So as I promissed you guys in my previous blog about the top 5 things to do in Nicaragua, here comes a post about our weird and scary situation we had when crossing the boarder from Costa Rica to Nicaragua, on our way to San Juan del Sur, at night.
I have traveled around the world since I was 18 years old and I have been both on luxirous trips and also budget travels. I have stayed in both 5 star hotels for $500 per night and hostels for $5 per night. I have been on business trips, and backpacking trips and have seen more than my fair share of things and experienced a lot but this situation below was probably the most scary one.
It was mid day and we took the bus from Alajuela in Costa Rica which is close to the airport in San Jose and 6-7 hours later we were at the boarder of Nicaragua.
It was dark outside by now, and the whole place was a big mess. There was a big, overwhelming and very pushy crowd of sales people, people that wanted to give us a ride, people that wanted to help us find a ride, people that wanted to show us where to go to get a stamp on the passports etc.
Zack and I were very tired but tried our hardest to keep our focus . We held on to our stuff tight and tried to find the very unorganized immigration to get our stamp so we could enter the country. We got our stamps after paying $20 each and were left to find a cab to take us to San Juan del Sur, which was approximately an hour drive away.
Once again, we were surrounded by people that wanted to sell and “help” and we probably said to no 20 drivers and went to talk to a police officer with hopes he would show us to a trustworthy taxi driver. The busses stopped going that late in the day. There was a guy in his mid to late thirties who came to us while talking to the police officer and offered us a cab. And since he seemed to know the officer, we were happy to go with him. Especially since the police officer said that he was OK. We told him where we were going and we agreed that it would cost us $20 and he said YES.
We followed him to a door where another officer sat and checked the passports. The guy told him in Spanish, that I was his American wife coming and visiting and that Zack was my brother. Both I and Zack speak Spanish so we should’ve known there that something was not right. But we were very tired and still thought that the first police officer told us to go with this dude. It should be alright we thought…
He then took us to a dark street that was full of cars and locals and told us that his friend’s car was just a minute away. In the mean time, we had a boy, probably 18-20 years old who was stalking us. He was walking behind us pretty fast and looked like someone who tried to catch us and try to rob us. The guy who helped us told him to back off after a while, so he did.
We finally came to the car and the taxi driver was a fat guy in his 20’s who actually seemed to be a good guy. You know, you just get a good feeling sometimes about people. They helped us to put our big backpacks in the trunk and we each had our small backpacks with us with all the important things like passport and wallet.
The driver sat in his seat and the other guy who had helped us find the taxi also got into the car and sat in the front seat. Yet another red flag that we should’ve read better and understood as shady. We asked him if he was going with us and he answered something like “this is how we do it here!”.
We started driving, and the first 10 minutes they were very nice, they were trying to chit chat with us and everything seemed ok. But things changed right away when we were on a dark highway road with only jungle and some houses here and there. The guy, who actually spoke english very well, started telling us about how a bad person would’ve hypothetically treated us in this situation. He told us that the bad guy would rob us, kill us, chop us into pieces and dump us along the road in the jungle and take all our stuff. He kept talking like that and the more he talked the more we were sure that they were going to do something.
The driver was also driving like bat out of hell and I was about to put my belt on, but zack told me not to in case we would have to jump out from the car.
Coming from a war zone, when I am put in situations like this, I become fearless. I looked deep into the guys’ eyes, ignoring their threats and told them how we would’ve fucked up the bad guy in that situation and that we wouldn’t have been scared. And at the same time, I was slowly and discretely trying too find some sort of weapon in my backpack that I could use, just in case. The only thing I could find was my cute pink pen hahahahah. I grabbed it and thought to myself that when he tries to do something, that I would at least hurt him really bad. Zack and and I whispered between ourselves and agreed that he would grab the keys to use them as a weapon.
The journey continued, through dark jungle surrounded streets and more intimidating threats to us. He also told us that the boy who had followed us was about to rob us and probably stab us but that he shooed him away.
After some time, they told us that they wouldn’t be able to drive us to our hostel as they had promised and that they would drop us off somewhere nearby. That was a big no no as well, however, after a small but irritated discussion they agreed to follow the first plan and take us straight to the hostel.
After arriving at our hostel, we all got out in front of the building, which sat on a hill with nobody in sight. All of a sudden, the driver and his friend demanded $40. They had the nerve to insist that we pay them double from what we had agreed upon. He said he had helped us find the taxi cab and not get robbed and that he wanted a tip for “his extra services”.
We said we could give him a tip but absolutely not double. He was not ok with that. After a few minutes of discussion, Zack told him that maybe we could take the discussion inside the hostel, that we needed to drop off our bags and then look for more money. The guy was stupid enough to come in with us and as soon as we got inside, Zack spoke with the hostel owner, who just so happened to have two big, beautiful dogs. The owner looked super high on marijuana, but told us to go to our room. Meanwhile, The dogs are nearly jumping on the two taxi guys and were barking as high as they could, almost as if they could sense the evil emitted by these thugs.
We came out after a while and Zack gave the guys $20 and they left.
The whole situation was very unpleasant and this left a bad taste in our mouth. We were very cautious the whole time we were in Nicaragua, especially around San Juan del Sur. But we have learned some lessons for life which I would like to share with you here.
Lessons learned here are:
- Never cross boarders at night in developing countries
- Never trust the police in developing countries.
- Never follow someone who has just lied to an officer about who he is and who you are.
- Never follow a random guy down a dark alley street – just turn and run!
- Never ever get into a car that has more than one driver.
This was a freaky and very scary situation, but we have never let it stop us from traveling. We have been in hundreds of different countries alone and together and this is one of the few tricky experiences we’ve had. So, I hope I haven’t scared you from traveling this world and having awesome experiences in places that you would never ever have seen back at home.
However, when traveling, be street smart and listen to your instincts.
What is the trickiest situation you’ve had while traveling? Please share!