Pura Vida – Part 2

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.

16 thoughts on “Pura Vida – Part 2

  1. With the lack of customer service, you realize that the management has never crossed the border. It’s like a bad hotel where you know the manager has never been in one of the rooms much less stayed overnight in one of the rooms and this goes for some very expensive ones. Power at the hands of bureaucrats usually means a total lack of customer service. This probably won’t change since I strongly doubt that the new president of Panama will ever stand in one of these lines and probably wouldn’t notice it if he passed by since it wasn’t affecting him. Maybe the gate keepers of Panama could have their time better spent helping to write the US tax code?

  2. Hi Don

    I too experienced the same car problem a couple of years ago. They way round it is to suspend the original Costa Rican customs documents for the car when you leave. I don’t have the docs in front of me but I’ll try and post them later.

  3. Very good, Don Ray. Leave it to you to be discussing a bureaucratic problem and still manage to get in the photo of an attractive lady.

  4. In January of 2003 I was “stuck” in a similar situation crossing between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. There were about 10 TICA buses and about 500 to 600 people milling around. I was in the long line waiting to process out of Costa Rica. After about a hour I had to use the bath room. I asked my neighbor to hold my place. The bath room was up near the front of the line. When I returned my neighbor asked why they did not let me pass. I asked what do you mean. She wanted to see my passport. She saw I was 62 years old. She told me to follow her. She took me to the front of the line. She handled my passport to the military guy standing there. He looked at it and then told me I was next. I was stamped and out of there in less than 5 minutes.

    Being an American it felt so strange to cut in front of other people in line. Then I thought ..gee, isn’t it great to be old plus I was excited to learn that I could go to the front next time.

    On the bus ride into Nicaragua I had as my seat mate a young lady in the Peace Corps. She had waited 3 hours. We had a delightful conversation.

  5. On the car front I understand you can have a 90 day permit which if you suspend it every time you leave CR it is good for 9 months, after which you cannot enter with the car for 3 months.
    You can get a 90 day permit which if you stay in CR you USED to be able to extend for a further 90 days, after which the car had to be out for 3 months but I am not sure if the extension still applies.
    What really p***es me off at these borders is when friends come to visit they have to have a return bus ticket to San Jose from Canoas even if they plan to return via Sixaola, & vice versa, neither do they accept flight tickets out of San Jose as being proof that you intend to return to CR.
    Find a reliable “helper” in the border, for a phone call & a few bucks I am normally through with a vehicle in less than 30 mins.

  6. Welcome back friends!
    Years ago, the institution where I worked had a young teaching fellow sponsored by a foreign embassy during one year. After a long holiday, the visiting fellow approached me and said:
    – I just came back from San José.
    I almost faint, I knew he had a tourist visa for Panama only.
    – How did you do?
    – Simply: just walked across the border…took a Tracopa bus, and nobody asked me a question regarding documents…
    -What about your way back?
    – I did the same…
    Those were other times, indeed. After getting a Ph.D., and working for a reputable university in his country, he entered a Seminar and today is a priest.
    “Cosas veredes, Sancho!”

  7. Don Ray and AS:
    Your friend is right, that is the way we used to do it before, just walk across the border from Panama or from Costa Rica and get in a Tracopa bus or Frontera bus. Of course this means not bringing your car with you. But that was years ago, I do not know now.

  8. Don Ray-

    Nice write up on crossing the border. I just got back from San Jose, also by bus (next time I fly) on 18 Dec and was wondering if you had returned with any CR Colones? I had about 40K and had to settle for a 30% loss once I crossed the border into Panama. Did you have any better luck?

    Roy T

  9. Don,
    I read thru these responses real quick. NOTE to border crossers: I have found one gentleman about 50 years old who works the Paso Canoas border helping folks cross. His name is JOE, nice guy, everyone knows him, he speaks very good English & lives up in Paso Ancho. Last time we crossed (with car) he turned a 3 hr+ nightmare into a 10 minute passage from the time we hooked up with him! There was a problem with aduana that day and folks with vehicles were backed up and waiting for 3+ hours to get cleared through (and I heard people griping about it too!). Joe talked with the lady @ the aduana window and BAM, we were on our way. Just ask for Joe at the border and to hell with the kids. They’re lazy & known for pissing off the people behind the windows. I have nothing to gain whatsoever by recommending this guy but you better believe I’ll seek him out again next month. Cost me $5 (well he owed me $5 from a previous trip 😉 so we called it even. We then gave him a ride up to his house, met his wife, ate some ICE CREAM and had a good conversation with both of them that day.

  10. Hola que tal, muchos saludos a todos en especial los que decidimos comentar en este espacio, en cuestion de molestia al llegar a la Frontera de Panama hacia Costa Rica.

    Actualmente soy Panamena y persona quien aparece en la foto. La verdad aquel dia fue horrible en nuestras vida, junto a mi esposo Arvid y mi amiga, fue algo indiscriptible. En lo personal como Licenciada en Turismo fue un enfoque directo en la inrresponsabilidad de la falta del gobierno en Si, por permitir tan tremendo atrazo a la vision turistica de dos paises en union de turismo y comercio, por lo que rodea Paso Canoa.

    Lo que creo es que deberia de haber una ventanilla, especialmente para los buses de Tracopa o Tica bus. Basicamente una ventanilla para cada funcion de esta manera mas facil darle una mejor atencion al turista. Lo mismo para los mulero y si en sucecivamente.

    A mi hijo y esposo, nos encanta Costa Rica, pero definitivo es un problema marginal el hecho de pasar con el auto tambiem es un protocolo burocratico la verdad.

    Solo espero esto mejore y que las autoridades Panamenas hagan algo al respecto por el bien de todos.

    Arriba Panama , Costa Rica y el resto de las fronteras.

    Para que sepan, no me gusta las fronteras en ningun sentido. Somos todos Humanos.

    Por eso adoro mi Pais a pesar de sus faltas, pero somos tremendos en esta oportunidad que le dimos a nuestros amigos extranjeros le dieron la oportunidad de residencia. waoo eso es supa.

    Chao a las regulaciones de Emigrantes

    Saludos a todos.

    Arvid jr, Arvid y Cristhina

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