León & Granada: Sick in Nicaragua

dysphoria n. An unwell feeling.

The road to León had been rough, in more ways than one.  The route itself is inherently long and miserable, and for us it was even worse, as I was still reeling from the tragedy of losing $800 without the promise of getting it back.  All that frustration had led Chris and I into a big fight right as we finally got on the last bus at the border that would take us to León.  It was over nothing, just a product of our exhaustion from traveling, our frustration at being ripped off by the bicycle taxi, and our discomfort from sitting on a broken seat and scrunching our feet on the wheel well; nevertheless, it was a bad end to an already bad day.  To anyone out there plans on traveling with a significant other and thinks you’ll never fight: I hate to shatter your delusion, but you will.  You’ll fight a lot, because travel is stressful and stress brings out the worst in people.  And when you have no one else around you to talk to, all that stress and anxiety tends to manifest toward the one person you do have.  Chris and I don’t hold it against each other when we snap a bit.

Once we made up on the bus ride, we decided that our frustration needed an outlet other than each other, and it fell on a perfect target.  Since we had left San Miguel that morning, there had been an Australian couple that had been dogging our heels, taking all the same buses we had and waiting magically in front of us in every line.  For some reason, I hated them.  It was a feel that had been growing all day and I couldn’t rally understand it.  I had never so irrationally and unreasonably hated someone so much before.  Why?  Maybe it was because they never said hi.  Maybe it was because they always seemed one step ahead of us, whether it be in the immigration line or whatever.  Maybe it was because, through all the misery and shit of the day, nothing really seemed to bother them.  Maybe it was the fact that they were not ripped off by a border bicycle taxi, managed to walk and still make the bus on time, and boarded the bus with ice cream, as if rubbing it in our very hungry faces.  Or maybe it was because they seemed like the better version of us.  And yet, the ironic part of all that was our shared hatred of these complete strangers made us forget about our own fight and actually brought us the most cheer we had felt all day.  As we waited on that long stop and go us ride, we laughed about pointless and senseless it all was.  It was the perfect example of finding happiness in the most negative of things.

By the time we finally arrived in León, it was 10pm and we still had no hostel lined up.  The hostel we thought we might stay in, La Posada Gordita, ended up being full and thus we were out on the street again.  Funnily enough, the bicycle taxi driver that had tried (and I do mean tried because I refused to let that happen) to so unjustly rip us off by charging us $20 for a $2 ride into the city, suddenly turned around and offered to help us at no cost.  He drove us from hostel to hostel, all only about a block apart and all of them full. 

Finally, we found a hostel called Hostal Sonati that didn’t have any private rooms left, but did offer us a six bed dorm with one double bed as a private.  We would have it all to ourselves, they assured us, and if we stayed three nights, the would give us one free.  At only $20 a night anyway, that was a pretty good deal, so we accepted.  Not that we really had that much room to be picky at that point.  We tipped the taxi driver for being so nice and moved into the room, where we collapsed immediately into bed.

The next day, we didn’t really do anything other than pick up some groceries at the store.  We needed to the day to recuperate from the previous one.  And from what we observed in our wanderings to the supermarket, we weren’t missing much.  León struck me as extraordinarily boring.  The only things to see within the city itself were churches.  Honestly, if you look on tourism websites about León, the only historical monuments to see are churches.  And after some of the magnificent churches of Europe, the ones in Central America just felt a bit lackluster.  I appreciated churches for their architectural brilliance, and these lacked much of that, though some of the facades were decently pretty.

Sure, there was plenty of stuff to do outside the city….if you had money, that is.  I had initially wanted to go volcano boarding on Cerro Negro, the volcano just outside the city, but after finding out it would have cost us $30 each for one ride down the volcano, we vetoed that idea.  It was simply too much money for too little reward.

But honestly, I wasn’t too heartbroken about not having much to do for those three days.  Once again, I wasn’t feeling very well, which must have been my body’s way of telling me I needed to rest.  This sickness, however, felt different.  It wasn’t just a runny nose as I had had in Guatemala.  No that had finally stopped, and now it was replaced by a splitting headache, a fever, and a sore throat.  I almost wanted the runny nose back.  The worst part was how hot I constantly felt.  The skin on my back and stomach was so warm to the touch that I was convinced for a while I had dengue fever after looking up the symptoms.  Because Googling your symptoms is always helpful, as I discovered with our traveler’s diarrhea. 

All I knew for sure was that I was goddamn sick of constantly being sick.  It felt like I had been sick with some ailment or another since I had arrived in Honduras.  That may have been a slight exaggeration, but either way, I had definitely spent less days well than I had ill.  It was downright miserable and between the illness and everything else that ad gone wrong, I was trying so hard not to seriously say, “Fuck it, let’s rebook our tickets and go home.”  But that just made me sick in an entirely different way.  I didn’t want to quit.  I just wanted to be out of Central America.  I just wanted things to go right for once.

At least two good things happened in León: 1) My bank refunded all the money I had lost from my account on my stolen debit card.  The only downside was that now I had a locked debit card and no way except Chris’ (which charged $8 transaction fees) to withdraw money; 2) My computer randomly started working again.  Not fully, but it began working if it was plugged in, which informed me that the problem was battery related.  Something must have fried my battery that first night in Honduras.  I wasn’t complaining because that meant that the solution was only $200 rather than a new computer.  It also meant I could get all my files off it so if something did happen again to it, I would at least have those.  I crossed my fingers that nothing else would happen.

After three nights trying to recover and beat whatever this mysterious ailment was, we left León for the town of Granada, located just slightly to the south of León.  It’s easy to overpay going from León to Granada, as pretty much every hostel advertises a shuttle costing around $15-$20 per person.  That was way too much money for a three-hour ride for us, so we did a little research and came up with a better way.  From the bus station we had been dropped off at a few days prior, we found a minibus labeled Managua and hopped aboard.  These buses run from early in the morning to 9pm and operate on a leave when full basis, which is actually pretty quick.  Like most of Central America, full means FULL.  There is no spare space to cram in any other person and you generally feel bad for the poor sap sat next to someone taking up their own seat and half of his.  Chris and I make a point to grab the row of two seats rather than risk being crammed with another person on a three or four seat row.

The journey to Granada took two legs, first a 1.5 hour bus to Managua, Nicaragua’s capital, that cost us $1 each.  There, we got off at the UCS bus terminal (important you stop there as that terminal has the connections to Granada) and got on another bus.  This one was already full when we arrived and thus we were the unlucky saps who got to stand for the entire two-hour ride.  To demonstrate how slow everything in Central America moves, the remaining route was only 30 miles and yet it took us 2 two hours.  These bus drivers also had no understanding of the meaning of “overcapacity” and kept cramming people into the aisle even though we were all scrunched together as it was.  Each time a new person boarded, I got shoved backward, my butt dangerously close to ramming into the face of the nearest seated man.  I couldn’t tell who had it worse: me or him.  It was definitely not the most comfortable ride, but it did only cost us about C25 or $0.90 each.

We hopped off the bus in Granada prior to the actual bus stop because we knew our hostel was close.  We walked two blocks left and there it was: Hostal La Mexicana.  Because why not have a little bit of Mexico in Nicaragua?  Even though it was cheap at $15 a night, we were immediately thankful we were only staying two nights; the second we walked in the room, we were assaulted with the most hideous shade of mint green walls I think I had ever seen.  The lighting was dim and the last two feet of wall stretching up the ceiling was not actually a wall at all, but rather a screen.  This caused us quite a few problems later that evening.  You see, the hostel posted a sign that warned guests to be considerate of other when watching movies on laptops.  Fine, we understood that and we generally never play our volume any louder than it takes for us to hear it.  However, our room was unfortunately situated right in the spot in the hallway where the staff liked to gather and be social.   That meant than if our television show got even slightly loud enough for us to hear, they would knock and tell us it was too loud.  That didn’t stop those dirty hypocrites from laughing and shouting right across the hall from our room well into the night.  I have no problem being considerate of other people if only I am shown the same consideration.

The next day, we had no plans except for to grab some groceries and explore the city just a bit.  While León is Nicaragua’s second largest city, Granada is the sixth largest, and thus the whole place feels a little bit more colonial and peaceful.  While León’s architecture stems from a Castilian influence, Granana is Moorish and Andalusian, so everything exists in bright colors as opposed to the faded pastels of León.  For years, León and Granada warred about which city deserved to be the capital until the argument was settled by giving the capital seat to Managua so neither could win. 

Another fun fact: Granada was one the place of residence for American filibuster William Walker.  Despite being an educated lawyer and physician, he got the dumb idea to usurp the presidency of Nicaragua in 1956 in effort to take over all of Central America.  Though he maintained control of Nicaragua for nearly a year, he was eventually defeated by a coalition of Central American forces, though not before one of his generals set Granada on fire with the words, “Here was Granada.”  He was executed in Honduras three years later.  And yet our parents tell us to be doctors and lawyers.

We didn’t explore for long, mostly because I still wasn’t feeling well, but before we returned to the hostel, we did need to line up tickets out of Granada and into Costa Rica.  While we had avoided the more expensive charter companies like Tica and Nica bus, there wasn’t really much option for us on a ride as long as the one to Costa Rica would take.  We decided to just such it up and pay the $30 each for a Tica bus to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica.  Since we didn’t plan on spending much time there, we wanted to get across the country as quickly as possible, and riding halfway across to the capital in one day was a good start.  Unfortunately, the only bus times were early in the morning and thus we set our alarms for 5:45am the next day in order to be at the Tica station by 6:30am for a 7am bus.  Then we went back to the hostel to try to get some sleep before that.

My ailment was also becoming less mysterious with the formation of yellow, scabby pustules on my lips and chin, accompanied by a few more open sores on the inside of my lips.  It was pretty clear to me that I had…. Sigh….Oral herpes.  It’s funny how that is such an embarrassing thing to say when 80% of the population has it.  In fact, I was an anomaly in that I had never had an outbreak of herpes before.  No cold sores, nothing.  Just my luck, I read online that the first outbreak of oral herpes is the most severe and the most painful.  Since most people have their first outbreak of herpes before the age of ten, when the immune system is strong, it isn’t such a big deal.  If you’re like me, and you wait until you’re 22 and run-down from constant travel, a first time outbreak is downright miserable.  And it was.  For the next ten days, I suffered from one of the most painful illnesses I think I’ve ever had.  My teeth and gums were so tender that brushing them aches and caused me to spit blood for the next five minutes.  As a solution,  I broke down and paid $6 for a small bottle of Listerine just to combat the bacteria in my mouth without having to deal with the pain and blood.  My tonsils had turned almost completely white with pustules that made swallowing practically anything painful.  I turned to almost a completely liquid diet of yogurt drinks because that was the least painful thing for me.  The only solids I consumed were the acetaminophen I swallowed like candy.  And of course, there was the string of ugly, yellow oozing scabs on my face that made me embarrassed to be around anyone.  I was already a gringo; I didn’t want to be the herpes gringo, too.

         I felt like shit the next morning; definitely not up to riding on a bus for eight hours, but I didn’t really have much choice.  We scrambled to get our things together and just as we were about to leave, we realized that one of our Trango carabiners that had been screw locked onto one of the gear loops on Chris’ pack was missing.  We searched everywhere in the room and it was nowhere to be found.  Chris specifically remembered it being there when we arrived and we had only left the room together on that one occasion.  Funnily enough, when we returned, the fan we had left plugged in was no longer plugged in so we knew someone had been in the room.  Whoever that had been had stolen our carabiner.  Despite the fact that it was 6am, we asked the receptionist to wake the owner and told her about the issue.  Rather than listen to our concerns, she just got angry and told us, “People always try to start trouble.  My hotel very safe!”  Well maybe if people “always” try to start trouble, there’s a reason for it.  She wouldn’t hear it, simply waving away our concerns.  Had we not had to catch a bus in a half an hour, we would have stayed and protested, even for something as minimal as a carabiner.  It’s the principle of the matter; we were sick of getting ripped off and taken advantage of.  Unfortunately, there was nothing we could do at that point but promise to ourselves to write a brutal review on any hostel booking website we could to warn future travelers.

