Tuesday, November 03, 2015

La Bastilla Ecolodge- Getting there is Half the Fun!?

Our bus from Matagalpa, Nicaragua headed further north still. With nowhere to get accurate information, we made an educated(?) guess that a bus would be headed in our direction at 9am. We grabbed a $1 share-taxi to the bus station, and hopped on the bus that left almost immediately. It was mostly luck. Feeling the cool air rush in through the open windows and flood the bus filled us with hope that our three day, under 30 degree streak would continue a little longer. Jinotega is only 34kms from Matagalpa, but it took 1.5 hours for our aging chicken bus to make the ascent. This was due to a multitude of factors. The first being that our chicken bus, or so they are called here, is an ancient school bus that should have been retired decades ago. Going 20km/h was pushing the bus' limits as it went chugging up, down and up again, through the highlands. It spewed a thick black exhaust in protest, but kept on rumbling upwards. Not only did the engine sound like it was ready to self retire at any given second, but the bus was packed- certainly over the weight limit in countries where such rules applied. The seats had three people for each two person bench, the aisles were jammed with people sitting on little red plastic stools and bulging bags containing this, that and the other thing, were shoved in every free inch of space. And then there was the roof. Central American buses generally have three employees on each one. There's the driver (God bless his soul). And, the driver's helper, who sells the tickets on board and yells the buses direction out the open door, and helps passengers find free inches of space in which to shove either their bums, bags or children. And then, there's the helper's helper- The Roof Man. He's the one in charge of securing the sacks of potatoes, onions, large appliances, overstuffed suitcases, bikes and other such random, heavy, awkward objects to the roof of the bus. There's a ladder for the Roof Man to climb up on to the roof. On this particular bus, the ladder is screwed in over top of the emergency exit window- rendering it useless. Although, on the last bus we were on, there was a zip tie wrapped four times tightly and locked around the emergency exit release handle, which I also assume would make that window exit quite useless in an emergency as well. But, back to a more important topic, our bus. So the bus was slow to begin with and then multiplied by the fact that we stopped to either pick up, or drop off passengers approximately every sixty seconds. Passengers and their multitude of possessions, of course.

We arrived in Jintoega, and thanks to the super useful travel app, Triposo, which (among other useful
things) has reliable offline GPS maps of obscure (and major) towns worldwide, we found our way from the Southern Bus Station to the Northern bus station easily. The North Bus Station is more of a dirt parking lot where buses stop, and where people throw their garbage. Buses here only ply certain routes- so, the name of the route's departure and arrival cities are always painted in huge colourful letters, and often with artistic flair. We found the bus right away. We clambered on and shoved our bags on the rack above us. A man popped up in the window in front of us. He was standing on a step ladder outside, making him the perfect height to hang his upper body in through the window and wave the cold bottles of drinks into the bus, while calling out in Spanish, trying convince people to buy them. Next onto the bus came a stream of hawkers offering everything from candy and bags of water to onions still dusted with garden dirt and full plates of food wrapped in saran wrap. There was bread and fried plantains, wafers and lemons. There was ice cream and toys. Then on came the drug sales man. He gave a speech and passed around brochures detailing all the drugs you could buy from his briefcase- and, no doubt, all the miracles that would ensue. He walked down the bus aisle and deposited a blister pack of drugs on everyone's lap while he gave his spiel. On his way back through he collected the blister packs, or the money from people who were interested in his offerings. And then, just in case your needs are spiritual rather than food or drink related, the next to board our waiting bus- was a preacher. He opened his leather bound bible and began to read. His voice had a sing-songy cadence- and it was loud. He closed the Bible, and, silly me, I thought he was done and this bus was going to finally get a move on. But, no. He still had a sermon to share- it turned out. It was Sunday after all. 
He started off softly and grew louder and more passionate as he went on. (and on, and on). By the end, he was literally screaming and his voice was starting to crack under the strain. The bus was hot with the sun shining directly into it and my legs were sticking to the vinyl seat. The preacher was screaming, the cold drink guy was splaying sticky water on me and there was a constant stream of hawkers pushing food in my face. I looked at J, ready to boil over. And he bursts out laughing. 'Come on, this is hilarious!' he says. And I realize that it is. The bus driver gets on the bus and it rumbles to life. At least this must be the end of the preacher's excessively loud sermon, I think. Alas, he has more wisdom to impart. The noise of the bus' growling engine only forces the preacher to yell with more vigor as we bump out of town. I fill with dread at the thought of his yelling being the soundtrack for our entire journey. But, thankfully, at the very last second before we hit the main road, the bus slows and the preacher jumps off and the bus is left in almost silence. Phew.

