The Battle of the Frontera...

Trip Start Jul 21, 2012
Trip End Aug 09, 2012

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Flag of Nicaragua  ,
Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Well, this morning, time had come to leave Costa Rica and head north on my voyage.  Evidently still jet-lagged, I woke up at 6.30am and did a couple of hours of reading before packing up the rucksack and grabbing some beans and rice for breakfast.  I paid up my dues and headed the 100m to the bus station, quickly finding a bus to the Nicaragua boarder town, Las Penas.  

The first bit of the journey went smoothly, local bus wasn't too crowded and the end point was obvious.  No animals to note enroute - possible toucan sighting and there were lots of flashes of colourful birds too zippy to identify.  Weather was fine and hot but blowy to start but by the time I reached the boarder it had started to cloud over.

This is where my easy journey ended.  Now I've done lots of land-crossings of borders - the high altitude bag search between Argentina and Chile in the depth of night half way up the highest mountain in the Americas was a memorable one, as was the river crossing to get to Laos and the succession of Laos and Camobodian desks all wanting some sort of payment.  But this one has to go down as the most confusing and chaotic I have come across.  The Costa rican side was ok.....very long queue that I had to stand in with my backpack.  They had a nice cafe serving cold drinks, presumebably for those who had just come through the valhalla of the nicaraguan side and although they hadn't gone over the top with signage, I got my stamp and found my way onwards.  

With no real signage and not a clear crowd to follow as the majority had come with muy expensivo bus companies who drove them the 1km walk of no-mans-land that lay between the two countries, I managed to find my way along the road which was rather overgrown and looked rather like a derelict car yard rather than an official border.  At the end of it was a couple of men in Nicaraguan customs get up who both wanted to do a quick inspection of my passport before I continued walking, this time past an overgrown play park - there were swings, 4 slides of assorted sizes and 4 seesaws, brightly coloured and very early 80's before our playparks got crashmatacized.  Who can ponder on the purpose of this no-mans land playpark.  Suffice to say, noone was playing on it.  I wasn't tempted and kept walking, past another building, through a big line of mega trucks until I was herded into an office.  

I paid a woman $1 for a form and another $1 for a random stamped piece of paper (who knows whether I was supposed to or not) then stood in a queue to get my nicaraguan passport stamp.  the lonely planet guide said it costs $7 to get into Nicaragua, the sign above the passport window said $10 but the passport dude seemed to want $13 and I don't have the spanish to argue so I paid up and wlaked away with a bundle of papers, presumebably receipts that evidence that i willingly donated the extra money.  

I walked out of the passport office, fully nicaraguaned up or so I thought.  There were no clear signs or anything to tell me what to do next!  There was a small bus terminal outside, but it wasn't clear whether this was just for expensivo buses.  I knew i didn't want taxi.  I trundled around a bit, found a cash machine and got some cordorbas and brought a large bottle of water.  I tried to ask the water sellers where to get the bus from, but couldn't really understand their reply.....they pointed me vaguely in the right direction but I still couldn't suss out where I was supposed to go.  I went back over to the main bus stoppy bit and had a sit down next to a large group of English lads.  The high point of this bit of trip was some sales man who tried to sell me a fine armodillo decorated in lovely shells.  He would have looked lovely in my new house.  I didn't even question his proce, though will keep my eyes out for more...  Having had a  bit of water and a cool down, I was ready to try again.  This time I was in luck, found an unmarked gate in the fence behind the megatrucks and tried to make my escape.

Nooooo.....foiled......the man on the gate searched through my many passport stamps to no avail and could not locate the Nicaraguan one.  So back I trooped, feeling thoroughly pissed off with the Nicaraguan border and its staff and managed to get it stamped, this time without the $13 fee as I had luckily kept hold of my receipt.  Back to the little gate and success, I was free and there was a lovely bus to Rivas sat waiting for me.

Once full, the bus headed off to Rivas.  Compared to the Costa Rican bus, this was much more rustic and reminded me of Thai buses.  It was an old US school bus but it had been nicely painted in interesting script. It rattled off down the road, giving me glimpses of Lago Nicaragua and the Isle of Omepete complete with its 2 volcanoes.  Nicaragua is defintely a developing country.  I think it is about on a par with Laos as far as GDP goes.  Its got a horrific history filled with evil dictators and natural disasters plus a bit of American anti-commie intervention that has left the population in poverty.  The drive to Rivas went past farm land and homes that looked like they relied on subsistence - few chooks, a couple of hogs and a couple of breeze blocks and some metal to live under.  There were larger farms too.,..sugar cane and beefs seemed common.  And a bit of tourism.

I got to Rivas and was herded onto the bus to Granada.  Rivas bus station was in the middle of a mad hustling, bustling market with stalls selling whatever you could want.  If I'd not been rucksacked up and on my own, then I would have gone for a good looked like the sort of market where I could find tapir burgers.  I sat down on the bus though and waited for rather a long time for it to fill.  Soon after I got on, a young chap who I think was a robbing type got on and st very near me with eyes honed on my bag.  I was aware of what he was up to and had glued myself to my property.  He was there for quite a while.  Eventually, the bus filled to the point where I had to rearrange all my things.  I moved my big rucksack onto the floor and had my handbag on my lap and at this point I think he gave up.  As he left, the woman in front glanced at him, my bags and me in a knowing way so I think she suspected he was a robber type too.  Waiting for the bus to leave, a whole myriad of people trouped through the bus brandishing wares.  I had a little chicken and cabbage snack but declined the fizzy drinks, the baked goods, the popcorn and the nuts.  Nor did I want the religious icon mobile phone fobs nor the belts.  Nor the tomatoes, olives or onions.  They are called chicken buses as there is an anything goes policy, but sadly no live hens to share the journey with today.  After quite some time, the very full bus trundled off.

The weather took a turn for the worse and a monsoon in the style of Bridport July 7th began.  Not really suprising given it is the rainy season.  There was thunder and lightning too.  And, joy of joys, the rickety bus box I was in seemed to have defunct windscreen wipers!  This didn't seem to phase the driver who was still able to dodge the cattle and cyclists in the way.  By this time my journey had taken longer than I had anticipated.  Its widely known that you don't travel after dark in central america because of the vampire banditos.  Time was ticking on and the light was fading so I was beginning to get anxious.  Thankfully the bus pulled into Granada, its destination, just before sunset and I was able to find the hostel with ease.  Chosen this joint as they put on free buses to another hostel up the neighbouring volcano which promises tree frogs and howler monkeys.  This hostel has had a recent bed bug issue, but the t'internet suggested this might have abated so watch this space...  I plan to spend tomorrow exploring Granada and possibly going on a boat trip and will head up to the Tree House the day after.  

Granada has already impressed me.  It reminds me a bit of a tumbledown Sucre.  I walked two blocks to the central park and found a fine outside food joint to dine in.  the other side of the square was the impressive cathedral, lit up and stunning.  It felt reasonably safe too.  I'd asked about safety at the hostel and was told it was okay, but to beware of the marauding band of primary school children who are operating an organised crime ring.  I kept my eyes peeled for irritating little kids, but was safe this time.   For dinner I had a local speciality, yucca and pork :-) .... the Yucca was rather tasty and I think I will boil Ma's plants when I return home.  It was starchy, a bit like mashed potato but with a ncie taste.  Better than cous cous and quinoa as a starchy food.  The pork was nicely marinaded and very scrumptious and it was finished off with a big heap of pickled cabbage that also contained some deadly hot pepper berries and a random veg, all served on a banana leaf.  

And that takes me to now...its gone 9pm so my jet lag clock is telling me to go to bed, which I might just do!  Adios!!
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