SERENDIPITY [ ser-uh n-dip-i-tee ] / an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident
A Story by Pepa Ivanoff
80 days (and counting) in Mizata, El Salvador…
The story of the most Serendipitous adventure I have experienced in all my years living a nomadic Life Less Ordinary in the pursuit of Surf and Art…
One of my goals for 2020 was to visit 3 new countries. I travel constantly for work (I’m an Artist) and in pursuit of waves (I’m also a Surfer), and wanted to add some new destinations to my ‘visited’ list…
New country #1 would present itself in March: That country would be El Salvador. I’ve lived in Central America for almost 9 years (I’m based in Costa Rica) and despite being regular foot, and having built my lifestyle around surfing, had never visited El Salvador. It was my time to discover the Land of Rights and Pupusas!
I was painting murals and surfing in Guatemala at the time, and I had connected online with the owner (Joshua Host) of a magical-looking hotel named Mizata in El Salvador, about the possibility of working together on some Art. After communicating back and forth, we decided to meet at the location and discuss a creative collaboration. It’s noteworthy that we were complete strangers who crossed paths by way of the Internet (Thankyou, Instagram) and impeccable timing…
I didn’t have a lot of time between projects and neither did Josh, so I packed my board, my dog and a few clothes for a ‘quick 3 day roundtrip’ (ha!) from El Paredon to Mizata and back, excited to discuss a new creative project, explore a new country and surf a new wave.
I took a shuttle from Antigua (where I spent the night with another client who I planned to paint with “upon my return from El Salvador” – ha!) and made the 3 hour journey to the border. It was a typical Central American shuttle ride, filled with groups of excited backpackers half my age, who were chatty and happy in a way that only fulfilling one’s wanderlust can bring. And although we were in different stages of our lives and our travels, we had the common goal of discovering special places on this beautiful planet and cultivating memories of our experiences through doing so.
It wasn’t until we crossed the Guatemalan border and entered El Salvador that things became a little odd. Medical professionals with full hazmat-style suits, face masks, gloves and thermometers boarded the bus, taking our temperatures and recording the origins of, and details held within, our passports. It became apparent that this ‘flu-like’ Virus by the name of Corona had infiltrated this part of the world, and precautions were being taken. We laughed and joked amongst ourselves as the medics pointed temperature guns at our foreheads. We recorded videos on our phones and posted stories to Social Media about how silly and slightly inconvenient this was. Hazmat Suits? Face Masks? Surgical Gloves? Seems a little OTT, right?
We spent an hour or so at the border, but eventually entered El Salvador, and the Corona Incident was soon forgotten. After an hour or so of driving, I was left on the side of the road in what appeared to be a tiny, undeveloped little beach pueblo in the middle of nowhere. There was minimal development, very few people and the odd scrawny chicken scuttling about. The energy was unpretentious and inviting. There were palm trees everywhere. Mizata in all her understated glory. I loved this place already.
I walked down the road to discover a long, empty black-sand beach, that culminated in a cluster of stately palm trees and stunning piece of architecture I later came to learn was Nawi, Mizata’s Beach Club, complete with an oceanfront infinity pool with inflatable flamingos (!!!) floating in it. The sun was shining, waves rolled in, house music gently drifted through the ocean breeze, and there were horses (!!!) saddled and waiting under the trees near the entrance. This cannot be real, I thought to myself. It’s all my favourite things in one place…
And I hadn’t even seen the real wave yet.
I made my way past Nawi to the hotel, and was greeted by the amazing Erika and her staff, who were eagerly awaiting my arrival with huge smiles on their faces. I was pleasantly surprised by how engaging and genuinely happy everyone was. The energy of the place and it’s people exuded a harmony that immediately made me feel welcome and, despite never having visited before, at home.
I was given a tour and I walked, in a dream-like state of disbelief that this utopia was real, through the property. A jungle filled with all my favourite plants, including decadent-smelling plumeria of various hues, surrounded the 8 ocean-front Bungalows that comprised the hotel. There was another pool – complete with a swim-up bar – which sat directly in front of the Point, offering an unobstructed view of a perfect pebble-rock-bottom, uncrowded Right. The wave ended by crashing into the infamous Point, an ominous-looking cliff that gave the place a just-a-little-bit-dangerous edge. This place was Paradise.
I watched my first Salvadorian sunset from the pool at Nawi, sipping a cocktail in gratitude that I was here, in this dreamy location. My meeting with Josh was setup for the following day, so I enjoyed an early but deliciously nourishing dinner with ShonJovi (who had no idea who I was and in hindsight, probably assumed I was just another Cougar trying to hit on him) before retiring to my room for my first night of Salvadorian sleep. Life was so very, very good.
