How to exit Costa Rica with your own car (and then come back!)

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EDIT: December 23, 2013: There is a new exit tax that you need to pay! Thanks to Sammi at mytanfeet.com for the info. You must pay this $7 fee at branches of Bancredito. Keep your receipts as you will need to show them when you cross. There are two locations in Guanacaste that you can pay it: in Liberia in the mall, and at the airport.

We will be doing this run at the end of January and I will update this post then.

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This is a ‘how to’ post that will (hopefully) help others who wish to exit Costa Rica for a stamp run with their own vehicle. We did this run on November 3rd, 2013 and was our second time through. We departed Tamarindo around 9am, had a late lunch in San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua, and were home by 9:00pm. We made a few stops on the way and saw some cool scenery. Isla de Ometepe’s twin peaks, and San Juan del Sur were really cool!

We planned for this to take the entire day so there was no need to be concerned with how long things were taking. Since we were not returning with merchandise, we only needed to be out of Costa Rica for 3 hours.

I have tried to faithfully record exactly what we did but there may be an omission, and you may experience slight variations. Here goes:

1. You need to go to the Registro Civil. We went to the one in Liberia. It is located here. You must have with you the ownership, your passport, and 7500 colones (about $15). Give the 7500 to the cashier, then wait for one of the clerks. They will print out, then stamp your Permiso de Salida. It’s good for 20 days. You probably ‘could’ do this the same day (Monday to Friday) , but we did it the day before just in case we encountered an issue.

2. Go to a branch of Bancredito and pay the new exit tax. Make sure you have your passport with you as you will need it to confirm your identity. Keep the receipt.

3. Make a photocopy of the Permiso de Salida. You will need it at the border.

3. Get your documents ready. Checklist for the border:

  • Permiso de Salida (exit permit from step 1)
  • A copy of the Permiso de Salida
  • Your INS insurance document for the car
  • Your ownership document
  • Marchamo certificate (inspection document)
  • Your drivers license
  • Your receipt showing proof of exit tax payment
  • an onward ticket or airline itinerary showing that you are leaving Costa Rica within 90 days.
  • US cash. Try to have lots of 1s and 5s. Make sure the bills are not ripped or they will be refused.

I also brought the car’s mechanical inspection document. Well, I brought everything just in case. But you MUST have the above.

4. Head to the border! When you head in, drive past all the trucks. See a truck parked? Drive past it. You will drive through a gateway. There may be someone here, they will tell you to keep going to the immigration building.

5. You will come upon the Costa Rican immigration building. Ignore ALL the guys who are standing around outside the gate trying to to get you to stop. Stay to the right of the building and park your car INSIDE the fenced area, on the right. Ignore the people on the other side of the fence.

6. Go into the immigration building, fill in your exit card and get your passports stamped. Present your receipt showing that you have paid the exit tax.

7. Go around the building to the other side (west side). Across the roadway is the small ‘Adunaus’ shack. Give this guy the Permiso de Salida, the copy, and your passport. He will enter your info in a book, stamp your original, and give it back to you.  Time to leave CR!

8.  Get back in your car and drive north. This is the so-called ‘no-mans-land’. You will come to a checkpoint where a guard will request to see your Permiso de Salida. He’ll check it out, then you are heading into Nicaragua. Be careful driving here as there are many pedestrians walking through in both directions.

9. You will drive 25 meters north and see an area on the right with tents and some other guys checking passports. Park somewhere on the right. Be prepared to be asked continuously if you want help. Ignore these guys. The Nicaraguan officials will ask to see your passports. Now drive just a few meters north to a green shack where you will pay $3 ($18 total so far) to have the exterior of the car fumigated.

10. Get back in your car and drive north to the Nicaraguan immigration building.

11. Park your car and ignore all the guys asking to help. Go to the east side of the building where you will see a cashier. You need to pay $1 for ‘something’ ($19 so far).

12. On the other side, you will see the immigration kiosks. Fill in your entry card, pay $12 ($30 total so far) and get your passport stamped.

13. This is where it gets confusing. Go around to the north side of the building (green arrow) where you will present your ownership, your drivers license, the INS insurance document, the Marchamo document and the Permiso de Salida to an official, who will create an entry document for the car. You then pay $5 for an entry permit and another $12 for insurance ($47 so far). Then one of them will come out with you to your car and inspect it. Then go back into the office with them where you will get a stamp on the entry document above.

14. Get back into your car, then drive to the exit point.  Your passports and the entry document from step 13 will be given a final check and you drive away. Congrats! You have made it!

