Crossing from Costa Rica to Panama

26 September – Day 66

Puerto Viaje, Costa Rica to Boquette, Panama
Distance: 286kms (time on bike = 8.5 hours including 3 hours at the border)

So… which way to go? The direct route, risking potentially getting stuck in a roadblock for an indefinite period and/or having to turn around and go back across the border (=bleh) into Costa Rica and then around the long way ie 600kms + through Costa Rica. Or – just go the long way, thus not risking having to get back across the border.

We asked around in the morning and one of the local travel agents phoned someone –no idea who – to ask if the road was open. Apparently, it had been blocked the day before due to a protest but was absolutely fine today and we’d be able to get through. So we decided to go the way we’d originally planned – ie directly across the border. Yay! At the border, I also asked the officials there and they said they didn’t know either way. Then I asked a guy who was crossing from Panama into Costa Rica and he said the road was fine. And it was!! So that was a relief… it was nice to know that we were going the shortest/most direct route.

Nevertheless… I’m sick of border crossings with the bike. Seriously – I’ve had nine now on the trip, and that’s enough!! It’s not even that I have to do all that much.. as per a previous post, because the bike is in Adrian’s name, he’s the one who has to do the back and forth with the import and export paperwork etc. Sometimes, I think that would be easier than just standing, for hours, in full sun and motorbike gear, waiting. Just waiting. At least doing the paperwork means I’d have a focus!! So yeah – suffice to say that this most recent border crossing, from Costa Rica into Panama, was long and hot. Three hours, in fact.

We’d heard from other travellers that Panama is a country where you just don’t speed, because there are radars everywhere and they take speeding very seriously. The evidence would suggest that there’s no problem with cars and trucks literally belching out thick black smoke, or cars so rusty I’m not sure what’s actually holding them together, or cars with no mufflers and so sound almost as loud as a plane taking off… however based on my limited time in the country (less than 24 hours!), speeding is definitely a massive focus. I’ve never seen so many motorbike police standing by the side of the road! Sure, many of them seemed to be playing a game on their phone or texting or something rather than actually using a radar, but that’s beside the point! We were pulled over by one policeman in a 60 zone. I think we we’re doing about 70-75kms.. he told us that we’d been doing 95kms. Eventually, he just waved us off and said “slow down.” I think the fact he didn’t actually have a radar probably worked in our favour.

Boquette seems to be a US retirement town… it’s so much like the US that you could blindfold someone and drop them here, and I don’t think they’d be able to tell that they were actually in Central America. Dinner at Mike’s Bar and Grill, where they served San Francisco garlic fries and were showing a NFL match on the big screens, certainly helped cement that picture.

A deadly sin – in the flesh!

A sloth hanging from a branch eating green beans

A sloth in the sloth sanctuary

25 September – Day 65

Puerto Viaje, Costa Rica
Distance: 0kms

Today I saw a sloth for the first time… both in a sanctuary, and in the wild! I also saw my first Costa Rican monkey.. so it was a very animal-y sort of day. The sloth sanctuary exceeded my expectations, and included getting up close and personal with a few ‘rescue’ sloths, seeing the sloth babies in the nursery and then going on a little canoe trip through some tropical jungle. I also learned that both two-toed and three-toed sloths have three toes, it’s just that the two-toed ones have two fingers and the three-toed ones have three fingers. Or something like that.. it was very confusing and somewhat counterintuitive.

We ended up spending a few hours at the sloth sanctuary, and spent the afternoon eating lunch and just relaxing… plus a late afternoon yoga class for me.

When I got back to the hotel after yoga, Adrian was looking somewhat stressed. Apparently, the hotel owner’s wife had just driven back from Panama (or destination for tomorrow) and was the last car through before locals blockaded the road in protest over something or other. Last time, the road stayed blocked for upwards of two weeks. Then again, sometimes it’s just for a couple of hours.

The owner’s wife had taken a few photos of tree branches across the road, and said that the locals weren’t letting anyone in or out – including a lady in labour. Somewhat suboptimal, given that was the road we wanted to be on in less than 24 hours!!

The reason why it particularly mattered – other than not wanting to get caught up in a protest – was because there was no way around if the road was blocked. Our choices were to take this road and risk it (50kms to the border, a border crossing and then 400kms)… or ride 600kms back through Costa Rica to the other side of the country, and then do the border crossing and 400kms in Panama. I was leaning towards risking it; Adrian was leaning towards going back through Costa Rica. In the end, we decided to see if we could find out somehow in the morning and make the final call then…