Friday, July 07, 2017

If It's Not One Thing, It's Nicaragua

So bright and early on Wednesday morn Jim and I left Copy, Costa Rica for three days beachside in Playa Marsella, Nicaragua. We got a beautiful beach cabina for a great price for our 72 hours outside of Costa Rica to meet our visa requirements.

While I haven't been here the 90 days you can stay Jim is getting close. We both qualify for residency in Costa Rica, we have the monthly income, etc, but I'm reluctant to file for permanent residency certification this soon. Quite frankly I'm not really loving life in Copey between the daily cold rain, shivering at night, substandard accommodations and food situation I'm reluctant to commit so soon and fork over the rumored 2,500 we're told we must pay before finding our new home and happiness.

So we decided to do what long lines of Americans here tend to do, take the bus into Nicaragua and have ourselves a little mini vacay. Boogie in, boogie out clutching new 90 tourist visas in our hot little hands.

We ended up taking a taxi through the mountains back to Santa Maria, then catching a bus into the capital city of San Jose, changing buses again into one going up to the border. Most Americans catch the official Tico bus in San Jose, taking a modern double-decker air conditioned bus with wifi up into their vacation destinations in Nicaragua. We could not. You have to buy your Tico Bus tickets a couple of days in advance, you cannot just wait until you show up at the bus station.

Didn't matter. You can get tickets pretty easily to what I call the local milk run buses. No wif, no air conditioning, but way way cheaper and about like our average bus ride into San Jose. There was just one problem, when we got into San Jose we discovered that the bus station we were at was the WRONG one. Taxied to the only bus station that had space for us on the bus, but were taken to the cleaners by the taxi driver. He drove us around the city of San Jose, running up the meter to over fifty bucks even as I kept protesting that he was driving us in circles. Tourist taxi, they see Americans coming and automatically assume we're rich, behaving accordingly.

Turns out we had a two hour wait for the next bus to the border, so we decided to get lunch at the only place to eat at the bus station. Jim had pizza that had the texture, colors and consistency of Playdough. My hamburgeusa wasn't much better. It had a thick slab of bologna on it with the ground meat, tomato and lettuce. Now I've had hamburgers in this country before and been surprised by things like a layer of cucumbers, but never bologna. This meal was something of a harbinger for the rest of the trip. It looks one way, but it's something else.

Once we bordered the bus we found a mother and toddler sitting in our assigned seats. I felt very guilty about having to kick a mother out of our seats. She stood with the child for the entire five hour journey. We found out later that she, and others standing in the bus, didn't have tickets. Apparently sometimes the poor ride these things and hope that there are seats for them.

I noticed that one of the ladies standing was crying and making a big scene over not having a seat, demanding a seat because she was disabled and had a letter of medical necessity. Later at the meal stop she asked me for money and I gave her enough so she could eat.

The bus ride was pretty miserable, back roads, bumpy riding and hot as hell even with the windows open in the rain. No way to even read because I don't do well on bus rides or cars because of motion sickness. Jim was so sick with a cold, was shivering and sweating against me in that tiny confined space.

As we got closer and closer to Penas Blanco, the Costa Rican bordertown, I noticed that the roads got worse. I didn't think that was even possible, but it was. All southbound traffic was routed on a detour and the southbound lanes closed. We arrived at the border at sunset, paying our Costa Rican exit fees, declaring we were exporting nothing beyond personal possessions. The bus dumped us out at the border and hightailed it out of there. The Costa Rican side seemed pretty normal, a big building, a restroom, a well lit fully staffed government building. But.... when we exited the building we had to trudge down a dirt road with our suitcases, dodging mud puddles and semi trucks about 300 meters in the pitch black dark.

While we were going through Costa Rican passport control the lady who'd been making a scene on the bus and who I'd given a few bucks approached us crying. She could not read and as a result could not fill out the customs form to leave the country. We helped her and she attached herself to us, going with us through the rest of the border crossing. Her name was Leticia. 

When we got to the Nicaraguan border control it was one lone guy in a paramilitary type uniform with an assault rifle slung over his back presiding over a wooden picnic table, who proceeded to search Jim's suitcase, seemingly disappointed that all Jim had was clothing in his bag.

This was repeated many times over a few hundred more meters, a picnic table or rough shelter like  bus stop, showing our passports again and again before getting to the actual visa and immigration office. I was seriously scared! Everyone had assault rifles and it was very clear we'd arrived in a third world country.

But the immigration office was modern and well lit. We had to each pay a buck as soon as we entered, it was never explained to us what this was for, but we got a stamped piece of paper showing we'd paid our buck before we had to pay another 12 bucks as an entrance fee each. They xrayed our luggage and we were off.

