The great thing about living on a tourist visa in Costa Rica is that you have to travel to another country every 90 days. I decided to visit Panama City for a week. I stayed at the amazing Hostel Mamallena again and visited my friend Rychy. Besides that, the week in Panama wasn’t very eventful. Unlike the trip home.
am travel cheap, I decided for a long bus ride rather than a flight. Then again, I am not that cheap and like to travel with a little bit of comfort, so I booked a bus ticket in the clasa ejecutiva (business class). Including the border crossing the trip was supposed to take 14-15h. The bus was half empty, so I got the seat next to me for myself. Great. Soon after we take off we got served a hot meal: Steak. It was surprisingly good. Only, the fact that we were provided with a plastic fork but no knife made me feel like a caveman gnawing on a chunk of meat.
Next on the menu was the obligatory movie. In Latin American long-distance buses it’s usually one of the following categories: Action movie American style (Stallone, Schwarzenegger, etc.), Action movie Asian style (Jacky Chan, etc.) or Comedy with black American actors (Eddie Murphy, etc.). Since I paid $10 extra for the ‘business class’ I was hoping for some better movie. Well, I ended up watching ‘2012: Ice Age‘. It’s kind of a bad remake of The Day After Tomorrow (as if that wasn’t bad enough). In the movie the climate goes crazy and a glacier is approaching New York City with 200 miles per hour. No kidding. This is the worst movie I have seen in full (unlike the cinema, I couldn’t just walk out) in a long time. IMDB gives it a whooping 2.3/10. Here is the trailer, just to give you some idea of how bad it is. One last fun fact: The boy (I don’t dare to call him an actor) who plays the son of the main characters has the second longest tongue in the world. Exactly, WTF…
What came next was more exciting than a movie. About halfway between Panama City and the border to Costa Rica we ran into a roadblock that was set up by the indigenous people that populate this province. They carried logs and tree branches onto the road the block the way. It’s their way to protest against the government. The background of this issue has been dominating the news in Panama for weeks. The government has sold mining rights to a Canadian company without even consulting the indigenous people living in this province and disregarding their (semi)autonomy of this territory. Understandably, the people were not happy about the planned copper mine and hydroelectric plant and have been protesting against it for weeks. Some commentators call it the biggest crisis in over a decade. For some more background, check out this article in the Guardian. I was aware of the issue before I left but had no choice but to hope to get through somehow. The roadblocks of the indigenous tribes are an effective way of putting pressure on the president because the Pan-American highway is the only East-West street in Panama. There simply is no other road to take. In the past, the people sometimes had blocked the road just for a few hours, other times for days. When we arrived there was much conflicting information. I connected with the other foreign travelers to understand what’s going on. (My Spanish is still not good enough.) First, there was some hope that the road might get unblocked in an hour or two.
Then, the bus drivers talked to the police and they said, after sunset the villagers leave and the road gets cleared. But eventually it was decided to drive back to the closest town and spend the night there. I expected having to sleep in the bus because I could not imagine any hotel, hostel or other place to accommodate 20 people to exist in a village like this. But to my surprise there was: a Catholic convent! I’ve never happier those exist than in that night. During the week, the nuns teach the children of the surrounding villages. The ones who live further away sleep in the convent throughout the week and go home on the weekend. So, there were several empty dormitories that we could use.
The initial idea of all woman sleeping in one dorm and all men in the other was soon given up. After we all got settled in we explored the village and found a supermarket to buy snacks, beer and cigarettes. The latter two were not tolerated in the convent. Therefore, we hide behind the bus, out of sight from the nuns, to drink the beer. I felt like a school boy hiding from the teachers. Ha, haven’t felt that young in a while. It was fun.
I started a conversation with some of the guys from the bus. For some of them, El Salvador was the final destination, so they had four more countries to cross. The whole convent situation was also a great opportunity to discuss religion. There was some interesting exchange of views. Latinos often seem shocked when they encounter foreigners who are atheists (‘What, you don’t believe in any God at all?’).
But when I discuss this topic in more detail, often I find that their belief is rather halfhearted and more of a ‘just in case/to be on the safe side/hey, maybe it helps’-kind-of-strategy. Not sure if God is tricked that easily but good luck with that…
Meanwhile, the nice Canadian couple realized they will miss their flight back home and called the airline. Rescheduling cost them over $600 per person, wow. The irony is that it is a Canadian company that plans to build the mine and power plant. Justice!!! Well, I offered to let them stay at my place if we ever make it to San José.
Back at the convent I tried to charge my empty phone but the dodgy powersocket was so loose that my fiddling around caused some sparks and turned off the only light in the room, so I gave up. Eventually, I went to sleep around midnight. Not even an hour later we were woken up. The Blackberry of someone had a radio functionality and there was news that the road was free. Great news. We got our stuff together, collected some money for the nuns and took off.
Two hours later we reached the border to Costa Rica, which is closed over night and opens at 6 am. Two more hours of sleep in the bus. Finally, we get to cross the border, which took yet another two hours for no good reason. Our luggage was first checked for drugs on the Panamanian side, the drug-sniffing dog was easily distracted and interested in anything but our luggage. Then, we got the stamp on the Panamanian side, walked over the the Costa Rican side, where we got the entry stamp. The border guy didn’t even want to see my fake flight ticket as proof that I am not living in Costa Rica but a tourist that is going home soon. Eventually our luggage was checked again. By that time I was pretty exhausted and slept for most of the remaining 6 hours to San José.
When we arrived in San José after this 26h lasting Odyssey I felt a little like an explorer that has just returned from a mission to the Southpole. It’s nice to be back home in Costa Rica.