Tyler’s Trek Driving from Utah to Costa Rica Part 4
The following post is the last installment of a series of posts chronicling Tyler’s drive from Utah to Costa Rica. Everything is written by him, and you can find part one here, part two here, and part three here.
Day 10- Nicaragua
At this point I had a few conflicting emotions:
1- I had been slogged down in the mere process of drive, gas up, trick hotel clerks, eat, repeat as necessary. I was feeling a bit gloomy but admittedly, I was excited for Nicaragua. Nicaragua was the last country I needed to go through before Costa Rica so it signified the light at the end of the tunnel.
2- My travel book told me that the Nicaragua border was the worst. Be prepared for red tape, delays, and large piles of government crap. The book told me that Nicaraguan roads were the worst and my biggest chance of being hassled along the roads by uniformed goons was in Nicaragua.
After a week and a half of driving I didn’t know how I could manage more.
When I got to the border of Honduras and Nicaragua I was greeted by a young kid who, conspiratorially, told me that I’d need to give a gift to the guy operating the gate. Whatever, here’s a couple bucks.
I need to use the can. What, I need to give a gift to use the can? Fine.
Oh, you’re telling me I needed to show proof of this vaccination back at the other side of the country where I came in? What do you want me to do about it now? Okay, take a couple bucks you shyster.
I need to get this thing stamped by that woman? Okay, let’s do it. What? She’s decided she’d like to eat breakfast for the next half hour and let me sit and stare at her? Fine. I was in survival mode now and just wanted to go.
For those that don’t know, you’ve essentially got two borders to cross when you get to country lines. First, you have to go through the hassle of leaving one country and then you have to navigate your way into the next.
Leaving Honduras was more difficult for me than getting in to any of the countries I went through. Every bloody person had their hand out and was bound and determined to make my trek harder while putting a nice smile on their face.
Let me also digress here and mention that every country has numerous traffic stops. For no visible reason the police and/or military set up check points on the main roads. They let a lot of people pass through but they detain others.
Apparently, I look like trouble because I was stopped at every single one of these checkpoints.
Luckily, my Rottweiler is trained to dispense with anyone who touches our vehicle. At every stop I simply let him go nuts. They’d ask me to roll down my windows so they could inspect my vehicle and I’d tell them, sure, but there is a vicious Rottweiler back there. Needless to say, I never got inspected at these stops.
But being treated like a criminal and being constantly questioned and probed takes it’s toll. I was sick of the invasions of privacy and just wanted to get some peace.
So by the time I made my way through the Honduran mess I was dismayed to realize I still had to get through what was the worst border according to my book.
I was stopped by one of the ‘guides’ who helps you between borders and I gave him $10. I told him that if I got through in less than an hour I’d give him another $10. If not, then $10 was all I’d give him.
In Nicaragua I understand that the average person brings in around $200 a month so I figured that an extra $10 would seem like a good prize.
He worked for it. He greased some wheels, danced me around other ‘guides’, patted backs of this agent, that agent, and hustled me through. 45 minutes later I was through and wondered why I hadn’t done this before.
All that was left was the apparent awful roads of Nicaragua according to my book.
That book had been mostly accurate up until that point but I found the roads to be the best in all of Central America. Not only were they well maintained but they were clean. It was the only country where I saw pervasive signs everywhere threatening people with monetary and bodily harm if they even thought about littering.
Yes, they’ve got a socialist leader and government who has plundered the people’s wealth, created awful living conditions, and plunged their people into some of the most extreme poverty in the Western Hemisphere…but at least the roads were good. I suppose even Mussolini got the trains running on time, right?
I cruised through the country on my way to Managua, the capital. I prepared myself for another awful metropolis but I found a clean, colonial city with easy to manage traffic and I was through.
Overall, I was left with a great impression of Nicaragua. But all of those niceties paled in comparison to the one single best amenity available in Nicaragua, neigh, in the developed world.
In a word; monkeys.
