An adventuresome failure

OK, it was an experiment. 'Twas time for me to re-up my Nica tourist visa. I had read here on NL last year that someone had gotten a fresh 90-day Nica visa on returning from a quick trip to Honduras. In fairness, it was questioned. I too doubted it since HO & Nic are members of the CA-4, for the purposes of trade & migration. Still, since Costa Rica has been raising its entry barrier to Nicaraguans & other foreigners, I thought it worth the gamble.

From Leon to Chinandega to the border at Guasaule it took less than 3 hours travel & cost 65 cords each. At the border there's a feeding-frenzy of 'helpers' seeking to 'serve' you. It's repulsive; they paw at you & grab for your bag. They drive covered bicy-taxis (tricyclos). Guasaule is desert-like and the noon heat is oppressive, so I settled on a price with one. I ended up paying him double. It cost me 50 cords to leave Nic and $3 to enter HO. Tho I'd asked for a week, HO customs stamped my passport with a 90-day visa. (Go figure!) The van to Choluteca cost 35 limps each (Honduran pesos = lempiras, 20.1/$).

Because I hated getting cheated by the money changers at borders, I had saved some 260 limps from 2011 (last crossing) to take me to the closest ATM. They'd lost 6% of their value. Time takes his toll, too. Better than my last pass into CR when all the colones I'd saved from the previous year were worthless (at the border). A CR bank later exchanged most, not the small, for the new bills. (A CR scam, I'm convinced. They blame counterfeiters. Meanwhile the Central Bank profits.)

The excessive presence of police & military, well-armed, in Choluteca surprised me. (Preparing to nip a revolution in the bud? Since the coup, the political scene in HO has not been exactly tranquil.) Still, prosperity/abundance was evident where we went. I asked about hotels while in the ATM line; they steered me to Hacienda Gualicheme (pronounced Wally-chemie - a chemist named Wally? I had to check it out.) across the river. Gorgeous. Rooms surrounded a large courtyard with two pools, restaurant & huge, old trees. Quiet, relaxing & very expensive. A 1950 Allis-Chalmers tractor was parked by the gated guard-house entrance. (The original owners were named Williams.) We were probably the only guests that arrived by taxi, without reservations and the only ones without a business account to write it all off. What the hey, king & queen for a day on businessmen's Fantasy Island. (We saw two businesswomen there too, but they didn't appear to be having so much fun.)

The ride up the mountains to San Marco in Blanquita Express was a comfortable, viewing pleasure. (Unlike our ride to Guasaule bent over in a rickty van packed with 20 souls, unable to see all of the volcano San Cristobal as we passed by it.) A room for two at the Hotel Barcelona (a monster flat screen in their restaurant showed Bonanza's Hoss speaking Spanish) in chilly San Marco only cost 400 limps ($20), but we decided to truck on to Esteli that day. Again squeezed into a van (giving me that wetback feeling) we made for the border at Espino. Compared to Guasaule's hell, el Espino is heaven on Earth. It cost me 70 limps to leave HO and $12 to enter Nic - alas, without a new 90-day Nica visa stamp. Nica customs was nice, but intransigent.

Having allowed for failure, I've still 20 days to re-up. Either I pay $1/day to overstay my visa (need some 60 days), the convenient choice, or pay the crossing fees to dip into CR, including the $25 ticket out, the adventurer's or masochist's (depending on mood/tolerance level) choice. CR is beautiful, but expensive and Ticos simply ain't no fun.

The bus ride from Somoto to Esteli was a typical Nicaraguan treat. We were serenaded by a 10-year-old (no guitar, no recorded music, just voice) who belted out with impressive volume, but little tonal range, a ranchero song of love-lost/life-pains. I tipped him just for chutzpah. Later, an overly well-fed young woman sold 'vitamin' pills that cured everything: headache, diabetes, parasites, diarrhea, &c. I suppressed a chuckle at the thought of snake oil, 150 years after the wild West. Then I was shocked to see how many rubes around us shelled out worn, coveted 10 & 20 cord bills for 'em. Our bus left the Pan-Am highway to loop Palacaguina. They may have the most unusual park statue in the world: a sharp-shooter with rifle standing atop a 3-story tower. It brought to my mind the U.Texas nutcase, not what they intend, I'm sure.

