My Visa Run to Costa Rica and the Stress I Went Through
So as I mentioned in the “about” page of this blog, my rants & complaints aren’t just for venting, but may actually teach you something most of the time, assuming you are pretty new to how things work in Panama.
So here’s the story…
I was rushed to get ready for this trip for my FIRST ever visa run & of course I was going to Costa Rica, as that is the closest country to Panama.
Initially I was going to go to Toronto to visit my son, but things have been really tough with business, so I couldn’t come up with the money.
I was upset that I still couldn’t go, & I was hoping things would turn around, but finally 2 weeks ago I had to face reality & start preparing for my Costa Rican trip.
So I was behind schedule since I was swamped with work AND dealing with the bloody landlord situation.
I appealed to the Costa Rican Yahoo group for places to stay getting responses which were stupid like B & Bs that are 8 hours from the border. LOL
I didn’t know much of anything at the time, & I assumed these expats were smart enough to realize I wanted something as close to the border as possible, but in all fairness, people with money probably don’t care where they are going, because they can fly wherever they want.
I wanted to go to the hot springs for a visit, but then realized it was too far away, plus it’s costly from what I’ve been told – maybe not to others, but for me it is.
Anyway, I finally found someone who helped me & narrowed down one of the closest towns to the border of Panama & Costa Rica. The name is Golfito & the main bus stop is Rio Claro.
The expat guy was very nice in helping me, even reaching out to a friend of his to help find me hotels within my $30-40 budget. I was given 2, but they both didn’t pan out, as one was way too expensive, & the other one La Purruja Lodge hung up the phone on me several times before I gave up.
I guess people in Costa Rica aren’t that much different to Panamanians, they can be VERY rude & ignorant. The reason they hang up is because I don’t speak fluent Spanish, but they may very well hang up on fluent speakers too, I only know the reasons I get hung up on.
So I started looking for my own hotel & found one called Hotel Mar y Luna. This hotel or resort is NOT to be confused with the other ones I see that are NOT in the Golfito town in Costa Rica, & are of the same name & might be in Golfico.
Here is their site and Facebook pages:
I called up, spoke to someone who couldn’t speak English, but I understood he wanted me to call back tomorrow & I did.
Andres was VERY helpful in telling me which stop to get off at & telling me I could get a taxi for only $6 to Golfito from Rio Claro. I made the reservation for Monday October 24, 2011, & thought I was ALL SET.
I also had a local call up Tica bus to confirm the pricing of the round trip ticket which is $70 & again, thought I was ALL SET.
But unfortunately like a lot of things in Panama, actually living in Panama isn’t easy even if it appears to be on the outside. The residents are really responsible for that. They love making things as complicated as possible, whereas we are usually only used to our home country’s government acting in this manner, not almost every company we deal with.
What’s interesting is that Panamanians are very laid back people, so making things complicated shouldn’t be in their DNA, but for some reason it is. After living in Panama for almost three years, I found out the REASON for this is lack of intelligence.
So I woke up the day I was supposed to leave (Sunday) & felt sick & thought OH NO, don’t be sick today of all days.
It took me several hours to wake up. I popped several supplements & started chewing on my high end Vitamin C, plus I made me a lemon water & a green tea. Within a few hours I was feeling okay. Not full of energy, but enough to get me by.
Since I got a slow start to my day, I wasn’t ahead of schedule like I thought I would be. I did some work, talked with my sister & then slowly started to pack.
I tried to get a ride into Panama City, but my pirate taxi driver wasn’t picking up her phone, so I had to face facts that I had to go in on my own on the bus with all my luggage. My other concern was whether the bus was running around 8 pm on a Sunday night which is when I figured I’d start heading out.
The bus doesn’t leave until 11 pm, so I figured getting there at 9 pm was enough time to relax, get something to eat, some sandwiches for the trip, etc.
I did leave a little late (around 8:30 pm) & after saying goodbye to the dog I’m falling in love with as his owners are abusing him, I started struggling to walk with my new very full suitcase I had just bought. I also jam packed backpack that’s heavy because it’s leather, & my leather laptop case which of course weighs a lot.
I didn’t get very far when a car stopped at the side of the road. It was my nice neighbors. They were gracious (these people are what makes Panama a nice country at times) enough to offer me a lift while asking me where I was going of course.
