With my time constantly ticking down before the boat across the Darien, but the dislike of the pan American and border crossing fresh in my mind, I decide in the morning to head north through the mountains to skirt the northern coast of Costa Rica.
This sloth was being taken across the road by a local! Bizarre!
After an early start I hit the border just before midday. I was told there was a rickety bridge that spanned the two countries but was happy to realize they had created a new bridge for traffic, and the old bridge was solely for foot passengers. I keep my eyes peeled for immigration and am waved on by officials. I keep going forward. Its then I realize that I have crossed this bridge without going through immigration to check out of Costa Rica and I am already in Panama. I try to find someone to talk to but there is a dearth of people on my side of the bridge, no sign of officials and really if I wanted too I could have easily kept going into the depths of Panama without a person seeming to care. Finally I worked out I had to go back across the bridge and conclude my paperwork for Costa Rica, before coming back across the bridge.
On both sides of the border everyone was amazingly pleasant, engaging me in conversation and talking about my travels. They come outside and sit with me and help me sort out the paperwork- at one point I had to check if they were actually officials or ‘helpers’ because I never saw them in the official room! Frustratingly my insurance paper I purchased had my driver’s license number where my passport number should be. I needed to go back and get this changed before I could progress further with the paperwork, much to apologetic dismay of the officials. Then I discovered that the insurance lady had gone to lunch, and by the time I left the lovely little border, it was already 3pm.
I rode through the little border town and found myself going in circles due to road works. I asked a man sitting outside his house for directions and he ended up jumping on his motorbike and taking me on a crazy run through the backstreets of the city and out to the outskirts of the town. Typical Latin American style city driving that I was getting used to and actually beginning to like, but would not generally do of my own accord.
Saying our goodbye on the outskirts of town I headed into the northern hills of Panama. The road was beautiful up and down over rolling forested hills, then winding high into the mountains.
On dusk I found a ‘jungle hostel’ in the mountains, but as I was trying to get up the steep small path to it, I dropped the bike in the fading light. I went to a house and asked for help, from some of the men standing outside. They told me the hostel could only be accessed by a steep hike through the forest, and there was no route for the motorcycle. He said he was happy to guard my bike overnight. As I moved towards the house I noted a shotgun learning up against the front door. They invited me in for dinner and introduced me to the family. It felt amazing to be welcomed by the older women. They didn’t talk much but I felt an incredible respect from them that I was a female completing this journey solo. It seemed in their eyes a sort of proud solidarity, and their small gestures and touches to my hand spoke volumes. Their home was simple and bare. They had “sweet water” on tap from the mountains which they assured me was safe to drink. The simple fare of rice, boiled pumpkin and a hot dog was gratefully received. It is such an overwhelming feeling at times when you are given so much by people that do not know you. A small television was on in the corner and the grandfather was glued to the screen. It seemed the older people in Panama had just been given a bonus payment from the government. They asked of my travels and warned me of the recent floods in northern Panama, that had in the past week killed 5 people and left many homeless. After a time I thanked them for their kindness and decided to take the 30 minute night hike up the hill behind and headed u the hill through the 30 min forest path in the darkness to find the jungle hostel.
In the morning, I hiked back down through the forest and walked to my bike, but the guard dog of the house was having none of it. Yelping and nipping my well protected boots and telling me to keep my distance. Yep, my bike had been safe overnight! I walked back towards the house and was greeted by the men again. They invited me for breakfast, but I declined not wanting to take more from these lovely people. His mother come out of the house and placed a perfect orange in my hands, closed her hands around mine and wished me the best on my travels.
Panama overwhelmed me today with the kindness and generosity of the people. I felt an amazing sense of welcome. I am hit by my change in contentment with myself and almost want to turn around and head back to Mexico to see how my experience would change there now I feel I ‘know again how to travel’. Its funny how my mood reflects in those around me. I struggled so much in Mexico but I wonder now with improved Spanish, being more at ease with my long distance relationship, and my increased comfort with the bike what my experience would be. What would phase me, and what would simply flow over my back like water