Posts Tagged ‘borders’

I have not been down to Temple Square this week. It is the place that drew me here, and that enthralled me on that first early morning when i came to town. It sits in the centre of the city and the temple spires call from a distance, but it sits apart from all around.

The original square is enclosed behind gated walls. The gates are open throughout the day and you are free to enter inside. The adjoining area is a pedestrian zone with defined entry ways. The museum and family history library lay across a busy street, but feel more connected to the square than to the city that lay around.

When you come into the square you feel like you have entered a different world – which is the purpose of it. You leave behind the daily concerns and enter into a sacred zone. There is much to inspire with fountains and flowers and statues and the architecture of the buildings, all designed to uplift the spirit, but it is not a place where you can just be and connect. Although there are no “no loitering” signs, i feel like i cannot just be with the place.

It is a place where you visit and in many ways it has become just another tourist zone. Two visitors centers, one at the north gate, and the other at the south, serve to show and tell the history of the square and to provide an introduction to what the latter day saints are about; several free films are shown every 90 minutes throughout the day showing the founding of the faith, the journeys across the land to come here, and some of the unique beliefs; a history and art museum lay across the street. I visited them all when i first arrived feeling an entry back into tourist zone. it has become a show case for what is there – the simple shiny surface to show the world.

The sisters, pairs of young women wearing skirts that reach mid-calf, are there to guide you around the square. They are helpful and friendly – but so very young, on their version of the boys(young mens) mission – and have not yet experienced the depths of life. And i am afraid the my philosophical questions might dim the perkiness they possess. And everywhere there is someone to guide you – and on any spiritual journey, is that often not what we seek – a guide to show us the way. but here in the show room, i feel that it is the superficial cover that is shown and it is a deeper connection that i seek. But the girls encourage me to both fill out a card so that i may receive a visit in my home and a greater introduction to the faith and to read the book of mormon itself. And so perhaps,this square is but an entry way into another world – a world that may be deeper, but remains unseen to me.

As an outsider the most holy place on the square – the temple – remains unseen. While there is a full model of the temple in the visitor’s center, with inside relief, and photos, videos and explanations of each room, you cannot enter the temple unless you are LDS. Even for church members it is not a place where you go on a regular basis; it is a place where you engage in ordinances (or ceremonies of faith), communicate with the spirit and engage with god. It is not the gathering place of believers, but a holy place set aside from worldly concerns. I look at the fence that surrounds the temple and feel cut off.

At times here i have craved many of the mexican and central american churches that sit on or beside the lively zocalo or central square – the square that is full of life, the grand churches that are open much of the day, where people wander in and out, not only for mass but to pray, to light candles or to merely visit. I remembered Christmas in Leon, nicaragua with people flooding in and out of churches with balloons and more – oh, it seemed so much livelier there. And the churches are not as separate, connected to city life around, the public square with a variety of worldly activities, a market by the steps, food stalls inside or outside the gates – a visible part of daily life. You enter the church, just step inside, and you can be taken to another world, that of the spirit and of god. The spirit is incorporated into the daily life, a place apart, but connected. its true life outside is often louder, more crowded, more alive, and the church is a place you can go for a moment of peace, prayer or reflection (or to mass of course). It is a living faith, one that extends to the crosses in taxis, buses and cars, and far beyond. worship and spirit is not just something that happens apart from daily living. but then again all life zones are not as differentiated there.

It is true that the mormons also practice a living faith. Here much was designed to happen in the ward houses in the local neighborhoods – but those building are not part of a larger public gathering space; they are calm and well ordered like the neighborhoods themselves. Although holy buildings are a material representation of faith, spirituality is much more than a sacred place and what is practiced there. And here they do affirm the spirit through service, in their families, with the rules or practices that guide their daily lives and even through their underwear. Perhaps the undergarments represent the difference, they are worn beneath the clothes and thus not visible on the outside.

In latin america the boundaries between the inside and outside are much more fluid and permeable in general. There is more of a flow. In North America the separation of church and state, inside and out, public and private is greater and we often strive to maintain and build boundaries or borders. While there is a time for joining in and bringing the spirit into the dance of life, and a time for leaving worldly concerns behind, perhaps what i feel here is the split between the sacred and the profane. And when i go to temple square, i am the profane who may visit, but is to be kept outside of the truly sacred grounds. To be seen as profane is akin to being cast out and separated from the divine. But i know the boundaries are more fluid, and the divine can be found in all – if you only look for it and see it, and call it forth. And all can be sacred if we let it be.

