Nicaragua Border Crossing

I passed 33,000 Colones across the counter to Alonso, who passed me a slip of paper confirming my seat aboard a van scheduled to cross the border the next morning. Nate high-fived my latest serendipitous act of stupidity, and six of us sat down to toast our bungee jump that afternoon. Like most things, I hadn’t planned on crossing any borders while backpacking Costa Rica, and I knew better than to do it alone. But somehow, in the space of two days, I had been adopted by an entourage of Aussies who assured me now was as bad a time as any.

The next morning I threw my 40L backpack in a pile with the rest, and made the four-hour trip to Beñas Blanca. The border crossing from Costa Rica to Nicaragua was easy enough – we each paid $12 to a man none of us could understand – then stepped across the border with passport stamps. We walked past the fence and straight into a no man’s wasteland of scorched earth, dried grass and scattered trash. After a few hundred meters of walking, we reached a small village and hired what seemed like the only taxi for miles. I wasn’t convinced either vehicle would make it down the road, much less 44km. Our driver punched his glove compartment box so that a few 8-tracks fell out. I think it was 180 degrees.

Our driver stopped on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere and motioned for us to get out. He began waving at us – making snapping motions as if he were holding a camera. He had stopped so we could take photos. Of what, I’m not exactly sure. He finished his cigarette, waved us back to the car, and drove us safely to San Juan Del Sur.

The six of us regrouped at a hostel in the beachside village, and checked into a shared dormitory for $10 each. I dropped my bag next to a bunk bed in a high-vaulted room shared with eight other guys and one girl. We had one bathroom. It was hot. There was no air-conditioning; no Internet. I dumped my money onto my bed in an attempt to sort my chaotic collection of currency just as the electricity went out. We decided drinking was the thing to do, and wandered onto the streets of San Juan Del Sur and into a beach side bar where we helped ourselves to fifty-cent piña coladas.

Street vendors and random costume parades kept the scene colorful, and as day turned to night we wandered to a surf bar where the owner was Sicilian, a beach bar turned nightclub, a beer pong competition in a hostel loft, and a few taco stand stops. I spent just twenty dollars. Twenty dollars well spent.