It was really tough to leave Rancho Margot, but it had to be done. Even though I am traveling and on the road, I felt like I was at home at the Ranch and I wasn’t traveling anymore. Even though I continued to learn new things every day, everything had become so familiar and I was starting to feel wanderlust.
From the ranch, I got a ride with Juan and the painter guy to La Fortuna. I stayed at a cheap hostel in a dorm and spent the night hanging out with Mr. Painter in the town square. We had some really deep conversations about his life in Costa Rica and the art scene and it’s so cool to be able to do this in Spanish. Most of my travel has been done in places where I don’t speak the language and being able to have a more than surface level conversation with local people is like a different level of understanding and traveling. I love it, I learn so much this way.
The next morning I headed over to El Tanque to catch the bus going to Penas Blancas, the border of Nicaragua. I met this Israeli guy waiting there on the side of the road and we were instantly friends. I love meeting new people and it continues to surprise me how easy it is for me now to connect with complete strangers. Later on the bus ride I met a really interesting Canadian couple too.
The border crossing was a serious reality check. Costa Rica is one of the most developed countries in the region, whereas Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America, second poorest in the hemisphere. As soon as we got off the bus there were people clamoring around us demanding that we exchange all of our colones (CR currency) for cordoba (Nica currency) and that we can only pay on the other side with cordoba. Not to mention all the guys offering taxis and pedicabs across the border or special services to make the crossing go faster. I’ve been in similar madness many times before, but it was still overwhelming, especially after being at the Ranch in a bubble of peace and quiet for so long.
The thing that was most unsettling for me me was there was a guy claiming to be an employee with an official looking badge telling me I need a certain form for entry into Nicaragua and the only way I could get it is if I gave him a tip. Extreme hustling at the border. I didn’t pay for the forms and just got them at the window. Naturally, I was the last person in line.
All the crossing and processing lasted around two hours and then we were trying to find a bus to San Juan Del Sur. Everyone said we have to take a taxi, but I knew there was a bus. We walked outside and there were a bunch of taxi people surrounding us, bargaining, telling us there’s no bus. Sure enough, right behind them is a giant bus. I helped negotiate a cab for the Canadian couple while, my new Israeli friend and I hopped on the bus.
There weren’t enough seats so I was standing in the back, leaning over so I could watch the countryside go by. It was a school bus packed with people and this guy walking up and down the aisles trying to sell something. The ride costed 20 or 30 cords, about one USD. We got to our intersection for the beach (La Virgen), the bus slowed down a little bit, they opened up the back door and told us to jump out fast, we obliged. We met a crazy Nicaraguan dude standing there also waiting for a ride. The three of us stood on the side of the road for a while, thumbs out and got picked up by a nice man with a pick-up truck who drove us 20km into San Juan Del Sur.
We were walking around looking for a hostel and were turned away by two because they were full. We went to the Chabad which is like a community center for Israeli people and it was so wild. There were rabbis there and everyone started signing when we came in to welcome us, they brought us some water and we just sat down and got to know each other. I really enjoy traveling with Israeli people, they have great energy. Most of them are on this year long adventure after serving their 3 year mandatory military service. These guys have literally been through the war and they’re just out in the world exploring and being present. The sense of adventure and excitement is exhilarating and even though I can’t understand a lick of Hebrew, it’s still fun.
The most striking thing I observed about Nicaraguan countryside coming in was the number of windmills. There were tons of them all along the highway and it was just so unexpected for such a poor country. I don’t know how much stake I put into lists like these, but The New York Times has listed Nicaragua as number three in the forty-six places to go in 2013. People say Nicaragua is where Costa Rica was 10-15 years ago and it’s on the way up. I love observing this development and I feel like there’s lots of opportunity here.
It’s great to feel like I’m traveling again. I’ve done short and long term study abroad programs, I’ve worked abroad, I’ve done lots of small trips here and there. This is my favorite though. I settle down in a place for a month or so, go travel and explore for a week or two and then find another place to settle down for a month or so. No plan is the best plan, figuring it all out on the fly. I think I could do this for the rest of my life.