I love this part of travel, John was heard to remark, as we waited for the Tica Bus in San Jose, Costa Rica. Me, not quite so much. I generally like it better when we get to explore a new place.
It was close to midnight, we were about to embark and I’d been worried that, after his bout with the virus during the preceding few days, this journey would be a bit much. Obviously, no such thought crossed his mind.
Nonetheless, it was quite a journey, along the Pan American highway, from San Jose to Panama City. It was memorable for three reasons.
The first, but not the most important, has to be the discomfort. Imagine forty or so people, spending fifteen hours in a bus, eating, sleeping, and other matters, with one toilet. In addition to this, the suspension was sorely tested by the road. In a less generous mood, I might say it was found wanting. I’ll only say it was like air turbulence, constant air turbulence for 900 bumpy kilometres.
The second, was the border crossing. This was the fourth of seven we will complete on this trip. And the Costa Rica to Panama crossing has now replaced entry into the United States as the most grievous assault on our systems.
Our bus arrived early, forty minutes before the border opened. Yep, we were in a queue, passports in hand at 5:30am in the morning and I do not like that hour of the morning, no matter where I am in the world!
The entire process took three and a half hours. The worst of the worst was just when we thought we might be through everyone on the bus was herded into a small room (it did at least have air-conditioning), we were made to stand through a roll call, and then a long-winded explanation (in Spanish) about how to complete the immigration form, of which we understood … not much.
No, on second thoughts, I’m wrong. The worst of the worst of the worst moment in the entire process was standing in the porta-loo, the only toilets available for travelers on the Panamanian side of the border crossing. It was about 35°C and I was attempting to change my tee-shirt without actually touching anything or breathing. Ick!!
The third reason this trip was memorable, the most important, and the best, the one I’ll remember long after I’ve forgotten about all the discomforts, and the one that could not have happened if we’d flown, was near the very end. It is why I came here, why I thought that, yes, the bus would be worth it.
John reached across the aisle, we didn’t have seats together, nudged me awake: Look out the window! There it was.
I still remember the awe in the voice of my teacher all those years ago. I was about ten at the time. He explained how this modern wonder of the world worked, and what it mean for trade, travel, and the global economy. Goodness, it was before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon! He was talking about The Panama Canal.
I choked up at this first brief glimpse.
Today has been a travel recovery day. We’ve been walkabout, debated whether those ominous clouds really did mean rain,
and organised our next two days of exploration, which include at least one visit to the canal. I can’t wait.