Tag Archives: Bus Experiences

The Latest Greatest Granada Visa Run…

What a trip! Literally and in every way the easiest, smoothest, most relaxing Visa Run in 3.5 years. I always take Ticabus from downtown San Jose, Costa Rica because they take care of most of the border details when arriving or departing Nicaragua.

Changes at the border:
Before I get carried away with my enthusiastic response to this trip while in Granada, let me tell you that the Frontera has changed, physically. The Costa Rican entry/exit building is still there although the cafeteria is closed now. The Nicaraguan side has changed substantially. In the past the bus would pull up to a structure where all your carry on and stored under the bus bags were checked, and close by this structure was a middle covered area where vendors sold all kinds of things, including food. There was a separate building to the side with a Customs store where you could buy alcohol and other non-taxed items. And further beyond that middle vendor area another building with offices, an atm machine and a bathroom area. Not any more… That middle vendor area part has been remodeled into offices. The structure where bags were checked is now remodeled with a new roof and an adjacent new building of offices.

The building you pull up to on the Nica side now has an xray machine to check your bags inside at the back of the building. The area surrounding the parking for buses and private vehicles has also been set up with an organized area of vendors under cover, altho the sides are totally open. Some of the food vendors have tables and chairs under the awnings – a kind of little restaurant, if you will. There are covered areas under shade for standing while waiting for the Nica officials to stamp your passport, too, so you don’t have to stand in the sun. The wait certainly hasn’t changed…. Taking the 12:30 pm bus out of San Jose, we arrived around 6:30 pm and went through the entire border process in less than an hour; however, returning on the 7 am bus out of Grenada, our wait was almost two hours (which is darn good in comparison to past trips).

Why I loved this Visa Run specifically:
I usually stay in this area of downtown Grenada… it’s the Calzada.

photo credit: jenniferslifeinnicaragua.wordpress.com

photo credit: jenniferslifeinnicaragua.wordpress.com

This time I stayed half a block from here:

photo credit: tastingthewaves.wordpress.com

photo credit: tastingthewaves.wordpress.com

photo credit: gopixpic.com

photo credit: gopixpic.com

Through many requests that jumped from word of mouth and FB questions for a new place that was less expensive and had air conditioning (something I wouldn’t visit without as it’s very hot in Nicaragua) for less than $40,

I landed in a family home that rents out six rooms. One of those rooms has a/c. Yippee!

You walk into their entryway, which includes the living room:

RoomsforRentLivingRoom

 

I was greeted by Martin Morales, who is one of the son’s living there with their mother. They live in the front portion of the house and the rooms for rent are in the back of the house (Rooms For Rent on Facebook).  I paid $20/night for a clean room with private bath and a/c, cable tv and a comfortably servicible bed. But I got alot more for my buck here because Martin walked me around the neighborhood showing me good places to eat ($2 a meal) as well as telling me the best ways to travel and lounge by the lagoon and where to really shop for deals in Masaya (NOT the tourist market).

RoomsforRent

Don’t get me wrong. This was not a typical touristy place. This was a Nicaraguan family’s old, old, home. Well worn but clean. Usually they rent out their rooms by the week, but sometimes you can get lucky and get a room in-between those longer-term rentals.

Expenses: 
Ticabus: $78 round trip plus one other ticket out of Costa Rica within three months that you need to show when you are returning at the end of your trip.
Hotel:  $40 for 2 nights (I’m excluding the tip I gave Martin)
Food:  $6 total for 1 breakfast and 2 late lunches
Taxi:  $3 from Ticabus to Martin’s place cuz it was 8:30pm; otherwise I would have walked since it’s only about half a mile
Taxes: $27 total, including $9 for Ticabus/Costa Rica travel tax, and $14 entry Nica tax, and $4 departure Nica tax
Misc:  $20 spent at the border for water, nuts and candies, plus a postre and water on the bus home
Total Expenses:  $174
Quite a big difference from my past experiences staying close to the touristy center of town and the Calzada, where my expenses were between $350-$400, depending on which hotel I chose.

