Posts Tagged ‘Nicaragua’

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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Isla Ometepe

I left Ometepe this morning after 5 days there and already it is hard to write about. It is an island in Lake Nicaragua – 2 volcanos – one active, one not – and a spit of land in between and in many ways it is another world. But already, in Managua now as i write this, i feel the city energy and the stress of the yelling the second you get out of a bus – taxi, taxi, hotel, hotel, and for the food on the buses, and the destination of the buses in the terminals. I had hoped to write this there – but the one day i took the 45 minute chicken bus ride to the closest town 11km away (yes, it does take 40+ minutes to go that far – only the first island has a paved road, and the dirt road out to where i was staying is full of potholes and rocks so all moved slowly, like the island itself) the internet also worked so slowly that i could barely send a message and dared not to write. And today i hope i write more – i am tired, up at 6am to catch a bus, didn´t come till 720 and i sat at the bus stop with 2 of the men who stared and stared and stared – the minibus was jammed – already about 8 sitting on top with the luggage and other bags, and people hanging out the door – but of course there was room for one more – the ride never seemed longer, and i was so happy when we met the bus to Moyagalpa on the 1st island and could change without having to go into altegracia – a full sized yellow school bus – a luxury, with room to stand without balancing on one foot and arching the back with the others in the aisle.

I spent my first night in the town by the ferry, a quiet place, the main centre with the only bank and atm, where the main mode of transit seems to be motorbike (yes, for a family of 3) and bicycle. The Conception volcano looms large above the town and stands behind the church and the sunset from the ferry dock was incredible – but that is the city – a few blocks around.

I then went out to Finca Magdelena – a special place – a cooperative coffee and other farm on the maderas volcano – i was exhausted, and sat out on the deck overlooking the water and the bigger conception volcano – and it was cooler – being a 1km walk up a road from he water and the main road below that turns to greater ruts after the village. Workers with machetes for bananas, horses as transport and as carriers, some walks around, other monkeys in the forest, butterflies – some this amazing blue – unfortunately they will not be still for a photo) and birds abound, but i only stayed one day there – was full of groups and thus felt isolated. Still, i went back and visited another day.

I had planned to go to Meredia but ended up in santa cruz instead – a town at the edge of the spit where this second island begins – was changing buses at 730 am and decided to take a look – 5 for a private room, yes twice the amount i had paid for a cot the night before, but i stayed. Was not sure how busy the hostels in Meredia would be, and i was tired.

Spend the day walking on the beach, funny to be a fresh water beach, thin, and few people. Later a wonderful sunset though we were facing the wrong way, and watching locals swim and wash their clothes (it seems each family has an area they use), horses down there, and the next day as i passed a few cows were there two – and a motorcycle. Both the wind and the sun are strong. The area felt vulnerable, the connection between the islands, so low laying, in one place the lake at the edge of the road, the road all sand, it in some ways represents central america to me ‘ the connection between the two continents, the larger active conception volcano to the north, and the other beautiful maderas to the south.

I went to merida the following day to check out the area and the hacienda i had originally planned on going to – glad i did not – it was the beginning of picking up this negative vibe i felt more and more in the land.

The town itself down was different, a place away, strung out on the narrow dirt road, up from the water where the hacienda lay. Pigs roamed and fed with chickens, a girl chases a chicken and 2 dogs a cow, many animals, horses, and ox drawn cart carrying bananas, a big delivery truck delivering the coke, orange and grape fanta and other things to the many small pulperies, the small window stores in peoples homes, that are in the village, it moves slow and it seems like another land – that the people are from the earth.

I will finish this up later for i have much to write, but i am so tired and hungry now-

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leon city

the key is to build up what you have
to create today
through it may not last through tomorrow
keep the core alive
a center
where it is defined
churches spread out around the city
18 of them,
at least one in ruins
still viable and used

take care of what is yours to use
do not take it for granted
a few changes of clothes
that fit the body
but freshly washed and pressed
a stoop is swept
and floor are washed
hair is brushed, pulled back or simply cut

Though the market is a lively place
yes, much stuff bought and sold
but a center of life
and the bus station
out on the edge of town
a chaotic place, but alive
calls to buses
taxis pull in and out
the yellow bluebird school buses crowd the gravel parking lot
stacking the goods on top
bags of oranges, packages, 2 overstuffed chairs
luggage tries to fit inside
ticket sellers and drivers abound
and those who sell snacks for the ride
flavoured water out of plastic bags
and the sweet fatty snacks
and the soft drinks of course
board the buses to sell
the battered buses
with numbers painted on the seats
5 across, a school bus fits 84 (+)
there is room for more
maybe not a seat
babe in arm
but there is room.

