We had planned to visit more of El Salvador, but with border crossings in and out of Honduras being tricky after the coup, taking a first-class bus straight from San Salvador to Nicaragua was our best option. Again, the comforts of first-class travel made a long journey that much better. Rachel was asleep within minutes and I could barely keep my eyes open as we passed the slums and shantytowns on the outskirts of San Salvador. Soon I was asleep too, a premature farewell to El Salvador as we spent the better part of the morning crossing the country.At the Honduras border we were briefly questioned by officers from the Division of Anti-Narcotics who showed little interest in us, but were not so easy on the local guys on the bus. Some bags were searched, questions asked, and soon we were on our way. The beauty of Honduras followed us every step of the way as we passed through wide, fertile valleys and climbed into the lush hillsides. The steep, winding road passed stone-faced mountainsides climbing higher and higher until we reached the border of Nicaragua. Though it took some time for customs to check the stack of passports, it was another hassle-free crossing and again our passports weren’t even stamped. The Honduran soldiers along the roadsides with their helmets and machine guns were some indication of the country’s troubles, as well as the long line of commercial vehicles awaiting entrance to Honduras. But in our first-class transportation we passed through easily and continued into Nicaragua.

An hour into Nicaragua at the town of Estelli, we departed the bus and continued our journey on our own. We caught a taxi to the bus station and began the two-hour trip to Matagalpa in the mountainous, coffee-growing region of Northern Nicaragua. We had been up since 4am, traveling on buses for nearly ten hours, and it felt like it was taking forever to reach Matagalpa. Yet, I felt a sense of rejuvenation as we left the hot, dusty plains and began the climb into the mountains. The climate became cooler, the mountains grew higher, and soon we had reached our destination.

Matagalpa was larger than I expected, a busy unkempt town set among beautiful mountains on either side of the Rio Grande de Matagalpa. Though unremarkable as a town, it serves as a good base for exploring nearby coffee plantations and ecolodges. Immediately noticeable was the lack of traditional clothing in Nicaragua, particularly the women who dressed in sexy outfits proudly showing their nimble figures. It was a bit of a shock seeing tight jeans and cleavage after a month of conservative clothing in Guatemala. Yet, with it came a sense of liberation that we have rarely seen in Central America.

There was also a newfound curiosity in the residents of a place with fewer tourists. In restaurants, on the streets, and in the buses, children could not hide their curiosity about us. As we ate dinner the first night one young boy sat sipping soda with his mom, unable to keep his back to us despite his mother’s constant urging. Along with us she could only laugh and smile, unable to keep him from turning in his seat and checking out the white-skinned strangers in the corner. His unflinching curiosity was adorable and as I patted him on the back and said “Adios amigo” as we left, I thought he just might squeal with delight.

That same charming behavior and rampant curiosity was evident again the next day as we traveled by bus up Nicaragua’s highest road to the town of Jinotega. In front of us a young boy named Charlie stood at the window for the entire ride. He watched the gorgeous scenery pass by and giggled at his sister who hid behind her seat and rose occasionally to glance at the mysterious strangers behind her, disappearing instantly in childish embarrassment when I showed the small girl her picture on my camera.

While we climbed higher and I photographed the beautiful mountains and valleys surrounding us, a young girl named Karla stood at her window behind us unable to take her eyes off the ever-changing scene on my camera’s screen. She was fascinated by my picture-taking and giggled in delight when she saw a photo of herself. The wonderful innocence and incredible curiosity of the children around us was the perfect addition to the beauty all around us as we savored our first few days in Nicaragua.

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