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Against all odds, or: Why one should learn the language of the region in which she travles

NICARAGUA | Monday, 16 June 2008 | Views [588]

I wrote this yesterday, but it didn't seem to load properly so here is a second attempt to post it. 

Today I made the trek from Playa Tamardino, in Costa Rica, to the colonial town of Granada, in Nicaragua. I booked my bus ticket from Liberia to Granada through a used book shop in Tamarindo a few days ago, and the owner gave me a sheet of instructions since this is no European Union, and the crossing requires a bit of effort. 

First step: catch the 5:45 am bus from Tamarindo to San Jose. Actually, first step, part one: wake up early enough to catch said bus. You’d think a smart girl like myself would have mastered the art of alarm clock setting after the traumatic incident in which she overslept for the SATs in her junior year. However, you would be wrong. Instead I opted for clichés, and set my alarm for pm instead of am. Luckily, my roommates were out late last night and stumbled home, drunk, at 4 this morning. At the time I was annoyed at the disturbance, but forty minutes later, when my alarm had not yet gone off, I thought it best to check. As it was indeed past my intended wake-up time, I wrote them a thank you note on my way out of the hostel. 

Step two: get off the first bus when it reaches Liberia. Also seems straight-forward, especially since I came from Liberia only three days prior. However, when one takes a 5:45 bus, one is highly susceptible to falling asleep on said trip. I awoke as the bus was driving past a Burger King, which startled me since there was only one Burger King I was aware of: that on the corner of my intended exit. I rushed forward and clumsily used the four Spanish words I knew that pertained to the situation at hand (“salida”, “por favor”, “amigo”) with such desperation that the driver took pity on me and let me off. 

Step three: find Hotel Guanacaste, and hang out there for about an hour until the Central Line bus arrives. A friendly taxi driver pointed me in the right direction and gave instructions with gestures so I found the hotel without incident. Ran to the restroom, ordered some eggs and coffee for breakfast, and opened my pack to track down my iPod when the bus arrived, an hour early. I hastily repacked everything, gave up on breakfast, and threw myself toward the driver before he could pull away. Once on board, I tracked down my seat, unfortunately situated next to a somewhat odorous man, and settled into an hour of Nicaraguan music videos (featuring pudgy girls in bikinis shaking their bootays into an unfortunately angled camera lens). Still, what would have happened if my morning bus was ten minutes slower? 

Step four: get through customs twice (leaving Costa Rica, walking 1km through No Man’s Land, and entering Nicaragua), reclaim passport from driver, change some dollars into cordobas (tucking away colones for my return to Costa Rica next week) and get back on the bus. Step four was the easiest of my day. I repeat: going through two customs lines with non-English speaking border patrol guards was the easiest part of this trip.

Step five: get off at Granada. They announced our stop in Rivas, about 45 minutes across the border, so I was confident they would announce Granada. Also, there were several of us exiting at that point, and surely there would be signage of some sort to indicate our approach to the city. Moreover, I declined to sleep on this portion of the trip given my earlier experiences. All of this should add up to a stress-free arrival in Granada, except the odorous gentleman on my right started speaking to me vigorously in Spanish and repeating “Granada, Granada” and gesturing out the window about twenty minutes before our anticipated arrival in the town. I shook my head “no comprende,” but he continued. Again I insisted, “no habla Espagnol,” so he jabbed his friend to assist in the conversation, his friend who spoke no more English than he did. Soon three and then four men surrounding me were gesturing with panic out the window and repeating the word “Granada” and I nearly lost it. I ran to the front of the bus and asked if we had passed Granada, because that would be the perfect end to my day, but the driver shook his head and said, “we are arriving in five minutes.” I glance back to my seat and the stinky old man just grins while he partner in meanness guffaws shamelessly. Excellent. 

So anyway, I made it. I found a couple of cafes with wireless since my hostel doesn’t have it (they have free internet, but not wireless). Took a tour through the city in a horse-drawn carriage this afternoon (a very popular alternative to taxis in this colonial town), complete with Spanish-only driver/guide. It is amazing how many different ways a traveler can say “si” when she a) has no idea what was just said, or b) has somewhat of an idea what was just said but has a vocabulary limited to the numbers through 20, the days of the week, and “no”, “si”, “muy bueno”, and “cuanto cuesta”. And nearly every time he rattled off a good minute of text we seemed to pass a sign for Spanish lessons, as though the entirety of Granada was mocking me. 

Apparently, it is a good idea to have a working vocabulary of the region in which you are traveling solo. I believe I discovered this last summer in Germany, when my train was moved to a platform that was numbered higher than three (my German words were more limited than my Spanish words are, except that I knew what “apfelschorle” was and that made up for my inability to request any number great than “three”). And the most frustrating part? Every time I am silenced by my lack of Spanish, my mind immediately provides the French phrase that would solve the situation. In case I run into any Francophone travelers here in Central America. Perfecto. 

Tags: life lessons, nicaragua

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