We are in the process of getting all of our paperwork together to apply for a Student Visa which will be good for six months and can be renewed without leaving the country. There are a lot of hoops to jump through, so it is taking longer than expected.
So we needed to leave the country and then come back in.
Some friends of ours who graduated from the Language Institute this month were moving to a city in Northwestern Costa Rica called La Cruz. We offered to drive the 6 hour trip with them to help unload their moving truck. After looking at a map, I realized that La Cruz is very close to the Nicaraguan border, only about 40 minutes driving. It seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up, so we decided to make a trip accross the border after we finished helping our friends move.
Using the power of the internet, I was able to locate and secure some lodging for us on an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. Lake Nicaragua is an enormous lake at the Southern end of Nicaragua. It rivals the Great Lakes in size, we are talking really big. So this island is called Ometepe and consists of two volcanoes with some flat land around and in between. It is roughly the shape of a figure eight with a slight bend in the middle. I spoke to the man at the hotel who spoke English very well and made our reservations.
On Sunday morning, December 17th, our friend in La Cruz drove us to the border and dropped us off. We found ourselves in a sea of people that were crossing the border in one direction or the other. No signs directing us where to begin the process, no information booth to point us in the right direction. So after observing the flow of people for a little while, we got into the line that seemed to be head the direction we wanted to go. The Costa Rican police man at the head of the line examined our passports and informed us that we needed to get our Costa Rican exit stamp before he would let us through. He pointed to the building we needed to go to which was about 300 yards in the direction we had just come from.
The building that houses Costa Rican immigration looks like a bus station due to the number of busses that are parked there. Since the busses are crossing the border too, everyone on the busses must get off and go into the immigration office to get their exit stamp too. Needless to say, this makes the lines VERY long. Eventually we got our exit stamps and led our hot and tired daughters back to the line we waited in at the beginning.
This time the police man let us through and we entered into a kind of "limbo" zone. It was a wierd place that wasn't Costa Rica and wasn't Nicaragua, just this peice of land in between that was loaded with food vendors and people that wanted to "help" us pale skinned tourists. It is not a comfortable thing to stand out in these types of situations. We can be as culturally sensitive as possible, but there is no changing the fact that we are four gringos in a place with very few other gringos. That means we instantly became targets for anyone with something to sell. So in addition to watching our girls, watching our backpacks, protecting our pockets, and trying to figure out where to go next, we also had to fend of the multiple people offering their "services".
After two hours of waiting in long, hot lines, we made it through Nicarauguan immigration. We had secured a taxi already and he was ready for us as soon as we got our entry stamp. He drove us to Rivas, which is a city on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. Here a large ferry boat took us over to the Isla de Ometepe.
We enjoyed the island. There was a nice beach at the hotel where we stayed, and the food was pretty good.
On Wednesday morning at 4:30 am it was time to begin our trip back accross the border and home to San Jose. We took the island taxi back to the port where the ferry would pick us up. Rode the ferry back accross the lake to Rivas. Took a taxi back to the border. Waited in more lines to get out of Nicaragua and back into Costa Rica. Got our entry stamps (and our renewed tourist visas) at the Costa Rican immigration office. Then finally took another taxi back to our friends house in La Cruz where we spent the night.
Wow was it good to be back in Costa Rica!! It is always more comfortable to be in the familiar, and for us Costa Rica has become the familiar.
God took great care of us the entire trip. We never felt in danger or lacked for anything.
This trip removed any hint of procrastination on my part to submit our paperwork to obtain a Student Visa. The next time we leave Costa Rica I want it to be because we want to, not because we have to.