The fun is just beginning!

Trip Start May 13, 2010
Trip End Jul 31, 2010

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Where I stayed
Hospedaje Soya

Flag of Nicaragua  ,
Thursday, July 15, 2010

It's strange but now that I have a traveling partner, I kind of have to alter the way I travel. I guess maybe I'm being a little overprotective of Nic but there are just some things that I can't protect her from like early bus departures and border crossings, neither are pleasant but that is simply the nature of backpack traveling. We are at the mercy of the buses and we need to prepare ourselves to be prodded and counted as we patiently wait our turn to cross the border at Peñas Blancas. Peñas Blancas is a horrible border crossing between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. On the Costa Rican side the crossing is efficient but the money changers are vulture just waiting to make a quick buck off of unsuspecting tourists with their ridiculously low exchange rates. In fact a man got up on the bus and officially announced to all the passengers that the money changers are crooks and to wait until you are on the Nicaraguan side to change your colones or dollars into córdobas. Then on the Nicaraguan side you have fair money exchanges but the lines are chaotic, long and stressful.

We started our day by waking up at 5:30am and catching a $10 cab to San José from Alajuela. The price was definitely a little steep and the service was definitely suspect. Hotel TrotaMundos recommended the cabbie and he told me that he wasn´t super familiar with San José, I should have believed him. Nic will be the first to tell you that she´s astonished by how wreckless taxistas (cab drivers) drive around C.A. First stop signs are merely suggestions; they do not require any type of caution. Also, swerving is mandatory. I you haven´t swerved at least 10 times during your ride your cabbie must be a foreigner. Oh and speedometers are simply accessories and most of the time, they don´t function. Most the speedos read "zero" all the time. Speed limits are also suggestions; one can drive as fast or slow as one wishes. So...on our trip into San José, our driver would sometimes exceed 120kph (75mph) which is no big deal in the states but the max speed on roads in C.A. is 80kph (50mph) so we were really speeding. When we rolled into San José we needed to get to the Ticabus station but the driver didn´t know how to get there so we just drove in circles asking other cabbies for directions. It actually reminded me of how I ask for directions. The first set of directions always get you closer to where you want to go but you always have to ask at least 2-3 more people before finally reaching your destination. Well we finally got to the station around 6:30am to find out that the next available bus wasn´t until 12:30pm, no bueno! We opted to walk 4 cuadras (blocks) over to the TransNica station to see what our other options were. Bingo, we found a bus leaving at 9am! We killed the next couple of hours drinking coffee and eating pastries, not a bad way to spend a morning!

The TransNica bus ride cost $21/person which again was pretty steep but I took the bus at the advice of Maiz, my Casa Loca landlord. He said that international buses help expedite border crossings but we lost a lot of time on the trip because the bus was always stopping to pick up additional passengers. That´s the thing that sucks about bus service down here, it may be cheap but a 4 hour car ride usually is an all day affair on a bus. We rolled into Peñas Blancas around 1:00pm and the herding station was packed. Even with TransNica completing half of the border crossing process it still took us an hour to make it through. We ran into a hippy mother and her teenage son at Peñas Blancas. We noticed them because neither were wearing shoes. I cannot stress how dirty I have often felt in C.A. because of all the garbage but these guys were just pushing the limits of a serious infectious disease, no thanks. I even where flip flops in the shower!

Once we got across the border, I was looking forward to a casual 2 hours to San Juan del Sur. We first stopped in Rivas and the taxistas are super aggro in Rivas; they want your business! They tell you how long the bus ride will be and they tell you that the next bus won't be coming for at least 30-60 minutes. They pretty much try anything to get you to jump in their cab. What they didn't know was that I'd been there and done that and I knew they were full of mierda (stuff)! We took a pedicab to the bus station. It cost us 40 córdobas and the guy earned every penny. Our bags were super heavy and I could see the effort he was exerting getting the bike to break inertia. Once we got rolling he began to tell me how strong his legs are as the sweat rolled profusely off the tip of his nose. I´d have to agree, he was skinny on top but I´m sure he had quads of steel.

When we rolled into the terminal, we got instantly harassed by some more cabbies. Then one of the ayundantes (helpers) for a Tola bus approached Nic and started talking to her in English. It was actually super cool because it kind of gave her piece of mind and it gave me a welcome relief from translation. It turns out that he is working on a computer science degree and he is also studying English. His English was actually really good. It´s strange though, he´s a very educated young man and his education does absolutely nothing for him right now. What is the incentive when all his skills can only get him this crappy job where he stuffs himself on a bus for 12 hours a day and he ends up making $8/day....what?! Which leads me to this observation: the people in C.A. are frickin´ super smart and hard working, the only thing that they lack is the opportunity. We should really thank our lucky stars!

