In this part I will discuss a little about the Paso Canoas experience. Since our destination was to San Jose, I was talked into going by bus again. I am not going to cover much about the actual bus trip, because it pretty well resembles a previous post I did going to San Jose. I will talk about some of the differences.
Let’s start at Paso Canoas. This is the border crossing going into Costa Rica and you have to go through both customs areas to have your Passport stamped and on the Costa Rica Side you have to fill out a document stating your destination and reason for traveling there.
Both going and returning, the Costa Rica side was relatively non eventful from the customs side. The wait line time was based on whether there as a bus load of people in front of you.
Panama, on the other hand, can be described in one word. HORRIBLE! Here are a couple photos of the line going to the departing Panama windows. This was Friday the 18th and I was told that on the 17th the line was twice as long. I think I only saw one departing window operating.
While this part of the trip could justify a rant, it turned out to be the most enjoyable part of the bus adventure for me. I was in line for 3 (not a misprint) hours waiting to get my passport stamped. During that time I got to visit with several interesting people. Had I not developed a small amount of Spanish over my last 6 ¾ years in panama, I might have been bored to tears.
As I waited in line, I noticed a TVN news crew taking photos of the long line leading to the departure window. Periodically, they stopped and interviewed people in the line. What are the odds. The stopped and asked me if I spoke Spanish. I said sure. I mean, how often do you get to be interviewed on TVN?
They asked me what I thought of the long line. I told them in the last 6 years I had never seen anything like it. Normally, I have been used to having 4 to 10 people ahead of me and a wait of no longer than 10 minutes. I thought it was unusual that they decided to interview a gringo and then I recognized the fellow with the microphone. He was the one that had my name added to the journalist list at the Martinelli ribbon cutting at the Hotel Cuidad de David. That was fun! Lilliam was surprised that I was willing to be interviewed on TV.
In the Panama line, I talked to several Spanish speaking people. I find talking to more people and hearing more accents helps me and I am no longer afraid to enter into a conversation. Like I said before, I might have been bored to death, if I didn’t know any Spanish.
One person I met was Arvid Martinkat, who was traveling with two attractive young ladies. Arvid is from Germany and he said he moved to David to get out of the cold. He runs INULA (UAA Adventures). If you are interested in going diving while you are in Panama, you might like to contact him. I had one of the young ladies model so I could get a photo of INULA t-shirt. I will do anything to get a photo of a pretty lady!
I was a little concerned that we would miss the TRACOPA bus departure, but the bus had to wait for all ticketed passengers and left over four hours late.
The line for Costa Rica was faster, but still took about 20 minutes. In that line I got to visit with a group of young people from Australia. This visit yielded one of those learning experiences. I talked to one young lady in the group and she said they had had an outstanding trip in Latin America starting at the Yucatán. She said there had been no bad experiences That was about to end.
When I had gotten through the line and was boarding the bus, I saw her in tears. I then learned that after she had gotten her passport stamped, someone had taken her bags, all her money, passport and all identification. Somehow she got some emergency documentation to continue to San Jose, but a perfect trip had now become soured by a horrible experience. Who knows what she had in her bags that were taken and how much money she lost. This was the end of her trip in more ways than one.
The bus trip itself was the same going to San Jose as my previous bus trip. Only two stops going up. The first in Buenos Aires Aires for a 25 minute lunch break. Very good food for a bus stop. The second stop at the TRACOPA terminal in San Isidro. The final stop in San Jose where we met Susan and her husband and Sofia.
The return trip was completely different. Somehow the return tickets got screwed up and we didn’t have the express bus. That meant we stopped at every little town and the isles were filled with workers heading to their destination for work. Talk about a miserable trip. Let that be a lessen to you. Make sure you only take the express bus if you want the best of the bus experience.
For me, I have vowed that I never want to take the bus again. The money saved over the one hour plane ride is more that covered by the 7 hour bus ride.
That covers all that I want I want to say about Paso Canoas and the bus trip. This was definitely the worst part of the trip. Stay tuned for Pura Vida – Part 3.
UPDATE: I just realized that I omitted one interesting piece of information. On our return and while I was at the Costa Rica customs side, I met a US citizen that was having problems. He is in Panama on a visitors visa which means he has to leave every 90 days for 72 hours. Had gone through both passport windows (Panama and Costa Rica) but was not being allowed to take his car into Costa Rica.
Since he had done that twice before, he could not understand the problem. One of the local boys was trying(?) to help him and had told him to wait till the shift change and they might have more luck. Still, the gentleman wanted to understand the problem so that he didn’t make a small problem bigger.
The customs agent had already began to get discussed with the problem because he was unable to explain the situation so that it could be understood. I said that I would try to help him and happened to have a copy of my letter from the US Embassy which I thought might at least allow use to talk to the customs officer again. I also had Natalie with me in case the Spanish got too rapid for me to handle.
Here is what turned out to be the problem. The gentleman had first entered Costa Rica with his car in March of 2009. Apparently the law in Costa Rica says that from the first entry, you can only enter with a car for 9 months. When the 9 months expires, you have to wait three months to start another 9 month period. He had crossed the 9 month window and could not enter with his car until March of 2010. Another lesson learned.
One lesson was the 9 month law. The second is to be careful about using the young boys who offer assistance.
His new plan was to sleep in the car for another 48 hours and then return to Panama.