|We woke at 4:35am in Liberia to catch the first bus to the border that leaves at 5:30. We dress quickly, throw our packs on and head into the early morning darkness. We arrive at the designated bus station to find Denine and Michael already at the entrance. Wrong place, however, and we are told to walk across the square to another waiting station. There we spot Rob and Olivia who, having arrived slightly earlier still, have assessed the wait to be beyond the 5:30 bus. We'll have to wait for the 8:30 bus (maybe). The six of us decide that a cab ride will be the best bet, and if we split the fair, it won't be expensive at all. We strap our bags to the roof, pile in, and off we go.
An hour and a half later we arrive at Penas Blancas at about 7 am, and then... then we wait. Happy to have the pleasant company of our fellow travellers there isn't anything to do but make the best of our predicament. Getting to know one another, trading information, and taking in the sights and sounds of the bustling border scene is enough to make the predictable annoyance of waiting in a line much lesser evil. And it is a scene. A cross between an airport security queue, a dilapidated Phish concert, and the Yarmouth Clam Festival there was alot to take in. The main concern was simply the number of people crossing the border in the days before Christmas. Because this northern region of Guanacaste was once annexed from Nicaragua by Costa Rica and because many Nicaraguans work in Costa Rica most of the year, the majority of those in line where heading back to see there families for the holiday. One woman we met had not been home since the previous Christmas, but even with that consideration, she was kind enough to invite the two of us to home to share in her families celebration. (We had a good laugh thinking about the look on her parent's and grandparent's faces when she walked through the door followed by the two of us.) Of course, the sincerity of her offer was true and even though we didn't accept, it was poignant moment to think of her unflinching kindnesss to a couple of strangers.
So.... Five and a half hours later the novelty of this line is wearing thin. Apparently the power has gone out in the processing center, and although we're right at the front of the line we're going nowhere fast. Time will tell, however, and our patience pays off after what we calculate to be a six and a half hour wait. Of course you would expect a balloon and a warm shower as reward for this marathon, but all we receive is a quick stamp on our passports, and a point to the door ,"There, Nicaragua."
We had decided to shoot straight to the city of Granada, and although our companions are off in different directions, we remain tight until we get through the remaining border process. Once our passports have been stamped we still have to walk the kilometer to the Nicaraguan clearing house, pay the border fee, and find our bus north. Holy doodle!
Nicaragua is noticebly different to Costa Rica if only in a sort of hummed desperation. The young children are about us quickly trying to sell us a government border documents, candy, fruit, and hammocks. In efforts to locate the bus station we are ushered toward a fence-line, the gate to which is guarded by a handful of officials who insist we a pay an additional dollar to the seven we already paid. But what can we do? The man who holds the key to gate is the man who holds the key to gate, and if you want to see the mayhem on the other side you simply need to pay the dollar.
Here's where it gets a little slippery, though. Once we step through the gate we are truly swarmed by taxi drivers, bus drivers, peddlers, and children. We lose quick sight of our companions, who having made taxi arrangements, are sent in an opposite direction. We didn't get the chance to give them a proper goodbye, nor even to exchange emails. Our problem, within the confusion, is to find the proper bus, but we can't seem to get a straight answer from anyone, and at best we're reluctant to leave eachother or our bags with the teenagers guarding the underneath baggage compartments. We are looking for the bus to Rivas, to switch to Granada, but "no" we're told, "There is no bus to Rivas. Take this bus to Managua and then transfer to Granada. Its the best way." We are not interested in Managua, and having little other choice, surrender to the idea that we do not like our current situation.
We spot a couple fellow backpackers who are seemingly involved in the same situation, and having been offered a direct $10 cab ride straight to Granada, we ask to see if they are interested in splitting the ride. The answer is "Yes", and with a long trail of contending parties behind us we make our way to the cab. Bags in the trunk, and we're off.
The time, 5 pm.