How To Enjoy Your Visa Run

Wind field Nicaragau

Wind field, on Lake Nicaragua, with two volcanos.

I’ve been living on a tourist visa, first in Mexico, now in Nicaragua, for 15 years. Why? I hate dealing with bureaucracy, I’m lazy, and I like to travel.

I’ve made upwards of 50 visa runs during my ex-pat life. Some to exotic locales where I stayed in fancy hotels. Others, I have touched down in a major city in the middle of the night with only bus fare to reach my final destination.

As I build my new business, I am going the utilitarian route, which means walking through borders and staying in cheap hotels, but not so cheap I have to share a bathroom.

This weekend I went to Costa Rica. Sounds Exotic? Not so much. Still, a change of scenery did me good.

Some people do a visa run by coming and going in one day. But, I know someone whose passport was improperly stamped doing this, they were forced to get residency or leave. It cost her a fortune and much stress. So, I always leave the country for at least 24 hours.

Penas Blancas, Nicaragua

The scenic walk between Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

This is what it takes to do a 48-hour visa run, on land through the Nicaragua, Costa Rica borders.

FAQ: Do you have to speak Spanish? I suppose not, there’s usually a helpful bilingual traveler around. But it does make it a lot easier. The immigration officers on land borders in Central America seldom speak English.

The day before I left I  sent the required health form to enter Costa Rica. I presented the QR code sent to me by the Cost Rican government while crossing.

I also tried to send the entry form for Nicaragua but it was glitchy, it wouldn’t take numbers in numbers boxes, so I couldn’t send it. During this essential online preparation, I was having a particularly bad internet day.

I was stressed because visa runs can be stressful in general. When you have lived on a tourist visa for a long time, the immigration officers often harass you about it. I’ve never been denied a visa, but I’m aware that a visa is a gift, not a right.

So, I crossed my fingers that not having the entry form on file wouldn’t lead to an interrogation upon my return. The next morning I took our car with a driver to the border, an hour and a half from my home.

Dubious car wash poppers.

There have been big changes since I last crossed at Peñas Blancas. The Pan American  Highway that runs through both land borders now has two extra lanes on the Nicaraguan side.

There are no longer miles of semis waiting along the road, causing delays and dangerous passing practices. It also has a new immigration building, and a nicer bathroom, kinda, you still have to flush with a bucket…but it is fresher.

What’s lost are the people, the hawkers, and hustlers, the blue-eyed guy who sold us a bus ticket, or helped us get copies(when that was still a thing), and the hot as hell ramshackle market. From this traveler’s perspective, it’s lost its charm. I wished I’d taken a picture of the challenging, comical chaos it was.

I wasn’t able to buy a return ticket Costa Rica requires until I got to the C.R. side. It was a little disconcerting since I didn’t know if I’d be able to get one until I was standing in front of their immigration building. The ticket cost me 26$, but the value printed on it was 15$.

I wasn’t able to use it to get into Liberia, my destination. I hoped I might use it on the way back. I hopped on a public bus after buzzing through immigration.

My wise neighbor advised me to call for an appointment for the PCR test Nicaragua requires, and in a couple of hours, I’d been tested and had eaten some disappointing poppers in a car wash. Why did I eat in a car wash? There was a chair, a fan, shade, and food.

Divine timing had me waiting for my test on the same corner as my favorite thrift shop. I picked up a fab dress, two lovely pairs of pants, and a top for less than 20 dollars in less than 20 minutes.

eci dress

Said, fab dress. It feels like stretch silk.

My hotel wasn’t nearby so I took a cab, I’d walked a lot, it was at least 90 degrees. The cab was cool, clean, and cost 2$, for about a 10-minute ride.

I don’t not recommend the place I stayed, but there are better options, so we’ll skip it. The next day I had a decent included breakfast, with a fried hot dog served as breakfast sausage, and very good coffee, available at 6 AM. Win.

I walked downtown to the bus stops, tried to make use of my bus ticket, no go, and got back on a public bus for 2.80$. The windows were open and the one next to me had a grating rattle, I rolled up the 26$ dollar ticket and shoved it into the window rim to quiet it. Two hours of that rattle would have made me bonkers, 26 bucks well spent.

An hour and a half later, we stopped in front of immigration, I went in, looked around for customs forms, there were none so I got in line. When I got to the front the attendant asked for a custom form. She sent me off to the office, which was through the big trucks down the hill to a tiny kiosk painted green with childlike abandon.

