El Último, our final Latin American bus trip.

We had no luck boarding the packed bus at the Nicaraguan Border. Youngsters yelling out destinations ignored our pleas for a ticket, our taxi drivers scared them off, we were ‘taxi customers’ they warned.

We walked away, to busy kiosks selling soft drinks and phone cards. It was early  morning and there was no rush, we would sit back , have a drink and bide our time.

The touts were disgusted.

‘ It is too dangerous here, we can take you to Granada now’ they badgered.

‘It’s ok, there is no rush.’ I returned. Thankfully, they withdrew, watching us from a distance.

Near the kiosks, ladies shouted ‘ fresco, fresco’ and waved bags of brown liquid. Icy milky-watery drinks of grains ,seeds and sweet seasoning.  

‘Grama ? Tamarindo? Cebada? One lady called out. ‘Only five cordobas! Delicious!’

Our stomachs couldn’t cope  so we opted for gaseosos at a kiosk where they emptied bottles of soft drinks into clear plastic bags, popping pink straws through the top .

I asked the sellers about buses to Granada but no one knew anthing. They pointed to the back where buses waited before moving up one at a time to load up. I walked down to the parking lot and was shown a bus that would leave soon and bring us to Granada.

When this bus was ready to take passengers,we were still unsure whether it would take us to Granada or not.Our taxi touts repeated that bus staff were robbers and wouldn’t bring us. But boy yellers ,leaning out of the bus, chanting ‘Managua! Managua!’promised the bus would bring us directly to Granada. Fellow passengers confirmed their promise.

The heat aboard was intense and the music loud. 80’s ballads again. Supertramp’s ‘Breakfast in America’  It was chaotic with more and more passengers pouring on. Refresco ladies and food-sellers walked up and down the aisle shouting for sales. Mobile phone sellers flogged Nicarguan phone chips, disassembling phones up and down the aisle, inserting new cards.

The scene was crazy. So crazy, we laughed aloud. Then it got even more bizarre.

A frowning  border guard marched on ,holding up a counterfeit 100 dollar bill, looking for the person who had spent it.  No one was owning up and he walked up and down the aisle trying to identify a face. He stopped right behind us, asking two guys for documentation. They didn’t have passports but showed letters and spoke with heavily accented Spanish. I couldn’t figure out where they were from. 

The guard wanted reimbursement of the 100 dollars and soon an argument broke out . There were  lots of denials and shaking of heads but the guard was having none of it.  The lads emptied their pockets but were still short. They sent the guard to friends sitting up front who then sent him back down to another sitting  at the back. He was losing patience and becoming irritable,soon all the gang  were standing up shouting at each other and random passengers were egging them on and laughing. Thankfully, they finally cobbled enough cash together to get the guard off their backs and he left.

It was pure theatre and passengers were enjoying the spectacle despite the half hour delay. The departure time didn’t seem to matter to anyone. The bus would leave only when it was absolutely full to the brim.

When  it did pull off,  the passengers, in good spirits after the pre-trip entertainment, slid open all the windows creating a warm hair drier-in-your face current, numbing our faces and dulling our hearing. The bus was packed to capacity , the aisle full of luggage, we were wedged in.

For a couple of hours, we crawled up the isthmus marvelling at the streetscape outside. Passing  yellow American school buses,overloaded scooters and bicycles.Familes of four balanced precariously on some bikes while other cyclists carried gas canisters and other unwieldy goods.A van loaded with bamboo whizzed by, then another packed with passengers and a pig.

All the time, a yelling youth leaned out the door soliciting pedestrians to hop on and join us to Managua.

My first impression was just how poor yet beautiful the country was. We passed Lago Nicaragua with twin volcanoes, Concepcion and Maderas. Stunning scenery but between the bus and the lake was a dry,brown landscape strewn with rubbish  and dotted with power-generating windmills. Some broken and neglected on the ground.

We travelled like this for a few hours until one of the passengers shouted at me

‘Are you going to  Granada? you’ve just passed it.’

 I was confused, I’d been keeping an eye out and hadn’t seen the city

Another passenger suggested that Granada was still a bit away. Another debate broke out with many passengers saying we had passed Granada, calling for the bus to stop. One of the boy yellers appeared ,stepping over aisle luggage and told us we were OK , he would advise us when we were in Granada.

After twenty minutes, he shouted down to us and the bus stopped,leaving us out on the roadside. The boy pointed to a bend near the back  of the bus, declaring Granada around the corner.

‘Well Darragh’ I said , ‘we’re here. You’re finished with buses.’

He was delighted.

We hoisted up our bags and took the last few fateful steps round the bend in searing heat.  

There a hill  stretched out to the horizon.

We struggled, up in 35 degree heat, till  we stopped a passerby.

‘Is Granada this way?’

‘Yes my friend, it is?’

‘How far more ?’

‘Far !’he replied sympathetically, ‘about 20 miles’

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