My friend Markus is a fellow Catlin alum, and anyone that graduated within 10 years of us knows his name. My friendship with Markus is among my best claims to fame; second, perhaps, to my relation to one Lauren Basham. Markus connected me with Tyler Tibbs, another Catlin graduate five years my senior, who happens to own and run a beautiful hotel in southwest Nicaragua. At Markus’ suggestion, Tyler and I agreed to a tentative two week work exchange; room and board for design and illustration.
When I arrived at Hulakai I immediately felt the hometown vibes. Never mind that I lettered 10 times (chest bump, high five, shotgun a beer), some of Tyler’s first words to me were: “Your sister was such a great athlete.” Yep.
Tyler himself was a Division One soccer player. He is also a talented artist, and therefore a kindred spirit. And his story might have been mine - study art in Mexico, travel south, meet Nicaraguan wife, buy property, build hostel, sell small chunk of appreciated land at huge profit, build hotel. He seems like more of an artist than a businessman, and he dreams of filling his hotel with creative people - which is of course where I came in. His proposal to me was: stay as long as you want, go to the beach any time, eat this amazing food, do some work you’re proud of. Hindsight says I should have known I’d be there for over a month. And what a memorable month it was.
As ever, it started with a great mix of people. I enjoyed getting to know Tyler and his fleet of volunteers and employees, and the hotel guests were reliably laid-back and interesting. My days were simple; a bit of work interrupted by frequent dips in the pool, lunch at a quaint, family-run ceviche shack on an empty beach, sunset with a bit of rum, and “family dinner” with all hotel guests and volunteers. There were also daily encounters with at least one of the following: scorpion, howler monkey, wooly opossum, coral snake, ant eater. Lastly, a pair of weekly events broke the routine, which had the unexpected effect of a metronome - Taco Tuesday, Pizza Friday, Taco Tuesday, Pizza Friday. Time passed to a beat.
My fifth and final Taco Tuesday was the grand finale. I narrowly won an impossibly competitive putting contest by sinking four 25-yard putts, which was far more exciting than writing about it could ever make it sound. My bounty was a two liter bottle of rum and a handful of friendships forged in competitive fire. The former only survived an hour but produced a wild and memorable night, and the latter earned me an invite to sail up the coast the next day.
Come Wednesday morning, we all half regretted what we’d done with my trophy, and I had to dig deep to find the energy to board a boat full of strangers and booze. I was glad I did - looking east and remembering a month on those beautiful shores was a perfect farewell.