La Cruz (a.m.), Costa Rica / Managua (p.m.), Nicaragua

  • Date
  • 14 October 2001
  • Lodging
  • Real Intercontinental
  • Distance
  • 159 KM
  • Total
  • 219310 KM

No problems leaving Costa Rica, but entering Nicaragua was like returning to bureaucratic, form-laden Africa. As usual, no markers suggested what form must be completed in each office or the order for the maze of offices, forms and payments. Young men eager for money work the border escorting those not in the know from one point to the next. When these guys are abundant, we find it easier to use one, since then the others leave us alone. A Nicaraguan named Charlie, who we ultimately paid about US$12 to lead us through the tangled web, first took us to immigration. We had no problems here, but we had to pay an extra fee for entering Nicaragua on Sunday and the officials would only take US dollars, not their local currency. Next, we stopped at one of the many police offices for another form, which a young man typed over a 10-minute period on his old-fashioned, push-return typewriter. Then to customs to fetch a signature on the typed form that we then took to the bank. Here we gave one of the bank workers – all women, except for the security man posted with a machine gun outside – our forms and paid the required money directly into the customs account. This is certainly one way to lessen corruption and make sure the customs officials do not pocket the money. Next, we went around the corner into a new, but already cracking stucco building, to another woman who gave us yet another form for the money we had just paid to the bank. Then we returned to customs and showing the large group of officials, in street clothes, that we had paid our fees. And, we waited and waited, the norm at every border, since generally there is one lone official who must sign off for X, Y and/or Z. Initially, we waited for the head of customs to inspect our cars, and, afterwards, we waited for the head of police, who searched our cars again and signed another set of forms. Finally, we were told that we could proceed out of the border.

Wrong. We had a few more hoops to jump. As soon as another soldier inspected more forms and manually lifted the gate to allow us out of the border zone, two men waved their hands and insisted we pay a municipality fee. Sometimes, these men are not for real and I suggested that we ignore them and keep going, but Jim paid the US$1 municipality tax. A kilometer later, we were stopped and forced to pay for car disinfecting with a can of Raid no less, and then another kilometer down the road, we were told to pay another fee for the fumigation of the outside of our car. The Nicaraguan border process took about three hours, and the searches of our cars, which we figured would take hours, took less than 5-minutes total.

Even after crossing in and out of 108 countries, I find it shocking and sometimes incomprehensible that countries can run such an inefficient ship. The scores of officials and bureaucrats to get one into this country could be reduced to less than a handful.