Four lost hours.
Trip Start Dec 22, 2006
97Trip End Feb 10, 2008
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When Michael finally awoke, we ate breakfast and got ready to hit the internet café again. All we needed was an hour of internet service to at last post our wedding photos. Being the first ones in the café, we had to wait for the computers to boot up and it was then that we were told the connection was still down from the day before. Alas, our family and friends were going to have to wait just a little longer as we were now on our way to Costa Rica.
We arrived at the border at 8:15 am and were greeted by throngs of semi trucks; instantly we were grateful to be arriving so early in the day. If our guide book was correct, we could expect to be in several long line-ups before the day was out. Spotting an office with an Aduana placard, we pulled 'Nilla into a parking spot. 'Nilla's wheels had not even come to a complete stop before we were surrounded on both sides by prospective guides. They were all vying for a chance to be our personal border crossing assistants. Basically, their job is to take you to the appropriate windows and make sure you have all the necessary documents for a hassle-free border crossing. We are not sure if they have a set price or not, but we are under the assumption that they work strictly for tips. To date we have not used a guide as we quite enjoy going through the process on our own. We find it helps us know what is going on and what exactly we are or are not paying for. Plus, we have been rather successful while winging it and have no desire to mess with that. So, as usual, we shooed away all of the guides and walked toward the Aduana office. Of course the guides knew this was the wrong office and immediately tried to solicit us again, however we once again refused their assistance. We walked up to an official looking booth in the middle of the road and asked the guard if that was where we needed to be driving through. He told us it was, so we fired 'Nilla up and drove toward the man at the booth. Once there, the guard asked for our paperwork. Confused, we asked which paperwork he was referring to. He advised us that we needed to pay a $1 USD exit fee at the office we had parked next to not two minutes prior. We giggled aloud as we reversed 'Nilla into the same parking spot we had just pulled her out of. The guides had all seen this little event go down and as soon as we alighted from the van, they were all over us yet again. We continued to refuse their services as we pushed our way throw the crowd and toward the window that issues exit fee receipts.
Walking away, Michael overhead a guide explain to another driving traveler that photocopies of our Drivers License, Passports and Vehicle Registration would be required. Pretending like we knew what we were doing, we entered a small room that housed the photocopier. Thankfully, the line was short. The man in front of us was driving from Texas down to Costa Rica with his family. Mr. Texas had hired a border guide and we took the opportunity to confirm the next few steps in the process. After copying our documents, we were greeted by a cheerful man offering to exchange our money from Nicaraguan Cordovas to Costa Rican Colones. Generally, a gaggle of money changers will surround us in a similar way to the border guides, however at this crossing we only had to deal with a pleasant older fellow. We confirmed the various exchange rates and getting a reasonable deal, we changed our currency. Hopping back into 'Nilla, we drove to the border booth for a second time. Handing over our exit receipts, we moved forward and were greeted by an official Aduana Agent. We received a small 7cm by 7cm slip of paper with some scribbles and stamps on it and were told to take 'Nilla down the road for a formal police inspection. We thought it funny that we did not get a police inspection to enter Nicaragua, however needed one to exit. Driving up to the main Customs and Migracion Building, we were again surrounded by a new multitude of guides all yammering on at us with various directions and advice. We just continued to spit out our famous "No Gracias" response and push our way through yet another crowd. Inside, we found a Tourist Information booth and the young man behind the counter was most helpful in clarifying our next few steps. Back outside, we went in search of a police officer to inspect our vehicle. First we asked an official looking man in uniform, however he was a Customs Agent and pointed us onward to a small office that was nearly filled up with one massive table and had a single police officer sitting at the far end. Reviewing our paperwork, the officer noted that we had not yet had our vehicle inspected. Funny thing, that is what we had just asked him to do. Pointing out the window to a concrete archway with faded and peeling paint way in the distance, we were told to drive our vehicle over there for inspection. Alright! We were now finally getting somewhere.
Firing up 'Nilla, we had a young kid hanging outside the van continually telling us where to go. Since we already knew that information, we politely refused his services. The kid would just not take the hint and started running in front of the van was we drove waving us along. The entire time we could see our known destination and had no need for him to point out the obvious. We sped up and passing the little guy, again telling him that his services were not needed. Pulling into the inspection area, we were happily waiting in line behind Mr. Texas for a second time. When Geraldine opened the door, she nearly hit the kid. We had no idea he continued to follow us and since he was so small, he was hard to see from our elevated seats in the van. With a final and definite "No Gracias", the young boy understood he was not needed and ran back to the Customs Building. We surrendered our photocopies of personal and vehicle information to the police and an officer slowly sauntered over to 'Nilla. He looked exhausted from climbing in and under vehicles all day. We unlocked all the doors and stepped back to give him some space to look around. The inspection was rather thorough, as he went through all the pockets around the engine console, which was a first on this trip. The officer was also the first to notice the television inside van. As he opened the numerous cupboard doors in the back, he really had no idea where to start searching. The doors were closed as quickly as they were opened. Near the end of the inspection, the officer asked Michael to step in and show him around. We went through the refrigerator, freezer, drawers of pots and pan before finally getting to the pantry. The officer was merely amused when we saw we had a liquor cabinet, but he moved on to check out the rest of our food. He rubbed his tummy and smiled when he came across oatmeal and Michael smiled back. The officer quickly opened our clothes lockers, but was none to interested in sifting through them. The inspection was officially over. Since we had handed in our paperwork here, we expected to receive an official receipt or completed inspection form, however we were simply told to tell the police officer back at Customs that the inspection was finished. Who were we to argue.
