Borders, Granada and future plans

Main square and cathedral in Granada

I am now in Granada, Nicaragua. I remember why Marilyn and I ended up staying here eight days instead of the two I had originally planned. It is a beautiful colonial town, with just the right amount of tourist amenities like good hotels and good restaurants and has not yet been overwhelmed by gringos and assorted lowlifes.

Pool inside the Patio del Malinche Hotel

I am staying at the Patio del Malinche Hotel and practicing my Catalan with the owners. I also had yet another great steak at El Zaguan restaurant. Hey, I am staying in the top-rated hotel and eating at the top-rated restaurant according to TripAdvisor. The only downside to Granada is the young girls working as prostitutes in the main square. I was accosted three times when I crossed the square to go to the bank machine on Friday night. Sad!

I crossed two borders in the last three days and was again harassed by the Panamanian customs in Divisa, where I was deported from last time. OK, let’s start the narrative.

After my mud-splattered jaunt to the end of the road, I went back to Panama City for two nights, staying at Pequeño Paraíso B&B with Richard and Anita (TripAdvisor review, but I believe they should be in Panama City listings). I had to fix my winch, and Richard helped me as he is a bit of an electrical whiz. He does run a company installing electric wire fencing (which is not used for cattle in Panama but to shock and awe potential house thieves.)

I had two superb meals on Monday and Tuesday nights. I went to Marina Marina one night and back to Maito for yet another absolutely incredible meal.

Crossing the Centenario bridge in May 2010.

I left Wednesday morning for David in Northern Panama, thinking of going into Costa Rica on Thursday. I got lost on the way, but finally found the new Centenario bridge over the Canal which is now partially open after getting washed out in the floods last December.

Mostly uneventful drive except for the customs guards in Divisa, a nowhere crossroads dorp in the middle of Panama. Last time we passed through there they put us through the wringer, extracted $416 from us and escorted us out of the country.

This time, I did not see any road block, but as I passed by, I heard a shout which I ignored. A few minutes later, a vehicle with flashing lights pulls me over. A guy comes out of the vehicle and I give him a puzzled look. He comes to the window and says “aduana” and says I did not stop when he signalled me. I told him I did not see him, and asked him where he was. He told me, rather vaguely, that he was on the right but that I obviously was concentrating on driving. This is bullshit; there was no one there, they were on the other side of the road, where I heard the shout from. He told me he had to give me a ticket for not stopping, in an obvious attempt to extract a bribe. I told home: “Fine, I’ll pay the ticket, but I did not see you.”

I handed the truck papers, fearing that he would give me a hard time because it said that I would depart from the port of Colón rather than the land border at Paso Canoas. Then his partner shows up, who just happens to be the agent who escorted us out of the country in January. The first guy tells the other that my truck papers are in order. Handshakes and fake smiles all around. F…ing arseholes. Then the first guy says I seem like a good person, so he will let me go. Then he has the effrontery to ask me fro something for a “cafecito“, a little coffee. I answered with a flat “No!” twice. I felt like telling him: “Go get your cafecito from your boss who ripped me off $400 last time.”

I got to David at 4:00PM or so in a diluvial tropical rainstorm and stayed at the Best Western again, not a bad hotel (newly renovated and clean and pretty cheap at $50.00. Supper at the hotel restaurant, a long call to Marilyn to use up the rest of my money on the Panamanian cell phone.

Left David at 8:00AM for the Costa Rica border. The formalities of getting out of Panama were a pain as per usual: get a photocopy, get one stamp here, then get the immigration, the the customs guy wanted to inspect my luggage—this is when I was leaving Panama—and my truck. Like why do they need to check my luggage?? Finally tells me it’s OK, and then tells me to wait again. Then I get the stamp and am finally on my way. Then to the Costa Rican side, where somebody tells me I need to get the truck fumigated. So I get it fumigated, go to the customs window to get my temporary vehicle importation permit reactivated. As I wrote earlier, I have two days left of the original 90 days. They tell me I have to go into the office.

So I hand my papers to the Tica customs agent there who checks things out on her computer. It turns out that the computer in San José says that my permit was surrendered, not suspended. So they need to call San José to get permission to reactivate my permit. I wait, getting more and more impatiently, for some bureaucrat in San José to take his finger out of his arse and deal with my case.

