Traveling is like an endless university. You never stop learning.
— Henry Lloyd
This morning I am in need of leaving Nicaragua as I have been in the country for almost another 90 days, the allotted time my tourist visa allows me to be here, and my destination….Costa Rica. The sexy country of Latin America that most U.S. citizens know and feel comfortable traveling to primarily because they do an excellent job advertising and marketing tourism in the States, this is my second visit to the country and a quick turnaround at the border.
Catching the local bus from San Juan del Sur to Rivas I am pleasantly surprised that the vintage school bus is not overcrowded. But I spoke to soon and within ten minutes and making half a dozen stops right off the road the bus soon becomes brimming with locals. Every seat has two if not three people squashed in to them while the other unfortunate passengers are forced to stand. It reminds me of when I was in high school and my friends and I would crowd in to my Honda Accord (yes very stereotypical car for an Asian shank you) but we found this amusing and the ride typically lasted no more than five or ten minutes. Local buses in Central America are an entirely different story. This is one of those things that I talk about when I say that there is the good, the bad, and the ugly side of traveling. While many of you see the amazing photos of places I have been fortunate enough to have spent time at or visited, often you never see what it takes and what I have had to endure to reach this destination. Shoved in to old school buses where half the windows don’t release to open, having random people sweat on you because there is no more space to move, the smells of body odor worse than being in the Colorado Avalanche locker room after a game, and the heat that is unavoidable. Yes, this is something that makes for an unpleasant day. So when you see these pictures of beaches or mountains or jungles that appear incredible. Think back to how many hours I spent standing on a bus or wedged between two smelly armpits to snap that awesome looking photo.
Since I have experienced the chaos of the border at Penas Blancas before, I am quick to get off the bus and forcefully push my way through all of the money-changers, guides, and taxi drivers. I have learned that once you are familiar with specific border crossings the best thing to do is put on your sunglasses, pop in your earbuds, and just ignore all of the things around you because you know exactly where to go. A single hesitation and you will have four of five people surrounding you expecting you to pay for services or other things and to a lot of people this can be extremely frustrating and overwhelming. After receiving my exit stamp and paying my $3 fee I set off for the 1km walk across the border to Costa Rica. Thankfully the line to enter the country only takes 20 minutes and since there is no entry or exit fee I stop after receiving my second Costa Rican stamp and rest on the curb and enjoy some lovely lukewarm water. As I am attempting to cool off in the shade of the building I notice three large tour buses roll up and so I hop to my feet and get in line to exit Costa Rica after about 15 minutes of being in the country. It is always a roulette as to whether the border agent will question why your entry stamp was the same day that you are also attempting to leave the country, but thankfully this time the agent realizes that the tour buses has arrived and there is an hour long line behind me and quickly gives me my exit stamp. Walking quickly to avoid the masses behind me I make it back down the 1km dirt road and walk to the immigration building for Nicaragua. Often when you have more than one or two stamps for their country there is confusion with dates and why I am returning etc. After a ten-minute conversation in my broken Spanish I show the Nicaraguan border agent my previous exit stamp that I received 45 minutes earlier and he agrees to give me my new entry stamp of another 90 days. Whew. Something as simple as a visa run typically takes half a day if not an entire day even when I am staying at a town that is only 20km North of the border. After transferring buses from the border to Rivas I finally reach San Juan in the late afternoon. Covered in sweat and exhausted I can think of no better reward than cannonballing into the pool.