A Quick Trip across the Border to Nicaragua to Fall in Love
I made a decision some time ago to work and live in Costa Rica. Now, not just anyone can do this because it takes planning, a lot of time to rearrange your personal life, find or have a job that is flexible about with the location of your office, and have some cash behind you to technically start over in Costa Rica. I was lucky in a way as I had visited the country a number of times before I decided to do the jump, and with the exception of a few minor issues, it has been a good choice for me.
You do need to realize quickly that you are a guest in this beautiful country, and subject to a set of basic rules such as, not being able to work and earn salaried income, not being able to vote, and the important fact, you need to apply for residency permit in some form. Otherwise, you need to leave the country every 90 days for a period not less than 72 hours. I haven’t yet started the residency process because I think I may be a tough case (no, no criminal issues lurking…) and I needed to leave at the end of January. So I crossed the border and went over to Nicaragua.
My last trip out I returned to Canada and saw the family and a few friends. This time, however, my good friend Jon Miller suggested a quick bus ride north to Nicaragua, specifically San Juan del Sur for 3 days.
Now Jon is an old pro when it comes to Nicaragua, as he and his lovely wife Mari have owned a guest home in San Juan del Sur for a year and had been visiting the town and area for some time. He asked for my passport, bought us two tickets on the Tica busline, and early Saturday we were travelling to a San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, across a border, a place I have never been before.
The ride was uneventful and Jon made himself known to most people around us because he speaks fluent Spanish. I dozed beside a young guy from Denmark who was taking surfing lessons in Nicaragua and seeing as much of Central America as he could.
The bus stopped at the border of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and the short administrative visit to have my passport stamped for exit was quick. We returned and proceeded across the river after having our bus sprayed for bugs. Now at the time of writing, Costa Rica and Nicaraugu are arguing over a piece of land in the Rio San Juan, so the process took a bit longer on the Nicaraguan side as we had to remove our bags for customs. Jon and I had spent a few minutes in the Duty Free shop, When we came out found most of our passengers returning to the bus, inspection completed. I was expecting some problems for our absence, but after a quick wave of the inspectors hand, we headed to the bus.
It was a quick ride past the southern part of Lake Nicaragua and into Rivas, a hub town, with donkeys and cows on the streets, motorcycles going past full throttle, and lots of locals asking for coins. It was kind of like an old western, minus the dusty roads.
Jon had made a taxi connection years ago, and his friend Jose was there to meet me with a warm handshake and we quickly headed to San Juan del Sur.
The countryside went by quickly as the two old friends chatted in Spanish. I found much of the view similar to the Muskokas in Ontario, lots of rock, trees, and well kept fields. That quickly changed when we reached the town, Bala it wasn’t.
Mark Twain discovered San Juan del Sur in 1886 when he wrote “Bright green hills never looked so welcome, so enchanting, so altogether lovely,” and it still has the same charm Mark Twain spoke of to this day.
After arriving at a small hotel I quickly unpacked, but there wasn’t a dresser or extra chair to be had. The bed was OK, but the shower was pure cold water only. I had a view across the street to another guest house with lots of backpacking white young adults coming and going.
Jon escorted me around the town of San Juan del Sur, which consisted of just a few street blocks, and greeted many locals he knew well. He also reminded me the proper greeting in San Juan del Sur wasn’t “Hola” although it was accepted, actually, the proper “Hello” is “Adios” with a slight upward lilt at the end. I tried it, and sure enough was greeted with a smile and an “Adios” in return.
I had to admit, most everyone was pleasant to meet, the streets were clean and well lit at night, there were lots of places to eat with choices ranging from pizza to sushi. The waterfront was well maintained with street vendors and an ice cream bike with happy children chasing him with handfuls of coins.
I enjoyed a number of good meals with a very reasonable price tag for a beach town. In fact, I don’t think we paid more than $12US for a meal with beers at anytime. One night we were treated to a clown show with a travelling troupe from Europe who were making their way through Central America. Lots of juggling and fire with plenty of laughs. It was a great night.
Eventually my time in San Juan del Sur was up and we had an effortless trip back to San Jose in Costa Rica. My passport was properly stamped and I am legal once again in Costa Rica. If I hadn’t left, not that the immigration police would have been looking for me, but upon my next trip out a fine of some kind would have been levied at the border. For now if and when I plan to apply for residency, my record of incoming and outgoing needs to be spotless. Same goes for anyone else thinking of settling in Costa Rica.
I have attached a few photos of San Juan del Sur but they don’t do justice to the beauty of the town. I do hope to return sometime soon and perhaps try a few excursions to Granada or even Managua. As the title says, I came to Nicaragua to find love, love of life, and a lovely town, and I was rewarded with both in San Juan del Sur. I remained humble and polite, treated all I met with respect, and like a mirror had it reflected back to me.
All told, I spent less than $500US with food, accommodation, beer and a few cigars on the journey to San Juan del Sur. We could have stayed at a better hotel as there were many to choose from, but why bother, as you only come back to sleep. The border crossing costs both ways about $27US and there were plenty of bargains in perfume, clothing and electronics in the Nicaragua duty free shop. In fact, a big screen TV could be had for half of what I would pay in Canada, and a third of what they charge in San Jose. The whole process went well as Jon was a seasoned pro, but I suppose I could have ventured out by myself, but it was nice to have the Spanish language with me for translation and explanation. The water and food were all good, no upset stomach to report.
Overall, I would say the visit to Nicaragua, colored with lots of military and AK-47s didn’t happen. Instead, I was treated to a lovely few days in a spotless and friendly town that is San Juan del Sur. Keep it in mind for a vacation should you find your feet yearning for a warmer climate. And as to your choice to live and work in Central America. Well, that’s a no-brainer, after all, wasn’t there a record snowfall in your driveway again this year.
Chat again soon….Pura Vida.