We drove to San Juan del Sur, about 30 minutes from the border, and had a late lunch. The place we ate at was pretty touristy but we all ate for $50 total. We walked around for a bit. It’s a really nice town and the beach was really cool!

After a while, we decided to go. I filled the car with diesel, then we started heading back. Returning to Costa Rica was basically the reverse of the above, with the exception that you only pay $1 heading back in. Here are the steps:

15. Driving back into Nicaragua, keep to the left, and enter the same place you exit – do not stay to the right. Show your passports and the entry document you got in step 13 above to the same guys from step 14.

16. Drive back to the Nicaraguan immigration building. Park, and go to the west side of the building, pay $1 and complete your exit cards and get your passports stamped.

17. Go back to the door with the green arrow and get one of the guys to inspect the vehicle for re-entry. They will sign and stamp your entry document for the car (the one from step 13). This document should now have both an entry stamp and and exit stamp. A police officer will then inspect your document, stamp and sign it, then you drive towards the CR side. Make sure you have the both stamps!

18 Drive back to the checkpoint near the fumigation area (the place in step 9) where your passports and the entry document will be checked for both stamps.

19. Keep to the right where you will drive through an automated fumigation (like a small car-wash) – keep your windows up!

20. Park your car just south of the Aduanas shack. Go inside, fill in your Costa Rica entry form, present your onward ticket/airline itinerary and get your passport stamped – 90 days! Almost done!

21. Go to the Aduanas shack, fill in an immigration document, declaring nothing (assuming you did not bring anything back), get the Permiso de Salida stamped again. You will be given a small piece of paper with a stamp.

22. Drive back. When you get to the gateway from step 4, give the guard the small piece of paper with the stamp. Drive away.

We were back in Tamarindo by 9:00pm. Done!

As a family of 5, our total cost came to $88, which does not include the cost of gas (probably $20-$25 from Tamarindo) for a total of $113 not including food. Compared to last time ($300 and shady dealings) or what is charged by border run operators ($60 per person), I think we did alright!

You need patience when doing this as the time taken to navigate each side of the border can take an hour or two so if you have kids with you, make sure they have something to do – the border can be boring! And it certainly helps if you speak spanish. We are learning right now, however we had our spanish speaking friend Jen and her daughter Lola with us, which certainly helped out.

Anyways, I hope you find this post useful. As I mentioned earlier, it may not be 100% exact but it is exactly what I recall from yesterday. Save travels!

Posted in Costa Rica | 4 Comments

Global Citizen (GC) Almost a year to the day…

Well, I did not think I would return, but I definitely did leave the possibility open, and here I am!

The one thing I enjoyed about the blog before, was hearing what other people were experiencing and being inspired by them.  I also enjoyed the fact that there was a possibility that we were helping others as well.

Which brings me to why I’ve returned.  I believe there is a shift happening.  And I think many people are looking for a new path, but much like ourselves, do not know anything other than the path they’ve seen others take before them. What if you started to entertain thoughts of a different life?  A different path?  Something you can’t even imagine because it hasn’t even entered your mind?

The old formula (which really only had a very short life span in human history) was:

education + j.o.b. + marriage + picket fence + (early?) retirement = happy life

In a global, service based economy, telecommuting and distributed teams are becoming the norm.  The ability to educate yourself on any topic you want, and from anywhere in the world, is completely within your reach.  The freedom to teach, serve, and help others globally, is at your fingertips.  All you need is wifi or 3G.  So, what purpose does that old formula serve?

The saying goes: if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.

If you want a radical shift, you have to make a radical change.  And that starts with your thinking.  The stories you tell yourself, and shifting the paradigms that you might not even be consciously aware that you have.

But first, you need to open yourself up to the possibilities that the path you want is actually possible.  And secondly, you need to be able to recognize when you have had enough of that path, be honest, and start looking for a new and better path.

I want the blog to move away from our daily life details as a family, to more of a high level view of how our paradigms have shifted over our last 3 years of travel, and how we’ve stripped away things and ideas that no longer serve us.  I want to look at how these shifts have helped us to focus on what truly matters (to us): relationships, and experiences.

I’d love to hear everyone chime in, and of course if you want help or ideas, or just to be able to bounce ideas around, feel free to contact us.

In the mean time, I’ll do my best to start blogging more regularly on topics such as budgeting, planning, organizing, learning/education, languages, culture, self sustainability, using technology to work your passion, etc. etc.

If you have ideas on what you’d like to see, please feel free to comment.  I’d love to hear your ideas!

Posted in A Transition to Global Citizen | 7 Comments

Blogging off

Hi Everyone!