Closer to Esteli, I noticed many more fields growing tobacco than my last pass through the area. Coincidentally, Nicaragua's Third Tobacco Festival was being celebrated in Esteli, streets around the central park blocked off, iced beer a plenty and a live band open to all. We lucked out with availability at our hotel of choice downtown, El Meson, clean, hot shower, wi-fi, & courtyard garden, 600 cords for two ($24). Esteli is a rapidly growing unidimensional town. The wife loves shopping there. We were back in tropical Leon, jodido, the next afternoon. Wiser, poorer & tired.

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I'm Going To

El Espino next week, I'll let you know how I make out.

I'll be driving, and don't need a Nica Visa re-up, but do need to re-up the van I brought down at Christmas. Mostly, I want to chat with my aduana friend there about what exactly I can clear through Espino . . .without involving Managua. I don't think I'll get "exactly," but I'll probably get a good indication of what he can do.

I successfully did this at Las Manos towards the end of last year, drove to El Paraiso for the day and returned. I didn't need the visa re-up then, another car thing, but they gave me another 90 days anyway when I re-entered Nicaragua. If Nicaragua would just go to 90 days on cars like everyone else, life would be easier.

Putting the car into Honduras is a pricey $29 for the permit, and you can't keep it to use it again. It's surrendered when you leave Honduras.

Shelley and I used an airline itinerary to enter CR two weeks ago. They only glanced at the line that had our name and flight departure date. We had a car waiting in San Jose, but I had learned earlier that "I've got my car waiting for me" without the car paperwork,, which of course, is in the glove box of the car, doesn't cut it for the exit requirement. On the plus side, they have suspended the $7 exit tax .. ..

We were greeted effusively by a Nica border guard when we came back (young woman, pretty too), so much so, that I was momentarily at a loss for words. "Bienvenidos a Nicaragua!" I hadn't seen her before, so maybe she hadn't got the memo yet from Rebecca and La Chamu: "We don't want tourists, go back to CR". Actually, the whole Peñas Blancas experience has become painless now that everyone knows me.

Sorry to hear about the no-visa thing, but it still sounds like you had some fun.

OK, Made The Espino

run to re-up my car today. I left on the spur of the moment since the rest of the week was filling up and I was running out of time.

We left Condega about 3 PM, hit three Transito stops on the way to Somoto where I spent some time arguing about my internet license extension,, but other than wasting some time, no big deal. . .I wasn't paying them any bribes, so they were forced to choose between writing me a ticket for an expired license,, with the paperwork in hand that described the extension, or letting me drive on.

They also have two or three stops between Condega and Estelí, a total of six officers making $200 /month each. If they staffed the road more realistically, with two officers, they could pay the guys $600 /month, an amount you could live on in Nicaragua.

Leaving Nicaragua was no problem ($2), entering Honduras, ditto. I had a nice young lady prepare my car permit ($35), got my passport stamped ($3), and got hit up for a ride from one of the Honduras Aduana ladies for a ride to Choluteca (family emergency and no more bus that afternoon was the story). I hadn't planned on going that far, dinner in San Marcos, and a fast turn was what I had planned, but what the hey, what's another 40 minutes.

So we said OK to Casta and another Guatemalan guy who was going to Guate City. About ten minutes before San Marcos we hit a Honduran police road block. There wasn't much in the van, but they rummaged through every inch of it. They made the Guatemalan empty his pockets, and he had $1500. They discovered my stash of small quantities of Mexican Pesos, Quetzales, Limps, and Colones that I keep in my glove box for border crossing. These are in clear plastic envelopes,, less than $1K total. I had maybe another $1k in dollars and Cordobas in my wallet.

Now there was blood in the water . . . and it was probably the end of the day, and the sharks were thirsty. The Guatemalan guy jumped onto a truck that had stopped at the checkpoint, but Casta hung with us. The three took my paperwork to the hood of their car and proceeded to minutely disect it. It wasn't long before the brighter of the three found the license expiration.

He came back with too much of a smile. and I pointed out that he had the license extension in his hand too. They all argued that this was not legal for Honduras, and we went back and forth for about ten minutes in this vein. I pointed out that if the Idaho license was valid, so was the extension. It was obvious where it was going . . .but I wasn't playing.

Finally, I said, "Give me the ticket, I'll spend the night in Choluteca, find a lawyer in the morning and we'll call the US consulate (I don't even know if there is still one in Tegus, and I certainly wouldn't expect an help if there were), get it straightened out". "The license will be waiting for me in San Marcos, right?"

