Casa Yomanaki, San Diego, Nicaragua
By Mark Hirkala
My name is Mark Hirkala. Along with my love, Yoan Benoit, we offer you an invitation to share the space we created here in San Diego, Nicaragua: Casa Yomanaki.
We came to this area in 2009 and fell in love with it in a short time.
Certainly you'll see that freedom here takes the place of worries as this is the safest country in Central America.
We've travelled in many countries around the world, and few compare to this place for peaceful, gentle people, few tourists and a Wild West feel in the best sense of the word. Folks want to engage you, speak a bit of English or have a conversation in Spanglish. Yet it is easy to find solitude as this is the least populated country in Central America.
Close by are miles of beach on which sea turtles nest, fisherman fish, surfers surf and people walk to and from villages.
Many days though, it is possible to be the only person around. Not recommended, but I've run naked to tan my surf short whiteness away!
I've also scared myself surfing alone when the ocean decides to pick up a notch whilst I'm blissfully unaware.
Then again, it is one of the few places I've surfed where people, locals and foreigners alike are friendly and communicative… or at least they slide over to the next peak and continue on playing. I've met people from all over the world here, and they all marvel at the vibe. It's one of those quasi secret spots shared by word of mouth; no one wants it to change.
The idea for this place started in the late 1990's when, as an instant young family we began annual trips down from the mountains of British Columbia to Baja California to play in the ocean,
and escape the great Canadian winters.
The trips lasted anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks , not enough to really master surfing or Spanish and the dream was always talked about, around the campfire, to have a place where we could all be for a whole year.
Yoan, Mark, Nathan and Kio became YOMANAKI as a way to join a family who didn't start out together but slowly became a team of adventurers hurling down the road in a '67 converted school bus. After 9 years of making the trek, life got in the way as it has a habit of doing and the wandering stopped for a few years. The demands of raising a family took over.
Fast forward to 2009, with an empty nest and a dream still unfulfilled, Mark and Yoan set out further afield than Mexico, and eventually found Nicaraguan and Mexico as it was 20 some years ago.
After one visit and a lucky inheritance, Casa Yomanaki was born out of the dream to have a place to be together as a family with none of the distractions of modern North American life.
One of the first priorities after buying a piece of tropical paradise is to find water. In the Wild West there are no water mains or hook-ups outside the cities. So we began to walk the land looking for the best house sites, breezes and views.
With the help of a young diviner who learned the skill from his Grandfather, we divined several sites for our well.
The practice involves finding and cutting a piece of 'bejuco' (vine) and then soaking it in water for a day. You then hold one end on each hip bone, and shuffle barefoot over the ground.
Amazingly, as you pass over a water course, the vine twists, so that what started as an oblong shape over the ground , twists into an infinity symbol over the water source and then back again to oblong once the water is steps away.
It seems like trickery, so I tried it myself and lo and behold the response was there. As amazing as that was, it was the easy part.
The well ended up being 100 feet hand dug through hard packed clay for 30 feet, and then solid rock for the last incredible close to 70 feet.
Once the well site was chosen, a friend with a backhoe (excavator) came and scraped out a house site close to the well and also the first 6 feet of the well. For the next 3 months, the well was dug in the time honoured tradition here: one bucket at a time. The first 30 feet was dug out at 2 square meters down to rock, each full swing of the pick penetrating inches into the hard pan and then scooped out with a shovel into a bucket to be hauled up by hand.
Once down to 30 feet, a well ring with a diameter just big enough for one man to work is built up piece by piece to the surface. As this happens, the outside of the ring is filled with the debris that was taken out in the first place. All the while, makeshift ladders and ropes are used to raise and lower people and materials.
Now you have a well ring sitting on rock, and then the fun begins. One man at a time is lowered into the well to chisel, smash, pick at rock for almost 60 feet until a blue rock is reached that signifies the proximity of water.
After 50 feet I was having my doubts about witching, bank accounts and sanity. The local expat who has been here the longest reassured us that this in the way it's done in Nicaragua. That was the first of countless times that this phrase comes up living in the country.
At 60+ feet we hit a fissure and water gushed to the relief of everyone. The common practice is to finish the digging at the end of the dry season, and during that time there should be at least 2 varas in the well.
A vara is an archaic measure attributed to a Spanish nobleman; the distance from his breast bone to the finger tip, roughly 34 inches. After a final measure, our well sits at 32 varas with 5 varas of water at that the driest time of the year after a particularly dry winter.
Nicaragua has 2 seasons, a wet one starting May 1st and going to the end of October, and the dry season starting November 1st, going to the end of April.
May rains are sparse, increasing in June and July with August to September being the deluges that can pour up to 5 inches daily and can go on for days and weeks. Hurricanes are a possibility during this time.
October tapers off to the dry season. Tropical storms tend to gather during the day and release epic lightning and rain shows towards sunset and into the night with the following day tending towards sunny brilliant spectacles. High season for tourists is principally in the dry season but because the rains come often at night, even much of the dry time of year affords beautiful weather, as well as flora and fauna.