It’s been quite a while since we’ve updated.  As much as I love writing long updates and sharing with everyone, it did take a lot of time.  I found I was just repeating the same information on Facebook.  I’ve decided I’m going to stick with micro blogging a la Facebook.  If you are up for finding out where we are and what we’re doing, please find us on Facebook, or message me on here and I’ll let you know how to find us.

Who knows, we might come back to the blog again, but for now, it’s just a whole lot to keep up with.

We are currently in Wisconsin, making our way east, then north (through to Calgary/Banff, etc.), then west to Vancouver and down through to California again.  We plan on spending the winter in Hawaii, heading back east and then back to do the European circuit for the summer.  That’s the tentative plan.  As you all know, we tend to change rather frequently.  We wear fickle with pride :)

Love and peace to everyone!

Posted in D. Nomads: 2012 | 1 Comment

Trip/Life planning and decision making

I have been thinking a lot about this lately. Namely, I feel sorry for people who listen to our plans as they unfold and during our brainstorming processes. I wonder what insane hell they must think goes on in our brains. The look of stunned confusion on most peoples faces is priceless.

I thought it might be interesting (or at least incredibly amusing) to write out what our planning process is like. Beware – there is NO rhyme or reason here. It’s just a bunch of random tangents.

This process has been around for me forever. And we use it in all aspects of our life. It has significantly sped up with meeting Mike, and the popularization of the ‘internet’ – and most specifically, the iphone/smartphone. The day we bought our first iphones, Mike said they would completely revolutionize our life. I laughed at my techie and thought ‘how cute’…..I’m not sure how games and e-books will revolutionize our life, but ok :) We use our devices a million times a day and research everything and anything that comes to all 5 of our minds. We will follow 99% of our tangents until we exhaust our possibilities. We have noticed, that our process has sped up even more so since we’ve been on the road, and most especially in the last 6 months or so.

And before I start my manic point form list, I have to say how VERY thankful I am for Mike and the children for being able to keep up with these thought patterns and processes. Also, the very few friends of ours that completely understand how we work through stuff, and don’t get an aneurism from listening to us change plans by the minute. We are literally “all over the map”. Of course now, it’s physically, as well as psychologically :) I will share with you a thought/brainstorming process about our simple plans to go to Chile this winter. This has been the plan for a year now, without change.

-One day on a drive back to our place from visiting our land, I thought it might be a good idea to have an RV here. That way, we don’t have to rush into building the house. So I verbalize that.

-We wondered, and I researched while Mike drove. (note, this drive is only about 10 to 15 minutes long)

-Seems RV’s are cheaper here in Europe

-But, I don’t have my full citizenship yet, so can we even buy?

-They are cheaper in Germany, and more abundant there

-But can we buy without citizenship without taking it to North America?

-It would be good to have Canadian plates (reasons I will not list here)

-Suggestion made and agreed – Canadian plates it is.

-What if we saved for an RV whilst in Chile and purchased on in Spring when we got back to Toronto and then shipped it here?

-How much would shipping cost? (I send an email to the man who shipped our van for us for a quote)

-Wait – buying an RV in the spring is crazy – prices are higher and fall is when everyone is getting rid of them.

-Ok, so we buy in the fall and store it whilst in Chile

-Where do we store? It would be silly to purchase the RV, pay for it to be stored, and then pay for accommodations in Chile for 6 months.

-Wait – why don’t we drive it to Chile?

-Arrive home

-The two of us research the drive to Chile and people who have done it (this takes about 2 hours on and off between two of us)

-Found some incredible sites, guides and information about traveling through each of the countries in North, Central, and South America (including shipping through the Darien Gap)

-I start feeling a little panicked. Warning sign. This is a little more than I had bargained for – in terms of safety with 3 small children, and only 2 or so months to buy an RV and plan a trip down there.

-I voice this.

-We toss it around for about 5 minutes and I’m still a little panicked.

-I toss out that I would almost rather just drive back to San Diego for the winter.

-As we had previously agreed that we would not be heading back to the States, or Canada to do another road trip for a while, I was surprised to see Mike pause.

-That opened a door.

-Mike says YES! Lets do it, but this time, drive across Canada, and then down the coast and see everything we missed last time.

-YES! Agreed.

-Then he says we can still fly to Chile for a month to scope it out for next time. Flights must be cheaper from LA than from Toronto

-We check. Nope. Same price.

-I mumble Hawaii.

-Check tickets – WHOA! Way cheaper than Toronto.

-Agreed.

-Plan finalized and detailing processes begin. Total time = approximately 4 hours.

A week later.

-Visit my friend Lily from Australia

-She is on the phone with her mom (who is in Australia)

-Her mom says “when are you coming”

-I have been back burner planning Australia for 2 decades now.

