Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Logbook: The John Galt Line - Phase Two

JglphasetwoPhase Two of “The John Galt Line” through Central America began a lot like Phase One. This time, my “get up, get packed, check out and go to the TICA Bus” routine started on Sunday in San Salvador at 3am! Ugh! As usual, though I had been told to arrive at the TICA office at 4am -- which I did -- I found the place was still closed and shuttered. No matter, I had a nice “chat” with the shotgun armed security guard who was thrilled that I wanted to take his picture. Sure enough, the office opened by about 4:30 and people started to arrive. Shortly after 5am we were all loaded up and on our four hour leg toward the San Salvador - Honduras border.

I have been asked if I mind all the bus time, and my answer is “No, not at all.” For one thing, I am really enjoying the sense of time and space I have been getting from it and there never really is a dull moment. Between the antics of the people involved, the endless, subtle scenery changes and the vast quantities of media on my iPods, I have plenty to hold my attention and pass the time. Given the rigorous schedule, there’s always sleep to catch up on as well.

Anyway, the first border crossing was a complete no-brainer. We had been instructed to fill out a typical immigration form and give it to the “conductor” with our papers. At the actual border, “The Man” came on board, checked each of us out and sent us on our way. We never got off the bus and, because we did not make any stops in Honduras, we did not get off the bus until the Honduras-Nicaragua border. The way I would describe that crossing -- especially in comparison to the first two -- is downright enjoyable. There were the usual people, kids, dogs, etc., but everybody just kind of milled around and hung out. I changed a little money, bought a sandwich and a Coke then took in the sights and sounds. I wondered if maybe it all seemed so much more relaxed because I had just become accustomed to the routine, but several of the other passengers made observations similar to mine.

So, after a pleasant little break, we loaded up again and drove 4 more hours to Managua. At the bus station here, I grabbed my gear, made my reservation for the final leg to Costa Rica and got a cab to the hotel. Check in was easy and a few minutes later I was online. A delicious buffet dinner later, I crashed and had a really good sleep. It all sounds so familiar, doesn’t it? Yesterday I spent a lot of time on-line talking to friends all over the world. It’s funny, but when you are in a generic hotel room, connecting with others, it really doesn’t make much difference where you are. At moments, I had to remind myself that I am in Nicaragua!

Anyway, I walked across the street to the little shopping plaza and found the usual collection of stores: clothing, shoes, pharmacy and phones. After dinner I played cards for an hour in the silly little hotel casino amongst a mainly Chinese crowd. It appears that the Chinese are the “big money” around here, but I was unable to discern exactly what that is all about. What I can tell you is that they were all lousy blackjack players and I couldn’t even count the amount of money that was handed across the table.

This morning I arranged to get a “tour” from a taxi driver who is associated with the hotel. His name is “Parole” -- pronounced “Parolay” -- and his highly acclaimed English turned out to be little better than my Spanish. On top of which, he compensated by repeating the same things over and over in increasingly loud volume. All in all, though, we had a successful exploration and I can offer you this simple report: Managua is a mess. Having been destroyed so many times by a series of earthquakes and fires, it is nothing more than a random sprawl of one story buildings scattered among what appear to be garbage dumps. There are numerous public buildings and military installation -- remnants of the Sandinista mess -- interspersed with factories and pseudo-industrial complexes. Parole informed me that there are a few wealthy families, some more that are well to do, some more that are “so-so” and the vast majority that are poor, without jobs and hungry. The picture matches the story.

I have not been able to get a straight answer from anyone about whether or not the recent re-election of Ortega will be good for the country, but it doesn’t really seem to matter. The only thing that will really help is a massive investment of foreign industry and decades of socio-political reform and stability. I can’t recommend the former and I doubt the latter. So, I’d expect this to remain an area with problems for a long, long time. Nevertheless, the people are warm and friendly, the infrastructure seems to work and I have enjoyed my brief visit. Tomorrow morning I will repeat the early routine and be back at the TICA Bus by 6am. One more day on The John Galt Line and I will be in Costa Rica!

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