By Nicaraguan immigration policy, visitors on a tourist visa have to leave the country every six months in order to renew their visa and remain legal. Since we're relatively close to the border with Honduras, this wouldn't be a big deal. Unfortunately (for us, anyway), Nicaragua and Honduras enjoy an open border policy. There's no one to stamp my passport as I cross into Honduras. It's like I never left Nicaragua. Thanks to the two countries' mutual amiability, we have to fly to Managua and then take a bus to Costa Rica in order to renew our visa.
We don't have to worry about amiability between Costa Rica and Nicaragua ruining our plans. Citizens of the two countries do not get on well. As was explained to me before I left, Costa Ricans, or "Ticos," as they call themselves, see Nicaraguans as poor and uncivilized, and the Nicas see the Costa Ricans as unwelcoming and stuck up. They say Costa Rica tries to keep the Nicaraguans out so they don't drag down the economy (sound familiar?).
It's certainly true that Costa Rica is far wealthier than Nicaragua. Upon arriving in the city of Liberia, I was immediately overwhelmed by the even sidewalks lined with trees, street signs, businesses, and paved roads. It all seemed so organized. I hardly knew what to do with myself.
I received a dissertation on Tica-Nica relations this morning from the owner of the hostel where Susan and I are staying. It was quiet, and I asked him where all the guests had gone to, in hopes of perhaps going there myself. Apparently, there's not much to do in Liberia. I asked if they'd all gone to the national park.
"No," he replied. "They've all gone to Nicaragua. It's cheaper there. That's what they always say: 'Nicaragua is so much better. Things are less expensive there!' They're so ignorant! Don't they realize it's cheaper because everyone's poor? I don't think Nicaragua is pretty. It's ugly because everyone's so poor, and they're so sad. Everyone seemed sad when I went there. The tourists don't see the other side of the coin. Things cost more here because we have nice houses, and our kids can go to school, and we have running water."
He especially feels the pressure because he runs a business fairly close to the border. He's close enough to compete with Nicaraguan tourism, which is hard for him. It's like tourism is being outsourced.
I suppose he has a point about visitors not always seeing the rampant poverty that results in the low prices in Nicaragua. From a capitalist perspective, isn't that's how it's supposed to work? Lower prices draw tourism to Nicaragua, whose economy is bolstered by their presence. Of course, it's never that simple. As the hostel owner pointed out, many businesses in tourist areas of Nicaragua are owned by foreigners, not Nicaraguans. I'm not sure what percentage of businesses are foreign-owned, though.
But moreover, what he said doesn't reflect the countries as a whole. Nicaragua's tourism industry is far less developed than Costa Rica's. It can't compete, even if it's less expensive. Businesses in this area may feel some pressure from the border, but the fact is most of the tourists are still in Costa Rica. I find it somewhat encouraging that businesses here are feeling pressure, because that means Nicaragua's tourism must be getting stronger.
I had a feeling Nicaragua was turning me capitalist. I started to suspect it when I supported switching from the city trash collection to the private collector, who's far more reliable. At least with the private collector we can withhold money if he fails to pick up our trash.