Look wayyyyyy back to the small window in the green wall, over the Pan Am intersection between the semis, where the woman who seems to have no affiliation with the government waves and calls to you, walk down the steep gravel path at least 500 meters from the immigration line. You made it!

The woman in the window took a picture, I don’t even remember what of, and sent it back to immigration. I climbed the hill, thinking, I can’t imagine what this is going to be like when the rains come, and passed through Costa Rica’s border smooth as a bossa nova.

A five-minute walk and two armed checkpoints later, I was back at the Nicaraguan border ready with my dollar for the line ticket lady(yep, they charge a dollar to stand in line).

A handsome young man with a laissez-faire air barely asked me a question. He stamped my passport and sent me into another three months of life in Nicaragua. I thanked him sincerely. He looked at me like I was from another planet.

I walked toward the place my driver would meet me and was thrilled to see some of the cobbled businesses still intact along the roadside.

Today’s plato, Pollo con Papa, grilled on a brazier made of a tire rim.

. I bought an apple juice and basked in a wave of gratitude for life in all its grand possibilities.

Imagine this, an image I did not take out of respect. The most beautiful moment I saw during this trip.

A home made of corregated tin, and random boards, right off the highway on the land between the two countrys. Next to the house, a battered but full, blue, hard sided plastic swimming pool. Three children splashing, laughing, stop as I walk by, we wave.

 

Thank you for reading! I’d love to hear your border crossing tales!

Paz,

Abby

P.S, Mil Gracias, to you my friends who bought me coffee, for helping me keep images in my posts.

 

 

 

What I Did This Weekend

Guardabarranco

Nicaragua’s National Bird: The Fabulous Guardabarrano

I have been trying to get a good image of a Guardabarranco for the last several weeks. I see them frequently when I walk my dogs. This is not what I had in mind.

This gorgeous being crashed into one of my windows. I spent 24 hours waiting for him to jump up and fly away.  But, he didn’t. I dripped water in his beak. I tried to interest him in some papaya. I tried to catch a moth for him, Mot-Mots catch their food mid-air. I played binaural beats for healing feathered friends, my mom gave him reiki. Still, over 12 hours later, he couldn’t stand on his own.

I cried and prepared my heart to put him down. How fragile we become in the face of beauty and helplessness. I decided to wait overnight.

But Sunday morning he was too alive, kind of feisty really, to make that final choice. It’s all-consuming to care for a broken animal and I knew I couldn’t do it, all my focus is on starting my new business.

I called my lovely neighbor who is now housemates with a baby squirrel she rehabilitated. I sent a photo and received a very affirmative yes.

A friend had just said to her, Now all you need is a bird, you should get a parrot. She replied no, but I would love to have a Guardabarraca. That’s not possible though. Less than 24 hours later, I put my charge in her hands.

It’s a difficult task, he may die, she may have to choose his death for him as mercy. I believe if he can be saved she will do it. Thank you Vecina, for always being there for me, it’s a priceless gift to have a good neighbor.

My Nieghbor and her Squirrel

My Neighbor and her squirrel 🐿️

Recently I had to upgrade to a paid subscription on WordPress to continue to upload media. It cost 33$, I didn’t think much of it until I realized it’s a monthly charge! Not much unless you’re not gainfully employed and are starting your own business. So, I have added a Buy Me a Coffee option to this blog.  If you’d like to help me keep uploading unique images, you resonate with something I share, try out a recipe or take a book recommendation you enjoy, feel free to buy me a coffee!

There’s a membership option as well if you’d like to be an ongoing patron. No exclusive content yet, but there will be…

As, always, I appreciate every click, like, share, and follow. Coffee or no.

Have you ever tried to save a wild creature in need? Is it a fond memory? I would love to hear your story.

 

 

Sunsets in Nicaragua

Nicaragua is known for its sunsets, for good reason. This was taken last night from my terrace.

I am very grateful to have such a supportive readership, your being here, reading commenting and liking has been an immeasurable help to me on this journey of starting anew.  I will continue to post on VSVEVG, about life in Nicaragua, book reviews, more personal topics, and I will be putting a blog on my website that will focus on food, sustainability, and gardening. I’ll let you know when that’s up if you enjoy my food-related content.

