Jan 23, 2014

Some of you have asked, ‘So what’s it like crossing all these borders? Is it hard?’. Well, it depends, but the short answer is yes, it’s not easy, especially if your Spanish is superbly limited, and even more so if you’re doing it with a motor vehicle. The moment you open your mouth and speak some Spanish, you will be inundated by a torrent of words spoken so fast, you’ll think it’s Chinese, with the officials now under the impression that you’re a Chilean Brandon Frasier. So you learn to keep your mouth shut when necessary, and say ‘No Spanish, English?’. The officials will get annoyed and seeing they can’t communicate with you, will wave you off. Saying I don’t speak Spanish at the right time, has actually saved more time than you’d think.

I’m not going to describe all the crossings, since they’ve been different and have varied in their mind-numbing abilities. I will give you one example, Nicaragua/Costa Rica, which so far, has been on the more difficult side. In summary, here’s the steps I had to go through. If you remember, crossing into Nicaragua from Honduras was a breeze, especially on the Nicaragua side. Exiting Nicaragua, was a different matter altogether. Why? Well, here you go:


– Park the car and wave off people trying to ‘watch’ it for a dollar. Go to the customs building first (usually you can do it in any order – customs/immigration or immigration/customs). Wait in line, be told I have to go to immigration first. Go to the immigration building. These two buildings are next to each other and you can see from one to the other, through a glass door and windows (see below). The door is locked, so you have to exit the building, walk around to a door on the other side, and then go back in. Opening that one door would probably save people thousands of light years.

– At immigration, pay $1 ‘border tax’ to get in and then wait in line to get passport stamped. I ask if I need anything else to close the car permit, answer is ‘No, go straight to customs’.

– At customs, wait in line again. Show papers, only to be told I have to get car inspected first outside, get more stamps and signatures, then come back.

– Go outside, wait for police officer to finish flirting with 2 blonde girls from Texas, have him look at the car. He signs the permit, points to another officer. That officer comes to look at the car as well. Puts a stamp on the permit. Points you to a small room to go and get another stamp. Get that stamp, and then go back to customs.

photo 1

– Wait again in the same line (see above). This line has been out-the-door-long every single time. I ask the lady if I can cut, since I’ve already waited twice now, and I get a stern ‘No, tu es loco’ answer. She’s the only one processing the paperwork. Some people give up and start laying on the floor. There’s no AC, only two ceiling fans, gasping for breath. There’s Argentinians and Costa Ricans waiting, just as perturbed and exasperated as myself. None of them seem to understand the logistics either, which is funny, because they speak Spanish.

It becomes apparent that in Central America, it’s almost as if all the neighboring countries hate each other and try to make it as hard as possible to gain entry. Half an hour later, I get the permit closed and I’m ready to leave. Well not yet. The main exit road is under construction, so one lane is used for both incoming and outgoing traffic, for all vehicles. In addition, there’s yellow construction tape everywhere, creating Escher-style mazes. 18 wheelers and buses dominate, and it takes another 20 minutes spinning in circles to finally hide behind this tourist bus and follow it to Costa Rica, through what seems like the jungle.

photo 2

COSTA RICA: ~2.5 hours

Always touted as the most foreigner/tourist friendly country in all of Latin America, I had high hopes of expediency, compassion, velvet ropes and getting laid (with a Luau). None of these things happen. Instead:

– I go to immigration. Even though I’ve filled out the entry form, I’m given an exit stamp, which proves to be a problem once I get to customs. So after waiting in line at customs for nothing, I’m back at immigration to get an entry stamp. Luckily, there’s no line this time (see below).

photo 3

– Back at customs, I’m told I need to get mandatory car insurance. I go to buy the insurance, which is a 7 minute walk through bushes, to a cluster of buildings a little further away.

photo 4

– I get the car insurance, go to make copies and I ask where I need to go next, I’m told customs, but this time, it’s a different customs building (customs no.2), which is luckily next door. Inside, the officer is out for ‘coffee’. The person in front of me (see above) has already been waiting for 20 minutes. 10 minutes later, the officer shows up to tell me he can’t process my paperwork, I need to go back to the customs no.1 and get another form.

photo 5

– At customs no.1 (see above), I wait again in line, get the form, get some stamps, and go back to customs no.2. There I wait in line again, and finally get everything processed and finalized.

It’s now dusk, but I’m relieved to be done. The whole day felt like a Twilight Zone episode. Fortunately, Costa Rica has superb roads, and I’m able to make it to Playa Langosta in Tamarindo, where my friends from NY are. I get stopped three times by the police and military along the way, but I’m not given any trouble. Life is good.

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These are the personal views and thoughts of the author, and in no way shape or form reflect the views of Shipwreck Rally LLC.