We drove back to makeshift Police Station and the officer signed the original slip of paper we had received at the border booth confirming our inspection was completed. That seemed easy enough and we then headed inside to deal with Customs and Migracion. As we have been known to do, we circled the entire building looking for the Migracion window. Ending up exactly where we had started, our next decision was to enter the building. Inside the building there was the now deserted tourist desk to the right and a large hallway to the left. It appeared as if left was the way to go and we were not disappointed when we saw a row of glass windows for Migracion and Customs - Vehicle Permits. Choosing the shortest line first, we waited for our turn at the Customs window. It was mere minutes before we were called up to produce our passports. After paying the $4 USD border fee, our passports were stamped and we were free to wait in the next line to hand in our vehicle papers. This line too just a little longer as all those in front of us had at minimum three sheets each that needed to be dealt with. Wondering if perhaps we had missed a crucial step along the way, we opted to take our chances and see what happened. As it turned out, all we needed was the small 7cm by 7cm slip of paper as the agent simply added yet another stamp to the small form and took our Nicaraguan Driving Permit from us. Two and a half hours later, we were ready to leave Nicaragua.
'Nilla obviously had enough of all the staring, touching and prodding as she anxiously awaited our return. She fired up and drove us toward the final leg of our adventure. We immediately realized that our departure would not be as speedy as hoped. In front of us on the main road was a long, long queue of semi truck and trailers. We crawled into an available space and patiently waited our turn behind one of the only other regular vehicles in line. We had been waiting roughly ten minutes and had proceeded roughly ten feet, when the passenger of the SUV in front of us got out and walked toward the booth. Moments later he returned and directed the driver of the SUV to pull out and drive beside the line of semis directly up to the booth. Well, well, well, it looked as if regular vehicles may get special treatment. Not ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, we quickly manoeuvred 'Nilla out of her resting place and followed the SUV. Whoops! Perhaps not the smoothest move as the SUV then turned away from the line all together and parked in a parking lot. Wondering once again if we had missed a vital step in the departure process we sat by ourselves in the middle of the road contemplating what to do next. Thankfully the guard at the booth spotted us and waved us ahead. 'Nilla was feeling pretty darn proud of herself as she cruised past the line of massive trucks and budged her way into the front of the pack. The officer at the gate asked for our paperwork. We handed him the 7cm by 7cm slip of paper and crossed our fingers that he would not ask for more. He did not and we crept forward. As we waited our turn to reach the parking lot at the Costa Rican border buildings, a Police Officer approached the van and asked for our passports. There was no booth in sight, so we wondered what this was all about. The officer simply checked to see that our passports had been stamped and then walked back to the group of men he had been chatting with. Apparently, not everyone in the world needs an office.
The first thing we noticed as we approached the Costa Rican side of the border was a massive line easily four people wide that flanked two sides of the large Migracion building. That was one line we were hoping to avoid. Following the directions of a parking patrol, we pulled 'Nilla up to park. The road was congested with truck and trailers and with 'Nilla's extended length, we wanted to pull her up as close to the building as possible. Unfortunately, there was a woman with a cooler standing directly in our path. All we needed was two more feet to be safely off the road, so we inched forward. We stared in amazement as the woman refused to budge from her standing area. Patiently, Geraldine got out of the van and asked the woman to move. The woman responded by saying that we were not allowed to drive on the sidewalk. Geraldine looked at 'Nilla's tires and pointed out to the lady that our front tires were easily still three feet away from the tiled path. Having had enough of the stubborn woman, she motioned for Michael to move forward. According to Geraldine's visual calculations, 'Nilla was high enough off the ground to clear the cooler that stood on the ground at her feet. As 'Nilla inched forward, the woman finally got the picture, picked up her cooler and stepped back a couple of feet. Phew! Parking 'Nilla is generally a challenge, but this was downright difficult.
