Make a run to the border
Until we have our residency here in Costa Rica we have to depart the country every 90 days. They don’t care where you go, just as long as you go. So this time we made a run for the border with some great friends to spend an afternoon in Nicaragua, or at least at the border of Nicaragua.
You see it can get quite expensive flying a family of nine to the good ole US every 3 months, so the alternative is a 2 hour drive north to Nicaragua.
The trip took us straight through Liberia which in turn requires the obligatory and rare McDonald’s visit. Swallowing the irony of McDonald’s becoming a special treat is akin to swallowing an old filet-o-fish and greasy cold fries. But the complete lack of fast food has made fast food a treat. So all trips to and through LIberia require a McDonald’s or BK stop.
After the throng of us, 17 in total, scarfed down our Big Macs, Nuggets, fries and fried chicken ( yes all fast food restaurants have fried chicken) it was time to head north to the border, and no I don’t mean Taco Bell.
The most interesting thing about the drive was how quickly the environment changed. The grass and trees became greener, the flat land become hillier, the air become slightly cooler, and the roads become vastly emptier. This was new territory for us, but not for the Olsen’s which is why they were our guide for this trip, Dave, Keri and their five kiddos. I can tell that Dave has been in Costa Rica much longer than me because I felt like Danica Patrick trying to keep up with Tony Stewart.
Other than the new scenery, and the post McDonald’s growling in our stomachs, the drive to the border was uneventful. The border itself, a different story.
You know you are close to the border when you start seeing 18 wheelers parked alongside of the road for miles, waiting, sometimes for days, for their turn to cross the border. A rookie, like me, would’ve parked in line like a proper American and waited for my turn. Instead we deftly pulled into the left lane and drafted off Dave to pull right up to the border.
The border itself is unimpressive. There are people milling all around, a few uniformed individuals, no signs, no arrows, no lines, just a dilapidated old concrete building with a couple of unhappy locals behind the counter. They looked miserable, their uniforms dirty, their smiles long gone, their dark skin subdued. A small table top fan cooled them and some upbeat Latin music softly playing in the background mindlessly, unnoticed by all. There is no line, you just push your way to the front and get some papers from the man behind the old CRT computer screen. He reluctantly counts out 18 immigration forms for us, one for out one for back in.
As I sat filling out the forms as quickly as I could, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of security, the lack of cleanliness, the lack of anything. Everything there pretty much guaranteed that this was supposed to be a dark and miserable experience, much worse than DMV. However, the Godfrey’s and Olsen’s together cannot help but make any activity fun.
After quickly scratching out 18 customs forms, I returned to an empty spot in the counter and handed the man 9 passports and 9 forms. Like a robot, he removed the paper, opened the passport, scanned the passport and only asked if Livy was Kassie. Five minutes later we were on our way.
The most interesting part of the whole experience was the walk from the Costa Rica Border to the Nicaragua border. Again, no signs, no trails, no security, but we did pass a couple of uniformed men along the side of the road who glanced at each and every passport and sent us on our way.
The walk made me appreciate having our guides to show us the way. Literally, I would’ve had no clue where to go. We walked on a dirt road, through a dirt parking lot, through a wire fenced tunnel from which we exited through what appeared to be a hole cut in the fence by a burglar, over a beaten path in a makeshift grass area into Nicaragua.
We then headed directly to one of about a dozen different dilapidated buildings in the area. Again, I saw no reason why we could not have just kept on walking further into Nicaragua, but our purpose today was to get the stamps in our passport.
The building here was slightly nicer, the men behind the counter, slightly grouchier. In fact they refused to give me 18 customs forms, which a very nice Nica lady offered to sell me for a propina ( tip). Eventually, we were able to get our forms, fill them out, and answer a couple of random questions before getting our passports stamped.
In hindsight, I think having 14 rambunctious kids yelling, screaming and playing in their echoing building helped to push the process forward. Shoot, I was ready to leave!
After the last stamp, paying $12 per passport, and $1 more per passport for a tiny cute 1X1 piece of paper that no one every looked at, we were officially in Nicaragua, the clock started; Let the good times roll!
This trip was for one purpose and one purpose only, to get our passports stamped so we could stay in CR for another three months. So instead of fighting through the throng of cab drivers, we literally sat at the border, ate snacks, shopped in the duty free stores, played games and listened to music for over two hours. Technically we are supposed to be in Nicaragua for three hours, but two hours at a dirty dusty border was about all that we could handle. The kids had a great time, rip sticking all around the old abandoned border buildings, playing soccer, exploring and just being kids. But as darkness engulfed us, we felt it was time to see if we could get back to our country. The women prayed and the men pushed forward.
Again, in hindsight having the kids screaming, running, singing and playing probably helped a lot. By the time we finished filling out nine customs forms and came up to the counter, the whole country was ready to send us packing! There were no questions, in fact he did not look at our forms at all. Stamp, flip stamp, flip and ask if Olivia was Kassie, pay $2 a passport, and again an extra $1 for that cute tiny piece of paper; Passports in hand we began our walk back to CR. The ten minute walk in the dark, weaving between 18 wheelers, cars and broken concrete involved several wrong turns, one fall and several head counts. We only had to show one uniformed man our passports and he hurried us along our way. Eventually we made our way back into the hot and stuffy CR border and deftly stepped up to the counter like we knew what we were doing. The only question asked ” how long are your going to be in CR?” in spanish, which I mistook to mean how long had you been in Nicaragua. Imagine his surprise when I said 3 hours. Eventually we figured it out and stamp, stamp, stamp we were on our way. Back to our cars which we had parked at the border and back to Liberia. A quick 9 pm dinner at BK, lots of in-car group singing, and an hour later we were home.
According to Dave the trip was about as uneventful as any border crossing could be. Which seems incredible to me when you look at our family, me and Tracy and seven kids, six which look like Ticos. Yet no questions, no accusations, nada. In and out in two hours. It was a $144 process, a meaningless ends to a means, another hoop to jump through, one that we now know how to do. Perhaps in the future we will make one change and save the McDonald’s trip for the ride back, because the water bucket man powered pay toilets are not conducive to a post McDonald’s bathroom trip.