Last week I crossed a common expat milestone – my first Nicaragua visa run! I was so excited I couldn’t sleep. Living in tiny, relaxed Coco is a dream, but I guess I’d missed the excitement of leaving the country on trips or… having any excitement in my life at all. Thank goodness my friends in other time zones (yes, you @theaussienomad) kept me occupied! At six am I took my little bag and headed out. Within a few hours, our little van of intrepid tourists had reached the border.
The actual crossing into Nicaragua turned out to be quite the social call. First of all, our fearless driver, Gustavo, was not about to wait in line behind the dozen or so massive semis that were waiting to cross. So he barreled onto the shoulder, on the wrong side of the road, which happened to drop straight down a few feet just past our tires, causing us to skim by with literally no more than an inch between us and a gigantic truck bearing down on our (small) van. When we got out, grateful for many reasons, to present ourselves on the Costa Rican side, everyone knew everyone. Cheryl, my friend who’s lived in Costa Rica for years, and Gustavo chatted away with some of the other guys milling about, joking with the immigration people checking our passports. It was all very light and fun!
We were checked into our little hotel, Gran Oceano, in San Juan del Sur, and at the beachfront restaurant by 10:30 am. But since we’d all been up since 5, it felt like afternoon. So we ordered big lunches (rice, beans and chicken, naturally) and Tona beer. I needed some sleep, but every time I got up to leave, another Tona appeared. Thus went our entire day, chatting with the many vendors who tried to sell us pottery and finding out how all of the kids ended up selling knick-knacks instead of going to school. Finally, we all spilled out, laughing, onto the beach, where we ran around at sunset after a long lazy, hazy day.
Day two was our super-tourist day. We drove to the active Masaya volcano, which emits so much sulphur that you’re allowed to stay for only 20 minutes. (Rules include: “In case of rock expulsions, protect yourself under your car.”) Then we headed to the Laguna de Apoyo crater lake and to the famous markets, where I bought a beautiful wooden fan that I use all the time now in hot, muggy Costa Rica. There, we had one of the best lunches I’ve had in Central America. (Yes, rice, beans… and fish.) Gustavo knows what he’s doing on the food front! That night, after checking into Granada’s Hotel Alhambra, we headed to El Zaguan, where I had the best steak I’ve ever had, without exaggeration. After dinner, we had drinks outside, where Cheryl smoked cigars with the guys.
On our last day, we packed up the van and drove out to Lake Nicaragua’s famous islands, where the country’s rich have homes. There’s an island inhabited only by monkeys, as well as island after island adorned with stunning, colorful mansions. Finally, we climbed back in the van and headed for Costa Rica. It was pretty late when I pulled up the Barrio, and Denise and Lisa were on the stoop. “I brought you a present!” I squealed. “Is it wine? We’re out,” came my reply. “Nope,” I answered to crushed faces, who were now expecting a cheap trinket of some sort. I dramatically pulled out a humongous bottle of Grey Goose, and cheers erupted. Border duty-free shopping: increasing the quality of martinis for expats everywhere.