After reading about Alberto the Hermit in the small town of Estelí, Nicaragua, Audrey and I decided we had to go. We had bought our tickets in El Tunco from San Salvador to Estelí for the ripe price of $45.00 (actually our tickets were to Managua, but you have to pay full price even if you get off early). After spending the night in San Salvador, we got up bright and early and boarded the Transporte del Sol bus for the eight hour ride to Estelí. We had paid extra to travel with the Transporte del Sol company rather than TicaBus, and we paid an even higher price by having to find different accomodations than we had planned (you can read about that here). We were promised wifi, movies, two meals and we were able to pick our own seats. We were ecstatic. However, we boarded the bus and, much to our dismay, discovered things were a bit different than we had been told.
The bus had no wifi. I know, I know, first world problems, but we were pretty perturbed that we had paid (quite a bit) extra to catch up with our families and on our blogs to discover there was no internet. The attendant informed us that only some buses had wifi. As far as relaxing movies? Movies played, but they were blaring and you couldn’t sleep, read, or think – it was ridiculous. The first movie was a French film with Spanish subtitles. Not helpful. At least the Hedman-Alas bus from Guatemala to Honduras allowed you to plug in your own headphones and adjust your own volume. A few minutes into our journey, the attendant walked down the aisle and gave us breakfast. The breakfast for our $45 journey consisted of a pack of twinkies and a juice box. Seriously?! Oh well, what can you do?
Thanks to Audrey for this picture, by the way.
Shortly after, we neared the border. The attendant walked down the aisle and collected passports and border crossing fees. We were crossing into Honduras and then into Nicaragua, so we were dealing with two border crossings. This was our third border crossing, but I was very hesitant to give over my passport. Every other time, we exited the bus and dealt with immigration on our own. Oh well, perhaps it would be nice to have someone else deal with immigration for us. The attendant then asked for $18. As I said earlier, this was not our first border crossing. We knew the fees were only $16. $3 to get into Honduras, free to leave (as long as you have your entrance paper), and $13 to enter Nicaragua. We asked the lady why there was an extra $2 charge. She didn’t explain, but only told us we needed to give her $18. It was only $2 more, but we were extremely annoyed. However, when someone in Central America has your passport and you’re crossing not one border, but two, you just hush and give them the money.
The bus pulled over just outside of the Honduran border crossing. We got off and walked across the border while Honduran military checked the bus to ensure there were no stowaways. After it was cleared, we were able to get back on the bus. The bus hadn’t left yet, and I had to pee. I decided to take advantage of being able to use the toilet without it bumping along the windy Honduran route known as the road to Nicaragua. Much to my dismay, the bus took off just as I shut the door to the toilet.
Now there is something you have keep in mind with bus toilets. Chicken buses do not have toilets at all, and even fancy bus toilets are not quite up to par with coaches back home. The bus we were on had a toilet in the back with a window to keep, well, fumes from stinking up the entire bus. This little window is just open – you can’t lift it, close it or move it – it’s just a hole in the side of the bus a little lower than eye level. In our bus, there was a little curtain to keep people on the outside from being able to peek in. Convenient, to say the least! Unfortunately, when the bus is in motion, the wind from the open window makes the curtain fly back so everyone can see everything. But when you’re on the road, that really isn’t a huge concern. I looked out the window and all I could see were trees, countryside and cows.
So I get down to business. The toilet wasn’t clean by any means, so squatting seemed to be the best way to get the job done. I grabbed on to the rail and held on for dear life as the bus flew down the windy, bumpy road and I started to pee. At that very moment, our bus driver decided it was an opportune time to pass a truck full of Honduran men piled in the back, who were of course looking my way. Greeeeat. Not going to lie, that was an interesting, albeit mortifying experience.
A few hours later, we got to the Nicaraguan border crossing. Again, we hopped off the bus and walked across the border. Once we crossed into Nicaragua, we went into the immigration building, where our luggage was piled outside the bus. We grabbed what belonged to us, lined it up and stood next to our bags. An immigration officer then went through each bag, asked a question or two, then nodded us through where we went back to the bus.
Thanks again to Audrey for this photo!
After a few more hours, obnoxiously loud movies, and crappy food, we pulled up to a gas station. The attendant then stood at the front of the bus and yelled something out. The problem was, the movies were so loud, no one could tell what she said. A few minutes later, she stormed down to our seats and barked Estelí!!! Audrey and I quizzically looked around and gathered our things. We knew that we would be stopping before everyone else; however, we had no clue it would be at some random gas station. Oh well, we grabbed our things, got off the bus and walked into the gas station. Neither of us recommend nor will ever be taking Transporte del Sol again!
The gas station seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. A few taxis were parked at the edge of the property. We walked over and asked different drivers if they knew where Sonati was. The first three had no idea. We started to get a bit nervous we were in the wrong place. However, the fourth taxi driver knew where Sonati was and we put our bags in the car and loaded up. On the way, the driver stopped and a young mother with her child piled in. This car was already on the fritz. With the driver, his friend in the passenger seat, Audrey, me, our luggage and these two new passengers, the car screeched and squealed and sounded like it was about to explode.
We were extremely relieved when it pulled up to the hostel and we got out. We had finally arrived at Sonati, a non-profit environmental hostel we had heard great things about. Audrey and I ultimately fell in love with Sonati as well as Estelí, and we ended up staying in the charming little town for five days.
Want to hear more adventures meeting the Stone Man, hitching a ride to a waterfall or cliff jumping in canyons? Check back soon. :)