This Week in Costa Rica

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This Week in Costa Rica is a weekly, online radio program and podcast by US expat, Dan Stevens

PANAMA - PART 3 OF 3

I awoke with hunger in my belly, sunburn on my back, and stress throughout my whole body.  There was only one bank machine on the main island of Bocas del Toro at the time and I got up early to see if I could beg it for any cash.  At times in Central America, trips to the bank machine are better likened to pulls at a slot machine.  You put in your card, press some buttons, and pray that the machine with regale you with sweet sounds of bleeps, bloops, and rollers counting cash.  

I sadly did not win on this pull.  It was suddenly very real.  I didn’t have enough money to get home.  I could afford to take the water taxi back to the mainland, the microbus to the border, get across, and half the bus fare to San Jose (they only sell whole tickets, by the way).  This is not taking into account that I would arrive in San Jose and have no way to get home.  With that, I did all one could do – I bought a piece of chocolate cake and booked my water taxi back.    The trip was the same, but in reverse.

Sixaola - border of Costa Rica/Panama

  We were a gaggle of gringos, sunburnt and hung over, bobbing sleepily across the ocean and through the waterways, with compasses pointed in all directions.  Many of us were heading back to our respective jobs, some continuing their vacations, some ripe off checking their vacation properties and purchases in the islands and heading back to their 20-year-old Tica girlfriends.  I fell into the first category, but worry I’m steering toward the latter (another blog post).  Upon arrival at the border a woman in a box with a small window noted that I’d overstayed my tourist visa by 11 days.  She made such note of it as to write that in my passport for all future immigration officials to see and proceeded to run her index finger across her throat as if to signal “next time, you’re dead”.  Then she asked me for my ticket out of Costa Rica.  Dammit.  

That little nuisance we call proof of continuation.  You need in Costa Rica upon entry proof that you’re leaving within 90 days, be it a plane itinerary or bus ticket. Fortunately, the border is set up for such events and you can purchase a cancelled, one-way, ticket back to Panama from the pharmacy for $6.  With reentry stamp firmly placed in my passport, I was ready to live another 3 months in Pura Vida.   There are two busses back to San Jose – one at 9am and another at 3pm.  To catch the 9am is a near impossibility.  This means that I am stuck sitting in a shanty border town for 3 or 4 hours in 100 degree heat waiting for bus I can’t afford, hungry.  With some careful pleading and puppy eyes firmly set, I managed to get on the bus and made my way back to the terminal.  

Upon arrival in San Jose I dashed to the bank machine to insert every Canadian and Costa Rica debit card I had to desperately try and muster some cash to get home to San Lorenzo de Heredia.  I had no way to get on the 2 busses home, and definitely couldn’t afford a taxi.  By the grace of God, my TD Canada Trust card yielded 2000 colones ($4).  Being the last person in the terminal, a kind taxi driver approached and asked where I was going.  When I told him and showed my little pittance of cash he grabbed my rolling bag and said “vamos” (let’s go).  He took me to San Joaquin, which is only 2kms from home!  I was within walking distance.  By now it was about 9:30pm.  I walked home, dragging my bag behind me, hungry, tired, and dirt poor.  I stepped through my front door, reached into my pocket, and pulled out my last 5 colones (1 cent).  I slammed it on the kitchen table and wondered how in the world I was going to get to work for 7am the next morning.  

Seems my roommates were to contribute to the universal fund of “save Corey” that night.  The generosity of so many on the last leg of my trip is a series of acts I’ll never forget.  I always can spot a struggling tourist at a border, on a bus, wandering San Jose, and extend my hand whenever the opportunity arises; for I know what $4 from the slot machine feels like.  

 

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