-I arrive home with Lily and pass on the comment to Mike.

-WHILE talking to Lily, Mike is researching Australia.

-I notice this and see the wheels are turning.

-Lily leaves.

-Planning for Australia begins.

-I wonder how much tickets are from Hawaii/LA to Australia (haha – I wasn’t remotely serious)

-WHOA! Half price?!

-What if we ship the RV from LA?

-How much would that cost?

-Or we can ship the RV to Europe until September and then ship to Australia?

-That’s scrapped – we don’t want to do two shipping rounds in one year

-What about purchasing, then selling in Australia?

-Research on that – prices are high and no guarantee of a sale at the end of the trip of course.

-Decide that the trip has to be a year in order to make either shipping, or purchasing worth while.

-Camping is super cheap/next to nothing, so that’s a no brainer for there.

-Ok shipping.

-We ship from LA and fly from Honolulu

-Then do not return to Europe until 2014

-This puts house building plans on hold for a year.

-Settled.

-Plan finalized and detail processes begin – total time = approximately 2 – 4 hours.

Until…..TODAY!

-Mike thinks of a glitch

-Our van will be in storage in a friends garage until April. Will he possibly be ok with us storing it longer?

-I send an email.

-No.

-Ok, we are on the hunt for another garage (no storage spaces in Serbia at all)

-Go through many scenarios quickly and yay or nay them all

-I say – not so bad to come back next year here with the RV as per original plan. We can wrap up what we want to build on the land (maybe just a garage for now) and have storage for the van when we’re gone. Then, save up for Australia for another year.

-I email our friend back to make sure that we can still have it until April.

-Yes.

-And we’re back to our original plan involving the RV.

-Kewl – plan finalized and detail processes begin. Total time = approximately 1.5 hours.

Also – we miss the heck out of mobile living. Hotels, hostels, home rentals, etc. are an absolute pain. Specifically when you have 5 or more. Almost everyone requires that you get a second room (which we have refused to do thus far), and it makes finding a place to stay, a lot more difficult.

I don’t know what shall become of this plan, but whatever it is, I am (as always) excited as heck to just get moving, and to dump all the STUFF that we have accumulated yet again. Sigh…..stuff really weighs me down mentally….

That’s it for now! If you’ve read this far, thanks for keeping up with the insanity that is our daily life :)

Love and peace to all

Posted in Serbia | 2 Comments

So long since an update …

I’ll try to post more here! Just a quick update – we bought a farm in Serbia! It’s a great piece of land about 15 minutes outside Kragujevac. It has deep hand dug well that has the freshest, coolest water you can image, along with an awesome view of the hills and the city!

Our plan right now is to build something on it next year, either a garage for our RV (more on that in another post!) or begin building our summer house.

It’s taken pretty much the whole summer for the paperwork to be completed but it seems it’s finally finished!

We are heading back to Ontario on the 13th of September to see family, friends and business partners then beginning a new phase around the end of October! Stay tuned! :-)

That’s it for now!

Posted in D. Nomads: 2012 | Leave a comment

EU Roadtrip and beyond

So, we decided to head off to Europe with our van.  We headed straight to Budapest and found a place to stay for one night and then a more reasonable Best Western, no less, for an amazing price and gigantic rooms!  Both Buda and Pest were amazing and we had a wonderful time with the old buildings and getting around town.  There were these amazing handmade, fresh cinnamon treats that we had much too much of, but were insanely amazing :)

We’ve realized that we like three main things (especially here in Europe) 1. closed off pedestrian walkways – I cannot get enough! 2. cafes – which funny enough, cover pedestrian walkways completely! 3. and of course insanely historical sites.  Not the typical touristy things (although we do take those on as well), but the more quirky things. One more thing we like – not being a tourist.  I love shopping at the grocery stores, being able to cook, and just not gawking around.  Although, it is at times inescapable unless we spend more time in a place.

Budapest was definitely a keeper and a must-return-to-to-see-more-of type of town.

Vienna.  Next stop.  What to say?  Loved it!  Mike seemed to favour Budapest, but I have to say that I liked Vienna a teeny bit more.  We found an amazing hotel with excellent prices and lots of room.  The grocery stores took getting used to.  I completely forgot (from last summers Germany experience) that everything closes at 19:00.  Period.  The only thing open are gas stations and restaurant/bars/strip joints, etc.  We were out of luck for food/water a few nights before we realized we had to get to the grocery store earlier.

