Crossing into Costa Rica

After a relaxing week on Ometepe, we geared ourselves up for another border crossing. Everything was checked, photocopied and I created a rather long list of the steps required to firstly leave Nicaragua and then enter Costa Rica. 

It was a Friday morning as we sat on the upper ferry deck, watching the mainland draw nearer.

Once we hit the other side, we needed to take the cats to the vet, the final step before we could leave. Throughout the C4 countries, we had taken a rather lax approach to transporting the cats around. It seemed that nowhere really cared. However, Costa Rica is a different visa and also seems rather more organised, compared to the vague mayhem of much of Central America. Considering that we had no time left in Nicaragua we didn’t want any issue crossing. We decided to do things legitimately.  

We knew that it was at three-step process to do this. Firstly we headed to the vet for the health certificate. As is normal, they wanted the cats’ vaccine records and to see that the cat existed, as to their health, they were left completely unexamined. With the certificates processing, we headed to the bank with specific instructions from the vets on the payments we needed to make.  

As is common with Covid, only one us was allowed in the building. I got the joy of standing in the huge bank queue for over and hour and then trying to explain the payments that we needed. We had to make four separate payments to two different companies, two for each cat. They were also in different currencies. We also needed one dollar bills for the border as we had been warned that we needed to pay $8 to leave the country but that they wouldn’t have any change. Eventually, armed with all my receipts, we left. 

The certificates wouldn’t be ready till 1pm, so we grabbed a drink at a local café while we waited, before getting the call to come and collect them. Now we had completed step 1 of 3. Next was to go to a random little office called Cetrex and get another piece of paper and show them that we had paid them the fee already at the bank. With this done, the final step must be completed at the border. 

For out final spot, we parked for free on the shore of the lake, opposite where we had been staying on the island. It was now quite apparent why there was a wind farm on this side, and neither of us got a good nights sleep as we got buffeted around in our poptop.

We woke up tired and not really in the mood for the border but we had absolutely no choice. At least it was less than a half hour drive and so we had the entire day to make sure we got through and hopefully not hit the dreaded four hour ‘lunchtime’,

The process for Nicaragua is rather lengthy, and we had some mixed results with waiting around. We changed all our money to Colones before we hit immigration and then it began. In immigration, they tried briefly to rip us off saying we needed to pay $15 to ‘export’ the van. After a brief argument, they gave up and we had checked ourselves out. The van process require one piece of paper that must be stamped by four different people. The most important step here was whether the police would stamp it or whether they would want to xray it first. Fortunately they clearly couldn’t care less and briefly checked our documents before waving us on. The cats took three different offices and many, many documents to finalise but it was around only around two hours before we were ready to cross to the other side. Here, we fell at the final hurdle when it appeared that immigration gave me two exit stamps but didn’t give Lee one. After rectifying this with the slightly embarrassed official we tried again.

Now we were permitted to enter Costa Rica. We walked in and out of immigration in about 5 minutes, having previously completely our health pass online. Then we completed part one of the vehicle import. Then again, the cats were the longest thing. You have to pay a small fee to import them, but you have to pay it at the bank. A very large chain and padlock on the door confirmed that the bank was closed on Saturday. So we went to the entry offices for Nicaragua and managed to pay it there. We also asked about taxis.

In between our running around different offices, Lee had spotted a little old lady looking rather lost. It appeared she had a flight to catch but was stuck at the border and couldn’t speak any Spanish. Everyone was largely disinterested in helping her. Remembering back to a time when I couldn’t speak a word of Spanish and how horrible that can be, we tried to help her out. We were told that there was a fatal accident just down the road and that no cars could get through, one of the border agents excitedly showed me pictures on his phone. That must be why it was so incredibly quiet, we had thought maybe it was a weekend thing. But the near empty offices were apparently not normal. Fortunately, another English speaking couple had transport and agreed to take her with them. People were getting taxis to the accident, walking through and then collecting another one on the other side. We didn’t think she would make her flight, but at least she was getting some help. We didn’t know exactly what that was going to mean for us getting the camper through. 

The final section of the paperwork is at a different office just up the road. Firstly they said we couldn’t do it because we couldn’t leave now because of the accident. While we couldn’t leave, it seemed stupid that we couldn’t get the paperwork sorted in the interim, we argued. They shrugged and let us in. Lee sorted the cats, while I sorted the car insurance. Then we waited for our vehicle permit to be processed after another brief bout of photocopying. We were the only ones in the office. Now, we were free to go.

We headed to Ruby in the pouring rain and began to see how far we could drive. We had been told the accident was about 15km away, as was the turn off to the campsite. Maybe we would be in luck and be able to still turn off before we got to it, as until that point there was just one single road that left the border.

It wasn’t long until the truck tailback started, we pulled up and waited. Car continued to speed past us on the wrong side of the road heading towards further down. Some returned, these appeared to be the taxi services while others we didn’t see again. Traffic continued to back up behind us and we got talking to the guys in the car behind. He decided to drive further down, maybe it was possible for cars to get through but not trucks. We waited. Aimee had bolted out and escaped into the verge in the rain while Lizzy had wrapped herself into a tangle under the camper and somehow managed to cut her ear. Several other people helped the Aimee hunt which didn’t last long fortunately. She must had realised that this wasn’t a good place to be out and we returned our soggy angry cats to the rear seat and decided to try our luck too and drive on.

It was possible to drive several more kilometres down the line, pulling into handy spaces left by the truck drivers to pass the traffic coming the other way. Soon enough, we started to recognise all the other cars. Clearly no one was getting through. We slotted ourselves into a space and settled down to wait. We were just 2km away from the road junction. 

As there was little else to do, we decided to walk down and see where the actual accident was. At the end, cars were everywhere, barely leaving space for people to reach the police tape. That in itself would be interesting to sort out when the road reopened. 

Now it was clear why no one was going anywhere. We could see the minivan in the ditch, the driver of which had died. Fortunately no one else had been in the car at the time and there were no other fatalities. In what must have been an attempt to avoid the crash, the lorry had jackknifed across the road, it’s trailer blocking both lanes. A small gap at the back was enough for people to walk across in an increasingly muddy path. 

As we watched, we learned that this had happened at 9am. Now pushing 3pm, not much seemed to have changed. They had managed to get a tow truck here to try and move the lorry, but it was too small. It looked like we still had some time to kill. 

Back at the camper, the hours rolled by. We popped up our roof and cooked dinner, hoping we wouldn’t have to sleep here. At least we were set up for it, I felt sorry for those small cars full of families with young kids, that wouldn’t be fun. 

Every now and again, we wandered down to check progress. Now they were cutting the cab off the trailer. The tow truck was being towed by another lorry and eventually the cab was free. I’m not sure how they planned to deal with the rest of it. By the time 8pm came around, we had pretty much resigned ourselves to the night here. Then I saw a stream of headlights approaching in the pouring rain. They had finally done it. We packed the roof in record time and hunted for the keys, even after 6 hours of waiting we were apparently not ready. Then, we drove forward. 

The campground was only 15 minutes away, and we arrived and got settled in. The hosts two large German shepherds greeted us. We had been forewarned they were not cat friendly, and so despite the cats wanting nothing more than to stretch their legs, they were kept inside. It wasn’t much of a day for outside anyway, the rain continued to pour as we settled in for the night. It had been a very long day, but we had made it. No border crossings required for three months now. 

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