Thursday, November 21, 2013

Travels: Bikes and Beaches

Hey strangers! I never finished telling you about Nicaragua - and there's so much to tell! But I also have stories from my trip to Hong Kong spilling out of my ears! To avoid geographical whiplash, I'm staying in Nicaragua for now. I have a few more stories to tell you before we head east to work groups and hostels and new friendships in China.

So come back with me to Granada.


Have you ever been somewhere altogether foreign, but also incredibly familiar? As we biked our way back to Granada from Laguna de Apoyo (about 16km) with Bicimaximo, we saw farm land and dirt roads blocked by stubborn cows. The smells, the flat green fields, the shouts in Spanish, and the cattle standing behind fences a small gust of wind could destroy gave me a flashback to home - where I grew up in small-town California. It was a strange moment. I was nearly 4,800km from that little border town in the armpit of the West Coast, but straddling my bike on a dirt road in another small town in Nicaragua, it felt the same. It was the tropical version of what I think of when I hear the word "home." It was comforting. And a little bit smelly.


Not so comforting were the bruises on my hind quarters after the long bike ride into town...

But let me back up. Bicimaximo was recommended to us by our host at the Garden Cafe. We stayed in their back room, and it was absolutely lovely.


The owners are a young gentleman from California and his Nicaraguan wife. They run an amazing restaurant and store, and they know basically every expat in the city. There were a surprising amount of restaurant and business owners who were not Nicas, but found the beauty in the country and decided to stay. Or maybe they also found a little piece of home. Damien gave us a list of things to do in the city, and taking a bike tour with Bicimaximo was on the list.

Clicking on the link in his e-mail changed our trip.


I started reading through their website looking for a tour, and quickly realized this was more than a bike tour company. My fingers immediately began typing out an e-mail and arranging a call with the owner, Baker, a twentysomething guy from Virginia who simply has a heart to see the community in Granada thrive. He came to Nicaragua intending to stay for 9 months to work with a missions organization, El Puente. (More about them in another post!) Three and a half years later, his vision for Bicimaximo is big, and goes far beyond meeting practical needs - although that is perhaps the most beautiful thing about it.

One thing you should know about Granada is that it has a bike culture. I'll just say that I was much more likely to be hit by a bike walking around town than a car. (Although I was pretty sure both would happen by the end of the trip.) Most people in town have a bike and use it as their primary means of transportation. We often saw several people loaded onto a single bike and wondered why we ever thought our family's minivan wasn't big enough. Good grief. All that to say, bicycles - quality ones - are incredibly important to the daily lives of Nicas in Granada.

Bicimaximo was started by bike-loving fellows. You can read a lot more about them on the website. They started Bicimaximo as a repair shop after seeing the need for quality bikes in the town. Most that were being sold and repaired in the markets were very likely to break within a week of purchase. So the repair shop was born. They bought old bikes, stripped them down to the frames and replaced the decrepit parts with high-quality parts. (That is the extent of my knowledge about bicycles and their parts. No questions, please.)



But bike repair wasn't the end goal. Bicimaximo is training local bike mechanics and providing jobs to those who need them. Ultimately, their goal is to create an internship program for locals coming out of a 6-month drug and alcohol rehab program in an effort to provide job experience and practical skills to individuals needing stability and, frankly, someone to invest in them and their future.

The bike shop is located on the main square, El Parque Central, and now provides bike repair, bike rentals, and guided tours of the city and surrounding areas.




Because of my heart condition, I explained to Baker that their mellow bike tour through Granada followed by the opportunity to make tortillas with an (I'm sure) adorable Nica woman was probably the best route for me to go. His recommendation: Take the longer, harder tour to Laguna de Apoyo, a crater lake 16km from the shop, because it's totally worth it.

I laughed. (No, I did.)

After a few minutes of explaining that I was weak and that I'm not a cyclist and that I love tortillas and that slow is better and that I don't even particularly like riding bikes, I signed up for the longer and more challenging Ruta Laguna tour and was SO pumped. It was another why not? moment - what can I say? Baker did take my heart issues seriously and very kindly rearranged the tour so that we would be biking several miles DOWN hills instead of several miles UP hills. One more point for Bicimaximo.

On the morning of our trek, we arrived at the bike shop and met Francisco, our guide and an incredibly sweet guy who grew up in Granada. His English was amazing, and I don't think he stopped smiling the entire day. We hopped in the back of a car (a common thread through our trip in Nicaragua...) and started the drive up to the San Simian Resort, where we would spend the next few hours kayaking in a crater lake about 6 miles across.

Oh, right. Did I mention that an AMAZING afternoon at a place that looks like this was included in our tour?!








I mean, really. Come on.

After having a lazy lunch and a drink or two at the bar, we met a Dutch couple staying in a bungalow at the resort and talked about our travels. It was perfection. Eventually, Francisco had to peel us out of our beach chairs and we set off on our bikes. We biked part of the way around the rim of the crater, and you guys, it was stunning.


We biked over gravel and dirt roads, dodging potholes and stopping for cattle and children. A couple of times, I had to stop to let my heart rest, and we just sat soaking in the beauty and rawness of Nicaragua. Horses were literally running through the fields next to us. It felt like a strange kind of Disney movie.




When we got closer to town, we passed through neighborhoods we probably wouldn't walk through after dark. But at that time, there were children playing in the streets, many of whom grinned and shouted "Francisco! Hola!" as we pedaled by. This at once brought a huge smile to my face. Then as I looked closely at the children, my heart broke, too. But they didn't seem to notice that their feet were tough and bare, or that their homes didn't have a whole roof, or that the odds of them making it past elementary school were not in their favor. They were laughing and singing and shouting "Hola!" I shouted back "Como estan amigos?" and they usually answered with a bunch of words I didn't know. But they said it with a smile I still envy today. Simplicity can be joy.

As we pedaled past, we suddenly found ourselves on paved roads and surrounded by a LOT of bikes and cars moving in ways that didn't make any sense to me. It was a short ride back to the shop, but I'm surprised I didn't arrive back with skinned knuckles from the cars that passed inches from my handlebars. I don't have a reputation for being able to stay upright on bicycles, so I really do thank the good Lord I didn't get in a bike-on-bike or bike-on-car or bike-on-dirt wreck that day.

But I really think I saw the beauty of Nicaragua in just 7 hours with Bicimaximo. And for that, I am incredibly grateful.

Check out Bicimaximo's website and, if you ever find yourself in Granada, look for them next to the Catedral on Parque Central and get yourself signed up for one of their tours. I promise you will be glad you did. They have tours ranging from the lovely City Tour I was planning to take to a new 8-day cycling adventure that will take you all over the country. Maybe next time!

While their goal is operational self-sufficiency, Bicimaximo also accepts donations. I would personally LOVE to see the vision that Baker and his team have for the company come to fruition. I hope you'll consider contributing to their goal. Check out opportunities to help here.

If you want to get to know them better, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Instagram and Twitter! (@Bicimaximo)

Stay tuned for more from Nicaragua!!

5 comments:

  1. Travel fix via Michelle - check.
    Donation to worthy cause - on it's way.
    Thank you for spreading a good word and taking us with you!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Adventure is your new middle name! Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Wonderfully write article about Granada and Bicimaximo. Loved what you had to say and thankful for your sharing.

    ReplyDelete