For a start, there was a fiasco with the airline—they said I must have proof of return travel. I knew this was a possibility, but I’d researched online— it didn’t say anywhere that this was a requirement for entry into Nicaragua, so I figured it would be ok. Wrong. In the airport, I bought ticket on my phone to show the check-in counter, and then immediately cancelled it after I was issued my boarding. Who knows when I want to leave?!
Upon arrival in Nicaragua, I was met at the airport by a cute, shy teen. He said “I help” and carried my suitcase. Then “I help” when I struggled with the seatbelt. He jammed it into place with force bordering on violence that was clearly necessary. It’s a little unnerving to show up as a single woman in the dark, but all was fine.
Today I woke up, chugged some coffee and found the route to the mall. Before I went, I looked up how much the exchange rate should be in the XE app. I had overheard people talking at breakfast about the numbers but didn’t put it together until much later that it wasn’t a match. I walked up and down the corridors, with most of my fellow shoppers staring at me. I found the ATM with its gunman at the ready and punched in a number. The ATM said no, so I divided the number by 10. It spat out money and I thought about the denominations available and realized I’d received much more than I had hoped for. I stressed for a moment as I cruised the mall at high speed looking for the bathroom to stow my cordoba in various separate pockets. I went to the grocery store and found some bus snacks. I perused every aisle, trying not to look like someone packing a fair chunk of cash as everyone looked at me. Back at the hostel, I felt better and safer. Maybe I didn’t need to worry so much after all. I realized I’d been looking at Indian Rupee, not Nicaraguan cordoba. Oops.
I laid in a hammock and ate some snacks then had a refreshing, rejuvenating dip in the pool. It was shorter than I would have liked, but I had to check out. I also booked an airport shuttle. I was supposed to meet the SJDS shuttle at the airport at 13:30. I thought I had all of my ducks in a row, quacking in unison.
While I waited for my shuttle, I stuffed some chips unceremoniously into my mouth in the hammock. A guy at a table nearby asked where I was going- and I informed him of my plan and its price. He wanted in so he asked if I had a way to contact them. I showed him the phone number. He called and tried to confirm my passage, but they firmly told him the bus had left at 11:30 and was in Granada by now. He asked if I wanted to talk to them. No. He hung up. The once-daily bus left without me. Rude. He said his plan had been to go on an express bus but we’d have to leave NOW. Um… Oh. Well…. Let’s go! I made a quick stop in the bathroom and then at the desk, he suggested we ask the price for a taxi to the bus station and I asked for a refund for my other shuttle to the now-missing shuttle. The man at the desk was rather flustered and upset, but returned my money. As he counted, we had a brief introduction and I learned my new friend was named Evan. We hurried out the door and Evan stopped. I urged us on to the main street and as soon as we got to the corner, a taxi honked at us. I knew my bulky suitcase would attract attention! And I knew a main street was taxi-gold from living in Beijing. We spent about 3 full minutes trying to say the name of the bus station we needed to go to. I said to San Juan del Sur and he said something that sounded like what the receptionist said, but not quite like what Evan said, which sounded like rhombus. Eventually, we just got in and sped off. Evan still worked on the name, but the taxi driver and I just smiled at each other. Upon arrival at the station, men came to the taxi and asked where we were going. They nodded and took our bags on their heads to a bus. We paid the taxi and hurried after our luggage. They shoved it in the back door of a bus, the door which I thought is usually reserved for the emergency exit. We got on and I got out to double check we were going to San Juan del Sur. The back of the bus did NOT say San Juan del Sur. Everyone said, si, directo! I said express and they nodded. Si, si. Ok! We took off promptly at 1. It was a nice ride through industry, farm, and tourista goods. Evan and I had similar stories and outlooks and he was interested in my yoga world. We checked the map periodically and when the ticket vendor came, he said Rivas among other words and we just nodded along and handed over our money as we continued to chat. After a while, we understood that the bus was going to San Gorge, not San Juan del Sur. Excuse me, what happened to directo? SJDS? Si, si, si. OH REALLY. We got out the back door and ignored a taxi in favor of a bicycle rickshaw. We were delivered to the bus station and a taxi driver came up immediately, saying the next bus wasn’t for 2 hours- at 5 o’clock. I had some doubts and when we started to move to the station to check, he dropped the price to $15 and we agreed. I liked that here, the men look at me for the decision too. In Asia, I was often ignored as a woman. We were led to a different man and his beat-up car. When I say beat up, you need to multiply the damage you’re imagining by 5. The car wouldn’t start. The fabric was peeling off of the doors and seat. Metal was missing near the lopsided trunk. It was bad. But the windows were down and a breeze rolled in once we got going so it was fine. Evan and I compared destinations and found we were going to places across the street from each other. I said we were clearly supposed to meet. It all just fell together too easily.
We traded contact info at our stop and I went into my hostel via the surf board shop accidentally. It was really cool inside- lots of colors and fun painting on the walls and floor. The new volunteer coordinator led me around, introducing all of the soon-to-be-familiar smiling faces. I know Theresa and Johanna were at the laundry. That’s all I got. The studio looked nice. Even better than I imagined- a nice mural on the wall and a sort of stage. Do I sit up there?! Apparently, the teacher who was supposed to be July-August also left already. It’s really, truly only me. We sat in the lobby for a bit while Isaac called “the boss” about my “interview.” At this stage, I’m all he’s got so I assume he meant meet-and-greet or chat of some sort. He said we’d deal tomorrow and we loaded my stuff into a tourist van/truck. In the car, the break wouldn’t release. We spent over 5 minutes sitting there while Isaac pulled at the lever. We drove out of town a few blocks and he stopped. I realized after a dazed moment that we must be “there.” I watched a local woman go through the gate. Oook! Isaac led the way and I helped carry my bag from behind. He admitted it was heavy rather than being “macho” and taking it on his own. We passed a couple of doorways, through a small garden and went up some steps to a barred doorway. He fiddled with a lock and opened it. I was shown to the last room at the back. Inside, there was a sort of hallway-esque common area with a table and 2 chairs and a kitchen set up at the end. The kitchen was overflowing with dishes and bottles. There were 8 doors. At first, I thought only one was a bathroom (but there are 2). My room had a bunk bed only. Its corrugated metal ceiling does not quite meet the rough edges of the wall. There were 2 high windows, a collection of mini dusty buggy things on the floor, cobwebs, and a nasty large decomposing bug lodged in the fan blades. I decided I must clean the next day.
I went with Isaac back to town and used their internet to message family and boyfriend that I was still alive. I went to see the sea- Ocean Pacifico- and then headed for a place called “Buddha Garden” with vegan raw and organic option. Hello, gluten free? On the way, Evan spotted me and shouted out KATE! I came over and collected him as a dinner buddy. We walked through the garden with a yoga class in progress upstairs and then past the ocean-front dining options and settled on a tapas place. The waitress was from Spain and said she sometimes goes for yoga at the studio that will be MINE. She was keen to come and Evan had already said he’d give it a try. Both said they were beginners and seemed enthusiastic. I think Isabel, the waitress, was disappointed when I left without taking the shell she gave me.
At the end of the night, I had to walk home alone in the dark. I was a bit nervous about that. I passed lots of chatting groups though and lots of people were still out, many sitting on porches. Isabel had said no one’s out at 10/11 so I suppose I was safe at 7 even though it was dark. Every time I thought someone looked a little shifty, when I got close, they said… “hola.”