Born To Run
My First Border Run
My visa was due to expire this week. I had tried to get my visa extended a few different ways here in Nicaragua, nothing worked. In the end, I was forced to make my first border run.
My first stop was the immigration office here in León. I had heard that I had to go to Managua for visa extensions, but thought I could buck the system without traveling. I explained my situation, that I had purchased a house that was still under construction and that I wanted to be here to see it through. They were willing to give me another 30 days, but because I had traveled to Nicaragua several times this past year and was asking for 90 days, I was told that I would have to go to Managua. I am not sure how my recent travels were effecting my status, I never got a sufficient answer.
My next stop was in Managua. There was another immigration office in the mall in Metro Centro. I stood in line for about a half and hour before an agent came down the line triaging the status and needs of everyone in line. Again I was told that they couldn’t help me here, that I needed to go to Managua’s main office.
When I got out of my taxi at the main office, I was verbally assaulted by the agents working for lawyers and notaries before I could get into the gates. They did give me some useful information, though helpful, it was more about getting me spent money with the lawyer they worked for.
After filling out the form, I headed to the information desk. The officer told me that she would approve my visa extension if I could show proof of outbound travel. Good thing I brought my computer. I hadn’t booked a ticket yet because I had heard often times they didn’t ask for proof, it was dependent on the officer you get. My luck – again.
I headed off to a hotspot booked a flight, which I planned on canceling promptly thereafter because I didn’t know exactly when the construction would be complete, and printed two copies.
I headed back to the immigration office with my ticket for outbound travel and my documents. I was given a number and waited. When I got to the desk, I was pummeled with questions. Why are here? Why do want an extension? How long do you want to stay? Why did you buy a house? Her answer worried me. She told me that I had violated the law by purchasing property on tourist visa, that I could be charged with a crime. No one come to arrest me. I wasn’t scared, but I was concerned. My lawyer assured me that it was not illegal, that foreigners purchase properties all the time. To make long story longer – my visa was denied.
Costa Rica Here I Come…
I was trying to avoid having to make a border run to Costa Rica. Because Nicaragua belongs to the CA-4 union, which includes Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, they were not options. When you enter one of these countries your visa is for all four countries. Ninety days total, not each.
I have also read and heard of several different answers to the same question. How long do I have to stay in Costa Rica to get my visa renewed? I have heard everything from “just turn around and come back” to “you have to stay for 72 hours”. Since this was my first border run, I played it safe and planned on 72 hours.
It wasn’t all for naught, I had never been Costa Rica before. I took the bus from Managua to San Jose. I have a couple of friends there and they offered me a place to stay. How can I pass up on free room and board? The trip turned out to be more of a vacation than I expected. I was ready to be holed up in a cheap hotel room for two nights just to meet my requirement and head back. Instead I got guided tour of San Jose, with a visit to an art museum, restaurants, bars, and chocolate expo, to boot.
Who Doesn’t Like Chocolate?
The cultural center in San Jose was hosting a Chocolate Expo. It’s sorta kinda like a museum, right? I was learning, and tasting and expanding my senses.
If there was anything that you wanted to know about Costa Rican chocolate, this was the place to be. People working the stands were more than happy to offer samples and describe in great detail the history, science, and story behind their chocolate selections. Most were mouthwateringly succulent. Some were so bitter that I thought I was eating almond skins with crushed aspirin disguised as powdered sugar sprinkled over top.
In addition to chocolate, there were a few artists, and food producers as well. I ended up buying some smokin’ hot sauce and a couple bags of sweet-n-spicy roasted cocoa beans. These were my favorite. Not the way I expected to spend my “border run”.
I made it back safe and sound. I was a little concerned about not meeting the 72 hours protocol, I was shy by about 8 hours. I’ve read some horror stories about border runs, luckily I thoroughly enjoyed mine.
Viva León, Jodido!