At the market,
on the streets
people walk on,
stop to talk or watch,
a historic centre and around
but one that lives
not a museum, but viable
recreated in every moment
hotdogs sold in the square and on the corner
outside the churches
people lounge outside

in the day
pedestrians crowd the shady side of the street
make room on the narrow sidewalks
taxis, the covered trucks that take people to pueblos, a few buses
few private cars
for this is poor here

i stand outside
is not my place to join
i and the other tourists pass through
a few here to work,
but if they stay elsewhere in the country most likely
but do not dominate
the land or the centre is not created for us,
yes, a few of the cafes, nicer restos
hostels and cheaper hotels
a few tour operators, many who give back to the land somehow

but generally us outsiders are ignored
something that is here
accepted but nothing more
part of the life of the land
as is the heat of the day
and the history of the place
we might stay or go
nothing is known
many changes have been seen
have the feeling that what is is
not a passive acceptance in this land
the revolution started here in 79
an engaged population
but does not seem to cling to the past
lives the day,
so many changes here
the city the place of the historic liberal elite
granada was the conservative elite,
and now the capital in managua
the sprawling centerless city
that all try to avoid
though most buses go there
the city that had its heart ripped out in 72
and where it was not rebuilt
a sprawl to negotiate
and try to get through safely
but here there is a centre
small from above
and the city goes on
paved roads turn to brick, cobblestone and dirt
homes become poor
kids play ball in the cemetary
a few shanties on the outskirt
but people seem decent
not take from one another
create a life
a city, yes poor,
but one that in many ways seems so rich.

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I have walked around the centre of Granada too many times, circling the central squares, walking the restored streets in the centre of town so many times that i should know them by heart by now. Finally had the guts to walk down to the lake, had been wanting to for several days, but i felt afraid to venture beyond the zone, the zone that is marked in darker green on the tourist map. Still, i have not really felt the energy here, have not really looked, too consumed by the voice in my head that says “what the fuck have you done now – just what have you gotten yourself into this time girl.?” wondering just what i am doing here, why i have come to this land.

What is it that i hope to see? What is it that i have to prove? I pace the streets, the same ones over and over, feeling like a street walker of sorts – see a few others who do the same.

Maybe it is because i have not really met anyone since i arrived despite moving between hostels – the first one empty, talked to a couple, her mainly as he was sick for a day and a young german girl who i could tell felt as caged as i but i was exhausted that first night and just wanted to sleep. It was recommended by the woman who i met on the bus, attached to a non-profit centre which felt good. Yet it was the people who used the centre who took up the common couches in a group and i felt like hiding in my private room – a guys bonding and tv watching and i felt lonely. I walked around, not in the present, wondering where to move to and checked out the other places – most seemed just as bare except 3 – one a party place, the other a pothead place, and the one where i am now – a much younger crowd and i do not seem to bond with any – more in groups sticking to themselves – and many who are on the way to the beach and spend intense late nights at the bars – so that may influence how i feel here.

But i also feel like Granada is a large tourist city – an old montreal, a quebec city where you do not venture beyond the walls. Is it because i have entered a poorer country and notice the difference, the street dogs are skinny not like in Costa Rica, and when i do see the side streets and look inside the homes i see it, as i did when we crossed the border and the simple country homes of costa rica (which looked poorer as we approached the border) became shacks. Is it just a city vibe descending upon me? Is it a new culture shock? Or is it travel without a purpose? My plans messed up by the time on my tourist card 30 vs the 90 in my passport so it is hard to commit. I spend time sitting in cafes, in front of the computer, yes, maybe this is gift i had been given since i said i wanted the time and focus to write and it has been forced upon me. Or is this a realization of what i have felt before, travelling, observing, standing on the outside. That the difference between those who visit and those who reside is so great – and i am on the other side.

