It was getting close to my time to make a visa run, and in January I had arranged for a bus ticket to Granada for April 17. Not consulting a calendar when is reserved the ticket, it became abundantly clear at the bus stop that I was traveling on a holiday, Samana Santa, or Holy Week, a high holiday in Central America. Jackie drove me to Liberia where I was to connect with my bus at a local hotel. We had the good fortune to find the restaurant at the hotel for a pleasant breakfast while waiting for the bus (which was characteristically late.). The bus was full and the hour trip to the border was uneventful with smooth travel on the Intercontinental Highway.
Then came the border, Penas Blancas. With it being the beginning of the holiday weekend, many trucks were backed up, wanting to get their freight to the destinations, and busses and cars filled with holiday travelers were redirected to other lanes. We disembarked and were led to a temporary office trailer about 1/4 mile away, where we got into line with all the other travelers to pay our exit tax. We were then escorted back to where we left the bus to get into line to get our exit stamp on our passports. This was about a 1 hour process and we then got back onto the bus.
We then drove about 5 minutes to the Nicaraguan border where we parked with 6 other busses. The bus driver went down the aisle and collected our passports plus an entry fee of $15.00 per person. We were then told to collect our bags and move to a dock area where there were over 100 people already milling about with their luggage and packages. Fortunately, I only had a small bag so I was able to maneuver myself around those with large suitcases and duffle bags to a shaded area at the end of this area. Finally two soldiers came out of an office and collected our declaration forms while opening every bag for inspection, and bluntly told to move on.
Move on we all did to an open parking lot with vendors of every ilk moving about the passengers. Cellular cards, currency exchange, watches, sunglasses, food, beverage, and the random peddler just asking for money. It was a free for all and all I was looking for was a bottle of water and shade since I had no idea how long the rest of the process was going to take. I was able to find a vendor who had cold water and made my way to the corner of a building to sit down in partial shade, which was a relief since the thermometer on my phone said it was 97 degrees.
It was fascinating watching the comings and goings of the area from my shaded perch. There were Border Patrols and soldiers roaming the grounds, some with weapons strapped on and some with sniffing dogs. The vendors would occasionally consult with each other pointing in the direction of the groups who were in a buying mood, and the action would shift in that direction. One thing of note was that there was a border agent in a respirator mask entering every bus with a fumigator, clouding them for insects. Seeing this process, I knew it was going to be a while longer until we would be able to board again.
Two hours later, a Border Guard arrived at our bus and the passengers collected by the door. The agent held our passports and called out the passengers one by one, returned the passports and allowed the passengers to restow the luggage. Finally, with all on board, we slowly exit the Customs area and head north toward Managua.
The highway was much different than the highway in Costa Rica, with bumps, sways, trees brushing the side of the bus, and constant potholes. The view to the east, however, was fantastic. There were volcanos in the distance across Lake Nicaragua, large windmill farms wound for miles, and farms with cows and horses to the west. We stopped at a small village about 1/2 hour into our ride, and a teenager boarded the bus selling homemade empanadas, leaving the bus as we got to the end of the village.
There were 2 other short stops until we arrived in Granada. Several passengers exited with me at the station which is on the southwest part of town. I went to the ticket counter to purchase my return ticket for Saturday and was grateful to find that the agent spoke some English. When I requested the ticket, he just shook his head…not a good sign in any language. It would appear the the Tica Bus route was not going to run on Friday and Saturday due to the holiday, and the three busses out on Sunday were all booked. Monday would be my first chance to return. So it is with life in Central America: you have to be flexible as plans can change in a heartbeat.
Ticket purchased, I took a map from the kiosk to direct myself to Charly’s Inn and Restaurant, my final destination, which was advertised as short walk from the bus station. I knew the address was on Calle Kustendingen, but there was no such street on the map. I waited for the line at the ticket counter to die down and asked the agent for directions to Charly’s. He thought about it and told me to walk west on the street we were on for 2 blokes and then head towards the volcano for 5 blocks. West? Volcano? I need right or left directions and the agent finally gave me those.
Ten minutes later I am standing in front of my destination…with doors locked and a sign saying that they open at 6:00 PM. I am hot, sweaty, and in need of liquid refreshment. I see another door that looks like a garage door with a doorbell on it, which I hope will reach the innkeeper. An Hispanic woman finally comes and I try to tell her in it rudimentary Spanish that I have a reservation…and she actually understood me. She wound me through a garden to a bar/desk where I sign into a guest register. Charly arrives after a few minutes and introduces himself and his wife, Maria to me and guides me to my room.
The place is a combination of a small tropical inn and a German hostel (Charly is originally from Frankfurt, Germany). Charly is the Innkeeper and Chef, and he explains the culinary options available for dinner (which will be fodder for another blog). I unpack what little I brought with me and relaxed on the cool patio with a bottle of water, glad that the trip is finally over.