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The pond is a world of its own. Birds flutter about with narrow pointed wings. an eagle soars and dives into the water, snatching something behind one of the hundreds of lilipads with bright yellow flowers that dot the surface. the pond is circled by densely packed trees in a second growth forest, mainly douglas firs, but a few across the way with bright shiny leaves. I cannot see beyond the perimeters of the pond, and thus it becomes contained unto itself. One cannot see beyond, and if one were born here, could one imagine that something lay outside. Today clouds form a layer above adding to the containment. Only the sound of planes above remind me that this is not all there is.

The pond is just a few minutes walk through forest paths from the hostel where i stay. But sitting here, or there, there is no indication that the other exists just a few hundred metres away. The hostel grounds with a huge lawn with teepees and camping spots are surrounded by a thick stand of douglas firs that you cannot see through, fronted by scotch broom in bloom. The trees form a barrier that encloses and marks the boundaries of the lawn containing what is within. If i had not once been told about the path that leads out, or seen the vaguely placed sign, would i have known the pond was there at all? Would i have walked the perimeter of the lawn, ventured around the edge, and found the path through the thick forest that leads to the world of the pond and beyond?

As i sat on a bench looking out on the lawn, before i ventured into the forest, i felt the trees closing in on me and realized that i have felt this way before. In many ways they form a fence or a wall, and all you are aware of is what is contained within. And they can seem to oppress and hold you in. There are no vistas to stretch the imagination, a visible place beyond where you may go or not. For this seems to be all there is. I feel less expansive here, closing in onto myself. At the same time I feel an urge to press on through but lack the vision of how and where, unable to see beyond. Nothing catches my eye or calls me forth. i see a barrier in front of me and i feel trapped.

When i came out here to the northwest i initially loved the denseness of the forests and many of the island channels and narrow valleys for they nurtured me and contained. I felt nurtured walking through the dense forest with is floor so lush and trees so grand. I wanted to crawl into narrow valleys, bays, sounds and fjords to receive the hug that they called forth. And in these locales i felt embraced, but then would feel the need to press beyond as the walls began to close in.

And the trees are forming one dense wall. I know there is a world beyond – after all i found the pond. But i do not see the paths, and there is nothing that calls. Do i need to crawl inside before i venture on out once again? I wished a place to rest and reflect, and i have done that to a certain extent. But i feel cut off and isolated and that barrier reminds me of that which sometimes exists between myself and the rest of the world. I know that all is interconnected, even that which is not visible at the time, and there is a way through.  but sometimes it is so hard to visualize when i cannot see the other side.

The hostel itself seems like the remnants of a dream, i can see the glory of what once was and imagine the days when it was full of life with all the teepees and wagons and dorm beds full. The hostel is still here and cared for with only a few guests, but the passion is gone . The place hangs on though the dream has died, and is that what i feel inside. Has the wall closed in on others too. But it is a wall of life, and one that can be passed through. And it can teach that the vision must come from inside – after all the pond is full of life.

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Sun shines today. A circle of bright blue over the city center surrounded by clouds. They are heavy and dark. Despite the strong wind that blows through, they do not seem to have moved. The threaten, but have not opened up, yet.

I awake in the morning and see the blue sky. rejoice and hurry up to get out and meet the day, no lingering inside for me. The air is cold, the wind has a bite. I look up there, see the gloom, and wonder how temporary this reprieve will be. For rain is what the weather predictions all say. I grab a coffee and sit in the parkette, a brief patch of sun before the storm blows in. I wish to walk out to the place where the plants do grow and people really live, but the clouds are heaviest over there and i fear that i will get caught in the rain. I turn back, pace around,

i walk out again along the water front. Water is choppy today with white caps on small bumpy waves. The plants are smaller, not protected from the wind, or the salt in the sea air. A huge cruise ship is in the port, larger than most of the buildings that surround. On its way to Alaska, but that no longer appeals to me. Ferries go back and forth, and the Victoria Clipper pulls in. I stare at the snow-capped mountains to the north, and realize i have lost all interest in returning there. I feel the breeze and remember the chill. Though i have been thinking of alaska since i came back to this country, i believe that it, and all that lay north, is a part of my life to be left behind. A feeling that has come back so many times, though when i came up here it was still in the back of my mind. I walk past the huge grain elevator and out down to the shipyard full of commercial ships to transport goods and to catch and process the fish.

