Where does one begin to describe this journey? For most of the duration of this trip, I was at a loss for words myself. I’ll start from the very beginning…
Our bus was set to leave San Jose, CR at 4:00 a.m. on Monday morning. We stayed up all night Sunday so that we would be able to sleep on the bus for what was supposed to be a 17 hour trip to Tegucigalpa, Honduras. At 2:30 a.m., we left the house and headed towards San Jose. We checked in, got our seats and vouchers for breakfast, and got in line to board. The friends that dropped us off at the bus station told us that the voucher was for food that would be served on the bus. We were also told they would serve lunch on the bus at some point as well. Sounded like a good situation. Several hours into the trip, after having made several stops already, we asked someone when breakfast would be served. He spoke good English and told us that the voucher was good for food at the first stop only and that we needed to get off the bus to get breakfast. That’s great, thanks for making an announcement… not!
After about 5 hours, we made it to the first border crossing between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Before leaving, everyone told us to just follow the crowds and we’d be fine. The problem with that is Latin American people see most seemingly chaotic situations as normal, whereas I see the scene at the border crossing similar to herding cats. Half of these people have never crossed a border either so no one seems to know exactly where to go or what to do. Immediately after getting off the bus, we are pounced on by money exchangers who undoubtedly are awaiting to take advantage of anyone they can with obscure exchange rates. We walked to the immigration office where they quickly stamped our passports and checked us out of Costa Rica. We then went back to the bus to unload our luggage for it to be examined by the Nicaraguan side. Examined is actually a really terrible description of what took place. You unzip your bag, someone glances at it, and you put it back on the bus. There’s nothing to stop you from taking your bag off the bus, hovering around the crowds, then putting it right back on without ever having it checked. No one would know. To give you an idea of how disorganized and inefficient this process is, a woman smuggled her dog from one country to the next without an immigration official noticing it. Oddly enough, they don’t check personal bags at all which she was probably aware of as she had her little dog tucked into a large purse. Nonetheless, the border crossing took about an hour and a half, and we were on our way again.
We made it to Managua, Nicaragua at around 1:00 p.m. At this point we were starving. I hadn’t eaten anything since burgers on the grill form the evening before. Outside of the bus station, there was one little food stand… but since I don’t trust food from street vendors in the United States, I am certainly not trusting it in the middle of Nicaragua. We asked around and found out there is a mall nearby that wasn’t “too far” away to walk to. We only had 30 minutes before we had to check in for the next bus leaving to Honduras though. But you know how Andrew gets about his eating schedule… so he decided to run to the mall not knowing how far it’d be or how safe the surroundings were while I stayed with our stuff in the bus station. I gave him my watch and said if you haven’t made it there in ten minutes, you have to turn back. So he took off.
I waited extremely nervously in the bus station, never taking my eyes off the clock. About 25 minutes later, Andrew comes racing up to the bus station drenched in sweat holding a Burger King bag. He ordered me a chicken sandwich and himself a spicy chicken sandwich. The most amusing part was when we opened the bag, his was half the size of mine! Poor guy. I ended up sharing mine.
At 2:00 p.m., we were back on the bus and ready to head to Honduras! There are two border crossing between Nicaragua and Honduras. One is much closer to the capital city of Tegucigalpa, and the other is further from both Managua and Tegucigalpa. Naturally, the bus goes to the closest border crossing. At about 4:30 p.m. and about an hour away from the border, we hit a wall of traffic. There were cars, busses, trucks, motorcycles, etc., all over the place. We waited several hours to no avail. No one was saying what’s wrong or why the hold up. Finally, we get word that there are protesters at the border and we are potentially waiting on the president of Nicaragua to come and settle the dispute. There were only about a dozen of us on this bus and one of our fellow travelers was a mother with a 3 or 4 yr old daughter with Down Syndrome and a teenage son. Luckily, her teenage son knew enough English to explain what was happening. It started to get dark outside and there was a wave of panic that came over the mother as we realized we would be here for at least several more hours and she needed a way to feed her children, at the very least the little girl. We had been told that the borders were closed and would not reopen until 1:00 a.m. One of the bus drivers told us we could go out in a group to look for food nearby. I asked if it was safe and he responded that it was safe as long as we stayed in a group. Though to be honest, he looked awfully nervous and not very confident in his response. I looked out the window and you could just see tons of people randomly out and about on bikes and lingering near the traffic. It gave me the feeling that sharks were circling. Nonetheless, a group of about 6 of us exited the bus in search of something to eat. The first place we went to was already out of food. Same with the second place. As we were walking even further away from the bus to the next place, Andrew and I looked at each other and said this situation could take a turn for the worse at any moment and become very dangerous. It’s a good thing we had no contact with the outside world to let them know what was happening at this point, because I could just imagine our family and friends freaking out.
Finally, we came upon a third place that was making sandwiches as quickly as they could. I asked what they were made of and they said chicken. There weren’t any other options so we took 3 sandwiches to split. We were afraid they would be price gouging the heck out of everyone since people were stranded with no other options, but quite surprisingly, they charged $0.50 each. As we were waiting for the others, we sat outside and ate the sandwiches. I am easily the pickiest eater that I have ever known, so I was awfully skeptical. It was chicken mixed with some unidentifiable sauce, but it wasn’t bad. My only complaint was the random chicken bone that was in mine. Such is life I guess.
