An adventuresome failure
OK, it was an experiment. 'Twas time for me to re-up my Nica tourist visa. I had read here on NL last year that someone had gotten a fresh 90-day Nica visa on returning from a quick trip to Honduras. In fairness, it was questioned. I too doubted it since HO & Nic are members of the CA-4, for the purposes of trade & migration. Still, since Costa Rica has been raising its entry barrier to Nicaraguans & other foreigners, I thought it worth the gamble.
From Leon to Chinandega to the border at Guasaule it took less than 3 hours travel & cost 65 cords each. At the border there's a feeding-frenzy of 'helpers' seeking to 'serve' you. It's repulsive; they paw at you & grab for your bag. They drive covered bicy-taxis (tricyclos). Guasaule is desert-like and the noon heat is oppressive, so I settled on a price with one. I ended up paying him double. It cost me 50 cords to leave Nic and $3 to enter HO. Tho I'd asked for a week, HO customs stamped my passport with a 90-day visa. (Go figure!) The van to Choluteca cost 35 limps each (Honduran pesos = lempiras, 20.1/$).
Because I hated getting cheated by the money changers at borders, I had saved some 260 limps from 2011 (last crossing) to take me to the closest ATM. They'd lost 6% of their value. Time takes his toll, too. Better than my last pass into CR when all the colones I'd saved from the previous year were worthless (at the border). A CR bank later exchanged most, not the small, for the new bills. (A CR scam, I'm convinced. They blame counterfeiters. Meanwhile the Central Bank profits.)
The excessive presence of police & military, well-armed, in Choluteca surprised me. (Preparing to nip a revolution in the bud? Since the coup, the political scene in HO has not been exactly tranquil.) Still, prosperity/abundance was evident where we went. I asked about hotels while in the ATM line; they steered me to Hacienda Gualicheme (pronounced Wally-chemie - a chemist named Wally? I had to check it out.) across the river. Gorgeous. Rooms surrounded a large courtyard with two pools, restaurant & huge, old trees. Quiet, relaxing & very expensive. A 1950 Allis-Chalmers tractor was parked by the gated guard-house entrance. (The original owners were named Williams.) We were probably the only guests that arrived by taxi, without reservations and the only ones without a business account to write it all off. What the hey, king & queen for a day on businessmen's Fantasy Island. (We saw two businesswomen there too, but they didn't appear to be having so much fun.)
The ride up the mountains to San Marco in Blanquita Express was a comfortable, viewing pleasure. (Unlike our ride to Guasaule bent over in a rickty van packed with 20 souls, unable to see all of the volcano San Cristobal as we passed by it.) A room for two at the Hotel Barcelona (a monster flat screen in their restaurant showed Bonanza's Hoss speaking Spanish) in chilly San Marco only cost 400 limps ($20), but we decided to truck on to Esteli that day. Again squeezed into a van (giving me that wetback feeling) we made for the border at Espino. Compared to Guasaule's hell, el Espino is heaven on Earth. It cost me 70 limps to leave HO and $12 to enter Nic - alas, without a new 90-day Nica visa stamp. Nica customs was nice, but intransigent.
Having allowed for failure, I've still 20 days to re-up. Either I pay $1/day to overstay my visa (need some 60 days), the convenient choice, or pay the crossing fees to dip into CR, including the $25 ticket out, the adventurer's or masochist's (depending on mood/tolerance level) choice. CR is beautiful, but expensive and Ticos simply ain't no fun.
The bus ride from Somoto to Esteli was a typical Nicaraguan treat. We were serenaded by a 10-year-old (no guitar, no recorded music, just voice) who belted out with impressive volume, but little tonal range, a ranchero song of love-lost/life-pains. I tipped him just for chutzpah. Later, an overly well-fed young woman sold 'vitamin' pills that cured everything: headache, diabetes, parasites, diarrhea, &c. I suppressed a chuckle at the thought of snake oil, 150 years after the wild West. Then I was shocked to see how many rubes around us shelled out worn, coveted 10 & 20 cord bills for 'em. Our bus left the Pan-Am highway to loop Palacaguina. They may have the most unusual park statue in the world: a sharp-shooter with rifle standing atop a 3-story tower. It brought to my mind the U.Texas nutcase, not what they intend, I'm sure.
Closer to Esteli, I noticed many more fields growing tobacco than my last pass through the area. Coincidentally, Nicaragua's Third Tobacco Festival was being celebrated in Esteli, streets around the central park blocked off, iced beer a plenty and a live band open to all. We lucked out with availability at our hotel of choice downtown, El Meson, clean, hot shower, wi-fi, & courtyard garden, 600 cords for two ($24). Esteli is a rapidly growing unidimensional town. The wife loves shopping there. We were back in tropical Leon, jodido, the next afternoon. Wiser, poorer & tired.