Interesting Gossip Gleaned in Misc Conversations:
… Regarding the new canal – Nicaragua does not have the machines necessary to move the earth and seas, so where are they going to get them? Through the Panama Canal (?) and then transported overland to Nicaragua? Just a question.
… Salaries at the Frontera are $2 a day. Not an hour. A day. I’m assuming part of the reason it takes so long for the Nica side to stamp your Visa is because 1) there’s no incentive to work very hard; and 2) it gives the vendors time to make more money than they would if the paperwork were expeditiously processed.
… Monthly salary for a call center dual language employee is $500, and I was told that was a REALLY GOOD income in Nicaragua.
… Taxis are actually licensed to charge 40 cordobas for a one way trip in Granada center, and 20 cordobas elsewhere one way in the city proper. The exchange rate right now is 27 cordobas to $1. In the past the taxis I’ve taken from Ticabus at night to my hotels charged me anywhere from 300 to 500 cordobas…. just sayin … negotiate from the instant you make eye contact.
… The border system is changing in Nicaragua to accommodate more trucks, cars and buses through separate areas in response to the new border up north, near Los Chiles. When Costa Rica gets it’s act together and formalizes it’s presence there (it’s in a construction trailer now; while the Nicaraguan side has formal offices) most big trucks will use that border as it’s a shorter trip  from the Limon port, instead of travelling the long way through Guanacaste to the Penas Blancas border. This ultimately is going to make the border runs a smoother operation… that’s what they say anyway… hope it’s true.

So, I had a wonderful time in Granada thanks to my host Martin Morales. Check out  his FB page, and consider utilizing his services as a Guide, Translator and as a person on the ground there with excellent English and understanding of the City, the country and cultural aspects of Nicaragua.

 

 

A Busy End To Summer Break…

vistaserena

I know for most of you North Americanos there’s alot of head scratching goin on with the title of this blog. The summer school break here in Costa Rica begins around the third week of November and ends next week. The time off of babysitting has flown by. I’ll be able to extend it, though, by connecting with friends who are visiting, and I’ll actually be acting as a tourist myself.

My first visit will be with friends from my last job in North America. They’re staying at the Los Suenos Marriot, located on the central pacific…

sjols_phototour124

As you can see, they won’t be suffering too much. It’s one of the premier 5 star resorts in the country.

Then, a couple of days later a friend arrives and we have a week of scheduled touristy delights to savor.. first stop: double decker bus tour of downtown San Jose…

San_Jose-Costa_Rica

I’m really looking forward to jumping on and off the bus during the day to see sights I haven’t gotten to yet, plus share those that I love… here’s one I haven’t been to: The Jade Museum, which is supposed to have the world’s largest collection of jade objects.

jade-museum-costa-rica

The next day is devoted to the LaPaz Waterfall Gardens, where we’ll see seven different large waterfalls, butterfly gardens, hold toucans and hummingbirds, and get alot of strenuous hill climbing back up the hill.

banner-lapaz01

Third day we’ll take a 4-hour bus trip to Manuel Antonio where the beaches in the park are supposed to be the most beautiful and clean in the country:

Manuel-Antonio-National-Park-Costa-Rica-11

The park is located at a particular geographic area called The Whales Tail:

Manuel-Antonio-Park

Fourth day we’ll begin our trek back home, stopping in Jaco for one night so my friend can go out and listen to live music and hang with the locals:

jaco_4

I can hardly wait to finally begin my time as a tourist in this beautiful country. So much of these past (almost) three years have been spent settling in, really. Every three months until I get my residency I’ve been on Visa Runs (leaving the country for Panama or Nicaragua) in order to receive another 3 month stamp. So, these Runs have been my opportunity to see a little bit of the country up until now…. and to get acquainted a bit with those two other countries as well (my fave is Nica land). If it weren’t for my familia here

favefamilia

and the opportunity to babysit my lovely granddaughters, I wouldn’t be as grounded as I’ve become… grounded enough to allow myself to be a tourist!

Incredible April: Granada, Granny Nanny & Great New House

Astrologically, April was supposed to be a b___ buster, and for me that turned out to be totally true even tho I’m not the correct gender. First, I had to find and move to a new home; Second, I had to go on my second Visa Run to Granada Nicaragua; and Third, I learned what being a granny nanny really means… not actually in that order, but suffice it to say, the month was one helluva ride…

Here’s a coupla pics of my new home:

View from my new front door

View from my new front door

View to the left of my front door

View to the left of my front door

View to the right of my front door

View to the right of my front door

Beautiful, isn’t it? Situated above what is now a roaring river with the recent rains, it’s a pristine, private casita… all I would ever ask for. There are birds galore, the sounds of the river, and I’ve been adopted by one of the property’s dogs who comes and goes, occasionally dropping by for a hug and a scratch. A mot-mot nest is just over the embankment from the front door and there are now baby squirrels tumbling about the trees in front of the computer window. Paradise found. This being the second move for me within six weeks, has cemented my decision never to move again.

