Thursday, December 4, 2008

Costa Rica to Nicaragua—Psemi Psycho

Crossing from Costa Rica into Nicaragua was surreal.

It all started with the guy at the bus company in San Jose telling me I should just show up in the morning and I would be able to get a ticket. I asked him repeatedly if there would be an available seat and he assured me there would. You can see what's coming. I got there early—about 6:20—and there was already a big crowd. It was probably 40 minutes before the doors opened and I got to the ticket counter. There were no seats left. I was pissed.

I walked down the street—with all my stuff—and talked to a taxista. He recommended a bus station that was just a stone's throw away. The bus wasn't direct, but it was cheap. I would have to get another bus on the other side of the border. I got a ticket and got on this bus with no problem. A couple hours later, we got to the border.

The bus came to a stop quite a ways before customs. We sat for a while, then pulled out of line and passed a big line of other vehicles. We pulled back into line, then pulled back out and passed more. When we actually got to the Costa Rican side of the border (i.e., the near side), I saw more semi trucks than I had ever seen in one place in my life—by far. Maybe more than I had seen in all the rest of my life put together.

When I got off the bus, I was bombarded by a ton of money changers. They wore ID badges, so presumably they were legit. I got my passport stamped, then changed some pesos and a few extra dollars, then walked about a quarter mile to the Nicaragua border.

More semi trucks. There were a couple booths which I though were maybe customs. I pulled out my passport and the guy looked at it, but this wasn't customs—he told me to continue on. I would say things were rather chaotic, disorganized, and not at all laid out well. A kid had offered to guide me to customs, but I had refused. I just kept asking directions and finally made my way there.

A guy in an official looking shirt who said he worked for customs told me what line to stand in and told me there was a seven-dollar fee to enter the country. The guy behind the counter stamped my passport, took my money, and gave me some papers. All the while, the guy in the official looking shirt shadowed me.

Then the guy in the official looking shirt took me to a different building (I told you things were not laid out well) where I put my things on a counter. He had said something to me about twenty dollars and told me he'd do the talking and to be quiet. In a minute another guy came in and opened the top of my backpack. He looked in quickly, then opened the box that my small guitar was in. He asked me a couple times if it was new and I replied no. When receiving something in the mail in Latin America or crossing a border, if asked if the item in your package or box is new, always reply NO. They're just itching to tax the living daylights out of you.

I closed up my backpack and the guy in the official looking shirt took me to where the buses leave—there were no parking lots, just dirt everywhere. One bus was about to pull out. Things were very chaotic—lots of yelling and excitement. They told me to get on. I asked if I should put my backpack below—the way I have done on every single other bus I've ridden on this trip. They just repeated that I should get on the bus, so I did. I wandered to the back. Another guy took my backpack and threw it on top of the back row of seats. I sat down with a big wad of papers that the customs folks had given me and we took off.

Part way to Managua, a guy came down the isle collecting people's fares. Mine was $4. This kind of ticket payment is common in Latin America. The buses will stop at ANY random location to drop someone off or pick someone up. So, you can either go to the bus station and buy a ticket and take the bus from there where, or you can wait outside the bus station and get on there or at some other random spot in the city, paying once the bus is underway. I don't really think there's any difference.

We arrived in Managua within a couple hours. I got off at the terminal, which was just a crazy market. I called my friend Cheryl on a taxista's cell phone and had him tell her where we were. Within about 15 minutes, she arrived. In the meantime, I had to tell about 20 taxistas that I didn't need a ride. Cheryl pulled up. That was the first time in 10 months that I had seen anyone that I know. It would be good to relax with friends for a couple weeks.

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