First of all the idea of having to leave the country I am in the legal process of being a resident of, to get a stamp, to be able to continue driving legally, is unacceptably stupid. I'm all for being tolerant of Costa Rican laws and customs. And I do try to adjust.
But STUPID IS STUPID. And I am not going to excuse nor accept stupidity.
See my post re WHY we had to make a border run to Nicaragua here.
Okay. So we tried to get out of it but couldn't. Here's the deal:
If you are applying for residency you do not have to leave the country once you have your "comprobante" or proof of filing for legal resident status. However, if you want to drive in Costa Rica you DO have to leave the country before the end of every 90 days.
My attorney told me you don't have to leave, and you "will only get a ticket for $90 if you get stopped." However this is not quite true and when pressed for more information the attorney admitted he didn't know. So what's the truth?
The truth is, if you do not leave the country to renew your driver's license, and you get stopped the officer can choose to impound your car and take your plates AND fine you $90.
AND - worse! - if you are in an accident your insurance will not be any good because you are driving with an expired license!
So ... we went to San Carlos, Nicaragua.
We had to drive up to La Fortuna, Costa Rica the day before to spend the night in order to get up early and drive the rest of the way up to Nicaragua the next day.
We had a nice night in La Fortuna - pizza and hot springs. We stayed in a low budget hotel with no amenities for $55 and it was a bit noisy but it was clean and the people were nice.
We went to Las Termalitas hot springs which was pure Ticos (i.e. we were the only gringos there) and we liked it much better than Baldi which is way too crowded and plays music too loud and has too many kids. (Last time I went there 4 years ago, that's how it was, anyway.) Las Termalitas was much better and only 4 mil colones each, and the only thing it doesn't have that I wish it did is lockers for one's clothes and stuff. As it is, you can leave your valuables in your car and the guard shack will keep an eye on things. That's what we did and it was fine.
Also beers were only 1300 colones!
So we had a nice night in La Fortuna then got up and headed off to Las Tablillas border station at around 9am, after breakfast. Should have gotten an earlier start but one thing and another, that's how it went...
Got up there around noon or so and were stopped by border guards a few miles from the border and they told us we should go back to Los Chiles a few miles back and buy a Costa Rica exit ticket because the machine for it in the immigration office was not working. We did that but I wonder if it's true or just a deal where the cops drum up business for the locals. That's just my cynicism probably but you'll see later I have reason not to trust border agents...
Once we got our exit tickets back at the soda by the bus station in Los Chiles, going through the aduanis process involved little or no waiting in line but did involve a lot of form filling and passport showing. I think we showed our passport about 7 times and filled out about 5 forms before we got through customs, and it took a good half an hour or more.
However when going through the Nicaragua side a border guard told us "You have to spend at least 3 hours in San Carlos."
I said, "Couldn't you make an exception? We need to get back before dark because driving after dark is dangerous where we live and we really need to only spend an hour or so in San Carlos in order to drive all the way back to San Ramon and get there before dark."
"No," he says. "It's required and it's in our system that you have to be there 3 hours before you can return."
I looked at him frustratedly and said, "That's really going to put us in a bad situation." (in Spanish) and then we moved on.
I told Joanie, "Let's come back after an hour anyway and see what happens. We'll try to appeal to a supervisor or something if they won't let us go through. I really can't drive home after dark. It's too dangerous on part of the road we'll have to drive on."
Then we went out to the highway and caught a mini van into San Carlos which is about half an hour away. We were hoping for a nice little town with restaurants and stores, at the least.
But what we got was crappy little hole in the wall places and stores that are like Costa Rica's worst "central markets" except worse.
So after about 15 minutes of looking around San Carlos we both said, basically, "Let's get OUT OF HERE!"
We caught the next van back to the border and started through Customs. No one stopped us or told us we weren't in Nicaragua long enough. We went right through, after what was probably an hour and a half there. Thank god! Though we still had a LONG drive ahead of us so if there was an accident or a lot of slow trucks ahead of us or anything we still might end up having to drive after dark.
No one asked us for a "forward ticket" out of Costa Rica which you hear happening once in a while. I had a "fake one" of an itinerary printed out just in case, hoping it might serve in a pinch if they required an onward ticket. If push came to shove I'd just say we ordered it online but have not gotten a confirmation yet.
No offense to Nicaraguans - we all have border towns we aren't proud of - but San Carlos, Nicaragua is a shit hole. Nothing there worth seeing or doing, and it simply has nothing to entice one to ever come back there again, as far as I know... and believe me we plan to never go back again.
The whole "You have to spend 3 hours in Nicaragua" thing is BULLSHIT and obviously he lied - it is NOT "part of the system" - it's just some border jerks trying to get you to spend money in Nicaragua. Or just pushing gringos around. Not sure. All I know is that it's a bullshit policy and someone should challenge it in the courts. Yeah, right. ...
Anyway, so we got the fuck out of Nicaragua and headed back to San Ramon asap!
We had good traffic most of the way, but anyway you look at it, 9 hours or so of driving in one day is way too much! Add in the hour back and forth from Las Tablillas to San Carlos and you have a really bad day on your hands.
So after driving on curvy roads, behind slow trucks off and on all day, slamming my breaks behind people who decide to stop in the middle of the highway to pick someone up or for no clear reason at all, I had a bad headache and neck ache when we got back. Any way you look at it, 9-10 hours of driving in one day in Costa Rica is stressful! Even Joanie was stressed out from it and she wasn't even driving!
We got back home and all I want to do is take a hot shower and drink a beer and relax and hopefully sleep well tonight!
As for border runs to Nicaragua, to renew a driver's license, I will never ever do it again if I can avoid it!
We will go somewhere else and never drive that much in one day here again if we can avoid it.
It's a ridiculous thing to drive so far for just a stamp in a passport that renews a driver's license, and should not be required for people who are legally immigrating and have paperwork to prove it! THAT'S the bottom line! And the fact Costa Rica allows this insanity to go on shows them as much more backwards and stupid than they really are.
Costa Rica: YOU ARE BETTER THAN THIS!
Well, that's my take on it. You have to really want to live here, legally, to put up with this bullcrap!