Posted by: Panamá Jeff | July 21, 2009

Border Jumping


Since I do not currently have a visa to stay or live in Panama I am required to leave the country every 3 months for at least 72 hours in order to obtain a new tourist visa and another 3 months. Since moving here I have yet to leave the country solely for this purpose. The closest and easiest way to do this is to cross the border into Costa Rica, there is a border town called Pasa Canoas. I have heard and read that it is possible to leave Panama and turn around and come right back into the country the same day but this is  illegal and you all know what a stickler I am when it comes to following the rules.

 My friend Tim was supposed to come visit for 2 weeks and during this time I was going to force him to make this journey with me, but after some delays with his passport I could not wait any longer and decided to go at it alone. I knew it was going to be a journey worth remembering when sitting in the waiting area at the bus station at 5 a.m. in Panama City when the guy next to me had 2 cardboard boxes that began crowing at me. “Crowing at you?” That’s right, 2 roosters in cardboard boxes crowing (cock-a-doodle-do!) inside the bus station, but in their defense it was 5 a.m.  I took about an 8 hour bus ride to David, which is close to the Costa Rican border  and then took a cab to a hostel to stay for the night. I was immediately reminded me why I do not like to stay in hostels, 4 bunk beds in one small room, shared dirty bathrooms, cheap shitty mattresses, 3 fans and no air conditioning, but hey it is just for one night, I can handle it! I decided to stay the night in David because they are having their town fair that I wanted to check it out and I have a friend, Yasy, that lives in David so I wanted see her as well. At any event in Panama they have these outside discotecas or clubs set up, with lights, loud music, bars and of course tons of people drinking and dancing. Yasy, both of her sisters and I go into this discoteca and of course they know everyone working there and we ended up in a few of the VIP areas and drinking and dancing and acting a fool, ok that was just me but we had a great time.  I figured if I got drunk enough I wouldn’t notice nor care that I was sleeping in a sweat shop, and it worked out pretty well too, at first. I have no idea what time I returned to the hostel but at some point in the late night\early morning I woke up needing to use the restroom. It was very dark and I was very drunk but I hopped down from my bunk bed and started to make my way to the restroom when I encountered some fans and electrical cords in my path. I am still not quite sure what or how it happened but I do know it was very loud and I came crashing down on top of the fans, even broke one! The next morning I woke up and everyone in the hostel was curious as to what all the late night action was about, I was proud to be the talk of the town so to speak but I was not looking forward to taking a bus to the Pasa Canoas, going through Panama customs to exit and then through Costa Rican customs to enter and then trying to find another bus or hotel or something to occupy my time for 3 days. I later noticed the rather large marks and bruises on my arm and side from falling last night, feels like I overcame some great physical test of drunken fan fights, I stand proud! 

Fan Fight Night.

Fan Fight Night.

After packing my things and getting ready to go to the bus terminal in David, Yasy calls to ask how I am feeling and even better tells me that she will drive me to the border, this hangover is in no mood for a bus! On the way we pass through a check point at which point they ask that I get out of the car and show my passport, I am watching the other cars go by and wondering why this guy has singled me out. I think the police aren’t always sure what to think of me, most people they can look at and tell they are gringos, Panamanians, Colombians, ect…but with me they are not sure what to think. I imagine to them I look like an American but I have tanned skin and dark hair so I could be Latin but from where?? Once I show them my passport from the USA and they verify it is me, I am on my way.

