Rivas and the bicitaxis
January 7th, late afternoon...
(Eh oui, cette fois en anglais, afin que tous nos ami(e)s puissent nous suivre un peu...)
It wasn´t the plan. Originally, we had decided that after the dusty chaos of Diriamba, we´d be ready to throw our 10,000 kilos of backpack on our backs and hurry over a more pleasant city like León. There, we would be greeted by one of our favorite hostels, the Lazybones hostel. Diriamba´s intensity left us craving a little laziness…Yet, somehow, we now found ourselves on a bus going in the opposite direction. We couldn´t miss the opportunity to find ourselves in the city with one of the most dense population of bike-taxis. Reluctantly, we turned our backs on our relaxing hostel and headed to another bustling city.
After another sticky ride in a crammed “chickenbus”, we arrive in Riva´s colorful market. As we pull in, the smell of turning milk blows in through the window from the sizzling sidewalk. The bus has not even come to a complete stop yet when a young man stands up in the isle next to us and asks us where we´re heading. No, we´re not heading to Ometepe as do many tourists. We´re staying in Rivas. The man explains to us that he has a bicitaxi and can give us a ride to our hotel. When he announces his price, we decline his offer with a smile. He wants to charge us 10$ when a ride is usually 2 or 3$. We thank him politely and start walking away. This seems like a good sign, we´re not even out of the bus yet and we´re meeting bicitaxistas! Outside the bus, a flock of bicitaxistas and taxistas surround us. We can barely understand what they´re saying as they´re all yelling over one another. The heat is hitting us in heavy waves between the gusts of wind and we decide that the only thing we want to do is leave this market as quickly as possible.
Once outside of the market we find ourselves more relaxed and decide to walk to the hotel (supposedly 10 minutes walk away according to a store owner). As we walk, we pass what seems like hundreds of bike-taxis, their presence confirming to us that this city was worth the detour. After a few minutes, Etienne decides to start investigating. Eager to find out about the circumstances of being a bicitaxista in Rivas, he walks up to one riding by us.
His name is Elvis. He´s had his bicitaxi for a short year now. It was one of the only options he had that didn´t involve breaking his back for a little cash. This job´s not always easy though. There are more than 800 bicitaxistas in this small city. This makes for fierce competition. It also costs a lot to have a permit for this job here. He pulls out an ID card from his pocket. Through the worn plastic we can make out his face. This permit costs him 1,500 cordobas a year (56 $). Since he seems to know a lot about the topic and is easy to talk to, we decide to ask him if he´d be available tomorrow to answer the same questions but in front of a camera. He happily agrees and gives us his number. I quickly jot it down and as I repeat it back to him, it seems like something is missing. He nods to show that I wrote it down correctly so I don´t think twice about it.
We continue walking, satisfied with our first half an hour in this city. When we arrive to our hotel we wait outside of the locked gate in order to be let in. The owner, a woman in her early 60s with a permanent smile on her face lets us in. We walk into a small courtyard inhabited with huge tropical plants. Some rocking chairs fight for a small corner of the courtyard, calling us over for a brief moment of rest and a cold beer. The woman shows us two rooms. We decide to opt for the bigger one, as it has a private bathroom for only 4$ more. If only we had known what we were getting ourselves into…
(To be continued... Dun-dun-duuuun !!)