January 2 and 3, 2014
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
When I decided to stay the extra week I booked my ticket home through Liberia in Costa Rica. It was way cheaper and another person from our group happened to be on the same flights home to Toronto so it would all work out nicely. All 6of us left the house this morning; two going to Popoyo, two going to Tamarindo, Costa Rica and two going to the airport which meant four of us would be crossing the border. We were supposed to leave at 9am with plenty of time to cross the border and make our flight, but instead we left closer to 1030am thanks to Nicaraguan time. We got a driver to take us to the border and we said a quick goodbye to the two staying in Nicaragua.
There we were, four scared gringos in a rush to cross the border. We blindly followed two Nicaraguans who claimed they could get us across fast and as we scrambled to the first checkpoint we were trying to fill out immigration forms and not lose each other. We made our way to a nondescript building and each paid $1 for a tiny paper receipt. We then got to a window where a woman checked our passports and asked for another $2 each. In return is another piece of paper. We exited the building and started walking to yet another checkpoint. One of the guys got there first and through with no problem. Another gets through ok and then it’s my turn. “Ticket.” I showed him the first paper receipt. “No. Ticket.” I showed him the second paper receipt. “No. Ticket. Ticket!” I’m absolutely confused. I have no idea what he means. The other guys just shrugged. As a guess I pulled out my phone and found my airline confirmation and showed it to to him. Success. He waved me through. The last in our group goes through the same song and dance and ends up showing the guy his original inbound flight. It works and now we have officially left Nicaragua.
The walk across No Mans Land didn’t take long but felt like forever as the clock tickef down to our departure time. We made it to the Costa Rican side and standing in line we filled out identical forms to the ones we just handed in in Nicaragua. All four of us are soaked in sweat, part from the sun, part from the rush and part from the panic of it all. Entering Costa Rica was more or less painless and we found the driver to take us the rest of the way.
Arriving at the airport, we said our goodbyes to the boys going to Tamarindo and grabbed our bags. We paid the $29 departure tax and checked into our flight together. Good news. The flight was delayed and we had time to grab an overpriced airport lunch. We’re paying the bill when I heard what I think is my name over the airport speaker system. Uh oh. When is this ever good? I approached the counter and I could see the bad news in his eyes. “I’m sorry miss. There is a problem with immigration and you cannot leave Costa Rica.” My heartbeat quickened. He wouldn’t elaborate on the “immigration problem” and a family in the same predicament decided their course of action was to yell. I stepped back to wait and considered my limited options. My friend came up and said goodbye. The family is still yelling.
The entire flight boarded and the hope it was all a mistake is fading. I watched the flight status change from BOARDING to CLOSED to DEPARTED. Staff came out and removed the stanchions and signage. The status board went blank. The agent, tired of being yelled at, said he’ll be right back. He doesn’t come back. I waited 30 minutes before my good nature turned sour. I understood if there’s a problem, I didn’t understand being stranded at the terminal with no information. I started to walk, looking for any United signage and someone behind a counter who will help me get home. At the other end of the airport I found them. The group of travellers who like me have been stuck and watched their flights home leave.
Through these people I found out that some poor guy has misplaced all those little immigration forms we always fill out and never think matter. I don’t know how my friend made it out but he’s lucky. When I got to the counter the agent confirmed the rumours and promised he’ll help get me home. I just have to go to Houston first and spend the night. As I waited to board I crossed my fingers every time they made an announcement, “Please don’t say my name. Please don’t say my name.” I didn’t relax until I was in my seat, buckled in with the wheels off the ground.
I made it to the Houston Holiday Inn with $15 in food vouchers and one clean shirt. I’m ready for home.