Border crossing: Costa Rica and Nicaragua

Trip Start Jan 25, 2009
Trip End Jun 2009

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

So, a friend from my program, Laina, and I decided to go to Nicaragua for the weekend.  Most of the other people had gone during Semana Santa, but Laina and I hadn't.  The capitol of Nicaragua is Managua.  However, we'd heard that it was fairly dangerous and that there was a lot to see in Granada and it took less time to get to than Managua.

Founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba, Granada is the oldest city in Central America.  It is also home to Iglesia San Francisco, the oldest church in Central America.

Before, I talk more about Granada, I'll start from the beginning of my interesting journey...

So, I packed the night before on Thursday and went to bed at 11pm.  I got up at 3:30am and called a taxi.  I reached the park of Heredia at 4am and met up with Laina.  Then we caught a taxi to San Jose.  We had decided to travel to Nicaragua using Tica Bus, which is what I'd always used to get to Panama City.  We got there around 4:30am.  We knew the next bus would leave at 6am.  When we got to the counter I asked for a ticket for the 6am bus, the guy told me that there was no more room. Uh-oh.  And there would be no room until 12pm. Double uh-oh.

Let me back up slightly and explain that we had not bought our tickets early because we everyone including the directors of our program told us that it wasnt necessary since this isnt traveling season.  So there should be room they said.  Riiiiiiight.

My gut had been telling me to buy tickets early.  I should have listened...Oh well.

We knew of another station called TransNica, so we caught a taxi there. 

Now, Tica Bus is very professional, nicely lit with a small cafe with a cook.  And it's very clean.  Its a nice building and can be seen from 3 blocks away.

TransNica is a different story.

When the taxi driver said "we're here," I looked up and the frist thing I saw was a woman sitting with a shopping cart that had a garbage bag and food on top of it. I asked the driver if he was sure and he pointed to the station.  It was sqeezed between a parking lot and a car workshop.  Easy to miss if you're not paying attention.  Then I realized the woman out front was not a begger as I'd thought, but actually selling snacks and drinks.

Inside, the floor was covered in paper a dirt and the place was dimly lit.

They had buses that left at 5am, 7am, 9am, and 12pm.  The guy told us there was no room until 12pm.  I asked what time that would put us in Granada.  He said hold on and actually went outside to ask the woman who was selling things this question.  I guess she was quite knowledgeable about TransNica, I still dont know if she worked for the company or not.

THe guy came back and told us that we wouldnt get to Granada until like 9pm.  Snap.  Laina wanted to stay and do it, but I didnt want to wait like 7 hours to catch it (it was 5am at this point) and thought about throwing in the towel.

Then, they guy told us that "frequently" it happens where people dont show up even though they bought tickets.  Maybe this would happen for the 7am bus, in which case we could get on.  So we decided to do that, by this point it was around 5am.

Aaaaaaand, luckily, it worked out.  In fact, we got the seats in the first row.  Extra leg room!

Being 7am, the sun was out and people were more awake.  The bus was very cold but I'd forgotten to change into my sweatpants and sweater.  So i was pretty cold on the bus and couldnt sleep. 

We stopped at a pit stop around an hour and a half in.  It was very cute.  It was made of wood and had vaquero decorations everywhere.  Also it had a beautiful view.

I managed to cat nap between 9am and 12pm, when we reached the border.  There was a VERY long line of people in the "Leave Costa Rica" line.  So we got out and stood under the scorching sun.  Luckily, like 10 minutes later, a TransNica worker said he would collect our passports and papers and turn them all in to the office, which meant we could wait on the bus with the A/C.  People ran back onto the bus.

The workers were very strict about having exact addresses on the immigration papers.  Much more strict than when going to Panama.  I'm assuming this is because there are a lot of illegal immigrants that go to Costa Rica so both CR and Nicaragua need to keep better track of everyone who travels back and forth.  Laina and I didnt know where we'd be staying, so we just put down the name of the first hotel we thought of that we knew was in Granada.

We waited for arund 3 and a half hours before we entered Nicaragua.  Where they collected our passports AGAIN for the "Enter Nicaragua" office.

2 of the documents we'd had to fill out had to do with the Swine Flu.  One was for Costa Rica, the other was for Nicaragua.  THey basically asked the same thing, if we'd had any flu-like symptoms and such.  To get off the bus at the border on the Nicaraguan side, people entered who were wearing gloves and had on surgical masks.  They collected our health document, checked it over and then let us get off since we hadnt had any symptoms.

The Nicaraguan side of the border was very crowded.  There was the line of people waiting to turn in documents to immigration.  Then there were people just waiting around to get back on their buses.  Then there was people waiting to have their luggage searched.  And then people who were selling things and people with wads of money who asked passengers if they needed to exchange money.

Near the end of the border stay, we had to get our luggage checked.  I my baggage claim document to the border worker, he pointed to a button that connected to a traffic light right next to him on a table.  I pressed the button, the light turned green, meaning I didnt need to have my bag checked.  I put it back on the bus.

After another 30 min, I got my passport back and got on the bus.

We drove for about another hour and a half before we reached Granada.  Along the way, I saw windmills and a lot of cows; some were gated into a field, others were walking along the side of the road, I even saw some on the highway, eating the grass on the long islands in the middle of the road.  I saw small houses every once in a while, dispersed along the way.

Then finally, we reached Granada.

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