Early the next morning we all headed out for the early boat back to Golfito. From there we said our goodbyes and all headed in separate directions. Since I was planning to travel to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, I thought it better to loop my way through Panama rather than to take the gruesome 8 hour or more bus ride back to San Jose, only to catch another 5 hour one to get to the Caribbean side. So as the other guys all headed North, I made my way South to Paso Canoas: the Pacific border crossing into Panama.
Upon arriving at Paso Canoas, I will be the first to admit that I had no clue what to do or where to go! There were no signs and absolutely no indication of where you were to go if you wanted to get into Panama. Perhaps what was most shocking to me was that there was no gate or fenced area… Ok, perhaps I have just been too accustomed to the look of border crossings from my travels to Mexico to the States where there are huge signs and officers everywhere and lines of buses and people all waiting to get through. This border crossing looked nothing like that. In fact I kept thinking that you really had to want to do the right thing in order to get into Panama. Otherwise, truth be told, had I known which bus I needed in Panama to get to David, Panama I could have simply walked across the invisible and non-guarded border and hoped on a bus. But I digress…
I wandered around in the direction of Panama and finally came across some police officers and asked them what it was I was supposed to do. They directed me to the immigration office on the Costa Rica side (no signs again) so I could get my exit stamp. After several wrong stops to different offices, I finally found the correct one and stood in line to exit Costa Rica. Of course as things would happen, the power went out so all the computers were down. So I had no choice but to sit around and wait for things to come back online. About a half hour later, people’s names were being called out one-by-one as the passports were being returned and I made my way to the Panama immigration office to get an entrance stamp.
Upon arriving there, I admit I was quite tired and honestly not firing on all cylinders. And my tired frame of mind ended up costing me $20.00… You see, I had completely neglected to even think about how I would probably need proof that I was leaving Panama before entering it, just as I needed proof when entering Costa Rica that I would be leaving the country (though they never asked me for it). So when the immigration officer asked if I had a bus ticket (he meant to prove that I was leaving Panama at some point) all I kept responding was “No, I am getting one to David once I cross the border”. Try as he may to get me to understand where he was going with his line of inquiry, I failed to understand exactly what he was doing, so finally after about 5 minutes of his questioning (and me lacking to understand) he gave up and simply turned me away back to the Costa Rica side so I could purchase a bus ticket for $20 that showed a return ticket from San Jose, Costa Rica to David, Panama and back to San Jose. Of course it wasn’t until after the purchase that I “got” what he information he was looking for and am completely convinced that if I had simply said “yes, I have a bus ticket back to Costa Rica… Would you like to see it??” that he would have said “no” he didn’t need to see it and would have stamped me through. Instead I had to go and make life complicated for myself and apparently for him as well.
In any event, I trudged my way back to the Panama immigration office with my $20 ticket in hand and boarded a teeny air-conditioned bus (whoa!!! civilization again!!) on my way to David. About a half-hour later we were stopped at a police checkpoint. And I chuckle every time I think of this moment because in the moment I kept thinking “man, it’s a good thing I crossed the border legally after all!!” but after the moment I thought “it wouldn’t have made a difference anyway” because the police officer boarded the bus, asked people to take out their identification, looked at 2 or 3 that were being held up in the air, glanced around the bus at people but not really looking at their faces and then exited… LOL!!
On the way to David, new passengers came on board at various stops and one of them sat next to me. He was a middle-aged gentleman who had a business and lived on the pacific coast of Panama. We chit-chatted all the way to David and thankfully, he paid attention to the change given to me when departing the bus in David. You see, in Costa Rica you either pay for a bus ticket before boarding the bus, or right as you get on. In Panama, you simply board and pay according to which stop you get off at. My bus fare was supposed to be $2.95 from Paso Canoas, but I only received $1.00 change when handing the drivers assistant a $10.00. My bus companion noticed this (and since he knew I was coming from the border) and quickly stood up for me yelling at the assistant to give me the correct change at once. How very nice of him it was indeed to do so!
So now I was in bustling David… wow… Where to begin…