Sunday, January 4, 2009
Como Se Dice "Imodium"?
I do not know what you did last week, but Marty and I crossed five borders in seven days. We are in Panama now, having covered El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and a good part of Panama as I write this.
The border crossings were time consuming, and we did use helpers at most of them. People always ask about Honduras because it has a poor reputation. What we found is that if we cross on weekends and holidays it is best. Early morning is best. And the secondary border crossings are better than the main ones.
Crossing into Honduras was actually one of the more efficient crossings. We used a helper and arrived before the customs agent went to lunch. What is interesting is that even after you cross the border, get all your documents, and think you are on your way, you meet the next check point about 300 meters down the road. They check your passport and bike documents again, and might pick up one of documents attesting to the fact that you paid some fee.
About 50 km into Honduras we were stopped again at a police road block. The guy who questioned Marty was just visiting. Apparently he had been living in Maryland but had been deported and now was a cop in Honduras! But the guy working me wanted a bribe. He said that a $25 tax was yet to be paid. After I insisted that all items were paid at the border and started grabbing more receipts he gave up. I had not even read my entry documents. So later when I looked at the documents I saw in plain Spanish “Salto Pagado” or amount paid, right after amount due. The guy was plain and simple trying to shake me down.
Nicaragua is in a class by itself. If you want to experience Central America as it all was not too long ago, go to Nicaragua. It is the first place we encountered ox carts. Real ox carts with wooden wheels, heavy yokes, and lumbering oxen just traveling down the highway with the rest of the traffic. Also, lots of horse and donkey drawn vehicles. We stayed in Grenada. It has lots of good hotels and is the colonial capital of Nicaragua.
The crossing to Costa Rica was the worst. It took about an hour to get out of Nicaragua. Then it took another 3.5 hrs to get the Costa Rican documents. We did not use a helper in Costa Rica because there were none. I don’t think it would have helped. It just took forever. When we left the border we hit our first significant rain of the entire trip. When we left Omaha on Nov 6 it was spitting rain all the way to Kansas. But since then we have had blue sky, except when it snowed on us in New Mexico – but that was a rest day!
So on Dec 30 we got rained on. There has been a sprinkle now and then since. But this is the dry season and we are enjoying clear weather.
Costa Rica is a great place and very developed. They actually have road signs that give repeat directions. The roads are in good repair. And the Costa Ricans are arguably the worst drivers I have ever seen. The top speed on any road is 90 kph or about 55 mph. That’s OK. But the Costa Ricans think that 20 or 25 mph is better. From time to time we would come upon a car or truck just putzing down the road at 20 mph. Going through mountains is agonizing because some guy in a vehicle that will do more than 15 mph will be crawling along stacking everyone else behind him. Then there are the people who just pull out as they feel figuring everyone else will avoid them – which they do. But it is as if there are no traffic rules, except the speed limit which is vigorously enforced. I don’t know why. No one goes fast enough to violate it.
We spent New Years Eve in Playa del Coco Costa Rica. We barely got a room. The place is 4 hrs from the capital and was packed. It is a very nice and very warm beach town with a lot of Americans and Canadians living there, mostly in retirement. But our hotel was owned by a working Canadian.
After leaving Playa Coco we visited a friend in the Jaco/Herreteria area. The nest day –Friday – we hit our first stretch of dirt in a long time. The road was 40 miles of dust and rock. But when we pulled in for lunch the Pacific was right there, and so was good asphalt. It took us all of 4 days to cross Costa Rica.
When we hit the Panama border there were no significant problems. Just the beauracracy. But as we pulled out of the border we got on the best roads since Mexico. There is a great 4 land divided highway all the way to David, and new asphalt with full shoulders south of there, Then we turned right onto the dirt and headed for the beach.
So now I am sitting on the beach in Panama writing this. We have found some wonderful places and met very interesting people. But what amazes me is that the story is usually the same, They were on vacation or backpacking, came upon this particular place, and decided to stay. So they started a business, or bought a place, or sell time shares, and are making a new life.
Next week Columbia.