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Day 28 Ometepe back to San Jose

Written on: Monday August 20th, 2007

A journal entry from: Central America Road Trip 2007

Got up this morning and my ankle was as swollen as ever. No hike to any waterfall today. And for that matter, not much point hanging out there at all. I decide I'm close enough to the end of my trip and I've accomplished enough as well, that I might as well head back to San Jose, where I can more easily convalesce for the last couple of days before my flight.

I head over to Yogi's Cafe to grab some breakfast and to chat a little more with Jerry until I have to leave for the ferry, but the cook is not in yet and by the time Jerry stops talking I figure I don't have enough time left. So I say my goodbyes and limp off. Jerry seemed a little disappointed he didn't get more business out of me but maybe I'll look him up if I make it back that way again. I did after all miss a lot from my "list" of objectives for Ometepe because of my ankle problems.

I finish packing my pack, throw it over one shoulder and my day pack over the other and limp carefully down the 3 blocks to the dock. I start my trip on the 9AM ferry. The ferry is a whole 10c (or 50 cents) more than the regular boat, but it actually comes with an airconditioned cabin and comfortable seats. In other words, well worth it. But neither way costs very much and they both get you there. An hour later we pull up to the San Jorge Pier. The waiting cabbies all asked for 40-50c (only $2-2.50), buy I never take the first offer and walked the short extra distance out the front gate. Another cabbie asked for 30c and I thought "screw it, I could try to figure when and where to catch the bus to save a lousy buck, but why bother. So I hopped in the cab and off we went. As it turned out, I had forgotten how long a ride it was to Rivas compared to those short hops in Managua that had cost me twice as much and the cabbie seemed like a nice guy so I gave him the 40c any way and he took me right to the bus station and pointed out the bus to the frontier for me. Unfortunately, the bus was just taking off, so I guess I should have grabbed the first taxi after all. So I wait around for another half hour trying to keep the weight off my ankle until the next bus came along.

While I was waiting a moneychange guy offered to swap my cordobas for colones, saying his rates would be better than anything at the border. Normally, I'm very wary of these guys, but I do have a sizeable amount left over and need to change it somewhere, so I do some quick calculations in my hand and negotiate him up to a point where I think he's not taking me for too much. A nearby guy hears the exchange and shakes his head like he thinks I just made a foolish mistake. I don't know, maybe I could have pushed it more. But I really don't think it cost me much more than a buck over what I could have got at a bank. The moneychange guy needs to make a buck too and then there is the convenience factor. 

We get to the border around 11:45 and aside from the small delay in Rivas tbbhings have been moving along pretty well. I pay the 20c (or was it 10c) to get out of the local bus area and walk past all the hustlers trying to be my guide. Hey, I've been through here before and now know where I need to go (well more or less). I walk over to the building where we had stopped on Tica bus on the way in. I wasn't exactly sure where I needed to go but I look around the corner and see a window with something like "Salir Nicaragua" (to Exit Nicaragua). One of the hustlers grabbed me by the arm and pointed me towards that line and told me that was where I needed to go. Duh, I know how to read. Then he handed me a customs form, which were also available up front at the window, but I looked at and realized it was missing the second page carbonized copy making it useless, so I said thanks and crumpled it up. Another guy tried to take over from him. I looked at the line ahead of me that wasn't moving at all and asked "Can you make this line go any faster" to which he sheepishly confessed he couldn't so I waved him off. Now I'm thinking maybe missing that first bus really did cost me, since these immigration guys seemed to have gone off for lunch. There are about 20 people in line ahead of me and at this point maybe 5 times as many stuck behind so I figure it could be a lot worse, but about 15 minutes again later someone comes back to the window and the line starts moving. Finally, I'm on my way out of Nicaragua.

