As we entered El Salvador, we underwent a border crossing procedure that was to be repeated upon entry into Honduras, Nicaragua, and also Costa Rica. As soon as we stepped off of the bus, men offering to exchange our money into the local currency aggressively approached us. We found trading one foreign currency for another to be rather confusing and we were even swindled (luckily for only $5) when someone's speedy fingers danced around on a calculator faster than we could keep up. By the end of the journey we had remnants of four kinds of money in our pockets: Guatemalan Quetzals, El Salvadoran colones, Honduran lempiras, Nicaraguan córdobas, and eventually Costa Rican colones. The combinations of bills and coins of different denominations were very hard to keep track of. Much of our time at the borders was spent waiting in lines to get our passports stamped and paying fees for entering and exiting each country. Sometimes our bags were searched for drugs or other contraband, but we were astonished at how we sensed virtually no military presence at any of the stopping points along the way.
During the trip, we stayed at inexpensive hotels in the capitals cities of San Salvador (El Salvador) and Managua (Nicaragua) and eventually San José (Costa Rica). The hotel rooms were generally clean and secure but the three of us had to share the rooms with...las cucarachas! Like most travelers, cockroaches are absent from the hotel rooms during the day, but like to gather and hang out mostly at night and usually when you're taking an evening or early morning shower. It was never really an issue as to if there were cockroaches in the rooms, but rather how big and ugly they were. We saw some really huge mammas and lots of little babies with potential too.
We witnessed signs of destruction due to Hurricane Mitch in both Honduras and Nicaragua. Our bus followed the Transamerican Highway but was occasionally diverted by a desvío (detour) because parts of the road were swept away or heavily damaged. Several bridges we saw were completely washed away and water erosion from flooding left large ravines resembling mini-canyons. We passed an enormous volcano in Nicaragua several miles north of the highway. Other passengers on our bus told us that for days the incessant hurricane rains filled the entire volcano with water. The level of water continued to rise until it overflowed out of the volcano creating a terrible landslide that destroyed the surrounding villages killing over 3,000 people. Surprisingly enough, many areas that were heavily damaged were already repaired or were undergoing repairs. People seemed to be getting on with their lives as quickly as possible despite the heavy losses suffered.
At the end of a twelve-hour bus ride on the second day, we arrived in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, just in time for dinner. Our meal consisted of papas (potatoes), arroz (rice), and plátanos fritos (fried plantains). Natalia and her younger brother, Pablo, two Costa Ricans friends from the bus, joined us. Near the end of our meal, Natalia's Nicaraguan friend, Chela, walked into the restaurant by a bizarre coincidence. After introducing herself, she offered us a late-night tour of Managua, taking advantage of both the full moon and her Toyota Land Cruiser. Just off of the calmly moonlit lake of Managua we toured the colonial downtown, enjoying the warm evening air and light breeze. Leaving the car, we walked up the steps of the Palacio National and the old cathedral that is now a ruin and used mainly as a backdrop for weddings and other ceremonies. Many buildings in the downtown were leveled, rebuilt, and again wrecked because of the two major earthquakes to hit Nicaragua this century (in 1931 and 1972). It was particularly interesting to see how Managua commemorates neither a military hero nor politician, but Nicaragua's most celebrated poet Rubén Darío with both the Teatro Rubén Darío and an impressive statue in his honor.
Once we crossed into Costa Rica we were quick to notice some significant differences distinguishing this country from others in Central America. We'll be exploring these differences over the next week. Although this is only my first week on the World Trek, I feel as though I've covered quite a bit of ground already. I've been on the move every day since I started (less than a week ago), and have had a taste of five other countries already (literally a taste because I ate some delicious local meals along the way). I'm having a great time learning about our neighboring countries to the south. Now that I'm in Costa Rica I finally have a chance to catch my breath and slow down...for now.Check out all the countries we visited on the Maps page!
Kevin - La Cuacaracha, the KID'S VERSION
Shawn - The Lion, the Witch and the Canoe!
Monica - Of Gritos and Guerras: Contrast between Nicaragua and Costa Rica
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