As I placed my first step onto the wooden plank my stomach immediately began to feel uneasy.
“How is this bridge still standing and how in the world are these people walking so care free over this muddy, crocodile infested river?”
These are the thoughts that kept running through my mind as I began the passage into Panama and when my foot fell through a giant crack about 5 steps in, I began reminiscing on some childhood thoughts as the 12 foot crocodiles looked at me hungrily from the muddy abyss below.
Semi trucks drive over this bridge while people are walking on it…yeah…
As it turned out, the entire trip getting to Panama was pretty sketchy come to think of it. While we were waiting for a bus in Puerto Viejo, a local Jamaican man came up to us and 4 others with an extremely thick accent offering to transport everyone via private shuttle straight to the border for only $5. Considering that a bus was just two bucks less, all 6 contemplated and eventually jumped on the offer.
Placing the bags in the back, everyone loaded onto the van only to hear our driver (a different spanish man) screaming at us in spanish. Having no idea what he said, we all looked confused until the first guy had told us that the van wouldn’t start and need a push…
“You want us to push start you?”, I said in disbelief.
“Si, si, si!”, the man proclaimed.
Laughing out how the trip started off, everyone got behind the van and began pushing until eventually it started with a loud BANG and a big puff of black smoke swarming all of us.
Trevor & I sitting in the back of the van once we got going!
Coughing and spitting, we all quickly hopped in the van as it began to drive off making it to Sixaola in a whopping 30 minutes! Considering the bus ride would have been about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, the extra 2 bucks was well worth our time!
Arriving at the border of Panama, the driver strategically parked facing downhill so that he didn’t need to push, threw a block under the front tire before we began rolling too far and helped us get our luggage. Paying him the 2,500 colones with pride as it was a good deal, we began making our way to border control!
Welcome to Panama…a land with an army!
Getting through was honestly a pain in the ass. As I walked up to the rustic, old-school caribbean style building, I handed over my passport to get stamped and found out that I had to pay an extra $14 for a bus ticket as “proof” that Trevor & I was leaving the country.
…You’ve got to love corruption…
Realizing that these people were obviously out to get my money (as I showed them proof of our flight leaving from San Jose), we went ahead and paid. I mean there wasn’t much we could do…it was border patrol and I didn’t want to make a scene and end up in a Panama prison to be some mans “wife” for the rest of my life… :-X .
The Panama flag flying high and somewhat ragged…
As we finished getting all of the mumbo-jumbo of border control out of the way, we took the easy route and paid to go straight to Bocas del Toro via private cab again. It had only cost us $10 total so it was well worth the lack of a headache.
If we took the “budget” route we would have had to pay $5 dollars to go to the bus station, pay $3 to ride the bus for 1-2 hours, get dropped off 1 kilometer from the ferry station which was hidden all the way in some back road and pay another $5 each way to Bocas del Toro. All in all, $13 and a lot of wasted time.
By going with a private shuttle, it was only $10 straight from the border to the ferry and $7 for a roundtrip ticket to and from Bocas del Toro. The people we had tagged along with had done this several times before as they lived here and they immediately called out who was and was not fraudulent. Basically, they saved our asses!
One of the many deluxe waterfront houses in Panama…
After paying for the tickets and getting the hell scared out of me from almost getting mauled by a shabby, rabid looking dog, we jumped on the water shuttle and made it to Bocas del Toro after about a 15-20 minute ferry ride over smooth caribbean blue waters.
The rest of the night was a blast as we witnessed the Bocas del Toro baseball team win their first National Championship in 51 years. Wearing a pink headband, we drank 60 shots of beer in 60 minutes at the 1980’s Music Bash, made companionship with many of the locals in town and had a great time!
I’m totally looking forward to what’s next in our adventure here in Panama! Long live Bocas del Toro!
Ronald Robbins is the Founder of Active Planet Travels adventure travel blog and Clicta Digital, a digital marketing agency based out of Denver, Colorado. He has found most of his professional interests in being an adventure travel blogger, photographer & bizarre food enthusiast.