I reload my bags and head off towards the CR side. I said on the way in that the 2 sides were within walking distance of each other and they are but my ankle problems are starting to heat up for the day. I pass by the last Nicaragua checkpoint (or was it the first CR checkpoint?) where they check my passport to see I got the proper Nicaragua final stamp. And the last few yards to the CR immigration building. At this place there easn't any line at all and minutes later I'm walking out the right side of the building looking for the next bus to take me either to Liberia or better yet San Jose. I see one getting ready to leave, throw my hags in the luggage compartment and get in line to get on board only to discover on this bus line one needs to purchase their tickets in advance unless they were willing to stand in line for the standing room only positions, but the idea of standing up all the way to San Jose did not sound too appealing. So I went back and grabbed my bag out of the luggage compartment and went looking for the ticket office. Unfortunately, there were no more tickets for that bus and the next one wasn't leaving until 1:45PM. I did another quick calculation about when that would put me into San Jose and thought about catching one of the more frequent buses to Liberia and then a SJ bus from there but figured that would probably put me in to SJ just as late, so I just bought a ticket and found a seat on a bench to wait. Not the cleanest waiting area, with a orange juice cart right in front of me, watching the kid spin off the rind with a little hand cranked machine and either sell them whole or squeeze the juice into little cups. It created quite a pile of waste and between that and the muddy gutter, the flies were loving it. I thought about using the time to grab some lunch, since I really hadn't had anything yet to eat that day unless you count a couple of cokes, but for some reason I didn't have much of an appetite.

Finally the bus pulls up to the curb and the line begins to move, first through a quick baggage check and then on to the bus. The ride was fairly comfortable but it was a fairly long one and after a little while my appetite comes back and I'm wondering how late we'd get into SJ or is this bus ever going to stop. Fortunately, someplace just short of Puntarenas the bus pulls off at a roadside truckstop. The driver said we got 20 minutes, which didn't seem so long, so I decided to play it safe and settle for a pre-wrapped chicken sandwuch and a bottle of coke rather than a full hot meal. Not my best eating day but it filled that empty spot in my stomach. Soon we are back on our way, but the rain which had been intermittent for the first part of the trip became heavier, and the sun began to set just as we begin our twisty turny ascent up into the CR highlands. At several points we get stuck behind long lines of vehicles stucj behind slow moving trucks and I begin to wonder if we ever will make it to San Jose, but once we get past San Ramon the road widens with an extra passing line and soon we are rolling into town.

Arrival time was around 7:30 or 10.5 hours after I left Ometepe. As compared to the 8-10 hours that it takes Tica Bus to make the trip from Managua, which is maybe just a little further if you figure the extra time it takes to take a boat across the lake vs. driving on a road. So in terms of time not all that much longer or less comfortable than taking the Tica Bus. The big hangup was the 2 hours I had to spend at the border, which I might have been able to shave some time off of if I had arrived a little earlier and besides sometimes there are border delays even with Tica Bus (like I ran into coming into Nicaragua). So in terms of time, doing it all yourself on local buses I don't think really adds much time if at all. What people really pay extra for is the convenience of having someone else walk them through the borders and not have to make their own connections. I'm sure that is more reassuring for those who haven't gone through on their own but it really isn't that hard. But the part that really irritates me is the hidden tax that Tica Bus charges. Aside from the $4-5 dollars extra that it cost for the 1 Tica Bus  vs. the combined local fares, I'm sure they sneak in extra charges for border fees. For example, coming from CR>Nicaragua they asked for $12, which seemed suspiciously high at the time. Coming back on my own the fees were only $2. Could the difference be due to the different direction? Maybe in part, but I can't believe it really cost that much more. Are we talking about a lot of money either way? That's not the point. The point is that I think they're trying to pull something over on their gringo passengers and I don't like that.

Anyway, back to my narrative. Its now close to 8PM in a somewhat seedy area of downtown SJ, so I try to find a taxi to take me the short distance to the hotel. After I get my pack, I go up to the first one I see and ask him to take me to the Nuevo Johnson and five him the address in spanish "cincuenta metros de sur del mercado". Maybe the ride was not far enough for him, or maybe he was an idiot, but he seemed confused and starts rapidly spouting off something or other. So I go up to another driver and I figure out that he is trying to tell me the hotel is closed because all the streets around there are being worked on. So I suggest another hotel a couple of blocks further away and he tells me the same thing. But then he says he knows another place I could go. Screw that. I know this game. I'm sure the other place provides him with a nice commission but I'm not going to play. So I tell them to forget it, throw my bags back over my shoulders, my ankle can take a little more pounding and set off for the 6 blocks to the hotel. The stores were just starting to close but the streets still had shoppers on them and it seemed pretty safe. I get to the Central Market and I see a little construction going on the street just south of it but all the businesses are still open. I walk the remaining half block and surprise surprise, my first choice of hotel is open too.

Again, I dont have my notes but this day probably actually came in slightly under $30, a new personal record especially for a travel day, but that was mainly because I didn't eat much during the day because my ankle pain really took away much from my appetite, and thats something I wouldn't recommend for any others.