The Papagayo Winds

“A sailor chooses the wind that takes the ship from a safe port. Ah, yes, but once you’re abroad, as you have seen, winds have a mind of their own. Be careful, Charlotte, careful of the wind you choose.”
― Avi, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle


The Papagayo winds shriek across Nicaragua blanketing everything in dust in the dry season, especially in January and February. Often, the hurricane force winds topple trees, rattle tin roofs, capsize pangas and halt ferries and small boats coming from and going to Ometepe Island due to the high waves in Lake Nicaragua.

The often hurricane-strength winds happen when cold air from the North American winter moves south over the Gulf of Mexico. The air, drawn toward the warmer, moist atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean, is channeled through a gap in the Central American Cordillera Mountains and through Nicaragua’s Lake district. (NASA, Earth Observatory)

This year, the Papagayo winds have collided with the weather condition known as Madden and Julian Oscillation (MJO). The MJO is simply a strong coupling with the surface (usually the Pacific Ocean) and the upper atmosphere in tropical regions.

José Milán from the Instituto Nicaragüense de Estudios Territoriales (INETER) reports that the strong winds that accompany the MJO will last 60 days and will cover the whole width of the country. Other than being annoying, the phenomenon can cause serious damage to soils by removing valuable moisture acquired during the rainy season. The MJO affects Nicaragua on a regular basis and the last time was in December 2012 and January 2013.(INETER)

This January, the strong winds have affected us in many ways. Transportation to and from Ometepe was stopped for several days throughout January. That means no supplies come to Ometepe, people are stranded either on the island or on the mainland, and the fishermen cannot fish because the waves resemble ocean waves.

In February 2012, the severe winds caused one of the ferries to break down, stranding the people and vehicles on the ferry until they could pull the ferry back to shore.

ferry copyIn February 2013 after the Fuego y Agua Ultramarathon races, the dock turned into a refugee camp with racers, tourists, and locals camped out on the dock until the ferries received the OK to go ahead. Moyogalpa ran out of food, water, and motel rooms. The racers slept in their rental cars, frantically changed their airline reservations, and partied for 24 hours on the dock.

DSCN0905A small panga boat overturned near San Jorge on Wednesday night. A group of four workers from the Ministry of Health were transporting medicine, hospital equipment, and laboratory equipment to Ometepe Island. They lost $19,000 worth of drugs and equipment in the lake. They were all rescued close to the shore in San Jorge.
Something sounds really fishy about this story. First, why risk taking a panga ( very small boat) across the lake on a very windy night? Second, it wasn’t an emergency, so why didn’t they wait until the next morning when the ferries were operating?

pangaAs for us, the wind destroyed our Pera Tree When Great Trees Fall. What was left of our tree, sadly fell last week in a gust of hurricane force winds. Ron trimmed the branches close to the trunk, and it will now be 2-3 years before we have Pera fruits again.

I’m swabbing the inside of my nose with coconut oil, as well as sneezing constantly. I have diagnosed myself with ventosoungunya. It is called the windy disease. Symptoms are heavily packed boogers that clog your respiratory passage, constant sneezing, and obsessive cleaning.

Ron helped me screen the back door, where most of the wind blows into the house from the south. My hot glue gun came in really handy. We glued the screen to the metal door. Now all we have to do is keep the dirt watered daily. I often wondered why I would see people watering the dirt around their homes during the dry season. It makes perfect sense to me, now.

IMG_6167The windy season: Ah, yes, but once you’re abroad, as you have seen, winds have a mind of their own. I’ve learned to be careful of the wind that I choose.

14 thoughts on “The Papagayo Winds

  1. Come to Palawan. No earthquakes, no volcanoes and in the last four years only one Signal #1 typhoon. I looked at Central and South America, before retiring, but after reading stories like yours…I am comfortable with my decision.

    Take care friends!

  2. We lived on a barrier island off the coast of Texas for ten years and your post reminded me of how island living can make one very conscious of the weather. As you pointed out, it can affect everything from the transportation of food and water to commuting to home and work and, during dry season, dry out the topsoil and blow it into your home creating respiratory problems. I’d always wondered why people watered their dirt yards in Nicaragua and now I know. Anita

  3. Wow, we have had a lot of wind here, but it sounds like you have had a lot more than us. We did lose our guaba tree though, loaded with fruit and everyone was looking forward to it. I recently realized that we have a lot of pera trees here when I saw the ground blanketed in the beautifully colored flower petals. Here they call them mariñon corizon though because they look like cashew fruit, but have the seed inside like a heart instead of on the bottom. Because of you, I know now that we can do a lot more with the fruit than I had thought. I want to come back and visit but maybe I’ll wait a while. The picture of the ferry and high waves is quite impressive. Good luck, hang in there!

    • I saw that you lost your guaba tree. What a shame when great trees fall, especially loaded with fruit. I’m a little worried about the winds this week. The Fuego y Agua racers will be running up and down Concepcion volcano where the winds are strong. That is…if they can get to Ometepe for the races. Keep your fingers crossed for them.

  4. I was drawn to San Jorge in late 2002 to windsurf! Sam Bauer and I lived on the shore with a million-dollar view of ‘La Isla’ At first I couldn’t understand why the shoreline of San Jorge was basically undeveloped until the ‘chyules’ arrived! Iimagine ol’ Sam thinks about it every time there are whitecaps on the water and the ferry is a rockin!!! I toured the island in late 2002 the roads were bad. Sam says it blows a lot more in dry years.

  5. Hola Debbie! A few days ago I was telling someone about the Papagayo winds.. We received some strong winds, and they reminded me of the Papagayo…. except we’re supposed to be starting the rainy season, which is about six weeks overdue. (We did get our first one-inch rain a few days ago>) I am now in GYE, and it’s raining cats and dogs and iguanas!

    The Papagayo winds definitely signal the arrival of the dry season, but wow, I don’t remember a 60-day stretch when I lived in Guanacaste. Those winds dessicate an area in a matter of hours!

    Great job on reporting the waves and the dangers. Stay well, or as well as one can when sensitive to the polvo.

    • Thanks, Lisa. The winds are always strong in January and February, but this year, they are stronger than I’ve ever seen them before. Usually, right before a full moon, the winds pick up. The full moon is on Feb. 4th and I’m a little concerned about the Fuego y Agua Ultramarathon runners racing up and down Concepcion volcano. With the Papagayo winds, MJO, and a full moon, it can be very dangerous. I hope they don’t get blown off the volcano.

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