Riding from San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua to Costa Rica

If a border had a face, I would have punched this one in it….just kidding… I’m not a puncher but it was supposed to be funny, and it’s meant reflect the amount of frustration I experienced at this border.

We’ve been riding the past few days with Shannon from Victoria, BC, and made it to San Juan del Sur on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua yesterday and had a day to paly in the surf and check out this surf town.
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This morning she gets up early for us to say goodbye. I’m gonna miss her, she’s been a lot of fun and really good company in Nicaragua. She’s this amazingly cool chick who rides her own path and doesn’t seem afraid of anything…I’m inspired by her.

We pack up and ride out of San Juan and head back to the Central America Highway which runs along the Lake we have just left and then south to the Costa Rican border. There are dozens of windmills all along this valley and lake edge…a sign of the habits of the weather here. And of course, it means windy riding along the way.
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We ride up to the border at Penas Blancas and have to check out of Nicaragua first. We stop at the border gate to get our bikes and permits inspected and then proceed around and into the group of buildings to our left. There’s a bus stop here and local people selling leather sandles, fruit, drinks, and other things they think the turistas and travelers will want. First stop, Migracion for an exit stamp after paying a $1 just to get in the line for the window and a couple more at the window.
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Then off to the Aduana to cancel our import permit for the bikes. The line is moving slowly and I’m not sure what we need to prepare before the window…so it’s a little confusing. We get and complete a form and then have to track down an officer in a light blue shirt to inspect the bike and sign off on it, before going up to the window.
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Then we have to go check in with the local police and can’t seem to find the office. Finally someone tells us just to look for an office in uniform in the parking lot. Check.
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Then we get a small piece of paper to hand in at the guard gate as we ride out and on toward the Costa Rica side…where the frustration begins.
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First, Migracion/Immigration.
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Now…”Let the Games begin!!!” – here comes the good stuff…..off to the Aduana.
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I should have figured out how bad it was going to be from the diagrams, English translations for instructions for gringos, and printed copies of a blog called “Hey, I’ve got an idea” which the Aduana had printed and posted in its windows to try and help people figure out the maze they were facing. It was made worse for us because we had ridden in just behind a group of about 10 other bikes which meant the lines at the all the places we need to go are already long and slow-moving.
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There is no one at the window, so we wait. I think they must be out checking VIN numbers on bikes or something. Instead it turned out to be coffee break time. When the woman returns she rushes through an explanation of what she needs. I hand over the copies of title, registration, passport, etc. that she needs. She staples them together and then points to the left of her office and says to go around the corner and purchase insurance and have a copy made of the freshly issued Costa Rican stamp in my passport. So off I go, thinking “around the corner” meant just that. But instead I walk across a gravel parking lot with a dozen or more cars, then onto the road and along its edge past a chain link fence, then I see about 30-40 semi trucks in a larger parking lot to my right and several parked along the shoulder of the road. We duck into the maze of trucks and see a large building at the rear of the trucks.
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This turns out to be the right building and resembles the photos from the http://www.heyivegotanidea.com blog posted on the Aduana window. Thank you, fellow bloggers. We proceed to the “window 1” shown in the window and stand in line, but are unclear what we need to do first.
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At this window we purchase insurance for $15 per bike and then are told to move to the “Window 2” around the corner. And that’s where the long wait really begins.
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When we finally get to the window, I’m told I need another photo copy made…so I walk up the road about 1/4 mile for the second time today. I’ve also walked to the other side of the truck lot to find a small snack shop and buy cool drinks. It’s hot and humid here today and I need to keep hydrated. We are now 4 hours into the waiting/processing of the day and I’m exhausted. Then I’m told I need a signature from the first woman, back a the first Aduana window, before this office will complete out permits. So we walk back to her office, but she is on lunch break. Perfect. After a relatively short wait, she signs off and comments that she wondered what happened to us. Yes, I know, I was wondering too. Then back to Window 2 for the permit and FINALLY we are ready to ride into Costa Rica.
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Brian has chosen a great route to Arenal, a mix of beautiful new blacktop through a lush green valley, some back roads and at the end a very challenging rocky shortcut road built on the edge of the lake near Arenal which cuts out about 30-40 minutes of the highway.
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Welcome to spectacular Costa Rica!

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