Entering Panama from Costa Rica was a big milestone for us. This was our last border crossing in Central America which was exciting but a little sad as well. The sadness quickly faded as the heat radiated from bridge separating the two countries as we were forced to walk back to Costa Rica without our truck. Here is the story:
When planning our route through Costa Rica, ending our visit near Puerto Viejo was appealing as the Sixaola border crossing is far from the Pan American Highway meaning very little truck traffic. Less chaos equals an easier crossing.
We arrived at the border near 11:30am and parked at the Pharmacy where we were required to pay our exit fee of $8/per person. A couple of helpers were hanging around trying to become our best friends but we saw through their friendliness and told them we didn’t need help. Luckily, they left us alone. Next, we drove through the nonfunctioning fumigation machine and parked across the street from the immigration and customs building, next to the empanada tent. Ten minutes later, we were done with Costa Rica. We hopped in the truck and drove across the one lane bridge to the Panama side to gain entry.
The fumigation machine was working well on the Panama side and once fired up, we drove through as fast as possible. Once through the fumigation machine, we turned a tight U to the left and parked.
Step number one was to pay for fumigation which cost $1. The man working behind the counter didn’t seem to acknowledge us, so after waiting for five minutes, we decided to walk around the corner but he told us to stop. Now that we had his attention (I know it sounds like we were controlling him, but we were totally lost and he was controlling us), he gave us our paperwork and we paid our fee and moved to pay our municipal entry fees of $4/per person and $10 for the truck. The lady was very helpful, pointing us in the right direction for immigration and customs.
At this point, Laughlin’s face was looking pretty glossy with sweat and I could feel it running down my back, my neck, my legs, my crack and pretty much the rest of my body. We ventured across the street where immigration was located under a metal roof, trapping the heat which was also radiating off the concrete walls. It was miserable. After having our passports stamped and our fingerprints scanned, we set out for our last task – customs.
The customs and insurance trailers were just a stone’s throw away from where we parked the truck which essentially completed the circle of stops before we could continue into Panama. After barging into the customs trailer, we were told that we had to get insurance first. We let ourselves out and walked next door. Once more, we attempted to barge into the insurance office but the door was locked and we were told it was closed all day. The parking lot guy told us to try the other insurance company down the road. So, we walked through the “sauna” to the shade of the other insurance building (another trailer). Again, we were locked out after trying to barge in and realized that we had arrived at our first border delay due to lunch time (this is very common apparently). We realized there was about an hour that we would have to kill before the insurance office would open, so we walked around checking out the duty free merchandise.
The duty free stores at this border were pretty weak. Prices didn’t seem that great and after walking into one store, a lady followed us around saying something we couldn’t understand and didn’t even realize she was talking to us. Finally, we realized she was talking to us and that she was saying “bag.” Ultimately, we figured out she was saying I couldn’t be in the store with my backpack, but she didn’t say anything other than “bag.” It was pretty funny.
After a PB&J for lunch, we went back to the insurance office which was still locked. Laughlin asked the lady working at the duty free store next door and she said they were closed all day as well. GREAT.
At this point, we realized we couldn’t get our import permit for the truck until we had insurance and both insurance companies were closed all day (it was a Monday). We went back to customs to plead our case and the customs gal whose office we barged into for the third time said we could buy insurance at the pharmacy on the Costa Rica side. With our tails tucked between our sweaty legs, we began the walk of shame back to Costa Rica leaving the Blanco Caballo behind.
It was pretty incredible that we walked all the way from outside of one border, through the international border and beyond to the pharmacy on the other side of the border without being asked for identification. IF this were the US, we would have been tazed, pepper sprayed, tackled and possibly shot trying to do this, but not in Central America.
Five minutes after arriving, the pharmacy guy sold us insurance and some awesome ice cream bars for the long hot walk back across the border. We hated that nobody told us the insurance offices were closed and had to walk back across the bridge but the ice cream made everything better.
And while taking photos at the pharmacy we finally got a chance to do one of these…LOL…
Finally, we arrived at customs with everything we needed and whithin ten minutes we were done. The customs gal closed the window, the reopened it to point that I “looked a little warm” which was obvious with my soaked hat, shirt and shorts. We appreciated her help and were happy to be back in the A/C in the truck!