Thursday, May 29, 2014


May 24, 2014

5:00 AM came awfully early after having stayed up to midnight, the night before, working on my blog.  I knew I would suffer at the time I did it, but the internet was so good at D&D that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to upload all my Honduran photos.  Once I admitted that I was awake, I quickly bathed (the hot water quit after 5 seconds), dressed and packed.  I wanted to be ready early because the bus could have arrived as early as 6:00 and I had to carry my bags a quarter of a mile or so over muddy roads.  I had decided to forego my plan of returning to San Pedro Sula to take Tica Bus to Managua.  Patrick, Eliza, Brianna and I were taking the local buses to Nicaragua together.  As soon as I found one of the girls, I told her I was starting up the road and set off.  I put my daypack on my back and balance my duffel on my head.  This sort of thing is why the farmer’s carry is my strongest suit in CrossFit.  Of course, I have also developed my ability to hoist my bag over my head to hand it to the gentleman loading  bags onto the top of the bus.  It pays to travel light.

Eastern Honduras
The rest of the group caught up to me and we were all at the bus stop by 6:00.  There was only one direct bus to Tegucigalpa per day and we didn’t want to miss it.  We waited for the bus until 6:30.  When it finally arrived, it was a big, comfortable Pullman and we were thrilled.  It seemed too good to be true.  It was.  Within 20 minutes, the transmission gave out and we were stranded.  The bus company sent another bus very rapidly, but it was only a 30 passenger minibus.  The passengers pushed the disabled bus off the road and over to where the new bus was parked so that we could transfer the luggage.  From the nice, dry, easily accessible bins under the bus, we hoisted all our earthly goods onto the exposed roof rack of the minibus.  For once, the men weren’t being macho.  When the guy on the roof couldn’t reach Brianna’s pack, he just said, “Come on, Chica,” urging her to raise it higher.  We packed 44 people into that little minibus.  Patrick and I stood for the first half an hour, which was no mean feat on twisty mountain roads with a maniacal driver.  Brianna was practically sitting in the driver’s lap.  Eventually, a family of three, who were sharing two seats, invited me to perch on the edge with them.  They were very sweet.  We were there for a long time.  It took us five hours to make the three hour trip to Tegucigalpa.  Poor Patrick stood all the way to Comayagua, when he and I finally got seats.  We were across the aisle from each other and kept landing in each other’s laps as the driver hurled the bus around curves.  We were all very glad to arrive in Tegucigalpa.

I had spent part of my time perching on the edge of the seat talking to the conductress (the first woman I had seen working on a bus anywhere) about our onward journey.  She told me what we should expect to pay for a taxi.  A horde of taxistas swarmed the passengers as soon as we disembarked and we found one who charged us exactly the correct price (50 lempiras, about $2.50) each to shuttle us clear across Comayaguela to where the buses left from the border.  We had half an hour to wait, so we grabbed a cheap lunch of pupusas while we were waiting.  I paid for everybody, since I needed to change a large bill.  Lunch for four cost me about $6.00.  After lunch, we packed into another mini bus.  Everybody got a seat, but this bus had no luggage rack, so all our belongings were piled on the floor in front of the door where they had to be shifted every time someone wanted to get off.  It took us 2.5 hours to get to the border at Los Manos.  

Once again, I was on the aisle seat and had to hang on for dear life to avoid being thrown on the floor every time we went around a curve.  It turned out that the woman sitting next to me had grown up in the United States.  She worked as a translator for a Baptist children’s home run by American missionaries.  The home took in orphans and children whose parents either didn’t want them or had them taken away as a result of neglect or abuse.  The children got to stay and go to school until they were 18 and then got six months in a transition house where they were taught to fend for themselves and had time to find employment.  Often, they were allowed to stay longer than six months because employment was hard to find.  Sometimes, they were adopted.  My traveling companion was very excited for one of the girls there who had finally been allowed to go to the United States.  An American family had been trying to adopt her for 13 years, but had never been able to get her into the country.  They had come to visit her every year.  Finally, at 17 years old, they had managed to get her into a private school and she was granted a student visa.  It sounded to me that the children in that home were very fortunate.  They got to finish high school in a country with only nine years of compulsory education and they were taught English, which made them marketable.  Of course, they had to suffer some terrible experience to get there.  Their parents’ drug use was not, however, the primary reason they were there, unlike the children in foster care in the United States.