I recently enjoyed my second Visa Run to Granada Nicaragua where I went on two jaunts – one around the Isletas in Lake Nicaragua (of which there are 136 from a volcanic eruption), and the other on land in a horse drawn carriage around the town itself. I stayed at a new place for me – Hotel Patio del Malinche – http://www.patiodelmalinche.com/

This Hotel is the bomb! I’ve written a review in Trip Advisor about my experience there. Short story: the place is a beautifully restored colonial home that I can’t even begin to imagine living in as a family because of its size. The facilities are clean and inviting; the staff incredibly accommodating and friendly; it’s one block off the tourist drag; the price is great and the pool just the right size. It’s now my go-to hotel in Granada.

The trip to Granada was on Ticabus and I’ll never travel another way there because they take care of most of the immigration/customs process and it’s as quick and painless as it can get for a border crossing. Seven hours on a bus is grueling, especially when the overhead booming tv’s are trying to show movies that aren’t interesting to me…. although I will say that seeing Jurassic Park while traveling through the same type of landscape was a little bit weird.

This was the second time in Granada and the second time I used Tierra Tours for jaunts around Granada. (Another Travel Advisor review) The Isleta Tour was incredible, not only for the views, but for the history of Granada and Nicaragua. Evidently 136 islands were created as a result of a volcanic eruption; must have been one heckofa boom! These individual islands are either inhabited by individuals or are for sale. The price of each varies but the mean is around $300k… not much for your private island, and that includes a house already built if you’re lucky. I guess the only drawback is the need to drain the septic tank regularly as they’re particularly small. Electricity and dish reception for cable and internet are already installed on most of them as well. It’s seen as a way to make money by the government and the places I saw in this teensy tour were a mix of magnificent mansions and/or very nice homes, or the tico-type…. course, most of them have to put up with these tours passing by regularly all day long… just sayin. Here’s some photos from the tour:

View from atop the Pirate Fort to one of the small islands on the Isleta Tour

View from atop the Pirate Fort to one of the small islands on the Isleta Tour

Oropenda nests

Oropenda nests

Kingfisher

And then we went on a horse-drawn carriage tour through the urban areas of Granada. Let me tell ya, if you ever want to know more about William Walker and his imperious/egoic challenge to the countries of Latin America, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Walker_%28filibuster%29

He was an absolute creep who burned down Granada en total. We saw many burned churches that have been restored, with the surrounding stairs or gates still showing the charring.

We also saw the original train station that ran from the port of Lake Nicaragua in Granada to other primary locations in the country carrying fruits, tobacco, vegetables, etc. When the only female President of Nicaragua created the national roads system in the country, which coincided with the train system breaking down for the last time, the station was mothballed until it’s current President decided to restore the building and create an Art Institute that could be utilized by high school aged students.

Original train station, currently converted into an Art Institute/School for high schoolers

Original train station, currently converted into an Art Institute/School for high schoolers

Quite fancy wooden train carriage for the politicos and rich

Quite fancy wooden train carriage for the politicos and rich

Steel train carriages for the poor

Steel train carriages for the poor

While touring, the driver/guide also showed us these little burial containers for the ashes of family members who died during the Sandinista uprising. They were aligned along a main arterial of the city away from the touristy avenue. We were also shown a huge, and I mean gigantic, area where the original hospital was located. It had been destroyed in an earthquake. Current plans for the location include restoring the reception areas and utilizing the remainder of the area for a University for Art, the City Hall, plus outdoor areas for vendors/ferias and indigenous art markets.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I thought this was a wonderful coincidence when taking a picture of a family playing in Lake Nicaragua

I thought this was a wonderful coincidence when taking a picture of a family playing in Lake Nicaragua

You can barely see the heron trolling on Lake Nicaragua's shoreline

You can barely see the heron trolling on Lake Nicaragua’s shoreline

 

Aside from all this frivolity, my son’s father and my ex-husband died unexpectedly mid-April. Thus my nanny granny note in the header. The day I moved into my new place my son left for the US for ten or so days. Two days in my new casita and I was off to Granada for one full day, returning to do the nanny stuff… an incredible spate of time in which the connection with the family overall was strengthened and I learned to let go of the children when parents returned. That was surprisingly difficult to do. Mostly all mine during the day, when the parent/s returned, it was time to let go and step aside. I’ve read so many books with nannys who get possessive… now I understand that fine balance between granny and nanny that I’d objectified for decades. Long live healthy successful nannies, is what I say! They deserve special grace for their ability to meet and understand this very specific challenge. So my son is now returned, and I’ve now the wonderful opportunity to simply chill in my new place. I’m in earth heaven here.

