Mike and I move over to the Caribbean coast, past the grimy Puerto Limón and into the small town of Puerto Viejo. All throughout Central America the cities on the Caribbean coast have had a very gritty, seedy feel with abundant poverty and run down buildings. Puerto Viejo is certainly no exception. There are many English speaking locals here who are keen to sell us all manner of drugs and services we don’t want to know about. We camp at the massive “Rocking J’s” hostel, which has a bizarre feel and we soon refer to it as a ‘backpacker resort’. It’s in a huge fenced compound with a private beach, bar & restaurant and even has signs warning that it’s not safe to venture outside the compound.
Rain comes down in torrents hour after hour and word filters down that the only highway south to Panama has been washed out, so we spend a couple of extra days here, constantly struggling to fit in with the vibe.
On our way down to the border at Sixaoloa / Guabito banana fields stretch in all directions as far as the eye can see.
The actual border is a huge old one lane bridge spanning an enormous river. It really doesn’t look in good enough condition to drive over, though the big trucks are having no problems. On the Costa Rica side we fill out another tourist card, get an exit stamp in our passports and I hand over the paperwork for the Jeep all in about 5 minutes.
Driving over the bridge is kind of a challenge because it’s very narrow and crammed with people walking in both directions carrying their worldly possessions. Every time a person wants to go in the opposing direction I have to stop so they can squeeze by without worry. Immediately in Panama I am directed to park literally in the middle of the road and pay $4 for the usual fumigation. The guy is so intent on doing a good job he sprays a small can inside the Jeep and says not to go in there for ten minutes, making me feel a bit uneasy.
I grab an entrance stamp for myself before getting the Jeep inspected by a military guy who pokes around for a long time, and seems somewhat disappointed when he doesn’t find anything. I walk down a little way and purchase a months worth of mandatory insurance for $15 USD. The guy behind the counter thinks he’s on a winner when he says it’s $30, not realizing I can read the sign in Spanish that clearly says it’s $15.
Questioning everything is becoming a way of life.
Back at customs I exchange copies of the Jeep documents for an official looking piece of paper allowing entry for one month. I have a good look over the form and am satisfied it’s correct before we drive off into country number ten after a very easy border crossing.