Sunday, November 17, 2013

Border Run, Costa Rica to Nicaragua and back

For Cali crew I'm sure the title has images of either tacos and burritos in your head or people dodging border patrol officers as they attempt to get into the country. This post is about neither :)  Here in Costa Rica  border runs are a way of life for those of us who haven't made the leap to official residents yet. If you are lucky you only have to do this every three months, if you are unlucky you might get stuck doing it every month.  The plan is usually simple, get up early, get to the border, get a guide, get some Nica goods, get home by dinner.  We clearly don't like following plans :) 

First off unless someone has a flight to catch we don't get up early. We got on the road around 1:30pm and were doing great until we hit this.....


Our first Costa Rican traffic standstill. We stood around drinking our coffee watching other people turn around and head back up the road. Caffeinated and thus able to think clearly, we decided to ask for an alternate route to Liberia. Ok honestly it was my idea and most likely if its my idea it turns into an adventure. As usual this was no exception.  

We detoured on an unpaved road and took the scenic route along vast green fields, up and over hills of lush jungle trees and through flat meadows  of tall wild grasses thick with local cattle lazily grazing. 

We hoped for the best (that being that we would eventually end up on a paved road headed to the region's capitol), and just enjoyed the natural beauty all around and the massage-chair-like experience of rocky roads. 

Our perseverance was rewarded and we arrived in Santa Cruz about 20 km out of the way, 2 coffee spill burns and an hour behind our preconceived schedule.  After sailing along the one lane highway for 30 minutes we ground to a halt again. This time the offending incedent was a bridge in mal estado, bad shape. This time there was no detour to be had, so we radio surfed as we waited  in a long train of frustrated travelers.  When it was finally our turn to go we were forced to cross over a shady and shaky looking bridge that i was too preoccupied with my fear to photograph. 

Took this on the way home

All detours behind, we left Liberia, Guanacaste's largest city, and headed to Nicaragua. We raced against the setting sun and the impending grey clouds towards the border.  Despite living in Costa Rica during the wettest time of year we have not learned from the various down pours we have been caught in to buy an umbrella. Looking at the sky I feared tonight would be the night that showed us because we had been told we had to walk about a mile in order to cross the border. As I kept an eye on the sky I got to see this little beauty develop from shiny magic on a hillside to a full arco de iris that stretched across the sky. 


Seeing as Ted and I do spreak a fair amount of Spanish we followed signs for "La Cruz" assuming it was referring to the border so imagine our surprise when we got to La Cruz only to find out it is a small town.  Fortunately for us it was a small town on the road that lead directly to the real crossing. 


After driving through one of the most jungly looking areas we have seen in all of our driving in Costa Rica we arrived at the border just after sunset.  

We were expecting to be bombarded by guys trying to offer their services so we were equipped with our no-nonsense faces because we had done our research and weren't going to be had by any border guys.  Only one guy came to our car and after 3 no's he went away and that was it.   

At 6pm we parked our car for free right in front of the Costa Rican immigration building, which is on the right hand side. Ted walked in and asked for the forms then came back to the car. We filled our "boleta de imigracion" forms out in the car. All five of us went into the building showed our passports and handed over our forms. The woman asked where we were going we said San Jaun del Sur. She was very nice and filled in anything on the forms we forgot, which was a few things, gave us our exit stamps and that was that. 

We exited the building in the pitch black and walked along the side of a very muddy road as big rigs made their way along the road toward the crossing. We showed our passports to two sets of guards and then followed some people into a building to the left. This turned out to be the right move. We went around the back and into the immigration building. 

First we paid $1 each for I don't know what then she sent us to the window. Now we had fully expected to be swindled by the guys outside but what happened inside caught us off guard. We walked up to the window and told them we were going to San Juan del Sur but they were asking if we just wanted two stamps. We really did just want the two stamps and so when we finally understood what they were offering we said yes. Then they hit us with the price. They wanted us to pay $120, 60 for entering and 60 for the quick exit stamp. We knew it didn't cost 60 to exit Nicaragua. We had heard all you needed to pay was a $1 fee to reenter Costa Rica. However, we would have had to pay $50 round trip in a taxi to San Jaun del Sur, it was getting late and we wanted to just get back home. My savvy husband not only talked them down but he talked them into taking Colones when they originally insisted on dollars. In the end we saved ourselves $5 bucks and a couple hours. We paid, got our entry stamps and some paperwork, all of which they filled out for us, and left that side of the building. We were instructed to walk around to the front of the building to get our exit stamps. We got those and that brought a close to our short stay in Nicaragua. 
After dousing the kids in another shower of bug spray we headed back out into the muddy night towards the Costa Rican side. Two guard stations later we were in the office handing in our newly stamped passports and a proof of our plan to exit the country within 90 days. 

I am happy to report we all got a full 90 days and at 7:40pm we passed our last guard station and were in the car heading home. 

Border Run was a success, an immediate turn around trip $105 for 5 people no assistance necessary.  We also paid $30 for the rental car so all together it was $135. 

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