We headed back to the bus with our group and settled in for what we thought would be 4 or 5 hours until the border reopened. Everyone was able to spread out and sleep some with so few people on the bus. I woke up sometime just after 1:00 a.m. and we were in the same spot. It made sense since the borders were supposed to have just opened and we were an hour away so traffic probably hasn’t had the chance to start moving yet. I woke up again around 3:30 a.m. and we were still in the same spot. At this point, I knew there was a problem. There was no reason we shouldn’t have moved some by now. As the sun was coming up and daylight was approaching, the bus driver made the announcement that the border had not reopened and we were going to make the 3 hour trip back to Managua.
On the 3 hour drive back to Managua, Andrew and I started to think of back up plans. What if we attempted another border crossing and it was still closed? Would we try to go back to Costa Rica? All this time, we had not been able to connect to any WiFi so we had no way of letting our friend who was picking us up in Honduras know what the situation was. Come to find out later, the Transnica staff at the bus station in Tegucigalpa did not tell the people waiting for all of us that we were not coming. Our friend waited from 10:00 p.m. until 4:00 a.m. for us.
After arriving back in Managua, we had 5 hours to wait until the next bus would leave for Honduras again at 2:00 p.m. We decided to head back to the mall, but this time we were both going and therefore had to bring all of our stuff with us. Luckily, we packed very lightly and had 2 carry-ons and a backpack. When Andrew ran the entire way to the mall the day before to get us lunch, I had no idea how far it really was. He truly was running the whole time to make it there and back that fast. And Nicaragua is hot, hot, hot. The route to the mall is also quite questionable. Most of the area we are walking through is extremely desolate, not to mention we are 2 gringos walking around with all of our belongings. I just remember thinking the entire time… yep, this another one of those things that when we tell people about it later, they are going to tell us how foolish and dangerous this was. We came to the intersection just before the mall and it almost seemed like another protest happening. These are a protesting group of people!
We got into the mall and went to the food court. It was probably only 10:00 a.m. but we ordered ourselves some Quiznos subs and water, not bottled though. Ideally, one should probably google where its safe to drink the water in different parts of the world prior to traveling… but we did not. Although Andrew and I have differing opinions on this, I stand by the fact that drinking this water messed up my stomach some while I was in Honduras. I don’t think it was the food because I tend to have a very resilient stomach when it comes to new and different types of foods. But Andrew, the king of stomach problems, was perfectly fine. Go figure. Nevertheless, we spent a couple hours in the food court just relaxing and people watching. It was air conditioned while oddly enough, the rest of the mall seemed significantly warmer and less comfortable. Both of us went to the bathroom and brushed our teeth. Going 36 hours without a shower is one thing, going 36 hours without brushing your teeth is a whole different story. Andrew also attempted to put in his contacts in the bathroom. When we packed our stuff Sunday night, I had handed him a travel size bottle of what I thought was contact solution that was left in one of the bathrooms here. He squirted that stuff all over his contact and went to put it in his eye. Apparently, it was acidic cleaning solution (not intended for direct contact with the eye) and expired 3 years ago. He says it felt like his eye was immediately on fire. When he came out of the bathroom and sat back down at the table, he was still wearing his glasses and one eye was noticeably very, very red. He told me the story and I was crying because I was laughing so hard.
As we are sitting in the food court, I kept mentioning to Andrew that it sounded like it was raining outside and that we should probably check it out. We were near windows though and couldn’t see any rain. Sure enough, we walk to the front of the mall to leave and it is most definitely raining. I suggested us taking a taxi to the bus station because it would probably only cost a couple of dollars. Wouldn’t you know, there is not a taxi in sight. I am not sure they are even allowed in the gated parking lot of the mall where the entrance is. No choice but to start walking in the rain. It took about 15 minutes so it had to be close to a mile away. Needless to say, we were soaked by the time we got back to the bus station.
We loaded the bus again at 2:00 p.m. to attempt to cross at the other border. All was well until again, we hit a wall of traffic. This time we sat in traffic for about 2 hours while more people were protesting. We made it past them. If you can even imagine such a thing, about an hour after we passed the protesters… we got a flat tire. That was another 45 minutes trying to fix that. Luckily, at an obscure truck stop in the middle of nowhere, we were able to pick up WiFi and send a message to our friend to explain the situation to her. When we finally made it to the border, we didn’t have to get out of the bus or take off any of our luggage to be inspected. I thought this was kind of odd but assumed that maybe it was because it was the middle of the night and they were just being lazy. But apparently the border to get into Honduras doesn’t usually check luggage. I would make some comment about how inefficient and unsafe that is… but we all now know how well the Nicaraguans’ luggage checks go. They might as well not even do them either.
Just after 2:00 a.m., we pull into the bus station in Tegucigalpa… almost a full 48 hours after we left our house. And thank God, our friend is right there waiting for us.