When traveling from place to place, there are always two options: pay a bit extra to take the private tourist transportation which is easy, clean, and normally air conditioned…or you can travel the way of the locals. 99% of the time, I choose the latter. And here is why…
Today, I traveled from Isla Bastimentos, Panama, to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rice. When leaving the hostel, I was offered private transportation for $25 one way. Seems like a decent deal since it’s a good 5 hours away. But I knew I could do better. After 2 different boats, 3 buses, and walking about a mile in total, I arrived and paid $7. Saving $18 doesn’t sound like much, but it’s two nights in a hostel. In my eyes, that’s a win.
On the way out of Almirante (the town located on the coast closest to Isla Bastimentos), I jumped in the van with my current co-traveler, Sabrina. Immediately, the van reminded me of Peru. Old van, only locals, extremely cheap, and the people are friendly and helpful. This is the Central America that I was thinking of that I still hadn’t seen.
Almirante is a huge hub for transferring bananas for Chiquita. On our way to the border of Costa Rica, we passed so many banana plantations. It’s like corn in Iowa…the land is just full of banana trees. The tropical climate is perfect for growing bananas. Almirante is on the coast, so enormous ships transport the bananas to every part of the world. We saw a ship named Chiquita Scandinavia which I suppose will be going to the Scandinavian region of Europe. The ship was full of storage containers with bananas. To see exactly where they’re coming from and how they’re transported, that’s a good elementary school lesson!
There is one thing that I sometimes see that I absolutely love. I saw two on the way to Costa Rica and I was both surprised and ecstatic. Cyclists! In all the gear and everything. I assume they were locals, as well, since they weren’t carrying panniers. The roads were actually paved and well-kept, winding up, down, and around hills.
On the way to the border, there was a police stop where every vehicle is checked out by the police. Typically, they just look to see if there is anything suspicious and normally don’t do full searches. They took their time looking around the van. From outside, I saw one police officer point at me. Another officer then came around the side and ask for Sabrina’s and my passport. I suppose they just wanted to make sure we legally entered the country. But we were both surprised as I don’t think we look too dangerous. Sabrina joked afterwards they they must think we are trafficking bananas.
I was thinking about it afterwards, and this is exactly what the immigration law in Arizona allows. At any time, a police officer can ask anyone for their legal documents. It’s racial profiling. Because someone may look foreign, the police stop them and ask for identification. Thinking back, it has actually happened to me a few times, once while walking along the street in Cusco. To me, it feels wrong. There is a bus full of 40 people, 38 Latinos and 2 white people. The 2 white people have to show their passports to prove they’re there legally. How does that seem right? I understand those who are against this.
The border crossing was fantastic. Out in the middle of nowhere, there is an old, beaten-up railroad bridge. On one side is immigration for Panama. The other side is Costa Rica. The bridge is about 300 feet long. Think of an abandoned bridge where trains used to run but has not been used for 30 years. The boards are coming apart, various holes line the bridge, and many of the boards lift when you step on them. That’s the border crossing. It was incredible; I’ve never seen anything like it.
The immigration was very easy. In the Panama office, I had to get a sticker on my passport and pay a $3 exit fee. On the Costa Rica side, I filled out the paper and got the stamp to enter, no questions asked. I was even prepared to show my proof of leaving the country (an airplane reservation), but they didn’t ask so I didn’t bring it up. Very simple and easy, plus the excitement of a low traveled path and old railroad bridge.
As you can see, I love to travel like a local. You may sweat through half of it. It may be uncomfortable. You may look strange carrying two backpacks around. But it’s an adventure. It’s not for everyone. But for those who seek an experience different than the normal tourist, it’s the only way to travel!
Now I’m in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, a small town on the Caribbean coast. It’s known for it’s beautiful beaches just outside of town and also for the partying. It has a strong rasta feel. Think Bob Marley, rastafarian dreadlocks, and shops selling colorful bags, hammocks, and clothes. It’s not exactly my type of town, but I do want to visit the beaches and it’s a cheap place to stay. I found a hostel called Rocking J’s where I was able to put my tent up in their back yard for just $6. Hoping the rain to stop soon so that I can leave the hostel without getting soaked!