Private Beach in Nicaragua

ESTELI, NICARAGUA: August 7-8

Steve: We unfortunately had to leave Caserio Valuz earlier than we had planned due to some upcoming commitments in Costa Rica. The place was unbelievable and Jorge was a consummate host; we probably could have stayed their for two weeks like our new-found French traveling companions did if we had an open itinerary. It worked out though since Arno and Jeremie were also leaving Tuesday morning for Nicaragua and the northern town of Esteli. As is often the case, traveling with others makes for some fun if not I-can't-believe-this-is-happening moments.

We were originally under the impression that crossing the Honduran-Nicaraguan border was going to be a bit of a nightmare so Leah and I were going to opt to take Tica Bus, a transnational bus line that would help expedite the border crossing. After reconsulting the guide book we found that it is the Nicaraguan-Costa Rican border that is supposed to be crazy (so we get to look forward to that at the end of this week). This now meant that we could travel with our fellow CouchSurfers since they were planning on traveling a bit more economically; additionally they were only planning on heading to Esteli and not all the way to Leon but we figured that with an early enough head start we could make it to our destination as well.

After leaving Jorge´s joint we made the twenty minute walk to the main highway where we could pick up a local bus or possibly hitchhike to Tegucigalpa as Arno and Jeremie had done throughout Honduras. Let me preface by saying that we´ve heard from many travellers that hitching a ride in Honduras has been relatively safe and easy--the only caveat is that you hop in the back of a pick-up truck and don´t get into a car; of course you know where this is going or else I wouldn´t have talked about hitchhiking. The buses were taking their sweet time coming and we were able to find a willing pick-up truck in no time. (Leah: although the first pickup was only able to take up a few miles down the road, we soon found a second. Cue Steve...) The four of us hopped in the back along with a friendly Honduran who was eager to find out more about us and help us on our way (it even turns out that his sister has been married for sixteen years to a U.S. Army colonel). He even called his brother to make sure he was giving us the correct information on where to pick up our connecting bus. Within 45 minutes we made it to the Honduran capital unscathed and with warm good-byes, dropped off exactly where we needed to be.

One taxi ride, one microbus, and one uneventful chicken bus later we made it to the Nicaraguan border. Nothing to report here except for the bevy of fees that we had to pay: an exit tax to Honduras ($3), an entrance fee into Nicaragua ($12) and then almost immediately after stepping onto Nicaraguan soil a city tax ($1) imposed by the local township. This doesn´t sound like much, but all that can add up to a bus fare, hostel and a meal in this part of the world. Anyhow with our pockets a bit lighter but no worse for wear we hopped onto our bus that would take the four of us to Esteli, where Leah and I intended on continuing to Leon since we were making good time. But lo and behold I italicized the word "intended" because the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. About a half-an-hour or so away from Esteli we began to see the right lane of the two-lane highway lined with big rigs and other vehicles. Before we could even figure out what might be happening, the bus driver (who was driving on the wrong side of the road of course) pulled off onto a small dirt embankment and people began to disembark. I asked a fellow passenger and he mentioned something about a strike and then said that there should be another bus coming. Sure enough people just took their things and started to disperse; with the massive back up there wouldn´t be another bus for a while and ours was already turning around to head back to towards the border with a fresh load of passengers.

It was time to walk. We figured that we would at least head south and find another bus or at least see what was going on. About five minutes down the road we began to see truck drivers running back to their rigs; whatever was happening was coming to an end and the traffic jam was about to clear up (we later found out that there was a strike due to the increased cost of beans). It was time to attempt another hitch but before we could even stick our thumbs out the driver of a Mack truck hauling who-knows-what honked and motioned towards the back. We had our ride. Leah, Arno, Jeremie, another Nicaraguan and myself hurriedly threw our bags over the sidegates of his flatbed and scrambled to get in. You´re probably asking yourself "so what was the driver hauling?" Well I´ll tell you: sand. The back of his truck was filled to the brim with sand. With all our bags and passengers aboard we took our seats on our private--and mobile--beach. Traffic began moving and we soon passed a huge throng of onlookers (Leah: mostly consisting of the bean strikers, police and local residents. People take their frijoles very seriously here!) who were probably just as suprised to see us sitting high atop this truck as we were (check out the video here).

