This is the true story of 29 strangers who went to Nicaragua to find out what happens when they stop being polite and start being Paleo…
Last week, I embarked on a culinary adventure led by Paleo Nick to Nicaragua. I spent nine beautiful, warm sunny days on Playa Maderas, near San Juan Del Sur, with a group that gathered from all over the United States and Canada. Together we broke bread (figuratively of course as it was a Paleo trip), drank lots of Tona beer, worked out on the beach, surfed and did yoga. We also played lots of cribbage and bananagrams and relaxed in the pool overlooking an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean. It was a week to unplug, breathe in the fresh air, reflect, meditate and be inspired.
I have always enjoyed traveling abroad and wanted to explore more of Central America after my trip to Costa Rica and Panama in 2012. This past fall, I met Paleo Nick at Power Monkey Camp. I got a chance to talk with him and appreciated his outlook on living a Paleo lifestyle, which extended far beyond the kitchen. I decided soon after that going on his group-led trip to Nicaragua would be a great way to see more of the world and be with like-minded people who wanted a vacation that allowed time to relax but to also be healthy and active.
The group was a wonderful mix of singles, couples, siblings, friends and strangers:
- Paleo Nick and his wife Jessie led our rag-tag group.
- Chef Jay Phelan, author of Paleo Grilling, and his sous chef for life / expert fisherman Rhylee, cooked many of our superb dinners.
- Nick “Zen”, aka “Patrick Dempsey”, also from Minneapolis and friend of Nick’s, attended and led us in yoga each morning.
- There was my new adopted family of Tony from Turn 2 CrossFit in California, his wife Heather, sister Chris Ann and niece Shana.
- My Villa Colibri housemates include Rx power couple Floyd and Susan from British Columbia, skilled photographer Anderson, and the always personable Robert.
- Rocking Casa Tortuga and their daily private happy hours were: CrossFit athlete extraordinaire Kaycee and her rage and rally husband Jonny Fucking Hammond from Alaska; Kaycee’s coworker and friend Holly and her fun husband Cory from Houston, Texas; kick-ass Nancy from Tahoe; and the baby of the group, though wise beyond her years, Samantha from D.C.
- Long-distance couple Mark and Jeanah, who flew in from Los Angeles and New York City respectively.
- Also in from California were our surf instructors Jason and Cecilia, the motorcycle gang of two – José and Tamara, and fellow avid book reader Cheli.
- Majula, originally from Germany but residing in Philadelphia, who joined the trip after a serendipitous Google search.
- Last but not least, was our Long Island future yoga master Cassie.
Despite such a large group, we all got along really well. And for those who needed a moment or two (or three) of solitude, there was always an open hammock.
We all flew in respectively on Friday, May 8th and Saturday, May 9th and gathered in the infinity pool, after a long car ride and questionable stop at Tip Top chicken restaurant, at our residence for the week – Villa Playa Maderas – to learn names and the itinerary for the week. Breakfast and dinner would be prepared each day by Paleo Nick and Chef Jay using fresh local ingredients. There was to be daily yoga on the patio overlooking the ocean and workouts down on the beach. Surfing lessons were offered in small group sessions and trips to the market were available for those who wanted to explore the nearby town of San Juan Del Sur. There were also field trips – I was signed up for deep sea fishing, zip-lining and an afternoon in Granada, a colonial town established in the 1500s.
We ate the majority of meals together at the resort. Paleo Nick and Chef Jay employed every tool possible in the small kitchen at one of the villas and the outdoor grill to create a delicious array of food that embraced the local flavors. Throughout the week, everyone pitched in someway to help put together the meals. Some worked diligently in the kitchen peeling, cutting and mincing, while others set up our long dinner table, making sure our napkins and utensils didn’t fly away with the strong Nicaraguan breezes. I even dissected a few hot out of the oven butternut squashes. Here is a list of the group meals:
- Breakfast – scrambled eggs, chorizo, bananas and melon
- Dinner – grilled beef, pork and chicken served with a slaw of cabbage, radishes and pickled pineapples
- Breakfast – scrambled eggs, bacon, sweet plantain hash with chorizo
- Dinner – Grilled octopi and Snook served with a slaw of carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes and onion
- Breakfast – scrambled eggs, chunky guacamole, gallo pinto, watermelon, passion fruit & orange smoothies, and a mint-cantaloupe-ginger-lime smoothie
- Dinner – Pork ribs & loin served with fried plantains, caramelized onions and mango
- Breakfast – scrambled eggs, beef chorizo and mango smoothies
- Dinner – Pastel del papa (butternut squash, ground beef, tomato sauce, olive oil, minced garlic, hardboiled eggs, raisins and green olives)
- Dinner – grilled chicken marinated in balsamic, ginger, garlic and lime, served with a salad of papaya, squash, onions and lime and a side soup of fresh broth with octopi and shrimp
In addition, the ladies who worked at the hotel prepared our final dinner – pork tamales served with plantains, queso blanco and fresh bread. It was their loving way of allowing us to taste the local culture and know that we were welcomed guests in their country.