 

 

Recent Granada Nicaragua Visa Run…

Well friends, time for the big update on my recent Visa Run to Grenada, Nicaragua. It was SO much easier than the Panama border because I took Tica Bus who pretty much manages most of the process.

Nice, comfortable bus for an 8 to 9 hour ride.... brutal...

Nice, comfortable bus for an 8 to 9 hour ride…. brutal…

I took the tourist bus leaving San Jose at 12:30 in the afternoon. We arrived at the Nicaragua border about 5 pm. We got off the bus and into a line that included only those of us on the bus. I was sent immediately to the front of the line because I was obviously an older woman… the elderly are respected here in Latin America, and while it’s not fun being reminded that you are old, it is very nice to be given that type of respect. At any rate, I was stamped out of Costa Rica and back in my seat on the bus within three minutes. Next we were taken to the Nicaraguan side. Before we disembarked from the bus, we all gave our Visas plus the entrance fee to the driver who took them into the Nicaraguan Migracion office for stamping. While we waited for him we took all of our luggage and put it on a long table to be gone through by Migracion officials. There were many men at the door to the bus as we left it asking if we wanted help with our luggage. These guys would move your luggage to the table and back to the bus for a fee. There were also money changers there to exchange different denominations for a price. This part was the longest time spent waiting for the driver to get back with our paperwork. We probably waited close to an hour. When he returned he called out the name on the paperwork and each person retrieved theirs and re-entered the bus. This process was wonderful because we didn’t have to walk the long way between these two areas and we were in good hands. Since I don’t have very operable Spanish at this time, it was easy to simply follow the leader and carry on. Next stop: Granada, which took another hour and a half.

I stayed at La Islita Boutique Hotel, laislita.com,  located 2.5 blocks from the main tourist avenue loaded with restaurants, hotels and various types of stores, adjacent to the Cathedral Main Square.

La Islita Reception

La Islita Reception

This is a beautiful colonial hotel, as are many in Granada, built around a huge Mango tree. There are only 8 beautiful and spacious rooms. The rate includes a fantastic and bountiful breakfast. There are many hostels as well as hotels and if you do your research you can find some real deals. My decision to stay at La Islita was totally positive as it totally made me feel safe and secure. All the people working there were helpful about where to go and which tour company to use and where to eat. They don’t use the term “Boutique” loosely either. The entire place was an exquisite treat. Exploring was easy since Granada is not that large a city. The first morning I went for a walk at 6am and had a few surprises …  one of which was the kids sleeping in the middle of the street. I’m not talking adolescents, either. These were kids of 8 to 10 years of age. I don’t know the story there, but I did know that there would be quite a bit of begging and assumed these children were part of that scene. There were guards stationed all around the parks and tourist areas so I didn’t worry too much about them and continued wandering.  The main surprise for me was the colonial nature of the city –  it’s breathtaking; really amazing to glance into open front doors and see lush interior gardens. And the sidewalks are tiled beautifully as well.  At night there were many people who moved their chairs outside onto the sidewalks to catch a breeze. The temperature was pretty similar to Heredia and sometimes Alajuela, Costa Rica – probably hovered around the mid-80’s with humidity that had you swimming in your clothes at 9am. But. There are breezes off Lake Nicaragua that lighten that load pretty regularly, plus La Islita had a/c in the rooms and that helped. I can tell you that that humidity was not at all helpful to me when shopping for underwear I had forgotten to pack for the trip…. it was torture, but there were stores like Ropa Americana (new or second hand clothing from the US) that can be found along the street adjacent to the Central Market.

I found most of the information I needed for this trip at wikitravel.org/en/Granada_(Nicaragua). 

Places I shopped that I can heartily recommend include:

Soy Nica for leather goods – facebook.com/soynica.dk

and, Ole’ Ole’ for unusual pieces of art, clothing, ceramics, and furniture. Other wonderful finds included La Calzada Centro de Arte, where an expat teaches one on one art classes of all levels in an open studio adjacent to a restaurant. You can find her at: nicaragua-art.com. She provides canvases at cost plus lets you use the paints and brushes. Nice place. She’s a very generous person who really believes everyone should discover their inner artist and invite them to come out to play!

