I was offered breakfast by Marisol, but knowing the border wasn’t far away didn’t want to impose, although she already had a cup of coffee ready before I could roll out. It was an easy 10-15km to the border, although I did have to get my jacket out as the rain wanted to ensure I wasn’t riding alone. I knew I was closing in on the border, as I went past a line of trucks that lasted about 3km.
I arrived at the border having spent nearly all of my Nicaraguan money, saving just enough for the exit fees. Having already paid $12 to enter the country ($2 in a fee and $10 for a tourist card), I got to pay another $3 to leave ($2 for an exit fee and $1 charged by the border province for passing through). That meant I had 60 cents left over, I spent 40 of them on a snack and changed the other 20 cents with a money changer – probably the only time anyone has ever got the official exchange rate!
From there it was a short ride to the Costa Rican entrance. I followed where the traffic went and asked an immigration guy where I was meant to get my entrance stamp, but then, unbeknownst to me, things started to go slightly wrong. He said I had to go to the other side, which looking back now doesn’t make much sense, but he was an official so I went to where he pointed. I put my bike against the window and went in, filled in a form saying that I’d come from Nicaragua and would be going to Panama after leaving Costa Rica, and got a stamp in my passport. Perfect, painless, failure.
I went outside and asked the security guy how far it was to the first town in Costa Rica as I needed some Costa Rican Colones (named after Cristobal Colón aka Christopher Colombus) and he asked me why I’d want to know that. I’d just been stamped out of Costa Rica and was surely meaning to ask the first town in Nicaragua. I explained quite clearly that I had not been stamped out, but stamped in, and showed him my stamp, which said I’d been stamped out, bugger.
I was directed to the side I was at originally, but a different door, and went in to get stamped in. I showed my passport and was told that I had to go and get it photocopied to be able to leave, and they definitely couldn’t do it as they didn’t have a photocopier – I’m pretty sure I saw one in the back. I went to speak to the bus people who could photocopy and she asked for 40 cents for the 2 copies, and I gave her the 20 cents I’d got from the money changer saying it was all the money I had. She didn’t seem to mind and I went back and this time managed to get an entrance stamp. I knew it was an entrance stamp because the lady asked me how long I was wanting to stay. They give 90 day stamps, and even though I figured I’d be done in a month I said 4-6 weeks to give myself a bit of leeway. She asked to see a ticket proving that I was leaving. I pointed at my bike and explained how I didn’t really have one of those, what with the whole biking thing, but if she looked in my passport she could see I was clearly on my way through the Americas and had no plans to stay in Costa Rica more than the 6 weeks I’d said. She asked again for a ticket and having not just gone and paid $25 to go and buy one she said she had no option, but to give me a stamp for 30 days. Seems a bit ridiculous, but oh well.
Although Costa Rica is the richest country in Central America, things like not having a militar definitely help with that, they obviously don’t spend that money on roads. The Interamericana goes from having a lovely shoulder in the rest of Central America to having a bit of space that’s no more than a foot wide. The traffic wasn’t too heavy until I got close to Liberia, but it was still a definite, and unexpected, downgrade. I also noticed the lack of life on the road. There is the small town of La Cruz 20km from the border, but it’s basically the only thing before you get to Liberia about another 50km further along. In other countries there would have been people on bikes riding to work, some shops and somewhere to eat something, but that really was not the case. In fact the only cyclists I saw were the first ones all dressed up in spandex in a good while. The other obvious change was the number of national parks, as I saw constant signage to so many different ones, although none were particularly close to the main road I was riding along.
I got to Liberia in the early afternoon and was delighted to see a McDonald’s. It’s not that I eat there, but they make wonderful places to stop in clean, air-conditioned places, with spotless bathrooms (which can be used to clean up a little), wifi to catch up on things like this blog, and absolutely no hassle to spend even a dollar to buy a drink. Sat in there, even though it was just a McDonald’s, I could definitely feel the material wealth that Ticans have. McDonald’s prices aren’t scaled by country, so even if a $4-5 meal is seen as cheap food in the US, it’s obviously not in countries where they have to stretch their dollars so much further. Those people in the McDonald’s there really didn’t seem to be stretching their dollars as they gulped down meals while playing on their smartphones and then driving away in fancy relatively new cars. It wa the first time that I remember feeling out of place in a long time, I didn’t even feel that way too much in the resort that we stayed in in Huatulco. It’s going to be interesting travelling with Jamie for a couple of weeks, living the backpacker life, staying in hostels and ending up spending more in two weeks than I would in 6-8 weeks normally.
I spent the whole afternoon getting things done, including talking to tech support at Garmin – they’re much better on the phone than over email – before heading out to find a place to sleep. I went to a supermarket to get some bananas and was disheartened to find prices very similar to the US, or possibly more expensive, at 50-80% more than in Nicaragua. While wandering around I noticed a couple of Mormons, easy to spot with their nametags and English speakingness, and so stood behind them in the queue at checkout. I started talking with them and asked about a place to stay, and they mentioned that the church in the middle of town would work perfectly. Their church is locked up and behind big fences, apparently the other churchgoers are paranoid about crime as they think being close to Nicaragua it’s a dangerous place, although they thought it was a ridiculous attitude.
I thanked them and went to the church. It’s the main church in Liberia town square and I was lucky to find a service just ending. I spoke to the lady who was about to lock the gates, and she said that they close up and there was nowhere there but maybe I could ask at a hotel. I asked where the firefighters were and was about to head there when I saw a couple of police walking round. I took it as a sign and spoke to them. They said that cyclists frequently camp at the police station and so I should go there. It was at the entrance to town so I had to backtrack a little, but I figured all would go well. Not exactly what happened.
When I found the police station I asked the officers standing outside, who directed me inside to the man at the main desk. He called over another officer who I walked with towards an abandoned building located about 100m away from the station. I propped my bike against the wall as he pulled his torch out to show me around. He waved it around, revealing broken glass, cigarette butts, empty beer cans and general rubbish. I was rather confused when he asked me if I was scared and wanted to camp there, to which I replied that I wasn’t really scared because being the police I couldn’t imagine they’d take me to somewhere dangerous. He spoke about the lack of cameras and how it was out of sight from the police station so they wouldn’t know if anything bad happened, then started to explain that the room is where the local drunks and bums hang out to smoke weed and get wasted and if I wanted to camp there I should put one of the pieces of glass by the front door so anyone wandering in would step on it, break it and thus wake me up – a flawed plan as I sleep through most things. I assured him that if he had a better choice, I’d take it, but if he was saying this was as good as it gets I’d stay there too. This was followed by him saying that actually the things are from the police as they sit there, drinking and smoking while looking out the window doing surveillance (of an empty field?) and that I should be OK before wandering off giving me the impression that he was a complete and utter moron.
I set my tent up in the back room, next to a broken window with the hope of getting a light breeze to take off some of the heat from the night. Everything was ready and I was laid down in my tent reading away when an old guy came up to the window and started rambling. I had no idea what he was asking for, and then he wandered off.