Monday, July 16, 2007

From Costa Rica with Love

Well, having no plans for the weekend and always in search of a little adventure, I decided to accompany Wendy on a quick weekend trip to Costa Rica in light of her illegal, alien status in Nicaragua (her visa had expired and a huge fine of US$1 per day was being imposed on her). Fortunately, we were able to take Friday off. Waking up way too early, I rolled out of bed at 5:30 AM on Friday, grabbed a taxi and explained him our route from my house, to Wendy’s place and then to the bus station and arrived around 6:30 AM. The bus was scheduled to depart at 7:30 AM but since we had no reserved seating, we had to wait until 6:45 AM to find out if we could go to Costa Rica. Thankfully, there were a few seats available and we started our trip.

The bus was comfortable, air-conditioned and we even got to see corny American flicks like Little Man. Everything went by seamlessly until we got to the Pena Blanca border crossing (i.e. refugee camp crossing). Amidst this confusing area of border crossing, order reigns over chaos. But it does take time for you to figure out which line is for food, which line for the bank and which line for the passport control (not kidding). Finally finding the right line, we slowly moved up into the chaotic yet efficient border control (quick look at the passport, picture, whether we had any rejected visas and bam! You are stamped and on your way). It only took an hour and 15 minutes to get there but are they ever efficient once you do get your stamp.

We continued on our way until we got to Liberia which has a bus station but in which you get dropped off at the outskirts of the city. Near a gas station. Totally confused as to our whereabouts. After asking many questions to different people, we figured out the bus to playa Coco (our final destination) was across the street of a very busy intersection. We saw the hourly bus go by… without stopping because it was full to the brink (people leaning out of the window). I’ve rarely seen anything quite like it, even in Nicaragua. We lowered our shoulders a notch and then thought it would be smart to get some money out to take a taxi to Playa Coco. So, Wendy put in her bank card only to have the transaction rejected and the machine eat her card. She waited more than an hour to retrieve it while I went out looking for the bus station to reserve our seats on the way back (no reservation, no taking the bus). Unfortunately for us, I was heading in the wrong direction (forgot my campus again). So, Wendy got her card back, I took out money from a different bank and after spending $25 to get to playa coco by taxi, we made it safely to our hotel. We were so happy to be here and not stranded on the road. We decided to take a quick dip in the ocean. It looked so pretty.

The water was so nice and warm until… Ohh! What was that? It felt like a bee stung me. But what could it be? There were millions of mini jelly fish in the water. And there were fish nibbling on my legs (very unnerving). We quickly got out when the small stinging sensation got too irritating. We walked to the main part of the village, found an over-priced restaurant and had a remarkably great meal. We decided to call the bus station tomorrow to see if we could book places on the Sunday bus back to Managua. After calling about 5-6 different numbers to contact someone (you see, they are working and they are there but they have decided not to answer any phone calls… Costa Rica bus services are not known for their great customer service). Wendy and I made an executive decision to strand our local, jelly-fish infested paradise for a night in the Liberian-border town. We made our way back and found the bus station. I used landmarks to make my way to the bus station conveniently located in the middle of nowhere. Before we were served, another lady began crying and saying this couldn’t be true. We knew we were in for bad news. There were no seats available until next Tuesday, late! But we needed to get back to Managua for Sunday night. We decided to go the more expensive route and take a taxi to the border the next day… And then, it started raining and didn’t let up until the next day.

Because of the stressful day I was envisioning on Sunday, I couldn’t sleep which didn’t help me one bit. I eventually fell asleep only to wake up too early and realize we needed to start our crazy trip back. We found a taxi and made our way to the border. We had to cross the border this time without the helpful international buses that shielded a lot of the chaos from us. We walked the one km zone that separates Nicaragua from Costa Rica after going through the two border controls. It only took us one hour and a half this time, beating the previous two and a half hours of the time coming in, so an improvement of sorts. We made our way through the thick of taxi drivers, helpful Nicas trying to sell us everything under the sun, until we got to the Managua express bus. Oh, how I missed the Nica express buses. Always there to serve, without reservations and oh, so very cheap. We made the 150km trip in about 2 and a half hour which is very fast by Nica standards. I made it to my bed by 2:00 PM and slept a solid 2 hours and felt funny (my stomach was hurting). And there you have it, folks, the weekend trip from hell and back. It could always be worst and if I didn’t have horror stories, I would have nothing to tell, right?

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