If one thing is consistent, it’s the total cluster found at border crossings. Crossing into Costa Rica was no different. Border towns are always dodgy. Lots of people milling about. Poorly marked immigration buildings, sometimes indistinguishable from the other dilapidated buildings. Navigating stamping out of the departure country and stamping in to the arrival country, keeping paperwork in order, sometimes we’re given small ticket-like papers that we’ll need to hold on to until we leave. Shacks line the road leading up to the border selling all manner of things, as if the country is trying to squeeze out the last dollar/peso/quetzal/lempera/córdoba from our pockets. Even the kids can’t be trusted. They ride beside us on their bikes “guiding” us to the border and then pester us for their fee.
We have yet to find the best way to change money to the next country’s currency. We’ve learned we get the best exchange rate if we do it outside the immigration building. However, this is not a private transaction. As much as we try, there are always a number of people who are witness to how much money changes hands. It would be very easy for someone to wait until we’re a few miles from the border and then rob us. At this crossing, we changed money about four miles from the border. We didn’t get the best rate, but it was a much more relaxed transaction.
Example of border shadiness: We’ve been trying to exchange the remaining Belize dollars we’re carrying. Turns out there’s not a huge demand for Belize dollars. No banks have been willing to accept them. One money changer at the Honduras/Nicaragua border agreed to take it. We exchanged the Belize dollars to Nicaraguan córdoba. Money changed hands, deal was done. At that point, we shouldn’t have lingered, we should have got out of dodge. But we ran into some Canadians and got to chatting. After about 10 minutes the money changer guy came back with the Belize money saying he wanted his córdoba back. Part of me wanted to say, sorry buddy, no take backs. But then I remembered we’re on bikes and no doubt this guy will get his córdoba back, one way or another. I pictured guys on motorcycles with big guns catching up to us somewhere down the road.
Then there are the entrance/exit border fees. We try to prepare ourselves as much as possible, so we know what is a legitimate fee and what is a bogus fee going into the pocket of the person on the other side of the desk. Like when the border agent tried to charge us a bribe to enter Guatemala. Or when leaving Mexico they attempted to charge us again for our visa, while a legitimate fee, we had already paid and thankfully had the receipt to prove it.
Everything we had read said that there was no fee to leave Nicaragua. I go in with both passports to get our exit stamp while Scott stays outside to watch the bikes. After waiting in a very slow moving line, I’m told there’s a fee of 51 cordoba ($2) per person. There was also a small fee to get into the country. It really would be easier if they would just bundle these. She shows me the receipt that I’ll receive after paying the fee. It looks legit. The problem, we don’t have Nicaraguan córdoba because we already changed our córdobas to colón. And they won’t accept $2 worth of Costa Rican colón. I really don’t want to stand in this line again after I go find another money changer to change some of the colón back to córdoba. She will take US dollars. I ask the lady to wait un minuto, while I motion to Scott to bring me some of the stash of US dollars we have buried in our panniers.
Meanwhile, the scenes from Better Off Dead are running through my head where the paperboy chases John Cusack while shouting I want my two dollars!! If we made a run for it I imagine this lady chasing us down shouting the equivalent in Spanish…Quiero mi cincuenta y uno córdoba!!