Getting to Monteverde, Costa Rica from the Nicaraguan Border – The Budget Way

As it’s not so straightforward to do this journey, we thought we would give a little how-to descriptions…

Now, to begin with we almost missed our stop. Like, we were so close to missing it and probably going straight to San Jose. That’s not where we wanted to go.

And thus, our first lived-lesson on the difference between Nicaragua and Costa Rica: in Nicaragua the bus driver/conductor/cash collector will tell you when to get off the bus. In Costa Rica, ain’t nobody helping you so you better hope you preloaded the Google Map onto your phone and that your GPS is working. Otherwise, I have no idea how you’re supposed to know.

And now, our second lesson: Costa Rican buses are less chaotic than Nicaraguan buses, and you will most likely get an assigned seat for your journey in Costa Rica. 

And now for lesson number 3: In Nicaragua, you can ride on a bus for ages before you have to pay someone. That someone you pay walks around the bus and collects money from people (you don’t pay the driver). In Costa Rica, you either buy a ticket beforehand, or pay the driver directly — there is no bus conductor making sure that little old ladies carrying baby chickens get a seat. 

Are you still with me? 

Ready for lesson four, then? In Costa Rica the bus prices are posted, whether it’s in the bus or in the station, so you know that you’re paying the same price as everyone else. In Nicaragua, it’s a crap shoot – I never knew how much buses were supposed to cost. Once we were told that our bus was going to cost about 50 cordobas (just about $2USD) each and it ended up costing us around 28 cordobas (about $1 USD) for the two of us (I can’t remember the exact price but it was WAY cheaper than we were told it would be). On the way home (same route) it was even cheaper.

I swear this is the last lesson for this post. It’s lesson number five: Buses in Costa Rica are much more expensive than Nicaragua. But they’re still really quite cheap, especially compared to Canada. 

The journey by public bus from the Nica/Tica border (Pe├▒as Blancas) cost us $9USD a person. So $18USD total.

There was not a great deal of indication as to how to go from the border to Monteverde so we asked around and were quickly directed to the public bus ticket office and bought a ticket to “Cruce Sardinal”. We had doubts this was where we needed to go yet paid up and waited.

Our first stop was in the middle of the road, in the middle of nowheresville…obviously, there was no discernable identification that that was in fact where we were supposed to get off, cross the road, and get on a different bus at 2:30pm going a different direction.

 
Luckily, we asked the driver at about the right time where we needed to change to go to Monteverde. He stopped about a minute later and said “aqui”. And then directed us across the road.

We waited at the stop. And waited. And waited as people just ended up hitch hiking. We waited so long that I got a bit of a tan.

 
Finally at 3:30pm a bus came WOOWHOO! [note: this the last bus of the day from this junction called “La Irma” so make sure you get there before 3:30].

And it was going to Monteverde!

It was our bus — yeehaw! It really did exist. We paid the driver and then took what was the most beautiful public bus ride we’d ever taken.

  
 

So, there you go, public bus from the border to Monteverde is possible, is relatively inexpensive and took around 5 hours with waiting time. Plus, it ends up with a stunning bus ride from La Irma to Santa Elena/Monteverde.
  — Cyn

It was Rickety-as-Shit

I knew it was going to be an early morning. And it was. But I didn’t know just how much I was going to wish that my feet were on solid land before it was 7:30am.

We rolled up to the port on Ometepe Island’s bustling “city” Moyogalpa at the ripe old hour of 6:15am. We wanted to catch the 6:45am ferry to the mainland (San Jorge) before hightailing it to Costa Rica before our Nicaraguan Visa’s expired. There was a pretty good chance we wouldn’t be let into Costa Rica so we needed to allow time for that. We had 24 hours to figure this out.

So what?, you’re probably thinking. I don’t blame you. I’d be thinking that too.

So we rolled up to the port. By rolled I mean walked. By port I mean…I don’t know, it was a big dock-like thing.

There were two boats. 

One was the same one that we took to Ometepe Island. Fairly big, but small according to Lonley Planet (we think, and are still not sure what constitutes big or small). Room enough for maybe 120 or 150 people.

  

This thing wasn’t glamourous but it was sturdy. That’s all — and exactly what — you need when you’re going across a super choppy lake. By the way, we saw a boat LITERALLY SINKING on our way there.

