Nicaragua Trip: Day 1

Nothingshould be as easy as my trip up to Nicaragua was.  “Smooth” doesn’t begin to describe.

Sunrise over the Gulf of Nicoya. I love getting an early start on a new journey.

As usual, I jumped off from Carlos’ house, catching the 6 a.m. ferry to Puntarenas, where the plan was for he and I to catch a city bus to the first parada where I could later catch a bus to la cruce de Baranca.  We were going to have breakfast, and then I was going on to Nicaragua while he took care of business in Puntarenas and went home.  It didn’t quite go that way, though.

Not 10 stops after we caught the bus at the embarcadero, our bus pulled in behind another one and the driver announced that, if anyone was going to Baranca, the bus in front of us was the one we needed.  It wasn’t where we’d planned to part ways, but it was there, right then, and wouldn’t be back for an hour and a half.  In a hurried rush we said goodbye and I jumped from one bus to the other.

The ride to Baranca was easy, and at the crossroads with the Panamerican Highway I got off, just where I was supposed to.  I jogged across the highway and joined the small crowd waiting for a bus north.  The placard on the bus that was loading when I arrived said Tourismo, which I assumed meant it was a private bus and not for me.  Tourist buses are more expensive and you usually need to get advanced tickets.

I turned and asked a man near me, “Cuando es la proximo autobus a Peñas Blancas?

The view from the bus as we wait to cross the Nica/Tico border.

He smiled and gestured at the tourism bus, “Este,” he said. “Paso por aqui.”  I couldn’t believe my luck.  The bus in front of me was going my way, and wasn’t full.  I hopped on, happily paying the ¢5,000 fee (about $10).  It was a NicoExpress bus.  Express means fast.  Express means very few stops.  Express means air conditioning.  Express means one of the drivers took our passports into the Nicaraguan immigration office and checked us into the country while we waited.  Sweet!

We stopped once for a bathroom and food.  Stopped a second time in Liberia to pick up a few folks, then went straight to the frontier- a 4-hour run, all together.  After Liberia, the assistant driver turned and, after a few attempts and a sketched drawing, let me know that the bus was going through the border and on to a city somewhere in the northern bit of Nicaragua.  It wasn’t going to pass thorough Granada, but would let me off in Nandaime, where I could catch another bus to get where I was going.  Service from the frontier to Nandaime would be another ¢5,000, which I happily paid…it was worth not having to chicken-bus it all the way from the border to Granada.

The bus unloaded at the frontier so that we could all check out of Costa Rica, and we were swarmed by men, pushily waving cordobas at us and demanding that we exchange our colones for them.  They repeated over and over, “No colones!  No use colones en Nicaragua!  Solo cordobas!” Man, they were irritating!  I already knew that I could use American dollars, and that the exchange rate was roughly ¢20:$1.  I had American dollars, plus ¢40 that Carlos gave me, left over from the last visit he’d made northward.  You’ll get a lower exchange rate from those kinds of street hawkers than you will from a bank, so I stubbornly walked on by.

Fruit: just one of the many things to be purchased from street vendors as we wait.

Out of Costa Rica.  Back on the bus.  Into the Nicaraguan frontier.  The bus unloaded again while the driver checked us into the country.  The passengers pulled their luggage from the compartments under the bus and laid it on long, wooden tables to be checked.  But, in another stroke of luck, I didn’t have to bother.  My bags were small and stored in the overhead compartment inside the bus.  All I had to do was wait for everyone else.  Wow again.  No random stranger digging through my underwear and shampoo.  Woohoo!

It took almost an hour to get checked and back on the bus. If I had been traveling alone, it would have only taken about 15 minutes, since I wouldn’t have had to wait for everyone else, but it was a nice break from sitting.  I grabbed a  snack from one of the street vendors, used the bathroom, drank a bottle of water.  It wasn’t bad.

Back on the bus, we crossed into official Nicaraguan territory.  Within a few minutes I saw the most amazing thing off to my right- Lake Nicaragua.  Huge.  The size of one of the N. American Great Lakes, it’s big enough to have fairly large waves and, for a second, I thought it was the ocean.  It’s dotted with islets and a couple of massive volcanoes that I have been dying to see.

I don't know why, but the sight of these strikes a chord in me every time.

I also saw the first wind-turbines I’ve seen since I came south.  A whole field of them, massive, white, new, the stuff of science fiction as their huge arms turned lazily in the breeze, generating electricity.  I love wind-turbines.  They seem so beautiful and otherworldly, and they’re so good for the environment.

Eventually, in spite of my desire to stay awake to see, I dozed off.  An hour or so later the driver whistled and I jolted awake.  He looked over his shoulder to say, “Casi nos en Nandaime.”  We were almost at my stop.

In Nandaime, he not only stopped to let me off, he got off with me.  He showed me where to wait, asked one of the teenagers standing there how much the bus to Granada cost, and saw to it that the attendant would tell me when the right bus appeared.  It was the sweetest, kindest thing ever.  Surely I could have figured it out myself.  Most buses have placards in the window that declares their route.  But he wanted to make sure. I love that I have stumbled upon so much of that kind of kindness as I travel.  It blesses me.

The bus to Granada appeared within ½ an hour and both the attendant and the teenager told me, “Ya esta Aqui; a Granada.

The narrow sidestreets of Granada are deciptively calm. On the left of this block, there are 2 hostels, 1 restaurant, a day school, a tour office, and a cosmetics store.

I was in Granada, at Hostel Oasis by 3:30.  Wow.



Full of history.

Terracotta tile roofs, aged and weathered.

Wrought iron gates over massive, heavy, carved wooden doors.

Lushly gardened inner courtyards.

Richly painted walls, inside and out.

And that’s all of old Grananda, not just this hostel.


After settling into Oasis, I went just 2 doors down to grab the first real meal of my day. The one waiter stood at the open front, inviting people in.

Bright colors, elaborate entrances, and terracota tile are the signature of Spanish colonial architecture.

Both horse-drawn carriages and carts share the streets of Granada with cars, motorcycles, bikes, pedestrians, 3-wheeled 'taxis', stray dogs, street makes for an interesting smell.

My first sunset in Nicaragua. Breathtaking.