The “Renewing the Panama Visa” Challenge, Complicated by a Senior Moment

Somewhere in Costa Rica

Given that Panama grants 90-day visas to visitors, I had to leave the country for three days this week, to re-enter Panama for another 90 days. Today was an exercise in middle-agedness. Catching the 7:30 a.m. water taxi, I alighted from the 45-minute run at Changuinola only to discover I had left my wallet in Emma Jo’s pilothouse. Having planned to take the 10:00 a.m. international bus to Costa Rica, it became apparent that I would miss that bus. The dispatcher at the water taxi office in Changuinola suggested I call to have my wallet sent on the next boat from Bocas. So I called the marina, explained my dilemma, and was assured that it would be taken care of. At 11:00 in the morning, the shuttle from Bocas arrived, the driver carrying an envelope with my wallet (credit cards and cash in tact). Only then did I stop to think how naïve and trusting I was to have a relative stranger go onto my boat, hand my wallet over to an unknown secretary, who packaged it and delivered it to an unknown water taxi driver, in a very third-world area of a Central American country, and then expect to get everything intact. But wow – that speaks well of the people we are choosing to live with for the foreseeable future.

Border Crossing at Sixaola

Next, I had to negotiate getting to, then over, the border into Costa Rica, then find a bus to San Jose. That’s where things got interesting. The border lies on one of only 2 highways between Panama and Costa Rica, and this one, at Sixaola, is the backwater. One gets out of the taxi in a dirty, grimy, dusty, busy corner of Panama, climbs up some steps, crosses over the railroad tracks, then stands in line for as long as it takes for the ONE border control guard to leisurely leaf through the passport, pausing over each entry and exit stamp, then finally stamping you out of the country. Then one must walk over an ancient railroad bridge across a river into Costa Rica, stand in another line for as long as it takes, then discover you need a return ticket to enter Costa Rica. So then one must walk to a pharmacy, ask for a ticket, pay whatever, then return to the line for more of the same leisurely passport perusal, when finally you are “legal” in Costa Rica. All of this was accomplished by about 1:00 pm, when I found myself stumbling around the same dusty, grimy, gritty, backwater, but this time in Costa Rica looking for a bus.

This border town, Sixaola, is a Chiquita Banana town, with massive plantations peopled by workers who live in company shacks, and little else. But luckily there was a 3:00 pm bus to San Jose. Yippee – a two-hour wait for a six-hour bus trip!

On the upside, the bus was large, modern, comfortable, air-conditioned. On the downside, it was a local, not a direct, stopping at several little burgs along the way. Most of the passengers seemed to be backpackers on vacation. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much of the mountains, as it was after dark when we began the ascent from Limon. But the trip was uneventful – I landed at the bus station in San Jose about eight blocks from my hotel.

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