We spent a few days in San Juan del Sur just lounging, sipping $1 USD cervezas on the beach, doing laundry and what-not. We met some more really nice folks here and there appears to be a growing expat population in this little surf town.
It’s less than an hour to the Costa Rica border. A few people we met were making their quarterly trip across the border to sit on the beaches, waiting out the mandatory 3 day period, before returning for their next 90 day tourist permit. Getting residency in Nicaragua seems to take a while and requires lawyers and paying all the right people. If you are required to leave the country for a long weekend in Costa Rica every 90 days, I’m not sure why you would hurry.
We finally split and made our way to the border ourselves. Doug got to witness all the border fun we’ve been experiencing over the past few months. This one took 3 hours and was fairly straightforward, but he was still amazed at the ridiculous process.
Approaching the border on the Pan-American highway, you first pass all sorts of trucks lined up for miles on the side of the road until you reach a gate. As usual, lots of eager ‘helpers’ start chasing the vehicle and trying to get our business. We wave them off and the guy at the gate has to inspect our vehicle papers before letting us through. Then, on to the Nicaraguan customs and vehicle permisso office.
Usually, getting the vehicle papers canceled is a pretty simple process, but not this time. First, we have to fill out more paperwork just to get the original paperwork canceled. Then, we have to go find a customs person and a police officer to sign off. This was more difficult than getting the original papers in the first place.
I wandered around the throngs of people getting on and off buses and all the truck drivers looking for the right officials. Each time I see someone who looks official, I go ask for their signature and they tell me I have to find someone else. Eventually, I find the correct customs official and he does one of the more thorough vehicle inspections we’ve had (still not too bad) and he signs off. I still think it’s odd they search so thoroughly when vehicles are leaving the country.
I still couldn’t find the correct police officer (I asked many) and was continually told to wait… he’ll come. One guy said he knew where the officer was and told me to follow him. I go as far as the next set of buildings when he starts walking off towards the jungle and insists I follow him to find the right officer… hmmmm. I turn around and walk back to the bus and continue to wait.
Eventually, the right guy pulls up on a motorcycle and he’s mobbed by all the waiting truckers. He signs everyone’s papers without even looking at them and I return to wait in line for a half hour to get the papers stamped. The helpers have a system where one guys hogs the window while runners come and go with other people’s paperwork. Doug and I ‘get big’ and try to block out the cutters and eventually get up to the window. All that just to cancel my Nicaragua vehicle papers.
Doug had already gotten his exit stamp at the customs office, so we drove towards the Costa Rica entrance about 1 km down the road. But, here the guy doing the final inspection for vehicles leaving Nicaragua tells us we need exit stamps too. I don’t think this is quite right, since our Guatemala stamps for the CA-4 should have us covered (we haven’t gotten any passport stamps of any kind for El Salvador, Honduras, or entering Nicaragua.) He insisted, so we parked and trudged back through the mud to fill out more papers, pay an exit fee, and get our Nicaraguan exit stamps. Doug stayed behind and watched the bus and was very eager to leave by the time we returned. He noticed that some of the characters hanging out around the border aren’t exactly the kind of folks you want to spend too much time with.
Finally, we exit Nicaragua and pull up to the Costa Rica aduana. We all fill out our tourist permits and get our passports stamped. This is the first time since entering the US from Canada that any official actually required that Bode and Angela be present to verify their identity. Next, I buy the mandatory $15 USD insurance and get lots of copies and walk it all across the street to apply for my vehicle permit. This one actually required that I get out my phrasebook and ask some questions. A guy came over to inspect the bus and confiscated our watermelon and carried it over to his office – tough luck. He insisted that we needed to show receipts for Bode’s bike, but relents after fairly little discussion. It’s a good thing we had a watermelon.
Eventually, he signed off and stamped everything and we are sent to yet another office a few hundred meters down the road. Here, all of our papers and information are entered into an actual computer(!) and I receive my official vehicle paperwork.
In English, I’m told “you must leave Costa Rica in 60 days or you will be in serious trouble!” The papers actually say we get 90 days, but fair enough.
Welcome to Costa Rica… no loitering.