This kind of set him off, and he started off on some monologue about how he was the authority on the road, and if he didn't accept the license, it wasn't valid here, or in Choluteca, or in Tegucigalpa . .or anywhere else in Honduras. The other two guys had moved to the other side of the road, which I took to be a good sign, they weren't getting into the middle of this for the price of a few beers.

Finally, he quieted down, explained that he couldn't understand the extension form, it should be in Spanish (he's right, I should have had it translated and notarized). He then confided that he was studying English in San Marcos one evening a week. . . So, we parted friends, but I lost a half hour.

Except for the potholes, and the two places where half the highway was missing, the trip to Choluteca was uneventful. We dropped off Casta downtown, she got a taxi home. It was well after dark by then, and I wasn't doing any Barrio navigating.

Eddy and I had dinner at El Asadero, not that great, meat too well done, but plenty of it. I downed a couple of beers, and we recounted the severity of the police check. They made me empty my pockets, frisked me (but didn't say boo about the knife on my belt). They clearly wanted a bribe.

Coming back we talked about going south (Chinandega, Leon, Estelí and finallly Condega, or north to Las Manas (almost to Tegus). Neither was a one night option, and I had already planned a busy day on the farm. The trip back was completely uneventful, police had gone home, we cruised through the Honduran border, Nicaragua fumigated me ($3), aduana blessed me, and there was no one in the immigration line. The place was really dead.

But, Francisco Corrales insisted that I had no Nicaraguan entry stamp in my passport. I knew that wasn't true because I always watch to make sure I get the stamp. They have a little UV light, and I guess the ink has some florescent capability, and he kept passing the passport pages under the light. I had the little papelito with the appropriate stamp, I always staple it to the page in the passport that faces the photo. It had a legible stamp, but barely.

This went on for about fifteen minutes, finally the clerk next to him said, " I saw the stamp when he left earlier this afternoon, I know it's there too". And it was. It was so faint that the Honduran car girl didn't see it and put her big black stamp over it. So much for the ink florescing. . .they're going to have to work on the formula -- and a few more things.

So I said, "I though this was all computerized now" and Francisco replies, "Oh, yes it is, I can see on the screen where you entered Nicaragua on the 24th of December, exited at Peñas Blancas on Jan 8th, and re-entered at Peñas Blancas on the 15th. I just couldn't find the stamp in your passport".

I put on my best poker face, bit my tongue hard, and politely asked, "If you could see on your computer that I entered on the 15th, what difference does the stamp make"? (and WTF are you wasting my time, but I didn't say that, I don't know how to say Why TF or What TF in Spanish yet).

Francisco, "Well, it doesn't, but I just wondered why the stamp wasn't there..." and took my $12 He re-upped me for another 90 days, gave me another papelito. WTF ??

The car permit guy was a friend, and I already had a bag of Fritos for him. That took all of five minutes, free.

I suspect Daddy-YO got Francisco too, lean guy with a fox face, a born clerk with ornate handwriting ? I usually don't see this kind of grief.

florescent ink

I believe the main stamp is not florescent but the date info is. (I knew for sure a couple of years ago. The problem is that this might be the case for one of the other countries, not Nicaragua.) I also remember the color being different between a couple of trips.

It is all pretty amusing how there is so much concern for what appears in your passport but that all the records are on-line and have been for years. When I got my most recent Movimiento Migratorio form from Immigration I remember it had my first entry/exit from back in 2000.

As for WTF, anyone know the appropriate Nicaraguan expression?

WTF - nothing that translates directly but you could try...

"A la verga"

"Que es la Verga"

"A la Puta"

"Que es esa mierda"

The cop on the street doesnt have a computer on him.

The stamp is his only means of knowing you have entered the country legally. just a corrupt person..

but for me to sit there and argue with a cop for a couple of 100 cords..i just give it to him..thats 1 of the things that makes life simple down here..but then im just a simple..guy... but then too i bet when a lot of people need something..they dont give a bribe

Key West has, and continues to make life complicated

for himself here. Each to their own.

I have met hm twice now and I think he is a doer not a talker but the way of "doing" seems to be designed to make for interesting stories.

I leave a small (well, size 11) footprint....Key West leaves tank tracks. Having said that, If you want something done, ask a busy person and Key West is that person!!

Like me, he has a much nicer wife than he deserves!!