 Pasa Canoas is not the greatest place on earth, in fact I have heard and can be quite dangerous at night with lots of drugs, prostitutes, and arms dealers. Sounds great right? I learned long ago not to believe everything you hear but I imagine there is a lot of truth to it as well, my decision is to keep moving. I had done a little bit of research before leaving Panama, just to have an idea of where to go and where to stay, as well as a few backup plans. I quickly befriended a taxi driver and started drilling him with questions, as it turns out he was born and is from a small town I had planned on staying in, Golfito (little gulf). Golfito is located about an hour by car, or 2 hours by bus from Pasa Canoas, the taxi driver gives me what I think is a fair offer to drive me to Golfito and I accept, I told you this hangover was  in no mood for a bus!  After about 20 minutes of driving we come upon a bunch of Costa Rican police with a few cars and lots of people detained on the side of the road, as well as they are checking each passing car, we get stopped and questioned and I had to show my passport yet again, but once he saw it was from the US, he handed it back immediately.  The taxi driver told me the people they had detained were Colombians, I had no reason to doubt him, Colombians are strongly discriminated against in Panama and Costa Rica alike.  The taxista and I did not stop talking the entire way to Golfito, it was an enjoyable drive. Upon arriving into Golfito he continued to drive me around to 3 different hotels until we found one that fit my price range and requirements. After checking in and saying goodbye to my new found Costa Rican friend, I began walking through town just to see what was there and to take a few photos. Since my hotel did not have internet I was looking for some sort of internet café, I came across a restaurant\bar\marina that had a sign that said “WiFi” so I went inside to inquire about using their internet. The guy asked if I had a laptop, which I did, and said I could come in and use it anytime. I returned later that night to drink a beer, eat some dinner and of course use their internet. When I first arrived there were not many people there but those that were there were all Americans and speaking English which I thought was mildly odd, to be in the middle of nowhere Costa Rica\Panama border and be surrounded by English speakers. As the night progressed more and more people were showing up, boats were coming into the marina and I swear to you, every single one of them were English-speaking Americans. They were everywhere, this place filled with them!  I was the only person in the place speaking Spanish to the staff, I guess by that aspect it was kind of cool. The funny thing is I had no desire to talk to them or get to know any of them, I even saw a guy wearing a Dallas Cowboys hat and another wearing Texas A&M t-shirt, yet I said nothing. I probably could have made friends and been out on a boat the following day fishing but I was just not interested. I must admit though I was curious as to where they were coming from and what they were doing, a lot of them seemed to know one another, so strange.

Golfito, Costa Rica

Golfito, Costa Rica

The next day I came  across a young Costa Rican girl who was washing some clothes in front of her family’s home, I simply smiled and nodded as I walked by on my way to the beach. I couldn’t help but to notice her again later that afternoon in the grocery store, she was beautiful. I smiled and said hello and we began talking, before I knew it an hour had slipped by us. We spent the next few days together, she showed me the historical sites around Golfito during the day, and took me to the bars and clubs at night. Her father is a fisherman and her mother and grandmother work in a family store in the middle of town, she also has 3 younger siblings who spend their days in class and church. Her family insisted I have dinner with them every night. When it came time for me to leave her family begged me to stay, while my new found friend shed uncontrollable tears. Truthfully it was hard for me to hold mine back as well but I knew it was for the best and would only make it harder for everyone else if I couldn’t. Sometimes I wonder if this was my opportunity at love but I wouldn’t give it the chance it deserved strictly on logistics, it also makes me wonder how many times in the past I have let something just as insignificant deter my chances.  Ok ok, I must admit, I just made all of that up, mainly because it’s more interesting than what really happened!  Honestly I spent my days alone, walking up and down the 2 streets in Golfito trying to find or notice something new, eating and sleeping. Regardless it was very relaxing and I read 2 books! I did have an incident with some Costa Rican, crack smoking prostitutes, but since this email goes to family members, sometimes I am inclined to leave out some of the juicy details. For the record there was no physical involvement !

 My life is truly an adventure and it is no doubt changing me and I love it! Sometimes I don’t even feel like speaking English, I’m sure this feeling will only intensify the more I am able to express myself in Spanish, so beware. I am not so much abandoning my heritage but more exploring a new culture. It’s new and exciting, and diversity is cool now a days! Pretty soon I will be sending these emails in Spanish! Ha!  One the same note…. It’s funny how your roots always stay with you and have a habit of sneaking up on you to remind you where you are from and what feels like home to you. It could be anything that triggers a memory or feeling once associated with your homeland. A million miles away in a different country I will occasionally stumble upon country music and immediately be reminded of home, and I have never really listened to country music all that much. Sometimes all you need to hear are a few notes and the feeling hits your heart and can immediately bring tears.

 Oh I also wanted to include this brief description of life in the tropics, taken from one of the books I recently read just so you can get an idea of life in the jungle, for those that live or have lived in Panama, I’m sure you can relate. (Thanks Nicole for leaving me 2 great books to read, I will try to return them to you asap, but no promises!)

 “The bugs are in full wet season glory, swarming so thickly that sometimes that they coat my glasses and I can’t see through them. Once more the simple act of dropping my pants to pee requires a few seconds of mental fortification and always results in dozens on gnat and mosquito bites that sting and itch for days afterward,  sometimes becoming badly infected. When I bathe in the little hole outside of camp, I quickly cover myself in soap and the bugs lighting on me get stuck in the lather, so by the time  I’m ready to rinse I am coated like a poppy seed bagel with dead soapy bugs.”

–          Hungry Lightning, Notes of a Woman Anthropologist in Venezuela


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