The Corona Situation, which I had already forgotten about, began it’s rapid escalation into Pandemic-Of-Shut-Down-The-World-Proportions the next day. The President declared a national emergency. Restrictions were starting to be placed on domestic and international travel. I awoke to a message from the shuttle company, (my scheduled ride back to Guatemala) informing me that the service has been suspended indefinitely due to the Virus.
I (incorrectly) chalked this up to people being overly cautious, and assumed that within a few days, things would settle down and go back to ‘normal’.
Global Pandemic or not, I was determined to surf, so I made my way over to Nawi to get some coffee and check the waves. Some of the guests were loading boards into a car to check out another spot. They said it was ‘too big’ to surf here. I liked the sound of that, so I grabbed my board and made my way to the point to check the waves. ShonJovi was there watching too, and to my delight, the waves were a decent size and there was NOBODY out surfing them.
The energy of the ocean was electric. Big, long right-handed waves rolled in and crashed into those magnificent cliffs with a boom, sending spray high into the air. There was something about this wave that was so raw and alluring – yet precarious. I couldn’t wait to get out there.
“So are you going to surf” I asked, perhaps a little too enthusiastically, as I set down my pink 9’2 Takayama single-fin log. Shon didn’t answer me right away. He looked at the waves. Then he looked at my board. Then he looked at me.
“Uuuuugh… It’s pretty big out there. This isn’t a beginners spot. There’s a lot of current. You need to be a very strong paddler to make it out there on a day like this, it has the potential to be one of the most dangerous waves in the country. Someone died out there… “
“Noted” I said, my froth-factor being heightened, rather than diminished, by what he had just said. Let’s go!
He reluctantly obliged. However, after watching me paddle out and gleefully catch a few of Mizata’s gems, he relaxed and realised that this old lady and her pink longboard weren’t going to be a liability. I was stoked. He was stoked. We had an amazing session, hooting each other into perfect wave after perfect wave in warm water, glassy conditions and a stunning backdrop of untouched nature. The moments that surfers live for.
After an incredible morning in the ocean, I finally met with Josh after breakfast to discuss our artistic collaboration. Despite the chaos that was unfolding around us due to the pandemic, I immediately resonated with his calm demeanour and the enthusiasm he exuded when we spoke about Art, Architecture and Design. There was a lot of uncertainty in the air, but we agreed that I would create a small Mural in each of the 8 Bungalows at the hotel. I immediately got started on some sketches, and I will never forget that feeling of sitting there in Nawi, creating in that dreamy space, whilst listening to the Beatles. It all just felt so right.
I was due to leave for Guatemala the following afternoon, but as the hours passed, that was becoming less and less likely. Guests were leaving early. Staff were going home. Friends in Guatemala were sending me alerts and updates from the Government on that side warning that I wouldn’t be allowed back across the border. Despite my attempts to stay positive, the situation was becoming dire. I felt helpless. I couldn’t leave, and even if I could, I had nowhere else to go… Now what?
In an act of kindness and hospitality that would define the next few months of my life, it was agreed that I could Shelter-In-Place on site until there was more clarity around what was next. We decided that I would start making some Art around the hotel, which felt like a balanced exchange for the generosity that was being bestowed upon me, a stray Australian Artist and her Hairless Peruvian dog, in a foreign land.
As an Artist, I believe that magic is created through the collaboration of like-minded individuals, therefore living and working with Pia, Josh and Shon (the Quaranteam) has been such a rewarding experience. It has been a dream project for me to create bespoke Artistic pieces that contribute to these beautifully curated ocean-front Bungalows (all of them unique), nestled in this tropical paradise.
The Lockdown and Shelter-In-Place order has presented challenges regarding accessibility to paint, supplies and other resources, so we got very creative with materials. I created a collection of Murals and Art using 100% recycled and reclaimed materials. Wood, canvases, books, frames, burlap, photographs and other items were upcycled right here on the property.
Geometric symbols adapted from the Indigenous Piple people from this region are featured throughout the work. I combined stencil and collage techniques to create textured pieces that complement the existing wood and stone finishings in each room.
I am writing this on my 80th (!) day here in Mizata. So much has happened and it’s been a very transformative experience. Like most of us around the world during this unprecedented time, I have had my highs and lows and moments where the uncertainty of life and the future felt overwhelming. But I’ve also had some incredible moments of clarity and the overarching sense that I am exactly where I need to be. I am surrounded by nature, waves, creative inspiration and an incredible Quaranteam who have become my family.
I could never in a million years have articulated everything that unfolded on my journey to finding Mizata, but I am so grateful for everything that has happened to me and for me over the past few months – Global Pandemic and all. Mizata has a magnetic energy that cannot be described with words, you just have to experience it for yourself to understand. In all my years of exploring the world, I have never found a place quite like it…