We did a lot of walking here, and saw some wonderful things.  We visited a church and went underground to the catacombs.  The tour was quiet and everyone whispered.  The boys were promised bones/human remains, but all we saw was caskets, urns, and boring pictures on walls.  When the tour guide mentioned we were going to see bones, Devlin whispered in an exasperated voice: finally!  There were probably a good 50 adults on the tour and the laughter was plentiful!  We only saw a few piles of bones, and all were behind bars of some sort and difficult to see.

I met up with a distant cousin for a few hours.  I’d never met him before, so it was nice to connect.  We finally came across a unicycle for Torrin, so we picked one up, as well as a skateboard for Devlin.  We looked around for heely wheels, but alas….none to be found.

More wonderful old buildings, pedestrian walks, and a ton of historical sites and cafes and a park or two for the kids to play in.

We decided to drive from Vienna through to Paris non-stop.  So, we pulled a bit of an all-nighter and arrived in Paris at 6:00am.  Every city we’d been in in our sans-trailer travels has been great with last minute accommodations, sim card purchases, and free internet at all the usual places.  We didn’t expect Paris to be much different.  The first day was a complete bomb.  From 6:00am until early evening, we’d spent looking for internet and a hotel/hostel/rental apartment.  They definitely don’t like their English there, and our Quebec French wasn’t doing much to make that any better.  In fact, one man told me they love Quebequa ….it’s not real French, but they love them anyway.  Haha!  had to laugh at that one.

We checked with many hotels, and they are all very strict about their 4 people per room policy (which has always been bendable everywhere else).  They wanted us to get two rooms because we have a fifth person.  With no luck finding internet, we did find a place to stay.  An unusual chain of hotel/hostels all over the city that are locked up with a machine in front.  You order a room through the machine, receive a key, etc. and are then allowed into the building.  The only room available was a room with one bed.  We took it – and snuck everyone in.  Thanks of a fabulous friend from Serbia, we were hooked up with an apartment booking gentleman, who found an incredible apartment for us on a lovely cobblestoned street with everything on it….including a Subway Sandwich place and a couple of crepe places!

Then of course, we walked Paris non-stop.  We found heely wheels, and saw all the typical tourist things.  I had a hard time switching from German to French though and throughout our days there, I kept stopping myself from answering or asking in German.  I was surprised that the German came more naturally to me, as I had spent a significantly less amount of time learning German than French.  Odd.

We had decided early in the trip to skip the UK altogether.  Mostly because we really want to spend a large amount of time there.  A couple of days just would not have been enough, and we did not want to feel rushed.  So, that will be a trip in and of itself…next summer perhaps?

So….from Paris, we drove through to Munich.  We stopped overnight at a lovely little town that was incredibly adorable and *much* more our style than Paris.  Loved it!  In the morning, we strolled around and ended up leaving later than expected.  We were to meet a friend/client in Zurich, but managed to not make it there until 18:00 (instead of the anticipated noon!).  Due to a very huge lack of free internet, it was difficult to get a hold of him and wait around outside a starbucks.  Plus it was getting late, and we needed to get to Munich.

Since we’d also decided to skip Milan, and other parts of Italy (we were getting sick of the driving and hotel hunting…..having your own trailer is *amazingly* low stress and much better than searching for apartments/hotels), we decided to head to Munich for a day and then take the kids to Legoland.

We arrived in Munich at 23:00.  It took 3 hours to realise that no one in town had available space due to some event.  Since there are no hotels or anything on the side of the highway, the nearest hotel/town alternative would have been at least another hour drive.  At this point, we were starting to fall asleep.  So, we overnighted in the van.  More like just closed our eyes for 3 hours, but still odd.

In the morning, from there, we did not see any of Munich (as was planned originally), but drove straight to Legoland for a surprise trip for the boys and for Devlin’s birthday. It was as much a surprise and a blast as the one in California!  They (we) LOVED it! :)  And now, Caelin was much bigger and could enjoy almost all of the rides!

Legoland closed at 18:00 and Mike and I decided another all nighter was in store.  So, we drove all the way from the Munich area straight through to Kragujevac.  13 hours later we passed the Croation and Serbian borders and got into KG.  Devlin spent his birthday bowling, and eating ice cream at Srce and a sandwich at his favourite restaurant.

Since then, we’ve been continuing our workouts, working our butts off with our clients, and focusing on the kids.  The weather has been amazing – days and days of sun and 30C weather.  We’ve spent the sunny days in the park with Torrin learning the unicycle and Devlin learning the skateboard.  And rainy days in the new Plaza bowling and laser tagging.  Oh!  And Torrin built another boat this year!  A different design then last year!  It worked quite well in the water.