I didn’t want anyone to know I was gone for obvious reasons (robberies), but I had no choice, as it was clear I was going somewhere. So I asked them to watch the house for me.
They dropped me off at the entrada Neavo Churillo, & I caught a bus right away with the driver helping me with my heavy suitcase. Again, most bus drivers in Toronto, Ontario wouldn’t help you, & while the bus driver on the way back didn’t, many Panamanian bus drivers do.
I get to the bus station (Albrook Terminal) in what I think is ample time to withdraw my money, pay for my ticket & relax for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, but NOOOOO, that would require things to run smoothly.
I get to the Tica bus counter only to get ATTITUDE from the girl with her telling me I CAN’T ride on the bus tonight because they don’t sell tickets past 8 pm. The next bus is at 8 am or tomorrow at 8 pm.
I’m like WTF!!!! Why in the world can’t you sell tickets past 8 pm. NOOOO, I have to travel tonight, NOT tomorrow morning at 8 am, I’m NOT sleeping in the bus station all night!
I ask to speak to a manager, & she “claims” she is the manager – yeh right, like I really believe that one. That’s the oldest trick in the book.
These were my first ever experiences of how Panamanians lie almost all the time.
There was a nice lady standing nearby who spoke some English, & she was helping to translate.
I remembered Hernan (my nice taxi driver) state that there is another line that also goes to Costa Rica, & they recently changed their name.
I start looking around for that booth & couldn’t find it. Then I found something that although didn’t have the name I remembered he had mentioned, it was similar. It was called Panama Express.
I ask the girl at that booth if it will drop me off at Nelly because just then I realize I’ve LEFT the scrap paper with the directions on my desk at home and I couldn’t remember Golfito.
JFC, this DAY couldn’t be getting any better. The name of that town, “Nelly” had stuck in my head, & I knew it was close by to where I was supposed to be dropped off. She shakes her head & also gives me attitude.
Then I called Hernan again praying he will pick up the phone since he hadn’t earlier on in the day. And he DOES!!!
I tell him what is going on, & he speaks to the Panama Express girl & the phone gets passed to who I later on realize is one of the drivers. He gets off, and tells me it’s okay, they will drop me off at Nelly.
In my mind I STILL wanted to travel on the Tica bus line since that is what I had originally planned on, plus I could get a round trip ticket with them. With this Panama Express bus line, I had no idea where to catch the bus going back. I don’t even know if the Costa Ricans know the Panama Express bus line, whereas everyone knows Tica bus.
After Hernan gets his sister to call me (very nice), she brainstorms with me as I’m literally freaking out. Time is wasting away, I’m exhausted, sweating, lugging around all these bags, & I realize I have to get the information from the hotel as to that name of the small town.
She calms me down & offers to call Andres which was VERY VERY nice of her. She says I have to take the Panama Express line, & while I already knew that, I finally had to accept the fact that I wasn’t going on Tica bus. I bought the other ticket while waiting for her to text me the info from Andres at the hotel.
At this point I had to rush to the washroom, which is when Hernan’s sister texts me & then calls me. I got all the info again (oh yeh, the town is called Rio Claro) & she even texted me that the taxi should ONLY be $6. I already knew that since Andres had told me that the other day, but it was great that he gave her that information as well.
I then RUSH to get some food to go, as I hadn’t eaten since I had planned to relax and eat at the bus station.
Then I run through the terminal which was pretty much empty. I’m running to catch the bus with literally minutes to spare before 11 pm. One of the women had to radio ahead, as I was cutting it THAT close.
The entire bus was almost empty which was a relief.
I got myself settled & in the end, I’m glad I went on that line because they ROCK compared to Tica. I won’t ever go on Tica again & I’ll tell you why in another blog post.
On this bus I did kill my neck & my back because I just couldn’t get comfortable in the seats. And it wasn’t cold at first, but eventually it became freezing off & on. I didn’t have a blanket because I don’t own one in Panama. I had one back in Canada of course, I just didn’t think I’d ever need one in HOT Panama of all places.
I only had a sweatshirt & some socks, so on EVERY bus you take no matter how hot it is outside, I highly recommend you bring a blanket & the socks & sweatshirt with a hoodie.
More on the story in part II…