Sunday, October 30, 2011

How to turn a beach into Disneyland-for-adults

The Panamerican got us to the Peñas Blancas border crossing to Costa Rica very quickly, where we were very quickly assaulted by a swarm of border helpers vying for a few bucks.  We kept riding slowly past them, hoping to see someone in uniform to ask where to find customs and migration offices.  Just then, we ran into another couple of BMW´s going through the crossing at the same time, which helped us keep one person watching the bikes at all times.  Due to lucky timing of the arrival of an RV pulling a dune buggy, the helpers left us alone pretty quick.

Checking out of Nicaragua was easy once we figured out the process.  Important steps include:
  1. having an aduana official inspect the VIN and import paper, and then sign the import paper.  All of the aduana officials wear the same polo shirt with logo.  We had this done twice - once where all the helpers were entering the border zone and once in the parking lot for customs and migration - but unless you`re into overkill, or have started to appreciate the Latin American fact that more signatures and more stamps = better, then just one inspection will do.  
  2. After that signature, you have to find a police(wo)man to stamp the import permit.  We found them at the tables under the awning beside the migración building.  There is also a bank there (unsure if ATM) and plenty of money changers.  
  3. Finally you walk to the Aduana office to have them cancel the import permit.  You have to hand over the canceled permit at the gate leaving Nicaragua, so we made a copy for our records (and in case it was necessary in CR).
  4. Drive through the gate.  Done
Checking into Costa Rica could have been much faster had we stopped at the insurance shack between the fumigation and the aduana and migración buildings for Costa Rica.

(fumigation at the border)

For anyone crossing here, after going through fumigation, keep your eyes to the left hand side of the road.  About half way between the fumigation and the CR official buildings (probably a couple hundred meters past fumigation), there is an obscure, single story white building, with no signage.  That´s where you need to buy insurance. (I know a picture would really help for this one, but didn´t have the camera on me when I went back to it.  If you´re looking for it, you´ll see it.)  Do it on the way past.  Insurance is relatively cheap at US$14 for 3 months and you will definitely need it before you can import the bike.  You will also need copies.  They will do that next door.  But they won´t let you in.  They will grab your papers, shut the door, lock it, then return to hand them to you later.

Once to the bigger buildings, head in to the AIR CONDITIONED migración office, glass doors next to the cafe.  (You will want to stay in there longer for the A/C than it takes them to process your passport.)  Then walk across the small parking lot to the aduana booth.  With the insurance in hand, they will start your import permit relatively quickly.

While Mike was standing at the booth handling the paperwork, Jill and the guy traveling on the BMW were getting yelled at by a hoarde of angry bus passengers.  Apparently that group of passengers was very used to setting their luggage on the bench that Jill was sitting on, and couldn´t have it any other way.  After the crowd got so excited, the bus driver, and then even the security guard came over.  They also yelled at Jill and the other guy, telling them that they must move.  Who knew that Costa Ricans would be so particular?

Finally, you have to get that initial form processed at the aduana office which is in the far back corner of one of the warehouse buildings.  You can get there by turning right into where all the semis are parked, and working left to the far back corner (it will feel like you shouldn´t be going that way).  Alternatively, you can stay straight on the highway, but stop by the covered pedestrian bridge on the right.  Walk across it directly into the office.  They will print off the final import document, and give a slip of paper smaller than a business card that you are supposed to hand to the guard at the gate down the road.  I managed to lose my slip of paper between the office and the gate.  Thankfully we didn´t have to repeat any of the process...  All in all it took about 2.5 hours.

Just before going to the final aduana office, the fellow with the RV and dune buggy had pulled up with his border helper.  Mike tried to help them by translating a few details that they were struggling through between the South Carolinean, the border helper, and the customs official.  The best part about the exchange was that the guy from S Carolina affectionately called his towed dune buggy "la Cucaracha", no matter who he was talking to.  Everytime he said it, the officials and his helper cracked up and snickered.  Without fail.  It killed.  The worst part about the exchange is that they were not letting him import 2 vehicles simultaneously into Costa Rica.  He said that others had done it and written about it online.  The only way the officials said it was possible was if you claimed one of the vehicles wasn´t running.  Sadly, he had already told the official that la Cucuracha runs great.  We even considered having Jill drive it across, but then the import papers would have to be in her name and that wouldn´t have helped anybody.  Hopefully he eventually made it past the border with both his hotel and his local transportation. 

We continued down the Interamericana (what many Central American countries call the Panamerican) to Liberia amid a torrential rain storm.  Water was standing on the highway, visibility was fairly low, and oncoming traffic would splash water all over us.  Mike decided that not putting on the waterproof liners was a good idea.  It turns out Mike´s idea was not a good one.  And he had learned this before.  Those splashes of water do a wonderful job of filling our left boots up with water.  Thankfully at the edge of Liberia there was a nice looking Mexican restaurant where we could eat on the patio.  We stripped our boots and socks off and left some standing water on the patio (we apologized, and tried to keep it to the garden area, but didn´t quite succeed, so we apologized again).  Lunch was fantastic, though, and the proprietor told us about Playa de Coco, the closest good beach, about 45 minutes away.

We headed towards the coast on the edge of the storm, even though it felt a bit like a monsoon at times.  But all the lightning stayed in the hills beside us, and we broke free from the rains just off the coast.  Pulling into Playa de Coco, we noticed a lot of nice cars, a big and nice supermarket, and then a strip of bars, restaurants and clubs that looked like Jimmy Buffet had just opened up his version of Disneyland.  The beach didn´t even look that sweet right there.

So we backtracked a bit and headed towards Playa Hermosa.  On the way in, we passed nothing but expensive land for sale, a couple of high rise luxury condo complexes and a supermarket that was more expensive than any we´ve come across yet. 

(Playa Hermosa)

But we found a great little hostel for US$6 per person just off the beach.  The owners were extremely nice and helpful.  The 2 dorm rooms with 4 beds each were small but clean, the main area of the house included living area and kitchen were open air and very comfortable.  The proximity to the beach was a plus, but the howler monkeys that travel through the property were our favorite.

(Howler monkey in the tree at Congo´s)

Within our first few hours of being in Costa Rica, we knew it was expensive.  It´s more expensive than many places in the US.  We tried to keep costs down by only cooking at the hostel.  But one day we splurged and got a bite to eat on the beach.  You can tell the vendor was happy about our decision.

(Pissed of lady that sold us a meat stick at the beach in Playa Hermosa)

After talking with the owners of Congo´s about our travel through Costa Rica, we decided to go turtle watching at Ostional.  We would be there on a perfect week to see the leatherbacks coming to shore to lay their eggs.  And the old coastal road they described to get down past Tamarindo sounded like fun.  It was fun, it was an adventure, but we never saw any turtles...

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