On January 31st we woke before dawn to begin our road trip to the northern border of Costa Rica, to enter Nicaragua. Our permitted 90 day visa was once again up and we needed to exit the country for three days. We had originally considered heading south to Panama on the Caribbean side of the country, but due to damaging rains that our east coast has endured these past few months, we decided heading north was going to be our best bet. Now, the idea of going to Nicaragua definitely raised a few hairs for us, but our local gringo friends who have made the trip before assured us that all would be well.

 

The drive itself was quite easy. No major mountains to cross, no one lane bridges to wait our turn for, or impassable roads; even though parts of the drive were questionable. While the girls slept, Kurt and I enjoyed viewing more of our new country. We discovered that the northwestern inland part to be very similar to the Santa Barbara/Santa Ynez area with rolling hills, chaparral, windy and much drier than our Central West Coast.

 

We arrived to the quiet border at around 8:30 am. Apparently, leaving at 4:30 a.m. paid off as there were very few people crossing that early in the morning. With previous insight from our friend, Kytka, we bypassed the line of semi trucks waiting their turn for inspection and passed the Costa Rica Immigration Building to a property that parks car for 2000 colones ($4) a day. We actually drove by the parking lot and had to back track as we were looking for a “gated lot” with a chain link fence. But to our surprise the lot was actually a dirt yard with a waist high barbed wire fence held together by thin wooden stakes. Certainly didn’t feel “secure”, but being that we really didn’t have another choice; we let go of our fears.

 

After leaving our car we headed back towards the Costa Rica Immigration Building with a backpack on each of our backs and looking as grungy as possible. Kurt hadn’t shaved in days and we all wore our rattiest clothes, as we had heard that looking of fewer finances may help in paying less coming into and leaving Nicaragua. There is no charge leaving (except when you leave from the airport, that’s a $26 per person charge) or coming into Costa Rica, it was Nicaragua that we were concerned about. After getting our passports stamped to leave CR, we were now off to Nicaragua. Walking from Costa Rica into Nicaragua, our passports were checked first by the Costa Rican police standing along the side of the road on this side of the border and then again about 25 yards further down the road by the Nicaraguan police. Apparently we had just crossed from one country to the next, but it was really hard to tell. Tiana was actually hoping to get a picture of herself with one foot in CR and one in Nicaragua. Unfortunately there was no “border line” to make her dream come true.

 

Not really knowing where to go next, we immediately headed to the most official looking building in hopes of finding Nicaragua’s Immigration Building. After some locals kindly pointed us in the right direction, we made our way to the Entrance Immigration Window, a window outside the official looking building, to have our passports stamped once again. The walk to the “window” was quite interesting (and luckily we had been forewarned) as we were bombarded by a handful of Nicaraguans, one was actually a young boy, offering (for a price) to help us. Expressing our “no gracias” and “no problemo” we were able to get the proper paperwork completed and our passports stamped on our own. We were charged $7 per person, which we considered ourselves fortunate and our grunge look a success as one friend had to pay $65 per person and that was with a family of five! Yikes!

 

Days prior to our trip we had made reservations at a nice hotel called Pelican Eyes (www.piedrasyolas.com) in the southwest coast town of San Juan del Sur about 20 miles from the border. We had also made arrangements through the hotel to have a driver pick us up and take us to the hotel. Our driver was to pick us up at 9:30, but being that this was our first time to the Nicaragua border we had no idea where we were to meet this person. We waited a short while near the Immigration Building and then realized that we should probably head out by the main road. There we were once again approached by, first a young man offering to give us a ride and then as we waited, other taxi drivers tried to under bid his offer as he patiently waited with us. Finally after waiting 45 minutes for our driver, we finally accepted the offer of the first taxi driver, Michael, and headed to our hotel for the price of $20. Even though we could have gotten a much lower price with one of his competitors, we were still paying less as the hotel driver was going to charge $40.  Truthfully I really didn’t care how much it cost, I was just happy to finally be on our way and out of the dusty wind that whipped through the border town.  

 

During our ride to San Juan del Sur we discovered not far from the border a huge lake with two volcanoes in the middle of the lake, which of course explained the wind at the border and the wind that we experienced throughout our entire stay. The roads to San Juan del Sur were in great condition (this is a luxury living and traveling in Central America). San Juan del Sur is a quaint little town about six blocks by six blocks surrounded on three sides by low mountains and bordering a cove port of the ocean. Cruise ships actually anchor in their port.

 

Pelican Eyes Hotel is located up the mountain side facing the ocean with incredible views to the town and the ocean. It is built on the hillside with each unit higher than the next one. Being that we were quite clueless in making reservations way in advance, we were left with the only unit available, a two bedroom, two bath house (the hotel has 5 rooms and the rest are self standing homes) and being that it was their high season we paid a pretty penny for this “casa” ($180 a night). The price included an incredible breakfast though, which we feasted on the two mornings that we were there and we took full advantage of the pool and facilities making our stay a luxurious and wonderful vacation (See Photos).

 

  

 

  

 

Our final night was spent at the Villa Isabella, located just down the hill from Pelican Eyes on the outskirts of the town. Pelican Eyes did not have availability for our third night, which we felt was a blessing for our pocketbook.  For $75 we had a decent room, AC, breakfast, and a huge library of VHS movies to choose from. Our only hitch the entire trip was when we were awakened at 4 a.m. the final night to what we feared were machine guns being fired in the street below us. But instead it was just fire works going off. Oh, how the imagination can run wild. One of the highlights was when we went to a local park in the town and ended up taking some pictures of two local boys who were so excited to see themselves (maybe for the first time ever) when we showed them the pictures on our digital camera. (See photo). I ended up taking about a dozen shots of them as they loved seeing themselves again and again on our little picture display. Oh how they would laugh.  

 

   

 

 

When our stay was completed, we arranged to have our driver, Michael, take us back to the border looking, once again, as grungy as we could. At the border there was an automatic charge of $1 per person before we could even cross into the Immigration area. Shaking off the bombardment of “helpers” we were able to complete the process with no problems and were only charged $2 per person leaving the country. Once again, carrying our packs on our backs we took the now familiar walk back into Costa Rica to the Immigration Building, waited in line, had our passports stamped to enter the country, and then headed to our car. Apparently the low barbed wire fence did its job as our car was in fine order and after paying the guy his 8000 colones ($16) we were back on the road to our new home and good for another three months. We are hopeful though that our residency will be approved soon and such trips will be just for pleasure and not because we have to, but until then…..

 

Pura Vida