I went to three eateries while there: El Zaguen which serves the most mouthwatering, tender steak you’ll ever have; El Camello which has tremendous art and really good food and is only a block from La Islita; and Don Carlos Pizza which I was very happy with, located on the main tourist plaza.

El Camello Mediterranean restaurant one and a half blocks from La Islita Hotel... my go to place for late lunch/early dinner. Good prices and the food is marvelous.

El Camello Mediterranean restaurant one and a half blocks from La Islita Hotel… my go to place for late lunch/early dinner. Good prices and the food is marvelous.

I went on one tour to Masaya Volcano through Tierra Tours tierratour.com. It was about a 4 hour tour that included going through the Interpretive Center, arriving at the edge of the crater, then traveling to the  city of Masaya where we walked around and shopped at the Old Central Market, then off to a community center in an adjacent village where ceramic pots are made. It’s a fantastic place and was the highlight of the tour for me. The government supports the center and kids from the very impoverished community are encouraged to learn how to build these ceramics – from helping to gather the clay(s) of various colors – no artificial substances whatsoever – to learning to throw and bake the pots in the same way their ancestors did hundreds of years ago.

One afternoon was spent lazing by the pool here:

$7 for a day pass to hang out around and in the pool at Hotel Granada.

$7 for a day pass to hang out around and in the pool at Hotel Granada.

A final plug for Seeing Hands Blind Massage, located on that main tourist thoroughfare across from the blue school in Euro Cafe. The cost is very inexpensive for the professionalism and incredible work they do. I had one guy give me a massage for three days in a row – no, not really – just one hour-long massage on three consecutive days. Wow, WHEW, now that’s a kind of therapy I hadn’t expected and the breakthroughs for me emotionally were really powerful. Highly recommended. Fantastic service for those folks who learn to be practitioners of the art and really understand the body. I’ll go back to Granada just for massage!

After three nights and four days it was time to go back to San Jose. This time I left on the early bus, and this is what we bussed into:

No kidding folks... it's a busy border and this pic doesn't show you the line of people who are surrounding a large block waiting to get to this point.

No kidding folks… it’s a busy border and this pic doesn’t show you the line of people who are surrounding a large block waiting to get to this point.

First, the bus driver gathered all of our Visas as before, along with the price of departure, and we waited for his return to call out our names and re-board the bus to the Costa Rican Migracion building. The picture above is very close to what was actually waiting for us there. So many people I was disheartened. Since I’m considered an elder, I was again placed in the line for pregnant women, children and their parents along with us old folks. The Agent at the Costa Rican window wanted to see a departure from Costa Rica ticket – he didn’t say what kind of ticket, whether it was bus or plane. I had a plane ticket (make sure there are dates on your copy) and that appeased him. I noticed on the paperwork that it was asked if you’d been out of Costa Rica for three days. I hadn’t noticed that on previous border crossings. After he gave me my 90-day stamp I was processed out into an airline-like area where a big machine xrayed everything I was carrying. There were five militia guys surrounding a table next to where the baggage came out of the machine but cuz of my age and guilelessness I guess, I wasn’t asked to give up my baggage for review, so that was the end of that process. I did get through the entry more quickly because I was older, but then had to wait more than a couple of hours for those others on our bus who had to go to the end of the line at least a block away.

The trip to Granada was about the same amount of time on the bus both ways, but the process at the border crossing was much smoother and well organized then what I’d experienced at the border with Panama. And I enjoyed Granada so incredibly much more than I did in David or Boquete, Panama. I’ll definitely be a regular on this trip with Tica Bus to Granada!

Visa Run to Panama… The Latest Info

pasocanoas3Just got back from a Visa Run and wanted to update the experience for those who are facing this experience in the near future… for, as you know, things change quickly here in Costa Rica and the border experience is a fine example of this core ingredient of living in a 3rd World Country…

The experience of getting your Visa stamped for you next set of 90 days while waiting for your Residency application to be accepted can be as chaotic as this photo!

I take a Tracopa bus out of San Jose at 7:30 am. It stops for five minutes for a potty break after about an hour, then continues on the new highway to Uvita where there’s a stop for half an hour for lunch. Uvita is the half way point of the trip – at about 4 hours. The country is astoundingly beautiful, the bus ride comfortable and usually quiet, and the weather increasingly warm to incredibly humid and warm the closer to Panama you get. Just saying… you might need a sweatshirt to start out in the morning, but by the time you hit the Frontera you’ll need a very light weight t-shirt or sleeveless shirt. Probably it will be raining or threatening to rain when you reach the border, so an umbrella is never a bad idea to carry during the rainy season, April through November.

