When you're a temporary resident of a country -- also known as a long-term tourist -- the way you stay in the country of choice is by leaving said country every three months or six months or however long your tourist visa is valid. Here in Nicaragua, the 90-day visa they grant non-residents means we have to go to Costa Rica every three months to renew that 90 days, and that's a good thing for my sanity.
|Playa Ocatal, Guanacaste Costa Rica|
Across a simple border that's really just a metaphorical line in the dirt, so much is different. Where Nicaraguans are loud and rough around the edges and more likely to attend a hipica -- a rodeo -- on the weekends, Costa Ricans are quieter, more reserved and more likely to wear surf shorts and head to the beach to catch some waves. In Nicaragua the public buses are converted school buses imported from North America; in Costa Rica they're public transit buses like you'd see in North America, plastic bucket seats and all. None of them are really "public," but you get the idea. Near our home on the lakeside of Nicaragua, the air is fresher and cooler at night; in Costa Rica, it's damn hot. Nicaraguans are more likely to eat at the local cafetins, at the local streetside fritanga, or at home; in Costa Rica, chain restaurants like Subway and McDonald's are not an uncommon sight. Nicaragua is really affordable; Costa Rica's prices rival those in the U.S. -- and sometimes go above.
Of course, there are also similarities -- they both love gallo pinto -- beans and rice -- but in Costa Rica the beans are black; in Nicaragua red. Men whistle at the ladies. They're surprised when you can actually do more than count to ten in Spanish.
After so long in one place, it's good to get this type of perspective, and to get the chance to teach the rebelangel a few things about human transit. Like how to suddenly start converting a new form of currency into dollars, or talking about why we have to cross the border every three months, and whether people who are not from the U.S. have to do the same thing if they want to stay in our country.
She asked whether a Nicaraguan had to do the same thing in the U.S. -- and it was a complicated conversation. I tried to explain that they're not necessarily allowed to enter the U.S. at all, and that they're not allowed to simply cross into Canada or Mexico to renew the visa again. How can i begin to explain that as U.S. citizens we're allowed more freedom of movement worldwide than most people? And what to say when a child asks "Why?" Dios mio.
Of course, getting out means a lot more vigilance than i've become used to -- not letting the rebelangel out of my sight... even in a relatively tranquilo hotel. It means grabbing her arm in the street so she doesn't go dashing out into traffic... reminding her that she can't brush her teeth with the water, because there's new bacteria, and all the stuff that comes with being strangers once again.
So while it's good to get out, it's also good to get home and relax. After two days and many buses and much learned, we're finally back home, enjoying the sweet breezes of Lake Cocibolca again.
I suppose if i really wanted to keep an eye on the rebelangel while i'm sitting in a hammock on the patio of the hotel, i could download this handy app that Nick created -- which turns your smartphone or tablet into a baby monitor. Traveling parents -- Baby Phonic seems totally up your alley!