Much like the rest of Nicaragua, Poneloya is relatively untouched by tourism. You won’t find sprawling resorts here. Or crowds. And definitely not overinflated prices. It’s quite a nice piece of paradise and worth the visit if your itinerary can spare it.
We stayed at Surfing Turtle Lodge. It’s an eco-friendly compound consisting of a main hostel and a few airy bungalows right off the Pacific coast.
A main feature that drew us to this specific lodging is it’s proximity to the beach. And to surfing.
But what’s really fantastic about Surfing Turtle Lodge is the process to get there.
We were already lost by the time we started driving from Managua to Poneloya early that morning. It didn’t help that we didn’t have cell phone service. Or a road map. Just us, the nameless roads, and a few vague screenshots of maps on our phones.
I’m a mixture of an organized traveler and a spontaneous one. I book the big things and have a tendency to leave the rest to faith and luck. So for us, this meant, I didn’t bother to read any additional information about how to find the Surfing Turtle Lodge. Except for one detail: check in at El Chepe.
We drove a good while through undeveloped residential areas. Houses put together with scrap materials lined the two-lane road. They were made with things like palm fronds and corrugated metal and sheets of plastic tarp. Some were built from concrete bricks and were left unpainted while some were unexpectedly colorful. I wouldn’t usually expect to see a pink house. Maybe a rosy beige, but never neon pink. But somehow it just looked right, right then and there. There were even a few houses styled after traditional western homes with shuttered windows and real doors.
I think we were all expecting an obvious reveal at the end. Like “Ah ha! This is it! We’re here. This is Surfing Turtle Lodge.”
It was nothing like that.
When we approached the end of the road, it looked no different from the sparse stretch of road we finished driving through. The only difference was the sudden abundance of parked cars.
We left our rental parked amidst the throng of other vehicles and followed a thumping, rhythmic beat into El Chepe. Our bags all in tow.
El Chepe is an open-air restaurant overlooking Rio Telica. It’s more of a large deck with a shelter above it than an actual building with walls. It’s covered in thatched roofing that reminds me of three things: the Philippines, tacky luaus, and reading Eric Hansen’s “Night Fishing with Nahimah.”
The man behind the counter happily helped us. Somehow through his broken English and our terribly shattered Spanish, we were able to figure things out. He was to call us a boat. And we were to wait on the shore.
From El Chepe, we boarded a small canoe that took us across the bay to Los Brasiles. It was a small one, no larger than a standard size. Just enough to fit our bags and five bodies (boatman included).
We loaded one end with our luggage and squeezed our bodies onto the open seats.
It was a calm commute on the sparkling waters that afternoon. It felt as if we were almost gliding, barely skimming the surface. It was quiet. And very pleasant.
If only it lasted a little longer.
Instead of weaving through the little inlets that appeared with the low-tide, we stopped short. The canoe hit land, and we were only a little more than halfway across the bay.
Julian, our friendly “chauffeur,” quickly unloaded. Despite our objections, he threw all five of our overly stuffed backpacks over his shoulders. And effortlessly trudged through the sinking, wet sand to a speck in the distance.
That speck turned out to be a horse-drawn carriage that was to bring us the rest of the way to the property. It was driven by Pepe, a nice older gentleman who spoke very little English but smiled often. We opted to walk. To take in the scenery slowly and sweetly.
It took us nearly an hour. Mainly, this was a product of us getting lost after the carriage disappeared into the vegetation. The trail didn’t seem as clear in the beginning, and somehow, we managed to veer off in a completely different direction.
When we finally rediscovered the trail, it was an easy hike from there. It was well worth the effort when we finally shrugged off our bags, slipped out of our sweat soaked clothes, and enjoyed our very own intimate paradise.
If I visit Poneloya again, this is where you’ll find me.