A quick jaunt over the bridge and we’re in Nicaragua.
Usually as we approach a border we’re surrounded by local guys speaking English who offer to “help” us through the border process. They tell us that it will take 6 hours but that they know someone who can make it faster or that the costs are expensive but they can get us a deal or that or that the papers have changed recently and they will help us complete it. I’ve heard horror stories about these guys always asking for more and more money (that they eventually pocket) for things that aren’t even needed. We always decline the offer. Helpers aren’t needed and we always get through the process with relative ease without paying any of these guys for help.
Many of these Central American borders are difficult to navigate because there’s no signs telling you which dilapidated building contains the immigration or customs office. Then within each building there’s a dozen different windows to go to. Charles and I have developed a new system. We continue to drive past all the buildings until someone comes running after us telling us that we need to go here or there to get paperwork. That makes it easy.
Before we can park the bikes some lady comes up to us telling us to fill out paperwork. We do then she says it’s a $12 USD fee. Huh? Is this a scam? She’s not even dressed at all professionally and has no certification badge (event he helpers have fake badges). I can’t read the Spanish document. I hang on to the papers and tell her I’ll pay later. Again, I take our paperwork to get the visas and vehicle import papers while Charles watches the bikes. I enjoy the border rigamoro and Charles is happy to let me do all the paperwork. Having 2 people is great for the border crossings to be able to keep an eye on all the gear.
I get all of our paperwork sorted and I ask an official if this paper the woman handed to me is legit or if it’s because I’m a gringo. He says it’s legit but I’m still not buying it… I’ve heard too many fake gringo tax stories. Charles and I are getting ready to mount the bikes and the lady is demanding that we pay. I tell her that I’m not certain it’s necessary and ask her why she’s been following me around and hasn’t had anyone else pay. She rambles. I tell her I’m sorry but we’re not going to pay. Another man comes over (also without any ID). He motions that the cops will handcuff us if we don’t have this receipt. Charles and I look at each other. It’s just a scare tactic we’re thinking. I tell her that we’re not paying and she gets pissed and rips the papers from my hand. Another woman comes over and now there’s 3 people yelling at us. We suit up and decide that if anyone signals us to pull over we’ll just pretend we didn’t see them and continue on.
200 meters after we left we pass a small building. I’m not stopping and I see a man running from the woods towards us. He’s obviously the “border control” guard. Charles is behind me and he too speeds up and we ride on. We made it! Then about 3 miles down the road there’s a pick up pulling off the road with 6 police officers getting out all waving at us. Hmmmm… Could the border patrol have radioed these guys? I have an idea… We speed up and pass them. We continue at 80 mph for the next hour. All the while I’m wondering if they’re radioing anyone up ahead or if they’re going to speed after us.
It still amazes me to see the landscape, people, and culture change from country to country. There’s lots of farming going on here. Herds of cattle wander the streets and men are pulled by horses on homemade chariots. The views of the volcanoes are breathtaking. We don’t see any police and there’s no checkpoints all the way into Leon. We decide not to make it a marathon day and find a hotel around 3pm. They have a pool. YESSSSSSSSSS.
That night we run into Sam again. He spent a week or two on the beach in El Salvador, bought a surfboard and had a surfboard rack mounted to the side. RAD. I ask him about the $12 at the border. Ya, he says, it’s the mandatory insurance. Ohhhhhhhh… Oh well. We just saved $12! If we do get pulled over we’ve decided to hand over our (expired) USA insurance cards and tell them it’s valid for Nicaragua. Genius!
Everyone has told us to make a stop in Leon. It’s a colonial town but I feel that I’ve seen much better in Mexico and Guatemala. It’s not until the night time when the temperature drops that the city comes alive. We get some ice cream and sit on the street talking for a while. I think about how quiet it will be when I get back home. These Latin cities are alive with color, flavor, and music. It’s a beautiful scene.
In the morning we mount up and ride south for the beach of San Juan del Sur. The ride is swift and rather uneventful aside from the 40 mph cross wind gusts. Driving like we never would in the States, 40 mph over the speed limit at times, weaving in and out of traffic, driving the wrong way down one way streets, riding on the sidewalks, passing on the shoulders, not stopping when the police wave us down, the usual…
We arrive on the quant little beach of San Juan del Sur and immediately go for a swim. Refreshing! There must be a hundred local kids playing pick up soccer games on the beach.
Time for a beer and to watch the sunset and some NFL football – Cardinals vs. Packers. The game goes into overtime but the local broadcast drops the feed and switches to the Mexico vs. Argentina soccer pre-game commentary. What the ****!
That night the winds are howling. It felt like our hotel was going to be blown away. Nevertheless we decided to press on. Before we left town we rode our bikes on the beach.
Strong crosswinds blew us all over the road. It was very tiring to keep focused and keep the bike steady. By 9:30 in the morning we arrived at the Costa Rica border. What a fun crossing… Stay tuned!