Saturday 18 September 2021

My First Border Crossing, Complete With A Drug Search

Paying the bills


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Paying the bills


QCOSTARICA by Martha Good – Sunday was a perfect day with my amazing host family. We went on a picnic in a park up in a mountain in the outskirts of San Jose. The air was fresh and a little cooler.

The entire intermediate family was there except for Silany’s husband, who had to work. Adrian’s daughter, Cora, was also there. She stays with Norma and Adrian every other weekend and is such a sweet little girl. She patiently helped me practice my Spanish. Silany and I went on a little hike, the kids played in the playground, kicked a soccer ball around, and we ate more delicious food. Norma made an amazing dinner of shrimp and rice when we got back.

Baby Tomas and I at the park home.
Baby Tomas and I at the park home.

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Afterwards, we went to Norma’s sister Vicki’s house. Norma has eight brothers and four of them were there plus their spouses. More good food, dancing and laughing. It was a great time! Silany is a professional bellydancer, and she performed some dances for us, which was awesome!

I have no idea how she moves her hips like that, she is so talented! I cannot express how grateful I am to the Mora family for welcoming me into their family. We keep talking about getting my last name changed to Mora. 🙂

The next morning Norma and I got up at 4:45AM (yikes) so I could catch the bus at 6 to go to Granada, Nicaragua. She was so kind, I told her I would take a taxi but she insisted that she would drive me.

At the bus station, they checked any big luggage and put it underneath the bus. They also asked for your receipt showing that you paid the CR exit tax and gave you the customs forms to fill out. At 6AM, we were off.

The bus was a nice one, complete with air conditioning, cushioned seats and a movie playing. It was a long drive mostly in the mountains once we left the San Jose area. I met Tex and Sonia, a couple who were sitting behind me that are originally from Hartford Connecticut. They were the only two people on the bus who spoke English. Sonia is Tica, so she is fluent in both Spanish and English. Little did I know, this was going to come in really handy for me later in the trip.

Eventually we got to the border. We made a first stop and everyone got out of the bus. Immediately, you were surrounded by people trying to exchange money for you (CR Colones to Nicaraguan Cordobas). I had been warned by my CR friends not to do this, as they typically give you a terrible exchange rate. If you are going to do it, make sure you know what the currency is so you do not get ripped off. I had some Cordoba on me already that I had exchanged with a girl who I met in CR who was traveling down and had some left over. We entered a little building and waited in line to show our receipt for the exit tax and got our passports stamped with the Costa Rican exit stamp.

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The bus driver had told us to hurry because there were two buses behind us (Sonia translated that for me). Everyone boarded the bus and then we drove about 5 more minutes to the Nicaraguan entrance. While we were driving, a bus attendant collected all of our passports and put them in a bag. The man who was sitting next to me, Eric, explained what was going on through Spanish and hand gestures. When we arrived at the entrance, we all got off of the bus again and took our luggage out of the bottom compartment.

He guided me to the inside of the building where we put our luggage on a conveyor belt and they scanned it. The woman operating the machine did not seem to know how it worked, so I question the effectiveness. Afterwards, we took the big luggage back to the bottom of the bus and they loaded it. Again, there were people swarming around you trying to sell you things, exchange money, sell food, belts, watches, you name it.

Kids selling things at the border
Kids selling things at the borderThere were a lot of kids working too, which was sad.

They would come up to you with a long leaf and fold it into a flower and then try to hand it to you. If you took it, which was easy to do since they are very aggressive and persistent, they would then ask for money. It was sad and made me wonder what their home lives are like. I have read that a lot of the children on the street in Nicaragua are drug addicts.

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How sad is that!! These kids are different than other children I have met. They did not have a childlike innocence, almost like they were adults stuck in a child’s body. Their expressions and mannerisms, I cannot quite put my finger on it but something indicated their life so far has not been easy.

We stood around and waited for a while. I was starving, but had been warned about the street food. Do not eat anything that is not either in a sealed package or has a shell or peel that you remove (bananas, chips, etc). No fruit that is already cut.

So, I stuck with my water from CR. Eric said to stay somewhat close to the bus as they will start calling people’s names out to board and you do not want to miss it. Yea, I definitely did not want to miss it…….not sure what you would do then but I did not want to find out. Plus it was very, very hot with minimal shade. About an hour after we arrived, the man came back with the passports and started calling out people’s names. Everyone swarmed around the bus, including the people selling things.

I can completely see why it is easy to get pick-pocketed here. You are surrounded by pushing and shoving and people, plus trying to pay attention to what is going on with the bus. It was overwhelming. He eventually called my name (Marta Gud is what it sounded like haha) and I was back on the bus. We left immediately after the last person was called.

Eric and I had a great conversation, mostly in Spanish (yay!). He is a minister with the United Church of Christ in Costa Rica and was traveling to a conference in Michigan. He lives in San Jose with his wife and daughter. We talked mostly about religion and his beliefs. Suddenly, the bus pulled over and the bus driver said that everyone needs to get out. Eric said the police were stopping us to check for drugs.

My naive, North American, CNN-watching heart skipped a beat. We all exited the bus and there were 10 “police officers” (still not sure if they were legitimate or not, but I think they were) standing outside, guns and all. They told us to stand in two lines, female and male.

Time to get frisked. Two women officers starting going through our bags and frisking us (yea, grabbing all body parts pretty much) one by one. It was not a fun experience. There was one guy (the only black guy in the group) who they took on the bus and made him strip all his clothes off. Sonia said they probably did a cavity search. Luckily she was there to help me understand what was going on and what to do. She said to just do what they say and do not argue.

Be as polite as possible. Eventually, they let us back on the bus and we left. They did not take anything that I saw and everyone was allowed to come back. Sonia said they probably chose the strip-search guy because he was black. How humiliating! My heart hurt for him.

It was another semi-scary experience where I was reminded of how vulnerable you are in this system. It also made me think about the injustices in our own system back in the US. As a white female, I have never not trusted the police system with regards to my safety (maybe naively) in the US , however many people of color justifiable do. I have a tiny bit more understanding of what that must feel like now. It is a really scary feeling to have someone who you cannot and do not trust have power over you. S

Sidenote: Bridget and I met a woman Tuesday who used to own a hotel in Granada. She said one night the hotel was broken into and things stolen. When she called the police (who were two blocks away from her) they said they did not have any gas to come and help, so the only way they would come is if she gave them gas money.

Eventually we arrived in Granada. Sonia, Tex and I shared a taxi from the bus stop to the house where I am staying. Granada is very different from the Costa Rican towns that I have seen. It is one of the oldest cities in the Americas. I will have more pictures and details in my next post. It rained a lot after I got there, so I did not get many pictures.

And Bridget is here!!!! Yay!!

We are going to go exploring today (Tuesday). It has been exactly four weeks since I was in the US. Happy anniversary! I have more pictures but the internet is slow so it takes a long time to upload them. I will share them later.

Read more of Martha’s adventures at Meandering: An Unhindered Traveler

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Paying the bills
"Rico" is the crazy mind behind the Q media websites, a series of online magazines where everything is Q! In these times of new normal, stay at home. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

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