Peñas Blancas – Chaos And Chaos…

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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.

Bus Station in David -Queuing For The Bus

Bus Station in David -Queuing For The Bus

Trying To Reach The Nicaragua Migracion

Trying To Reach The Nicaragua Migracion

The Line Up To Get A Costa Rica Exit Stamp...

The Line Up To Get A Costa Rica Exit Stamp...

Finally Getting A Ride To Go Back To The Nearest Town

Finally Getting A Ride To Go Back To The Nearest Town


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. The Schengen Agreement has eased, and in some cases more or less abolished, borders restrictions in Europe. It would take a while for the rest of world to follow.

    Zhu, stay safe, and emerge stronger through the ups and downs of traveling. Please accept my best wishes of the season.

  2. I am saddened to hear of your ordeals. Land border crossings are indeed a pain, especially in not-so-developed countries.

    By the way, I think exit stamps are more the norm than the exception around the world. Only Canada and the United States so far do not issue exit stamps. The USA places the burden of proving legal stay on the traveler. Travelers are issued an I-94 card, which they need to surrender to the border official if traveling by land, or to the airline if traveling by air. If one does not surrender that, the traveler may have a hard time getting back in later, since the system thinks you overstayed. But, in all the other countries that I visited, exit stamps are always given. Schengen countries do it, Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia do it, and the Asian countries I visited do it all.

  3. @Rudy – It´s great, for sure!

    @shionge – Ah, no big deal. Traveling always brings unexpected situations.

    @Celine – I know we are quite spoiled in Europe, and I realize that. The more I travel the more I feel for those who can´t travel freely…

    @Gail at Large – Frustrating but hey, it´s traveling! We were surprised but I feel more for the people who have to go back home and are being left queuing there for hours.

    @Linguist-in-Waiting – I know pretty much anywhere in Central and South America, we need exit stamps. That said, I have never had one for Canada, or the USA.I always forget to give my green sheet back for the USA actually, half of the time I tear it myself…

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