On several occasions while driving along the road there were road side vendors hawking monkeys. They proudly held them on their arms displayed for all to see. These monkeys were glorious and as the sun cascaded onto the majesty that is a magnificent primate I was immediately overcome with nearly uncontrollable envy that I felt for these vendors. Yes, they were poor with next to no hope of ever achieving financial freedom, owning their own home or vehicle, or even traveling more than 50 miles away from their home. But they had monkeys for crying out loud! In the roulette game that is life they had doubled-down on red and hit it big.
I’ve since realized that if your country doesn’t have monkey vendors then what is the point of going on?
Not buying one of those monkeys was easily the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. If Nicaragua had been my final destination then you would not have stopped me from bringing home Harvey or Princess. (I’ve given this a lot of thought and those are the two best gender-specific monkey names you are going to find. Stop racking your brain, I’ve done the leg-work. Those are the best names for your monkey. Period.)
I figured, though, that getting two dogs across a border was hard enough and that Costa Rica would be none-to-amused by my attempts to smuggle out my new furry buddy.
Am I going to lie and say I didn’t cry for my loss? No. How many times in life are you presented with the opportunity to own your own monkey? In my 32 years I had been offered my own monkey a total of zero other times, and I didn’t know if this opportunity would surface again.
Like I good soldier, though, I plodded on plotting my eventual return to Nicaragua. A country so enlightened that monkeys would be sold on the street.
I ended that day early, pulling in to San Juan del Sur in the early afternoon.
This was easily my favorite town on the trip. It’s a laid back tourist town right on the beach. Surfers come the world over to enjoy it’s waves and it gives off a wonderful vibe. I could definitely see our family spending some time in this spot.
I found a little ‘hotel’ that was attached to a bar and talked my way into a room with the dogs. No air conditioning, no water for most of the time (the town was doing maintenance on the pipes), but I was happy to be in this little spot.
In Mexico I had gotten bitten by a swarm of mosquitoes on my feet and they had swollen up to about twice the size by the time I hit this spot.
I found my way to a pharmacist where I was able to by some awesome medicine with no prescription that put me right pretty quick and cost me $2.
I went to bed knowing that the next day would be my last of driving. I would cross the border, enter Costa Rica, and soon be to our new home.
Day 11- Costa Rica
This last border crossing was my worst. There was a border agent that insisted in speaking to me in English even though I speak Spanish. He didn’t speak English though he informed me that he’d been studying for years in Managua. I couldn’t understand him and kept trying to get him to explain it to me in Spanish. He would only give me little bits of Spanish if I wrote down on his arm certain phrases in English.
It was also the first time I had to get inspected. No one had ever braved the wrath that is my Rottweiler. These guys didn’t care. They made me unload half of the van all while it was poring rain. No bribe would help, they didn’t want one. Huh? Who doesn’t want a bribe?
Getting into Costa Rica was no walk in the park, either. I had to walk from this building to another building a hundred yards away then back again and back again. My dogs were getting overheated as they were forced to wait in the heat of the van.
Probably two and a half hours from the time I hit the border I was finally through. I was not happy with my ‘guides’ and informed them with plenty of choice words that they had lost my repeat business.
Once in Costa Rica, though, the drive to our new home was an easy 4 hours or so.
Would I change this experience I had? I’m not sure. Overall I’m glad to have met the people I did and thrilled to have seen the things I saw. I’m grateful to have seen big swaths of Mexico and Central America. Overall I met awesome people, had great food, and enjoyed myself.
Yes, I’ve told you a lot of the bad experiences but that’s simply because the bad experiences are more funny. My overall experience was a positive one. But would I want to do it again? I’m not so sure. For all the positive it was still 3500 miles in 11 days with five border crossings. I never felt threatened or in danger. I was assured by no less than dozens of people that I was in for some dangerous miles ahead and that Guatemalan prisons aren’t the picnic they’re made out to be in the sitcoms. I saw none of that. I found happy and generous people who had no designs on myself or my stuff. Even still, though, making that drive in such a short amount of time is physically and mentally draining.
Given the opportunity I could see doing it again but at a slower pace where I could get to experience the countries I passed through.
I will say this, though. It was an experience like no other and I’ll be grateful forever that I can log these experiences in my memory bank.