I’m in Nicaragua! It’s been just about ninety days since Emily and I drove into Costa Rica, so I had to renew my visa by hopping across the border. (Emily renewed hers in October by going to California for work.) Rather than do a one day border run, I decided to take a weeklong Spanish class in the beautiful, touristy beach town of San Juan del Sur.
I bought a TicaBus ticket while we were out in Sámara and selected Villa Bonita, Alejuela as my departure point. I didn’t really know how I’d get there when I bought the ticket, but luckily Costa Rica has a pretty solid bus system, or system of systems.
On Saturday, I hit the road at 5:30 a.m. The bus from Atenas to San Jose stops at Villa Bonita – specifically, on the highway at the overpass going to Villa Bonita. I hopped off the bus, climbed up the hill to the overpass, then crossed over to get to the northbound side of the highway.
Not knowing how long the local bus would take, I got there super early. During my 1.5 hour wait, a NicaBus stopped and appeared to have some mechanical problems. It was there about an hour and hadn’t left by the time my bus came.
Unlike the local buses, which typically require one to wave them down to stop, the international buses know you’re there because of your reservation. The driver took my ticket, told me my seat number, and we hit the road.
Here’s what happens at the border. It was pretty easy, but your mileage may vary:
- The bus stops on the Costa Rican side of the border. Get off the bus with the receipt for your exit tax (payable at Banco Nacional before your trip), passport, TicaBus ticket, and the exit form for immigration. Stand in line, then hand passport, receipt, and exit form over. Get exit stamp.
- Get back on the bus – a TicaBus employee will ask for your seat number or find your name on their list before you board.
- While the bus is driven to the Nicaragua entry point, a TicaBus employee asks for passports and your entry tax for Nicaragua. For me, that was $14 (exact change preferred).
- Get off the bus with luggage, grabbing any luggage stowed in the cargo hold. Bypass the folks selling SIM cards and the line in the building and proceed through the door to the baggage scanner. Put your bags on the conveyor belt and hand over your immigration/customs form. Grab your bags and head back to the bus.
- Load your cargo on the bus based on your destination in Nicaragua, as directed by the not-necessarily-uniformed baggage handlers. Get back on the bus.
- The bus will drive a little ways then park again. Get off the bus if you want and wait. A Ticabus employee will arrive with a stack of passports and start reading names aloud. Retrieve your passport and get back on the bus.
- Sit back and enjoy “The Hobbit” dubbed in Spanish.
While hopping on and off the bus, I met John Johnson. Previously from Georgia, he and his wife have worked with a Christian ministry school for troubled youth in Nicaragua for the past 25 years. He was returning home after attending a conference in San Jose about microlending, which is his passion. He told me stories of his successes and failures in microlending – a woman with a coffee cart who is doing great selling coffee on cold mornings at bus tops, the perils of lending money to a person who has an alcoholic in her family, and a former student whose refrigerator, provided by their loan, has him selling meats and other perishable goods from home to provide for his family. That man, who previously called asking for money, now calls to ask John and his wife to visit. Cool stuff.
On the road north, a TicaBus employee asked for everyone’s destinations. Mine was Rivas, so I told him that. Upon arrival in Rivas, I got off the bus and was immediately directed toward a taxi. I didn’t have the willpower to resist, so I just went along with it. The taxi was $25, which isn’t crazy for a 30 minute trip, but is certainly way more expensive than a local bus. Hopefully I can do better on the way back.
When I arrived at the Latin American Spanish School at about 2:30 p.m., I was greeted by Lorgia, my teacher for the week. I filled out some paperwork, paid for the classes and homestay, then we walked a few blocks to where I’m staying this week.
In a situation that’s typical of many families here, Carmen’s is a multi-generational household. She’s the madre de la casa and her daughters, their kids, and their spouses all live here. Full house!
The first and only rule of the house is, “No Chicas!” Este no es un problema.
Part of the homestay deal is three meals per day. The food is great and I’m full all the time. Here’s what happened when I told Emily about it:
I wandered around town yesterday for a few hours listening to Coffee Break Spanish and exploring. Here are a few photos from that experience.