Wednesday, February 9, 2011

3 Weeks in Costa Rica/Nicaragua - Day 1 Part 1

Yep, the title just changed to "/Nicaragua". I decided to take a venture north, to visit an ecological research center I'd heard about a couple of years earlier. I didn't have any guide books for Nicaragua. I realized when I was there that this was the first time I'd really traveled internationally without one, and I'd only done a little bit of internet research on how to get where I was going. It definitely made me realize how much those guidebooks make a difference orienting in an unfamiliar place, and what crazy adventures can be had without them. That is how this single day warrants 3 posts.

The next morning, He headed back to San Jose to fly home - and I caught a bus to Nicaragua. The bus had sold more tickets than seats, which I found out was a common practice, and it was always tourist that had been double booked a seat with a local, meaning one of them had to sit on the floor in the aisle - primarily the tourist - i.e. me in this case. At least I still got on the bus! To get across the Costa Rica/Nicaragua border meant waiting in long lines at each countries border crossing. Then, the bus drivers insist that everyone on the bus tightly shut their curtains as they go from one checkpoint to the next. I still don't know why. For the one in Nicaragua, the bus driver collects everyone's passports then disappears. No one else really seemed concerned, but it was definitely worrisome to have your passport just disappear into an old plastic shopping bag along with a few dozen others. I tried to ask about it, but just got told to wait where I was - so I didn't move a foot, stayed right by the bus door, until the driver returned about half an hour later.

At the checkpoint, everyone has to get off of their bus and wait - so there are dozens of vendors selling anything you might possibly want hawking their products to the trapped travelers. They all keep their products in round tubs, carried in front of them, or above their heads, and shout out what they are selling. Stuff like food, or drinks in plastic baggies with straws (the bottles have redemption value for recycling, so the vendors keep them). The women all wore ruffled aprons where they keep their change etc.

When the bus driver returns, they give you your passport back by shouting out the names of the passport, then giving it to the first person that grabs for it…I met a nice Nicaraguan girl on her way up to Granada, she had an "aisle seat" (i.e. floor in the aisle) also. She wanted to go into tourism, and was happy to practice her English on someone. Tourism was a popular career choice among many young Nicaraguans I met, who see it as a good future in that country, like it has been for Costa Rica.

At the border

The Cambio, or money exchange, at the Nicaraguan border - consists of people with a wad of cash walking up and down the line of immigration yelling "cambiocambiocambio" - they have a laminated tag with their photo, and a number. I wasn't sure what the exchange rate was - and no idea if I was getting ripped off - one of those handy things guide books help with. I exchanged for 10, 000 colones (about 20 USD).

The difference between Costa Rica and Nicaragua is visible within a few miles upon crossing the border. It is mostly rural on both sides of the border, but as soon as we started seeing town in Nicaragua - it really looked like another country - more so than the distance would warrant on its own. In this area of Nicaragua, people still use horse carts for transportation. The towns appear much older. The dogs are all very sickly looking. In Costa Rica, dogs ran around everywhere - but for the most part they looked healthy and fat. In Nicaragua the majority of dogs I saw that ran around were skin and bones, and looked mangy. The horses I saw in this area of Nicaragua are some of the skinniest animals that I have ever seen, many with large open sores on their back from the carts attachments, and these were still being asked to carry heavy loads at a run.

The town that I got off the bus at was Rivas.

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