Aug 20, 2005

Bum Brothers Bewildered at Border Battle

Another day, another country. This morning we woke up in a very nice (and not very expensive) hotel a block away from the Plaza Central in Leon, Nicaragua.

Plaza Central of Leon, Nicaragua

Much has happened since I last posted. First of all, the first edition of Micahs Missives has gone out over Google Groups with only one real hitch. When I started it I added a bunch of folks who I thought would be interested but the google folks over-rode my plan and sent invites instead. So, only those clever folks who figured out (or cared to) click the link in the e-mail actually signed up for the list. If you didn't get a group e-mail from me this morning but would like to in the future click here to sign up.

Secondly, I really appreciate all the comments on my last post. The pictures on the right of this screen are the very latest we uploaded but unfortunately there is no way to have them be the latest chronologically. I just checked out Google Earth, and decided that it may well be the coolest thing ever (Has anyone else read Snow Crash?). Unfortunately, without installing the free 200MB program I can´t do much with it. Perhaps when I get back to my computer at home I will be able to post all the pictures on an interactive map but until then I need to stay woefully behind the game. Perhaps if I can get to an internet cafe with some good image editing software I can make a map that traces our path like an Indiana Jones movie, but until then I´m going to post another country map with highlighted notes like this one:

Map of Nicaragua

If you click on the above map you will be taken to the Flickr site where you will see a little note about where we crossed the border. Easy, right? The actual Journey across the border was anything but.

Our book suggested it was an easy point to cross from Honduras into Nicaragua so we were lulled into a false sense of complacency. We rode into the border town of Guasole on a "chicken bus," one of the millions of ancient American school buses that now form the transportation backbone for Central America.

How many school buses have you ever seen in one place.  Here they stretch on for miles!

We skimmed the book and it mentioned we would need to pay an exit fee of a couple Dollars to Honduras, and a couple more for an entrance fee into Nicaragua (And yes, you can only pay in dollars. It isn´t legal to pay Lempiras nor Cordobas to either government. Interesting, no?). But then, we arrived. Immediately the bus was surrounded with at least forty men screaming at us. Before we got up from our seats there were people waving a thick stack of money through the window in my face screaming "Cambio, Change, You Want CORDOBAs, Cambio! Hables Ingles?!? Trust me! Trust me!"

We had no idea what we were in for. By the time we made it off the bus our bags disappeared from the roof and we were totally surrounded by pushing, sweating, screaming men. It was all I could do to keep my hand covering my wallet and try to look over the teaming humanity for our bags.

Our bags had found their way to being loaded onto two bicycle taxis. The drivers of which were demanding we embark immediately, but that they were good and we could trust them (as opposed to everyone else.) Tyler and I stood awash in the mob, stunned for a full minute with neither of us having any idea what to do next. I was finally forced to act when one enthusiastic money changer sprayed me in spit while trying to proclaim that I should change with him. I turned away in disgust and started to negociate with the guy I was now facing because we did need Nicaraguan Cordobas.

Tyler meanwhile, had somehow convinced them that we didn't need two bicycle taxis so they had shifted both bags onto one as I was agreeing to pay my new Amigo 1000 Limpera for 700 Cordoba (about $50). He made a great show of counting out the money, a several hundreds and then a mess of tens. Thinking something was odd I counted it before I before I handed him mine, 600 Cordobas. Bastard!

Tyler and I were standing back to back against this crowd like the last two warriors making a final stand against a vast army. I could hear Tyler negociating to exchange a 1000L of his own for 700C so I tried to hand back the 600C in my hand to my new Amigo. He didn't accept it until I made like I was going to drop it and then he roared with anger when I turned to someone else.

After having been ripped off by an awful exchange rate, but honestly so, Tyler and climbed aboard our bicycle taxi. Slowly, but surely, our Honduran driver started pushing us through the crowd. And as we got going faster the last straggler gave up running next to us begging to exchange more money.

We rolled on a quarter mile into immigration, where we were guided into the non linear mass of people at the departure window of Honduras for a stamp goodbye. After eyeing us suspiciously they charged us $3 apiece to note that we were leaving Honduras. We then shuffled two feet to the right and were confronted with a new grumpy beaurocrat behind a the same window who was to invite us into Nicaragua. He demanded $7 apiece to stamp our passports. It seemed a lot, not to mention odd that it needs to be in dollars, but we were in no position to argue. He breezed through Tylers passport, but mine proved to be slower. He started closely checking every stamp while repeatedly looking up at me to make sure I hadn't bolted. As I've now been to 33 countries, with most of them stamped in that passport, it took an uncomfortably long of time in front of a long line to get my expensive stamp.

We paid the fees, clambered aboard our skinny Honduran drivers taxi and started heading over the bridge. Somewhere along the way he was rattling on in spanish to another driver so fast we couldn't understand. We did pick out one word, "Gordo," a few times. Perhaps I should've been offended, to hear only the word "fat", repeated a few times while he was pedaling us along but I could hardly complain. After all, between the two of us (I prefer the term 'thickly muscled'), himself, the bike, and our bags he was easily pedaling 600lbs uphill in the hot noonday sun.

Eventually, after about a mile, as we were rolling up to the bus terminal a random Nicaraguan started jogging next to us. He politely was letting us know that we should give his friend "at least" 400C for his trouble. By the time we pulled in, they were both demanding it immediately

Not that I didn't appreciate our driver, I did, but he was asking for a LOT of money. In a country where the average person makes about $7.60 a day he was demanding about $20 for half an hours work. I gave him about 250 Lempiras, a bit over $10, and said it was more than fair. He said ok, until he had it in his hands, at which point he started saying that was only good for one of us! I caught it on the way to his pocket, and as we both held onto it I stared him down and continued to argue. Eventually, he said that was great with a brilliant smile, and proceeded to shake both of our hands and wished us an happy journey. His friend demanded an additional 100L tip. For What you might wonder but we didn't bother asking. We just shouldered our bags, turned our backs on him, and walked into Nicaragua.

Nicaraguan landscape from Bus en route


  1. Anonymous4:47 PM

    Love the map! Any way you could link specific pictures to the identified boxes in the maps? That way we can make a visual link as well.

  2. Anonymous4:30 AM

    Rebe referred me to this link as I'm from Nicaragua living in the usa! :) Too bad she didn't tell me before hand as I would have given you some pointers when dealing with nicas!!! One thing for sure, you need to be in high alert with them. :) And reading your post, yes, 10 dollars is too much; many demand 20 dollars and if you give them 5 they are happy. Good luck there!!! :)