This park is cut off from the city above, and even the buildings down below, by the impassable railroad tracks and the tall fence. The park is a strip of green, with a few benches to pause and a path to cycle and jog or walk along. I am in another place where people pass through, at one end the cruise ship and ferry terminals, and at the other, the ship yard. Neighbourhoods lay above, on top of hills with steep rocky sides. I must cross an inlet to reach one, on a long busy bridge in the wind. And i do not see a road going up the other that lay on this side of the bridge, only fast avenue that circles around the base. I sit for a minute in the bright sun, though the wind that blows fast hurries me along.

I am in a port, where all come and go, a place that people and goods journey from and return back to, passing through. I did not go to the place where people invest their lives, and i am disappointed that i find myself wandering here. Stuck between the zones once again, no longer desiring to sail away and look at why i found myself here. I turn back along the shore, do not continue on the path through industrial zone, and find myself in the center of town, that dark place i do not wish to be. The sun still shines overhead, and the clouds still loom around. I am tired now from my walk along the shore, but still wander the center more, loosing track of what is important, revisiting that dark zone, walking up and down shadow covered streets. Losing the light i had on the path and feeling to exhausted to walk out the other way. I sit inside and the sun does shine. I never made it to the other places i wished to go (though i later heard it rained there)

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I have crossed into Mexico. I did so yesterday via the back route from Flores to Palenque on another 8 hours journey via shuttle, boat and collective, through the back roads of El Peten to Bethel, a few minutes up the river, and then a collectivo to here, in land where hills return, many of them reminding me of pyramids and making me wonder what they contain.

While the crossing was yesterday, i felt like i was in Mexico when i entered into El Peten, the flat lowlands of northeast Guate, and had to keep reminding myself in Flores, that yes, i was in Guate and not Mexico. Had my mind left already onto my next destination, or are national borders misleading, not representing the borders between zones. For El Peten was very different from the other locations where i had been in Guate, and reminded me more of the Yucatan in Mexico, and Flores is at the crossroads, people travelling in and out from Mexico and Belize. The land was low, flat and hot, so hot. And the women in traditional Mayan costume disappeared, replaced by those in ¨regular¨ clothes, and the road was straight, and the homes had awnings, and many, even in rural areas, were painted, not the grey that dominates so many indigenous peublos in Guate – at least in my memories. And once in Santa Elena, the road was wide, and just seemed Mexican. And in Tikal, or perhaps it was that i had seen other ruins on my previous visit to mexico. I don´t know

And driving to the border, stopped in small town, mainly men to be seen in the early morn, a reverse of the usual woman filled towns, and through villages where dogs, chickens and pigs wandered down the dirt road on which we drove, oh so slowly. Isolated, few trucks or buses or collectivos around, a flat land, full of fatter cows grazing, with the white birds that accompany them. Woos homes with dirt yards and laundry hanging spread out, a papaya farms . As we approach the river, some hills, finally some texture to the landscape.

It was peaceful – i felt calm though i know this corner is used to smuggle both people and drugs to the north and there were only 5 of us in the shuttle. Get exit stamp from guate then enter the in between zone of the river that divides the two countries – exited one but not yet entered the other – on the river on the narrow lancha as clouds became thicker. Land on the other side and walk up the hill to get new stamp – out of guate, of the C-4, into a new huge country. Didn´t seem that much different,

Drive the lonely road in a collectivo – now not just us 5 gringas who got on in Flores – some locals just off another lancha, The driver stops, talks to man in back, do you want to get out, they go outside, just up the road a checkpoint, and the family in the back seat is sent back south, decided not to go for it on the road. A few more check points on the road, some immigration, some military,  – were none on the other side, the flow is northwards, a baggage check several kms up the road, cursary, dont check main bags, dont seem to care, put in face time, a brief glance, but that is it.

The town of Palenque is more north american then i remembered – signs, organized bus terminals with shiny buses and more.