I visit the churches – magnificent outside, but so plain within – high ceilings but devoid of much decoration. I climb the tower in one and look out over the city, much greener than it appears from the street, as all the trees are in the courtyards to the homes. The centre area is nicely restored, smoother sidewalks, fresh bright paint of blue, orange, yellow etc. on the buildings you walk beyond, sidewalks crack and paint fades. It does not seem dangerous like a big city, few policemen or armed guards, just outside the banks where they sit bored, watching the money changers who patrol the corners outside.

It is dusk, i hear the birds sing outside in the park, gathering in the trees.

I was not the only one who feared the walk to the lake – just a few blocks beyond where the dark green zone and the pedestrian area of Calle la Calzada ends. I went today, a Sunday, and a few families walked down the emptier boulevard. I had walked some side streets on my way there – past homes, a few horses grazing on an empty lot, kids playing ball in a street. There is little down there at the lake, polluted is seems. A few from the hostel were wondering about going down and had been told to be careful so it was not only me.

My new hostel is on the edge of the market area which goes on for blocks – narrower streets with vendors selling shoes, lotto tickets (everywhere) food, bras, DVDs with tvs set up on the street which at night a few sit on chairs and watch, taxis (not the uniform red of Costa rica) but a variety of cars, many beaters, most older, some independent, others granada taxis, and a few buses mainly longer distance, and the bicycles other with more than 1 person, and the mini bikes and motor cycles, a few horses with carts (the nice horse-drawn buggies do not include the busy market on their route), and the people, buying, selling, bread comes out at night, a few men carrying large bags on their heads, and a few women baskets, all walk on the shady side of the street (it is hot here and the sun is strong) and the sidewalk is full of vendors, so it is a mix of pedestrians and vehicles. The market building itself is dark inside and a bit of a maze – i enter breifly – in the front section many bras, tshirts and shoes, yes more shoes.

I venture beyond to the bus area to Rivas where i might go, a block beyond the market down a narrow side street. All are helpful, i look at the unpaved lot with old yellow school buses, a crowded one pulls out, and i wonder about the romance of bus travel in this area. The expresos that go to Managua and then with a transfer to Leon, while cramped mini-buses with open doors to let in some air, do not seem so bad.

I shut myself down and hide inside quiet a bit. Most are friendly, the vendors are not agressive, a few beggars, and a few kids that seem to be trouble, wanting food from the table at restos, but seeming strung out.

So many kids, in arms and all. the sidewalks and streets vary from packed to empty with little in between.

Still i wonder why i am here? That as a poor gringa i am a rich nica and can enjoy the cafes and places to stay that i could not at home? What do i want to do here – write but about what if i shut myself down and do not reach out? I feel caged – makes me appreciate the freedoms of home.

I do not know what to do with myself? Volunteer – but where – i want internet connection so not an isolated farm. my time here is shorter than i imagined – need to cross north or south and that has been eating at me. but with that, have wasted at least a day, which has become valuable, mulling over it. I am not as in love with Granada as i had imagined. Yes, the colonial centre has been restored, but i had been expecting something more, had rushed up here, had built it up in my mind perhaps too much so.

I have taken few pictures here – do not feel as comfortable pulling out the camera. Do i head north up to Leon another colonial town or down to isla ometepe? Only tomorrow will tell. Or is this just culture shock?

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Central Squares

Again this is an entry that i started some time ago, the time when i devoted part of the day to writing. I yearned for a central park when i was in the tourist towns of manual antonio, monteverde and montuzuma, and now i have been around them but i do not linger. I hung around the various squares in San Jose, but never stayed long, watching people, children playing, families gathering, people listening to music, and a few tourists taking photos – myself included.

I came to Granada, as a colonial town, one with a restored parque central dominated by the huge yellow cathedral off to one side. Yet i do not linger there – it is dominated by the locals, who have claimed all the shady benches, and i do not feel right sitting there alone – the tourist blocks the run towards the lake, with the outside tables at the restaurants seem the place for that. There are vendors selling hotdogs, cigarettes and drinks, souvenirs, and snacks, and two shady stands set up with tables in the corners to buy coffee or icecream. As many times as i walk through it, i do not stay, it is not a place for me to people watch and i am disappointed.