I walk around the customs area, and get a charge card for my cell phone as I have now put the Costa Rican chip back in it. I had to put more money in as they said my balance had expired. I have a hard time putting in additional money in as they changed the number you call. Anyway, I add $10.00 worth of time and I find out I now have a $26 balance on my cell phone. So I now have a couple of hours calling time with Marilyn.

After three hours, the Customs agent tells me my papers are OK. I am all smiles and we go to my vehicle with the agricultural inspection agent who needs to inspect my vehicle and see the proof of fumigation. I had been chatting with the guy for a couple of hours about agriculture and his work and animal diseases.

It is now almost noon as Costa Rica is one hour behind (after?? I can never get this straight) Panama. So I hightail it to Liberia, which is seven hours away. Along the way, I stop for ceviche at Ceviche Remy, owned by a Canadian. The ceviche was OK. The I stop in Uvita at a restaurant to check my email.

I get to Liberia after dark, which is not good. I tried following a big truck for quite a while after sundown, but the interior of my windshield is dirty and I get blinded every time a car crosses me. I stop and try to clean the windshield to no avail. So I slowly make my way to Liberia where I stay once again at El Punto Hotel. I had a magnificent meal at Ozaki Peruvian-Japanese fusion restaurant.

The next morning I leave rather late after a couple of hours chat with Mariana, the owner of El Punto who is also an architect. We talked mainly about construction in our respective countries. She is familiar with US construction methods as she studied architecture in Texas, I believe. $600.00 square metre to build a simple concrete and block house in Costa Rica compared to $2,000.00 in the Yukon for our standard wood frame construction.

I get to the border just before noon, where this guy tries to help me. He tells me to go to customs. I tell him I don’t need anybody to help me out of Costa Rica, but I will need someone to get me through Nicaraguan customs. He tells me I need a photocopy, I say no. of course he is right. Anyway he introduces me to his buddy Fabel (sp.?) who proves to be a godsend. Anyway , I give him 5,000 Colones and exchange some dollars for Nicaraguan Córdobas.

I agree on $20.00 for Fabel. I hate it when they say give me what you want, or give me a tip. Tell me how much you want from your service up front and I will give you a tip if you give me great service. And they are necessary at some border; actually at most borders in Central America.

So to get into Nicaragua, the steps Fabel guided me through were:

  1. Fumigation
  2. Go to Migración (immigration) and pay $US12.00 for my tourist visa.
  3. Then go to a tourist office for a stamp for $5.00
  4. Then get the insurance for the vehicle $12.00
  5. Then grab a customs agent to check my vehicle
  6. Then Fabel runs to a policeman just before he goes to lunch so he can sign piece of paper (we would had to wait for another hour otherwise)
  7. Then to another Aduana window, free this time, to get my temporary vehicle importation permit. Except we had to wait for half an hour while the officials had lunch and read their paper.
  8. Then another 15 minute wait at the window next door to get the police to check my papers.
  9. Then at the gate pay $1.00 to one guy, get another to check some of paperwork, and hand over s slip of paper saying that I went through the process to a third.
  10. Get out of the gate on the highway and pay Fabel his well earned $20.00 and a $5.00 tip.

But before the gate, I went & got a Nicaraguan cell phone chip. Fabel and this other guy had had a spirited discussion about whether Claro or Movistar provided the best service. I commented it was rather like sports fans: Real Madrid vs. Barcelona (i.e. Leafs vs Habs in a Canadian context). They laughed, but being both Barça fans, they each claimed that their favoured cell phone provider was like Barcelona ad the other was Madrid. Nicaraguans are also baseball fans, but I could not think of an equivalent baseball rivalry.

I also made a decision about what to do. I am going to Mexico and leaving the pickup truck there. It’s no problem getting a six month permit in Mexico and there are no penalties for leaving a Canadian vehicle there longer. I just need to find a place where, preferably in Oaxaca state, but anywhere in Mexico is fine. So, gentle reader, I would appreciate any suggestions or connections you might have in Mexico that could house my truck until this winter.


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