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Saturday, June 1, 2013

From Managua to Leon in 90 Minutes

The pilot pulled a double bump landing, bouncing us twice before the plane slowed and headed to our gate. It was a little past midnight in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua and home to roughly 25% of the population. The largest country in Central America, Nicaragua has been witnessing tremendous growth in tourism - and I am here to help push that along.

After going through immigration, paying for the $10 tourist card, and zipping through customs, I was on the hunt for my taxi driver who was supposedly dispatched by my hostel. 

I ushered away the taxi drivers following me, and continued my search for the driver who seemed to be playing hide and go seek with me. After 10 minutes of futile searching, I gave in to the next taxi driver who approached me. The night wasn't getting any younger. 

I followed him as he led me across the road that separated the airport waiting area from the parking lot. Then I continued following him as he kept walking through the parking lot and onto the street. By that point, I was in an area that was dark and less than ideal for one in the morning. As I was about to ask him "Donde esta el auto?" we had arrived.

The cab was like any other. Except the windows had some post-manufacturing work done. The top eighth of each window had been separated from its seven-eighth counterpart and pulled out so it formed a concave structure. This in effect allowed air to circulate and flow in without having to roll the windows down. Since robbery through open windows is more common than not, this safety feature made me forget about the fact that the taxi driver had probably just  illegally solicited my ride. 

As we sped through the night, my eyes tried to absorb as much as my cones and rods could capture in the dimly lit streets.  Most buildings were made of one story.  Each had four walls and topped with metal sheets.  As we got closer to the hostel, the change in the environs was startling.  Metal sheets were replaced with bricks, clay, or wood. Empty fronts were suddenly occupied by garages and automobiles. Entrances were now guarded by locked fences surrounding each property. Such was the case when I arrived at Managua Backpackers twenty minutes later. 

Since the woman checking me in didn't speak English and my Spanish is less than rudimentary, I decided to leave the case of the missing taxi driver to be solved in the morning. A morning that came sooner than I thought. 

I woke up to the sounds of birds chirping amid the buzzing of saws under construction duty.  6AM.  Though I should had been tired, I wasn't.  Besides, I couldn't fall back asleep so I gave myself a tour of the hostel.  The bathroom, as with everywhere else, was clean but seemed to have mosquitoes as its permanent residents. The common room was nondescript, with a couple sofas and chairs and a TV. The back, however, came to me as a surprise. Under the auspices of gray clouds laid a swimming pool and hammocks alongside the hostel cafe. 

Unfortunately, I wasn't staying long enough to make full use of them. Plus, a look at the weather forecast revealed a rather dreary week, with rain expected everyday. In fact, rain was expected in half an hour. With that in mind, I quickly got ready and hauled my bum out of there. I had a twenty minute walk to the bus terminals and walking in the rain with all my gear was out of the question. After settling the taxi issue and asking one of the hostel guys to draw me a map, I hustled out. 

Under the filter of day light, the dark and gray neighborhood of the night before was now painted in pastel colors that gave each house a vibrancy that the night had previously hidden. As I strolled along, following the map I had committed to memory, taxis passing by honked at me. I guess me carrying a 70L backpack doesn't exactly help me blend in. I waved and kept walking. 

As I approached the bus terminal, which is a rather generous term for what felt like a market for the ability to cram as many people as possible into a vehicle, I caught sight of a rectangular object on my path. I thought it was a broken tree branch, but as I approached closer, I realized it was an extremely emaciated stray dog. As I would later find out, this was a common sight not only among stray dogs, but farmed cattle and horses as well. 

I quickly found a van heading northward towards the colonial city of Leon. For the price of 51 Cordobas (~2 USD or 1.5 liters of gas), I was invited into the remaining seat at the back.  I soon realized I was the only non-local among the 16 of us. 

With nowhere else but my lap to put my backpack, I found myself with a view of my backpack to the front, a less than happy Nicaraguan gentleman to my left, and a sleeping daughter to the right.  I was secretly hoping the ride wouldn't be as jerky as my bus ride to NYC. Otherwise I may unexpectedly find my face meeting the back of my backpack during a deceleration. 

With Spanish notes flowing from the radio and cold air blowing on my face, the 90 minute ride started. 

As we drove toward the periphery of Managua, we past by several mini mercados lined with fruit stands and other stations selling shoes, sunglasses, clothing, trinkets, etc. 

Slowly, the scenery changed from merchants to homes, some of which had fabric for walls and makeshift fences consisting of tree branches strung together by wire.  We passed by a car dealership - the juxtaposition of a luxury good within the neighborhood was an odd one. 

Homes eventually became golden fields covered by dry grass and cattle standing lazily in the hot humid heat. Like the dog I witnessed earlier, the cows appeared to be nothing but a cloth draped over a skeleton with barely any supporting muscle.  The landscape remained the same for most of the trip. 

With an unchanging scenery, I slowly started to doze off. But, afraid that I may find myself invading the private space of either passengers beside me, I fought to stay awake.  With about twenty minutes left to the trip and after slowing down for a cattle crossing, the driver pulled over to a gas station. It wasn't to get gas. It was to collect our fares. With the nearest town a couple hours' walk from our position, not paying wasn't am option. 

At the Leon bus terminal, I found myself a taxi, the driver of which was giving me little confidence he knew where my hostel was located. Since addresses are written relative to major landmarks (e.g., 1 block north of the Cathedral), it is a requisite for drivers to be aware of the city's markings. Nevertheless, my driver eventually tried dropping me off at a hostel that wasn't mine. I insisted he was wrong until he got out of the cab and asked for directions.  Five minutes later I found myself in front of Latina Hostal. 

Next up, a night out on a volcano...

-posted from Leon-
-excuse the formatting as I have limited ability to edit via mobile-


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