By boat and taxi and chicken bus

The day yesterday began at 4:30 am with a few sharp knocks on our door. We had decided the day before to leave El Castillo and settle in for the remainder of the trip in León. As was our luck all flights from San Carlos were booked up and we had a long travel day ahead of us.

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Sunrise in El Castillo

With bleary eyes I grabbed my backpack and we headed down the darkened street toward the port to begin our first leg of the journey on the 5 am boat from El Castillo to San Carlos. Luckily we got there slightly early as the boat began to quickly fill up and as the trip went on people were stuck standing. The normally three hour trip took longer due to the fact that we again stopped at every dock or bank along the way to pick up or drop off passengers. I slept off and on while the day grew hotter.

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Clark & Lam – super psyched about the boat ride

We arrived in San Carlos around 8:30 am just missing the early bus to Managua, the next one wasn’t leaving until 12. Getting a ticket at the bus station was slightly confusing but in hindsight here’s how it works: After getting off the boat the ayudantes (drivers’ helpers) are calling out the bus destinations and the time they leave. You can pre purchase a ticket which will then reserve a seat for you, otherwise you can take your chances buying on board and maybe standing up for the ride. The buses aren’t parked in the bays that they leave from because there isn’t enough room for all the buses, so what looks like an empty bay is actually where you board about 10 minutes before departure.

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Bus figured out – on to León!

So we purchased our tickets for the chicken bus to Managua (150 cordobas, roughly $6.50) and had a few hours to kill. San Carlos doesn’t have much to it, and even less on a Sunday. The mercado only had a few stalls open and the vegetable vendors were not out in force as they were when we first passed through. We took a walk up to the central park slightly up the hill, and then a bit further up to the remains of the fort of San Carlos. The “fort” as it was would not have been recognized as a fort had they not put a sign up near the two remaining walls telling you what had been there. We did manage to get a good view of the town layout though. With our time dwindling we had breakfast and then boarded the bus.

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Bus snack – they sell all kinds of food on the bus. You may be uncomfortable but you won’t starve

I had never been in a chicken bus before but had a read a bit to get the impression that the ride would not be first class. The buses are just old American or Canadian school buses, often repainted with designs and the destination/origination of the bus route. There is no AC and the windows need to be down to get decent air flowing through the bus. Even then it’s still hot. Every time the bus stops, which can be three times in as many minutes, the hot air stalls and settles on your skin. People get jammed in as tight as they can pack them in so you may, as I did, end up with someone’s butt half in your seat.

The upside to this is being able to be part of what is daily life for people in Nicaragua. The scenes out of the bus window were a view into how the rural and small town Nicaraguans live. Corrugated tin roofs are the norm, block walls or wood planks loosely nailed to framing constitute walls. There were chickens, stray dogs and pigs everywhere, our bus had to honk and slow down to get a few cows out of the road once. Most people are by our definition poor, and not in the they can’t afford to shop at Walmart kind of poor, they’re a probably have dirt floors kind of poor.

Once our 6.5 hour bus ride dropped us off in Managua we had to take a taxi roughly 30 min to the other bus station where the mini buses were which would take us to León. The taxi driver I’m pretty sure overcharged us but at only $4 a person was still not bad. We got dropped off halfway across town just in time to take the last four available seats in the mini bus to León. The 1.5 hour ride cost 46 cordobas ($2) a person, and was like the chicken bus only smaller and with windows that wouldn’t open on my side. The mini bus dropped us off in a sketchy looking part of town, or at least it appeared that way in the dark. We caught a cab for $4 to the hostel we had read about and luckily they had a room available for the four of us.

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Celebrating our arrival with El Comandante – the mural on a wall of our hostel room

After what ended up being a 17 hour travel day from door to do ended on a high note. Bigfoot Hostel is only $6 pp for our room, and when we got in it was pizza night at the adjoining cafe (large pizza and two mojitos for $7) so after dropping our bags in the room it was dinner time and then much deserved sleep.

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The perfect end to an arduous day

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Mmmmmmm…..mojitos!

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