The meals “off-campus” were mostly enjoyed at Taco Locos (or Tacos Lacos if you are in the know), a beachfront café next to where we surfed. I personally devoured their chicken nacho plate multiple times. We also ventured into town to eat at Barrio Café, a locally-owned eatery that served mouth-watering non-Paleo treats, like honey-butter banana pancakes and frozen Nutella cappuccinos. There was also Zambo plantain chips, Cocanas and jamon-queso crêpes along the way.
In addition to daily yoga outside each morning at 7am, there were group CrossFit workouts in the late afternoon. Many were led by Coach Tony, who competed in the 2014 CrossFit Games and the 2014 Granite Games. I could write (and just might) a whole blog post just about him. He is an amazing athlete and a fun, dedicated coach whose enthusiasm was infectious. Tony put great thought and care into the workouts he created. He corrected form while also giving lots of praise and constant cheering even beyond when the clock ran out. I am gushing, but so was everyone else on the trip. It is all well deserved praise. Here were our workouts:
Sunday – Individual (I missed this one due to a surfing lesson)
- 4 rounds for time: 25 burpees + Run down stairs (148) to beach with weight (15#) + 50 goblet squats (15#) + Run up stairs (148) with weight (15#)
Monday – Teams of 2
- 5 min AMRAP – 200 Step ups ( Partner 1 Works / Partner 2 Plank Holds)
- Rest 2 min
- 5 min AMRAP – 200 Deadlift ( Partner 1 Works / Partner 2 Holds Hollow Rock Position)
- Rest 2 min
- 5 min AMRAP – 200 Pass the Rock Sit UPS ( Both Partners Work together)
- Rest 2 min
- 5 min AMRAP ( Partner 1 – 1 Hill Sprint Shuttle / Partner 2 Static hold Goblet Squat)
- 2 min rest
- 5 min AMRAP – 200 T2 Rings ( Partner 1 Works / Partner 2 Handstand Holds)
Tuesday – Teams of 4 on the beach
- Round 1 – Wheelbarrow down (40 meters) + 5 junk yard dogs (each teammate) + partner carry (40 meters) + 20 synchronized burpee jump overs
- Round 2: 2 x [bear crawl (40 meters) + sprint (40 meters) ]
- Round 3: 3 x [ stone carry (40 meters) + sprint (40 meters) + stone carry (40 meters) + sprint (40 meters) ]
- Round 4: Sprint (50 meters) + Team carry (50 meters)
Wednesday – Teams of 3
- Buy-in: Team completes 100 pushups and 100 squats
- Teams run to Tacos Locos and finding a person who does not speak English, find out their name, age and where they are from, then video tape 2 of the team members doing 10 synchronized burpees with that person
- Teams then complete a scavenger hunt on the beach obtaining 20 sea shells with holes in them, 1 piece of garbage, 3 hermit crabs and 1 piece of driftwood no bigger than a bread box
- Teams return to Villa Playa Maderas
- Cash-out: Team completes 100 sit-ups and 100 burpees
Thursday – Teams of 5
- 12 min AMRAP – Tire pull up the hill / carry down
- 3 min rest
- 12 min AMRAP – 40 Russian Twists + 40 Front Squats
- 3 min rest
- 12 min AMRAP – Burpee jump overs while teammates hold breathe underwater ( teammates must stop work every time they come up for air)
In anticipation of sharing the last workout, I have to also call out Mark, who is in the air force and a part-time CrossFit coach. He stepped in on the last day to program the workout after Tony injured himself. Mark throughout the week was always cheering on everybody while at the same time doing the workout without blinking an eye. He also led us through all our group warm-ups.
Saturday – Teams of 3
- 225 jumping squats
- 180 push-ups
- 135 V-ups
- 90 step ups w/ 15# (Right + Left = 1)
- 45 handstand pushups or wall walks or tiger pushups
- After each exercise, 1 hill sprint
- Every minute on the minute, teams must stop and each person completes 3 burpees
The workouts were hot and sweaty and an absolute blast. They reminded me what I loved about CrossFit, which was much needed after spending the past few months out of sorts about it. It’s the pushing, the intensity, the variety of movements and the strong sense of camaraderie among a group that is all trying to be their best. I’m so back on board that I reached out to a local box while still in Nicaragua on the limited WiFi to discuss starting a trial period with them in June!
There are so many other stories to tell, but most will be simply be inside jokes and treasured memories enjoyed by myself and the rest of the group that they are best kept to conversations rather than trying to put them to paper.
In sum, I learned how to surf and got up on the board multiple times and fell off even more. (But I went back out 3 days in a row.) I got sunburn in a seemingly different place each day and yet remained mostly pale. A small group of us went deep sea fishing on a very small boat and Rhylee reeled in a rooster fish and the rest of us drank a Tona and ate watermelon. Almost all of us went zip-lining with views of the ocean and the Jesus statue. There was an excursion to Granada and shopping trips at the market in San Juan Del Sur. There were overly competitive games of banagrams at night where we debated the use of Spanish words and “qi”. I read three books in the hammock and I went mostly unplugged for the week. Paleo Nick tried to teach us the alphabet in Spanish by way of a marching song and I tried to teach everyone how to count to 100. There was also a last day spent in Managua where I played penny slots at the casino across the parking lot from my hotel and had too much fun learning cribbage at the hotel bar.
The trip was pretty perfect. Or as they say in Nicaragua – “Diacachimba!” If there is any doubt, you can just tell by this smile: