From Guatemala to Costa Rica
Boy what a bus ride. First time for both of us to ride a bus for so long. We were scheduled to depart Antigua at 12:30 pm on Saturday. The shuttle van was not on time and we got going about 1:00 pm. First we went to the airport to drop off 3 passengers. Then it was our turn. We needed to go to a special luxury class bus station where the King Quality bus co. was. This was new to the driver of our van. We went all the way to the other side of Guatemala city. At a stop light our driver asked a traffic cop where the King Quality bus station was. The cop only motioned with a full swinging arm pointing straight ahead. This took us up a hill on the outskirts of the city. The traffic was thick and we slowly moved along. The time was getting along too. The travel agent told us the bus departure time was 3:00 pm., it was 2:15. I informed the driver of our departure time and asked him how long would it take to get there. He responded not very confidently, about 15 or 20 minutes.
At the top of the hill our driver asked a guy selling something along side the road, where the bus station was. He motioned back down the hill. So we did a U-turn. A little ways down the hill we stopped and asked a gate guard for an apartment complex, where the bus station was. He gestured down the hill and bending turn off to the right. Then once more, half way down the hill, after the bending right trun, we stopped at a restaurant and asked a guy getting into his car, where the station was. He motioned a left turn and swing back up the hill. It was 2:40. We did the left and went back up.
Our driver was obviously beginning to panic. It was 2:45 and he still did not know where the station was or how far it was. I told Soon Jeong that it looked like we would not be going to Costa Rica today so we had better start thinking about what we are going to do; Contact the travel agent, make return plans and lodging etc etc.
At 2:50 our driver suddenly turned to the right and pulled into a small building that had a small sign out front; King Quality bus.
I and the driver rushed into the building. The driver talked with the person at the ticket counter and, yes they did have our reservation. During this time Soon Jeong and the last passenger in our van, a French guy, carried our luggage into the station.
Rather quickly our van driver kind-of nodded to me that all was okay and we were in time to catch our bus. He then quickly disappeared. I struggled to talk to the ticket agent to see if we could get better seats and Soon Jeong stacked our luggage next to the seats. I looked over at her to see that she was okay and our luggage had been brought in.
I kept talking to the ticket agent and suddenly, BAM! My mind noticed that I did not see our white bag containing our sleeping bag was stacked with the rest of our luggage. I swung around and said to Soon Jeong; WHITE BAG! He eyes opened wide and we both looked to the front door. I ran out and our van was gone.
I came back in and, by great fortune, I had the pamphlet from Pacaya Travel agency in my pocket. I called …busy, called again…busy….. called again and Alexander answered.. I told him to call the van driver on his cell phone and ask him to immediately return as he still had one of our bags in his van.
By this time it was 3:00 pm… another good fortune was that our travel agent, Alexander, did not know the correct departure time for the bus… it was 3:30 pm not 3:00 pm.
We got out tickets with no seat change. Eight minutes after I hung up the phone with Alexander, the van driver swung into the driveway of the bus station. We got our white bag.
We got on the bus and to our surprise, it was a double decker bus. We had seats # 10, 11. They were front row seats, left side on the upper deck. We had a fantastic panoramic view. Interesting note: seats 12, 13 were the two front right seats directly across from us. BUT… they had three inches less leg room. Yes, I did measure this with my camera monopod. From seat to bulkhead… three inches less than our seats. That meant that we had, pretty much the best seats on the whole bus.
It was hot for a bit because with the panoramic view, it was hard to avoid the sun. But in about an hour the sun was getting low and it cooled off and the view was fantastic.
We put our seats back and enjoyed the view. Then got out our sandwiches, snacks and the last of my Baileys Irish Cream. Kicked off our shoes, put our feet up and just went, Yeaaaaa this is a LUXURY class bus ride.
At the boarder crossing into El Salvador we had to pay $2 dollars each. We just gave our passports and the money to the bus attendant and sat while they took care of the visa things. We actually did not receive a visa in our passports. A black Lab dog came on the bus and happily wagged his tale and went around sniffing bags. The boarder guard had to pull the dog off of our bags because he had found our food bag. No drugs just bananas, tuna sandwiches and cookies. (the Baileys was long gone by then!).
We got into San Salvador city around 9 pm. At the bus terminal there was a hotel on the 2 and 3 floors. We asked and it was 42 dollars per night. Heck we only needed to sleep a few hours… our next bus departed at 3:00 am on Sunday. There was a Japanese couple on the bus that was also going to Costa Rica. They had a torn out page from a travel guide. It had a small map of the bus terminal and nearby area showing cheap hotels. While Soon Jeong stayed next to our luggage at the bus terminal, I and the two Japanese walked around the block and found the Passadina hotel. I was cheap, 12 dollars for a double bed. No hot water but it had cable TV.
Soon Jeong and I settled in and didnt even bother to open our big bags and get pajamas out and all that stuff. We just washed our face, brushed our teeth and went to bed. I set the alarm for 2:20 am.
At 2:00 am our wake-up knock came on our door. Apparently, the Japanese couple had arranged a wake up call for both our rooms. Okay, no problem. I got brave and took the cold shower.
Our second bus departed at 3:30 am-ish and it was not a double decker bus. We had seats 5 and 6. This was good. There was plenty of leg room. Once again, just across from us were seats 7 & 8. These seats, because of the snack counter behind seats 11 & 12, were scrunched together more. A lot more. For seats 7,8 and 11,12 there was only 7 inches (about 10cm) of space between the front of the seat and the back of the seat in front of it. If one reclined the seat back, the space between the seats decreased to slightly more than the width of my hand.
Anyway, our seats were good.
As good as they were, even our seats became torturous after 12 hours. And at that time, we still had 8 more hours to go.
For Soon Jeong and I it was the longest bus ride we had ever had. And we do not want to repeat or challenge that mark again. It was also an unusual ride because we crossed three boarders and travelled in four countries in a 24 hr period.
Boarder crossings were rather simple but they we not prompt about it. All the passengers got off the bus and stood around while the bus attendants took care of the passports and visas. Of which we did not get any stamps in our passports except when we entered Costa Rica.
The usual hawkers and money changers were always waiting at the door of the bus when we got off. We were tricked by one money changer when we crossed from El Salvador into Honduras. Honduras boarders on El Salvador and Guatemala; thus, they money changers took Quetzals. We had 200 Quetzals left so we wanted to get rid of it. The rate was about 7.75 Q to the US$. The guy showed us as he punched out on his calculator; 200 X 7.75 = 1550. He said he would round it up to 16 dollars. We took the 16 without thinking about it too much. We were a little more confused because we were thinking in terms of El Salvador money to quetzals and then Quetzals to dollars, and we did not know the El Savlador to dollar exchange rate. An hour down the road I realized that it should have been 200 DIVIDED by 7.75. We should have gotten $26 USD.
Okay, we are calling that our $10 dollar tuition money for the education and reminder that we need to keep the brain working. So now the daily mantra for Soon Jeong and I is… Health and safety and Keep the brain working.
Despite the agonizing long hours on the bus, the scenery was fantastic. Especially travelling along Lake Nicaragua. It was 4:30 ish and the view of the trees, lake and distant volcanoes was amazing.
We got to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica just after 11:00 pm on Sunday night. (3 hrs past the arrival time the travel agent in Antigua told us) we negotiated a taxi and to to Annas house just before midnight.
Anna is a Canadian woman teaching middle school here in San Jose. We found her on Couchsurfing. We will be at her place until Friday.