Thursday, March 17, 2011

3/17/11 Leon, Nicaragua - Liberia, Costa Rica. 180 miles, 8 hours.

So after some miscommunication between me, my teacher, and the boss of my school, I ended up resuming lessons a week later, first with the boss teaching me and then with Karin (my regular teacher) returning. I spent the next 2 or three weeks in lessons, as well as checking out the last of the things I wanted to see, some of which was a letdown. This includes the Museum of Sacred Art which was closed for renovations, and Leon Viejo, the old original city 2 hours away which had closed early when I arrive. I went back to that poker room as well, and between some good luck and some well placed moves, I tore it up, which was nice. I ended up becoming friendly with the folks and returned several times. They definitely rake way too much out of the pot but its low stakes, free drinks and a good time. Went to the casino to watch the Cotto/Mayorga fight and was unable to place a bet (on Cotto, the winner) because it was too close to fight time.
With a few days left before leaving town, I ended up taking care of the rest of my errands I had been putting off for a while. Bunch of bike maintenance at a cool little place down an alley for dirt cheap, and some MORE welding of my pannier frames, taken care of by a local welding shop, and various odds and ends. Tried to say goodbye to all the folks and vendors I got to know around town and promising I would see them again in a few weeks. People are so cool and nice in this place, I love Nicaragua.
Wanted to write this down for future reference as well, although some details will necessarily be left out. I'll just say that there was definitely a vibe between me and a girl in town. She is married, technically. I ended up spending at least a couple of hours a day with her. So basically, during these last few days I was in town, we were supposed to spend some time together. But she went totally MIA. No message, call, nothing, didn't show up at a pre-determined meeting place. Knowing her, I knew something was really wrong. I ended up seeing her and it was indeed pretty bad, as she had had an accident, resulting in deep cuts on her arms and time in the hospital. Due to the presence of other people though, we couldn't have a real conversation and it ended up being the last time I saw her. Pretty sad, kind of sucked, but I am sure there will be a conversation at some point, so until then....
Anyway, a day before my vehicle permit expires, I go back to Managua to the customs office. They inform me that they cannot give me an extension, even though my visa is still valid. Basically my choices are to either leave Nicaragua or stay and rack up some pretty big fines. I am pissed. This is definitely throwing a monkey wrench into my plans and I spend my last day in Leon thinking about what to do. I decide to skip any fines and possible trouble at the border and just decide to go to Costa Rica. Not a bad country to be deported to. Things could definitely be worse.
I leave later than I want to as usual. It is getting more stressful because the border 180 miles away closes at five and I don't want to cut it too close. But I am. Get pulled over by a Nicaraguan cop for my first shakedown attempt in this country. I am proud for not giving into the bullshit, and I more or less call his bluff to keep my license and write me a ticket payable in Managua. He wants me to offer to pay a bribe but I dont. Then he asks for gas money and I say I don't understand. He gets frustrated at the nonsense Spanish jibberish I am saying and I go on my way.
I reach the border and am assaulted by tramitadores (helpers). The border is thankfully not so busy, but huge and confusing and it takes me a while to figure everything out, but I do without any help. One helper won’t leave me alone and I say if he can get me an extension I will be happy to pay him. He says maybe, and I say forget about it. I see him later and he wants a tip for having a conversation with me. No thank you. The Costa Rican side is great, only 14 bucks for 90 days worth of insurance and I can leave the country and come and go as I please, no charge. Nicaragua should fucking take note. I end up an hour later with the sun setting in the small city of Liberia, passing an impressive volcano and great scenery along the way. In town , I pull into a gas station on fumes and immediately notice the difference in the living standard. American franchises, international banks, synthetic oil (sticks out in my mind because I couldn't find synthetic oil in Leon. I finally did find some hidden in the back of a shop for 75 BUCKS a gallon!) and nice new vehicles. If you want to see a country full of the shittiest most broke down, hobbled together vehicles, go to Nicaragua. I actually had a bit of culture shock. Also, a lot of English is spoken here, which is cool, although I have been pretty proud to have improved so much in my Spanish and have enjoyed speaking it.
Today, I had a bad start to the day when I found out my car insurance lapsed. I was not informed by my insurance company by email, only through snail mail 2 months ago. So now I owe a bunch in fines. Unitrin Insurance was not sympathetic, and in fact would not insure me because I said I was in Costa Rica. I was mad as fuck to say the least. I had to call my folks as well, and tried not to be pissed on the phone, but it was pretty tough. Nice to hear my folks voices though, it has been over a month since we talked. Ended up trying not to let my whole day get ruined and went with a dorm-mate at the hostel I am staying at on my bike to Rincon Vieja National Park, 20 Km's away down a bad dirt road. A quick stop at the bank and we find the Costa Rican equivalent of 20 bucks on the ground. It was a sweet little victory after a shitty couple of days, and our entrance fees were taken care of. Took an hour and a half to get there, but was well worth it. Saw my first fumaroles, boiling mud pits, steam vents, sulfur pits, and monkeys all over the place. I’m now at the hostel writing this and chilling with a couple of friends, drinking some cheap-ass sugarcane liquor and getting ready to hit the bars after a couple of drinks. Things could be worse, for sure.

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