We finally decide its time to pull away from our hilltop hostel, coast downhill and see how far we can make it towards the border. Who knows, we might even make it into costa rica? Our confidence in the bus is about zero right now and we caught ourselves being tempted to stay another night in the hostel. Not because we like it here, but because sitting here with a nice gusty breeze and a pool seems far better than the unknown spot we could breakdown along the side of a dusty highway.
We eventually overcome and start packing up. We don’t get an early start but do eventually figure out a way to tie the back hatch shut with some webbing and the machete; then break camp and hit the road. The bus feels pretty good and we make the border without issue. Other than than the last 5-10 minutes of the drive where we have to close our windows to prevent the swarm of small bugs from getting stuck in our teeth. We watch the birds frolic overhead in a feeding frenzy and wish they would hurry up so we don’t have to clean so many of their snacks off the front of E later on.
Getting out of Nica is no small task. Like other borders, the buildings you must find are hidden like an easter egg hunt with no logic and even less signage. The problem is that here you need 3x as many stamps to be official. The first is from a shack on the side of the road, but his stamp means nothing other than the fact that the hunt has begun. We stop at three different buildings before finding the Aduana, but after a few minutes of conversation realize we’re on the wrong side of the building which means were trying to enter Nicaragua instead of leaving. argh. We walk to the other side to pay our exit fees and receive a card we can present for stamp number 2. Serious scavenger hunt stuff, except nobody thought to print the directions or draw a map.
Now we have to find the policia. Not any policia, but the specific guy who has the much coveted 2nd stamp. He has no office and wanders around...nobody seems to know his name or what he looks like but all assure us that he’s nearby. We finally spot him, of course, on the far side of the parking lot hanging out with his dog in the shade. Smart guy this one...find the coolest spot with the best breeze and let people come to you. Ho looks at nothing, confirms nothing, but stamps/signs and sends us on our way. We proceed into the actual office to get a 3rd and final stamp before taking off...hoping nobody decides they want to see a 4th.
We make our way through the fumigation and the “nuetral zone” over to the costa rica side where we have a pleasant surprise...no helpers at this border. No crowd gathering around the vehicle that we have to drive over, no beating on the side of the bus and no hands sticking IDs in your face through the safaris...how peaceful. Sadly however, the helpers have been replaced with a far lesser being- the tourist. In all of our border crossings to date it’s been pretty much us, the truck drivers and maybe another couple also trying to figure out how to weave through the immigration/aduana maze. Here we pull into our parking spot and get in line behind at least 150 tourists that piled off buses from who knows where and clogged up the immigration line. I walk around for a few moments thinking there must be a separate office, another entrance or a VIP line. Too many year of traveling with status i guess...there wasn’t.
Jen hops in line with the masses and i go to start the process of importing E. Right across the street is a building with a cleanly labelled “Aduana” sign. Wow, we must be back in civilization. Wrong. This is of course the aduana, but before you can get anything done here you must walk 300meters down a hot paved road to find the most obscurely hidden government building ever. Here, you turn off onto a dirt road through a parking lot and finally stumble upon the “other” aduana building where you must first buy car insurance. Insurance in hand i make a few copies just because experience says its a good idea when seeing a Copias sign to do so, then head back. At this point there’s nothing else that can be done until we have immigration stamps so i wait in line with jen.
We finally make it to the front, get our passports stamped and head back to aduana. All set, except we also need a copy of the stamp- of course. Sweaty walk back up the road, this time with lunch in hand, we get our copies and go back to the first building to get the paperwok completed, vehicle inspected and sent on our way. Our way back up the road for another copy, to turn our stack of docs/copies in to the lonely/grumpy guy at the end of the road and finally get our pass to leave.
Post border high five out of the way (and stoked to be costa rica beach bound), we take a deep breath and head south feeling great. Until just outside of Liberia where the bus lunges and gulps and we both sink knowing that somethings wrong with the wheel. We pull over, inspect everything and cant figure out what happened. We know we didn’t make it up but everything seems fine. Back on the road again, another 20 minutes and the choking repeats. This time our brains are less pre-convinced our wheel is going to fail and its easier to feel that its actually the engine. Feels like we aren’t getting fuel and the engine is choking, occasionally followed by a loud backfire and then returns to running normal. At this point we are pulling into liberia so we stop at a gas station and buy some additive for the fuel tank thinking that maybe we got some bad gas or have a bit of water in the tank.
Jen nagivates us to a hostel and we are thrilled to see that they have secure parking for exactly one vehicle and it sits empty. Its HOT and we check into a room with no windows but with an a/c unit and once were inside with the door shut it takes everything we’ve got to go back outside. We manage to convince ourselves to go out and check the bus but everything seems running normal and we retreat back to our dark ice cave until morning. We check out, head towards the beach but only get about 5 minutes out of town before the choking happens again. We turn around, opting for the ease of city versus the solitude of breaking down at the beach (and with the oppressive heat the a/c didn’t sound too bad). We pull E in front of a mechanic across the street and ask if they know vws. The answer was less than assuring but they offer to give it a shot after lunch.
We check into our cave, cool the body temp and then decide to go get started on our own. I sent a post off to the vw forum on theSamba, where i go for all my advice and what seems like a weekly ego adjustment about how little we know about our vehicle. The first response to come back with advice: “Find a local shaman and have them bless your bus. Couldn't hurt, right?” I guess we’ve been posting a few too many problems ;)
I hadn’t really realized until this moment, but i guess we’ve gained comfort in working on the bus when I trust my own bus knowledge over a mechanic that isn’t air-cooled specific. The mechanic are still working away on other vehicles but the neighbor whose driveway we are parked in comes out to talk. He’s a VW lover but drives a new golf. Not a ton of help but nice enough and does some translating when the mechanics come over to look at what were doing and ask questions. We get some nods, some maybes and they go back to work. I replace the points, condenser and coil, something we meant to do to replace the temporary one we installed while broken down in belize...but somehow forgot.
Changeover complete we start the bus up and everything sounds great. Test drive up and down the highway and we cant recreate the choking. We look at each other, again thinking its a bit too easy- but it is working and tomorrow we’ll try again for the beach. We look at the gauge in the bus and it says 109degrees... must be to to salvage the rest of our day. Just enough time left to enjoy an evening of pure air conditioning bliss and for jen to cook up an amazing jerk pork (with a medley of central american starches) that we enjoyed in complete darkness before the sun even set.