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    Is This the Isthmus? Tour – Nicaragua Part 1

    Monday, August 14, 2017
    Liberia, Costa Rica to Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

    The road to depart Costa Rica and enter Nicaragua.
    The road to depart Costa Rica and enter Nicaragua.

    I woke up bright and early this morning and, around 9:00 am, marched straight over to the bus terminal in Liberia. The only problem was it was the wrong bus terminal, reserved only for the Pulmitan line (sort of like Greyhound in the United States). A nice lady at an info booth there directed me over to a public bus terminal a block away. There, I hopped on a bus heading to Penas Blancas, a border post 90 minutes north.

    The road to depart Costa Rica and enter Nicaragua.
    The road to depart Costa Rica and enter Nicaragua.

    Just before the wheels started rolling, a middle-aged man stood up and started in on a sales pitch for knives, drill bits and other random household items, which he held aloft. It seemed so absurd and incongruous. I don’t believe there were any takers. A short while later, after the bus wheels went into motion, an old blind man stood up and started singing and playing harmonica. It was really quite charming. A few people,including me, gave him some change.

    After stopping in a small town called La Cruz, the bus pulled into Penas Blancas. First, I went into a bank to see if I could pay the Costa Rica exit tax, but a guard at the front door directed me to a stall across the street, where I ponied up the hefty sum of $8.00 and walked away with my receipt to show the customs agent. Then I returned to the bank to change my Costa Rican colones into Nicaraguan cordobas. Inside, the people in line were actually sitting down, so every time a transaction was completed up at the counter, everyone would move over one seat–sort of like musical chairs.

    Chicken buses at the terminal in Rivas, Nicaragua.
    Chicken buses at the terminal in Rivas, Nicaragua.

    Changing my money was a really slow, laborious process, as the clerk typed in all of my passport info, my whole life story, etc. into a computer, and checked and re-checked the money before she handed it over. I was surprised all of that was necessary just to change currency. Luckily, there was no line to depart Costa Rica, so the process went super fast. The customs agent never even picked up my departure tax receipt. I don’t even know if he glanced at it.

    A chicken bus squeezes through the narrow lanes of Rivas, Nicaragua.
    A chicken bus squeezes through the narrow lanes of Rivas, Nicaragua.

    Next, I walked down the road to enter Nicaragua. On the way, two or three times, some officials stopped me to check my passport. Amidst a bunch of market stalls was a building that looked like it could be customs, but it was hard to tell. At the entrance was a door mat with huge, raised edges that looked like they were designed to intentionally trip you up, which they almost did to me. It was bizarre! After walking around in circles for a while, I saw some other backpackers heading toward that building, so I trotted over and squeezed in right before most of them.

    I realized later that the Nicaraguan customs agent didn’t even ask for my customs form, which I forgot to fill out. Hmm, I wonder why? That’s never happened before. Customs agents in every country always ask for it. I was super lucky that there were no long lines. I’ve read that it can take up to several hours to make it through customs here. Anyway, after getting my luggage x-rayed, I exited the building and went to look for a bus to Rivas. I found what looked like a small bus terminal, but it was nearly deserted. After walking back and forth and around in circles again for a while, I finally went back over near the customs building and saw a gate with a bunch of buses and people on the other side.

    Lunch at the ferry docks in San Jorge, Nicaragua.
    Lunch at the ferry docks in San Jorge, Nicaragua.

    After showing my passport to a police officer, I made my way through the gate and jumped on a chicken bus (an old school bus) bound for Rivas. After 90 minutes, we pulled into the small bus terminal in the lively, if chaotic, little town that is covered with a web of narrow lanes glutted with color-splashed market stalls of every sort. For some strange reason, the fare collector never took my money when he collected everyone else’s in transit, so I paid him right before I got off. The instant I jumped off the bus, a bunch of extremely aggressive taxi cab touts were all over me. One of them, who looked maybe 15 years old, followed me around and hammered me with offers to take the taxi as I shot a few photos in and around the terminal.

    Ferries at the docks in San Jorge, Nicaragua.
    Ferries at the docks in San Jorge, Nicaragua.

    Although I told him repeatedly that I was going to take a chicken bus to San Jorge, he would not give up trying to convince me to take a taxi. Finally, a guy told me to wait for the San Jorge bus on the street right beside the terminal and the kid finally walked away. Even there, more taxi drivers tried to talk me into it. One of them even pleaded with me in a really sad tone of voice. I felt sorry for him, so I almost caved because it was only $3.00, but then again, the bus was only 30 cents! Plus, right then, the bus showed up. After I jumped on, the bus made its way around town, squeezing around impossibly tight corners and through extremely narrow lanes chock-full of completely overflowing market stalls.

    A short while later, after dropping off a few people, we reached the docks at San Jorge, where I bought a ferry ticket, then ate lunch at an open air cafe nearby. At 4:00 pm, I boarded the nearly empty ferry, an ancient-looking old boat that holds three decks of passengers and four vehicles in the back. By departure time at 4:30 pm, the whole ferry magically filled up with people–both locals and tourists–and vehicles, and started off for the one-hour journey to Isla de Ometepe. As we got closer to the island, which sits within Lake Nicaragua, the impressive Volcano Concepcion made itself known as it loomed authoritatively over everything.

    Volcano Concepcion on Isla de Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua.
    Volcano Concepcion on Isla de Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua.

    Disembarking at the pier, I walked up the main drag through the quaint little town of Moyogalpa. At the first hostel I checked out, a guy walked me back through a restaurant and past a bunch of laundry hanging on clotheslines in a family compound, where he proceeded to show me the dirtiest mattress and room I’ve ever laid eyes on. I immediately noped the heck out of there and kept walking. After reaching the end of the main drag, I hung a left and walked a quarter mile outside of town to Hospedaje Soma, a very clean, pleasant hostel owned by a polite man named Terry from Calgary, Canada. After grilling him for a while for tips on traveling in Nicaragua, I was happy to settle into a bed in a shared room for only $10 per night–especially after such a long, grueling travel day. What a relief!

    Words and photos ©2017 Arcane Candy.

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