By Blake Bunch
Prior to this move to Central America, I had never set foot in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. I had not ventured to San Diego before moving there either, but trading beach towns in the states pales in comparison to setting up a life down here. Like most of the expats I have spoken with, I sold my vehicles, put money into an account that would function abroad and set course straight for Bocas. Though the voyage here was arduous, it was always interesting.
My girlfriend, Erin, and I boarded the red eye from LAX and arrived at Juan Santamaría Airport in San Jose around 10am. Our research determined that the Caribe Shuttle from our prospective hostel would prove more cost efficient than flying into town.
After an extended drive through the lush, verdant highlands, we arrived to our lunch and transfer destination in Puerto Viejo (Limón). Though the roads are paved, they are laden with potholes, so the trip can leave you feeling as though you just endured a full dry cycle.
We beat on towards the Costa Rica/Panamá border. Our plans detailed that we were moving here for an extended period of time, so this entailed that we trek with several large items of luggage. This presented a bit of a challenge, though, for the bridge crossing the border is rife with ankle-twisting gaps. I was traveling with a large pack, surfboard bag and a book bag to cart around. All of this gear was not labor conducive.
One specific that may be overlooked while crossing the border is that the Migración agents will want to see proof of travel, so it is wise to have some record of your travel information.
During our crossing, my girlfriend did something normally reserved for myself. She threw away the hard copy of her flight ticket. For this reason, the border agents were unwilling to let us through, despite purchasing the necessary exit stamp in Costa Rica. I was able to present my sweaty, deteriorating ticket, which received a quick glance and was then abruptly returned. Luckily, Erin produced her cell phone with corresponding flight
information, and we were begrudgingly allowed to cross the border into Panama.
The water taxi across the bay was eerily familiar. Having spent most of my natural born life on the coast, marshes and muddy water flashed me back to fishing in my early childhood. It wasn’t until I caught a glimpse of the outer reefs that I was completely hooked.
After happily spending three nights at Hostel Luego, we secured an apartment outside of town. I have been taken aback at the generosity exhibited by the majority of locals here. Everyone seems to honor the notion of tranquilo, placing an emphasis on family, friends and time for leisure. They talk fast, but with a deliberate, rhythmic pace (with taxis as an exclusion). Since I’m in the process of getting settled in myself, this all is fine with me.