For a fist full of dollars

Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
1
162
300
Trip End Nov 04, 2008


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Where I stayed
Victoria - $30 double, brkfst, ensuite, tv, v good

Flag of Nicaragua  ,
Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Crossing from Costa Rica to Nicaragua via Los Chiles is relatively simple:
- stamp passport (no cues) at Los Chiles
- pay exit tax of $1 US
- get on the 12pm boat (panga) for Colones 5,000 ($10 per person)

During these procedures we managed to spend up to the last Costa Rican Colon as we didnīt want to take small change over the border. Luckily we had some dollars for the tax left which we didnt know about.

We even tried to take some dollars out of the ATM machine at Los Chiles to make sure we had some cash, but unfortunetly the ATM was not working so we decided to risk it with the US$80 dollars which we had managed to get at San Jose. That was a nightmare the other day at San Jose as it was Sunday and most ATM machines had no money left in them so we could only get our hands on $80. (Note: these comments will make sense further along the story...)

There was a slight delay leaving the port of Los Chiles as they wanted to fill the "panga" with as many passengers and cargo as possible. Some passengers had been waiting there since a few hours earlier so after 12.30 there was quite some show of protest and waving of arms, but no action from the vessel owners who were only thinking about some extra dollars in their pockets.

Once we did finally take off the trip to Nicaragua was fabulous...a full hour on a fast river boat watching all sorts of wildlife....no need to take a tour to Caņo Negro! The howler monkeys were especially noisy during the trip...

Anyway, we arrived at the port of San Carlos in Nicaragua, and just getting off the panga is customs. The local military quickly sorted out the paperwork for all the passengers and our first contact with the Nicaraguan military was the friendliest we could expect (apart from the US$7 per person entry tax..). They even chatted with us for a couple of minutes and recommended a couple of towns to visit.

The last question to the border guard was where the nightmare started: "where is there an ATM cash box"? Their reply "there is none, although there is a bank two streets up".

We knew there was problems in Nicaragua with ATMs but for some odd reason we had thought that the fact that there was a bank there (we had read about it on the guide book) meant that they would have an ATM or at least advance cash on Visa or Mastercard or travellers cheques....but oh no!

We arrived at the bank and unless you have an account locally there is absolutely no way of obtaining cash in any currency, and the closest ATM was either going back to Costa Rica or going to Granada (1 day travel).

Other problems:
- we now had $60 dollars left after the entry tax
- the boat to Granada only leaves on Tuesdays and Fridays. It was Tuesday and had already left
- to go back to Costa Rica we needed to wait until the next day as there was no boat back now

So PANIC TIME!!!!!!!!!

We decided the most reasonable thing to do was to go to the local tourist office and see what they said. Not much help. But directly in front of the tourist office there is a small tour operator who happily helped us out with lots of information.

The first thing we learnt is that on most places we are going to travel through there is always a couple of hotels and restaurants that accept credit cards...which has not been at all the case during the last 5 months. So with that information in mind our decision was:

- we found out about a hotel in El Castillo that accepted credit cards
- we had sufficient US$ to get tickets to El Castillo and back (Cordobas $75 pp = $4 US each way) plus the boat to Granada ($10 each)
- we would sleep, eat and hire any tours or activities via the El Castillo hotel
- stay at El Castillo 3 nights instead of the original 2
- return to San Carlos on Friday morning to get the boat to Granada (on which you sleep on board)

In theory this would leave about $10 US for small stuff to get to Granada. Sufficient, but risky if anything extraordinary happened.

We will advance the end...it worked perfectly and we had $15 left when we arrived in Granada.

Lesson learnt: ATMs are tourist attractions and very difficult to spot in Nicaragua! We have now noted 5 places in the whole country where there is one and another 5  where we can get cash advances...so we should be fine, but the feeling of "we are going to have to sell our stuff and bodies to get money" did appear a couple of times :-).

That was a long day, and to celebrate the new country and the adventure...not returning to Costa Rica was a moral victory....we had an excellent dinner of camarones (small river lobster) at the hotel Victoria.
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