Saturday, November 14, 2015

Leon to El Tunco Shuttle

It was super easy to organize a shuttle from Leon, Nicaragua to El Tunco, El Salvador. There were a lot of travel agencies who could have done it for you, you could do it online, or, like we did, have your hostel arrange it. The shuttle cost $45 each and picked us up at our hostel (Tortuga Balooda) at 2am. We were the first ones to be picked up and the driver directed us to the best seats in the van (the only ones with leg room). He turned the AC on high and we drove across town to pick up the other passengers. The other passengers turned out to be one big group of French people. When we pulled up in front of their hostel I noticed an extremely intoxicated gringo stumbling towards us without shoes on, wearing a neon 'Tona' (Nicaraguan Beer brand) shirt with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. I judged him, and not kindly. When he reached the hostel's door there was a bit of a discussion with a lot of pointing towards the shuttle. Oh yes, he was coming with us.

Everyone's bag got thrown on top of the bus and strapped down under tarps (except for ours, because they're small, our bags rode inside with us) and all 9 of us piled in. Off we went into the night. The roads in Nicaragua are impressive. Smooth and new looking. Around 4am we got to the Honduran border. Our driver collected all of our passports. All except our drunk friend who couldn't find his. He thought maybe he had left his passport in his bag, which was strapped to the roof of the van, under all the other bags. I judged him again, even more unkindly. I didn't care how drunk he was- I thought he was an idiot. Common sense IS the least common of the senses, as they say. Dear idiot: you are on an international shuttle in which you are going to have to show your passport no fewer than SIX times- not including roadside stops. (They were going on to Antigua, Guatemala). The driver, always with a smile, climbed onto the roof and passed the bag down to his friends. They literally emptied his bag out onto the disgusting sidewalk (which, I won't lie- gave me a small amount of satisfaction). After a few frantic minutes in which it seemed that his passport was equally likely to be back in Leon than it was to be in his bag, one of his friends pulled his hand from an inner pocket in the bag and produced the missing passport. Darn. We don't get to leave him at the Honduran border after all. Kidding! (J: She's not). We had to pay a $7 each for the processing fee (and then got a receipt for $3 from the Honduran officials.) I don't know whether the driver pocketed the extra or he paid the Honduras officer to expedite the process, or if it costs more in the middle of the night- all are equally possible.  Either way the driver handled everything and we didn't even talk to an official. I personally hope that the driver got the money- he deserves it for dealing with a bunch of gringos in the middle of the night. It was all a little weird, but easy peasy.

The Honduran roads were significantly less impressive; jostling us in and out of an uncomfortable sleep. Leaving Honduras was the same as entering. The driver handled everything and we stayed in the AC van. Crossing in to El Salvador we got our own passports back and presented them to the friendly official ourselves. I always notice what a difference it makes to actually look at the officer, smile and say 'Hola.' Why people give more common courtesy to a waiter than they do to a foreign official baffles my mind (J: From someone who waited tables in his younger years, I don't necessarily agree with this statement.) Starting by treating the officer like a person, instead of an obstacle is always a good way to ensure a pleasant exchange. There was no fee to enter El Salvador and because of the 4 country agreement between Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, no stamp. (Although apparently Honduras has forgotten that it is a signatory of this agreement. In theory, one should be able to travel between the countries by land for up to 90 days without having to do new entrance paperwork or stamps).

The sun was up by this time (its up at 5:30), so we had the pleasure of seeing the El Salvadorian landscape on our way through. It was gorgeous. Green hills and thick lush foliage in every direction. We made a couple stops to get gas and eat. It was uneventful, which is always a good thing when it comes to transport.

We turned off the highway and down to El Tunco, which is a popular beach stop for foreign and domestic travelers. Most foreigners catch a shuttle to El Tunco from Nicaragua and then another shuttle on to Antigua, Guatemala.

We had made a rookie mistake and booked an expensive room in advance. The mistake was not in booking ahead. It was booking a room for MUCH more than we had been paying in Nicaragua, thinking El Tunco would be super busy and everything would be full. Which it was not, at all. It's November- which hotels claim to be the beginning of the high season, but we have come to know that the high season in Central America really doesn't start until December. So- fear not, November travelers- you're all good!

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