Friday, June 13, 2014

Crossing the border from Nicaragua into Costa Rica

Great guys to have around when crossing a border,
nobody came even close to our bikes anymore :-)
The most frustrating border yet. The red-tape here is on a quite different scale compared to other Central American countries. In the end we needed a lawyer to get us out of no-mans land and into Costa Rica… The border crossing took all in all almost 8 hours, by which time it was well beyond daylight and we had the choice to stay overnight in a place notorious for armed robbery, fights and stabbing, according to the lawyer and the fully armed security guard… which meant we had to ride into Costa Rica in the dark.

Leaving Nicaragua is chaotic. Where other Central American borders at least have signs showing what is inside each building, so that you know where to go, Nicaragua has a collection of sheds without any signs whatsoever. Very handy. Maybe they want you to stay forever? 
The so called 'helpers' are an absolute pest here. Think sticky tape and imagine being rolled in the stuff. As there are no signs and as the process is different from other Central American borders, it becomes confusing pretty soon. Trying to concentrate on the job at hand while being surrounded by a swarm of 'helpers' doesn't help. It's like trying to work while being surrounded by a swarm of wasps. Hang on to your wallet and try to figure out who is an official and who pretends to be.

The process starts at the gate, where officials take vehicle details and fill in the first part of the paperwork. A second official of the same mob checks it and fills in some more before directing you vaguely to the building where you have to go next. Don't worry, we'll put it all on the aerial photo again! We parked the bikes and before we could go to the building as directed, a third official checked the paperwork again… and put his signature on the back. 

Next is the cue for the Aduana. More paperwork checks… and after that we made our first mistake. Apparently you need to have the Aduana form stamped by the Police, which we didn't know and the Aduana lady never told us. We proceeded to the Immigration instead, thinking all was well. 
The entry to the immigration goes via a small booth, where we almost fell for another scam. The young guy in the booth gives you forms to fill in for immigration and sells them for a dollar each. We think that is ok as the official at immigration took them but we're not 100% sure if she wouldn't issue them herself free of charge. One thing is certain, the guy selling forms for Costa Rica next to the booth is a scam. You don't need them and he is working together with the man in the booth. Maybe they have a sideline or something as the forms they are trying to sell you are fake. We didn't buy them and found the forms we actually needed for Costa Rica are quite different.

The lady at immigration is one of those Speedy Gonzales types and processes the forms in no time at all. She charges a small fee for her work. Thinking all was ok we went back to the bikes and found Mike totally surprised and with a big grin on his face. Surprised because how fast everything went 'it only took 30 minutes…!' He said. The grin was because we were parked next to a delegation from the Bandidos, which meant no-one came even close to the bikes. As one of the band leaders had a chat with Mike and liked our bikes, the Bandidos left us alone as well.

We rode to no-mans-land but were stopped by another security check and refused exit. Our forms had not been stamped by the Police, they said. The Police? Where are they? They pointed towards the building of the Aduana and said 'behind there'. Ok, back we went… but no Police anywhere. We asked around and were directed from building to building… no Police! Back to the Aduana I asked the lady there who pointed me to the policeman who just arrived, who stamped our forms…! Asking on where he would normally be, the reply was 'here'. But where is your office I asked, he said there wasn't one, he was always outside somewhere in the complex…

Back to the security guard and bye bye Nicaragua, hello Costa Rica! Motorcycles apparently do not need to go through pesticide spraying, which is kind of funny as events from the days before resulted in both us and the bikes being totally plastered in dirt and mud. 

First stop in Costa Rica is the Immigration, they give you a form, fill it in, hand it in with your passport and away you go. Next stop is insurance. Easy process, pay the fee and done. Then back to Aduana 1 with the insurance forms, registration and passport. Fairly easy process but… we ran into a problem here. A big problem. Mike rides a motorcycle which is registered in my name, simply because I picked it up from the shop when he was at school. That simple detail meant the quickest border crossing so far, became 8 hours…!

