Travelling in Nicaragua
My advice to any traveller coming to Nicaragua is simple: Land with
$100 in your wallet. There is a $10 visa payment to be made upon
arrival. If you dont have it, and I didn't, there can be quite a
There was, of course, a simple workaround: hit the local ATM. That's
all very well, but you have to enter the country to get to it. They are
a friendly lot in Nicaragua, so that isn't a problem. The problem is
when you try to use the machine. I put in my card and waited, and
waited. Nothing happened, so I cancelled the transaction and tried
again. It was only at this stage that someone pointed out that I have
to pull the card out almost as soon as it's gone in, otherwise the
system wont work. I was a bit slow, and by the time I had mastered the
way the system works, it wouldn't. There were just too many cancelled
attempts that my card became unusable (and indeed remained so for the
next 24 hours).
I dont know what they would have done with me if I didn't have a few
euros on me. The nearest British Consulate is in another country, so I
guess I would have been in a spot of bother. However, the bank changed
the euros into cordobas, and the cordobas into dollars, by which time
at least a quarter of the amount had gone in bank charges, but I ended
up with a few dollars, enough to get me officially in, and get me a
ride in a minibus to my hotel.
Transport here is by bus, taxi, or shuttle. The shuttle seems to be the
most efficacious medium. They shoot along, and cram as many as they can
inside, usually about twelve people, and cost anything from about $12
to $35, depending on how far you're going.
The typical worker goes by truck. You pay the driver and stand in the
back. Alternatively, you go by local bus, but that is a lot slower. The
buses look as if they came off the original set of East of Eden
, and they blast their
way across the countryside. Drivers hoot at everything in site, and
very enthusiastically at each other, plus a few other choice signs. The
radio blasts out maximum decibels, and the ticket collector spends most
of his time off the bus trying to round up extra customers.
Not content with being crushed in, with forty standing, there are also
the street vendors, who get on at one stop, work their way down the
bus, and get off to catch the next one. You can buy sweets, chopped
fruit, medicines, bread, pasties. Anything that can be sold out of a
basket is sold. I noticed the medicines were particularly popular.
You get off one of these buses exhausted. You feel as if you've run the
whole way, and it takes at least ten minutes to drain the noise out of
One thing I can confirm, transport in Nicaragua is amazingly efficient.
I did one trip from a remote fishing village in the north, back down to
my home in Granada, on Lake Nicaragua, in double-quick time. I honestly
could not have driven the distance any quicker. I caught a bus out of
the village at 8.00 a.m. (Okay, it was ten minutes late.) We got into
Leon forty-five minutes later. The only hold-up was when we stopped to
let a lad off so he could be copiously sick into a ditch, and then
When we arrived I merely got off the bus and there was a taxi right
Yes, one needs to be aware that every town has more than one bus
station. You dont so much find out the times of the buses, rather,
which bus station they go from. Buses go when they are full up, or the
driver gets bored waiting.
I got the taxi to the other bus station, through the chaotic streets of
Leon. Good grief, the place is like Bombay. The shops are all over the
streets. I listened the other day to Mark Steel talking about Southall,
a town I know very well. He explained that shop keepers have a cute
call on how to sell goods. They buy a shop and fill it with goods. Then
they do a curious thing. They take everything out of the shop and
scatter it all over the pavement and halfway across the street. That's
how it's done in Leon.
My driver was quite efficient. The drivers are very good here. If
people tell you about the crazy drivers in this country, suggest they
actually visit. They are careful, and efficient. Not at all like
Bombay, where it's advisable to go by helicopter or stay home.
The taxi pulled in to the other bus station, and the driver showed me
which shuttle I wanted. I filled the last seat, so we were off within
seconds. We roared off to Managua, where we pulled in to the bus
station I needed for my connection. I bailed out of one shuttle,
straight onto the next, and ten minutes later we were off to Granada,
racing another shuttle. The honks on the horn, and rude signs each time
one overtook the other were a delight to see.
You can take it I like Nicaragua. I think I'll stay. I'll tell you more
about it next week, and maybe introduce you to some very interesting
properties to buy. And I mean interesting!