Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Nicaraguan Adventure

By Yannick Pilgrim

Hola Amigos,

Life is good over here in Costa Rica. In fact it rained yesterday for only the third time since I’ve been here. The temperature is still easily 95 degrees and higher on a daily basis, and I’ve gotten used to waking up in my own sweat. If the ocean was not so close, I probably would be going crazy right now. Well enough with the weather update; I have much to tell since my last blog entry.

Studying abroad is an experience, and anyone who has done it can tell you that some days are harder than others. With the travel and exploration of a foreign country comes certain risks, and for me, I learned a painful lesson crossing the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Let me first say that I have nothing against Nicaragua as a country. In fact it is a beautiful place with remarkable geography and an interesting culture. The problems I experienced in Nicaragua were limited to the border crossing.

The people that know me well can tell you that I am the kind of person who loves to do stuff on their own. Despite the warnings from my host parents, I decided to head to Nicaragua by myself for four days. I did sufficient research and planned my trip accordingly. I also spoke to some students on my program that had gone to Nicaragua in February in order to have an idea of what to expect at the border. From Puntarenas it took me 5 hours by bus to get to the border at Penas Blancas. The Costa Rican officials handled my paper work quickly and things were moving along faster than I expected.

After being done with customs in Costa Rica, I had to walk about 100 meters to a gate that was the crossover point for both countries. When I entered Nicaragua I felt a difference in the atmosphere. People were shoving customs papers in my face, asking if I needed a guide or a taxi, and telling me that if I didn’t have either, I would find myself in some trouble. I guess it was a moment in my time abroad where I really felt like an outsider. I had grown so accustomed to the “tranquila” life in Costa Rica. After breaking through the barrage of hustlers, I had to deal with a different problem. I have always heard of corruption on the border, but now I can say that I was a victim of it. The corruption practiced by police officers and custom officials at the border has become so common place that they can now do it in plain sight. I had a minor physical encounter with the border authorities who requested that I pay extra money to get into Nicaragua. They also told me I was not allowed to speak to anyone besides them. My Spanish deteriorated as my anger increased, making the situation even worse. I was outnumbered and with the law on their side I had no choice but to pay the price.

It was a tough lesson to learn and I really did not plan on using a blog entry to talk about the problems I had crossing the border. But I figure that while studying abroad a person is going to experience good and bad. Hopefully if you were planning on crossing the border to Nicaragua soon, this testimony can be of some assistance. I am doing fine now and have long since moved on from the incident. In fact, while in Nicaragua I spent time in San Juan del Sur, a beautiful beach town about 1 hour from the Penas Blancas border. While there I visited Playa Madera, a secluded beach great for surfing. It was a bit hard to find, but after hitchhiking a ride on the back of a tractor I finally found it.

I spent two days in San Juan del Sur and then I went on to Isla de Ometepe. Nicaragua has one of the biggest freshwater lakes in the world. Isla de Ometepe is also a world phenomenon, being one of the largest fresh water islands on the planet. But what makes this place so impressive are the two volcanoes located on either side of the island. I have grown very fascinated with volcanoes during my time here in Central America. They truly are magical to say the least. Beautiful yet dangerous. On the island I rented a dirt bike and went on one of the most fun adventures of my life. I stopped to see waterfalls, crystal clear streams, and to let cows cross the road. Everyone there was really friendly and was always interested in where I was from. A guy there was also kind enough to tell me that my name was a woman’s name in Nicaragua and I should change my name to Geoffrey for the duration of my stay. What a nice guy…

My Nicaraguan adventure. I must say my time at San Juan del Sur and Isla de Ometepe sure did make up for the trouble I had on the border. The thing is I had to cross it to go back. I’ll save you the details and just say that my exit was no greater than my entrance.

I am enjoying my time here in Costa Rica but I would be lying if I said that I was not missing my team and playing for Davidson. I get to play soccer here almost every day but it’s not the same. For the most part I miss the organization and scoring countless goals on Chip during practice. Too easy…

Until the next time…

PuRa vIdA

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