The other boat was about the same size and rickety as shit.

This other boat was definitely the kind of boat that you hear horror stories about. 

There was no way in hell we were taking that ferry.

  

Except WE DID. 

Because it left at 6:30am and the other one left at 7:00am. 

Despite the fact that the ferry we wanted left at 6:45am and the “schedule never changed not even on holidays” there was in fact NO 6:45am ferry.

So we got on the rickety as shit ferry.

We dropped our bags off basically at the feet of some random men. I figured that they’d rummage through our stuff and make a mess of it. But I couldn’t seem them stealing anything. 

Like, would they REALLY want Part 2 of Stephen King’s The Dome…in English no less? Ya I doubt that. After lugging the honking book around for a month, I don’t want the damn thing either. It’s massive. (Except I know that once I get through Part 1 I’ll be glad I have Part 2).

Our stuff wasn’t rummaged through or stolen at any rate.

But I think we came close to capsizing a few times. But I wouldn’t really know because we were below deck. NEVER DOING THAT AGAIN. It was the worst!!!!!

Once we dropped our bags off, we began our reluctant descent down some scary dooms-day stairs. It felt like we were securing our fate at the bottom of the lake.

I tried not to think about that. It was obvious this boat had made and survived the journey before (it was not a brand new vessel).

It was in fact leaking water. A fact that I observed as I leaned my head down and looked between my feet. Water was gushing from the raised floor behind me. I don’t know if this was normal or if it was safe. I barely even thought about that. 

I was too busy trying to figure out how to say “your boat is leaking” in Spanish. We didn’t get that far in our studies.

I was also too busy noticing that we were basically sideways.

I was even busier worrying about Matt because he doesn’t like boats and gets sea sick. 

And.

With every creak and croack of the rickety as shit wooden boat, I feared a little for our marriage’s survival and a fair amount for our lives.

–Cyn 

Dear Muscles, Please forgive me, I did not mean to hurt you [Video]

We arrived on the grand twice-volcanoed island of Ometepe late in the afternoon on April 4th. 

It was my birthday and we celebrated by waking up early to chicken-bus travel on the busiest Nicaraguan day for travel. The day when most Nicas travel from the cities to the incredibly crowded beaches. 

The bus was a little crowded to say the least. I found myself standing and squashed into a 3×3 foot area that also included two families. It was a little crowded to say the least. Cynthia managed to get squashed next to the only guy who arrived for his 6:30am bus to the beach completely hammered. Too much Tona for this bloke. It was a little… you get the picture.

Basically, it was a mission to get to the beautiful island of Ometepe. So, the only thing to do was to delay my birthday celebration to the following day…

Ometepe has a treasure trove of natural delights for the traveler. There’s beaches and villages to explore, river and lake kayaking, waterfalls, hidden gem cafes. Lots of choice for the traveler. 

However, to truly bring home to me how old I was turning and to remind me and show Cynthia that these bones are a little more aged than they used to be, we chose to hike, scramble, crawl and climb up Maderas Volcano.

The hike was led by our never-tired and never-sweating guide Yeris, organised through the lovely people at Finca Mystica. I cannot emphasise this enough – it makes for such a great all-round experience when your guide speaks so highly of and positively about the place you’re in at that given moment.

We learned about the island and volcano’s history, about his family and his family’s farm and, in turn, he was eager to learn about Canada. The hike/crawl/climb was easily the hardest I have ever done yet our guide made a fantastic effort to keep things positive, interesting and, well, moving along of course.

  
The hike (all 17km up and down of it) was gruelling for me, great exercise for Cynthia and a walk in the Park for Yerys. He had, of course, done the hike yesterday along with “over 100 times before”. Anyhow, it was gruelling, with a great deal of sweat and tiredness going up and a whole lot of millions-of-knives-stabbing-you-in-the knees-multiple times over and over on the way down. 

Yet, along the way we saw and heard many a howler monkey and hiked through various differing layers of forest. From the dryer lower part to the huge trees and dense middle bit, to the even denser yet mud everywhere bit closer to the peak. And then there were the incredible views of Omepete island as we ascended. What a place. 

