Day 16 (Jun. 19):
An "American" Move:
Well, it looks like the road to the border is going to get more complicated as I amble north. Up until now the trip has been fairly easy. Hop a bus at the terminal in the city and ride it to the border. Cross and repeat. This morning as I organized my things for the short trip into Honduras I felt a bit stressed because the bus system in Managua does not offer a set schedule for the buses leaving for other parts of the country. There are international buses that follow fairly strict schedules, but they all pass through the border and this is a no-go for me. I need time to hang out on the border and to come and go as I please. Arriving at the station all I can do is listen to the bus drivers as the yell out their destinations from inside their insanely decorated buses. “Ocotal!” “San Juan del Sur!” “Somoto!” The goal is the town of El Espino, but this destination does not make its way out of the mouths of the pushy drivers. All that I can gather from Google Maps is that the town of Somoto is about 15km from the El Espino border crossing. I can hop the bus to Somoto and I am somewhat sure that there will be shuttles heading to the border from there…I hope. In the worst case scenario I can always rely on two rules of bus travel in Central America: 1.) People are always traveling to the border and this means that there is always transportation. 2.) If a bus goes into a town, there is obviously one coming back from where I started. These rules help to soothe the uneasy feeling in my stomach, but all I can do is let go and see where the current takes me. I need stop trying to control every variable and just follow the flow of the people.
The journey from Managua was a real test for me; a true lesson in what it takes to “let go.” No structured schedule, no knowledge of which bus goes where. Only the basic trust that I am not the only person that is trying to get to the border and that someone has created a transportation system to capitalize on the trend. The most important lesson thus far...it’s much easier to let go once you stop worrying about time.
The final chicken bus drops me off just in front of the El Espino border. There isn’t much going on here. A market that caters to the needs of the random travelers, the customs offices, and that about sums it up. El Espino consists of one road that peacefully winds through the mountain side connecting the Nicaraguan customs office to the Honduran customs office. No transmitadores nor taxi drivers to hassle you along the way. It’s pure serenity. After I receive my exit stamp from the Nicaraguan customs agent, I take my time as I slowly stroll down the single road into Honduras. Forests to my left and an amazing scene of the mountainscape to my right. Eventually, the entrance to Honduras sneaks up on me and I flash my passport to the customs agent for the entrance stamp. No problems here, everyone is laid back as they casually smile at me and wish me a good day. All of the various workers here carry a relaxed vibe. El Espino is by far the most beautiful border crossing that I’ve had the chance to walk through thus far. Unfortunately, my few hours of participant observation breeze by as I catch myself watching the horizon more often than the people passing through the one chain linked rope that counts as the official border here on the Honduran end of the territory. Even watching the chain border is a joy in El Espino. Random locals cheerfully lower the chain as border crossers approach the unintimidating checkpoint. It’s not much of a structured system, basically whoever happens to be near the make-shift station whenever a traveler approaches is the person who is control of the chain. It’s a truly fantastic aspect that involves the entire community.
The chicken bus that I finally selected slowly makes its way down the Pan-Am to within 30 km of the Nicaragua/Honduras border. The buses here rarely ever come to a complete stop, so I quickly rip my bag out of the overhead storage rack and jump out the rear exit of the rolling bus like a soldier diving out of the back of an airplane. The bus pulls away and I’m once again left standing in the middle of nowhere with a few kiosks and a shack of a bus stop as my scenery. On Day 1 this scene would have caused a great deal of panic, but at this point I just don’t care. I know that another bus will eventually roll down the road. The key is to be patient and to remain in the same spot. Time has to take a back seat in these cases. The next bus will come when it comes. Within 30 minutes I can hear it rumbling around the corner, a new bus traveling into Somoto; the town just before the border. I shuffle towards the moving vehicle, grab for the door, and let the doorman pull me on as the bus whips by the lonely stop. It’s the same scene as before. A highly decorated bus blaring music through its homemade speaker system as it tears through the country side. Eventually, I hop off and repeat the lonesome transfer once more before I reach the Nicaragua/Honduras border.
It’s roughly 11:30am and I must get moving. There is one shuttle that transports travelers from El Espino to the next town of San Marcos de Colón. The only issue with the laid back atmosphere here, however, is that the driver will not leave until he has twenty passengers. He explains to me, “With less than twenty people, I don’t make enough money to cover the cost of gas.” Right now, we have… three. An hour and a half peacefully passes and there are now six travelers waiting to hitch a ride. Clearly, it’s going to be a while before we accumulate twenty passengers. Although time is not much of an issue, the last bus for Choluteca leaves from San Marcos de Colón at 4pm and the driver will only leave when he has twenty people or when his clock strikes 5pm; whichever comes first. As of now, it looks like we are waiting until 5pm. Typically, I would wait it out, but I cannot afford to be stuck in San Marcos de Colón for the night. Furthermore, the other travelers- consisting of an elderly couple, a middle-aged business man, and a woman with her young daughter- are starting to complain as they wipe the streaming sweat from their faces. The troops are getting restless and it is only getting hotter up here in the mountain. After doing some math in my head, I decide that it’s time for some good ol’ fashioned American will and ingenuity.
I approach the driver who is pre-occupied watching the football match with a group of locals and ask, “We have 6 people waiting. If I buy all of the seats in your shuttle can we leave now?” Like a scene out of a bad movie, the loud football chatter stops and everyone turns in unison to put a face to the person that just offered to buy the entire bus. The driver smiles, “350 Lempira.” The group of football fans anxiously watches for my reaction. I can handle 350 Lempira, but what fun is a transaction like this without some negotiation. I respond with a stern counter offer, “300 Lempira and we have a deal.” The driver pulls out his calculator, punches a few numbers, looks up, and responds, “Ok.” I casually pace back and forth for a minute to add to the suspense and come back, “Ok, 300 Lempira. Let’s go.” The growing crowd gawks at the transaction as I hand the money to the driver. After I tell the rest of the travelers in waiting that we are leaving, they all cheer and clap as we pile into the rickety shuttle. Slowly, the elderly couple steps onto the bus and they stop to shake my hand “Thank you very much. It is very hot today and we are getting tired.” I normally don’t like to throw around money, but it was for the good of the group. To be honest it was well worth it. If you do the math 300 Lempira is only $15. Somewhere out there Marcus Kraft is laughing as he reads this because we both know that I learned moves like this from him.