The Costa Ricans wanted proof that Mike was allowed to ride my motorcycle… I replied that I had just purchased insurance for him in Costa Rica that was valid only in Costa Rica, so that he could ride my motorcycle. The insurance was paid with my credit card. Apart from that; look at the blog, we are a family of 3 travelling the world. He has been on 'my' motorcycle for 45.000 km and travelled with me through 9 countries on the same motorcycle. Do they need more proof than that? Yes they wanted it on paper. 'Ok, I said, give me pen and paper and I'll write it down'. It wasn't that easy. The statement needed to be signed by a lawyer… Where do we find a lawyer here? I said. After several phone calls they said he would be here in approximately 1,5 hrs. 

When someone asks a lawyer to come and he needs 1,5 hrs to get there, the bill will be huge… yet we had no choice. Well, we could go back into Nicaragua I suppose but neither of us wanted that. The 1,5 hrs became 2 hrs, by which time it was already dark. It was one of those days that everything seemed against us. If that brake lever hadn't snapped, we would have been here earlier and thus not be in the dark now. If the girl at the Aduana hadn't seen the small difference in names then we would have been on the road in no-time at all. 

A: Nicaragua, B: Costa Rica
The lawyer turned out to be a friendly enough guy who even apologised for his countries' incomprehensible red-tape. He drew up an official contract, complete with a pressed seal but said he could only accept payment in cash… By that time I was beginning to wonder if we could ever leave since the only ATM at the border has a maximum withdrawal of US$50,- Hmmm. When I asked the price he replied 30.000…! It was in the Costa Rican currency of Colon which translates into roughly US$50,- Pfhew!

The lawyer wasn't really happy with us being at the border in the dark and took me with him to the Aduana 1 in his car. Lucky as the lady there wanted more paperwork which I didn't have with me as the bikes were at Aduana 2. The lawyer took care of it, she placed the required stamp and we went to Aduana 2, organised the copies and back inside to get the vehicle permit. 

The Nicaragua/Costa Rica border is a dangerous place at night. We had met a man who had been beaten up just days before at the same border. Facial injuries, cuts and bruises all over his body and a couple of big wounds on his legs. They were after his money. The lawyer had told us it was too dangerous to stay here too as bandits roam the area, especially at night. The security guard at the Aduana 2 confirmed what the lawyer had said and advised us to get out of there asap… meanwhile Jeanette started an argument with the lady behind the counter, which took forever… The Aduana wanted the original and probably rightly so, Jeanette wanted the original to put in her diary… in the end she requested them to make a full colour copy of it... Amazingly, they did!

Nicaragua, 1: Entry check, 2: 2nd
check, 3: Aduana, 4: Immigration
5: Police (see text), 6: border
We rode away from the border into a country from which we had heard has the worst drivers in Central America… and did that in the dark! The first advice you read anywhere is 'do not drive here at night'. Bandits, horrible accidents and corrupt police, to name but a few. Yet we had quite a distance to go before we reached the first campground. 

Costa Rica,  1: Immigration, 2: Aduana 1,
3: Insurance, 4: Aduana 2, 5: Copies,
6: Lawyer
Soon after the border was the first Police check… Was this real or 'fake' police? Were they after a bribe? Do NOT give them any original document I thought. The last thing we had covered with copied drivers licenses… but what they asked for was our passport… of which we also had a copy! We had spend all our money at the border and couldn't even pay the bribe… luckily they didn't ask for one. Jeanette played her trump card explaining we are a family of Australia, which put a smile on the official's face and changed the whole scene. He wished us a good trip! Shortly after we saw another Police check, but we were waved on… 

The further we went I started wondering how good the GPS coordinates were that we had received. There are quite a few rogue coordinates roaming around on the web and where these came from I couldn't remember. It was going to be a surprise for Jeanette. Mike and I had quietly entered these coordinates as they should be for a campground that was supposedly very nice and run by a Dutch family… As we were getting closer and closer I was praying the coordinated were correct, that the place was still open, that they weren't on holiday themselves or whatever. We found it, they were open and we were greeted by a very friendly man from Holland! Hurray, something good this day at last!