The trip from Rivas to San Juan del Sur was on perhaps one of the most crowded buses I had ridden yet. Every seat was full and the aisle was filled front to back. Some of the last pasajeros to board were a couple of German girls. Sorry, I'm not trying to bag on German tourists but these girls were dumbasses! They got on the bus and they claimed the aisle for themselves. The customary courtesy of making room for other passengers apparently didn't apply to them. Not only that but one of them was cold and took it upon herself to close the windows around her while everyone else was sweating it out. To add insult to injury, she had a sweater the whole time which she put on after the fact. I guess it had not dawned on her to put her sweater on first before usurping the control of all surrounding windows. Beyotches and guess what, they were headed to SJDS, yippee!

Well we made it to San Juan del Sur without creating an international scandal by killing some German tourists. We rolled in to Hospedaje Soya which was conveniently located near a stinky, overflowing manhole cover but the room was okay. We wandered around SDJS for awhile and I ran into a Turkish friend I had met up in Granada. His name is Quemal and he told me the amazing story of how he became an artesano. He had come to Nicaragua about 3 years ago. His intention was to travel for a couple months. As the months started to evaporate, so did his money. At the time he was in León and he too had made a lot of artesano friends. They worried about his plight but they couldn´t help him financially. All they could offer was their craft. So, one day they showed Quemal how to make some macrame bracelets and they gave him some hilo (thread). The very first day he made 10 bracelets and sold 7 of them. Encouraged by his success, he kept making more and more artesanía and buying more hilo. And now, 3 years after being down to his last 40 córdobas ($2usd), he is a self sustaining artesano that currently resides in SJDS. He is a true gentleman and an insanely good bongo player. It might be cliche to say that this trip changed my life because it didn´t but what did change my life, was the people I met. I found inspiration, friendship and humility all around me. I have found renewed faith in the kindness and greatness of humanity!

Well we topped off the evening by running into Jim, an expat from the San Francisco area. He has lived in SJDS for about 3 years now and he takes people on sailboat rides to the local beaches. He said that if we could russle up 4 people by 11am tomorrow that we could go sailing. We just had to meet him at El gato negro in the morning to see if there were any takers. Sadly, there were no takers at the black cat the next morning but Nicole did manage to get suckered into buying some pottery. It´s amazing how the vendors can smell new tourist blood from such great distances. I had just walked over to talk to Jim to see if we could go sailing and when I returned I was greeted by cat, toucan and turtle vases. Nic fell in love with the cat vase so really, what could I do? I told him I had a friend in San Juan de Oriente that is a potter and he asked what his name was. I replied Dennis Potosme and he said that was his brother. What a small world we live in. We ended up buying 2 pieces of wonderful pottery from him.

Well since the sailing fell through, Nic and I decided to spend the day at Playa Maderas. Again as I mentioned in a previous entry, the ride to the beach is no small endeavor. They literally pack you into a converted army truck and you going "4X4-ing" through some really rough terrain.

Nic is such a little girl when it comes to hanging out at the beach. She is so fascinated by everything. We came across a colony of hermit crabs and Nic was in crab-heaven. She continually picked up bigger and bigger crabs to see how big they have to be until their pinchers actually hurt. We followed the crab pinching event by standing in the Pacific for 2 hours getting pummeled by the waves. It was actually amazingly enjoyable and relaxing. I don´t swim per se, actually, I drown but Maderas is so smooth and drops so gradually that I found myself standing 50 meters into the Pacific Ocean. It was such a rush. Nic and I just stood out there trying to figure out which waves had the force to push us back to the beach. It´s no easy task for a couple of landlocked North Dakotans. We would often see these seemingly giant whitecaps approach us menacingly only to fade lacking sound and fury. But then we would see gentle, rolling waves of h2o approach and we were lulled into a false sense of security as they swept us off our feet and washed us back to shore. What an amazing day!

At 5pm the shuttle came back to take us back to SJDS and this time we got in a Toyota pickup, that was our first mistake. We were on board with some North Americans that were trying to pass the time by reading books on the trip back. Are you freaking kidding?! Our Toyota took off like it was the start of a Baja race. The driver accelerated through every curve, hit every bump full speed and rattled every filling loose in my mouth. Nic and I both were white knuckling the overhead bars on the surfboard rack and everybody´s heads were swinging madly with each lurch, bump and curve. There was absolutely no way any reading was taking place. Nevertheless, they still held their books in front of their faces.

Well we finished our evening by having lobster and shrimp dinners at the beach. We had a cat friend that crashed our dinner and we ended up sharing some shrimp legs with the guy. Even the animals know that we are tourists! Tomorrow will be another day in SDJS so until then....

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