Saturday, November 19, 2011

Speaking chinese in Bocas del Toro

An easy ride from San José brought us to Puerto Viejo, on the Atlantic coast of Costa Rica, which is a backpacker haven - a little seedy, but full of restaurants, bakeries, bars. The small road through the national refuge to Manzanillo passes through a spa, luxury hotel, and elegant restaurant area. Manzanillo is the end of the road, a sleepy little beach town with a couple of small hotels, 3 small eateries, and 1 bustling bar full of locals (maybe just on Fridays, maybe full time...). The beach was in much better shape there than in Puerto Viejo itself, but we didn't take much advantage.  We were on our way to Panama.

(approaching Sixaola, Costa Rica)

As we got to the border, a huge man named Enrique offered to help us across.  As usual, we refused any help and went about the process ourselves.  Checking the bike out was a paper-only process and took about 2 minutes in the air conditioned aduana office.  Migration stamped our passports quickly as well, and across to Panama we went.

(playing chicken with pedestrians. They won. We got some balance practice.)

On the other side we had to accomplish the usual 2 tasks of migración (for us) and aduana (for the bike), as well as change money and buy insurance (required in Panama).  Migración was easy, but the process to get the bike in took some time.  Mostly because we caught the one insurance sales lady on her lunch break.  So we waited.  And waited.  At least there were 2 benches in the shade.  But it was still hot.  Finally, after a longer than necessary paperwork process (and after a longer than necessary lunch break), the final documents were printed...with the wrong VIN number.  The insurance lady was going to print a corrected copy when the printer jammed.  Mike helped get the paper removed and closed the printer back up just before the border helper Enrique dropped in to see what was taking so long.  He was talking to Jill for awhile and realized this was taking waaay too long.  He suggested just using white out and a pen to correct the document, since the correction was complete in the computer system, we just couldn't print it.  Done in less than a minute.  Enrique also helped us get the best exhange rate at the market.  He was a good guy.  We gave him a couple bucks as a tip for the help that he did offer (even though we refused him originally).

Back to the aduana with all the documents in hand, and they were watching Thor on a computer screen in their air conditioned office.  It must have been near the end of the movie, because they did not want to focus on paperwork at all.  Once they started going through the paperwork, they managed to screw that up (I think they actually typed "Thor" for one of the blanks).  The police officer checking the paperwork over caught it.  Thankfully he took the paper back to them to have it corrected, because they seemed to respond faster to him than to me.  So with that, and with a small required local government fee, we were ready to go.

Or so we thought.  That very same police officer then insisted on fully searching our bags.  Opening each of them and digging all the way to the bottom.  This was one of those times that the side-opening saddlebags were a detriment, because everything in them ended up in the dirt.  Finally, he seemed satisfied and went back into his office.  Frustrated and repacking in the heat, we were ready to get out of there after hours at the dusty border.  In our haste to make progress we missed the hard left turn at the bottom of the bridge and ended up in the town of Guabito instead of heading on to El Empalme.  After correcting that mistake, we finally felt like we were in Panama!

Bocas del Toro is the state that we entered, known for its tourism, which is mostly focused on the Caribbean islands.  Even on the mainland, Bocas was absolutely beautiful with forested and jungle covered hills, twisty roads, and a few small towns.

(river view in Bocas del Toro)

(typical house in Bocas)

(rainy afternoon through Bocas)

Pulled into Chiriquí Grande as night fell, amid a pretty good rain, and found a hospedaje on the side of the road.  It seemed fine, but was the first one that we passed and asked in, so we figured we'd head into town to check other options.  Finding a chinese restaurant was a godsend.  Healthy portions of warm food sounded ideal.  That and a beer.  Mike tried to order a Balboa beer, one of Panama's most popular brands, before he knew what it was called. "Balbao" is how it came out, which in Spanish sounds like "bal-bow", but that's what he thought he saw on the label from a distance.  The lady didn't understand him (with good reason, because he was not making sense), so he continued to repeat "Balbao.  BalBAO!  Una cerveza...BALbao.  BALBAO!"  That poor Chinese lady probably thought he was making fun of her, but finally the order got through, and he got to try a Balboa.  It was fine.

While we were eating, the hotelier from the hospedaje found us, saying that he wasn't going back to the hotel, that if we wanted it, we could pay and get the key then.  Having not seen any other decent options (Chiriquí Grande is a crappy little port city) we did it.  Talk about service!

The next morning, an oilman from Houston stationed in Panama stopped his car to talk to us about the Transalp.  He was jealous because he had sold his years ago.  He also had lived in Venezuela for some time, so it was interesting to hear his perceptions of that country.  In fact, he had moved a couple years back because he thought it was becoming too dangerous.  Not what we wanted to hear, but it sounded like a lot of the violence was targeted at people higher up in society than us.  At least that's what we were banking on.

Exploring Bocas del Toro would have been fantastic, but we wanted to get moving to start our paperwork process in Panama City.  Jill has a lot to do for medical and bureaucratic clearances for her position in Suriname.   Also, our next stop was to visit Dana, our friend from Denver who is currently living in El Rincón, near Chitré.

No comments:

Post a Comment