The helpful parking patrol pointed us in the direction of the Aduana office. It was a small one room shack directly across from Migracion. Inside we found a single man sitting behind a lone desk. Atop the desk were two ledger books and a small lamp. We were curious to see what was going to happen in this modest room. The man at the desk was cheerful and seeing as how he was there for one purpose only, he did not need to ask us how he could help. He simply removed a piece of paper from the one and only drawer on the desk and told us to go into the Migracion building to purchase the obligatory vehicle insurance. Okay Dokey! Across the street we went and bypassed the throng of people waiting to get in. We were pretty confident that none of them were there to purchase vehicle insurance so we did not feel bad about cutting in line. Once inside, we were directed to the first doorway. There was a minor queue to get in and we were at the front within five minutes. The office was small, yet packed. It housed one desk, one photocopier, two bookshelves and two employees. The woman behind the desk worked on the paperwork, while the man at the photocopier worked the machine. Vehicle insurance cost us C7,281 (Colones) or $15 USD and was good for 90 days. Before the insurance was handed to us, the agent asked us for our passports. She immediately noticed that they had not been stamped by Costa Rican Immigration. We had bypassed a step and she refused to complete the transaction until we provided valid stamped passports. So off we went to Migracion. We chose not to think about the people that were waiting outside as we quickly ducked into the nearly empty room of tellers behind windows. Within minutes we were back at the Insurance office with officially stamped passports. Photocopies of the stamps were taken and we were advised to return to the Aduana office across the road.
Back at the Aduana office, the agent took our paperwork and started to transfer document numbers into his two ledger books. All of a sudden he stopped and stared out the window. We opted not to interrupt him and soon he was back to looking at his ledger. He did not continue to write our numbers down though. Instead he gazed at the pages before staring back out the window again. We both had a look at the ledger book in an attempt to quietly figure out what the problem was. Michael and Geraldine both noticed at the same time that the agent had forgotten to write down the document numbers of the lady that had been in front of us. Looking outside, we noticed that the woman, papers in hand, was still in the parking lot. Simultaneously, we looked at each other with the same quizzical look. If she was just outside his office, why did he not simply go outside and request to see her papers one more time? When the woman got into her vehicle and drove off, we were both fearful that we were now in for a long wait until the agent could solve the dilemma of missing numbers. Thankfully, this was not the case. As soon as the woman drove off, our agent stood up and walked outside with us. We assumed he wanted to see 'Nilla and give her an inspection, however this did not happen. Rather, he simply handed the documents back to Geraldine and advised her that we now needed to drive 200 meters down the road to another Aduana office to get all of our information entered into the border computer system. Oh the hoops.
Inching our way forward in the long line of semi trucks, we finally reached an official looking booth. Here we were advised that it is mandatory for all vehicles entering Costa Rica to get fumigated. No problem, we have been through this before. Enquiring where we needed to go to pay for this process, we were told right there. Next we wondered where we could park so as not to block the one lane road, however the agent insisted parking right in the middle of the street was fine. The mystery behind the long line was slowly starting to make sense. We jumped out of the vehicle, waved at all the trucks behind us and quickly paid the minimal fumigation fee. With receipt in hand, we drove forward and into what looked like an automatic car wash back home. Equipped with sensors, the contraption started spraying a liquid onto 'Nilla the moment her nose passed over the threshold.
From the fumigation area, we followed the semi trucks further down the road. Spotting a sign that read Aduana, we pulled over. As has become routine, we were advised that we were at the wrong office and needed to drive still another 100 meters down the road. Perhaps some day we will figure out what happens at all the other offices that sport Aduana placards. The parking lot at the real Aduana office was only large enough for four cars, so most vehicles had opted to park along the driveway. We made our way to the end of the driveway and assuming that the four cars were those of employees, decided to park lengthwise across the parking lot entrance. Inside, we noted that the building had a large foyer with four doors on either side and a staircase leading to the second floor directly in the middle. The doors were well signed and we found the office we needed in no time.
Pulling out of Liberia, we headed for the mountains around Lago Arenal. We had barely listened to one full song on the radio, before pulling 'Nilla off to the side of the road...watermelon stand. Fresh fruit is so easy to come by, that we always leave this stuff off our grocery list as it is cheaper on the road.
We had followed sings for the "German Bakery' from Tilaran to Arenal and we made that our first stop once we arrived in town. Unfortunately, we were a little late and the bakery had closed for the night. Driving around town, we found a sign for a Municipal Park and we headed straight there. The park was situated atop a small hill right on the bank of Lago Arenal and was a beautiful spot. Not knowing much about the safety of the area we headed back into town to ask around. A police officer standing on the side of the street was a perfect person to ask. His advice was to avoid camping out by the lake as it is too remote. Heeding his advice, we pulled up on the street near the Police Station and set up camp for the night. It drizzled rain all evening, and with nightfall came a noticeable drop in temperature. It had been some time since we needed to wrap up in a blanket at bedtime.
Where I stayed