Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Days 22 and 23

I have to start by saying how bitterly disapointed I was in Granada. Rosi and I spent a month in Nicaragua in 2002 and at least four days of that in Granada soaking up the sites, feeling the very cool vibe and partaking in a volcano and canapy tour. Back then it`s tourist scene was still in it`s infancy and we were just as apt to be mistaken for aid workers as for tourists. There were lots of VERY budget hippy backpacker types but very few others. Not so much now. Now it`s become a hot bed for Euro Trash and Sex Tourism. We were able to take in the lovely experience of young German soccer hoodlems showing their prowess by drinking beer for breakfast and sharing their favourite toast and college fight songs with the rest of the restaurant, followed in the evening by middle aged and older, single male tourists with young (in some cases VERY young) Chicita`s on their arm. I guess it`s what happens when new dollars flow into an area with no infrastructure to deal with it and no experience on the dark side of capitalism.

The good news though, is once we left Granada and headed to the border on the morning of Day 22 things changed - dramtically and quickly. It very soon became the Nicaragua I remembered. Smiling faces, a level of civility and calmness unseen in Honduras and Guatemala and a sense of renewal and vibrancy. We chatted with locals when we asked for directions - because once again we got lost trying to leave town - and even had a great conversation with a new member of the Policia Nacional, who only wanted to practice his English. I have to say, it`s still one of my favourite places, Granada excepted, and I`d go back in a minute.

The day continued with a great run to the border.

Ah, the border. My nemisis. This time though it was a little different. Yes, it was chaotic and tested out patience but we were able to make our way through without handles and without bribes or fees. OK, one attempt at a bribe but it back-fired. The first step is to get your passport stamped at immigration but this is a major trans-migration bus route and at any time there are litterly hundreds trying to get through. The process to get out of Nicaragua wasn`t too bad - only an hour or so but when we got to the Costa Rica side the line up was at least 160 people long. Yikes! As we stood there with a WTF look on our faces a handler approached and said for $5.00 each he could get us to the front of the line. What the heck, for $5.00 we were in - but no money would be paid until we were stamped. He proceeded to give us preliminary forms to fill out and then very underhandedly had me collect all three passports and he hussled me to the back of the building where he tried to sneak me into the outgoing line. Of course I got caught by the customs police and had a VERY worried moment but all she did was kick me out of the building making sure that every other person in the place knew who I was and what I`d done. Soooooo, we fired the handler and stood in line for 45 minutes until we received our legitimate entry stamp.

Now here`s the kicker. Costa Rica is just as bad as any other country with the exception that the fees were legitimate and there were no bribes. It still took 2 more hours, numerous different customs agents, piles of paperwork and copies of copies. The irony is the rest of the country is well organized, professional and a bastion of efficiency. All I can figure is they keep the border the way it is in order to maintain their standing in some weird ``Third World`` club.

The rest of the drive was almost surreal after what we`ve seen and done. The road was a silky-smooth velvety black ribbon of perfection that gently caressed our tires with a gentle hum. Narry a pot hole or tope to be seen. The road was overhung with tall thick trees giving everything an ambient glow and the coutryside was clean lush, geen and exceedingly clean.
We passed through two small towns that were clean and well laid out and eventually stopped at the first town of size called Liberia.

It was fantastic. Most of the signs were bi-lingual, everything was clean and organized and
we booked into a Best Western. So how come I wasn`t ecstatic? I should be loving this but I wasn`t. And then that`s when it hit me: Costa Rica isn`t Central America, it`s Central America Lite. It`s what the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce would design in a joint venture with Disney if they were going to design a country for tourists. Liberia looked more like Tempe or Scottsdale than any place else, right down to the strip mall with Churches Chicken, Burger King and Poppa Johns Pizza. I was only out of Nicaragua a day and already I missed it desperately. Is it possible to have two mistresses? Is there room in my heart for more than Mexico. Of course, because after all, this IS Latin America. Viva La Amor!
Mileage 241 - not much but it was still a long day with a border crossing factored in.

Day 23 - Today
Costa Rica lived up to it`s reputation well today and even I have to admit I can certainly see the appeal. First the road: it was excellent the whole way. There were a few times we got stuck behind a transport because there are no passing lanes but nothing worse than the Hope Princeton Hwy. The scenery was beyond fantastic. Cool mountain air, lush greenery, manacured lawns and well kept and organized huge ranches along the way. The gas stations are staffed by clerks that speak some English and we saw lots of tourists in rental cars making their way to one beach resort or another. It may not be my usual thing but I coped as best I could!

We`re now in San Jose for two and a half days of R&R. We`re going to leave the bikes locked up tomorrow and the day after and explore the city on foot. There are some great museums and a couple of day tours we can book right here at the hotel. Viva La Tourista!

Mileage Today - 225
Total Mileage - 6,106

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