So, now that we're on the move- we need to somehow get a hold of La Batilla Ecolodge so that they can send a driver down to the cutoff where the bus is going to hopefully deposit us. The Ecolodge is a full 5km, uphill from where the bus will drop us off. We knew the road was a 4WD type of path/road. And we knew that this was not a hike we were interested in while carrying our bags. We had tried to call the night before multiple times to give them an approximate time, but no one had picked up the phone. We try to convince a guy on the bus to lend us his cell for the local call. Epic Fail. I have no idea how such a simple idea was so complicated to both convey- and understand- but apparently it was. So, I allowed my phone to roam and pick up a Nicaraguan signal.We called the EcoLodge (costing $3/minute). There was little English spoken, and the bus was pretty loud, but we thought we had conveyed to whoever was on the phone that we were in need of a pickup very soon. I was optimistic. We were successfully let off at the EcoLodge cutoff. There was no one there to pick us up,
but we figured we might as well start walking and the truck would be on its way soon. It was beautiful scenery as we started up the first hill, and I was still pretty sure that a truck was on its way. We walked. And walked. Very uphill. Still no truck. Every time I heard rumbling I got excited and expected our ride to be coming around the corner. Every time it was a motorbike with at least two people on it. There were a couple of guys with machetes also walking, but otherwise, we didn't see a single person. I was becoming less convinced that there was a pick up coming to our rescue. We were becoming more and more sweaty. We started up another, steep hill. J was ahead of me when I heard a loud rumbling coming from behind. Louder than a motorbike for sure. I was elated. I didn't care who it was- I was going to beg them to drive us up the hill. A gleaming, massive, very shiny Jeep Cherokee pulled up and stopped beside me. An older couple, clearly well off, were in the front. They seemed very confused to see two random gringos, sweating their way up the mountain in the middle of nowhere. We were equally confused to see such a fancy vehicle driven by such classy looking people in the middle of nowhere. Everyone we had seen for the last half hour had clearly been a hard working farmer. And an old lady who laughed and told us that we needed an umbrella to shield us from the sun. Either way, they were nice enough to allow us into their (clearly just vacuumed) back seat. Our ability to communicate with each other was limited. 'La Bastilla?' we asked. They nodded, but knowing that La Bastilla is both the name of the nature reserve we were in AND our EcoLodge, I still harboured a tiny bit of doubt regarding how this was going to all pan out. But, very happy to be in a vehicle, we were fine just to go along for the ride. The road was rocky and uneven. There were pits the size of the Jeeps massive tires. We crossed a few rivers and some narrow bridges. The driver was hesitant, as any normal person would be when crossing a river in a vehicle. They clearly had not been here before. We passed through coffee fincas and thick jungle brush. It was spectacularly beautiful. I kept my eyes peeled for any sign of La Bastilla EcoLodge, not wanting to miss an important turn off, but there were no signs of any kind. We bumped along the road for probably twenty minutes. Finally- a sign! It was tiny and wooden- but it said 'Lodge' with an arrow. Somehow- with a massive dose of luck- we had made it! The four of us all seemed equally excited to find out that we had all been heading to the same place after all! We clambered out of the truck and offered a million thank yous. It turns out our drivers own property, which is also beautifully situated and they are thinking about opening a lodge there. They wanted to come to La Bastilla EcoLodge either to see how they had it all setup, or to sus out the competition. We'll never really know why Carlos and Carla happened to pick that exact time on that exact day to drive up to the EcoLodge for the first time, but we will be forever grateful that they did.

We were greeted at the Eco Lodge by Karel, the manager. She was very friendly and spoke very little English. She set us up in the dining area with a cold drink while she showed our chauffeurs around. Instantly- I was in love with the spot. Floor to ceiling windows overlooked a spectacular valley and thick rows of coffee plants. It was one of the most breathtaking places we'd ever seen. Some say that the journey is half the fun- and although maybe the 'fun' part wouldn't be that accurate in this case-  This journey was definitely half of the adventure.

Things we now know to be true: There are disappointing few chickens on so- called Chicken Buses.


Penelope Pomes said...

I don't imagine it was fun on the chicken bus, but you can laugh now. Jon is right. The whole situation is so unbelievable it is hilarious.
Did you have a similar experience on the way back down?

Laura said...

I have to say that your bus journey did not make me miss African buses too much. Just a little :)