Mike decided to make a trip to Toronto for a few days to help out on some family matters.  It’s our first time apart in well over 10 years. It’s odd having him gone and it will be good to see him again on Thursday! :)  Can’t wait.

We are planning a trip to Kosovo to visit a farm that our wonderful friends are building.  I can’t wait to see it!  Very exciting!

We are still on the hunt for land….after giving up for a while.  It has been hard to secure something due to a lot of cultural nuances. There are many difficulties here, and we are now painfully aware of some very negative cultural differences.  I am disappointed for a number of reasons.  I guess I had set some expectations for my friends, family, and the culture in general. However, I have learned and understood a heck of a lot more about my parents with us being here for so long!

So…..the land is still something we seek, but are approaching it a little different this year.  We’ll see how that all goes down.  For now, we are hanging tight in KG, working and loving our monkeys.

I’ll check in again soon and perhaps upload some pix.

Ves

Posted in EU Roadtrip | 1 Comment

Romania, Software Testing, Smuggling, Montenegro and waiting for our KIA

Seems the blogging coincides with our getting up and traveling. After an early return from Crete, we returned to Kragujevac to the worst winter in recent memory for them. An entire month of -25 degree weather in a 38 square meter apartment with 3 boys and raging cabin fever all around. We did manage to use that time to get back into some major work mode, and the kids made huge leaps in their studies.

Somehow, I had volunteered to be a speaker at the first ever Romanian Testing Community Conference. I knew no one there. I just saw a tweet requesting speakers on Twitter and responded. I’ve never been to a testing conference (personal preference and vision of what they might be and not really aligned with some of the things that go on at these things). Actually – now that I think of it…..I WAS at one testing conference for the KWSQA in Waterloo once. That was their first one as well. I didn’t speak, and it was pretty good. How had I forgotten about it until now?? Wow I’m losing my memory lol. I guess I didn’t think of that as a testing conference since it was local, etc. All my testing friends travel far and wide to go to some class A world wide events. So, maybe I should change that and say I’ve never been to non-local testing conference?

Regardless – I was speaking at this one and this was definitely a first. Everyone who knows me, knows I’m good at yapping – even in big groups. BUT, I’m not yet comfortable with being center stage. I make sure I am sitting at all of my talks and my schtick is to engage the audience and help answer questions/solve problems on the fly – guided by a loose meeting agenda. At first it was supposed to be 50 – 100 people. Not too bad and not far off from what I’m used to. Then it bumped to 150…..then….gulp 200. Uh….yeah…..

So without going into testing details….since this IS a travel blog :) I will say, that we headed to Romania on March 5. At first we thought it wouldn’t be too bad. A bus from Kragujevac (KG) to Beograd (BG), then a train to Timisoara in Romania and then a train from Timisoara to Cluj-Napoca. WRONG! It was: bus from KG to BG, then bus from BG to Vrsac in Serbia. Then from Vrsac, a train to Timisoara…then to Cluj. All this for a few hundred kilometers and a half a days worth of driving. Missing the van big time!

So, we arrived in BG and decided perhaps it might be best to rent a vehicle for the rest of the trip. We could work during the time we saved on traveling and that would even it out. The rental was pretty darn reasonable at 147 euro for unlimited km’s, a car seat, and crossing the border. We made our way to the car rental place with our backpacks and one carry on. Which isn’t so bad unless you’re walking in the cold and wind with three tired monkeys :) We get there and the car is ready. Everything is awesome….except they want to block 500 euro on a credit card for damages. We were prepared for a block, but not one that big.

So, we cabbed it back to the bus station and squeaked on to a bus heading for Vrsac, where the train from Romania left at 15:55. We made it into Vrsac at 15:55, but apparently, the train leaves at 18:00! The 15:55 time is the direct bus from BG to the train station for the 18:00 train. Duho! So, Vrsac is a tiny place with nothing around the train station. We managed to find a place for Mike to plug in and work whilst I picked up snacks for the train ride for the kids.

At 18:00, we board the train. Upon entering, I attempted to enter the car on the left and was ushered to the right by one of the passengers. The claim was that the car was cold. We went to the right and found a room with low lighting. The conductor came and told us not to sit there because it’s…..cold. We were to wait 20 min and go to a lit room. In our lit room, with bench seats that were kept in tact simply by the fact that we were sitting on them, we set up for our 2 – 3 hour train ride. As the train started rolling, there was incredible amounts of banging, the walls on either side of our cabin were shaking back and forth. Older women were running up and down the hallways with wooden poles with hooks on the end. It was all rather weird. But, we were in our seats, working and entertaining the kids, so our focus was more inside. Things got crazier as we arrived at the border. There was more odd behavior at the border…..this time from the border guards and police…with ladders and electric drills and opening light fixtures in the ceiling. This was ONLY happening directly in front of our cabin. As if we are to witness this on purpose. Again, we kept our focus inwards.