  
So, yes, we reached the top of the volcano (1,394 metres or a shade under 2.5 CN Towers or around 200 times smaller than the length of Wales) and saw the mysterious crater lake. We learned about Omepete and the people who have lived there for generations upon generations. We saw me sweat a lot and, yes, we made a video… Hope you enjoy ­čÖé

Where we stayed: Finca Mystica – hidden little gem of a place at the base of Maderas Volcano with very yummy food and clean little cabins to stay in. 

 — Matt

Granada, hotter than hot

Granada, the oven of Nicarauga, is certainly charming with its picturesque buildings and views.

   

        

We were in Granada for a week, doing Spanish classes (still pretty badly needed) and another homestay. 

 

 

Casa Xalteva is a wonderful place to study Spanish in Granada!Our teacher Maria was really friendly and she was quick to laugh at us.

Especially when she told us that…Matt had been calling the mother at homestay Doughnut instead of Mrs. 

You know, when you’re learning another language you’re bound to make some pretty hilarious mistakes. So it helps if your teacher is quick to point out your goofy errors and laugh at you. Dontcha think?!

Aside from studying Spanish, we passed the time hanging out in cafes and trying not to die of heat stroke. We were not prepared for the heat in Granada. Like it was just. So. Hot. 

Our favourite place to catch a warm breeze was called Garden Cafe. Their beers were cold and the cookies delicious! We didn’t try the food because we were being stuffed full at our homestay.  

   

   

There’s lots of opportunity to take advantage of happy hours in the city centre. You can get good deals, like 2 for 1 beers, at El Tercer Ojo. But make sure you pay attention to the actual hours of the happy hour. 

  

While it might seem like every hour is happy hour, it’s not. We went too early and had to pay full price for 4 of our 6 beers. Dang!

Fear not — we didn’t miss out on the natural beauty surrounding Granada.

We spent a blissful day soaking up the sun in the crater lake that is Laguna de Apoyo. 

  

 

And an adventurous afternoon exploring Mayasa Volcano, too. 

   

       

Chicken Bus Chicken Brain

 Image from Vagabond-travel.com 
Stand on the street. Go ahead. Hail a bus now. A big converted school bus. Just wave your hand around.

It’ll stop for you, seriously. Bus stop or not. 

Now get on. Oh what’s wrong? Is the bus packed like a tin of sardines

No problem. 

The bus conductor will shout something in a language you can’t understand. Then slowly people will start moving towards the back of the bus. You barely fit on but you’re on. 

The bus conductor is shouting again. You can’t understand the words that are coming out of his mouth. And yet you know. You know you need start making your way back. Through all the people. 

And you start sweating. Profusely. It’s not hotter, it’s just your nerves. Where do you hold? How do you shuffle on a moving chicken bus? Good god you’re going to fall over. 

Remember, tell the driver where you’re going. You have no idea how to get there so you’re completely reliant on the driver and bus conductor remembering you…and your destination…and telling you when to get off. 

And what to do once you exit the bus. 

But don’t worry about that right now. There’s other things on your mind.

 

image from www.explaura.net
 
Like…

….how on earth you’ll fit in between all these people

…if your short arm on your short body will be able to reach the handle that’s on the bus ceiling – CEILING!

…if you fall over, will you be trampled to death or just laughed at. And will you wish you were trampled if all 500 people on the bus point and laugh at you. 

…that there’s white deodorant clumping in your upstretched armpit and that you actually cannot physically get rid of it because that would mean:

1) letting go of the ceiling handle that is currently keeping you upright and alive

2) your 2 litre bottle of water is so frigging big and heavy you have nowhere to put it anyway

…but hey, at least you remembered your deodorant today because there’s a 15 year old kid’s nose straight in it

Some other things you’re thinking about:

…thank you Nicaraguans for being pretty short because I can actually reach your ceiling handle

…I’m never ever ever letting go of this ceiling handle

…holy shit my arm is going to fall off from stretching to reach the ceiling handle

…I believe the way I’m holding the ceiling handle is called the Vulcan Death Grip

…oh look, I found something to lean my leg against 

…oh my god I’m leaning my sweaty back knee on a man’s front knee! 

…well he doesn’t seem to mind

…I think I’ll leave my leg there. Sorry man, I wish someone invented leg antiperspirant. 
–Cyn