We said goodbye to San Jose one last time and hopped on yet another bus to make our way to Nicaragua. I wish I could say that it was an uneventful bus adventure, but alas, that’s never the case with me! When we entered Costa Rica several weeks earlier, we were forced to purchase a return ticket out of the country from San Jose to Managua, Nicaragua. We assumed the ticket we purchased was through the same company we went down with: Transnica. However, we didn’t make due diligence and check carefully because the ticket was actually with Nicaexpress. Since we weren’t paying attention, we of course got up nice and early and made sure we were at the Transnica station for 8am. But to our dismay, when we arrived the ticket clerk advised us that we were at the wrong station. Taking a closer look at our tickets for the first time, we dismally realized they were right.
The clerk was helpful and told us that unfortunately the Nicaexpress buses only leave at midnight and 6am, so we would have to wait until midnight to catch a bus. It would cost us too much to cab back to the hostel, and then back to another bus station, so we bit the bullet and cabbed it to the other bus station, assuming we could hang out there all day, maybe do some yoga, take turns napping etc. To our dismay, when we arrived at 9:30am we were faced with a wretchedly cramped and filthy bus depot with hardly any room to sit. We said hello to our home for the next 15 hours with trepidation; this was going to be a long day. I tried to find the positive in the situation and used the time to get some serious work done on the blog, and then we watched two movies to help pass the time; thank God they had wifi, otherwise we would have gone crazy!
People came and went throughout the day, catching their buses, yet once again, Kajsa and I were the only gringos around. This bus line was clearly the budget bus compared to Transnica and only locals used it. The time finally arrived when we could board the bus and as we were getting in line we saw a group of workers and (hopefully?) mechanics crowded around the engine working on it. Great…We were the last in line to get on the bus because for some reason when we bought our tickets no one advised us that we had to go back to the counter before boarding to have it stamped before we would be allowed on the bus (why didn’t they just stamp it when we bought the ticket?!). So after having waited in line to board the bus for a half hour, we were turned away at the door of the bus and had to go back to the counter, get stamped, and then finally get on the bus. Our seats were the very last two seats at the back of the bus. Right next to the bathrooms. And they could hardly recline because they were the last seats. Perfect! We were absolutely bagged from spending such a long, boring day at a filthy bus station. We couldn’t really go outside and wander around as it was downtown San Jose and we didn’t feel comfortable so we spent the majority of those 15 hours sitting and now we were about to sit on a bus for 10 more hours. We did our best to get comfortable and lay on each other this way and that way with our inflatable pillows. They came around and gave us crackers and a juice box, which was nice, but not as nice as the meal and coca cola we got on our last Transnica bus. We spent the next 4 hours tossing and turning, and I finally gave up even trying to sleep, threw on my headphones and let the music take me (this trips bus track).
We got to the border at 4am. Unbeknownst to us, the border didn’t even open until 6am. They kicked us all off the bus and made us queue up for the borer crossing on the pavement outside. After 45 minutes of wondering why the line wasn’t moving we finally caught wind that it doesn’t open until 6am. We were furious- why would the bus leave at midnight if it can’t get across the border until 6am? And why couldn’t we stay on the bus those two hours?! I was dizzy with exhaustion by this point and I simply laid down on the hard filthy pavement, resting my head on my small backpack and got a few minutes of terribly uncomfortable sleep. Once the gates finally opened we still had 45 minutes of waiting in line until we got the counter where we were refused and told we needed to go somewhere else and pay our exit fees as foreigners. “Where?”, we asked, exasperated. “That way”, the border clerk pointed vaguely to the left. We left, frustrated and went looking to the left, wandering to any building we could see and found nothing.
Feeling a little panicky, not doubting for one second that our bus would leave without us, and grumpy from lack of sleep, we stomped around completely lost until a customs worker saw us and seemed to know what we are looking for, and shepherded us towards the payment office which was completely out of the way and hidden from sight. We paid and headed back to get back in line. Luckily our bus driver was there and ushered us to the front of the line to pay so we didn’t have to get in the long line and wait another half hour. We were about two people back from getting stamped and he tells us he will wait for us at the bus. Sure. We got stamped and began to walk towards the bus when we alarmingly saw it start up and drive away. The idea of bolting into a dead run at a border crossing didn’t seem like a great idea, so we sped walked to try and catch up with it, but it was a lost cause- the bus sped up and was soon out of site. Trying to remain calm, I assured myself that there had to be one more border stop ahead, that we were merely exciting Costa Rica, and we’ve yet to enter Nicaragua, so the bus should hopefully be stopped ahead. We practically held our breath as we walked for a few minutes, using all of our willpower to not start running wildly, arms flailing, screaming for our bus, until we finally reached the Nicaragua entrance and saw several buses. We ran to each one, desperate to find ours and breathe again knowing it hasn’t left us behind and taken all our gear, but we couldn’t find it! We surely looked distraught, running around, our faces a grimace of frustration and desperation, eyes red and wide with no sleep, hair greasy and matted from too many hours in buses and stations, but at last we saw our driver. We gave him hell for telling us he would wait in the bus but then drove off immediately and didn’t tell us. Our pouty cries fell on deaf ears; it was useless, and besides, we were just relieved we found the bus. It took another hour and half to get our bus sorted out and to get everyone through- all in all we were at the border crossing for a tedious four hours.
