Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Hotel Sitio, Liberia, Costa Rica

10:45 p.m.

Just up the street from this hotel is a “Food Mall” at the town's main intersection. "Burger King", "Church’s Chicken" and "Papa Murphy’s Pizza". I went to "Church’s" for the first time, and have to admit it wasn’t bad! Heart attack on a plate though. We’ve exported our health problems to other cultures which must now learn the lessons the U.S. has been struggling with for fifty years.


A 2:00 p.m. check-out time at the "La Mar". I actually got out about 1:30 and drove the 12 or so miles to the border. Seeing the congestion and chaos ahead, turned around to refuel at a relatively quiet station.

I was besieged by tramitadores (and a solitary money changer) as soon as I pulled up to the border. I held them at bay until a police officer came over and broke it up, scolding them for their behavior. It was pouring rain and I was getting drenched. I then turned to the money changer, pulled him under some eaves to get out of the rain, and asked his rate. 470 Colones per dollar. My notes on the rates indicated 485 was the market rate. He came up to 475 but said "no mas", indicating he made very little commission on this (which seemed accurate.) From what I can see, these guys are no worse than banks. With their service charges, the banks may even be worse. I exchanged a $100 bill (which the “Lonely Planet” guide says most Costa Ricans won’t touch).

The policeman directed me through a gate (and beyond the reach of the tramitadores), to Nicaraguan immigration and customs. Outside the building, a uniformed man, greeted me with an umbrella and escorted me under cover. He collected my permit, then directed me inside. Found three other Americans (about my age) waiting in line. They have moved here from Seattle. Living about 100 miles west of the capital, San Jose, they said there is much development going on there, with many North Americans moving down. It seemed a good opportunity (to cash in on the real estate boom.) They warned about the bad roads ahead.

My passport is quickly filling up. I will probably have to seek an embassy soon to get some additional pages. Paying a $2 fee, formally exited Nicaragua and moved down the road to Costa Rica’s immigration and customs. Before going further, the bike had to go through a disinfection. A worker sprayed off the mud on and around the tires. I asked him if he would clean the whole bike. (Getting cocky now, aren’t we?) No cost for the service.

The Costa Rican side seemed much more crowded and, surprisingly, less organized. Officers directed me through a building to the immigration office. I was freezing as I stood sopping wet in the air-conditioned office. Insurance is mandatory and I had to pay a $20 fee for coverage. After filling out immigration documents, I was sent to another office, then across the street to customs. The young customs officer had his head down on the desktop. I woke him and he handed me a customs form to fill out, then walked outside. He logged me in, then sent me two hundred meters down the road. Coming to a security gate, I pulled out the documents and asked what the man required.

He said I missed a step and sent me back to another office. This turned out to be where they actually registered the liability coverage. More documents to fill out. Outside the building, I found two Danes, apparently father and son, looking over the motorcycle. They had come to deliver two fire trucks that Denmark is donating to Nicaragua.

At about an hour or hour and a half, this was the lengthiest border crossing yet. But finally, I was able to move on into Costa Rica. Thus far, no border officials (nor police or military inspectors) have shown anything more than a casual interest in what I'm carrying on the bike. There have been a couple questions about what I have in the panniers, but no one has actually wanted to look. We'll see if it's the same going north!

Rain was steady and very cool, with no sign of letting up. It reminded me of some of the miserable riding along the Gaspé. By the time I reached Liberia, I had enough. Though I traveled less than 100 miles today, I needed to dry off. I didn’t care to become ill.

Liberia seemed to have just a single main intersection, with a few hotels around it. I had to make a choice, and ended up here.

Talked the desk manager down slightly in his rate. $45, breakfast and taxes included. In my mind, still too much. (When am I going to start staying within my “$50-per-day budget”?) The hotel, a “Best Western”, has seen (much) better days, though they are doing remodeling of the casino. In my room, toilet paper flowers adorned the bathroom!

After changing into a dry shirt, I took a walk down to the Food Mall. Afterwards, continued east across the highway and discovered Liberia’s central district. Near the park, I found several internet cafés. Stopped in a little café for a cappuccino.

Returned to the hotel and packed up my computer, returning to the internet café directly across from the coffee shop. It was the only one that didn’t seem to have a problem with me bringing in my own computer.

These internet cafes are some of the most “happening” places in town. Thank goodness for the younger generations, who are embracing technology and even dragging their parents in to show them how it works.

Worked from 6:30 until their 10:00 p.m. closing. Though I checked on it periodically, I didn’t feel too uncomfortable about leaving the bike parked out on the street.

Stopped at a grocery and picked up some roasted-in-the-shell peanuts. Two bags, from two different producers. Sampling both, they were clearly not fresh. I guess I'll wait until I'm back in the U.S. to try peanuts again.

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