Monday, November 09, 2015

Jinotega to Leon - Chicken Bus Style

Our goal: To get from Jinotega (Pronounced Hinotayga) in the Nicaraguan Highlands to Leon, in the sultry lowlands.
What we knew:  Only what our out-of-date Lonely Planet Guide Book said (aka: pretty much nothing).
The adventure: A bus was probably leaving Jinotega at 9am to go to Esteli, another town in the Highlands. The guidebook said it would take 1.5hours. The first half of that was correct, at least. We got on the bus and bought a ticket. It was an actual ticket, which was rare, with a little bus picture and it said Jinotega- Esteli, 9am-11:45am. Hmmm. Well that was certainly longer than 1.5hours. It seemed a little long, considering the relatively short distance, but then again, just the other day it had taken us 1.5 hours to go 34kms, so it certainly wasn't put of the realm of possibilities.

The difference between this bus and the last bus was that this bus had a sound system. A very loud one.With a TV. Our 2.75 hours of entertainment kicked off with some good old Nica Spanish rappers. The bus was quite literally vibrating with the thumping base when we turned off the smooth highway and onto an unpaved, pothole stricken, dirt road. Ahhhhh the 2.75 hour journey suddenly made sense. Just then, because throwing some English words into music is cool I suppose, the singer started yelling, 'Its all fine, because she makes wine." These were the English words he chose to add to his rap song. Then it was all 'fine because he made wine', and then because 'we made wine'. All I could hope was that, at some point, someone was going to give me some of that wine, because I was getting a headache.

After a few more Rap ditties, our bus DJ/ ticket sales man changed the channel on the entertainment system. Up next: Zumba class. Yes, like the exercise class you take at the gym. Zumba girls danced around in gym clothes to fast music, doing a mesmorizing sequence of salsa steps and exercise moves. That was weird. I did what anyone would do in this situation and cracked open a chocolate bar.

When we had all finished our bus-ercising the DJ changed the station again to slow, sappy, Spanish love songs. All accompanied by long, sappy, romantic music videos. It was like watching a car crash- so horrible, but impossible to look away. Crying women and begging men, rain, sunsets and still more tears. Oh the drama!

Thankfully the spectacular scenery was just about powerful enough to pull my gaze away from the on-screen drama. It really was beautiful, and I found myself almost a little happy that we had chosen this (unknowingly) longer route.

We arrived in Esteli almost on time. We found an Esteli-Leon mini bus almost instantly. Unfortunately there was no one else on it. This was bad news bears as mini buses only leave when they're full. We waited and waited. It had been an hour. As people slowly drifted to the bus I found myself hoping, well it probably doesn't have to be ALL the way full, right? We can pick up people on the way? J looked dubious. Not likely. It had to be full. The 9 year daughter of one the stall owners decided that she wanted to be friends with us, so that was a bit entertaining, but otherwise, the 1.5 hours that it took to fill the entire bus (including the middle seat beside the driver) went slowly. Imagine that there was this system at home? You just show up at the bus station and have to wait around until 10 other people also randomly decide they also want to go on a bus ride. Actually its pretty fun to imagine it. 

Anyways, we eventually set off again, headed further south still. It began to get hot almost immediately as we left the highlands. The thick forest was replaced by flat fields. We were rewarded however, with another amazing view: the volcanoes. The flat land stretched out all around and the volcanoes popped up along the horizon, the perfectly symmetrical cones encircling us. They were beckoning: On to Leon! So, on we went.

Information is hard to come by in Nicaragua's Highlands, so here's some information that I wish we would have had:

We thought it would be the easiest to take the bus from Jinotega - Esteli and then on to Leon, as opposed to backtracking to Matagalpa. Morning buses from Jinotega to Esteli (40 cordoba/$2 USD) leave at 7am and 9am. We took the 9am bus. It took much longer than expected, almost 3 hours. But it was a beautiful ride. From Esteli, mini buses (75 cordoba/$3 USD) leave for Leon when full. Totally full. That ride takes about 2 hours and leaves you at the Leon bus station. From there we took a 20 cordoba (each) taxi into the awesome Tortuga Balooda Hostal. In hindsight, it might have been better to take the bus Jinotega- Matagalpa and then to Leon, but I guess it depends on the bus timing from Matagalpa to Leon. There aren't mini buses from Matagalpa- Leon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi J&K
I just did the relatively short Matagalpa-Jinotega sojourn the other day via chicken bus. It's not a whole lot better because you have to disembark on one side of Jinotega, taxi all the way across town to the other side, wade through a bewildering array of market stalls and different bluebird school buses heading to literally everywhere you've never heard of, until you finally luck on to the bus that you were hoping will get you quickly out of dodge. In my case, several very reliable looking locals assured me there was in fact a bus to Pantasma. What they didn't tell me was that it would take a couple of hours for it to actually appear. Driven by the need to actually sit down rather than stand guard over my pack amongst the throngs of marketeers, I waded through the garbage, dogs and panhandlers toward the bus as I saw it coming down the street. Unfortunately so did many, MANY others and so before the bus even got parked in its appropriate spot in the market square, it was essentially full, including with yours truly - happily occupying an actual seat. After the requisite 40 minute wait whilst seemingly every panhandler came aboard to peddle those essential items like little pink plastic pop guns or a micky mouse watch, we crammed just enough people standing in the aisle to assure that all of those with an actual aisle seat, including yours truly, had at least one ass in their face. This scenario makes the view out the window not only mesmerizing but essential.

Speaking of asses, I laughed mine off as I read your description of the music and video "entertainment" on your bus goin' t'other way. At first I thought we had experienced the same DJ in some crazy parallel universe. Alas not true, because instead of zumba class, we had seriously REPETITIVE, essentially homemade, video clips of bull riding at some rodeo....inclusive of the high volume play by play commentary. That got old very quickly. Fortunately it was a relatively short distance, but very slow continuously uphill grind entirely in first gear, to my destination in the highlands. Fortunately, the bus jockey was much better at his real job than he was at playing DJ, ensured that I got off exactly where I was supposed to.... on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.

All told the journey which probably measures something like 80 km, took up the vast majority of the day. Less than would have been the case had not a great local family took pity on an old 60 year old struggling up the last stretch of loose rock and mud that constitutes a secondary road in them thar hills. So ultimately, I arrived at the Las Bastilla Ecolodge in the back of a 4x4 pickup that was able to conquer the 5 km virtual straight up climb that probably would have otherwise may have resulted in a myocardial infarction and a real mess on the road. But one quick look and a listen to the sounds of nature here in the mountains made it very clear that the bus adventure was all well worthwhile Enjoyin' every minute of it, hope you are too!