The bus will drop you off at the Costa Rica border office where you will check out of the country – so look for the Costa Rica Departure window. If you have baggage being stored under the bus, it will be unloaded down the street a couple of blocks adjacent to the Panama Entry area. If you have taken your luggage with you on the bus, be sure and take it with you when you get off the bus.

The Costa Rica border office will want your Visa and the piece of paper the driver gives you to fill out. Behind this office there are bathrooms which cost 200 colones (be sure and get toilet paper when you pay!). Once you’ve been stamped on the Costa Rica side, you have to walk down a couple of blocks to the Panama Entry office for additional stamps. The place you are looking for is beyond this rounded welcome edifice. In the next photo you’ll see a bank of windows and when you enter Panama you use the right hand side windows.

pasocanoas4You’ll need your Visa again, plus an ATM statement from that morning before you left San Jose with your bank balance showing at least a $500 balance, PLUS proof of a flight out of Panama or Costa Rica to your home country. Make sure that your copy of the airline ticket has precise dates on it. I was lucky that the Panama agent accepted  my copy because as it turned out the printed email didn’t have the year on it anywhere…

pasocanoas1 This picture shows that bank of windows where you need to check into Panama – the ones on the right. The windows on the left are where you begin your re-entry into Costa Rica on the way back home.

Once you’ve gotten through these lines, you’ll be asked to fill out another form and proceed into the room in the rounded edifice as pictured above in order for officials to go through your luggage, and perhaps have a dog come in and sniff all the bags for drugs. As all of these steps are completed, the Tracopa bus will be waiting outside to restore your baggage to the undercarriage of the bus. Upon leaving the Frontera/Border your bus might be borded by more police with another check of your Visa. It seems they are looking for someone in particular at these times as their attention to your face is particularly important in their pass through with all the passengers.

granhotel1And, now for me, it was on to David, Panama – another hour south – to spend a couple of days at The Gran Hotel Nacional. My plan was to do some shopping as the prices there and at the border are infintesimal compared to Costa Rica. The hotel is beautiful, considered a 5-star there in David. It probably is one of two of the best hotels for amenities there. A huge pool that is hardly used, three restaurants, and elegant rooms. I was quite happy there and felt absolutely pampered.

granhotelroomThe first of the restaurants is the Cafeteria where breakfast and lunch are served. Be advised that their coffee is much like cream soup… you’ll need the condensed milk and sugar! Their food is fantastic; but I must say that I enjoyed the lunch the most. Meats are prepared by a chef and the rest of the choices are great. Breakfast is pretty much predictable but nice – and included in the price (which was $95 for a standard room).

granhotelcafeteriagranhotelpoolThe second of the restaurants is Italian. I was most interested in eating meat on this trip because the meat in Costa Rica is not what I was used to in the states… so here in the Italian place I ordered a filet mignon. My meal was delivered with gravy made from the drippings of the steak, which was wonderful. I enjoyed it, but can’t say I was ecstatic.  A pleasant enough meal. The third restaurant was BBQ and I ordered a t-bone steak which was cooked to my specifications and came with a baked potato and corn. Was delicious. But now let’s talk about the dessert… I ordered chocolate ice cream thinking that it would be like what I received in the Italian restaurant (fudge sauce and whipped cream)… but, lol, it was quite different. It turned out to be chocolate ice cream mixed with fresh pineapple chunks, topped with four soda crackers stuck in around the top and crunched up as a topping. Have to say I laughed out loud! Was surprised to discover that the combination wasn’t bad at all. The idea of soda crackers and chocolate ice cream was beyond me, I must say…

I want to mention that as we were arriving in David I asked a seat mate who lived there where the best place to shop was because there are a couple or three malls there. She pointed me to Conway, which is where I ended up shopping and I was incredibly blown away by the prices and happy to be shopping where the locals shopped. This was for clothing, so perhaps the other malls are better suited for small electronics.

On the return trip from David to San Jose it was already blisteringly hot upon departure at 8:30 am. The process at the Frontera was markedly different in that there was a preponderance of police and customs agents checking every darn thing… they checked the bus, they opened every bag and thoroughly unpacked every item that was still in it’s original container – like a blender of all things – and the dog came and we had to go into that room after getting our Visa stamped at the Panama side, and we had to have some type of ticket at the Costa Rica window that proved we had passage out of Costa Rica within 90 days. I used an open ended Tracopa bus ticket. Everyone got different days stamped. I was lucky to get a full 90 days as my paperwork indicated I lived in Costa Rica, but there were others who got only a few to a couple of days, so be sure to check the number of days given to you!