Where is the border really and what does crossing mean. Yes, entry into a new nation, one with new possibilities. But we draw borders in our minds, and to cross over can be stressful . I always nervous with border crossing – will i be let in and for how long. In my dreams there has often been a bridge that i could not cross, but i did a while ago. And this border is only a river, a dirt road on one side, and up river a paved road on the other. But once you cross, can you turn back on the journey. What does the border represent. Who put it there and why. And how many borders do we have in our minds.

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A gringa gets off the bus and they flock around, yelling, shuffling each other, ¨Taxi, taxi, taxi, bus, bus, hotel, hotel, hotel, they swarm like bees. The shouts are not always the same, the taxi is always there, ready to take you away, at inflated prices, and you wonder by how much, as you negotiate your fare and destination. At other times, it is for a bus, a tour, a hotel, and at sometimes you have not even had the chance to step outside before they start, yelling in through the window as the bus or van pulls in, so ready to help you, ready to take the knapsack off your back and place it into the trunk, or take you by the hand to their place, or the place that gives them the best commission.

And some will help, and some are honest, or at least not bad – charge a dollar rather than 75 cents but others you do not trust, and you are thrown off kilter, no chance to get your bearings, to think clearly and focus on this new ground before you get off. It is true, it is not always like that, but it is all too often, and you begin to dread it. Try to focus as the bus pulls into town, breathe deep, know where it is that you want to ge, try to find out what the fares should be or if you can walk or take a public bus, and look at the map to see where you will land. Still the dread comes in, and you want to hide, envision the chaos, the yelling, bantering etc that surrounds, the noise that messes up your brain, and you want to sit still, imagine a breakdown, of curling up into a ball and screaming go away, and at times i have – i need a moment please and they stand around, and follow you and wait and wait. Still you do not break down, and have not been ripped off too badly, and you make your way – so content when all is calm (and those times when you cannot get a cab when you need one)

The first time it happened was in monteverde, entering into the centre of a tourist town – was not buses there, but the competition among the hotels and there we several of us, so the sellers divided among us. I had not expected it, had not experienced it, taking local buses, or getting off in front of a hostel in a tourist town, or in a place like punteranas where you had to search out the info from the side street you were on. It was more insistent in Liberia, the calls for taxis who meet the buses, knowing that they can get a higher fare from me, it is they who yell while i need to find information about another bus not far away – someone stops, is helpful.

At the border it was insane, calls for buses, but mainly for cambio, cambio, exchange exchange exchange from the currency sellers with wads of bills. The one border on my own was the hardest, did not know where to go but had read up on it, cambio only in nica where they were regulated  – and gave fairer exchange ‘ i knew the rates so i felt safer exchanging a bit. In the towns of granada especially, on the corners near the banks and squares, in leon a bit, the calling for cambio, cambio, cambio  – but the rates are posted so it is o. Coming north at every border when we got off the ticabus it was the same, cambio, cambio i hear it as i type, passed through honduras so did not need any, and el salvador is on us dollar, but coming into guatemala i needed a bit. They call out to all, but surround me – the rates flucuate, the calculations they give do not match the rates they quote, the immigration office has a sign no money changers inside, but they lurk outside the doors and follow you back to the bus  – i change a 10 at a bad rate but i need a little to get me through the city – i know the cab will want dollars but the local bus will want quetzals. They hang onto you and want you to change more, the rates change and you pin them down as they perform fancy maneuvers on the calculators all in hand.

But the taxi, taxi is in many places. It started in Managua, when i got off a bus my first time through, taxi, taxi they yell – no the other bus – arranged it so i do not need to transfer stations, someone is nice and takes me over to where the other bus is. I get through, my head is swarming – i not good at so much noise. I get off before the station in Leon and only one cab is left as i get off last. I walk the streets in granada, leon and it is always taxi, taxi. In Esteli they just ignored you and it was hard to get through the jostle of people competing for a cab pushing you out of the way.

It was my trip back south where it got to me – from leon to ometepe. It was not the usual jostling and noise of the stations, the food vendors yelling out refrescos, snacks etc or the drivers who shout out the destinations of the buses – the chaos that exists in the parking lots of school buses they call terminals. In Managua it was taxi, taxi, taxi and you hear to always take a cab, but also you hear about the robberies that occur in cabs when another person gets in the collectivos and take you away by gunpoint driving around to the atms. I take the way recommended by thebusschedule.com, another minibus to masaya where i will transfer once again, almost overcharged, as i walk towards the van the offers for taxi do not stop, i make my way, some people tell me where to get off to flag the next bus down on the highway – a taxi driver actually points the way to me as i cross the street. In Rivas the taxi, taxi, taxi, a pamphlet for a hotel as they swarm around. i become overwhelmed, delay, finally give in, the taxi to the boat as much as the rest of the trip. Coming back it is the same.

