Thursday, June 11, 2009
The distinct writing style of this post title is an homage to my friend Cheryl. She has a distinct way of speaking that I affectionately call Cherylese. I hadn’t really had an occasion to speak Cherylese until this day. Today was without a doubt – the.longest.travel.day.ever. And as a result (warning) this may be the longest.most.boring.post.ever.
Getting up we knew we had a full day ahead of us. But rather than leave at 5am we decided to take the 8:30 bus although we weren’t sure if we were going to make that. Check out took forever at the hacienda – speed is not an aspect of Nicaraguan service. But luckily the bus stop was just 10 feet from the entrance to the hostel and there were another 8 recently checked out guests also getting on. Today was going to be a quiet day at the Hacienda.
The trip started off smoothly except for the fact that the bus was soon packed. Yet the driver stopped to pick up more people and all their luggage, livestock, and lumber. However, about 20 minutes later the driver stopped and couldn’t get the bus started again. He tried about 5 times but stalled each time. Instead we were all treated to the smell of burning rubber as something broke under the hood. The driver, ayudante and a couple of other passengers grabbed a tool box and set to work under the hood. Apparently, getting your driver’s license also requires a course in basic mechanics. They change some belt and decide to give it another go. But the driver still can’t get the bus to start.
Oh well, it looks like we won’t be making the 11:30 ferry. Rather than be annoyed, Adrian and I took it in stride. Afterall we’d been traveling for almost 3 months and this was our first bus breakdown which is a pretty impressive statistic. Half of the people on the bus decided to start walking to their destinations and the rest got off to get some fresh air (as well as photos of the mechanics in action). However, it wasn’t too long before a man pulled up on a bicycle. He took a quick look under the hood and without doing anything closed it and got on board. Then with his magical touch he started the bus in one shot. Everyone piled and was relieved when this guy took over the driver’s role because not only did he have the magical touch to starting the bus, he had the magical touch with driving it. He managed to make good speed (anything over 10km/hr was good) on the horrendous roads. This made the passengers, who were mostly backpackers trying to catch the 11:30 ferry very happy. And by the time we hit the paved road on the other side of the island it looked like we all might make the ferry after all, despite the 25-minute delay. In fact we get to Moyogalpa just after 11.
But before getting on, I have to use the loo which meant the seats on the ferry are full. However, there’s room up top in the sun and we even manage to find a place to sit. At first the journey is rather nice but once the clouds parted and the sun shone down on us it became a bit uncomfortable. I slathered on the sunscreen and Adrian let me wear his baseball cap (my own floppy hat had been lost somewhere in Guatemala) to keep the sun off my head. The effort manages to keep me burn free when we get to the dock in San Jorge.
Rather than submit to another taxi ride, we shook off the cloud of taxi drivers and attempted to follow the locals to the bus. There was one sitting on the dock that says Rivas to Managua. Well we needed to get to Rivas so it looked good until we tried to board, the driver turned us away and told us we had to take a taxi. What? Yet none of the locals had to take a taxi. Something was definitely not right but since we weren’t allowed on the bus, into the throng of taxi drivers it was.
I finally found one that wasn’t trying to charge us double what we paid to get in. he’s a young guy and once we’re on the road he immediately starts the hard sell on taking the taxi all the way to the border. Everything he tells us is, I don’t want to say lie, but it wasn’t exactly truthful. We’ll never make the bus. And that’s the last bus to the border. As we got closer to Rivas, he dropped his price from 500C to 240c, or 10 dollars for a 45 minute taxi ride. Adrian and I agree not because of his constant prattle but because after a few minutes of sitting in the back of a quick and comfy car, we decided to enjoy it for just a while longer. The driver was a nice guy and when I asked him about the exchange rate at the border he warned me it would be crap. Good thing we only had about $100 on us. He also warned us about Costa Ricans.
“They’re lazy. They don’t even work everyday. And they just want your money. Be careful” I took his warning with a grain of salt. In every country people had warned us about their neighbours. I think it’s the whole familiarity breeds contempt.
