Our last entry finished with us meeting Teddy at the bus stop at 15:30 in the afternoon. We'd chosen this time by carefully studying the bus timetables and confirming it with many different locals, bars and hostels - a process that also resulted in us finding out that the "official" boat timetables were out of date and ours would be leaving 3 hours later than expected at 9pm rather than 6pm. No problemo, we'll have time to get food before the boat. The bus should be leaving Merida (almost non-existent town down the rocky dirt road) at 15:30, a good 30 minutes of bumpy chicken bus journey before our hostel, but erring on the side of caution we're there in plenty of time as we need to be in this bus. None of this matters as after 1.5 hours we're still sat at the side of the road like 3 lost stoogers with backpacks...
We ended up hitching a lift to town with an American guy in the back of his pickup truck, who contrary to the lonely planet ideals of "always offer to pay, almost always refused" charged us for fuel, almost enough to fill his whole tank! On the way he explained why the bus might not run to timetable today - tomorrow is Mother's Day in Nicaragua, so everyone's packed in work early... riiiiiiight! With a few hours to kill we head off for some more of the oh so grande pasta for dinner and then head to the port to buy our tickets and wait for our $7 overnight (8 hours!) ferry to San Carlos. This is a bargain as it doubles up as our transport to Costa Rica AND a nights accommodation. We were surrounded by kids whilst we waited so CP put on Shrek and everyone watched it with us, adults and children alike - clearly Shrek transcends any language barriers. The ferry arrived on time, at least per the amended schedule, 9pm, and we all managed to secure a bench each inside in the air conditioning.
CP and Ted immediately pass out and sleep all through the night to the point that Rich had to wake CP when we arrived at 5:30am, who was not happy about being awoken from her seemingly deep and peaceful sleep.
Rich has a dismal sleep before finally conceding defeat and getting up at 4:30am. This is because despite there being less than 20 people on the entire upper deck, they all seem to have organised themselves so that someone will always be up making noise, taking turns to open every door and slam it closed behind them, ensuring as little sleep as possible for the innocent bystander (me). And apparently it's impossible to whisper in Spanish?!
I stumble outside to check our progress and notice that we're carrying a valuable cargo - a shitload of bananas.
The upside to this is that I got to see an amazing sunrise over San Carlos, and somehow feel a whole lot fresher than my travelling companions.
We pile off the boat and check directions for our boat to Los Chiles (Costa Rica!), then set up on the promenade for a peaceful wait drinking 10p cups of coffee and watching the fisherman sell their catch from eskies in thee in the sunshine for a couple hours before breakfast and more coffee.
During this wait CP attempted to write some blog notes, and failed... should have bought an iPad eh CP?!
There's a brief panic (maybe too much coffee?) when we go to get our passports stamped and buy our boat tickets out of Nicaragua, and realise that there are 40 people in a room big enough for half that, and no hint of a system or instructions on how to acquire the many (so many) forms, stamps, or tickets necessary to get out of there. Somehow it works and we bundle through to pay our $2 exit fee followed by another couple of dollars for the boat ticket. Overall about 8 different staff are involved in us getting out of there, checking passports, giving us forms, another writing down the details, another to take the money, another to write out a receipt, another to take our forms etc etc.
Finally we're on the boat and cruising down the river to Los Chiles, Costa Rica! There's a very brief stop at the actual border, signalled only by a flag at the side of the river and half a dozen army types with big guns, but nothing of note happens (maybe they handover one of the 4 passport numbers lists they made before we boarded the boat?) and we're on our way.
This is definitely the best way to cross the border - there are quicker ways (much shorter boat ride from Ometepe and a long bus journey or two, but where's the fun in that? We're cruising down a river on a funky little boat, starting in Nicaragua, finishing in Costa Rica, and spotting awesome flora and fauna along the way!
We fill out another set of forms on the boat (all the other ones were to leave, now you need the exact same set to enter. No, I do not have a bag full of fruit and vegetables, and nor do I have $10,000 in my bag... and if I did I certainly wouldn't be telling the slightly shady characters that take the forms and never look at them.
When we get off the boat there's another bizarre system of handing over forms, money, passports, checking those off against another list, getting receipts, before handing those over to the next person. Each check takes place in a different building (hut?) and it would be easy to wonder off having paid your token entrance fee but not having had your passport stamped, which would probably cause a few dramas when you try to leave...
A highlight for RD was getting first set of local currency for Costa Rica - no ATMs where we arrive, just a massive dude hanging out on the road between the different huts with equally massive fistfuls of US dollars, Nicaraguan Cordobas, and Costa Rican Colones. We trade some Spanglish banter and make our exchange in the middle of the street, getting a better exchange rate from This guy than we will later when using the slightly more legit cashpoints.
We get all of our stuff done, including queuing for the passport stamp for far too long in an absolute sweatbox, and finally make our way to the bus station to squeeze ourselves on for our journey to La Fortuna.
So that's it, we've left Nicaragua behind - we'd have loved to spend more time there soaking up the simplicity, the rustic beauty, and the not quite as developed tourist trade that we've seen in Guat and apparently will see a lot more of in Costa Rica, but there's important business to attend to - namely a mini Parrott family reunion as we'll be meeting up with Ryan in a couple of days!