Sunday, January 10, 2016

Slowdown (Nicaragua)

I didn't realize it at the time, but Ometepe was the start of a slowdown of my trip. At that point I was about 75 days into traveling, and I'd started to get a little drained. Mexico was amazing, but tiring because I was on the bike almost every day. Central America had slowed me down as far as distance goes, but I'd been doing more activities and staying just as busy with the Belgians and the French. So a break was in order.

After leaving Ometepe and catching the ferry back to the mainland, I looked up directions to San Juan del Sur. On the map, there was a very clear road that was obviously the shortest route, but Google was refusing to route me that way. Even after making my way partway down the road, it still wanted me to turn around and go out of my way to take a different road that was clearly a longer distance. Assuming that meant a poorly paved road which might be fun, I decided to go for it.

It turned out I was correct - the road was dirt for pretty much the entire length, and it made for a very fun ride. Not the horrible loose rocks and gravel of Semuc Champey, this was an enjoyable ride over dirt bumps and curves, with the occasional muddy spot to cross while spinning my back tire a bit. After a while I got back to pavement and rode through an area full of huge mansions (and signs advertising house prices that would be pretty common in the States), and then pulled into San Juan.

Honestly, there's not a ton more to say about San Juan. The hostel was great, and had a small pool that was nice to cool off in during the day. The town was small and had some good shops and restaurants, and a really cool little market with good food. Every morning I went to a place called Dia de los Donuts for some gourmet donuts (with flavors like PB&J, Snickers, and Oreo) for one specialty donut and one of their perfect plain glazed donuts, both of which I would be done with before making it back to the hostel. Every day I went out to the beach with whoever wanted to and laid out on a towel or went out in the water. Every evening we'd watch the sunset from the beach, and then get some dinner somewhere in town. And every night, we went out (at least for a little bit) to the bars, though mostly to the same one, because they played good music and had good deals on drinks.

During the day on the beach. We made plans to walk up to that statue one of the days, but never did.

The sunsets were gorgeous every day.
Really, really gorgeous.

The boats made for a nice backdrop.

And they'd last for a good half hour or 45 minutes, long after the sun had already disappeared.
It was beautiful, and peaceful, and relaxing. The only real interesting thing was when the power went out Saturday night. It's apparently not too uncommon, because almost every restaurant, bar, and hotel had a generator to fire up and keep things going. We spent the night partying at the bar and I forgot until we got back outside that they were running only on generator power.

Luckily we had some moonlight to walk by.
And that was San Juan. We were down to five when we arrived, and down to four by the time we left as Delphine headed out as well. I said goodbye to the three guys with plans to meet them in Costa Rica, and headed for the border.

The border was, it turns out, the worst border I've crossed so far. It took me over an hour just to get the right stamps to exit Nicaragua, a process which for other countries never took more than 20 minute or so. I tried to go to immigration, who wanted me to go to customs for the motorcycle, who told me I needed to go to the police first to get a stamp. "Where are they?" I asked. Outside, and she pointed at the door. I walked out the door, and didn't see anything except a parking lot and some rickety shacks at the other end of it where people were selling food and drinks. I circled around the building again, tried asking someone else, and got a similar answer. "Outside, and bring your motorcycle."

Finally I noticed someone in a uniform taking notes about one of the cars in the parking lot, so I asked them. They pointed at a teenager - one of the "helpers" that are ubiquitous at borders. I told him I didn't need help, I just needed the stamp from the police, and he pointed over at one of the rickety shacks on the other side of the parking lot.

Sure enough, there were two cops in uniform in one of the shacks, and they gave me a stamp on my paperwork and sent me back in to customs. When I'd gone by the first time there was no one there, but now there was a line and I had to sit around for half an hour just to get the stamp from them. Finally a stamp from immigration, and I was ready to leave. I got on the bike and headed for the exit. The officer there stopped me and took a look at my documents and said "You can't leave, you need a stamp from the police first."

You have got to be kidding me. I pointed to the stamp I had and said that was from them. He said I needed a different one. So I parked the bike back in the lot, went back to the police, and asked if they had a different stamp. They didn't, of course - they only had the one. So I got back on the bike, went back to the exit, and tried again. The officer who had originally declined my paperwork was sitting there, but as I pulled up he got up and walked into the building and let someone else take care of my paperwork - and, as it turns out, I'd had everything right the first time, and I was finally able to leave.

I thought I had a lot of stuff. I can't imagine picking this thing up if you dropped it.
Getting into Costa Rica wasn't much longer than most borders - but that still meant about an hour and a half, making my total border crossing time close to three hours. I spent a little bit of time in line talking to the owner of a rather packed up bike with Costa Rica plates who seemed to be having more trouble with the border than I was. All the delays put me a little bit later on my arrival than I wanted, so I finally took off for La Fortuna, my destination for the night.

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