Crossing Borders

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I’m tired of being a perpetual tourist! Without residency, we must renew our visas every 90 days, which means crisscrossing imaginary lines, waiting patiently in long lines (only to have people shove in front of us because they bribed an official), and providing a fake round trip airline ticket to prove that we will not stay in Costa Rica forever. We have no intentions of staying in Costa Rica forever. First, it is expensive! Prices for everything are comparable to the states. Second, in my humble opinion, the Ticos are so accustomed to rude tourists, that they return the rudeness in triplicate.

Our days of crossing borders are almost over. At least I think so. But, one never knows in Nicaragua. The rules change daily. The Immigration official visited our house last Monday to check our documents for residency. Until our residency is approved, we cross borders and zigzag across imaginary lines, where passports are stamped, bribes are received, and AK 47s are prevalent.

We’ve crossed many borders in our travels. They are all the same in my eyes…dirty places filled with annoying beggars with a screw you attitude and victim mentality. Any type of help requires a hefty fee. I was accosted by teenagers shoving the immigration form in my face as soon as we entered the arena, like a scene out of the “Hunger Games.” When I politely declined, (because the forms are free at the custom window), I was called “pinche” (cheap), which if you know me, I consider a great insult!

Clenching my passport tightly, we prepared for the next onslaught at the Nicaraguan custom window. I smiled politely, filled out my form, and as I slipped it through the plexiglass slot, I felt someone tugging at my sleeve. “Dame moonie,” an old woman  demanded. (Give me money) I tried to ignore her, but she persisted in tugging at my sleeve. When I turned around and gave her the finger wag for “NO”, she indignantly stomped away.

I detest the begging mentality! Bluffing and smirking have become forms of pressure exerted by beggars at every border, bus stop, and crossroad throughout the world. I swear they take classes in begging techniques, trying to outdo one another. Women approach benevolent looking people by exploiting the looks of innocent children under the age of five, toothless old men with tattered clothes hobble around on one wooden crutch, and insolent teenagers offer to guide fearful looking tourists through the maze of border crossings.

We avoided eye contact, pretended we didn’t understand Spanish, and walked rapidly through the maze of beggars, officials with AK 47s, and travel weary tourists to the Costa Rican border. The heat of the day engulfed us. We were drenched in sweat. I wondered how the hoards of backpackers lugging surf boards and 50 lb packs survived the long walk to the Costa Rican border. I wondered what that horrible stuff was they were spraying on the trucks as they passed through a large truck wash contraption. I was nauseated from the fumes of the spray.  How do older tourists ( like us), lug large suitcases almost a quarter of a mile to the border? My flip-flop blew out and I got a cramp in my toe that caused excruciating pain. I was dehydrated. I’d make a fine beggar at this point in my border crossing experience!

We were stopped several times at passport checks and offered same day entrance and exit stamps for a sum of $25. We graciously declined because we like going to Liberia, CR for an evening of air-conditioned luxury. We knew, after countless border crossings, that the rule is 72 hours before returning to Nicaragua. We also knew, after countless border crossings, that rules are made to be broken for a price.

At the Costa Rica custom’s office, we waited impatiently in another long line. I knew from previous experience that the custom officials in Costa Rica may ask to see a round-trip ticket either back to Nicaragua or back to the country of origin. Since most tourists don’t carry their return tickets with them, it’s another way for custom officials to collect money, since they don’t charge an entrance or exit fee in Costa Rica. The guy in front of us didn’t have a return ticket, so he had to go outside and buy a fake TICA bus ticket for $25 that he probably could never use.

I was prepared with my fake airline ticket. I just copied and pasted an old airline reservation into a Word document, changed the dates, and printed the reservation form. The custom’s agent asked to see our return ticket. I proudly handed her our fake ticket, our passports were stamped and we were on our merry way to Liberia, home of our favorite restaurant, a McDonald’s mocha frappe, and air-conditioned luxury.

Expect the unexpected! In Liberia, our favorite hotel was full, our favorite restaurant closed about a month ago, and McDonald’s stopped selling mocha frappes. We ended up paying $70 for a hotel with a pool and air-conditioning. It was a disappointing trip. My only purchase was a new pair of flip-flops at a huge dollar store because all prices were comparable to the states, maybe even a little more expensive. A bottle of Herbal Essence shampoo cost $6. I used the bar of hand soap in the hotel to wash my hair. I felt like Ayala, of the “Clan of the Cave Bears.”

The reason that you are not seeing a slideshow of the border crossing is because I was afraid to take pictures. Once in the Tokyo International Airport, I whipped out my camera while standing in the custom’s line and was reprimanded by a Japanese police officer. I can’t imagine what would have happened at the Nica/CR border. I suspect they wouldn’t be as polite. Not wanting to end up in prison or have my camera confiscated, I only took pictures of the bus ride back from Liberia.

At the 6 KM marker, long lines of trucks were parked and waiting to cross the border. Truck drivers were napping in hammocks strung under their trucks, barbecuing, and peeing along the side of the road. I heard that they wait days to cross the border with their trucks. Don’t they run out of gas? We passed many air-conditioned trucks that needed to keep their produce cool. How do they stand it? It must have been over 100 degrees in the shade. They wait days?

