We left San Juan Del Sur early this morning, heading for Rivas. The bus waited on the side of the road with a small cafe selling gallo pinto and eggs. There was an old beat up car across the street with a clean cut man standing beside it shouting into the morning light “Taxi! Taxi!” He was selling his wares. From his trunk you could hear the beats of old rock and roll, possibly Elvis. The bus suddenly rumbled to life and we sat down, slowly watching the quiet beachtown fade away.
The sun scorched earth was red and swirling as we drove through the countryside of Nicaragua. The trees barren, some resembling trees from a ghost story, arms clawing towards the sky. The bus blasted loud reggaetone and salsa into the world as it bounced by. The children on small farms played naked and dirty surrounded by trash. We drove by a field that looked as if it was growing plastic bags as they were stuck on every living or dead thing as far as the eye could see – row upon row… Rivas arrived with a bang.
Most bus stations in Nicaragua aren’t actually bus stations like we have in the western world, they are markets that appear to happen to have a lot of buses in them. And there is nothing to assault the senses like a mercado in Central America. You pull your stuck clothes away from your skin when you stand up and try to tame your now dusty and windblown hair. You hear it before you really see it. You step off the bus and chaos insues. It begins first with the bus callers “Mangua, Manugua, Masaya, Masaya, Grenada….” from all different directions, shouted quickly but in long breaths, almost like an auctioneer. The buses are lined up, really school busses to those of us with western eyes, painted with romantic sounding women´s names “Esmerelda Rosalita Riviera”. The names all painted in bright blues, pinks, greens. The bus callers swirl and swarm until you choose your bus. Next you notice the colors of the market and it´s many faces. The young man with dark coffee skin in a baseball cap and 10 feet of colored cotton candy in bags hanging from a pole. He shouts into the din of the crowd. And here come the children “Agua, gaseouso, agua, gaseouso, gaseouso, agua” they call, voices tinny as only a childs can be. They stop you, pull at your hand, flash smiles and crack jokes. They bat eyelashes, pout and scheme, anything to get you to buy from them. Such personality!! Ages 7, 9, 13, they should be in school, instead they pedal drinks in slinky skirts and tops. You don´t buy anything, secretly hoping that they will go to school if they can´t make money slinging bottles of drinks in the streets, but what if they don´t make any money and that makes it worse? Why would you think you buying or not would make the smallest difference?? Ahh! The arrogance of travellers.An old man with a weather worn cowboy kind of a face walks by with armfulls of pinatas for sale. Barney the big purple dinosaur is among them, even here. A young mother, baby on her hip holds a basket with bandanas and face cloths, another with hair elastics and clips. The swirl of people is endless, the calls only getting louder and louder as they all compete for air space.
We climb up into the bus and wait for more people to join the throngs on the way to Mangua, Masaya and everywhere in between, as this bus will stop EVERYWHERE. Suddenly you smell chicken and before you know it the aisle of your bus is full of the Rubenesque bodies of the taco sellers. Plastic bags filled with corn tortillas and pulled chicken sealed with an elastic and slung over a bulging hip in baskets. The women´s skin glisten and glean with sweat, their frilly aprons are dirty and only add to their roundness. “Taco con pollo!” they shout up and down the bus, one, two, three of them. Change exchanges rapidly as they squeeze their way through the bus. Turn your head Chicos or you´ll get a belly in the face!!! Finally you see the driver step up and sit down. The bus begins the long process of getting out of the market all the doors wide open as people hop onto the now moving bus. The caller hangs out the back still yelling “Masaya, Mangua, Managua, Masaya”. And we are underway the bus stuffed to the seams and still filling.