Border Run to Nicaragua
“When I told my friends and family my plan for this week,” writes resident Editor Rebecca Tyre, “they thought I had finally lost my mind.
“I needed to leave Panama after my lawful 90 days in the country was up. Instead of following my normal routine and flying off to another warm country or back home to Canada, I decided to try something new. I bought a ticket for the bus from Panama City to Granada, Nicaragua.
“I stepped on the Tica Bus at Panama’s Gran Terminal at 11 o’clock Sunday morning with a carry-on bag of snacks, water, and sleeping pills (just in case). I was immediately impressed with my international travel accommodation. The Tica Bus was more comfortable, spacious, and clean than any airplane I’ve flown in.
“I’ve traveled across Panama more times than I can remember, so I slept as much as possible for that leg of the trip. About seven hours after departing Panama City, my bus pulled in to the frontera, the border between Panama and Costa Rica. I have driven myself across this border before, and I can tell you that the process runs much more smoothly when traveling by bus than when crossing in your own car.
“We stepped off the bus on the Panama side and received our exit stamps. We were then corralled in a small room while our luggage was sniffed by a large German Sheppard and rifled through by a Panamanian customs agent. None of the bags drew suspicion, so we were able to proceed to the Costa Rican side of the border, where we stood in line for our entry visas. Then our bags were inspected again, this time by Costa Rican customs agents.
“In all, we spent two hours at the border. Then we loaded back on to the bus and took off for San Jose. Because I had paid US$20 extra for the executive bus, twice between Panama City and San Jose I was fed hot meals of local cuisine (a piece of meat, rice, and beans). Had I not opted for the executive bus, I would have had the opportunity to buy food along the way.
“In San Jose, I had a five-hour layover before my onward bus to Nicaragua. It was the middle of the night, but I wasn’t alone. A handful of other travelers from my bus from Panama were also going on to Nicaragua. We stretched out on benches in the waiting area to nap the hours away. I was glad for the pillow and blanket I’d brought along. The blanket, especially, came in handy, not only in the bus terminal, but also later, on the bus, when the driver cranked up the air conditioning.
“The San Jose Tica Bus station has a 24-hour café, by the way, which is good for a pastry, coffee, and a newspaper.
“All Tica Buses are equipped with televisions, a DVD player, and a bathroom. The driver alternated Spanish-language movies with ones in English. State of Play was a great diversion between San Jose and the Nicaragua border crossing.
“Stepping off the bus at the Nicaraguan border was the one time during the trip when I got a little nervous. A crowd of men wearing ‘Official Currency Exchange’ badges approached us. They were rude, even grabby. As they called out to us, aggressively encouraging us to exchange our Costa Rican colones for Nicaraguan cordobas, they got a little too close. One grabbed me in a place where he shouldn’t have. I set him straight using my best street Spanish, and the bunch of them backed off.
“After waiting in line for our exit stamps at immigration on the Costa Rican side, we were driven over to immigration in Nicaragua. Again, a customs broker took our passports to have them stamped so we wouldn’t have to wait in line ourselves. Our bags were inspected, again, and we were left to wait for the return of our passports. This proved the lengthiest part of the process.
“While waiting I made a call to my mother in Canada to let her know I had arrived safely in Nicaragua. The border area has small booths where women offer the use of phones for a reasonable price. My five-minute call to Canada cost about US$4.50.
“After setting my mother’s mind at ease, I eyed the food stands and settled on a quesillo. The tortilla wrapped around pressed cheese and marinated sweet onions was a perfect snack for the bus, but I don’t think I could make a regular diet of it. The filling Nicaraguan treat set me back US$1.25.
“Aside from the waits for the return of our passports and for a Panamanian passenger who was temporarily detained but then allowed to continue on, the border crossing was a breeze. I arrived safe in Granada, Nicaragua, after 27 hours on the road.
“My first impression of Granada? The colonial city is impressive, with church squares, outdoor cafes, and rather healthy-looking street dogs.
“After checking in to my beautiful and comfortable room, I made a bee-line for the pool. It’s an oasis, with lush gardens all around. I jumped in and enjoyed a quick dip before the skies opened and the afternoon rains began.
“As I write, I’m enjoying a pasta dinner at an outdoor café with free wireless Internet. The filling meal and two Toňa beers has cost me US$7. Though I’ve been in Granada but a few hours, I’m already appreciating the charms of this place.
“All those hours on the bus are catching up with me now, though, and I’m going to sign off. More later in the