Holy shit, what a day.
Right now, I am fulfilling a long-time fantasy of mine: I am all by myself in a hotel room (i.e., not in a hostel, in a dorm). I am on the bed, a can of Coke Zero and a bottle of water on the table beside me. The TV is on (some Hollywood movie dubbed in Spanish) and I have a relatively good Wi-Fi signal.
Life is easy, eh?
Wait until you read this. I deserved that fucking room.
I decided to go to Nicaragua. Don’t bother checking the map—it’s the country north of Costa Rica. Why Nicaragua? Well, along with El Salvador, is it the only country in Central America I have only visited once, briefly, in 2001, when Feng and I first traveled from Mexico to Brazil. In 2008, when we came back to Panama and Costa Rica, we had tried to cross to Nicaragua to spend Christmas over there but we never made it—crossing the border was too chaotic. Second, Costa Rica is a nice country but it is a bit more expensive than I had expected. Nicaragua is much cheaper. Third… well, why not? I have time (I am going back to Canada on February 26) and I am flexible.
I woke up at 6 a.m. in Sámara. A couple of drunk (or high) Germans were loud and the roosters were having the time of their life. I packed in the dark (most folks in the dorm were passed out) and left the hostel.
I waited on the side of the road for the 7 a.m. bus to Nicoya. We arrived an hour later but I missed the hourly bus to Liberia by just a few minutes. I walked around and found a panadería open—bonus, I was able to use their bathroom. I caught the 9 a.m. bus and we arrived in Liberia shortly after 11 a.m.
From Liberia, it took about two hours—an another bus—to reach Peñas Blancas, the border crossing to Nicaragua. I was surprised to see that we were only two gringos in the lineup—a Spanish guy and I.
We got off the bus and our passports were stamped for the salida (exit) of Costa Rica. Unlike in 2008, we didn’t have to wait long and I was telling the story of our attempt to cross the border in 2008 to the Spanish guy as we walked the one-kilometer long no man’s land road to Nicaragua.
It started to pour so we were pretty soaked and sweaty by the time we reached the police station, under a tent, in Nicaragua. The officer took my passport, inspected it and declared it caducado. “What?” I said. “It’s valid!”
Turned out that, according to Nicaraguan immigration law, passports must have a validity of at least six months beyond the dates of travel. And mine expires mid-July 2014, so I was missing a few days. “Go back to Costa Rica,” the officer said.
It was pouring rain, I had just been traveling for 10 hours and hadn’t eaten anything since the croissant at the bakery in Nicoya. I was not going back to Costa Rica. And I am stubborn (Feng can testify).
The Spanish guy had stuck with me and he was trying to help—his Spanish was obviously better than mine to argue. Eventually, after 30 minutes, we found a solution. A good old bribe.
It involved walking to a copy centre (yes, there was a copy centre at the border crossing, go figure), make a copy of my plane ticket that showed I would indeed exit the country (since I am flying back from San José in Costa Rica), putting a $20 in my passport and go to the office of Capitán Alvaro who would let me through.
I did just that.
Then I queued again to pay the $1 fee to enter the state of Ricas, $12 to enter Nicaragua and receive my entry stamp. I’m not sure how many times I mentioned Capitán Alvaro but each and every officer who checked my passport noted I didn’t have the six-month validity as required. They are actually enforcing that rule I guess.
Eventually my passport was stamped and I rushed to take the bus. Initially, my plan was to spend the night in Rivas, the state capital and closest city. But the first bus leaving was going all the way to Granada, a much nicer city that I actually wanted to visit… so that’s where I ended up.
The chicken bus took two hours to get to Granada—well, actually, outside the city, I had to take a tuk tuk for the last 15 kilometres. I was dead by the time I arrived.
Finding a hotel took me another 30 minutes but hell, I deserved a room by myself, didn’t I!
So here I am, in Nicaragua. Should be interesting…