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Affordable, Low-Key Nicaragua

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Photo: Trujillo/Paumier

To my Goldilocks taste, Morgan’s Rock in every respect strikes the right balance between hard and soft, “green” and splendid, rough and luscious. Its founders and owners are the Ponçons, a family that emigrated from France to Nicaragua in the 1970’s to grow coffee—and in the 90’s teamed up with a British émigré named Matthew Falkiner to start an eco-friendly high-design furniture business called Simplemente Madera/Exchange, or “Simply Wood.” The well-known Lapa Rios Ecolodge in Costa Rica, founded by a couple of former Peace Corps volunteers in 1993, was the Ponçons’ inspiration for Morgan’s Rock. And they hired Falkiner to design the place.

Fifteen very separate 1,000-square-foot bungalows mostly face the ocean, separated from it and the forest only by a translucent screen. The style is Pacific Rim leisure-Modernist, part open-plan ryokan and part tropical post-and-beam tree house. Each bungalow is built on slabs of volcanic rock. They are all made of solid Nicaraguan hardwood: the raw eucalyptus structural posts, the milled walnut beams, the dark almond floors, the mahogany trim, and the (vaguely Midcentury Scandinavian) Simplemente Madera furniture.

“Green” is not just a fashionable veneer at Morgan’s Rock. You choose your dinner at breakfast in order to minimize wasted food; there’s no room service so that leftovers don’t encourage the monkeys to break and enter; empty termite nests are burned in the evening to ward off mosquitoes; the hot running water is solar-heated; and the pool is filled with chlorine-free salt water. And the resort supports five nearby grade schools. But the social progressivism and eco-regimen come across as sensible and good-humored, never overbearing or grim. (In sensibility as well as competence, the Sandinistas could probably learn a lot from this little self-sufficient utopia.)

The menu is full of meat as well as fish, and nearly everything served is grown or raised or caught on-site. Our meals at Morgan’s Rock were, hands down, the most delicious we had in Nicaragua. I’ve never had a better gazpacho, and though I hadn’t considered myself a fan of guavas or tamarind, the guava cheesecake and tamarind sorbet convinced me otherwise.

Early one sunny, windy morning, we walked barefoot into the surf and climbed into a launch that took us a hundred yards out to board Eco 1, the resort’s 28-foot fishing boat. It was just us, first mate Eugelio, and Captain Henry. Captain Henry—fortyish, tan, fit, twinkly, conscientious—is like a certain kind of 50’s Hollywood star, Victor Mature or Tony Franciosa, except unselfconsciously sexy and inclined to treat us as if we were celebrities. I think I saw animated hearts swirling around my wife’s and daughter’s cross-eyed faces as they stared at him—and when he gunned the engines and stood at the wheel, bare-chested, swigging a bottle of bright red Fanta, I’m afraid I felt a little gay.

As we sailed north, dolphins tagged along. Pelicans circled and, once or twice, swept down to catch a baby barracuda just beneath the water’s surface. We anchored near a tiny rock island so that Eugelio could dive for lobsters and we could snorkel.

Then, without another boat in sight, we put out our fishing lines and trolled—not sitting in special chairs with fancy rods and reels, but standing, holding a simple, foot-long notched board with 50 yards of monofilament wrapped around it. The primitivism of the operation made my success all the more thrilling: again and again I caught fish, a mackerel, another, another, and two bonito, all within an hour. But what Captain Henry did next turned this expedition into the single most awesomely gratifying hunter-gatherer experience of my life. After putting four of the fish on ice, he took out fresh green peppers, an onion, cilantro, a couple of limes, and an extremely sharp knife, squatted on his deck, and with craftsman-like efficiency proceeded to turn one of the mackerel into the best ceviche I’ve ever eaten.

After we were put ashore, me carrying the largest of my fish, I rehearsed my question as I walked through the empty restaurant and into the kitchen. The cooks didn’t seem surprised to see a damp, barefoot American in slightly bloodied swim trunks holding up a six-pound fish. “¿Puede usted cocinar esto,” I asked, “para nuestra cena?” “Certainly,” they answered, and I thanked them sincerely, and I felt as Hemingwayesque as I’m able.

But then I went back to my very handsome suite to take a nap on my high-thread-count (organic) sheets as my wife read a novel on our Kindle, and before turning to the restaurant to dine on my grilled bonito I stopped to check my e-mail. In other words, we were bobos in paradise.

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