On a scorching day in May 2009 I board a bus in Granada, Nicaragua. I stand in a dusty, muddy lot on the outskirts of town. It was the Year of the Swine…
“What time does this bus leave?” I asked impatiently, the oppressive sun beating down on me.“As soon as it’s full,” the driver replies, unreassuringly.
Surprisingly, we were soon on the road to Rivas, a small town near the Costa Rican border. Our bus is a retired school bus from the United States (if you grew up in the 1980s and 90s, you know the type.) Already about 25 years old, its seats are all but decimated. Each bump in the road is absorbed by my posterior, making the hour ride drag on forever. Sweetening the deal were the chickens, 20 lb. bags of corn, and other livestock, adults sitting three to a single seat with standing room (barely) only.
After years of travel, I’ve learned to be suspicious of anything that looked too straight forward and simple. I’d erroneously assured myself that Rivas is the bordertown one needed to cross into Costa Rica. But no, it was just another bus terminus; I’d need to take a taxi another 20 minutes or so to the actual border.
Once there, the taxi driver and his partner hop out of the car, get my bag out of the trunk and walk me over to assist me with getting the exit stamp on my passport (for a small fee.) It had not occurred to me that once in Costa Rica, I’d need some colones to catch a bus. My journey across the border was far from over, I’d soon learn…
I soon stumbled upon a small building where signs explained I could board a bus to my destination, Puntarenas, Costa Rica. Strange, I thought, it felt eerily quiet. Something wasn’t quite right.
My hunch proved to be on point: A man in an official looking uniform stood, as if guarding the building. I approached him to ask where I could buy a bus ticket to Costa Rica.
“All buses between Nicaragua and Costa Rica are suspended until further notice,” the man tells me, with a sympathetic gaze.
Over the Borderline
The actual border, he explained, was “only a few miles.” After more than an hour by bus and taxi, what was one more? I was beginning to believe that I was never going to get to Costa Rica.
There’s one little detail that I probably should’ve mentioned before and until that point had all but forgotten: the Swine Flu was in full effect at that time. To prevent spread of the disease, the borders are closed to vehicle traffic in and out of Nicaragua. As I’d soon be a witness to, vehicles seeking to enter and leave Nicaragua were at a standstill.
I paid an older man a small sum of córdobas to take me far as I could get to the border in a pedicab/rickshaw (read: not very far.) The only choice left was to begin walking in what seemed like 100 degree heat and sun. The scene was not too reassuring: oil tankers, trucks, and passenger cars with license plates from Panama, Mexico, and El Salvador, among other Central American nations, at a standstill. Who am I kidding? They were parked.
My Only Hope
I hopelessly continued to walk, baking like a raisin in the sun. As if summonsed, alongside me appeared a young man with a bike with a large basket attached. I had an idea: I’d pay this lad to take me to La Cruz, where’d I could get to an ATM, take out cash, and get a bus to Puntarenas. He was up for the challenge. I felt almost embarrassed sitting inside this basket, but happy to have found an escape route, looking at the truck drivers sleeping in make-shift hammocks.
But at last, I was finally in La Cruz, Costa Rica, which consisted of…one ATM…and was broken. I was now in Costa Rica, but with zero cash. At this point, it almost seemed like a screenplay, but I located a taxi. Explaining my situation, the sympathetic driver agreed to take me to Liberia to an ATM, withdraw cash to pay him, then catch a bus to Puntarenas. He was from there and knew exactly where I needed to be.
In less than an hour I find myself at a bank and I’m whisked away on a bus. This was not the end of my journey, but that’s another tale for another time.