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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 palaver.

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 your ears.

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 resumed.

When we arrived I merely got off the bus and there was a taxi right behind us.

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!


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