I’d just arrived on the top of the volcano when it started to storm. From inside the visitors’ center I watched as the sky darkened and the rain came down in sheets. Thunder boomed overhead.
“When does the last bus go back down?” I finally thought to ask. It was getting dark and I didn’t want to get stuck walking down the volcano after nightfall.
“Right now.” The tour guide told me, pointing towards a bus that was pulling out of the parking lot.
“What? But I just got here!” I ran into the rain and waived to the driver. “Un momento!” I called.
He stopped, looked at me warily and then rolled down his window a crack. “Este es el ultima bus?” Is this the last bus?
“Si.” Great. I’d just hiked five kilometers up through a cloud forest, a vertical climb that had taken me three hours in the boiling heat, only to find out that I’d have to turn around and head back down without seeing much more than the inside of the women’s restroom.
I should have asked for a bus schedule, I thought, frustrated with myself for not planning better beforehand. Everyone else I’d met on the climb had booked a guide and arranged for round-trip transportation in advance. I appeared to be the only one who’d impulsively decided that it’d be cheaper and easier to make the journey alone, without even so much as a map.
“Yo necissito un ride.” I need a ride, I said fighting back tears of frustration that I’d now miss exploring the crater and seeing the sun set over the lake below. But what choice did I have? It’d be too dangerous to walk down in the dark.
“Yo no puedo.” I can’t. Then the driver explained that he couldn’t give me a ride because I hadn’t paid the 10 dollar transportation fee at the entrance of the park.
“Yo puedo pagar ahora. 15 dolores.” I’ll pay now. 15 dollars. I figured the five dollar bribe would settle the issue, but he shook his head.
“Yo no puedo.” He indicated to the the back of the bus and said something that I didn’t understand.
“Que?” I looked the passengers, who were watching me with interest. There seemed to be plenty of room for an extra person, so what was he trying to tell me? Luckily the English-speaking tour guide joined in me in the rain to help translate.
“He said that he can’t give you a ride because the other employees,” I looked at the uniformed visitor center employees who took up the last two rows of the bus, “will tell on him and he’ll get in trouble.”
“Oh, no.” I looked at the driver pleadingly. “Por favor. 20 dolores?” I begged. But he shook his head no, not looking the least bit sympathetic. Apparently I’d found the one driver in Nicaragua that couldn’t be bribed.
I walked back into the center as the bus drove away, tired, hungry and now thanks to wind and rain, cold and wet.
“What are you going to do?” the tour guide asked, looking at me curiously.
“Walk back down, I guess.”
“You can’t walk. You’ll never make it to the bus stop in time. The last bus from the park back to Granada leaves at six.” I looked at my watch. It was 4:15.
“Well there are taxis, right?”
He shook his head, no. “There’s nothing around here. And it’s too dangerous to hitch-hike. You should stay here.” They had an upstairs room that they rented to tourists wishing to spend the night on-top of the volcano. It’d cost me 40 dollars though and there was no way that I was going to shell out that kind of money for a lumpy mattress when I had already paid for a bed in a hostel an hour’s drive away.
“I’ll take my chances,” I decided, figuring that the jungle would shield me from the worst of the weather. Maybe if I hurried…
“Come with me,” he suggested. He was taking a group of Canadian tourists on a hike around the crater and could lead me part of the way down.
I agreed and followed behind the group as he lead the way through the forest. He stopped every few minutes to point out an insect or explain about a tree or type of moss. The Canadian tourists, who unlike me, had all thought to wear rain jackets and head lamps, excitedly took photo after photo of everything in their path. I trailed behind them, anxious to keep moving before it got too dark to see.
“Are you nervous?” The tour guide asked me as the tourists posed for a photo in a rock tunnel.
“Yeah…” I admitted. “I mean, I don’t want to get mugged.” The tour guide had told me back in the center that he’d once been mugged while trying to hail a ride near the park entrance. If he’d been mugged and he was a Nicaraguan man, what chance did I have as as a foreigner? And a female one at that?
“Well, if you miss the bus…you should hike back up here,” he said, completely serious. I stared at him, incredulous.
“Do you realize how long it took me to hike up here the first time?” There was no way I was going to hike back up. Not alone and not in the dark and in the middle of the a thunder storm. I’d rather spend the night in the forest than attempt a climb when my feet were blistered and my legs felt like jelly.
“Well tomorrow I’ll make sure to stop by your hostel and check on you.” Again, he was completely serious. I laughed, nervously.
“That worries me that you think that’s necessary.” He shrugged and didn’t say anything. And then: “Okay, here’s the path you need to take,” he said as we stopped at a fork in the road.
“Okay.” I was reluctant to leave the group and suddenly afraid. What if I got lost?
“Yeah…Thanks for your help.” I turned and headed down the path and then only when I was a safe distance away, did I let myself cry. Holy shit, I’ve really screwed up this time. I couldn’t believe I’d gotten myself into such a mess.
I tried to think of a plan for what I’d do if I missed the bus. I figured that it’d probably be best to attempt to walk back to Granada. Hitch-hiking alone at night was definitely not an option and neither was walking along the highway. The odds of getting mugged or raped were just too high. I would have to walk in the bushes, I decided. Either that or knock on a farmer’s door and ask them to call a taxi. But even that was risky. I’d heard one too many horror stories from other travelers who’d accepted a ride in an unmarked ‘taxi’, only to find themselves robbed at gunpoint and then abandoned in a field in the countryside.
“Now would be a good time to have some mace,” I said out-loud to myself. “Or some street-fighting skills.”
But I had nothing.
To be continued…