Shortly after crossing the border, an older woman opened our door and asked us to get out because she ‘left something’ in our seats. My first instinct was no way – I’m not going to let you put anything in here. Then it hit me…..we were already sitting on the stuff she had put in there. As it dawned on us about what might be going on, she grew impatient and started ripping the seats off the walls…and the material off the seats. We left the cabin in a hurry as she started stuffing all the goods into bags. We were stunned and worried about the kids. The conductor came out and made some nasty comments about Serbs and apologized for the behaviour. Funny….I seemed to be the closest thing to a Serb on board. Perhaps he didn’t realise I was aware of this fact.

Either way, it seems like this is like the 1990’s, but in reverse this time. Goods were going the other way 20 years ago. The thing about the underground economy is that it stays vibrant, is efficient, and changes quickly with the needs of its customers. Much like small businesses. They can stay flexible and responsive. Above ground economies….like large corporations….seem to be stuck in perpetual red tape, move like dinosaurs and struggle to keep up with customer demands. Small business and underground economies are based on needs of customers only. They provide services that customers demand and price accordingly. This is more like a service based economy than anything else around. Big corps, banks and governments….their offerings seem to be based on their needs and goals being perpetuated. Not the needs and goals of the customer…or providing for the customer at all costs.

Anyway, it was an interesting lesson all around. We ran into a British couple when we got off the train. They had a similar story to tell on the car they were on. Seems we were the only ones on the whole train who weren’t involved in all of this.

We found our next train to Cluj and boarded the overnight car. We settled in and slept until we hit Cluj at 4:00am. We loaded into a taxi an headed to a wonderful hotel – the Opera Plaza – where the conference was to be held. We had a great sleep, did some work and met with one of the conference organizers. I was getting nervous! Mike worked, I practiced and we went out to see the town for a bit. Unfortunately, it was quite cold, so we ended up warming up in a mall. Yuck. A large mall. One where you have no idea that you have even left North America. We haven’t been to a mall like this in quite a while. We couldn’t wait to get out.

That evening, we had a wonderful dinner with the event organizers and their wives/girlfriends. I am so thankful for their giving me the opportunity to speak! Although, that evening, I was nothing but nervous :)

So, the following day was crazy. I met a few people, sat in the back of the room full of 200 people, and was the very last speaker. I’m not a powerpoint girl, but I did throw up some visuals so people didn’t completely fall asleep. The crowd was quiet at first, but as my nervousness left, I started to try and get them more and more involved. By the end, the questions and comments were floating and amazing. The people I spoke to after the end of the conference and at the dinner party after, blew me away with their incredible comments. I am thrilled and thankful to have met all of them and to have heard their amazing stories. We have every intention of visiting when the warm weather comes, and are looking forward to keeping up with them online and in person.

What an amazing experience overall! And just as amazing was the hotel staff. I am blown away by the incredible service we had from absolutely everyone. The offers of watching the children, booking hostels, finding information out for us, etc. etc. were never ending. All with a smile and all with incredible efficiency that I have not seen in any hotel I have ever stayed at. Wow. This is service. Definitely not necessary, but wow – what a nice to have!

The day after the conference, we took the train from Cluj to Timisoara. We stayed at a nice hostel across from the train station, and were up at 4:00am for our train to Serbia. On the platform we bumped in to two sets of young travellers. One solo who was born in Romania, but grew up in B.C., and two musicians – one from B.C. (also born in Romania….the same year!) and the other from the States. We ended up traveling to BG together and spending some time in BG together. The three of them are now going to continue their travels west for a bit together. We had some amazing conversations, and it was nice to spend time with some wonderful and like minded travellers!

We decided to head straight over to Bar in Montenegro. This is where our van is waiting for us. We did not hear from the shipping company, but figured we’d make our way over so we didn’t have to back track from KG. We took an overnight train and travelled for 10 hours through some incredible mountains, until we hit the coast. Water again :) Ahhhhhhhhhhhh Even with the chill in the air, the water and fresh air make everything just amazing! We are now waiting for Monday to see if they can unload our van from the container. At this point, we might have to do a few minor repairs on it and then head out. Wheels again!!! Even though we don’t have the van yet, or a hitch left on the van, I am starting to get severe hitch itch! The weeks travels and moving from place to place has helped fuel this quite a bit. Spring is near and my nomad self is springing back to life after a long frost.

