Saturday, January 26, 2008


For the most part, it’s quite simple……traveling that is. I stay flexible, I make sure I’m PLENTY early for the buses (the schedules seem to be a bit relative), and when I don’t know what’s happening, I just subscribe to the way of the cow….I follow the herd. This herd mentality seems to be especially effective at the various border crossings, where the general procedure seems to be as follows:

>While on the bus, fill out the immigration forms (one to two for BOTH countries).

>Give completed forms to bus attendant (he’s like the bus copilot), along with “exit fee” for departure country and passport.

>Upon arriving at the border, get off the bus and stand around for about an hour while the paperwork is sorted out for all passengers.

>After hearing your name called, collect passport and get back on the bus.

>Drive approximately 100 yards to other side of the border.

>Get off bus again and wait in line get to the window to see the official who has the authority to grant permission to enter new country.

>After passport is stamped, find new location of bus (again, the way of the cow works pretty effectively for this one).

>Once bus has been located, retrieve bags from under the bus and place them in designated “inspection area”…….usually a folding table next to the road.

>After standing with your bags for another hour or so, the boarder official waves everyone through, usually without inspecting a single bag.

I know it sounds a little ridiculous, and in reality it probably is. BUT I keep the expectations low, I avoid having a schedule, and I follow the herd.

COSTA RICA MEETS PANAMA: Everything was going according to plan. I had obtained all things necessary to leave Costa Rica, and I was on the final step to enter Panama…..the dreaded “meeting with the boarder official”. Wanting to make sure I was following the majority and not just one or two stray cows, I had positioned myself towards the back of the herd. After all, I figured the bus couldn’t leave until EVERYONE was through customs, so there was no rush right? Anyway, after pretty much EVERYONE else was back on the bus waiting for the stragglers, I finally made it to the window. It was at THAT time that the following exchange took place.

J (this is me by the way)—Hello sir.

BO (BO here is referring to the “boarder official”….NOT the potentially lethal combination of too much humidity and too few showers)—Passport please!

BO (after inspecting the passport)—departure ticket!

J—Not understanding exactly what he means, I hand him the stub for my bus ticket.

BO (tossing bus ticket into the air)—What is THIS? I need your DEPARTURE ticket! THIS ticket is USELESS!

J—You want a “departure” ticket from Panama?

BO—YES! Departure ticket! You have to have a DEPARTURE TICKET!

J—Departure ticket? But I haven’t even made it “INTO” the country…..why would I need a ticket “to leave”?

BO—Because you do!!!! (he’s now pointing to a sign on the glass that until this moment made NO sense to me). If you don’t have a departure ticket, you CANNOT COME IN!!!

J—But I don’t HAVE a departure ticket, because I didn’t know when and how (plane vs. bus) I was going to leave. Don’t worry sir, I really do plan to leave.

Now, at this point, I should say that throughout this entire exchange, the BO had been growing increasingly irritated…… AS WERE the people standing behind me in the seemingly endless line. It was also at this point that the BO was, in MY mind, beginning to look and sound eerily similar to a famous character from an old Seinfeld episode, namelyTHE SOUP NAZI!

BO—NEXT!!!!!! (again, he’s now becoming more and more animated).

J—So you aren’t going to allow me to enter the country? After all, I’m sorry about all of this, but where in the world am I going to buy a ticket HERE? The bus is waiting.

BO—NEXT! (and while waving me off again)..Go talk to the chief! (he points to another guy in another window)……………..or………as I heard it……….NO SOUP FOR YOU!!!! YOU COME BACK…….ONE YEAR!!!!!!

Well, after a brief chat with the “chief” that yielded absolutely NO results, I headed back to the bus to seek council from the bus driver.

BD—Oh, you don’t have a ticket to exit? NO problem……here you go……..that will be $25.

The next thing I know, I have a bus ticket to leave the country on an unspecified date and I’m now back in the same line to see my new friend behind the window (apparently I wasn’t the first person to make this mistake). After another long wait in the line……….

J—Hello again, sir. I now have a ticket to leave your great nation. Here it is.

BO—Where’s the other form!

J—other form?

BO—Yes! Where’s the other form for the visa?!

J—You mean the immigration form? I gave it to THAT guy along with everyone else (again….following the herd).

BO—NO, I don’t mean the immigration form! I mean the form for your VISA!!!!!!

J—I need ANOTHER form?

At this point, the guy from the bus overhears the exchange and decides to intervene (thankfully). After all, the ENTIRE BUS had been waiting FOR ME for quite some time now (yep, you guessed it…..only gringo on the bus) and HE was also growing impatient.
The next thing I know, I’m taken across to a DIFFERENT office to a DIFFERENT window to find a DIRRERENT official to get ANOTHER form. Oh, and of course, this office is empty and nobody seems to know where the required official is. “OH boy…this really isn’t going well”. I just kept wondering how long the bus was actually going to wait for me. I also started to question the odds of me surviving the rest of the trip unscathed (Jason vs. the rest of the passengers) even if the bus DID wait. I mean between my pleasant interactions with my new friend and my increasing proficiency with “line standing”, this was REALLY taking some time.

Finally though, the official showed up from her dinner break, and I exchanged $5 for a visa form. Upon running behind the guy from the bus back to the original line and being taken, this time, to the FRONT of the line (whatever you do Jason, just do NOT look behind you), I found myself standing in a very familiar place.

J—Hello sir…..remember me? And before we go any further, can I just say that that shirt really looks great on you. And have you lost weight?

BO—Without saying a word, he took the new form, stamped my passport, and waved me on.

J—Again sir, I want to thank you for granting me permission to enter your great land. I look forward to my upcoming experience with your people and your culture, and I just want to say that…………..


So in the end, as always, everything worked out perfectly. The bus DID wait, the other passengers exercised a great amount of patience with the stupid gringo, and I arrived in Boquete a few hours later.
Como siempre……..good times.

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