Finally, an hour and a half later, we reached the border and did everything again, only in reverse order. I hope our days are numbered for the border crossing. I’m getting too old for this! But, then again, you never know..rules change daily…people continue to cross imaginary lines…bribes are received…and beggars accost benevolent looking tourists standing in long, tiring lines. It’s what makes the world go round..and round…and round. Sometimes, I think many of our problems could be avoided if we lived in a borderless world! Don’t you agree?

16 thoughts on “Crossing Borders

  1. My wife has been a frequent visitor to Nicaragua. She usually spends at least a month there each year. This year we spent Christmas through New Years in Managua and Nagarote. It was a wonderful trip spent with new friends. While neither of us want to be expats, we expect that we will continue to visit as long as we are able. One of our friend’s parents lives on Concepción so who knows maybe we will cross paths. We are planning a month long trip there when I retire.

  2. Hi Debbie, I am about a month behind in reading my emails. Joe and I traveled up the coast for several weeks and just got back on Tuesday. We found a house in San Clemente, please say a prayer that all goes well with the title search because we both are ready for our own place. Your adventure in crossing the border every 90 days is hell, I have friends in Dolega, Panama who continue to do this every 90 days. I just could not handle those trips. I hope your residency paperwork comes for you before another trip is necessary. I just loved the line about Ayla, Jean Auel got me with that first book…what a strong woman model!!! Be well, I will let you know when we have closed and moved, I am keeping a positive attitude that all will go well. Nancy & Joe

    • Nancy, wishing you luck and safe travels. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that everything with the title search will be in order. Please post pics when you move. We’re going to have to visit you one of these days when you are settled. Best wishes! Thinking of you.

  3. I endured this in the begining of Febuary, since I had been in Honduras and Guatemala for almost three months I had to exit the zone. I remember the part of these kids trying to sell you the immigration form paper on the Nicaraguan side. Then they charge you a dollar to go through the gate to the immigration office. Fortunately I saved the receipt since they also charge you to return through the gate if you don’t have your receipt. It is a good thing I had mine since I was running short of patience by then. Make sure you have the correct change since no one will have any at the Nica migration office. A person should get an extra copy of this immigration paper and then you can print up a bunch of them since you need them coming and going you could have them all ready. Never heard anything about needing a return trip ticket to show on the CR side, guess I was lucky…

  4. We cross the border all the time and have never had any kind of hassle. The people have been polite, friendly and helpful. Never saw anyone with any kind of bribe thing going on and only foreigners have butted in line. Never saw any kind of guns other than what one would expect. Easy trip and great fish on the CR side at the border cafe. You can buy an open return bus ticket to show the Cr officials for $30 and it is good for a year so you can use it over and over. Lines will be shorter if you time your trip not to be there when the big buses go thru, we never encounter any kind of long line except at bus time which is late morning. If there is, go into the cafe and have a beer, it will put you in a better mood. This is a fairly easy border crossing.

    • Thanks, Rea Ann, for your response. Maybe next time we do a border run, we should go with you. lol We’ve been crossing the Nica/CR border for over 8 years, and we always have hassles. It’s nice to know that it doesn’t always have to be that way! Have you used the $30 ticket for a bus, or only to show the CR officials? If we have to do another border run, maybe we can go with you. I’ll buy you a beer at the border cafe! 🙂

  5. Pat’s right, spend the extra bucks and take the fancy buses. They handle not all, but most of the hassles at the border. (You have to get off the bus at the entering country, do the passport thing yourself, then wait while they “inspect” your luggage. Little known fact: If you’re over 60, you can go to the head of the line. You might get some dirty looks, but screw ’em.) Carol and I have to do this very thing in early June and we intend on going the painless route as much as possible. Glad to hear that you’re on the verge of getting your Cedulas (fingers crossed) and will now only have to deal with Immigration in Managua once every five years — unless they change those rules, that is.

    BTW Pat: Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala don’t count, as far as renewing a tourist visa is concerned.

    • Thanks, Jim. I like your advice! We’ve taken the TICA bus to Panama and the border crossing was painless. About standing in line if you’re over 60, one day in Granada, at the BAC bank, they moved me over to the old people’s line, but I was behind a 20 something guy that took forever, so I moved back to the regular line. By the time I finished my business, the 20 something guy was still talking to the bank clerk. Go figure! 🙂

  6. Penas Blancas really does feel like some kind of post-apocalyptic caricature with a bunch of Mad Max figures wearing sombreros! It is very depressing making that hot walk through no-man’s land. I agree with the previous writer’s suggestion – especially the crossing to Honduras which was quite easy in my experience. Or another option for you would be to take the overnight boat to San Carlos and then take another down the Rio Frio to CR border entrance. It’s a longer trip but kind of exotic and more natural!

  7. well,sounds to me as if you should just bribe the immigration official who came to your house,get it over with. I have never been asked for a onward travel document, I guess I am lucky. Are you trying to get residency? Yes, traveling that part of the world is a hassle,but I find traveling the US as bad if not worse, since we are in the process of becoming the worst country in the world, controlled by government tyranny.

  8. How about Hondrus? Maybe it would have been a nice change….You’ll get your residency…no more border crossing..:) better to take the buses that collect your passport and stop infront of the immigration office…

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