Hasta Pronto! Thank you for being here, abrazos,

A

 

Day Trip to Rivas

 

Yesterday I thought, Great! I have a built-in post today because I had to go to Rivas to renew my visa. I’ll take pictures of the market, horse-drawn carts amidst traffic, street vendors, it’ll be great!

I went with a friend and we had a lovely day. So much so, I forgot to take a single picture!

But, since I’m a writer, not a photographer, let me tell you about it.

It’s about 45 minutes to Rivas from my house. I hire a driver because I don’t have a license and you do need one here, unlike Mexico when I lived there. One thing I love about living in a rural area in Central America is that going to town is an event. It feels like when I was a kid in the midwest and we went shopping for school clothes in the big town: Grinnell, or Rochester.

We headed out at 8 am with shopping bags, a cooler, car snacks, coffee, and the knowledge of every decent public bathroom from home to Rivas.

My friend climbed in the car and revealed that we would be traveling with the baby squirrel she had found the day before. It has to eat every couple of hours. Which sounded about right for most endeavors in Nicaragua, there’s usually a twist.

Nicaragua allows a 3-month visa only if you have been outside the country. You are allowed one 30-day extension to the 90-day visa.  We showed up at the Rivas immigration office at 9 and there were six people waiting, probably about a 2-hour wait. I said, let’s hit the market and come back at one. Hopefully, the place will be empty by then.

Downtown Rivas is a terrible place to drive or park, another good argument for a driver. Most of Rivas market runs along the sidewalks making the streets one lane, with no parking because the parking strips are full of vendors.

I wanted to get some bulk cat food, peanuts, which I conveniently bought at the same store, and my vegetables. Rivas also has a plethora of thrift shops: panas, or ropas americanas.

My friend and I love to thrift and we had 3 hours to kill. Thrifting is pretty good in Central America, in most places clothes are well under 10$ per item, and occasionally you find something unique and cheap. Today we came across a huge bin full of fabulous material, curtains and sheets, tablecloths, Christmas tree skirts, and blankets.

I bought a caramel velvet curtain, a dark grey linen curtain, and a gorgeous green cotton woven tablecloth, for 50 cords a piece(less than a buck and a half). It’s hard to find natural fiber fabric in Nicaragua.

While I was digging the baby awakened and my friend bottle-fed him on the store’s stoop. It was kind of the theme of the day, fill out immigration requests while the baby squirrel nurses, wait for our carryout, nurse the baby.  Wait for my bottles of bulk cleaning products to be filled, fill the baby squirrel. It was a lovely motif, relaxing, and endearing.

Time passed quickly, we had one hour before our return to immigration. Just enough for the fancy shopping, at La Colonial. It’s a grocery store. The gringo grocery. I bought dry beans that are not red. Red bean is THE bean in Nicaragua. I also bought wasabi, fancy crackers, whole wheat flour, and dark sesame oil. I was not able to buy, hot dogs, yes hot dogs, my mother loves them, or any decent cheese, unfortunately. Sometimes such luxury products require a trip to Managua, it’s a three-hour trip. One way.

I was right about immigration, we returned at one, and I was the only one applying for an extension. My friend, sat in the office chair feeding her baby and chatting with the immigration officer, she’s more outgoing than I am, and Spanish, so her Spanish is pretty good.

She’s particularly charming with a baby squirrel in her bag. The officer didn’t have any time to quiz me about why I have lived in Nicaragua so long with no residency, which was a bonus.

Let’s see what Nica ex-pat advice we can glean from this article.

  1. Don’t go to the immigration office first thing in the morning.
  2. If you want some nice natural fiber material, it’s a good idea to look in a thrift shop for curtains and tablecloths.
  3. Do as much of your shopping in the market as possible, it’s cheaper and supports local business.
  4. Don’t expect to get everything on your gringo list, even if you’ve purchased it before.
  5. Don’t drive without a license. Seems like a no-brainer, but there are many roadblocks, the purpose is to make money on fines. It’s easier to drive without a license in the U.S.
  6. Don’t worry if you need to take a baby animal with you, everyone will be charmed.

It was reassuring to me that I haven’t become obsessed with documenting my life for the sake of my blog. I have felt not present, and intrusive in the past taking photos for VSVEVG.  I had a lovely day, I hope I was able to share it with you well enough that you are still reading.

Next month I have to go to Costa Rica for a visa run, maybe I´ll take some pictures…