Managua is the worst – i came into on of the markets in the sprawling city – needed to take a cab to tica bus this time – tried to find another who was going my way but alas no – they swarm, the prices start off so high, i say no, they get frustrated, i wear them down to half the price (still double the local fare) but i am stuck and unhinged – it is 3pm and i have been on the road since 630am. I make it there, i trust this one, the licences seem ok, we go, i make it and pay. The second i get out in front of the station a brochure is put into my hand, hotel, hotel – another comes near, no i say, the bus station. I go in, hoping i can get a ticket out the next day – thankfully i can.

The tica bus hotel inside the station is more expensive so i look outside, the guy is there waiting for me – i have the book, a few places within a block seem decent (i need to be at the station at 4am the next day), i agree to look, another joins in, and then another, the first was in my book but smells, i go to another that looks under construction, one guy speaks english – a rarity in Nica – and understands – part of his spiel i know but says how you are surrounded by so many who see you as an atm – recommends one more – i like it – the woman who runs it seems decent as does the one guest i see – though take the second room offered at 10 instead of 8. I settle in, and then head out. they are outside again – do you need to eat. I do, the nice one shows me a place – where i end up eating later in the day but not then as i head off on my own again to offers for taxi, taxi. – he said it was open but i later find out it was closed – two other women from the ticabus station are at that resto with me at night, had been shown in as well, guy gets his commission, it is good.

And at the borders it is the same, but with the calling

But with the chatter, and the loudness that overwhelms you shrink back – hard to get your bearings – just where do you go, and how do you find that peace within with the clutter that is being thrown at you. Some trying to scam you, many others just trying to earn a living, and others are honestly helpful, but when there is that around you, you begin to get wary and pull away and don’t know who to trust – different information thrown at you in a language you find difficult to understand.

I came in here and all was quite – took the chicken bus instead of a shuttle from the airport so i came into the market where few hang around. Only one was there, gave me a map and offered me tours and schools (the big thing here – i have my collection of flyers), but pointed the way and let me go – i think they may have learned not to push. I was so relieved, after Guatemala City where i was swarmed much more than others and i was tired. I know it will happen again, when i exit the container of any bus and step out into the world. May i get the peace inside to deal with the chaos outside.

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I crossed the border yesterday, traveling from Costa Rica to Nicaragua at penas blancas by public bus. I wanted to beat the holiday rush, but did not quite make it, the international buses were sold out with Nicas returning home for the holidays in droves, so many working in their neighbour to the south. Yet the crossing was both simpler and more chaotic than i imagined.

I made it though the confusion – sort of, and now i am wondering what the rush was and why i am here. There is something about a border, a line drawn between two nations that is symbolic as well as real. It is about a crossing over a line, a zone, a movement along, and within yourself – a breaking down of the borders within us. Something that holds us back and urges us to go forward, something that makes us wonder what is on the other side.

And the border here is not like those i have encountered in North America – well organised and official – not like central american bus terminals it is chaotic and confusing. Thankfully in the first line i met two other women who had been traveling alone (they met each other on a 430 am bus) and we went through together.

I had gone from Puntarenas to Liberia by bus the previous day to ensure that i would have an early start. Checked out the departures the day before from Liberia – about 1 1/2 hours to the south, and am glad i did, as they did not depart from the terminal listed in the guidebook – but then again very little in Liberia was where it was in the book. It was an open terminal, the one where i arrived, out on the edge of town (a five minute walk but worlds away with emptier streets near the pan-american highway), and i the only gringo there. I was first walked the block and a half to the other station where the guide book said the international buses departed to see if on the off chance i could procure a ticket – the window was closed and the station was empty except for three americans onthe way to the beach and some shipping workers. A man told to go to the hotel guanacaste (where i had thought of staying) 2 blocks away – went – no tickets and the woman was busy, so i went to another hotel and then back to the first station without my backpack. I asked (or tried to) the driver on the penas blancas bus that was in the station what the schedule was and if you needed to buy tickets in advance. Thankfully, the guy with the bullhorn calling passengers forth to the different buses, spoke english and gave me the info – no you pay the driver, and hourly beginning at 5am. I decided to aim for the 7am the next day.