While all this was going on a young guy started pestering me, insisting that he would drive us to the town we were staying, San Juan Del Sur, for fifty American dollars. I kept telling him to talk to Jim, the Big Boss, the Jefe and he kept shouting lower and lower prices until he'd finally agreed to drive us to the hotel for 24 bucks. Leticia kept whimpering that she was coming with us and would get a room because the bus for her sister's town didn't leave until morning.

We took the taxi because we'd just missed the last Chicken bus for the night (old American school buses that are used in Nicaragua as local buses). Armed border patrol checked our passports one more time in the parking lot of the taxi area. There were a ton of what Jim terms 'Le Tourista Traps' at the border, chockablock filled with junk, but I didn't get a chance to check for a souvenir thimble. We left because it was well after dark and we had a forty minute ride ahead to the hotel.

I kept asking Jim if he'd given our driver the name of the hotel, the Mirasella Beach Hotel, and he said he had, but when we got in the middle of San Juan Del Sur the driver stopped, wanting to know what hotel we were staying at. Why, the Mirasella on Playa Mirasella. The driver went nuts, refusing to take us there except if we paid him another twenty bucks. He kept repeating how far away it was, how horrible the road and ranting about 'French robbers' on motorbikes on the back road. Jim and he had heated words with Leticia trying to translate/intervene.

What choice did we have? None. We agreed to pay him. The taxi driver pulled onto the beach access road and we were plunged into pitch blackness on the most rutted dirt road through the jungle. There were houses for sale along the road that looked like Italian palaces deserted and dark and we passed gated developments here and there while the driver muttered semi-hysterically about robbers in the woods and trash dumping illegally and other weird things and crimes as we rode around. At least that's what my pigeon Spanish and Leticia's translation was...

We were following the signs through the pitch black night to the Mirasella Hotel when we hit the weirdest obstacle yet, the road was washed out into a deep pit, half the road five feet deep into a sink hole and the road ended at a river bed, a river bed holding swiftly flowing water. The taxi driver refused, flat out refused for any amount of money to try and ferry us across.

It was about this time I came out of the taxi to try and access the situation, doing what I do best, tripping over my feet and face planting right into the mud and rock road.

Now the taxi driver was screaming about ghosts and robbers and calling on the powers of the Lord and Mother Mary while Leticia was freaking out too.

You can't see it well in this photo but there is a foaming river in the middle of this photo.

Finally Jim decided to call the hotel and beg for rescue while our driver was counting off and calling on all the saints in heaven and the manager said he would send someone down to pick us up and carry us over the river and the last 200 meters to the hotel.

We wait, and we wait, and we wait, in the darkness with a screaming praying Latin caricature of a cab driver, a woman also freaking out that looks like she might just be strung out on heavy drugs while she's somehow attached herself to us. I start wondering if this is some sort of shakedown and if we're going to die here, but eventually we hear the sounds of some vehicle missing a muffler and misfiring madly making it's slow way towards us. Hooray! It's the hotel manager and the handyman come to rescue us! They load the trunk with our suitcases while we climb in the back.

Leticia starts speaking rapidly with the manager, in Spanish, begging to stay at the hotel for free as far as I can tell. Later the manager tells me that she has insisted she is with us and will be staying in our room. No way did we ever discuss this! The manager rebuffs her, even after she claims that she's afraid of the cab driver possibly raping her (ha! He's too busy calling on JesusChristo and assorted Catholic deities to be thinking about that!) Later, he tells me he was pretty sure she was strung out on drugs and all sorts of trouble. Our last view of Leticia is her standing on the other side of the river with the cabby as we ford the river.  He's still calling out 'Dios Mios'

Hopefully he took her back to town and dropped her off at one of the very inexpensive hostels back in San Juan Del Sur.

We get to the hotel, get our room and flop into bed, exhausted by a crazy day where we thought we might die a couple times over. The room is all wooden, old fashioned but so clean and beautiful. We can hear, but not see the ocean mere steps from our front door.

And the next morning we're treated to the most beautiful private beach.......

For the last several days we're swam in the ocean, swam in the beautiful infinity edge pool. I've climbed the cliff over to the next beach, eaten squid and worn a swimsuit that Lori Alexander would so not approve of with a bikini bottom that's French cut showing off more of my lumpy booty than I have in years now. I've been wearing almost no clothes here and I don't care. This is paradise.

Sadly tomorrow we are returning to Costa Rica, but we're taking the spoiled entitled peoples bus with the wifi and air conditioning. Then we're picking up a rental car in San Jose and heading out to first Arenal, followed by Tamarindo, a few days in Playa Hermano before going down to Manuel Antonio. The official househunting in paradise has begun.

There's a house on this beach for sale but the asking price is over 700,000 bucks and it's repped by Sotherbys. Out of our price range. I did find a mountainside lot with water and electric hookups in a gated community with a view of this beach for the firesale price of 8 thousand. Might be perfect for a tiny home. Just not sure I want to live in Nicaragua.

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