Alas we were on our way and into Nicaragua. Our destination was Managua, and from there we wanted to catch a bus right away to Granada, however on the way we found out the bus we were on actually stopped in Granada before Managua- finally a piece of luck came our way! We were able to hop off right in Granada and shared a cab with some local ladies to our hostel, Oasis. It was 10am when we arrived and we were overcome with appreciation to have finally made it. We dropped our gear, hopped in the shower and then went straight to bed for a long and wonderful nap.
Kajsa had a friend who was staying at Oasis and he had arranged to get us two beds there, so we met up with him after finally being refreshed. I had heard about him from Kajsa a few times, about what a funny fellow he was, so I was pretty excited to meet him at last. Let’s just say Richard didn’t fall short of my expectations in the funny department! From the first few minutes I met him, he had me in stitches with his dry and brazen British humor. We had 3 nights booked at the Oasis and Granada was our starting point for our time in Nicaragua. We didn’t’ have much planned yet, so we used our time here to get organized and figure out what the country had to offer.
I noticed when traveling through Guatemala that right away I met people at hostels who were constantly telling me to do this and see that and be sure not to miss this-endless tips on highlights and must see’s in the country. But for some reason when we were in Costa Rica we never experienced this once. As soon as we got to Nicaragua we were bombarded once again with people recommending great things to do and see, so it was easy to get excited about this new country and plans were forming almost immediately.
Our first night, while we were out trying to find somewhere to eat, a local recommended a place with typical Nica food so we sat down to order. Stray dogs were hovering around our table; one in particular was lingering near Richard. To say this dog was a mangy thing was a vast understatement; it had chunks of its ears missing, was constantly hopping around on 3 legs while the 4th scratched incessantly at its fleas. Large patches of fur were hanging off of its behind, patches of blackened skin showing. And it’s face… Something was… askew. He had a snaggletooth sticking out at a sickening angle from his left jaw and his nose looked as if it has been smashed and then had healed a staggering distance to the right of his snout. While small, he was a terrifying, sickly sight- a cadaverous thing. While we waited for our food, a young child dressed as a small male doll and another person dressed as an oversized female doll ventured into the street in front of us and began dancing wildly, skirts flaring dramatically with each spin, making for a surreal and carnivalesque sight. A local man walked by and began animatedly gesturing to the table next to us and talking loudly in Spanish, but no one could quite understand what he was saying. He seemed to get more and more excited in his energetic gestures and dramatic soliloquy he was delivering to no one in particular. Two mariachi artists came to our table and began playing loudly hoping for money.
Our food finally arrived after 45 minutes of all this excitement and noise, but as we were all about to take our first bites, Sarah noticed a large bug crawling in her ceviche. She tried to dig it out but it crawled under the lime broth and was lost. She pushed her plate away, fighting down a dry heave, and we all reluctantly and tentatively took our first bites. The food was absolutely awful but we were famished so we had a few more bites. No one was able to finish their food. We had all tasted each other’s, hoping it was better than our own, only to be disappointed or even more disgusted. The worst part was it wasn’t even cheap; it was expensive for typical Nica food!
The macabre stray dogs, the strange dancing dolls, the excited local yelling at us all, and the bug infested repulsive food was too much- we paid our bill and nearly ran out of there and went to find solace in an ice cream shop. Luckily we had Richard with us for comedic relief and were able to laugh hysterically at the night as a whole. What an introduction to Nicaragua!
While in Granada, Kajsa and I booked a Lake Nicaragua boat tour that took us through the islands close to shore – it was $18, fairly cheap, but I wasn’t amazed by the tour. If the islands had been in their natural state and not covered in million dollar homes that rich gringos owned, maybe I would have enjoyed it more, but the houses seemed like invasive scars of colonization on the beautiful little islands. We saw lots of birds and some of the people on our boat got to hand feed some monkeys, but other than that it was quite uneventful and I would have preferred to spend the money on something more exciting; but if nothing else, it was a beautiful and scenic boat ride on the massive lake and our guide taught us a little about the area.
Granada reminds me of a louder, brasher version of Antigua; it’s full of colourful old buildings, old churches, and cobblestone. Being the oldest city in Central America, it definitely has some character with its colonial vibes. The streets were much more crowded here and you didn’t get as strong of a traditional vibe here as you did in Guatemala. One thing I did notice right away in Nicaragua is that the men were much more vocal about their ‘appreciation’ of the womanly figure and would constantly cat call, whistle, and smack their lips (kiss kiss) as you walked passed. As a woman, I have encountered this in every country so far, but it was by far the worst in Nicaragua.
We spent the rest of our short time in Granada finding better places to eat, ordering in pizza one night to the hostel (Telepizza, SO good!), and wandering the streets, but mostly planning our upcoming travels through Nicaragua and getting to know our hostel mates. We did spend one day at Hotel Granada to enjoy their posh pool and pretend we were rich. We soaked up the rays, slashed in the pool, drank coca cola’s in glass bottles, practiced yoga and lived the good life for a few hours!
I wish I had taken more time to explore this lovely colourful city, but the time was used mostly to get caught up on sleep, get some laundry done, and plan our next moves. The Oasis hostel we stayed at was wonderful and I highly recommend it. It was easy to meet loads of people, had lots of space, a nice small pool, several hammocks, a kitchen, comfortable beds, and a free pancake and banana breakfast with unlimited coffee and tea! And at a great price of only $9 a night for a dorm room. We Spent the evenings eating out and chatting with our new friends and soon new travel plans were formed, and as we tucked ourselves into bed on our last night we went to sleep with dreams of crater lakes and beaches, our next adventure.