The presence of Lake Nicaragua and the geography of the country create a place where the wind is offshore (blowing off the shore onto the ocean) for approximately 300 days per year. This is only one of he reasons this country is one of the best for surfers. Combine the wind with uncrowded, relatively undiscovered waves it becomes a paradise, with some level of surf for everyone on almost any day of the year.
Within easy reach from our door there are 6 easy to reach breaks within 30 minutes of driving . As we become fit enough, and competent enough, two surfs a day are the norm.
Every morning birds wake us as the light begins to grow. Nicaragua is home to over 500 species of birds with populations migrating through at various times in the year. In April we return home to Canada and by the first week in May, hummingbirds arrive from this part of the world. Of course, we feel a kinship and sense of luck to be able to make a similar journey, arriving in time for spring blossoms of all kinds. It's a miracle is so many ways to be able to match journeys.
Come September in Canada with the build up to winter, the hummingbirds begin preparing their young by teaching them how to get up into approaching storms so that when the time is right, they head off en masse into the storm, and find their way into the jet stream for their way down to the tropics in a matter of days for another winter. We follow later, in the jet stream also, relatively speaking.
Casa Yomanaki was started in February 2012. The design came from dreams of what we wanted to live with and, of course, many sunsets spent on the beach toasting the day and saying goodbye to the sun. Maybe rum fits into that scenario somewhere… Being in fresh air with privacy, great views and wildlife around.
After staying in various different types of accommodation here over time, it was obvious what was needed to include into the design of the space.
The first need was for airflow; natural air conditioning to keep life cool. With some types of wind lasting up to 300 days, this became an important point, so we spent time at the site to see where the best flow occurred. Windows were put in to take advantage of that flow and the sleeping area was made to take in both the air as well as the view of the forest and volcanoes in the distance.
Next came protection from the sun, so orientation was key. Big roof lines and lots of covered patio give respite from the early morning and afternoon sun . Gravity water is important because Nicaragua's power infrastructure goes down often enough, so a water tower provides 1100 litres of water.
Solar water heating also makes great sense here. We explored solar power extensively but couldn't manage it here mainly because of the price point. Being a small system, the demand hasn't driven the price of components down to sensible levels.
At first wind was considered as well for power generation and for pumping water. Again, that was cost prohibitive. The most fun idea entertained for a while was a 'bomba de macate'; a rope pump. This was a simple system I believe developed by a German engineer who came to help out after the revolution. It uses a nylon rope and with rubber washers attached at intervals of 2 feet inside a PVC tube.
Very simply, the water is drawn up the tube by the tight fit of the washers inside the tube and brought up as high as 60 feet. The rope, propelled by a hand crank or even a bicycle... and that's what got the excitement going ... crazy hippies... filling a gravity water system with leg power... no electricity... no bills.
However, once our well went below 40 feet we were saved by limitations.
Besides, once a garden and fruit trees come into the mix, someone would be cycling every few days on average, and that would seriously limit the time spent surfing, reading , lying in the hammock or even having a siesta.
Choosing colours for the casa was fun and painting was a pleasure, finishing touches to more than a year of work. Of course we follow the proverb that when a man finishes his house, he dies, meaning it's never finished; so we're still going!
We chose to make a composting toilet to conserve water as well as to experiment with composting as much of our waste as possible.
The compost will go on the fruit trees when it is ready.
All kitchen waste is composted on site, and then added to the gardens as it is ready. Bottles, tins and glass are recycled at the local dump. Originally the idea was to establish a home that was very gentle on the world and us. Now we are eating our own papayas and bananas as well as herbs; soon we'll be feasting on avocados, jack fruit, coconuts, mangoes, oranges, limes, mandarins and we're planting grapefruit this year along with cashews.
Life follows a beautiful pattern here. Mornings begin early with birdsong leading the way of the light.
In the tropics, days are close to 12 hours long all year round. The best surf seems to be with the dawn patrol, out early as the sun makes its way up and again at sunset as the day closes in an array of colours. Wind is light, and the ocean can be glassy and clear.
After a bout of hitting the beach, it's back to the casa for breakfast and with any luck a visit to the hammock with a book. A siesta on the good days, a good book on the better days and then it's possible to go back to the beach for an afternoon session into the sunset. A few cocktails followed by dinner, and by Nicaraguan midnight (9pm); most are on their way to get ready for the next day.
The thing about spending time in this part of the world is that one can remove oneself from the hubbub of 'first world' life.
Of course, there is internet here so one can remain 'plugged in', but in time, the everyday business slides by the wayside.
Locals live with the light and seasons. Crops are planted to take advantage of the rains that come like clockwork through the year. People rise early and get to bed relatively early, sung to sleep by crickets and birds, woken by them in the morning. The cacophony is natural.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 30: The Greatest Water Fight in the World By Steve Rudd
After the madness of April's Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan, I needed a spot of down-time. In typical fashion, a mass exodus from Koh Phangan occurred the morning after the night before, so I wasn't the only person who was making a beeline for Koh Tao, the much smaller yet arguably far more beautiful island located north of Koh Phangan.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 29: Raindance By Steve Rudd
In spite of the showers sweeping across the Thai island of Koh Phangan, I'd arranged to meet up with a couple of guys I'd initially met on a bus between Bangkok and Surat Thani.
