When travelling to foreign lands it is often essential to apply for a relevant visa to cover the length of your stay and proposed activities within the country. As a tourist in Costa Rica you are given a 90 day visa on entry However if you wish to extend your stay you must travel to the border, cross over into either of the neighbouring Nicaragua or Panama and then apply for a new visa on your return. Never are we burdened by the thought of further adventure so, once our visa was close to expiration, we elected to visit the colonial city of Granada in Nicaragua. To be eligible for a new tourist visa the law states that you must remain out of the country at least 72 hours/ 3 days. We had heard a number of different stories from ex-pats who have lived here over a decade and still every 90 days do a visa run. Some said we should just go into Nicaragua for lunch turn around and come back, others said 72 hours was mandatory and we risked being refused entry if we tried an early return. We had the time for a three or four day trip so we thought we would make the most of the opportunity and caught a local bus north towards the border.
I will mention at this point that we opted to use the local public transport or ‘chicken buses’ as they are known, there is an air conditioned, movie playing gringo bus that travels from the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose through the border at Penas Blancas to the capital city in Nicaragua, Managua. However the difference in price persuaded us to risk adventure and we therefore spent $12 instead of $120 on our return journey. An enthralling experience, I would recommend to anyone a trip on the local bus in Nicaragua. Although a highly uncivilised affair you can see the huge sense of community that I think we have lost in more developed countries.
Cultural differences become more evident when travelling on public transport, throughout our travels we have noticed vast changes in the simple protocol of getting onto a bus or train. Sometimes you purchase a ticket at the station, or alternatively you may be charged on board, in Nicaragua however it became a challenge just to locate which bus was for Granada, barter the fare, find a seat and therefore avoid having to cram ourselves into the back with the crates of chickens.
The vast majority of buses in Central America are ghosts of the vehicles they once were. Seat cushions are degrading, windows are stuck either open or closed and the engines sound like old smokers, coughing and spluttering as they drag their load along the highway. It is pretty obvious that they were intentionally designed as school buses as the seats are incredibly small with none existent leg room. However the local inhabitants seem to be accustomed to this standard of transport and to my surprise I hear no one complain about the chickens living under the back seat.
Entertainment on the buses is frequent and varied. At one point during the journey a gentleman stood up and taking out a huge leather bound book, began to preach, he was joined at the next stop by a chap with a guitar and the entire female population of the village on their way to market, warbling in high pitch tones about their sacks of produce. Just when I was contemplating whether the driver would allow any more passengers on the bus he stopped again and after securing their luggage on the roof rack at least eight more people boarded. No one seemed to mind, the more people who got on the bus the slower it travelled, the more acquainted you became with the person next to you and the louder the preacher spoke.