After buying bus tickets for the trip from San Salvador to Esteli, on Transporte del Sol for $45 each, we left the beach at El Tunco for the hour ride by shuttle to San Salvador. To catch the shuttle you need to walk through town, out the guarded exit gate to the main road…and wait. Eventually shuttle 102 comes barreling around the corner and seeing two lasses laden with backpacks, it stops.
We climbed on board, paid our $1.50 (El Salvador adopted the U.S. dollar as its national currency) and immediately began to wonder where to get off.
A young woman eventually got on and sat in my row. I attempted to engage her in conversation, hoping she would know where the stop for la feria was. I know she understood me, but given her curt one word answers, I doubted her helpfulness. A bummer because everyone in Central America has been so friendly and helpful, until now. She repeatedly affirmed that our stop was at the end. It wasn’t. The last stop was the chicken bus station. We ended up asking the driver, who motioned for a taxi to come over and $7.00 later the taxi dropped us at the hotel that we planned to stay. It was right on the shuttle route. Frick. Wasted time and money.
We were told by the tour dude from whom we bought the bus ticket that this hotel was close to the Del Sol bus stop and only $32 per night. The hotel was beautiful. But it was $45 per night if you were not riding Tica Bus. We decided to try another hostel that we had heard about. We negotiated a $4 taxi ride (down from $7) and got dropped at JoAnn’s hostel. It looked like someone’s house!
Unsure what to do, we were happy our taxi driver rapped on the door and rang the bell. A young man opened the door. A glimpse inside and I was convinced we were at the wrong place. It really looked like a private living room. Fortunately, the guy opened the door wide and motioned for us to come in. He then went thru one door and suddenly the left top wall of the living room rolled up to reveal a reception desk. We had arrived!
With only a few hours of daylight left, we got directions to walk to the public bus to go to the mall. That’s about all there really is to see in a a few hours in San Salvador other than churches. Oh and fast food! There seems to be a McDonald’s, Wendy’s or Burger King on every corner.
Anyway, we walked to the main road and then had to cross over using a high pedestrian bridge. On the other side we asked which bus to go to the metro plex. A helpful lady told us we had to go to the other side. So, back over the pedestrian bridge we went. This time another helpful woman told us we needed to be on the other side!
Turns out the first person thought we meant the city center which is metro center, we needed multiplex, not metroplex. Our fault! We climbed the steps again to cross the road. This time we jumped on a bus and rode a whole 5 blocks, lol, to the mall. For as many times as we crossed the pedestrian bridge, we could have walked! Lol.
The mall was like any U.S. mall complete with a food court.
The main attraction, however, seemed to be the strategically stationed big screen t.v.’s broadcasting the World Cup games.
We then strolled over to Walmart (I know, yuck! But we needed things we couldn’t find anywhere else!). We immediately noticed two guys who looked (like us) out of place. They were having fun dancing with the costume characters. They heard us speaking English and their heads whipped around. A second later we were all high-fiving like long lost friends!
The guys were stationed in San Salvador with the U.S. Navy. They gave us a ride back to our hostel and promised to join up with us in a few hours. A guy from Columbia was also staying at the hostel and when our new friends arrived the five of us walked down the street in search of dinner. Although the neighborhood seemed pleasant, we definitely would not have ventured out at night without our escorts!
The next morning we took a taxi to the Transporte del Sol bus station for the 8 hour trip to Esteli, Nicaragua. We were looking forward to a relaxing ride on this luxury bus that promised wi-fi, movies, food and drinks. It could not have been more different than expected. A few minutes after departure we asked about wi-fi. No wi-fi. Some busses have it. Not ours. Damn. We had paid extra for this bus over Tica bus because of the promise of wi-fi. Within seconds of departure, a movie was started. It was a French film, dubbed over in Spanish, with Spanish subtitles. Useless for us. And worse, they had the volume turned up so loud you couldn’t sleep or think or do anything except cover your ears and silently scream. Next, the bus attendant walked down the center aisle depositing breakfast in our laps. A warm juice box and a Twinkie-like thing. I asked “Este es desayuno?” She just looked at me like, yea, what’s the problem?
Then came the border crossings. El Salvador into Honduras and then Honduras into Nicaragua. Having crossed several borders at this point, we weren’t worried. That is, until the attendant came and demanded our passports and $18 for the crossing fees. It seems they handle the crossing for you. That may appear like a nice service, except neither of us wanted our passport out of our sight and possession. Plus, we knew the border crossing fees should only have been $16. It is free to exit El Salvador, $3 to enter Honduras, free to leave, and a ridiculous $13 to enter Nicaragua. What was the other $2 for? When questioned the attendant said the fees were different than what we knew them to be. At the Nicaragua border I asked a Nicaraguan citizen riding the bus how much he paid and it was just $3, the entrance fee for Honduras. I know it’s just $2, but I was pissed. We had been getting better at not getting ripped off by the “gringo tax” and now this. But what could we do, really? The attendant had our passports and wasn’t backing down on the inflated charge, which likely ended up in her pocket.
The Nicaragua crossing was interesting. We had to get off the bus in Honduras and walk (without our passports) into Nicaragua. There they then had us take our bags out of the bus and line up for inspection. It went smoothly, though.
Anyway, back to the food. Lunch was tolerable. The bus pulled to the side of the highway at a roadside stand. Ordered the number of to go meals as riders, and then continued on. Lunch was a tortilla, bland chicken and rice, and a few pieces of lettuce and a tomato slice. Admittedly, better than airline food, but still gross. Just after we entered Nicaragua the attendant handed me a baggie containing the nastiest looking sandwich I had ever seen. It smelled like rotten peanut butter and looked like cat food topped with wilted lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. No way I was eating that.
Then there was the drop off. We had bought tickets for the bus from Leon to Managua with instructions to be dropped off along the way in Esteli. (You can’t just buy a ticket to Esteli, you have to pay for the whole route.) Well, dropping us is exactly what they did. With the movie volume blaring, there is no way we could have heard the attendant yell out Esteli. So when the bus suddenly veered into a gas station parking lot, we just sat there, not knowing that this was Esteli. The attendant started flapping her arms at us and we realized we were to get off. We threw all of our crap quickly into a bag, stumbled off the bus to where our larger bags under the bus had been unceremoniously dumped, choked on the plume of diesel exhaust blowing out the back of the rapidly departing bus and looked around, bewildered. Where the hell are we?
[To be continued…]
Audrey and Rhiannon – hungry, wi-fi-less, travelers traipsing around Nicaragua without a clue (or breakfast!)