Things got interesting our second night at the beach house in Nicaragua.
First, the power went out at about 5 p.m. Realizing we probably weren’t going to regain electricity by the time we left the next day, we cooked dinner in the hour of light we had left, watched the lightening for a while, and gave up and went to bed at about 7:30 p.m. Like olden times!
At around 8 p.m., we heard a gunshot nearby. We learned the next day that this was the guard firing a warning shot after the power went out, which we appreciated, although we would have been slightly less sketched out to have that intel at the time. I leaped out of bed to ensure the doors were locked, and on my way, knocked a side table’s seashell display onto the tile floor. If you’re wondering what sound that makes, it’s sort of like a bar full of angry bikers smashing their beer bottles against one another’s foreheads all at once.
The next morning, after a romp on the beach, we followed a caravan consisting of two dudes on a motorcycle, a dog, and a guy on a bike out through the dirt “roads.”
For that evening’s lodging, we decided to try our luck in San Juan Del Sur, a surf town about an hour’s drive north of the Costa Rica border. Luck was not on our side. I held about 10 conversations in my broken Spanish that went along these lines: “Do you have a room for two people for tonight? Do you allow dogs? No? Ah, too bad. Do you know of a hotel or guest house near here that allows pets? One block over, two doors down? OK, thank you very much!”
Normally I’d have difficulty with that much rejection, but I was so elated to be having successful exchanges in Spanish that it buoyed me along. Eventually Andy had the smartypants idea to stop at an Internet cafe and try to find something nearby online, which he did in about 10 minutes. We left pet-unfriendly San Juan Del Sur for a lovely hotel called Casa Bahia in Playa Marsella, about 20 minutes away. The friendly staff upgraded us to a casita with a kitchen, and the girls got more beach romping time in.
The next day, we set out early for the border — the longest crossing yet, at about four hours and 20 minutes. Leaving Nicaragua was relatively smooth; we were able to negotiate the steps ourselves in about 35 minutes without the assistance of a guide (although we were approached by a few). Entering Costa Rica was a jumble, though. First we stood in the long immigration line behind a busload of tourists — once you make it inside the building, you can ask someone at a desk for the immigration form most people in line have already filled out. The woman at the window was skeptical that we didn’t have a return ticket — we told her we were driving and planning on applying for residency, but we didn’t yet have whatever documentation she wanted to see. After a couple tense minutes she decided we weren’t worth the hassle, and approved our 90-day tourist visas. Big whew.
Next, we went to the first aduana (there are two) to initiate the vehicle permit process. They told us to get back in the long line to have our luggage scanned. At that point, we found a young migración employee who became our guide/savior. He helped us get our bags scanned (a wholly arbitrary operation; they only ran our luggage through, not any of the bins or musical instruments or anything else we had in the car. Duh, don’t they know we store all our drugs and guns in the mandolin case???), talked to the vet at the border for us, sat in line with me at the bank so I could pay the ~$30 that would satisfy the vet to allow our dogs in, made sure all was copacetic with the first aduana, and pointed us on our way toward the insurance office, copy shop, and second aduana.
We met a lovely Brit ahead of us in line at the insurance window, who was on an extended mission to form relationships in underprivileged locations that might benefit from assistance with organic farming. His karma, therefore, was clearly more assured than ours — after he was helped, the window closed and the guard informed us it was lunchtime, and we’d have to wait 30 minutes.
I am not a patient person by nature, and I would like to thank the borders of Central America for helping me work on that. No, really! I mean it. If you come here expecting things to happen at a certain rate of efficiency and become annoyed every time that expectation is not met, life will be unpleasant. Patience, adaptability, flexibility and a sense of humor are key.
That said, our patience, adaptability, flexibility and senses of humor had been tested to their upper limits. By the time we purchased our insurance, made the necessary copies of that along with our stamped passports, handed everything over to the second aduana (who spoke not a word to us), and got in a line of not-moving vehicles to exit the border area, we didn’t even have the energy to celebrate the fact that we made it Costa Rica.
But we did! We made it. We MADE it. The drive from Austin took 12 days, with two days off from driving. We averaged 8- or 9-hour days in the car, only driving at night when we got lost or had to push a bit further to get to our lodging. We were considerably less hassled by police than all the guidebooks and blogs we consulted warned — only twice did we have to show our paperwork, and never once did we have to bribe anyone.
Our friend Mario Chaves has an apartment in the Escazú area of San José, Costa Rica’s capital and largest city. He graciously offered it to us as a place to land our first week here, and that has been the biggest godsend. He’s also been texting us recommendations for where to shop and eat, introducing us to his friends and colleagues, and in general being the most generous and hospitable person on the planet.
During our first few days in our new country, we’ve:
- Gotten hooked up with mobile internet and a local phone number (if you need our number and don’t have it, email us!)
- Drank wine with Evan and Jessica, a friendly couple from Seattle we met in the phone store who relocated here a couple days before we did
- Took a twisty drive through the mountains that turned out to be quite a bit longer than it looked on the map
- Went for a muddy hike with the dogs in Braulio Carillo National Park, a cloud forest about an hour’s drive north of San José
- Tended to Andy’s bug-bite-swollen ankle, sunburn, and poopsickness
- grocery shopped, cooked, and enjoyed being normal and not in the car all day erryday.
I go back to work tomorrow, and we’ll start applying for residency soon. We’re still a little in shock. This has been a wild few months — planning, getting our house rented and moving out, pulling all the necessary paperwork together, making the drive. It hasn’t quite sunken in yet that we’ve arrived, and we live here now.