We had planned to spend Christmas in Nicaragua. But as the great philosopher Jagger once said, “you can always get what you want…“
On Saturday, we got up at 6am to take a frontera bus to Peñas Blancas, the Costa Rica – Nicaragua border town. We were there in 2002 and had witnessed a man being crushed to death between two trucks, so we knew how chaotic it could get. But nothing prepared us for what we experienced.
We took a chicken bus, basically a customized US school bus. It was packed. I managed to find a seat, but Feng had to stand at the back of the bus with our backpacks. The ride was painful and we were stopped by the police quite a few times.
After an hour, we were stuck behind a long long line of trucks, all waiting to cross the border. Our bus managed to pass them (on a two way road but nevermind) and eventually told us to get off. We had arrived… at least, almost arrived. In front of us was a huge line up. I started to queue and Feng explored a bit. We just could not see the end of the line. I asked the guy behind me: “how long to you think it is to reach the migracíon?“. “Cinco horas… más o menos“, he replied with a shy smile. Shit.
We just could’t wait that long. I felt sorry for the people in the queue, mostly migrant workers from Nicaragua, but we couldn’t sleep there for fuck’s sake.
We took a chance. Everybody was queuing to get an exit stamp from Costa Rica at that point, so we decided to go ahead to Nicaragua and see if we could enter without the precious exit stamp. I was prepared to bride, to beg, whatever it was going to take.
We started walking besides the queue. It was extremely muddy, because it had just rained, and we had our backpacks with us, making the walk more painful. We walked for about 20 minutes (that´s how long was the queue) and eventually reached what we thought was the Nicaragua migracíon. A guy looked at our passports, and discovered we didn´t have the exit stamp. “Lo siento señor, pero se nos dijo que no era necesario un sello de salida. Vamos a Nicaragua por tres días, y todavía tenemos 90 días en Costa Rica“, I said. Nope. “Please sir, that´s what we were told“.
Eventually, he told us to go ahead. We arrived in front of a official, from the Nicaragua migracíon, and I repeated the same story. We have 90 days in Costa Rica, a valid stamp, and we just want to stay in Nicaragua for a few days before coming back to Costa Rica. This time, he didn´t work, and we could not get through. Back to square one.
We somehow found the Costa Rica migracíon and begged again. I was hoping they may give us the precious stamp, but we were told to go back to the queue. “But it is several kilometers long“, I said. “It´s not us, it´s Nicaragua. We don´t mind you leaving the country, but Nicaragua won´t let you in without the stamp“.
We turned around, sweaty and tired. Above all, disappointed. There were no way we were going to queue. Besides, people were starting to riot around us (bet they were, queuing for several hours – days? – can do that to you…) and we didn´t want to get into troubles. Forget about Nicaragua. Fuck.
We looked for a bus to go back to Liberia, Costa Rica, but there were none. Eventually, we found two Canadian backpackers, who were coming from Nicaragua. We shared a taxi ride to the nearest Costa Rican town and tried to get over the fact we wouldn´t go to Nicaragua.
It still doesn´t make sense to me. Most of the people queuing for the Costa Rica exit stamp were obviously migrant workers from Nicaragua (almost all men, there were very few women actually). Why would Costa Rica make it so difficult to leave the country? When it comes to immigrants, legal or not, countries usually don´t care when or how they leave. I never go an exit stamp in Canada, or even in the U.S.A. And why so much chaos?
Once again, I can´t help thinking that borders are a very random and artificial invention.
Meanwhile, we are back in Costa Rica, and currently on the Pacific Coast.