Friday, April 22, 2011
4/20/11, Border Crossing Bullshit: Bocas del Toro, PA - Puerto Viejo, CR. 60 miles, 6 hours (!)
I leave Bocas and am looking forward to being back in Costa Rica (and a little closer to home) for a short 60 mile ride to Puerto Viejo, a kick ass beach town on the Caribbean. What I wasn;t quite prepared for was the shit border crossing. The ride to the border was great, an hour of smooth pavement through the tropics and I arrive at Sixaloa, after getting slightly lost and ending up in a coffee farm first. This is a tiny border crossing, and usually not very heavily trafficked, but as I approached, I saw the throngs of tourists and folks crossing to go to Bocas from Costa Rica because if Semana Santa (Holy Week/Easter) which is when everyone in Latin America takes time off for vacation.
So, the immigration and customs buildings are on kind of a raised level of dirt road, which also leads out to the rickety one way bridge covered with rotted planks filled with gaps, which all traffic (even tractor-trailers) uses to go over the river to cross borders. I park underneath the road and immediately a drunk dude comes out and says he will watch my bike. OK, whatever. I walk up and talk to a guard who doesnt help much, but I do find a gap/shortcut around the steaming, belching trucks and park near the customs office. Wait in a line with a few other people and lean in close to the gao in the window, trying to feel some of that nice AC they have in there. After 15 minutes of waiting, the lady takes my passport and says I am in the wrong line. I get in another line which moves quickly and the guy there says I need to grab a customs agent outside. I do, and he checks my papers and gives them back. Now finally I can get my bike stamped out. I get a little sticker in my passport whixh says so. I then look at the long ass line for immigration which has barely moved in the past hour, everyone baking in the hot sun, and I really don't want to wait just to get an exit stamp. I go right up to the front but a lady who was near me in customs says I have to go to the back of the line. I try to make an ally here, chatting her up about our predicament in having vehicles. Then the customs agent comes over and says I can just leave Panama, no problem. Hmmm, this makes no sense, because the lady I am talking to has to get stamped out. Why would I not have to get stamped out of Panama? The customs agent insists, and I gingerly ride my bike onto the rickety bridge, feet down in first gear, riding one of the 2 lengthwise planks made for 4 wheeled vehicles across the river.
Now in Costa Rica, I park the bike and get in their immigration line. Im talking with a few CR college kids on spring break, headed to Bocas. They tell me that the customs office attached to this one is nearly empty, and I dont have to wait here to get in there. I go in and the AC hits me with a wave of relief. There is another motorcycle rider there, a kid from Canada who doesn't really seem to be into chatting, but we talk for a whole anyway. He does this weird kind of thing where when I am done talking and waiting for a response, he just sits there for a few seconds and then looks confused and answers with a few words. The girl helping me out is very nice, and gives me a slaght scare when she says I need paperwork to reactivate my insurance, which another official took at the last border a couple of weeks ago. She figures it out though and checks out my bike, and then says she will take care of the paperwork while I get stamped in, in immigration. SO, back to the line, where I conveniently find my new CR college buddies wo have been in the line this whole time and are closer to the front, and I jokingly greet them with great enthusiasm. The get it though and they dont mind. Then all of a sudden, the Canadian biker appears and in his weird little way starts talking to me like I am his friend with a gay little smile, doing the same thing I just did. Now, Im all for helping somebody out, especially a fellow motorcycle traveller, but fuck this guy, plus he is kind of blowing up my spot with the Costa Ricans who have held MY spot. Luckily, they dont care, but I wish I didnt have to act like I kind of knew this tool. We get forms and fill them out in the line and I let Canada Boy borrow my pen. I get to the line and hold my breat, knowing that I dont have an exit stamp from Panama. The official actually picks up the stamp, raises it, and then does a double take at my passport and starts flipping through pages. It was like bad acting in a shitty movie. I knew there was no way I was getting into CR without the exit stamp. He is cool though, and says that when I get it, I can come right up to the front of this line so I dont have to wait twice.
SO, leaving my bike in CR, Im walking back over the bridge, with tons of other people in between the tractor trailers inching their way across. The line is still horrible, and I try to speed things along. I find the customs guy with the bad info and let him know that I am a bit trapped here, and maybe I can pay him or somebody else a few bucks to get me my stamp now. He takes my passport and we run into my friend, the lady in the customs line with me, who is now up at the front of the line. We all talk and she shakes her head knowingly and amazingly, the people at the front of the line are cool with me cutting to get my stamp out. It takes about 1 seconds and I kiss the lady goodbye and head back over the bridge to CR. Walk to the front of the line an wait for a break, shove my passport into the window of the other official there and he gives me my stamp as I let out a long breath.
So now just one more step, getting my bike into CR. The girl in customs asks for copies which I am prepared for. Then she smiles and says, no I need copies of your passport. I say I have one. She says no, I need a copy of EVERY SINGLE PAGE, EVEN THE BLANK ONES! She has been very cool, but this thing is going on 3 hours now, and I ask why, I never had to do this before, and a few other pointless questions which will never get me around "the process." She apologizes, says something about new rules. There is no copy machine in the office. I have to go to a copy center a few buildings away. I hand my papers to the lady, and she makes them , but then starts typing info in a computer. Then she asks me to type some info in there. This is weird. I go to pay for the copies and she says 15 bucks. This is a lot for copies. What happened was, instead of making me a copy of my insurance paper, she issued me new insurance, which means I have to pay again. No way. I show her my copy of my still-good insurance and she all of a sudden gets really annoyed, and her co-worker does as well, saying I have to pay. I keep my cool and say Ill be back. I go back to customs to sort it out. The girl is on my side, says Im right, and sends an 8 month pregnant girl to walk with me to sort it out. We get there, and the copy lady is all smiles now. I pay a buck and change. Back to the customs office. The girl says I have to go back and make one more copy, but then that is it. I do that. I go back to customs. I get my papers. I am good to go finally. I get on my bike which has been sitting in front of a few cops, and me and a cop named Jose check out and talk about his .45 for a a minute before I pull off and get the FUCK away from the border. Luckily the last step in all of this, the fumigation of my bike, os skipped, because the fumigation guys are on vacation. For real.
Glad to be in CR, its a short 30 miles to the beach. I get lost a few times, there are no signs and the roads are unmarked, but some folks tell me where to turn aff and pretty soon I am on a dirt road with palm trees and the Caribbean on my left. Lots of folks out enjoying their holiday, and lots of tourist shit around here too. But it is a good and fun vibe. I check into Sunrise Hostel and check out the town, get a casado, go to a coffee shop and meet Tom, the owner from Maryland and head back in to blog a bit. Then back out to check out the water and the nightlife. I see Maria in the street and call her name. I think she saw me too but tried to walk by without saying anything, but as she turned around with a big smile and a hug, I realize she is stoned off her ass, so that could have been it as well. Sure. I tell her Ill see her at the Jaguar reserve tomorrow and to go back to her friends, who have kept walking without her. Back at the hostel, I try to get some sleep for an early start to the Jaguar reserve in the morning, but thats not happening with the dancehall blasting through the streets till 3 in the morning. I dont mind though, its cool to be chilling in the Caribbean.