How to cross from Costa Rica to Panama by land in less than SEVEN HOURS

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Ten days ago, I decided to skip town again. Between two options I had, I decided on looking for a third.

My journey to arrive here made me already tougher, as I had the chance to show my tiger mom skills.

Between the southest pacific town and the southest altantic town in Costa Rica, I decided to cross the border to Panama back and forth, instead of going back all the way to San Jose. Why the Costa Ricans haven´t built a road to interconnect the south in four hours or less? I wonder.

When the cat goes into action

I´m shy. In physical life, I talk so low to new people that often they don´t hear me. And I´m a straight conformed citizen (most of the time), which explains my patience in lines.

To exit Costa Rica, we went through some dirty-bust-station-like customs, walked 200 meters and then went to the Panama dirty-bus-station-like customs. This was all so Third World Country.

Oh, right, I learned in school that we are not supposed to refer to countries with little GDP like that anymore, we are supposed to use the term ¨country in development¨ instead.

When I saw the line to enter Panama, about 40-50 people, I optimistically figured it would take two hours. That´s when I should have acted. But I still waited in line for two hours.

After two hours (add to that a previous 3 hour-bus ride), I was unsettled.

Luísa was great. She never complained, she stayed close to me all the time.

We kept ouselves busy in line: she sat on that dirty floor for whatever game, drawing or wondering, she walked around, went up the stairs in the picture, checked the buses parking next to the line. The coconut seller man gave us some good twenty minutes of attention, as we snacked fresh coconut.

She was never still for more than 10 seconds and yet she never gave me ¨work¨.

After 2 hours and something, I asked the people behind me in line to watch my stuff, while I went on to check what was going on. The line wouldn´t move. The line wasn´t a perfect line. It was a mass of about 30 people gathered like sheep.

I was decided to organize that line, unite the people and get some helpers so that people woudn´t step in front of us.

When I went to the front and asked to the people for how long they were in line (thinking optimistically again three hours), they said: SEVEN HOURS.

That´s when I had it. I woudn´t let Luísa be in line for SEVEN HOURS. A British couple in front of the line told me that people with kids also were put in front earlier and that´s why the line was taking so long.

What? People with kids were passed in front and I was with Luísa in the back for two hours?!

¨But now no one with kids is passing anymore¨, the British guy continued.

¨No one with kids is passing anymore, my ass!¨ I thought.

As I went in front of the line, there was a big man seemingly to organize the line. I asked who he was and he said he was a bus driver. I asked what he was doing there and he said that he was preventing people from stepping in front of the line. ¨Good¨, I said, ¨but I have a three year old here with me and we will have to pass through¨.

¨You have to wait in the back of the line¨, he said while he was standing in front of me, not letting me get close to the window.

The situation was ugly. Just one man behind that window to stamp all the people´s passports, no one else of the customs to be seen around.

At that point, I started to get loud. Not screaming yet, but I got LOUD and CLEAR, like I never was before. There was some strength inside of me I didn´t know I possessed. For one thing I was sure, I was not going to wait in that line any longer.

¨You don´t work here, you are not the one who will tell me to stay in line¨, I said to the bus driver.

¨I work here, I´m a driver¨, he was starting to piss me off, I could see myself pushing him while holding Luísa at the same time, but I just looked furious instead.

¨You can´t prevent me to talk to that man behind the window. That man can tell me if a 3-year old can go through or not ¨.

The man behind the window looked frightened. That window didn´t offer him much protection against a crowd of angry people waiting for SEVEN HOURS.

It was hard to get his attention, he was obviously pretending not to see me (maybe scared of the people´s  reaction if he let me go through), the people in line were hating me. Those in line were not seeing a mom and a child, all they saw was an enemy.

When I finally grabbed the man behind the window´s attention, I was trembling. I was almost crying. I said: ¨Sir, I have a three-year old with me, I can´t make her stay in line for this long, can you please let us pass through?¨

He looked at the bus driver for confirmation. I couldn´t believe the bus driver was the one to decide on this. The man behind the window finally nodded. The people in front of the line pretended they weren´t seeing me. The kept pushing forward and sticking their passports into that the window, not letting me go through. The man behind the window did nothing, he went back to his stamping passports job and didn´t look at me again.

I waited a few people more and then loudly called the man behind the window´s attention, ¨Sir, please just take our passports, the people won´t let me through¨.

We finaly did it. It took me a bit more than 3 hours in line with Luísa. What kind of customs is that? I´m sure if I was entering Panama by airplane, there wouldn´t be such a filthy line and disrespect like that. Whatever shortage of staff they had, in a airport they´d do something about it.

a scary bridge about 10 meters over a river

The next day, I passed the border back to Costa Rica with no problems. It took me only 30 minutes, plus crossing the actual limit on this dodgy bridge. No kidding, this is the bridge you walk from Panama to Costa Rica on the Atlantic coast.

This article was originally posted on Tripping Mom by Marilia Di Cesare on February 21, 2011. Republished with authorization. Click here for all other posts.

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