Waiting for the Chicken Bus and Midnight Ferry

Trip Start Jan 23, 2011
Trip End Feb 14, 2012

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Flag of Nicaragua  , Rivas,
Friday, September 16, 2011

After we had been standing in the drizzle outside our lakeside hotel for a while, watching many young men cycle past carrying baseball bats - no, not knee breaking thugs, the game is apparently very popular here :-), we heard the welcome sounds of the giant horn-blasts to announce the approaching bus. While I know it can mean for a lot slower and longer journey time, this bus stop where you stand and put your hand out approach is just brilliant. We have experienced it often and used it ourselves a number of times, it just means you won't miss your bus just because you could not get to the bus stop quickly enough.

Our bags were loaded by a young boy, ticket money collected by another young boy and our driver, I am not sure whether to describe him as an older teenager or a young man, skilfully drove us along the winding road with equally frequent blasts of the horn as passenger stops.

Musing on Working Children - We have had quite a lot of conversations on the topic and I have written a number of times about the sad fact that so many children in Central and South America (and many places elsewhere in the world too) are put to work. On this occasion I was quite fascinated; the two young boys managed us passengers with incredible ease and skill. They were absolutely full of confidence as they told people where to sit, where to put their bags and to hurry up when getting on and off the bus. Their numerate skills were pretty good too, knowing how much to charge and how much change to return. As this is their daily life, of course they knew where we were at all times, where we were going, and where we should get off for a taxi to the ferry terminal. They also walked around the rattling, swaying, speeding, shaking bus with the ease and balance of a tightrope walker. Obviously I would prefer them to be just normal kids, going to school and playing with their friends, and I am completely against all this child labour, but I have to wonder - growing up here and, having seen how little so many people have, if these kids were to one day be promoted to the driver or, better still, own their own bus, perhaps they will have a better life and provide more for their future family than so many here. Child labour is so wrong but this is a ponderous situation!

Time to stop thinking, for now, and get the bags off the back of the bus while not landing on my bum in the middle of the muddy road as I climb down the higher-than-realised back door step :-) It was still raining so we took shelter under the structure in the main square for a while as we wondered how we would spend the next SIX hours before our Midnight Ferry...

Annie had read about some ancient statues that no-one knows much about as there is no real information on the people who carved them, where they came from, or what their purpose was. They are situated in the grounds of the church which was across the road from the square so we went to have a look. We got there as a church service had finished so were walking a bit "upstream" against the emerging congregants - they took absolutely no notice of us, to the point that some walked straight into us as we tried to get in the gate, even though we were keeping right to the side to avoid them, strange?!

The statues were interesting to see and, like some others we have seen elsewhere, in remarkably good condition after all this time.

We went walking into the town to find a coffee shop or somewhere to while away the hours, we found an excellent place, the welcoming Castillo hostel. They made us coffee, showed us where we could sway in their hammocks and rock, not in a corner but in Nicaragua's most popular and important piece of furniture, a rocking chair. Every home has at least one, often many. There were clean toilets, electricity so we could charge our iPhones and, most importantly, they arranged for us to be collected by the "Collectivo" to get to the ferry harbour, sorted!

Around 9 PM, as arranged, we were fetched and, while our luggage rode on the roof, we were packed into the full, and getting fuller, minibus. The conductor was the sweetest old man who, on seeing my Cane, just wanted to help, moving people around so I had an easy to get to seat, shining his torch to light my way and, in the end, charging us local rates for the ride, around 40% less than we expected to pay :-)

The drive to the ferry terminal was along a track that was doing a very poor impression of being a road - potholes better described as Annie called them, pot-craters, sand that most people would want a four-wheel drive vehicle before attempting to navigate, and darkness only achievable these days when a long way from any village or city with its light pollution. We decided that the men who drove us ferry passengers down here definitely qualify as talented drivers!

Along the way we did pass a few collections of houses and saw how little people here really have. One house, actually just a room, Annie saw had just a hammock hanging inside and a rocking chair outside to sit in at night to get some respite from the heat, nothing more! This made me think about the kids working on the bus, perhaps, and hopefully, at least they may have a brighter future than this?

We got to the ferry ticket office and waiting room to find that the ferry was running around an hour late, but we still would have had to get here at the same time as that's when the transport went. We bought our "first class" tickets, the only class available to tourists as we discovered when a young Taiwanese lady tried to buy a second class ticket, that's for local people only. We sat in the waiting room for a while but then decided it was a bit warm and we would go across to the only shop for a cup of coffee and something to snack on. They, like any shop with such a captive audience, took full advantage, as was reflected by their prices. Their sweets "on the each" seemed very popular with waiting passengers and local kids.

Finally it was time to go to the boarding point as the ferry was approaching. The guard with a gun let us all in through the gates and across the bumpy lumpy way to the waters edge. The ferry was about the size of a big fishing vessel and the gangplank was a thin wooden plank, not my favourite in such dark. Seeing what was being loaded by the local people with their sacks of "stuff", possibly for selling at a market, and how many of them were boarding into a most likely very cramped downstairs area, I felt very fortunate as one of the ferrymen helped us with our bags up the steep and narrow stairway to first class. In the first class cabin the benches were padded and, although room for 4 to 6 on each, it was one per person so we could stretch out and sleep, luxury by many standards and we were really pleased to see this. The toilets were just outside the door onto the deck and had big, heavy metal doors. We have read that the lake can get pretty rough, I wondered if this was an indication of just how rough?

An hour and a half late, around 1:30 AM, our Midnight ferry set sail as we brushed our teeth, placed our bags and daypacks strategically to keep everything protected and safe as we settled down to sleep our way to Granada.
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