Border Crossing

Wednesday, 27-08-2014. Day 8 (continued).

16 hours on a bus (part 2).

There are a two main things one should bear in mind when crossing an international border.

  1. Bring a pen. There are a lot of forms to fill out.
  2. They won't let you leave the country if you haven't paid your exit tax.

The bus pulled into the Costa Rican side of the border about 7:15 p.m., only 15 minutes into a Spanish-dubbed showing of Iron Man. We all got out and stood in line as one weary immigrations employee scanned, stamped, and initialed every passport and set of customs forms handed to him. There were about 40 people on our bus, so it took awhile.

Three of those people, however, hadn't paid their exit tax, which caused a few problems for them. We weren't sure what happened exactly, but they were pulled out of line and wandered off to settle the matter elsewhere. It apparently got all sorted, because these folks joined up with the rest of us on the Panama side a little later. But it didn't look like they'd had a lot of fun. So, again, remember to pay your exit tax.

After we were cleared to leave the country, we turned around and the bus was gone. You have to walk across the border; you can't ride. So we shouldered our backpacks and walked past a series of storefronts, dodged cars across a traffic-clogged street, and resisted the siren call of bored street vendors as we strolled right into Panama.

A word on the police. Up until now, the Costan Rican police had looked pretty friendly, and they dressed in blue uniforms similar to those we're used to in the United States. But on the border, these guys, who may have actually been Panamanian police, in their armored vests and sporting assault rifles, looked a lot more like military than police.

Now that we were officially out of Costa Rica, we had to officially enter Panama. As we walked beneath the Welcome to Panama sign, someone handed us the necessary customs and immigration forms (again, bring your own pen!). By this point, I was getting pretty good at filling out these things, so as I scribbled away with authority, I had people come over to me and ask what "forseen address" meant and "what do I put for this section about negotiable instruments?"

Some guy was sleeping on a piece of cardboard on the steps right below the Welcome to Panama sign.

Some guy was sleeping on a piece of cardboard on the steps right below the Welcome to Panama sign.

It costs $1 per person to enter Panama (so that's another tip: always have a little cash of the country you're entering on hand), and you need to have proof that you're going to be leaving, or they won't let you in. They also take your photo with a small digital camera in addition to stamping your passport.

Now that we were officially in Panama, it was time for customs. All of the bus passengers had to retrieve our luggage from the bus and walk into a small, really hot room with a series of tables. One of the officials read everyone's name off of a passenger manifest, which had an odd high school gym class feel. Then everyone rushed the tables to get their bags inspected. We were near the end of the line, so we got lighter treatment than some of the earlier inspectees.

All the passengers (and the bags) were on the bus by 8:30. I was sort of looking forward to seeing the rest of Iron Man, but no such luck. It was lights out the rest of the way. Even my overhead reading light didn't work, so I tried to get a little sleep.

We all slept fitfully. We woke occasionally to feel the bus rocketing down the highway or teeter wildly as it took the tight curves or passed some slower moving vehicle. A few times I woke freezing, wishing I'd worn pants. At one point, Frankie, who can twist her limbs into strange pretzel-like shapes, actually got stuck in her seat. I had to lift her up and turn her around.

I also remember stopping, briefly, in Santiago, Panama at midnight, but other than that it was all a blur until we pulled into Albrook Bus Terminal at 5:00 a.m.

In total, the ride had been 16 hours (we had a time change when we crossed into Panama). And just to summarize ... in the last 24 hours, we'd spent 19 in some sort of vehicle.

Sorry there aren't too many pictures here. I couldn't take them at the border and there wasn't much to see on the bus. But in four hours we would be touring Panama City where a lot more photos were taken.

Notable statistics:

  • Hours driving: 0
  • Hours riding a bus: 7.25
  • Borders walked across: 1
  • People who didn't pay the exit tax: 3
  • Hours crossing borders: 1.5
  • Time zones crossed: 1

is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. He also drinks coffee.

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Border Crossing
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