Saturday, June 5, 2010

Hello Costa Rica

I think that today was our toughest day so far on this trip.

We woke early-ish to head to Costa Rica. I had read that this particular border crossing was pretty tough and that we should get an early start so we did. We packed up our bags and went downstairs to check out of our hotel. We had been so happy at the Encanto del Sur hotel with its large comfortable room with TV and air conditioning. When the guy ran my credit card, he accidently moved the decimal point...the bill for 5 days came to over 27,000 cordobas which was over $1300...the hotel was nice but not that nice. Rob did a quick calculation on the cell phone and we pointed it out to the guy. He didn't quite understand and was rolling his eyes thinking that we were making a big stink over $1...he even pulled out 30 cordobas. We werent angry but were getting frustrated trying to explain that this was a bigger mistake than he realized. Just as we were about to really lose it, a group of guys from Managua came in ready to start a weekend of some really hard core partying and surfing. They had all gone to the University of Texas and their English was perfect. They immediately jumped in to help us and the guy realized his mistake. He was very apologetic and was able to fix it...although I will keep an eye on my statement to make sure that it is really taken care of. They tried to talk us into staying a few more days to party with them but they are way out of our league as far as partying goes so we headed off toward the bus.

We took a very short bus ride to an intersection that was kind of in the middle of nowhere and then caught the bus to the frontera...thats the border for you gringos. Those rides were quick and easy.

We arrived at the border in our usual confused state. I'm not sure why they dont post signs with arrows and instructions but they never seem to so we used our usual method of walking in the direction that seemed to be correct until someone official stopped us and told us where we really should go. We went through a gate where we showed our passports to a guy and he glanced at them and waved us through. From there we were completely lost. The whole area was really muddy from all the rain that we have been having. There were buses, trucks and people every where but there didnt seem to be a general direction that people were moving in. We were constantly being approached by money changers and guys with forms kind of offering to help but we knew that they were expecting a tip for it. Honestly, its probably worth the tip but we kept at it on our own. We wandered through an area with buses and an area with trucks and then we found this fenced path that led to a desk. It took awhile to find the entrance into the fenced path but we were pretty happy when we made it to the guy with the table who took our passports and started flipping through them. It turned out that he was looking for an exit stamp from Nicaragua so we had missed a step. We turned around and headed back through the fenced path where 2 guys caught our attention and led us back through the trucks and the buses to a building that we had missed thinking it was a bank. There were lots of people here and even some that I recognized from our bus. We made our way to the window, did the usual flip through the passport asked us for $1 each and then stamped our passports and handed them back. Then we were pretty confident because we knew the next place to go. We went back, through the mud, trucks and buses, found the way into the fenced path, made it to the table (which had moved about 30ft out of the fenced path and was now just sitting next to the road) and the guy found the stamp and waved us through. Now we had a walk to the Costa Rican entrace which the book had said was about 1km. No big deal and an easy walk. This is my favorite part of crossing the border. We are in no man's land, stamped out of 1 country and not yet into another country. It feels very exotic!

We quickly found the Costa Rican Immigration building feeling very confident and thinking that maybe this wouldnt be so bad after all. As we got closer, we immediately saw the end of the line and realized that it went around the building. The sun was out and everyone was dripping sweat. We walked to the back of the line and asked if this was the line and the very hot and sweaty lady in the back of the line, holding a heavy looking plastic bag with some sort of pressure cooker in it, nodded sadly that this was it. We joined her and within seconds another hot, sweaty lady lugging 2 suitcases came up to us and asked if this was the line, and it was our turn to nod sadly that yes, this was it, here in the sun too far from the front to even know how far it was.

The line moved faster than I thought it would and eventually we were allowed inside where we saw that there were more long lines. They had us drop our bags with everyone else's in the hall, which we were not very excited to do but the building was air conditioned and it was nice to have them off to cool off our backs. As we walked to the line, an official looking guy said something to someone 2 people up and pointed to the next empty line..SCORE!! We quickly made it to the window and the lady took our passports and asked what our plan was and for proof of onward travel. Dammit, I had a fake printout of a plane ticket at the beginning of our trip but I had thrown it out long ago because nobody ever asked for it. We said no and she told us we would need to buy a bus ticket. I had read that this was a possibility so we walked out and were immediately approached by a lady with a stack of bus tickets from San Jose to Managua. What a scam. They had $20 marked right on them. We had no choice but to buy them. What a kick in the face. $40 is a huge amount of money for us in our backpacker mindset. Oh well. We bought the tickets and headed back to the line. A lady tried to give us a hard time but we just kept going, walked to the line, waited and finally got to the window. Finally everything was in place and she stamped us into Costa Rica.

Yes! We walked out ready to find a bus. That was when we noticed the next huge line. Right in the middle of the line we saw to smiling faces...a couple from England (Guirnsey actually) that we had met in Ometepe and then again in San Juan del Sur. They looked as beat down as we felt and said that they had been waiting in this line for the bus. We chatted for a few minutes and then a bus came up. The 4 of us just walked right up, bought our tickets and sat down in one of the many empty seats. I dozed as we made our way to Liberia.

So far, the buses in Costa Rica are not like the school buses that we are used to. They are more like a luxury bus but no air conditioning. They are a bit more open than the luxury buses in Honduras so that people can stand in the aisle as the bus fills up.

I'd been debating for days whether to go to Playas del Coco or Tamarindo. I know that Coco would be more expensive and is more resorty but I love to be thorough and I want to see as many of the beaches on the Nicoya Peninsula as possible.

In Liberia, we dropped our bags with our friends and we all did the things that you do when you've been traveling on buses for awhile.  We went to the bathroom, got food and drinks and tried to figure out the bus system.  I was still undecided about where to go but in the end decided to skip Coco and go to Tamarindo which seemed cheaper.  I know we have a bunch of beaches in our future so no big deal.  We compared notes on hotels.  There was one in the book that sounded good to them, it had AC, there were a few that I had found online that also looked good.  One was Hostel Chocolat, it looked nice online and there was something about the name that I really liked.

We bought our tickets and found our bus.  It was full but the girls found seats and the guys stood in the back doorway for most of the ride.  There was no good airflow and I was sweating more.  I may have sweated more today than on any previous day.  At one point as we approached Tamarindo, this Mariachi band came one. I was worried that they were going to play for us but they were just catching a ride to their Saturday night gig.

We finally got to Tamarindo and it appeared to be a cute beachy town.  More vacationy than San Juan del Sur.  We went to look at the hotel from the book but it was full.  That was our first full hotel on this whole trip.  I asked about another hotel that was cheap with AC and had double rooms and on the way we stumbled on the Chocolate Hostel.  The outside is amazing.  It looks like a nice resort with trees and small pool with some cool music playing.  We found the guy and he told us that all he had were dorms and 1 double room that was more than I wanted to spend.  He showed us a dorm which has 3 bunkbeds, a kitchen, bathroom, AC and TV.  Its like an efficiency apartment with bunkbeds instead of other furniture.  It has a huge balcony with a table and chairs and a big hammock.  We decided to take it along with the British couple.  The guy said he wouldnt have anyone else stay in the other beds so we are pretty happy.

Rob and I went and checked out the beach and had some Israeli food.  So far, this seems like a great beach town.  Everyone is really cool and friendly.  We havent dealt with too many actual Costa Ricans here and everyone speaks English.  Its more expensive here than in other countries but we have been expecting that.  I think we will be coming a lot closer to our $60 a day budget to live as we like to but thats ok.  Costa Rica is beautiful.