A couple more things to assure a smooth passage through both sides of the border – smile! be patient!! don’t lose your temper!!! And have some Spanish so you can understand what they are saying to you, or asking you… if you don’t have the language, go through the line with someone behind you that does that can help you out. Oh! And don’t travel on weekends – the lines in the heat can be terribly difficult in terms of holding your temper in check… lol…

I’m going to repeat this trip in January… anyone want to join me?

 

 

 

 

 

Visa Run to Grenada, Nicaragua…

Yes, it’s almost that time again… another Visa Run this coming October to extend my stay another 90 days.  This time I’m going to Grenada, which means the Penas Blancas border, hothothothot weather, and new adventures. I’ve not been through this border before. From what I’ve heard, I better be prepared with water on hand, a hat, and lots of patience.

I’m gofrontera-penas-blancas-460x270ing to take Tica Bus there and back. Since the earliest bus is at 3am, I’ll stay at their little hotel, located above the bus station, the night before. The cost is minimal, but you get a clean room with private bathroom for only about $20, so it’s worth it!  The trip has a couple of options – one of which is Executive Class and the other Tourist Class. I’m gonna take the Exec bus because it’s faster, they stop for breakfast, have a bathroom on board, and help you through Customs… well, at least they point you in the right direction.

photo of tica bus

As you can see, the bus is plenty plush and comfortable. Sometimes, though, they have the a/c cranked up to uncomfortable levels, so as hot as you know it’s going to be in Nicaragua – no matter where you go – it’s prudent to bring a sweatshirt, at least….. some people even travel with blankets!

I found an incredible site online as I was searching for potential places to stay in Grenada…. wikitravel.org/en/Grenada_(Nicaragua). It’s a thoughtful listing of lodgings, activities, eateries and asides regarding everything Granada broken down from budget to very comfortable options.

I’ve chosen Casa San Francisco Hotel which has a Visa Run special at 3 nights for $139/single and $159/double, which is an outstanding deal for this boutique hotel.

Casa San Francisco

hotelcasasanfrancisco.com. It looks like a great spot in a great location. With a pool, a/c, cable tv, wifi, and an ambiance that feels personal, I’m really looking forward to this vacation!

San Vito Visa Run

San Vito at the top of the world

San Vito at the top of the world

This quarter’s Visa Run was to San Vito, a small (15k population) town about forty minutes from the border with Panama. I read online that it was one of the less traveled borders and that the views getting there were terrific, so I thought, why not?  Since the bus to San Vito left about the same time the buses started running where I live in Santa Barbara, I decided to stay in town and take a cab to the terminal. Here’s where I stayed:

Kaps Kitchen Area

Kaps Kitchen Area

Kaps Place – kapsplace.com.

Kaps hammock next to fountain

Kaps hammock next to fountain

I really enjoyed the spaces there. It’s much larger than it seems, there are a couple of hammocks, an area for foos ball and table tennis, rocking chairs, a couple of burbling fountains, and a general sense of relaxed bonhomie that I quite enjoyed. The owners call it a 41-room guest house – and for good reason. The service is the best I’ve yet to experience – relaxed, immediate with multi-lingual people on site. There is a kitchen you can use that even I, the hermit, felt comfortable using, and a 24 hour tea and coffee service. I highly recommend using this as a place to overnight or stay during your visit to Costa Rica. I was so tired I didn’t mind being immediately adjacent to the common area, but if you want quiet just ask for it when making your reservation. It’s close to downtown, easily walkable; and there are many restaurants and museums close by.

Kaps Place, one of the upstairs areas

Kaps Place, one of the upstairs areas

Next I caught the Tracopa bus and began my trip.

I was surprised when we took the Cartago, mountainous route, but immensely pleased that we did. The ride was almost total switchbacks through scenery I’ve never experienced in any way in my life. Absolutely beautiful, rural, original Costa Rica. Prehistoric vistas of untouched valleys, hills, mountains … everywhere … for three solid hours. Of course there were small to medium sized towns here and there along the way to San Vito where clearing had been necessary, but once outside of each the wild countryside met on both sides of the road we were traveling on, sometimes mingling overhead which made it seem as if we were in a green tunnel. I saw many men on working horses, many children and their moms or grandparents hand in hand along the side of the road going to or coming home from school, and indigenous women wearing their tribal dress getting off and on buses.

