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He only went out for some milk A blurb of monstrous proportions - it was only supposed to be a couple of lines and the odd photo.

Into Nicaragua

NICARAGUA | Monday, 3 March 2008 | Views [1130] | Comments [2]

worth travelling 9+ hours for?

worth travelling 9+ hours for?

My blog is an edited, condensed account of what has happened on my trip. I miss out a lot of stuff as it's long enough already, and besides i forget a lot of things because I've been travelling a while, and most things become normal - hence not worthy of comment. So just for a change i thought i´d try and describe the realities of what i consider a fairly 'normal', did very little, travelling kind of day.

Around 8am i got out of bed, did i sleep? My room's a dingy, small, much want of a clean hotel room in Liberia. It was a sweaty, almost fetid night. I forgo the freezing cold shower and put on all of yesterdays clothes. It's going to be a full day of travelling, and my so called cleanliness will last as long as it takes me to get out the door. I guess some standards slip. I forgo breakfast too, buses tend to travel early in the day, and I'm later than I'd like, besides as always i have a bag full of just in case provisions. I take the 'hoteliers' directions to the bus stop - 5 blocks over and 3 up. I don't think I've seen a street sign yet. There's surprisingly few people around, but plenty of rubbish and the smells to go with it. A heavy Bob, a 1km walk and the fact that it´s already steaming hot make a nice combination. Yesterday was some sort of celebration with lots of brass band things - i stayed well away, it was my kind of hell. The station is heaving, i fend of taxi drivers, lottery/watch/ice-cream/water/cd/dvd touts and ask for a ticket to Peñas Blanco at the ticket office. My pronunciation must be OK, i get a stream of Spanish back in return. I gather i buy the ticket on board and the bus leaves from terminal 3. It's an educated guess, he could have told me I've got the wrong bus station and that the other is 3km away. I rely on body language as always, I'm pretty sure it's here. There are no terminal numbers of course, but there is a long queue at the 3rd bay from the end and a huge pile of people's stuff - it makes sense. I look around, there are 5 other westerners dotted around - we stick out like a sore thumb. 2 brothers and a small family? - brave of them to travel with a kid. Eventually a bus comes in with my town written on the front, this must be it. It takes me a while to make sure Bob is stored safely on board, and by that time there's standing room only. It's a hot, cramped 2 hour journey only broken by food sellers and money changers wafting huge wads of cordobas before my face. I understand virtually none of the constant chatter, usually i apply a well toned ability to switch off. Screaming kids, loud voices, blaring music, foreign languages are normally all drowned out - my defence mechanism i guess. Here i deliberately listen, i really want to learn Spanish.

With a machine gun speed announcement i think we have arrived. The 5 westerners and i are all the last to get off the bus of course. It´s nearing mid day now, the sun is blazing straight overhead and there is a huge line of fume pouring vehicles to walk past. I know I'm going the right way as the number of money changers has increased. They believe you wouldn't notice them unless they thumb a huge wad of notes just under your nose. I have a about a dollars worth of colones in coins to get rid of before i cross the border. They either refuse to take the coins or all give me the same poor rate. Every negotiation takes micro-seconds - i conclude one and then get an abrupt dismissal. What happened to the in your face guy? It's like it's a dodgy deal and they're trying to get it over with as quickly as possible. Maybe they're embarrassed to rip me off so much. More touts, a deluge of taxi drivers shouting each other down and then a row of form holding locals and a sign saying immigracion. This must be it, but the form holding touts is a new one, i ask a guy near me in English what it's about. He doesn't look English, in fact he looked like a Hispanic gang member, but somehow i think he can speak the language. He's fluent in English and Spanish - I've no idea how i could tell. It turns out that for a fee these guys will fill in the immigration form for you and it just so happens that they have all of the blank forms. He's paid a dollar to have his done. I don't mind paying a local for a fair job, but taking away a free form for those who can fill them in just annoys me. With a bit of deliberate mis-understanding but lots of smiles, i get a blank form - i guess to them I'm a jerk, but a happy one. The immigration officer doesn't even look at the form, a quick stamp over the top of an existing one (I'm running out of room and she couldn't be bothered to find a space) and I'm out of Costa Rica heading into Nicaragua.