The Border at Los Manos
We got to the border in Los Manos about 2:00 in the afternoon.  Just as we got off the bus, a large group of men started cheering.  It turned out that someone had scored a goal in a soccer game on TV, but the timing was perfect.  We paid our 60 lempira exit fee ($3) and changed our money to cordobas without incident.  Our money changer was a woman, this time.  She was much less pushy than the guys were.  We walked across the border to immigration on the Nicaraguan side.  Nicaragua charges a $12 fee to enter, but they really only accepted exact change.  It took us forever to get out of there.  Patrick had $15 and they eventually managed to find him $3 change, although they tried to give it to me.  I gave them a $20, but they wouldn’t take it because someone had written on it.  Fortunately, I had exact change in cordobas.  I had to negotiate with the immigration officer for both Eliza and Brianna.  Eliza didn’t have dollars and her officer didn’t know how many cordobas to charge.  We eventually worked that out and got her through.  Brianna didn’t have any cordobas other than large bills.  She had to go back to the money changer to get smaller bills, but she still didn’t have exact change, so I ended up paying the last 20 cordobas just so we could finally get out of there.  We walked a little way further down the road and got on a chicken bus to Ocotal.

Our Room in Ocotal
For a chicken bus, our ride to Ocotal was pretty luxurious.  The overhead racks were big enough for our bags and the seats were extra wide and actually had padding.  We drove through dry mountains for an hour and a half or so and stopped at Ocotal because we didn’t think we could make it to Esteli or Matagalpa before dark.  We took a cheap taxi ride (about 75 cents each) to a hostel near the center of town and got two double rooms for about $8 each.  The place wasn’t attractive, but it was clean, the sheets were soft, and we had a huge TV and a quiet fan in our room.  The sketchy bit was that the town was under water rationing and didn’t have water on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  There was a tub of water with a dipper in it in the shower to use for bath water on the days when the water was off.  Fortunately, we were there on the weekend. 

Courtyard of our Hostel in Ocotal
 We all went out for dinner at a bar and restaurant called Campbell’s.  The food was actually very good.  I had pork fajitas.  Fajitas don’t come with tortillas in Nicaragua.  I got chips with mine, but they sometimes come with French fries.  Patrick and I had a couple of beers.  We drank Victorias which were not the same as the Victorias in Mexico.  They were actually pretty tasty.  After dinner, all four of us packed into our room to watch Red on our big TV.  I was so tired from two days in a row of five hours sleep that I passed out before the movie ended.  I slept like the dead.

May 25, 2014

"Garbage Truck" in Ocotal
Having passed out at 9:00 the night before, I woke up early.  At 6:00, I got up and spent an hour or so using the WiFi and working on my blog, trying to be quiet so as not to wake my roommate.  About 7:30, the others banged on our door.  We got out of there by shortly after 8:00, walked to the corner and caught another cheap taxi to the bus station.  This guy charged us about 60 cents each.  The bus terminal in Ocotal was surrounded by market stalls on three sides.  We could tell we weren’t in Honduras anymore because there were trash cans and people actually used them.  While we were there, we saw the garbage collectors come around.  The “garbage truck” was a trailer being pulled behind a large tractor. 

Patrick, Eliza and Brianna
The express bus to Esteli left at 9:00, so we didn’t have too long to wait.  It was a nice, comfortable Pullman bus and we got there in just over an hour.  The road to Esteli passed through more parched looking mountains covered with leafless trees, punctuated by the occasional bright red flowering acacias.  Esteli was a big town of 120,000 people.  It had seen heavy fighting during the war and was a Sandinista stronghold that still had strong leftist leanings.  I would have liked to go to the museum there, but we didn’t have time to stop.  The bus let us off at a gas station on the edge of town.  We needed to take another taxi ride to the southern bus terminal to catch our bus to Matagalpa.  We said goodbye to Patrick, who was headed for Sumoto, and hopped into the cab. 

Bus Terminal in Esteli

Video on the Bus to Matagalpa

The cabbie dropped us right in front of the gate for Matagalpa.  Once again, we didn’t have long to wait.  Our ride to Matagalpa was the best chicken bus I had seen thus far.  It had a large flat screen TV at the front that played music videos actually synched to the sound system.  We put our luggage behind the rear seats and the conductor made sure we sat in the back where we could keep an eye on it.  That turned out to be necessary because passengers and vendors went in and out of the rear door every time we slowed down to less than five miles per hour.  In Esteli, we saw lots of bicycles tossed on the rooftop luggage racks.  We rode for another couple of hours over the mountains, across a wide valley and then up into the mountains on the other side.  The valley was more fertile looking than the mountains, although it didn’t seem to be the growing season when we passed.  The bus terminal in Matagalpa was below the town.  We took the cheapest taxi yet to the other side of town for a total of about $1.50.  The driver was extremely pleased when I gave him a 10 cordoba (about 40 cents) tip.

My Room in Matagalpa
The girls wanted to go to the cheapest hostel in town.  It was cheap, but didn’t offer much in the way of amenities.  I got a private room for $10 and they got a double with a shared bath for about $8.  My room had a toilet and a shower, but no sink.  I had to use the sink in the courtyard to brush my teeth.  Surprisingly, my bed was the most comfortable mattress I had experienced since leaving home.  It was probably just a piece of foam, but at least it was comfy.  Even the sheets were nice.  They were exactly like some I had at home.  The hostel looked like a former stable or garage.  There was no WiFi.  There was, however, a large covered patio area with some rocking chairs and a cage containing two Amazon parrots who were amusing, but loud.  They could say, “hello,” in several languages.

