SAFETY (from Wikipedia)

Kiteboarding is a surface water sport combining aspects of wakeboarding, snowboarding, windsurfing, surfing, paragliding, skateboarding and gymnastics into one extreme sport. A kiteboarder harnesses the power of the wind with a large controllable power kite to be propelled across the water on a kiteboard similar to a wakeboard or a small surfboard, with or without footstraps or bindings.

Any location with consistent, steady side-onshore winds (10 to 35+ knots), large open bodies of water and good launch areas is suitable for kitesurfing. Controlled flying is possible and is one of the biggest attractions of the sport.

Power kites are powerful enough to pull the rider like a boat in wakeboarding and to lift their users to diving heights. But a kite could become uncontrolled and that situation can be very dangerous; especially within a difficult environment. A kite can get out of control after the rider falling or in a sudden wind gust, which can happen more frequently due to excessively strong winds from squalls or storms (“collard”).

It is possible to be seriously injured after being lofted, dragged, carried off, blown downwind or dashed, resulting in a collision with hard objects including sand, buildings, terrain or power lines or even by hitting the water surface with sufficient speed or height (“kitemare”, a portmanteau of kite and nightmare). Adequate quality professional kiteboarding training, careful development of experience and consistent use of good judgement and safety gear should result in fewer problems in kiteboarding.

Kiteboarding can pose hazards to surfers, beachgoers, bystanders and others on the water. Many problems and dangers that may be encountered while learning kiting can be avoided or minimized by taking professional instruction through lesson centers. Kitesurfing schools provide courses and lessons to teach skills including kite launching, flying, landing, usage of the bar, lines and safety devices.

Accidents can generate serious injuries or even be deadly. 105 accidents were reported in the Kiteboarding Safety Information Database between 2000 and September 2003, with 14 fatalities.

Kitesurfing safety rules

Kite High Rule – A kiter who is upwind (closest to the wind) must keep their kite high to avoid their lines crossing those of downwind kiters. Similarly, the downwind kiter must keep their kite low to avoid their lines crossing upwind kites. This applies regardless of whether kiters are on the same, or opposing courses.

Clearance Rule – A kiter while jumping must have a clear safety zone of at least 50m downwind because they will move downwind during the jump. A rider must also have a clear safety zone of 30m upwind to jump as his lines could touch the kite or the lines of another rider kiteboarding close by (see Kite High rule). It’s important to also consider potential hazards downwind and crosswind of the rider such as people, buildings, trees and other fixed obstacles.

Kiters are also considered as sailing vessels – so some standard sailing rules apply such as:

Starboard Rule When kiters approach from opposite directions the kiter who has the wind on the starboard (right side, right leg/arm leads in direction of travel) has right of way. The kiter who has the wind on the port side (left side, left leg/arm are leads in direction of travel) shall keep out of the way of the other. In simple terms, this means “keep right” with the kiter coming in the opposite direction passing on the left.

In sailing terms, a sailor or kiter with right of way is entitled to “insist” on exercising that right (warning opposing kiters) by shouting “starboard” very clearly and in good time.

Other boating rules such as no-go zones, distance from shore and swimmers also apply.

Similar articles from the blog:

Kitesurfing in Aruba

Kitesurfing in San Blas

Kitesurfing in Panama

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The Old Hermit And His Dream Mountain

The Old Hermit And His Dream Mountain

Don Alberto

Don Alberto

We are sitting on the terrace of a small restaurant in front of the big white cathedral in Leon glowing in the permanent tropical heat. We are eating tacos and drinking beer with our friend Katia Angelova, whom we met only a few days ago.

– Have you heard about this old guy who lives alone in the forest and all he does since many years now is carving the stones of the mountain, I ask Katia.

And even though she lives and works in Nicaragua since many years, Katia has never heard about Don Alberto. It seams that he and his mountain are not very famous; not your typical tourist attraction. Maybe, it’s not worth it? But for us and for Katia, an old stone-carving hermit sounds intriguing.

– Lets’s go and check him out, she proposes excitedly.

– He lives up north, near the border with Honduras, in Esteli. We need two days to get there and back! When do you want to go, we ask.

– Now, she is not joking. In two days I have to fly to Florida, so it’s now or never!

We can’t believe it! There is someone who is even more spontaneous than us! Let’s go!