Again it's not obvious where to go - why is it nearly always like this? I'm with my Spanish speaking amigo, even he hasn't got a clue and he's done this before. He's from El Salvador, grew up in Texas and now lives in Panama. He left El Salvador due to gang problems (i thought so), and then left the U.S. as he got deported, i like how i pick them. We meet a another English guy on our way to what we hope is the Nicaraguan border. He's been through already, is part of a bus group, but he's lost them and is obviously hopeless. We help him the best we can but i think he's beyond our help. I was never like that surely. Lots more touts, all fended off in Spanish by my amigo, he even gets me a blank form to save me the hassle. Another long queue and again he has his filled in for a charge, he should have asked me as I would have saved him a buck - i give him a stick of gum instead. We meet the English guy again - he's spent 2 months working in Costa Rica, can't speak any Spanish, doesn't even know what the Nicaraguan currency is called and is embarrassingly impressed by my full passport - which I'm flicking through to try and find the stamp they will want to see in a minute. Later on i overhear him tell his bus group how he's just met an English guy who's been travelling for 5 years...idiot. Finally i reach the front, he removes my filled in form and loses the place where the stamp was, takes an age to find it - to prove I've left Costa Rica? and then refuses to give me change out of $20 for the $7 charge. I'm used to this in shops but at a border control? I'm surrounded by gringo's - he must have suitcases full of change. I have nothing smaller, so i have no choice but to stand my ground. He makes me wait an age, frowning at me all the time. It's more amusing that annoying - what would i do if he wouldn't let me in?

I part with my amigo, who's job i discover is training strippers how to dance sexy. This guy is about 5 feet 7 tall and 4 feet 7 wide with a shaved head, beard and tattoos - i just can't imagine him doing that. That's probably for the best, I'd have nightmares otherwise. In Spanish i ask for where the bus is to Rivas, and receive my usual fluent unintelligible reply. A tiny Alice in Wonderland door behind a building is my exit, $1 to pass through it and a long attempt by a taxi driver to get me to go with him. He tells me there are no buses to Rivas - yeah right. 1 minute later I'm sat on the bus next to my El Salvadorian mate. It's an interesting 45 minute ride - it turns out he's a Muslim, really wants to go on the Hajj, sets guys up with girls (read between the lines), is on a trip buying and selling stuff across the borders and finds it absolutely impossible to believe that i don't believe in god. Fantastic.

I get dropped off in the middle of Rivas, with absolutely no idea where i am, no street signs and no bus to San Jorge in sight. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet - i fork out $1.25 and get a taxi for the 6km journey to the ferry terminal. As soon as i arrive I'm jumped on by touts - taxis?, boat ride?, accommodation?, food?...this is just like Asia again. I opt for a ferry ticket rather than a local crossing. Last time i ended up in the wrong place wading through water up to my chest with Bob on my head.

It's been over 5 hours of travelling already, I've not had a proper meal nor even been to the toilet since getting up. It's a fine balance between being caught out on a bus and being dehydrated - i don't think I've got the hang of it yet. The views where i am are amazing: beach, lake and 2 surreal volcanoes. Time to enjoy a meal, listen to a Spanish lesson and chill for an hour while i wait for the ferry. The ferry is pretty full and we get entertained with a music video and then a safety briefing - all on the very loud TV´s. The music video is 2 semi-naked girls 'dancing' with each other in a confined space while holding chickens, and the safety video is a hand-held DIY job with a girl who seems to be trying to make love to the camera. I love this country.

It will be another 3 hours of boat and bus, room asking and checking, dust breathing and sun blazing, people meeting and watching. Just another day in a travellers life. This is easy travelling though - even with my language ignorance. In fact most of my travelling is very easy, these are generally fairly worn tourists trails with other westerners and people who can speak English. Roll on a real challenge and a 'proper' day of travelling




I was just thinking yesterday how I miss the joys of backpacking...

  Tam Mar 15, 2008 10:40 AM


Great piece of writing! Really enjoying your blurb of monstrous proportions... Shane: You need to get out more ;-)

  Lyn Mar 22, 2008 8:22 PM

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one ruined t-shirt and one ruined pair of trousers.  cool.

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