Having bumped into each other again whilst frantically searching for budget accommodation on the island earlier in the day, I was due to catch up with British
backpacker Christopher Jackson
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 28: Full Moon Fever By Steve Rudd
'Four thousand baht! You must be joking!'
I'd just been told how much it was set to cost me to rent a beachfront bungalow for the night on Had Rin Nok, the home of Thailand's infamous Full Moon Parties on the tropical island of Koh Phangan. I was frankly astonished. Four thousand baht roughly equated to eighty pounds: a blatant rip-off by anyone's standards, however desperate they might have been
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 27: A Wasted Day at the Embassy By Steve Rudd
Having reported the theft of my backpack to the police, I thought it might be beneficial to report the incident at The British Embassy, too.
Before making tracks across Bangkok to the embassy, I sat outside the police station near the end of Khao San Road for a few minutes to collect my thoughts and get organised. As I rifled through my documents,
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 26: Signing My Life Away By Steve Rudd
I could just about deal with the fallout of the theft. The thing I struggled with most was the betrayal of trust. I have always trusted everybody, regardless of whether they are a close friend or a complete stranger. I don't judge. To do so is unnatural.
Even though I'd had my backpack stolen, I doggedly refused to let such a fact affect the way I acted
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 25: A Temporary Loss of Faith By Steve Rudd
In my absence, somebody had broken into my room and stolen my backpack from where I'd rested it against the wall beside my bed. I hadn't unpacked anything since checking back into the guesthouse. I'd had neither the need nor the motivation to do so.
Fortunately, I still had my passport, my bankcard and my camera; they went everywhere with me
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 24: Spontaneous Combustion By Steve Rudd
I'd returned to Bangkok in anticipation of heading south to Ko Samui, one of Thailand's most-visited islands, on which two friends were due to be married. However, they weren't going to tie the proverbial knot for another two weeks, a fact which awarded me plenty of spare time to gad about at my leisure.
It was a scorching hot Friday morning, and I'd just met an English girl called Abi on Soi Rambuttri in Bangkok. We both had something in common: money - or rather 'lack of.'
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 23: A Cashflow Crisis By Steve Rudd
Twelve ATMs down, and not all that many to go. It was fair to say that I was in a quandary, with no cash to my name other than a few dollar notes I had left over from my recent trip to the US.
It wouldn't have been so bad if I'd had a clutch of British pounds, or a sizeable wad of notes in any currency for that matter; a staggering number of currency exchange offices line both sides of Khao San Road in Bangkok,
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 22: Trios Amigos! By Steve Rudd
OK. So what do you get if you cross a well-to-do Frenchman, a freethinking Englishman, and a mad-as-hell Spaniard? Adventure by default.
I was in Sukhothai, Thailand, all psyched up to savour the unassailable beauty of one of the most dazzling jewels in the country's crown. Long before Ayuttaya and Bangkok succeeded the city as Thailand's capital, Sukhothai flourished as the naval of the nation.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 21: The One Hundred Baht Experience By Steve Rudd
I was searching for 'The London Hotel', having had the place recommended to me by a friend. Paying close attention to the road signs, I was definitely heading in the right direction as I made tracks away from Phitsanulok's train station.
Confusingly though, the hotel that I presumed to be 'The London' had no exterior hoarding in English proclaiming it to be the place I desired. Its sign was in Thai script, and thus beyond my comprehension.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Twenty: Stray Dogs and Cheeky Monkeys By Steve Rudd
I'd barely made myself at home in Lopburi, and I was already on the verge of being chased out of town. From the off, as I ambled out of the train station after catching an early morning train north from Bangkok, the town's myriad stray dogs were on my tail, as though they genuinely resented backpackers snooping around their patch.
Making more haste than usual to find
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Nineteen: Going West for Eastern Inspiration By Steve Rudd
'Tuk-Tuk!' came the shout across the concourse. In the same beat I was offered a taxi, before a middle-aged lady rushed up offering me a cut-price massage. And this was all out front of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport, into which I'd just flown from LA.
My writing work in the US finished, I had decided to head over to Southeast Asia in order to attend the wedding of a couple of friends who I'd first met on my first visit to
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Eighteen: A Mile Of Miracles, And Then Some By Steve Rudd
Taking the bus was too easy, despite the fact that my film making pal Dave Kebo had dropped me off at the Shell gas station at the Wilshire and Vermont intersection in Koreatown which was conveniently situated right beside a bus-stop.
Looking due west along Wilshire Boulevard, my feet felt the twitch before my heart. A bus bound for Santa Monica had just pulled up, and for the meagre fee of a buck and a quarter ($1.25)
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Seventeen: On Foot Across LA By Steve Rudd
I don't like not knowing what's out there. I prefer to be informed rather than ignorant. I hate living in the knowledge that there are sections of certain towns and cities in the world that I know next-to-nothing about.
That's why, given the chance, I always walk whenever and wherever I can. I walk and I walk and I walk until my feet begin to announce their grievances.