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Katia Angelova in front of her hotel in Managua

Next, we drive back to Managua with Katia’s car, prepare our stuff for the journey and start driving north. It takes hours on a narrow road winding through hills and small villages. The entire time, Katia who owns and manages a few hotels in Nicaragua, is telling us the funniest stories. I mean, these are some hilarious hotel-stories that can easily become scenarios for the next most popular TV series. The one about the forty refugees from India stuck in her hotel without papers for a few months is my favorite. Crammed in just a few rooms to save on money, they founded a small Hindu community with its intense exotic sounds and smells, washing and drying their turbans on the balconies, starting small businesses within the confines of the hotel lobby, like facial hair epilation for example, smuggling prostitutes now and then, and finally, one of the guys married the hotel receptionist!

In the evening, we get to Esteli, not far from Don Alberto’s mountain, and thanks to Katia and her hotel business, we gat a nice discount in a nice hotel.

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Hotel in Esteli

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After breakfast, we meet Joconda, Katia’s friend who lives in the same town and is also interested to visit Don Alberto- a local legend. Together we head for the forest.

Finding Don Alberto’s place proves to be very tricky and this might be the reason why not many get to visit him. We drive on narrow roads, paved at first, then covered with dirt and rocks, through tiny communities and vast forests, and everywhere we see people we stop and ask them which way to go. In this forgotten part of the world, everyone knows Don Alberto and they explain to us how to get there, first driving to the end of the dirt road and then walking through pastures and farmland. I am worried that after this long journey, the old man might not be home, that we might not meet him.

On the way to Don Alberto's

On the way to Don Alberto’s

– Is he there, I ask a woman working in the field as we get closer.

– He is always there, she replies almost offended by my pointless question.

Don Alberto was born in Nicaragua 77 years ago and for the past 37 years has never gone further than the village church which he visits on Sundays and holidays. He spends his days in the forest and up on the hills overlooking the valley. His home and shelter for the night is a miniature wooden shack with large religious drawings on the outer walls, smaller than an elf’s house.

Don Alberto in front of his home

Don Alberto in front of his home

We find the place empty. He is not there…

A narrow path leads us through the shadows of old trees, and on the side of the path, and in the shadows of the old trees, are scattered grey rocks- big and small, and each rock has been shaped into an animal or an icon of a saint. These shy stone sculptures slowly appear one after another- the most extraordinary forest gallery.

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And then, like a ghost from an enchanted world- small and almost transparent, an old man emerges from the darkness of the forest and floats towards me. I don’t know what to say; I am afraid my words or my presence might scare him away, such a delicate white butterfly he is. The others have gone up the hill and there is no one to share this magical moment with me. I meet Don Alberto.

Don Alberto and his art award

Don Alberto and his art award

He is smiling with the sad smile of an angel, his hair is shining white, his skin is the color and texture of tree bark.

Immediately, he starts explaining about his rocks, his forest, the animals, the plants. He sounds like a recording. I am sure he repeats the exact same things to all his visitors and I wonder if he likes to have foreigners disturbing his peace.

 

– Have you gone up the hill, he asks me?

– Not yet, I explain.

– Go, go up the hill and then come back. I will be here.

I go up the hill. There, suddenly, looming above me, a few meters tall and many meters long- the vertical stone face of the mountain covered in carved figures of buildings and animals, Egyptian motives and religious scenes. An elephant, a tiger, a whale, even a helicopter are facing the vast open view of the valley to the east. The colossal scale of the artwork is totally unexpected, stunning and unbelievable. The work of a lifetime, secluded at the end of the world. Birds and sunrises are this gallery’s only regular spectators.

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It is hard to conceive that this little, humble person who has never seen the world beyond his forest, who has never studied art or carving, who has never been to school at all, has brought the world to him in such glorious proportions, and only using some basic tools. A world of dreams and imagined images, captured in rock for eternity.

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– I wake up around 3 o’clock in the morning and I say my prayers. Then I go and I shape the rocks. Later in the day, many people come to see me from all corners of the world. I like when people come to see me and my stonework. They take pictures and more people come every time! One woman who works in university brought me notebooks and I ask everyone who visits me to write their names in these notebooks and the country they are coming from. I have 15 notebooks already full with names. I am teaching myself to read and write now, and I read the names in my notebooks. If you are coming back, please bring me more notebooks, this is my last one. I don’t ask the people who visit me to pay. They can give me a gift if their hearth wishes. Here, look what people have given me.

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Someone has given him a pocket knife he never uses, he keeps it hidden in his shack, like treasure, together with a small pin with the Canadian flag, a plastic Jesus on the cross wrapped in foil, and a pair of black leather boots.

– These are good hiking boots to go up the mountain, why don’t you use them, I look at his old broken shoes he wears instead of the new black leather boots.

– I only wear them when I go to church on holidays, he smiles.

 

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