Nicaragua Day 13: Travel from San Juan Del Sur to Managua

IMG_20141130_121124Having spent an amazing evening watching turtles nest at Playa La Flor, we woke up to our last morning in San Juan Del Sur determined to make the most of our last few hours. We had been talking about hiking up the Christ statue all week and made an unsuccessful attempt to find our way there one morning, so this was going to be the morning it really happened.

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We passed this little (big) guy on the way.

We packed up our room to check out of the hostel, although they let us leave our backpacks behind the reception desk until we were actually ready to leave town. We got going later than planned because packing always takes longer than expected, and I had slept in late with Torre after our adventures the night before, so the day was already hot. It was an extremely steep hike, and we tried to keep to the shade but it wasn’t always possible. Torre’s little arms got sunburned in the carrier because I straight up forgot to put sunscreen on this day, and my pulse was literally pounding through my face by the time we reached the top of a flight of stairs that concluded our journey up mansion mountain to this monument.

IMG_20141130_112621 IMG_20141130_113351Once we got there though, after I had time to catch my breath and rest in the breezy shade, it was really cool up there and definitely worth our efforts. I hadn’t realized there was a whole courtyard around the base of the statue, and there were people there with snacks and drinks who were obviously planning to spend a few hours hanging out above the heat. We stopped at the chapel under the statue, and then we headed back down for our travels to Managua!
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By now we considered ourselves fairly seasoned in travel through Nicaragua, so we asked a few taxi drivers at the market how much it would cost to get to Rivas where we planned to catch a bus to Managua. One driver told us $15, so we said we’d think about it, but we weren’t actually ready to leave yet because Matt wanted to take out cash in SJDS rather than use an ATM in Managua. When we left the bank, our taxi driver was waiting outside and offered us a lower price of $12 US to Rivas. We were happy with that, so we jumped in his beaten up taxi and sped out of town.

Our driver was so friendly, and he and Matt got chatting even across the language barrier. Along the way he stopped by his house and picked up his twin 9 year old sons so he could take them for a fun outing in Rivas. Since he had a fare to go there, he decided it would nice to take them swimming, which pretty much sums up his very positive and easygoing outlook on life! His boys sat one on the other’s lap, crammed in the corner of the back seat, while Torre sat on my lap in the opposite seat, and there was about 3 feet of space between us.

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A lookout across lake Managua to Ometepe Island’s twin volcanoes.

On the way we stopped for a quick photo (Torre slept through most of the drive and through this picture) at a scenic area our driver knew, and along the drive he also warned us to be careful in Manauga – he said even as a Nicaraguan he is always on edge and vigilant in this city. I appreciated his concern for us and shot up a renewed prayer for safety and smooth travels.

There was some confusion at the express bus stop where we wanted to be dropped since the men hanging around there insisted it would be a long wait and we might be better off to catch a chicken bus. We opted to take their advice, but then after being dropped off and wished well, some guy from the bus station let us know that the chicken bus was going to be a long time coming and a MUCH longer trip to Managua, definitely arriving after dark. We certainly did not want to get in after dark if we could help it, but when the man “helpfully” suggested his friend could taxi us back to the express bus station for $10 US we realized we might be getting hussled. We knew it was not far because it had only been a 2 minute drive from one bus station to the other, and our whole fare from San Juan Del Sur had been just over $10, but the man insisted it was simply not possible for us to take a taxi for 20 Cordobas each. The cost of fuel, the maintenance of the car, it just couldn’t be done.

Thanking the man for his advice, we went to approach the other taxi drivers waiting outside the bus station, but we hardly made it four steps when three different men rushed over to haggle for our fare. One man offered to take us for $1 each (about 24 cordobas), and another man instantly matched his offer. The first guy put my backpack in his bike taxi, while the bus station guy told us the other bike taxi was more official, and that taxi driver whipped out a laminated taxi driver ID to verify. I was completely unconvinced whether there was anything legitimate about this mickey mouse taxi license, and I was uncomfortable how pushy the bus station guy was, but we went with “more official” guy, and he pedaled us through a cinder block neighbourhood and dropped us off at an intersection where the express bus would allegedly pass by.

Having completely maxed out our Spanish skills by this point, I stood on the sidewalk while Matt ran into a corner store to buy a bottle of coke for the bus ride. Before he got out of the store, the big green bus we had taken from Managua almost a week ago barreled down the street, and I recognized the ayudante who loaded our backpacks under the bus and rushed us aboard just as Matt emerged from the store. I was praising God in my heart that we’d caught that bus and would not be stranded in Rivas or have to take a three hour chicken bus ride. The bus was packed with people, but I was given a seat after a few minutes of people shuffling, so Torre was able to doze, and I could give my arms a break from holding him up through all the lurching and the crush of other passengers.

The sun was setting when we finally arrived in Managua, but it was not yet dark, and we retrieved our backpacks from under the bus without any incident. We shared a taxi with another mom and son who were taking a bus to Leon that night, so we got dropped at our hotel and then she was taken further. Along the ride we got to chat a bit and found out she is Russian but has been living in Costa Rica and was thinking of moving to Nicaragua instead. We all spoke English because it was easier than Spanish for all of us, and we told her that we had really enjoyed Leon and wished her well on her trip.

We were disappointed to learn at the hotel that the taxi driver expected $7 for each of us (we thought we’d agreed to $7 flat, but oh well), then it was wonderful to settle in at a hotel with air conditioning, a pool, and a restaurant. Initially the restaurant menu looked amazing, but we were informed that of the 10 or so options, we actually had only 2 choices that were available. Then someone came out of the kitchen and told the server we could order chicken if we wanted, which we did. It turns out they sent a guy from the kitchen to go buy our chicken that we had for dinner – Nicaragua is so funny! It was a long wait but extremely delicious when the meal arrived, then we crashed into bed after a long day of sun and travelling looking forward to the highest highlight of our trip which would come the next day – a special visit to our Compassion sponsor child.

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