View from the bus: hills, valleys, mountains, repeat

View from the bus: hills, valleys, mountains, repeat

I must say that being on the bus as an observer was a clever way to lull me into an acquiescent state that was immediately shattered as I departed the bus. Only once in my life before – when I lived in Honolulu in the early 70’s – did I feel like an obvious outsider. This experience provided the second instance of empathy for minority folks. I think I was the only gringa in town. I’m sure that can’t be true, but I didn’t see any other ethnicities while I was there, and as I stepped off the bus into a long line of folks waiting for the next bus out of town it was immediately apparent that I was different. It’s a good experience I believe every adult should have in order to understand exactly what that means. Honestly! It made me attach to that place in my self esteem that says Niki is a very courageous woman… But, for all that, the town was quaint, hilly, and vibrant; busy with all types of vehicles, many banks, and seemingly content people. I got lots of stares… with children turning completely around and walking backward with curious looks on their faces while their parents pretended they didn’t see me at all. It was only Thursday night, but the evening was spiced audio-wise with very loud motorcycles, buffed up mufflers on cars and trucks and even ear-splitting latino “Hurrahs” that I’m assuming were the result of watching a soccer game on tv in a local bar. Then, of course, there were the dogs chatting with one another through the night. I stayed in a recommended hostel in the middle of town. The price at $21/night was right, but it was old and almost clean with sheets so laundered they were transparent. Since there were two twin beds, I slept on top of one with the cover from the other over me…

Onto the reason I was here… to get my Visa renewal stamps. As soon as I got off the Tracopa bus into San Vito I checked into the hostel, then turned around and went back to the bus stop for the Rio Sereno (border) bus. After six hours already on the bus, I was loathe to do so, but it was my goal and since I was leaving the next morning I had no choice. I know you can’t see me laughing and shaking my head back and forth here, but that trip was an eye-opener into the REAL Costa Rica that I would not have experienced in any other way. First, the bus was a chicken bus. I’ve read about them, and now I can say I’ve been on one and when I return I’ll do it all over again. But it was a bit of a shock. Old, crumbling, dirty, dirty, dirty, it wound it’s way through Saballito then through ever-increasingly rural areas until we hit a dirt road.

After about twenty minutes of my wondering where the heck we were, we arrived…. here:

This is the border crossing... Egads! she said...

This is the border crossing… Egads! she said…

I’d had the idea that the Customs/Migracion people would be busy enough, but less busy than the more popular border crossings, and that I would be shuffled through without much notice and get my stamps out of the country of Costa Rica, into the country of Panama, then out of the country of Panama back into the country of Costa Rica on the same day. Part of the Costa Rican Migracion law states that you can do this, but there’s another part that states that if you are bringing in more than $500 worth of product or monies, you need to be out of the country for 72 hours. The law has been misinterpreted by many, including Migracion officials and it’s often that they assume or believe you need to be out of Costa Rica for three days before you can get stamped back into the country. So… here I was, obviously in the back of beyond, the ONLY person in sight that needed stamps for the two hours I was there, all the while realizing that I very well might not get through this process as scot-free as I’d assumed I would. But, since I was there and since it was the last day on my 90 day period on my Visa, I tried.  I had to go to the Costa Rican office first, and after clumping around wrong, abandoned buildings, I finally found my way to the correct location where they were not happy to see me under any circumstances, much less the fact that I assumed I could check in and check out on the same day. The Panama officials were very nice, had some English and delightedly joked around and gave me the stamps I needed. Then… back to the Costa Rican office where, again,  I interrupted an obvious meeting amongst five officials, the boss of which entertained a long – long – long – discussion regarding whether or not he should allow me the stamp or not. The consensus was to give me the darn stamp and get rid of me. Which he did with barely a look at my face he was so angry. One of the officials actually stomped out of the office, even. Evidently the woman involved in this discussion explained to them several times that I had the right to do this (thank God), but the men, they were not happy and went round and round with her, but she must’ve had some kind of clout because I eventually was given the stamp I needed. I think it pissed the guys off that this little (younger than all of them) woman came to my rescue as much as having to give me the stamp. At any rate, deep breath later, I went back to the bus stop where there was a soda – a little restaurant – and had lunch, spilling Orange Crush all over my white blouse and not caring one whit because I’d made it through by the hair of my chinny chin chin.

This is the little soda with a big heart at the border crossing

This is the little soda with a big heart at the border crossing

 

Next Visa Run I’ll spend the three days necessary to appease the male Migracion Gods and be a tourist in this most beautiful place on top of the world