This is where I need to wax poetic. Life only happens to you once and sometimes you need to reach out and make things happen; other times it seems like life reaches out and grabs you instead. This was one of those times. I feel forever bonded with the other three travelers who experienced this with me--Leah and I are already bonded by marriage of course but this was something truly special to add to our memories. We sat and watched as the incredible landscape of this new and foreign country unfolded in front of us from a vantage point that most people will never have. It may sound unsafe to some of you reading this but I can´t express with words the feeling of truly living that pulsed through my veins for that half-hour ride as a stowaway. I realized then--to wring a cliche dry--that this whole trip is truly not about the destination but about the journey. (Leah: this was actually way safer than our waterfall escapade. We climbed quite a few hills at a slow pace, weren't hurtling around corners like we do in the chicken buses and the biggest concern was making sure to turn our heads away in time to avoid inhaling the diesel exhaust).

Leah: We reached the northern city of Esteli after 3 p.m. and the driver pulled into a gas station so we could hurl ourselves and our baggage onto the pavement in a less than graceful fashion. To summarize, we had already endured the following since 7 a.m.: walking, pickup #1, pickup #2, taxi, microbus, chicken bus #1, chicken bus #2, boarder crossing, chicken bus #3, walking and big rig filled with sand. While Steve and I had intended to push through to Leon that same day, another 2 hour+ chicken bus ride just wasn't sounding that lovely and as if to seal the deal, it started raining almost immediately. We kept with the day's laissez-faire attitude and told Jeremie and Arno that we'd be staying in Esteli with them that evening. With that we all set off to find  Hospedaje Luna, a nonprofit hostel doing great things in the community--the free wifi, coffee and tea, along with an amazingly healthy and fresh menu gave us cause to settle in and shuck our packs to the floor.

Our dorm beds chosen ($8/each), we ambled around the city, stopping along the way to find an ATM (please think fondly of us every time you're able to use a debit or credit card; it's cash only in this part of the world and God forbid if your bills are old, torn or dirty--nobody will accept them) and go thrifting in the local stores selling American cast-offs (I found a pair of Columbia travel pants in my size for a little over $2-score!). The boys decided that they needed to try the local beer, so off we went to settle in for some suds before the sky opened up again. As they tucked in to a few different varieties and I happily slurped on my favorite grapefruit soda, we talked up a storm. Arno is a chef (a real, live French chef, people!), Jeremie plays every sport under the sun and they both love traveling and Couchsurfing, so the conversation never faltered. Although we've obviously stayed with Couchsurfer hosts before, this is the first time we've traveled with others for any amount of time and I was surprised at how hungry I was for this type of interaction.

While Steve and I are obviously undertaking this trip together and couldn't imagine doing this with anyone else, being with someone 24/7 for 34 straight days so far can have its highs and lows. I'm realizing that some of our better days involve being around other travelers or locals; all our energy and conversation isn't directed solely at each other (which can ignite a volatile mood, especially if we're already tired, hungry, hot or generally cranky), which is a good thing. On top of that, it was refreshing to have intimate and lengthy talks with other people who are always traveling, as they understand the pros and cons of living like a snail with your home always on your back. Steve talked sports, beer and the intricacies of romantic relationships  and I was able to practice my French and found a receptive audience in regards to my feelings about wanting to raise a family abroad, however temporarily. Even after moving back to the hostel for a yummy dinner (a hummus wrap for me--my tastebuds and tummy rejoiced), we couldn't shut up and had to drag ourselves off to the showers well after 9 p.m.

The next morning we parted with hugs and the lovely French cheek kisses I love, since Steve and I were off to Leon as originally planned. It was a joy traveling with Jeremie and Arno and we hope to maybe run into them again farther south, as they will also be heading to South America. Here's to private mobile beaches, fleeting encounters that stay indelibly etched in your heart and a literal world of other traveling companions we've yet to meet.

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