T – One last border crossing in Central America. Thankfully! I get really stressed at borders. I worry about our paperwork, I worry that we will be one of those horror stories we read about, I worry about all the potential scams and bribes we could possibly be subject to, and most of all I worry about being stuck in no mans land. Its a silly thing I know, but I get really stressed and anxious and its not until I have the new immigration stamp in my passport that I start to relax.
Chantelle has been the rock for our little team though. She isn’t fazed at all by the borders or the officials and so I was worried today when she told me she was stressed and feeling unhappy too. The biggest shock was when she told me that she had been thinking she might want to go home.
But she also knew that as soon as she booked the plane ticket she would regret it. After we chatted a bit about it we both knew we wanted to continue the trip. Chantelle has been the one who has been under all the pressure to speak Spanish at all the borders, deal with all the changes in Spanish from one country to the next, she has been doing all the leg work for dealing with finding hotels and dealing with new currencies and the constant almost weekly crossing of borders has taken its toll.
I know people think that travelling like is easy. But all though it is amazing and we do love it every day, it is damn hard too. It has a whole heap of other stresses that we never realised we would have to deal with. Little things that all add up. Where do we eat? Where do we sleep? Language barriers that wear us down and all those types of things. The one thing we don’t really stress about is the bikes. I worry about them in the heat, but they are solid little things and we know they will be easy enough to repair should the need arise. So I would like to give a big shout out to Channy. You have done an amazing job and should you ever truly need to go home, I will be there with you.
C – We have crossed a lot of borders recently, and each time there is a slight change in language, but there is also a lot of cultural changes. Ordering food, getting accommodation and all other interactions are just a bit different. Then the money is different – getting used to different notes and coins and then having to do different currency conversions, constantly checking your change and what you are charged. It’s all added up recently and I had this sudden feeling of just wanting to go home – where I know how everything works, I speak the language, I understand how much everything costs. But I know that I do not really want to go home – I would instantly regret that decision if that’s what we decided to do!
T – The crossing today. I had read a little about it on the internet so we could go in prepared. It always helps to know where each building is, customs, immigration and insurance, plus of any issues we may encounter. This looked like a complicated border and along with each set of instructions there were horror stories of corrupt officials and hours and hours of waiting time. One guy had to wait 14 hours! Yikes.
When we got there it was the usual chaotic mass of honking trucks blocking the highway and we did our usual trick of zipping past them and parking up the front of the line. We were soon stamped out of Costa Rica and had the bikes temporary import permits cancelled. Then it was onto Panama.
The immigration and customs centre was packed. Cars and trucks blocked any access to it and there were people everywhere! It looked to be the busiest crossing yet. We parked at what we thought was the end of the line and started taking our gear off. An aduana (customs) official came over and told us we could bring our bikes to the front of the line if we wanted. Well ok then! It meant our bikes were in seeing distance for every step of our immigration and importation process, which I was happy about.
In the end it went quite smoothly. Officials and truck drivers seemed to be keeping an eye out for us and whenever we either looked lost or wandered into the wrong office someone would come and get us and show us the right place to be. People were being lovely and again this has been our experience for our entire trip. Canada, USA, Mexico, Honduras, everywhere. People just wanted to help and wanted nothing in return. The only people we have found to be scammy bastards and shifty in general have been the money changers. Sure we know they are just making a living too but they are tricksters and we have had to be very careful any time we use them. This was certainly the case here at the Panama border.
Chantelle had $90 US worth of Costa Rican Colones to change. Normally we would work off of around $85 for that after a bit of haggling and allowing that the money changers need to make something. Sometimes we get more than we allow for, say in this case we may even get as much as $100. Not here in Panama though. $74 final offer or go away. We went away and stewed on it. Chantelle was mad. We found out we could use the Colones to pay our way through the border crossing process, but man we got a bad rate and soon we had spent $40 on $30 worth of services. In the end we had to suck it up and take what we could get from the money changer as we had nowhere else to change out the Colones. Going back the second time we got an even worse rate and he wouldn’t budge a bit knowing he had us over a barrel. I wanted to smack the smug wanker right in the face.
C – Exiting Costa Rica and entering Panama was nice and easy and relatively straightforward after the convoluted steps of some of the other Central American crossings. I was glad to exit Costa Rica – I found the country a bit confusing. It looked western, but felt Central American and things worked in the typical Central American fashion. The prices were similar to that in the US for Central American services. Strange! But the strangest thing of all, was that I saw not one person smile the entire time we were there. The minute we approached the Panama border though, all the officials smiled as they greeted us!
We had one hiccup on the Panamanian side though – other travellers had warned us to carefully check our documents, because Colombian officials are fastidious on document checking. We noticed on our vehicle import permits, the bikes were listed as Australian, but our nationality was listed as Austriaco. Austriaco? I questioned the Aduana official, but she was adamant that Austriaco was Australian. We were positive it was not. But without internet, we could not double check and I was not quite sure how much I could argue with an Aduana official?
T – Then we were free. Our wallets empty and sad looking. We were in Panama. No more Central American crossings left.
We rode down the smooth 4 lane highway to the town of David where we had cheese and tomato sandwiches and then headed up into the mountains to the town of Boquete. We were contemplating a free camp to try to recoup some of todays losses in the money department but we needed to sort out the shipping of our bikes around the Darien Gap. So we found a cheapish hostal and soon had emails and whatsapp messages flying back and forth. It looks like we may have a chance to get on a sail boat with our bikes from Panama to Colombia so heres hoping that works out!
C – On riding into the town of Boquete, the town looked very pretty, nestled in amongst a valley surrounded by clouds and mountains. We rose 1000mts in the 30km from the David, and the cool air was sensational. David had been stiflingly hot, so it was lovely when it started it rain on our ride up to Boquete. The freshness of the rain and the coolness of the air did make a nice end to the ride.
We ventured into town for a look around and wandered into the grocery store to pick up some dinner and breakfast. We were both very excited to find red wine to be so cheap and so splurged on a box (yes, a box! For $3). It was just what was in order and surprisingly, the wine was from Chili and damn good! Although it has been a very long time since I tasted red wine!!
Once back at the hostal, we used the free wifi to check our TVIP document and sure enough, Austriaco is Austrian in spanish. So, we will need to head into an Aduana office tomorrow and hopefully they can correct it. We would hate to arrive in Colombia and be sent back here to correct a such a silly mistake.
T – Tomorrow we return to David and then head for the big smoke of Panama City. Both of us are feeling very excited to ride over the Bridge of the Americas!