Central American buses at their finest. That’s what this must be.
Aboard what must have been a Nicaraguan school bus in a previous life, we make the slow journey from SJDS to Rivas, along Lake Nicaragua. The bus is packed, both with locals and tourists, and it’s hot. Like, “please don’t ever stop, you’ll make the breeze stop and it’s brutal” kind of hot. But we stop constantly, to load up with as many people as possible. Which means three people to a two-seat bench and jam-packed aisles. It’s only 20 miles or so to Rivas, but the bus takes an hour. And once in Rivas, a second bus.
Hot and confused, we follow when a local guy screams “Granada” at us from two feet away. And before we can even see that the bus is completely full, the “nice” gentleman throws our packs in the cargo hold below, making this bus our “final option.” Swaying back and forth in the aisle as the bus takes sharp corners at high speeds, the attendant quietly requests the 75 Cordoba fare. The rate seems a bit high, so we ask for him to say it again, but louder. He raises his voice ever so slightly, and begrudgingly, we pay up. Soon after, the locals next to us pay 40 Cordobas, and while we’re used to paying the “Gringo tax”, getting ripped off never feels good. Adding salt to the wound, the bus doesn’t even go to Granada. Nope, it goes to Managua, dropping us 11 kilometers outside of town. After a few seconds of arguing in Spanish, we’re told to jump on another bus across a field that goes into town.
We get on and sit down. It’s another former school bus and we struggle to fit our backpacks in the overhead luggage rack. Frustrated, we plot how to avoid being ripped off in the future and agree never to pay a fare until we’ve seen a local pay first. This plan alleviates some of the pain and we start to enjoy the rest of the ride into town.
Granada offers the best of colonialism. It’s long gone, but the architecture remains. Intensely colorful and ornate colonial era buildings make this town an amazing place to explore. Full of sun-drenched streets, beautiful plazas, horse-drawn carriages and historic churches, it’s a cultural capital in Nicaragua. Resting on the north end of Lake Nicaragua, the world's twentieth largest lake, it’s home to 124,000 people as well as a number of expats.
We venture down to the lake, stroll through the markets, and eat at some excellent cafes with impressive community engagement and give-back programs. We steer clear of participating in the not-so-romantic horse drawn carriage ride after seeing some seriously struggling horses grazing by the lake. Malnourished and with open wounds up and down their spines, we begin to notice the trend with nearly every other horse we see around town. A reminder to think about what it is you’re supporting before jumping into the expected tourist activity.
The day before we leave, the local professional baseball team is playing. Less than a mile outside of town is Estadio Flor de Cana (Roque T. Zavala) where the Orientals de Granada are hosting the Rivas Gigantes. Thirty Cordobas (About $1) gets us general seating along the first base line, behind the Orientals dugout. We’re the only foreigners in the crowd, which is something we thoroughly enjoy.
Rivas scores a run in the first inning, but after a pair of hits and some costly errors, the Orientals take a 3-1 lead in the fourth. Another three runs in the fifth and it’s looking like a blowout. Ice cold Tonas in hand, we eat some local street food (a tortilla, slice of cheese, roasted onions, and crema roll-up), while taking in the small but raucous crowd around us. Rivas hits home runs in the seventh and eighth to make it a 2-run game, but Granada brings in their closer to shut things down and take home the win. It’s our first taste of live baseball in almost a year and it’s well worth it. $5 for tickets, beers, and snacks. A steal of a deal.
Our time in Granada ends with a short bus ride to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. Next up, a 10-hour journey through Honduras to the 18th country on our world trip, El Salvador.