UPDATE:  After writing pretty scathing review of the hostel on Booking.com, I received a reply to my review:

“THANK YOU FOR YOUR COMMENT, BUT WE WANT TO SAY THAT THE OBJECT THAT YOU SAID WAS REMOVED WAS UNDER YOUR BED, FOUND BY YOUR PARTNER WAS A KEYBOARD-PADDED TO HANG TENNIS, WE ALL LISTEN AND LIVE WHEN I FOUND ..... BUT I DO NOT ASK FOR APOLOGIZE FOR ACCUSING ALL THE STAFF OF THE UNJUSTLY, WHICH HAS NOT ABSOLUTELY LOST ANYTHING, NOBODY ENTERS THE ROOMS ONLY WHEN THE GUEST REQUESTS IF YOU FORGET YOUR KEY IN OR LOSS, THIS KEY IS VERY SAVED NOBODY HAS ACCESS AND IF SOMEONE IS USING IT ARE 2 PEOPLE WHO ACCOMPANY HIM ........ OUR HOSTEL IS SAFE ...... WE HAVE RETURNED MONEY AND OBJECTS TO OUR OTHER UESPEDES, WE HAVE BEEN SENT TO OTHER CITIES AND WE NEVER HAVE HAD THIS PROBLEM ....... AND WITH RESPECT TO THE FAN, WE HAVE LETTERS TO INDICATE THAT FANS AND LIGHTS IF YOU ARE NOT IN THE ROOM PLEASE TURN OFF !!!!! .. THIS IS TO AVOID ANY SHORT CYCLE , REALIZATION OR INNECESSARY PAYMENT OF ENRGIA,. WITH REGARD TO YOUR PROGRAM, WE DO NOT HAVE TELEVISION IN THE ROOMS, SO WE DO NOT ALLOW MOVIES OR NOISTS AS THE HOSTEL IS COLONIAL WITH OPEN PATIOS .... WE DO NOT WANT TO DISCOURSE OTHER GUESTS THAT THEY DO NOT WANT OR HAVE ANY INTEREST IN LISTENING TO MOVIES OR PROGRAMS ...... IF THE GUESTS DO NOT ACATAN THE INDICATIONS YOU ARE CALLED EDUCATED TO MEET THE INDICATIONS, BUT IF OTHER GUESTS CLAIM AND MAKE IT STRONGLY WE DO NOT HAVE ANY BLAME ..... SO WE DO NOT KNOW IF YOU ARE REALLY GOOD, FOR YOUR DISEASE THAT I DO NOT EXIT THE ROOM !!!!! THANK YOU FOR YOUR VISIT! ..... IF THE HUESPED SALE CARRIES YOUR KEY ..... NO ONE HAS ACCESS TO ANOTHER KEY WITHOUT AUTHORIZATION ............. ALL HOTELS HAVE KEY FOR ANYONE EVENTUALITY !!!!! IT'S NOT A CRIME !!! WE ONLY CAN YOU SAY THAT THE CHARACTER AND FORM OF BEING OF SOME GUESTS OFFEND ALL STAFF AND OTHER GUESTS !!!!! FLOR MANAGER PROPIETARY”

All grammar and illiteracy issues aside, I would like to respond myself and point out a few logical flaws to this:

  1. I’m not sure what a “keyboard-padded to hang tennis” is but that’s definitely not what we lost.  And even if our carabiner is what that is supposed to mean, it physically could not have gotten under the bed
  2. Nowhere does it say, “We don’t allow movies and programs.”  In fact, a sign says that if you DO watch them, to be considerate of other guests with the volume…which we were.   We just weren’t shown the same consideration by staff.  Nowhere does she apologize for that.
  3. Here’s a contradiction: She says that no one but guests have access to the room and later goes on to pretty much say that they are allowed to go in the rooms if we leave on lights or the fan.  She pretty much admits to someone entering the room.
  4. Did she really need to write it in all caps?  I get it; you’re pissed off, but so were we and yet I wrote my review in proper capitalization and grammar.  Yet again, I was still the more respectful one in the situation.  But I’m white here, so that makes me the enemy, I guess.