Welcome to Nicaragua
There are lots and lots of fantastic parks is Costa Rica with rich green forests, lakes and waterfalls, mountains and volcanos, beaches and lagoons. But after only a couple of weeks we start feeling claustrophobic in this small Central American country and a sort of quiet panic creeps in. Our wallets are getting progressively thinner, even if we avoid all the expensive activities and try to go for the cheapest or the free ones. Not only Nature has a pricy entrance fee in Costa Rica, but the cost of life in general is significantly higher than the rest of its Central American neighbors. The expensive food, transportation and accommodation is what is bothering us most. We soon feel like prisoners who want to escape, and head north.
After La Fortuna, we take the bus to Liberia, hoping to stay there for a couple of days and visit the famous park Rincon de la Vieja. But all cheap hostels are full, and all the other sleeping options are way too expensive. We learn this after spending the entire afternoon walking with our heavy backpacks from hostel to hostel all over town personally checking each and every one of them. We are faced with a dilemma:spend over $40 for a shitty room in a shitty hostel (in a shitty town by the way), and then join a tour to the park for $100 per person or more (it turns out there is no way to get to the park which is many kilometers away, unless you join a tourist group, and the fees once again are ridiculous) OR get the hell out of Costa Rica!
We jump in the bus to the last city before the border with Nicaragua and after a couple of hours we are in La Cruz. There, we meet a few hundred Cubans, who like us want to get the hell out of Costa Rica, but can’t! They are all over the place- in schoolyards and churches specially equipped with portable toilets, sleeping on mattresses on the ground, getting free emergency food from Red Cross trucks, and begging for money at the border crossing points. On the Nicaragua side,entire army battalions are stationed armed with AK47 making sure no one gets through. No one from the Cubans, that is, there is no problem for the rest of us.
It turns out, that thousands of Cubans are desperately fleeing Cuba and trying to get to the USA, after the warming up of the two neighboring countries’ relations. I thought, Cubans would be happy that the ridiculous embargo situation is about to end, but instead, they are terrified, that this will also mean new Cuban Refugee Policies in USA. Until now, Cuban citizens escaping Cuba and landing on United Stated soil were immediately granted special refugee status, USA citizenship and a handsome amount of dollars (10 thousand per person). But, as this is about to end because of all the positive changes, thousands of Cubans have fled to South America trying to reach USA by land as a last minute opportunity To get the immigration privileges before they change. For them, the only way to get to the USA by land and fast is to fly to Ecuador (thousands of miles away) and from there to take the bus to the States, crossing many borders by land: Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and finally- United Stated of America! That is the plan, and most countries have granted them right of transit passages, except of course Nicaragua, which is politically friendly with the Cuban government. So, as soon as the refugees showed up on the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border sometime in November 2015, they were stopped and turned around by force. Today, many months later, they are still stuck in Costa Rica, waiting.
It’s late when we clear the border without any problems. We pay an EXIT fee to Costa Rica ($8 per person) as one last nasty surprise, and an entry fee for Nicaragua ($12 per person, if I remember correctly). We bargain for a taxi ride to the first city 20-30 km away and we get the first room in the first hostel for $25 a night.
The morning finds us in the most charming picturesque beach-town in Nicaragua- San Juan del Sur. Suddenly- a new country! New people, a bit different than the previous ones, new money and new prices, much better than the previous ones, new food and new beer, not much more different or better than the previous ones but cheeper, and a new feeling of freedom and happiness. We roam the streets full of backpackers and surfers mostly from the States, we chill on the beach populated by locals and tourists, we climb the hill overlooking the vast bay home of many fishing boats and visiting yachts and we watch the sunset, eating ice cream, waiting for our friend Rado to come and pick us up.
Images from San Juan del Sur
Rado is the same dude, who took us kitesurfing many times in Panama. He lives in Nicaragua since more than 30 years now, but because of his job, he is sometimes based in Panama for long time. His parents live in Managua in a nice house in a nice neighborhood, and Rado occupies a small apartment on the same property when he is Nicaragua. They invited us to pitch our tent in their backyard, as they don’t have room for us inside the house, but a lot of space under the big mango tree in the backyard, and this is perfect for us!
For the next two weeks we sleep free of charge in our tent under the shade of the mango tree enjoying the company of our friend who drives us around and shows us many of Nicaragua’s best places. We also enjoy enormously Rado’s parents company- Sneja and Dimitar Barzevi, who spoil us constantly with tasty homemade dishes- Bulgarian style.
We are extremely happy and grateful to have the pleasure and privilege to spend Christmas and New Year with the Barzev family, in a very homy and traditional atmosphere- something we, the constant travelers away from home and parents miss a lot, especially during the holidays. And Maya finds here another “best friend forever”- Cathy is Rado’s 10-years-old charming daughter. The two girls are inseparable in Nicaragua.
While in Nicaragua, we also meet many of Rado’s friends- other Bulgarians who live in the country since many years, and with them we share some unforgettable adventures.
Thanks to their hospitality and thanks to the country’s beautiful nature, biological diversity, and many interesting sites, Nicaragua beame one of our favorite destinations and we didn’t want to leave.
Nicaragua, with 130,000 square kilometers territory and 6 million population, is the biggest country on the Central American isthmus. Famous for its many active volcanoes, the biggest island in a lake which has two volcanos on it (Ometepe Island), and one of the most beautiful colonial cities in the region (Granada), Nicaragua receives more and more tourists from around the world each year. It is much cheaper than neighboring Costa Rica and much safer than most of the countries in the region, with virtually no organized crime.
More photos from Nicaragua
More stroies with details about our visit to Nicaragua are coming up! Stay tuned!