The city was nearly empty in the morning – so i took a cab to the station – at 1.50 it was nearly as expensive as the bus for the 1.5 hour, 43km ride to the border. I grab a coffee and a bakery goodie and a big bottle of water for the trip. I am the only gringo in the station, the bus seems full of Nicas who are going home. I have a window seat, and nobody wants to sit beside me – it is the last seat taken on the bus which has several standing. The guy with the bullhorn gets on and announces a change in schedule for the holidays beginning the next morning. Off we go, making frequent stops on the road. In Santa Cruz- the closest town to the border, 2 blond girls with backpacks get on, but i do not speak to them as they head to the back of the bus – but at least i am not alone.

We drive for a bit, and the land gets a bit lusher, and then it comes, a line of trucks parked on the one side of the two lane road (yes, the is the panamerican highway) waiting to cross the border. We drive past the trucks on the other side of the road, sharing a single lane with cars and trucks coming in the other direction – it is tight – but it works for a while. After a kilometer or 2 there is a snag, we need to merge into the endless line of trucks. The guy with the big red cab behind us, does not want to let the bus in, had a loudspeaker and makes comments. We sit and sit, people get up to look out the window to see what it is all about, a truck up ahead coming the other way cant get through, is it stalled- after what seems like ages it finally squeezes by us, with several vehicles on its trail, we move on – a few vendors go up and down with carts selling food and drink, and the truck drivers stand outside chatting. In the 3 or 4 kilometers to the border we pull into the line of trucks 2 more times. Finally the bus stops and we get out. It is a dirt parking lot, and a see a simple locket hut with a bathroom sign. Step off the crowded bus, grab my bag from underneath, and then the money changers arrive and those who want to sell you the forms that are free. No,no,no – it is choas, i see a line of people, more buses pull in behind us, and i run tothe line to get the exit stamp from costa rica.

There are 2 gringa women ahead of me – we begin to chat – and go through the process together. They had met at 430 am at a bus stop, and had just got off the bus that pulled in behind me. We join the crush, one man is there directing it, it moves ok, 20 people allowed in the building at once – money changers keep coming up to us – heard that it ws better on the nica side of the border which it was – finally we get let in – put your packs outside the 2nd door, we hesitate – all we have been told about not leaving baggage unattended and not an official telling us we must – are 2 lines, one for entry stamps and one for exit stamps, all in the same room. We get stamped and wonder where to go.

It is about a 5-10 minute walk down a dirt road with cars parked on the side until we get to the nica side – just keep walking on, a few officials, and some guys with carts helping a few with their luggage. A few sodas by the side. A metal fence, a narrower walk, show our passports with the exit stamp, and then look around – no building in sight – only trucks – someone points across the parking lot, we cut through the parked trucks and then i spot a bigger building with buses parked nearby. That must be it.

More money changers though were are in nica now. And people trying to sell us the forms and offer a pen. I see a sign that says buses and passengers (in spanish) so we go around. Offers for cabs and buses abound, talk, talk, talk at you. The german women who has the best spanish gets us the forms. A woman is at the window sorting through a pile of documents – she has been there for a while. Another around the side opens up, the official waves us over – there is no one directing the people traffic. In fact you could easily bypass this building all together – and with the short cue i am sure that some have.

I go over first – it takes a few minutes – i ask for 90 days. I wait, he pauses on the computer, stamps my passport, takes my 7 USD and gives me two forms. I check the stamp in my passport, it says 90. it is only once i get to granada that i realize the tourist card is for 30 only – need to re figure my plans. The other two women finish, one wants to take one of the NICA international buses that now has room – she is going all the way to Managua, i to granada and the other women only to Rivas. I desperately need to pee – i go looking for a bathroom – find the nica tourist office and how to get to granada by public bus – over behind the blue wall they say. I go back to say goodbye – to you want to get on it is ready to leave – this bus takes the passport number, and i pay 10 rather than the 2, but it is spacious and air conditioned (and not a school bus) and direct. I make it to Granada before 1pm.

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