When we get to the border I was suddenly very happy we hadn’t taken the bus. It was pure chaos. But the taxi driver pointed us in the right direction through the rows of trucks and what seemed like an endless stream of deluxe express buses going to or coming from Managua, San Salvadore and San Jose. There was even one heading to Mexico – now that’s a long trip. The one thing we didn’t see was other foot traffic or signs directing those of us walking across the border. As we were searching for the Nicaraguan immigration office a young money changer said he’d help us out. He walked with us and waited while Adrian made a stop at the duty free. Then waited with us as we stood in line at to pay our exit fees and get our exit stamps. For his effort, we changed our last Nicaraguan cordobas into Costa Rican colones. And only lost about $10 in the exchange. Our friend then points us in the direction of the Costa Rican office which is a further 1 km down the road.
Our packs got heavier and the sun seemed to get hotter the longer we walked. But eventually we got to the Costa Rican office which is thankfully air-conditioned. We waited in one line with all the truck drivers until the woman at the front told us we were in the wrong line and to stand at the next window. We moved over but there was no one manning it and were the only people in line. 15 minutes passed and there was no sign that anyone was coming to help us. A tour bus pulled up and we were joined by about 20 others. I was about to tell them that we had been waiting a while when an immigration office waddled out – I guess he only comes out when there’s a crowd. But we’re now in Costa Rica although the process has taken over an hour.
Starving we popped into the café attached to the immigration office and grab a sandwich and cold drink. Then we followed the locals to the bus stop. The bus pulled up and it was a shiny new coach. But that’s not the only difference between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. In Costa Rica you pay before you get on the bus and they give you a ticket! This was something we’re going to have to get used to. But best of all it was still cheap about $2.
The bus journey was pretty straight forward except for the national police who stopped and boarded the bus a few times. They checked every passenger’s identity papers and our passports, even making sure we had a valid entry stamp. This happened about 3 times in the first 20 km from the border. I guess they were trying to prevent people from sneaking into the country. Interesting. But other than that the ride got us safely and uneventfully to Liberia by 4pm.
The city is smaller than I expected and full of familiar brand names on every street corner. There was even a stop light. Costa Rica sure is different if not a bit overwhelming. And to journey from remote Ometepe to flashy Liberia (well flashy relatively speaking) exacerbated the feeling. The bus station was small and when I asked about a bus to Tamarindo, I was directed to a ticket booth. There was one leaving from this station in 45 minutes so I bought our tickets (another $2) which not only list the departure time and cost but also the length of the journey, 117.8 km. How official.
The bus that pulled up was a lot like a TTC (public transit bus). And as we get on the driver told us to keep an eye on our bags. It was enough to make us a little paranoid. Although our bags are so heavy it would be hard to run off with them inconspicuously. The ride was nice but as we navigated the twisty country roads it was obvious that we weren’t going to get into Tamarindo by 6. I cross my fingers and hope we would get there by 7. But Murphy’s law kicked in and just after dark the bus broke down. Well not really broke down but the doors wouldn’t open or close. In Nicaragua, the bus would have driven away with them open. But apparently they’re sticklers for safety here in Costa Rica. He eventually gave up, leaving the back doors shut and the front doors open. Now I hoped we would make it to Tamarindo by 8.
Just before 8 we pulled into Tamarindo. It looked nothing like what I expected and it was obvious that our 5-year old Lonely Planet is hopelessly out of date about this town. Instead of a small lazy surf town, Tamarindo was a full blown resort town. There were ten times the number of hotels, restaurants and streets listed in the lonely planet. And it all looked like Cancun or Florida rather than Central America. We were the last people on the bus when the driver tells us we’re at the last stop. He asked us what we were looking for. Villa Macondo I replied. He pointed across the street and told us it was around the corner. We walked by sushi places and wine bars with the taxi drivers pointing us in the right direction without trying to give us a ride. Now I really was going into shock – culture shock.
At the hotel it only continued. It was almost luxurious for us. We can flush toilet paper. There’s hot water on demand. There are extra pillows and a clock radio. There’s even safe. We decided to escape and find some dinner. All the places look like they had been transplanted from downtown big cities and the prices matched the look. Just then down a dark alley I saw a sign advertising comida tipica. And for $2 we got fried chicken and chips the local favourite. Tamarindo was giving us heart palpitations. Not from the hot sauce or the prices but from the overwhelming Americanization of it. And okay, Adrian seemed to be enjoying all the amenities. Hopefully a good night’s sleep will make me feel better after the longest.travel.day.ever. And the flashiness of this town won’t seem as scary in the daylight.