The bumpy ride from Costa Rica to Panama
We were only in Costa Rica for four days, but our time there was enchanting, tropical, and we made some wonderful new friends (Hi Kat and Daniel!). Puerto Viejo (on the Caribean side) is full of howler monkeys, sloths, tons of birds, green leafy plants, quiet beaches, backpackers and the sweet sticky humid air that always reminds me that I’m in a new world. We lounged, walked on the beach, had a night on the “town” and just wandered…that is, before we hit our first bump on the road- food poisoning. And it hit both of us! It could have been the “chicken caribeno” we ate the night before. Maybe the drastic change in weather. Could it have been dengue? Nadie sabe.
We decided to move on to Panama because Costa Rica was terrible. NOT! It was amazing but we decided to move on for a few reasons- Panama is a tad bit cheaper, a tad less touristy, and a tad harder to get to. And that last point is something we’ve been drawn to throughout this trip. We figure our year and a half long World Tour is the perfect opportunity to explore places off the beaten path. Now a word of advice- if you plan to travel to Costa Rica or Panama make sure you take that “proof of onward travel” requirement seriously, or you might have to purchase a completely useless, expensive, refundable airline ticket…like we did. Ouch. Bump #2.
Thank goodness my nausea peaked and subsided the night before (the morning of for Jon) the bumpy trip to Panama. From our cute little Airbnb with a local family in Puerto Viejo (see pics above), we took the “luxurious” route to our destination of the tranquil Caribbean island called Isla Bastimentos, Panama. For $32 a shuttle will pick you up at your lodging at 7:15am and take you across the Costa Rica-Panama border to Bocas del Toro. But first it will drop you off at the border where a man will introduce himself as “Sergio, your border guide.” Sergio will hold your hand through the bureaucratic border crossing system which involves showing your passport to three unfriendly border agents at three different government buildings and then crossing the wobbly bridge, the portal to your new adventure.
Bienvenidos a Panama! Please wait around for an hour for the shuttle to pick you up. Once it arrives, it will drive for about an hour and drop you off at a dock where a young boy will run off with your backpack before you can say “Espera! No necesito ayuda!”, put it on a boat and then ask with the cutest smile “A tip for me?” You will comply. It’s not worth getting upset over $1. You will then be corralled onto the boat with the rest of the heard. Everyone will put on their life jackets, zip their lips, and sit silence on one of the most beautiful and butt-bruising boat rides of their lives for the next 30 minutes to Isla Colon of Bocas del Toro. Bumps #3-100.
Now if you want to get to the more “tranquilo” island of Bastimentos like us then your journey has not ended just yet. You are hot, sticky, tired, and sinking lower and lower from the weight of your backpack but first you will need to find the “cajero” (ATM) as there is none where you are headed. Just ask a few locals and look for the long line of gringos and you’ve found it. You see that other ATM with no line? It is only for locals. But nice try. Pray that once you reach the ATM it hasn’t run out of money or you may be out of luck and cash like some of the backpackers we’ve met (bump #101 averted…phew!)
Sweaty and parched you will finally arrive on Isla Bastimentos of Bocas del Toro after a 15 minute boat ride. You may even choose to spend a night or two at the bright yellow Hostal Bastimentos where Jon and I will be doing a work exchange for the next two weeks. If you do, rest assured that while the journey was a little long and your butt may be a little bruised, those bumps along the road (figurative and literal) will settle and become smooth very quickly. After all, there are no roads or cars here so just grab a hammock and enjoy the scenery….