The land hunt begins

By our third trip to Nicaragua we had fallen in love with the place. As a professional surfer i’ve had the good fortune to travel all over the world. I’ve spent time nearly everywhere one might call a surfer’s paradise. There are phenomenally beautiful places out there where I would love to have a second or even first home. However, most are either too expensive, far away, or remote. When I think of all the elements; cost, proximity to home, familiar language, good food, friendly local people, and of course, amazing surf, Nicaragua scores highest in total score. So, Ryan and I decided that we would buy land in our new favorite country. The search was on.

We figured that the cheapest option would be to avoid the gringo-geared housing developments and buy directly from a local. The first step was to drive around and look for signs advertising lots for sale in Spanish. We found a few but looking into them wasn’t as easy as it had been in Mexico. Fortunately, we happened to meet a friendly ex-pat surfer who happened to be in the business of selling real estate. His name was Marc Brown, and he and his partner Bryan McMandon had moved to Nicaragua several years prior, bought up a few big parcels, and were in the process of subdividing. Ryan has never been very trusting of real estate agents. They are always trying to sell you something. Based on that negative preconception, we were incredibly impressed with Marc and Bryan. They were far from the stereotypical pushy real estate agents. They were just guys that loved to surf looking to facilitate the same sort of lifestyle we were dreaming of. When we asked Marc about real estate, the first thing he did was tell us the reasons we might not want to buy. He advised that the best thing to do was go surfing, enjoy the place, meet the people, consider the risks of buying in a Latin American country, then if we were still interested he offered his services to show us around.

We also met an American named Randy Hood who owned a hotel in Ecuador and had bought a lot in Nicaragua with a few partners with plans to build an upscale rental house. He told us about a local that was selling some land nearby. He said to look for the salmon colored pulperia and enquire inside. A “pulperia” is a little store that sells sodas, snacks, water, and a few assorted grocery items like soap, etc. We drove in the direction he suggested, found the salmon colored building and asked inside. The owner was out of town but his daughter offered to show us the lots for sale.

She showed us a lot map detailing GPS coordinates of the land. It was a long strip that went up a hill featuring three plateaus. It totaled about 4-5 acres and was offered for $50k.

The first plateau featured an ocean view.

The second plateau had a view of the surf, a fun beachbreak with a right sand point that is good on big swells nearby.

We had to make our way through a very overgrown section to get to the peak.

The view from the top was breathtaking. It offered a 360 degree view of ocean, waves and valleys.

“We’ll take it!” I thought.

We were pretty excited about this find. Initially we had hoped to spend less than $50k. We were looking for something in the $30k range. Marc had warned us that we shouldn’t spend more than we were prepared to lose. But, it seemed like a great deal considering the location and view.

Of course, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. One thing to beware of when buying in Nicaragua is the history of the title. During the war in the 80s, many landowners abandoned their property to escape the violence. A lot of that land was then taken and occupied illegally. Technically, the original owners could return anytime and make efforts to re-claim it. For that reason, it is only wise to buy land that has a clean title of recorded owners going back 40 years or so.

Unfortunately, this particular land didn’t fall into that category. The owner was a retired military figure who had been given the land as a reward for his service by the military, which essentially guaranteed that it had been seized during the war. Of course, the chances of the original owners returning at some point to claim it were small, but it was enough to deter us from taking the risk.

Ryan and I are coffee fiends. We aren’t the type that will sip it all day, but one solid cup of coffee in the morning is absolutely essential. Instant just won’t do. Usually we travel with a kettle that can be plugged into the wall to heat water and a plastic cone that is filled with filter and ground coffee, placed over a cup and as hot water passes through it brews a fresh cup of coffee. On this trip our kettle decided to die on us. Planning an early morning assault on the surf we didn’t want to wait until the restaurant opened to get hot water, so we asked for hot water the night before, made our coffee into plastic water bottles, wrapped them in wetsuits and towels to keep them as warm as possible and drank it just slightly warmer than room temperature the next day. It wasn’t perfect, but definitely better than nothing!

All caffeinated up, we drove to a semi-secret left reef. The wave is very tide sensitive and definitely not for beginners. It does a mini-teahupoo-style, sucking double-up tubing takeoff that then rifles along the shallow urchin-encrusted reef. It is a perfect wave but definitely on the heavy and dangerous end of the spectrum. The takeoff zone is tiny. We surfed it alone but realized that any more than 6 people in the lineup would be a very irritating and dangerous crowd. The fact that there is a big housing development with condos being constructed on the beach right out front, made us appreciate the current emptiness and worry about the crowds of the future.

Ryan, pulling in backside.

As I mentioned before, we were against the idea of buying in a housing development, but a few Kms up the road was a 3 acre lot for sale by an American who had bought a big piece and was selling a section in order to fund a trip around the world. He was asking $90k. The lot featured a big flat section on top with just enough view of the ocean but not any whitewater.

The selling point for me was the fact that it stretched down hill and ended at a river that runs even in the dry season and is broken up by big boulders. It was beautiful. I was instantly envisioning a yoga/writers retreat. We could have a house on the flat section with a big garden and room for a horse, then another structure down the hill with a big balcony looking out on the river. $90k was once again more than we had planned to spend, but the lot was big enough to be broken up into a second piece that could be sold in a few years to offset the cost.

The main downside was that there was only that one epic wave plus an average beachbreak within an easy drive and both would be overly crowded by the housing development someday.

We returned home from that trip with a much better idea of what was involved in buying land in Nicaragua, but so far no land to call our own.

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