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Our Costa Rican adventure

Ready for a ten hour bus ride?

The school holidays are happening around now, and that means that it’s time for our obligatory leave-the-country-for-seventy-two-hours-then-we’ll-restamp-your-passport time!

After much consideration as to where to head to, we decided Costa Rica was the go... it’s right next door and just a bus ride away, has lots of stuff, and is nowhere near as expensive or time consuming to get to as everywhere else. So me and my friend the internet researched, booked, and double-checked, and Dave and I went down to the international bus company in Granada, and lo and behold, Monday the 25th of June saw us out the door at 6:15am (shudder) with our packs and Kaleb in tow.

6:15 is a lovely time to be out if you can stomach that hour of the morning; as the heat hasn’t set in yet and the streets are a bustle of dawn activity. We hoisted our packs on, unplugged all the electrical appliances (the lightning seems to strike awfully close to our house, I think it’s attracted to our big iron gates!) and went off to find a taxi to take us to the bus.

The rule is, you have to be at the terminal half an hour before your bus leaves or they’ll give your ticket away. So we all sat on the stairs of the TicaBus building, and waited for the people to show up who checked our tickets. All that went smoothly, and right on time the shiny “luxury” bus pulled up fresh from Managua and we all stowed our stuff and hopped on, destined for San Jose, Costa Rica.

That’s what I want to see for ten hours!

When they say “luxury”, I think they mean “really, really cold air conditioning”. Lord! Here we are, having lived in perpetual heat for five months (more if you consider that we were in an Australian summer for two months before that!) and then, all of a sudden, thrust into the temperature of an icebox! So THAT’S why all the other patrons had brought big furry jackets along! Luckily Kaleb and I had long sleeved shirts but Dave, who didn’t bring one, had to shiver manfully in his t-shirt. One of the good things about the luxury bus was the fact that they dealt with some of the border crossing stuff for you. Once we were on the way, one of the guys came around with immigration forms to complete, and then collected our forms, passports, and exit fees. Two and a half hours later, we came to the Nicaraguan side of the border. It basically looked like a big bus terminal, and was teeming (by Nicaraguan standards anyway) with people selling food and drinks and changing money. I got off the bus to buy some water and change some dollars, and Dave got off to stretch his legs, and then we realised we weren’t allowed back on the bus again! We had to wait for the passports to be ready, and then the driver would call out the names on the passports, and look at each person sternly, and then let them on. Kaleb eventually cottoned to the fact that we weren’t coming back on the bus because we couldn’t and obliged us by bringing our bags. After being scrutinised by the driver (who, believe it or not, pronounced my surname correctly!), and given our passports, we hopped back on the bus and crossed the border to Costa Rica.

Of course, that’s not it by a long shot. We may have exited Nicaragua but we hadn’t yet entered Costa Rica, so at the Costa Rican side of the border we got off the bus again with our passports and our forms and stood in line (because we had to do all the Costa Rican border stuff in person). We went and got our stamps from the stern woman at the counter, declared nothing, and returned to the bus again. However, we were made to collect our bags and stand in a line to be searched. They immediately sent us back onto the bus without checking us (apparently we don’t look like smugglers. Isn’t that nice?). We did notice that the bus seemed to be leaking coolant, but that wasn’t bothering anyone else... until four hours later, just out of San Jose, when the bus stopped on the side of the road for an hour while we waited for a replacement.

So this is a bus stop in the middle of nowhere just across the border. At least it’s green!

We got to San Jose in our new bus at about five o’clock, and ten hours in a bus (even one with luxury air-conditioning and seats that tilt back) isn’t an experience one would want, say, every day... so we were feeling a little dazed and bewildered as we set out from the bus station to locate a taxi. We were particularly bewildered because San Jose sure doesn’t look like Nicaragua. It looks like... Melbourne. If Melbourne were a bit smaller, had lower buildings, and was surrounded by mountains. But it had the turn of the century buildings, and the grey sky. Weird.

Anyway, we got a taxi. We asked him to take us to our hotel. “Okay, okay”, he agreed. We hopped in, he started driving, then he informed us that there was “no power” in that area of San Jose, not for two days, and we should probably go somewhere else. I told him we had a reservation, and the hotel probably had a generator. He then got on his phone and called “the hotel” and got me to speak with them... in Spanish, even though the website promised that all of their staff spoke English. Dave and I insisted that we go to the hotel anyway (suspecting something dodgy was going on), and so the driver tried to show us what a good and honest sort he was by pointing out all the Columbian drug lords on street corners on our way to the hotel. He then unceremoniously dumped us in an area that looked suspiciously as though it did in fact have power, telling us the the hotel was “just over there” but he couldn’t take us because it was a one way street. So we lugged our packs up to the hotel a good two blocks away, which miraculously enough was functioning on full power. We are aware these scams are common, but it was very exciting to be embroiled in one!

Our hotel was great (Hotel Don Carlos, if you’re interested). It was all yellow with fairy lights out the front and was full of stone statues and Costa Rican artwork on the inside. They had lounge areas, a little restaurant, an outdoor patio with a pool and a spa, some fountains, and a whole load of staff who just wanted to make you happy. AND there was HOT WATER coming out of the taps, an experience we haven’t had for four and a half months. How luxurious! We dumped our stuff and went down to the “pre Columbian lounge” for our “welcome cocktail” (that’s right... welcome cocktail!) and some dinner. Then we collapsed in our hotel room.

Nothing says “I’m having fun” like a chip sandwich!

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