Parrot in Matagalpa

After depositing our luggage at the hostel, we walked over to a restaurant called Monkey’s behind the church.  The power was out in the entire town, so the available menu items were limited.  I had spicy chicken wings with French fries and salad.  The fruit punch was very tasty.  After lunch, we started to walk up the hill to the overlook, but it started raining before we got very far, so we turned around and walked back to town.  We went into a couple of stores, looking for face wash for Breanna.  The grocery store also had a buffet.  Three dirty little boys under the age of 10, whom we had earlier seen smoking and making obscene gestures, begged me to buy them some beans and rice.  When I agreed, they asked if I would also buy some for their grandmother.  I fed all of them for about a dollar.  Then we returned to the hostel and spend the remainder of the afternoon reading, writing, washing and mending.  None of us were hungry, so we retired to our rooms and spent the evening in our windowless cells.  The girls’ room looked like a room in a whorehouse.  Mine was more like a janitorial closet with plumbing.

May 26, 2014
"Monkey's" in Matagalpa

While the parrots were covered and didn’t emit a peep in the morning, the neighbors’ rooster was not so polite.  All of us were awake by 6:00.  We set off to find breakfast at about 7:45, as checkout was at 9:00.  Most of the restaurants were closed and the open ones were all offering the same dismal breakfast buffet.  We wandered around until 8:00 when the coffee shops opened and ended up having breakfast at Seleccion Nicaraguense, the Nicaraguan version of Starbucks, minus the high prices.  I got a double latte and a piece of cheesecake for under $4.00, although that was exorbitant by Nicaraguan standards.  We hung around and used the free WiFi and then headed back to the hostel by 9:00.

We wanted to take a taxi back down to the bus station, but all the taxis were full by the time they reached our neighborhood.  We tried to find one for about 10 minutes until a gentleman convinced us that we should just walk there.  It was about ten blocks, but all downhill.  He walked with us to be sure we didn’t get lost and I talked with him along the way.  He was a former tourist guide from the collective farms outside of town, although he didn’t speak English.  When we got to the bus station, the shuttle bus for Leon was loading.  It was the last bus of the day, although it left at 10:00 am.  At first they said they didn’t have room for us.  We stood there, trying to figure out an alternate route to get to Leon, and eventually they took pity on us and packed us in.  Brianna got to sit in one of the back seats.  I sat on a beach chair suspended across the aisle on top of Brianna’s pack and Eliza sat on another beach chair on top of her pack.  My duffel was in the door well, where it fell out every time someone opened the door.  We rode like that for two hours, but at least it only cost us 74 cordobas (<$3) each. 

When we got to Leon, we were mobbed by young men with bicycle taxis who wanted to take us the long way to the hotel.  As there were three of us with three big bags, we looked around for a real taxi, but they were insistent that they could make it.  We packed into one of the bici-taxis and set off (fortunately) downhill.  We didn’t get very far before the rear wheel gave out and we had to switch to another bici-taxi.  I felt very exposed sitting in front of the driver.  I was certain we were going to smash into something as we careened down the hill, but we managed to survive the ride and arrived at the Tortuga Booluda Hostel in one piece.  Our taxi ride cost us 50 cordobas each, but it was worth it for the entertainment value.

Courtyard at Tortuga Booluda
The Tortuga Booluda was a cheerful hostel with colorful art on the walls and hammocks in the courtyard.  It wasn’t fancy, but had a self-service bar, nice kitchen and common area, and free pancakes in the morning, which attracted Eliza like a magnet.  The girls were going to get beds in the dorm, but I offered to pay the difference in price and got us a triple room.  Unfortunately, like all rooms I had stayed in in Central America, there was only one electrical outlet.  Plugging in two fans, a light, three phones and a computer involved lots of swapping plugs and a three-outlet extension cord.  Our room cost us $30.

Our Room at Tortuga Booluda
We were all hungry, so we set off in search of food as soon as we got moved in and oriented ourselves.  Eliza was a vegetarian, so we chose a vegetarian restaurant nearby.  The restaurant was run by a German woman and the food was fabulous.  I had spinach quesadillas that were more like crepes than tortillas.  Eliza had a delicious Indian Curry and Brianna had chop suey.  Just when we were sure we were going to eat there every day, the owner told us she was closing down for a week to go on vacation.  That was a huge disappointment as I think we were all planning to eat there frequently.  After lunch, I walked across town and dropped my dirty clothes off at the laundry.  It was 96 degrees out, so I was pretty wiped out when I got back.  I spent the rest of the afternoon reading in a hammock and couldn’t even move myself to go out to get dinner.  I munched a bag of chile peanuts and hung out in the room while the girls went out to see their friends.  The evening would have been perfect if I had not been attacked by huge flying insects that refused to be chased away and just laughed at me when I tried to smash them.  I finally had to turn off the light and go to sleep.

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