But i do not know why – i had the same feeling in many of the squares in Mexico, those that i idealized and yearned for – some were ok for a woman, a gringa, alone, and others were fine when i wsa with someone else, but others were for the locals, the place where they can relax and live their lives.

But still, they provide a centre, a place that you can come back to, a public place with trees, as many of the homes and buildings are built straight on the sidewalk, the leafy gardens hidden away in the courtyards. And for those who have, that is the private place for retreat.

And around this square, here in granada, are some restos and bars where you can sit outside and watch all go by. And the traffic around it is sane – actually the traffic on the narrow one way streets in general is same. Another smaller square abuts this, and the pedestrian street is off beside the cathedral. Yet where the action and chaos is is the market place.

I was in one more town, Liberia, in costa rica, not a tourist town, with a central square, not leafy and green, only a bit of shade. i sat there briefly consulting my guide, it was a place to sit. Crossing into it was a challenge, as traffic whizzed by on all the sides, A smaller church at one end of course, and restos around. Yet, it provided an anchor to the place, the middle of the commercial zone, and a few paused here to sit a while – maybe it was the lack of shade, but was not a place where children played.

Initial entry

Ososi where i stay is a wonderful small town, but i have felt that something was missing, but it was a something that i could not define. But now i know what it is – it is the parque central or central square that forms the centre of most cities and towns that i have been in in this land.
The square is an essential feature of the towns, it is their hearts, the core, though the city or town may have spread far beyond, and other parks and squares may have been built as well. But the centre is the centre it is the heart. And where one should be in Orosi lies the soccar field, also an essential component of Costa rican towns, but it is not a place to gather.
The parque central is the heart, it is a relief from the craziness outside, a place to rest and reflect, and a place to gather, for people alone, for children to play, friends and lovers. It is the place in the centre of the maps ‘ a defining place from which you can explore, if you can find your way back you know how to go out in another direction.
They are often leafy, with trees and benches below. You can sit and watch the world go by. And while there are similarities each has its own flavor.

I fell in love with them on my trip to mexico a few years back – the zocallo they were callled, and they were full of life – often a church on one end, and in colonial towns historic buildings surrounded, and cafes were laid out upon the endges. Here there are no cafes in the towns where i have been, a fast food chain somewhere on the perimeter in the larger places, but still. And while the village green is a part of old new england towns, and i spent time in the squares in new york they are not as ingrained part of the culture, and i wonder if they still are here.

In Alueja it was the place to where i returned over and over again, trees, benches, music and later in the week vendors as well. On the peremiter are banks, a few stores, a heladeria )ice cream places and people line up at the special counter at McDonalds for icecream. on the edge is a church.

In Cartago the center square has few trees, but it is large. It sits beside las ruinas, the remains of an old church that had been rebuilt too many times and now is an open structure with gardens within. It is near the market, the local buses stop on one edge and the other bus companies stop within a few blocks. There are panderias near by, and banks, and stores, the centre of the shopping district. Traffic whizzes by, but on one end are the ever too rare traffic lights to you may easily cross the street. While not as removed, it is an oasis, and when you find your way there, directions finally make sense.

I spent but a few moments at the square in Hereida that one day i was there, but dogs lounged and children played, people ate lunch and there was more life than in the fancier gardens that belongs to the church that sat on its edge.

My favorite so far has been the square in Turrialba though it held less human life, and it was mainly men who sat about. Still it has many trees, and wooden sculptures of monkeys and other animals, a new gazebo, and like the town, they are trying to bring life to it. It sits across the street from a newer church, and signs inside announce the free wifi available in the town. I feel life coming back, the town was poorer at the edges, and from above it sprawled out a bit more – the shop streets led out from the park and some sodas and restos surrounded it – the traffic was less crazy as they had built a new bus station up the hill a few blocks away a few years ago.


What i long for is a square to sit and reflect, to write and relax and people watch. My morning in New York at Bryant Square was one of those moments – i could be there, sit and write. What will i find as i journey on – i do not know, but i will find out.

