El Salvador-Honduras-Nicaragua-Costa Rica
The bus marathon continues.
It's around 11 p.m. I am in a cheap San Salvador hotel room, and I have to wake up in three hours to catch the 3 a.m. bus to Managua, Nicaragua. As I turn off the lights, I hear loud scratching under my bed. It's a big rat.
Now I am not certain that it's a ratus gigantus. I am too scared to look. But I notice that whenever I turn the lights and TV on, the scratching would stop. So I decide to watch Friends reruns on TV until 2 a.m. rather than sleep. It was not fun.
It's 2:30 and I am waiting outside, in the dark, for my bus. I talk to a man who works for a Salvadoran mining company. It has mines in Guatemala and Nicaragua. When one thinks of those two countries, "mining" does not quickly come to mind. The company regularly sends him to the mines, and he regularly takes Ticabus.
In order to reach Nicaragua, we have to transit through a piece of rural Honduras. You can quickly and easily get a flavor of a country's self-image by entering the country by land. In Canada, everything is clean, efficient, and professional. In Argentina, while you wait for the red tape to unfurl, you get to stare at a huge glamour-shot of La Presidenta, Cristina Fernandez. She's even wearing one of those sashes that you associate with tinpot dictators.
Well, judging by Honduras' border formalities (or lack thereof), you get the sense that the country doesn't give a damn. It's the only country I have been to where the traveler doesn't even have to get off the bus. The border agent doesn't even bother to get on the bus to talk to you. Rather, our bus attendant collected everyone's passports, along with a few dollars, and delivers them to the border control. Within a few minutes, the bus attendant returns our passports, stamped. It's like Honduras is saying-- We really don't care who comes into our country, as we have nothing to take or lose! The same was true when we exited Honduras.
At 6 a.m., just three hours from San Salvador, we are inside Honduras. This is the saddest country I have ever encountered. It is a dump, figuratively and literally. As far as the eye can see, there is garbage. On the roadway. In tree groves. In front of churches. Everywhere. There is absolutely no civic pride. Horses, cows, and chickens can all be seen picking through the refuse. I think I even saw a horse eat a plastic bottle. This Ford Taurus I spotted near the border in Honduras pretty much sums up the country.
The bus attendant serves us our first hot meal. It's in this neat little bus-shaped box. What's in it? Just an egg sandwich from Burger King.
After the brief jaunt in Honduras, we enter Nicaragua. Leftist Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega is definitely in charge. At the border post, his party's campaign posters, and his face, from the 2011, 2012, and 2013 elections, are pasted everywhere. You immediately get the sense that the country may be a democracy in name only.
The line to get through customs is slow. A pack of poor boys, and a teenaged girl, are simultaneous begging, offering to carry our luggage, and selling us snacks and drinks. One boy, with puppy dog eyes, knew that his cuteness alone was good enough to extract a dollar or two from sappy hearted gringos. He tugged at my arm and pleaded "Mira!". I looked down and he shot me a sad look. It didn't work on me.
Though Nicaragua looked almost as poor as Honduras, it was much cleaner. The concrete walls of its government buildings may be crumbling, but someone was thoughtful enough to sweep up the debris.
Ortega's Sandinista government is known for its close relationship with Venezuela and Russia. In fact, a big deal was made recently when Nicaragua bought hundreds of new Ladas to be used as taxi cabs. But while I was in Managua, I did not see a single Russian cab. Almost every car I saw was either Japanese or Korean. The cool UAZ truck dealership was one of the only reminders of the Russian presence there.
After a change of crew at the Managua station, I pretty much slept from there to the Costa Rican border. I was served a single chicken leg with cream sauce on board. It was only after scarfing down the entire meal that I realized this may have been a bad idea.
At the border, we parked next to this ten-wheeler Ford RV with Kentucky plates. It belonged to a young hippy family traveling the world. For some reason, Costa Rica was giving them a hard time about entering.
Once we cleared the border, I fell asleep to the Costa Rican sunset out my window. Tomorrow, I will arrive in Panama.