We arrived in Leon on December 26, 2012. We both immediately knew that Leon was not for us. We had already spent 4 weeks in the city of Granada (a week extra for Dengue Fever) and it was now time for some beautiful mountain scenery on a lake – hopefully without all the trash that was everywhere in Nicaragua. I’ll never understand why they throw trash everywhere. Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America, but they do have trash cans!
Our immediate mission was to figure out how to get to El Salvador. While I was working, Wayne spent a lot of time researching what to do and where to go in El Salvador. After many hours, he looked at me and said “Forget El Salvador, if I can’t go for a hike without a guide and an armed police officer, then I don’t want to be there!”. I couldn’t disagree with that, so El Salvador was off the list – Guatemala, here we come!!
The period from Christmas to New Year is a busy travel time just like in the US. We tried getting tickets on the TicaBus, but it was already sold out until the middle of January. We were a bit stressed because we didn’t want to take the 20 hour “chicken bus” all the way to Guatemala City. Fortunate for us, we found King Quality (another long distance bus operator) with a location in the Western Union office in Leon. We booked our tickets for Saturday morning, the 29th from Esteli to Guatemala City. We took the “chicken bus” for 3 hours from Leon to Esteli on the 28th where we had to stand in the aisle as the bus was packed. It’s crazy how many people they can fit on these buses. One row had an entire family of six – three children were under the age of four, but there was only room for 2 adults by North American standards. A local boy volunteered his seat to me after an hour – Nicaraguans really are the nicest people!
The big trip started with an alarm call at 4:45am. The King Quality bus starts in Managua at 3:30am and was to pick us up from Gaselino Uno el Norte in Esteli at 6am. We didn’t want to miss the bus so we were there promptly at 5am. We both should know by now that this is Central America and nothing is on time – the bus arrived at 6:45am. Oh well, no complaints, we were heading to Guatemala. We knew in advance that we wouldn’t be sitting together for this 18 hour journey, but at least we could chat across the aisle. I was able to sit next to a man of 300 pounds and Wayne was lucky too with a female of only 200lbs. We laughed that we were protected from any bullets that might be shot at the bus (there were already 2 bullet holes on my side of the bus)! We knew this was going to be an adventure.
We arrived at the Nicaraguan border by 8am, exited the bus, and waited for our exit stamps for over an hour before driving a mile down the road to Honduras. We again had to exit the bus and wait for our entry stamps, but this only took a few minutes. We can say we were officially in Honduras, but we only saw it from the windows of the bus. The landscape was beautiful, but I’m glad the bus didn’t stop as we had only heard bad things from other travelers about Honduras.
When we arrived at the border in El Salvador, we did not exit the bus. The border agents boarded the bus, asked everyone a few questions and we were again on our way…I thought! About 10 minutes down the road, I said to Wayne, “This doesn’t look like the Pan American Highway”, well, it wasn’t. It was the anti-narcotics station and 2 armed El Salvadorian military officers boarded the bus. It freaks me out a bit when this happens as everything you read in the guide book says don’t trust the police or military in these countries. The officer that interrogated us spoke English and was extremely nice – I still didn’t trust him though!!!
Ten hours after we started our journey in Esteli, we were now on the outskirts of San Salvador. The bus stopped and everyone got out….huh, what, why, what is going on? They just dropped us off, gave us our bags and a new bus was supposed to pick us up! No one told us that when we signed up. After 5 minutes of being nervous, we noticed that no one else on the bus seemed bothered so we just went with the flow. A new bus arrived 45 minutes later and we were moving again! It was a free for all on seating on the new bus so Wayne and I could “cuddle” until we got to Guatemala City… happy me!
We slept in our huge reclining seats until we arrived at the Guatemalan border. It was really uneventful – the border agent boarded the bus and glanced at our passports. It was around 9pm and I’m sure she was ready to go home. Four hours later we arrived in Guatemala City. It was a long day and were so glad the bus dropped us off at the Hotel Biltmore. Unfortunately, we had to pay $80 for the night, which is way too much on a travelers budget, but the thought of taking a taxi at 1am in Guatemala City was not appealing. The gang violence is pretty bad in the city so $80 was just fine for my peace of mind.
As soon as we woke up and looked outside on Sunday morning, we were extremely happy to be in Guatemala. There’s no trash in the streets!!!! We took a shuttle to Antigua, then a second one to Panajachel on Lake Atitlan. We’ve been warned against the “chicken buses” in Guatemala, but I’m sure we’ll tackle those soon because the shuttles are expensive! Panajachel is packed with hippy tourists and a local handed me a bag of weed he was selling. Never mind that there were 3 police officers 20 feet away! I politely declined the offer!!
After 48 hours of traveling, I finally got my gorgeous lake volcano view! So worth it!
Happy New Year!
December 28th – December 29th 2012