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I started this entry a week and a half ago. I have changed countries and the unease continues – i limit myself, stick to the centre and the tourist places, limit myself and my journeys. I stick out, solo gringa, for all  to see – and while i am a poor gringa i am a rich nica, and i see eyes of resentment upon me. I fear, and that limits me and consumes me, i create a shell around myself, a small world, and am hesitant in all. This is what i wrote in Costa Rica and i have experienced it since, in a sleepless night in Montuzuma, in walking a few empty streets in Liberia with all my stuff, and here in Granada, as i leave the tourist zone and i dont like feeling this way – for i limit my boundaries, and do not reach out. Try to plan a trip so i do not need to cross Managua at all, for all one hears about is crime, and maybe even taxis are not to be trusted. People are friendly, and it is not healthy to approach others with distrust, it eats away at the soul. I do not venture out, sit in courtyards, in restos in the interior safe spaces. There was a brief break from this feeling in the national parks in costa rica, especially in Monteverde, where i got over this fear when on the trails alone, and could commune with something larger. And i long for the places where i used to camp alone, walk down the two lane highway, beaches, or trails by myself, and explore the corners of the towns. The places where i would feel sure and confident – even though that would be an illusion and others would sometimes ask are you not afraid. And the answer was generally, not really, maybe a bit but it feels fine. Here i fear, and how much is real and how much is me – like in Alaska where i did not hike much because of my fear of the bears, and looked behind my back.

When fear increased in the US after 911 i used to poo-poo it, and much of that fear that was put forth was a scare tactic – and how much of what i hear here is, and how much is real caution. But what is real is the way it eats at you, and changes you. It is not a definite fear, it gnaws at you slowly not one large bite, away of your surroundings. If nothing else i understand this feeling that others have had, i feel it. But i do not know how to move beyond it. And yes, i have this feeling in other areas of my life – the anxiety about belonging, trying new things, being accepted, and maybe some of that that i had slowly moved beyond, i thought, has come back in another way, to remind me. Yes, i have moved beyond my comfort zone – can i make this it, or do i run back to the zone that is familiar and comfortable. will it ever be here?

Well here is the entry that i wrote

I tossed and turned last night, unable to sleep, thinking about this place and moving on – about travel and safety. About safety and security and fear. And here i feel unsure, i watch myself, my belongings, i do not walk after dark. I have felt this fear in myself and in others and i do not like it. Where i am now is safe, or safer, a tourist enclave, but still signs everywhere not to leave your belongings unattended.
Yesterday i met a guy who had been mugged his third day in quepos, the owner of the hostel where i stayed in san jose – a native tican (though blatantly gay) had been mugged the night before i got there – and the muggings were not just give me your money – but violent – the first had 7 stitches in his foot, and the latter had bruised ribs. Both were alone at night coming home from bars but still. I miss the safety of my native lands, of being free to come and go as i please, to poo-poo the fear that others have, to camp alone and walk alone and hike alone.
And here the road to the beach twists and turns, narrow with no shoulder, and is unsafe to walk, not out of human danger during the day, but with cars, i walked on monday when the park was closed and the traffic light, but it is crazy. Not like the roads in orosi, also narrow, but with less traffic and mainly local and accustomed to locals walking on the side of the road.
And here places are not barred and gated. Yet it seems like a bit of an illusion. Maybe it was my first arrival in the country coming into Alujeala after 10pm, when all was shut, metal sliding grates like in New york cover all the shops, bars on windows and compounds. It was quiet, too quiet.
And there is talk of crime everywhere – some of it country vs city folk, in orosi and environs, actually everywhere, talk of crime in the capital, the tican on the bus warning about crime in Jaco – the drugs, prostitutes, and gangs, the beach in quepos apparently filled with crackheads – much like in america, but so often i have felt safe, now i feel the unease.
And costa rica has been a safe country, not the history of wars in places that surround, and maybe that is what it is, building compounds and walls, abolished the army in 48, no wars. the water is safe to drink.
but this fear, is this what it is like so many places, i move beyond it, it is random. but i have rarely felt it before.
and is that why people grasp for safety.

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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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