I am very much looking forward to see our sweet KIA van :) The children are looking forward to the huge bin of Lego that sits in the back seat :) I cannot wait! :)

Today, we will head to Stari Bar to see the old city. We will spend the rest of the day working, and will be on the phone first thing in the morning to see about getting a hold of the van :)

Posted in Romania/Montenegro | 2 Comments

10 things I’ve discovered after our first 36 hours of life on Crete

After a not-so-bad (yet horrific due to cigarette smoke) 15 hour bus trip, some time in Athens, and a fabulous trip on the ferry, the shake up in routine, lack of exercise or nutritional food caught up to us.  I had a teeeeeny bit of stress due to internet issues and a client call shortly after arrival.  It took a while to get the heat going.  And we discovered that food is incredibly scarce (and at least a good 30 min. walk to a small convenient store….read: not much food!) where we are.

This morning, however, after a great sleep, the place had warmed up, a work out, a green shake, a new router, and some decent meals, I am stripping myself of useless negativity and panic.

To help with that, I’ve spent some time on the beach and thinking of things I am thankful for and watching my boys play.  So, all things being equal, and having the most important two bottom needs met on Maslow’s Hierarchy,  some things I have learned and (re)discovered since coming here:

1. Salt water and sea air is an incredibly soothing (and healthy) giver of life.  After 6 months inland with nothing but car fumes and cigarette smoke, I am most incredibly thankful for this pure air in my lungs :) (and my families lungs!)

2. I love water more than I can ever put into words.

3. I love looking out at the water and seeing nothing but water to the very edge of the horizon. It feels so free and open.

4. I am not at all a fan of diamonds, ‘precious’ metals/jewels, etc., but I am a *sucker* for a small smooth rock from the beach (pockets are now filled with them!)

5. My boys only need legos for indoor play and nature in the back yard the rest of the time. They are in *love* with the beach!

6. The sound of water meeting land is indescribably peaceful.

7. Although my peace is internal, I am very much intertwined with my environment and the water helps me tremendously.

8. Being in isolation is much more peaceful and wonderful than I ever would have imagined

9. I love everyone I have ever met and who is and has ever been a part of my life.

10. No beach is complete without used condoms and dog poop to steer the kids away from – yes….even in Crete!

Happy New Year to everyone!!  Much love to all!

Ves

Posted in D. Nomads: 2012, Greece/Crete | 2 Comments

On the road again!!!

All packed and ready to go!!  It seems like it has been sooooo long (too long) without change!  Although, being here for this long has also been a blessing – we’ve learned a lot more about family, about life here, met some increeeeedible friends and kept up some just as incredible relationships, found many business opportunities, learned the language, taken karate and swimming lessons, gained weight….lost weight (and gained some again now on the final day hahaha!), learned about the system, applied for citizenship, learned more and more about history, and much much much more!

We are 8 days away from our 1 year nomadaversary!  And what better way to celebrate than to uproot and take off again!

We will write much more once we have reached our next generation!  We are getting on a bus in 2 hours and will see you again once we are settled in Crete!

Ves

Posted in Serbia | Leave a comment

So we’re going to ship our van here!

We have decided to ship our 2003 Kia Sedona minivan here, to Serbia. After comparing costs we have decided that it would be better to stick with the devil we know.

Our van as we left it, June 15, 2011Our van, although higher in kilometers, at 175,000, is still in good shape. And buying something comparable over here (capable of carrying 5 people comfortably with room to spare for baggage both inside and on the roof, and capable of towing almost 2,000 lbs) would definitely be more than $2,000 CAD.  We have no plans right now to spend significant amounts of time in Canada in the near future, so shipping it over here makes sense (rather than allowing it to sit idle and depreciate).

Our van has a V6 gas engine, however we plan to convert it to burn propane as soon as it arrives. Gas in Europe is quite expensive (currently around $1.80 per liter) so converting should allow us to save on travel costs. In addition, regular maintenance and repairs should be significantly less here, since we will not be paying a mechanic $70+ per hour union rates. I am amazed every day at how many 1960s era cars are still driven as daily drivers here. A testament to both the quality and the affordability of maintenance.

Having our van will make it much easier to travel to all the countries we have been longing to see, including Macedonia, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France etc. We may even buy a small caravan to tow, allowing us to stretch our budget a bit farther.

Currently we are working with a guy in Toronto who regularly ships containers from Toronto to Bar, Montenegro. The plan right now is to put the van in a container and ship it to Bar, leaving mid January and arriving in Bar around mid to the end of February when we will pick it up after our stay in Greece. I will post more details as I get them.

Posted in B. Nomads Part 1 - Winter/Spring 2011, Serbia | 2 Comments