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    Is This the Isthmus? Tour – Costa Rica Part 1

    Saturday, July 29, 2017
    David, Panama to Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica

    Leaving Panama, entering Paso Canoas, Costa Rica.
    Leaving Panama, entering Paso Canoas, Costa Rica.

    Part of the line to get my passport stamped out of Panama.
    Part of the line to get my passport stamped out of Panama.

    “Costa Rica is a country in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the southeast, the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and Ecuador to the south of Cocos Island. It has a population of around 4.9 million in a land area of 51,058 square kilometers. In 2015, the capital city, San José, had a population of an estimated 333,980. Costa Rica has been known for its stable democracy in a region that has experienced some instability, and for its highly educated workforce, most of who speak English. The country’s economy, once heavily dependent on agriculture, has diversified to include sectors such as finance, corporate services for foreign companies, pharmaceuticals, and ecotourism.

    “Costa Rica was sparsely inhabited by indigenous people before coming under Spanish rule in the 16th century. It remained a peripheral colony of the empire until independence as part of the short-lived First Mexican Empire, followed by membership in the United Provinces of Central America, from which it formally declared independence in 1847. Since then, Costa Rica has remained among the most stable, prosperous, and progressive nations in Latin America. Following the brief Costa Rican Civil War, it permanently abolished its army in 1949, becoming one of only a few sovereign nations without a standing army.

    The big, green bus to Golfito, Costa Rica.
    The big, green bus to Golfito, Costa Rica.

    “Because Costa Rica is located between eight and 12 degrees north of the Equator, the climate is tropical year round. However, the country has many micro-climates depending on elevation, rainfall, topography, and by the geography of each particular region. Costa Rica is home to a rich variety of plants and animals. While the country has only about 0.03% of the world’s landmass, it contains 5% of the world’s biodiversity. Around 25% of the country’s land area is in protected national parks and protected areas, the largest percentage of protected areas in the world. Costa Rica stands as the most visited nation in the Central American region, with 2.9 million foreign visitors in 2016, up 10% from 2015.

    The inside of the big, green bus to Golfito, Costa Rica.
    The inside of the big, green bus to Golfito, Costa Rica.

    “Christianity is Costa Rica’s predominant religion, with Roman Catholicism being the official state religion. In November 2017, National Geographic magazine named Costa Rica as the happiest country in the world. The article included this summary: ‘Costa Ricans enjoy the pleasure of living daily life to the fullest in a place that mitigates stress and maximizes joy.’ It is not surprising then that one of the most recognizable phrases among Ticos is ‘Pura Vida,’ which means pure life, reflecting the inhabitants’ philosophy of living a simple life, free of stress.”–Wikipedia

    I woke up at the crack of dawn, also known as 6:30 am, to catch an early mini-bus to the border of Costa Rica. Luckily, one pulled up within a minute. As usual, it stopped a few times to let people on and off, and also parked for 10 minutes in a small town. Around an hour after I got on, we reached the border. The line to get my passport stamped out of Panama was massive–at least 50 or 60 people long–and since only two out of four windows were open, it took over an hour-and-a-half to make it through.

    Golfito, Costa Rica.Golfito, Costa Rica.

    When I got up to the window, the immigration agent asked me for a checked luggage receipt. I didn’t have one, so I had to walk over to a room where a guy was supposed to rifle through my backpack and messenger bag. He just took a quick peak into one compartment of my messenger bag as a formality, then gave me a ticket. Sweet deal! Luckily, the immigration agent said I didn’t have to wait in line again, so I went straight back up to the window. The weird thing is they took a photo of me and scanned my fingerprints again, even though I was leaving the country, and even though they had already done all of that when I entered. Maybe they wanted to make sure that everything matched up.

    The docks at Golfito, Costa Rica.
    The docks at Golfito, Costa Rica.

    Next, I made my way out onto a dusty highway lined with shops and such to look for the entrance to Costa Rica. Seeing no sign of it, I went back to the Panama gate and asked around. Some European girl told me I had to keep walking up the road a ways. As I finally found Costa Rica immigration, I was delighted to see only one or two people in line, and checking in was a breeze. They didn’t scan my fingerprints, which was awesome, and I don’t think they even took a photo of me. That’s the way it should be everywhere!

    Following that, I walked around in circles on the road looking for a bus to Golfito, as a couple of different people told me to go different places. Then a taxi cab driver kept pestering me to drive me there, but I declined, as it’s way too far. He showed me a small terminal where I could catch the bus, and asked for a tip, which I paid. Finally, after an hour, the big green bus for Golfito showed up. When I tried to board it, the driver shooed me off. Around 10 minutes later, he let everyone get on. I tried to sit down, but the rows of seats were so close together, I couldn’t fit. There was not enough leg room. So, I moved to the center of the back row, the one spot on the whole bus that has no seat in front of it.

    The docks at Golfito, Costa Rica.
    The docks at Golfito, Costa Rica.

    The bus had no air conditioning, but a pleasant breeze came in through the open windows whenever the bus was in motion. I thought the first town we stopped in was Golfito, but when I got off the bus and asked, it actually turned out to be Neilly. Luckily, I made it back on the bus before it left. After stopping in one more town, we finally made it to Golfito. Total elapsed time: a couple of hours. A nice young man on the bus told me where to get off, without me even asking him. I guess he just thought I looked lost.

    The docks at Golfito, Costa Rica.
    The docks at Golfito, Costa Rica.

    After walking around for a few minutes, I found the docks, where I bought a ticket for a high speed boat across the Golfo Dulce to Puerto Jimenez. Around this time, I started to feel some pain in my gut. So, I asked the ticket seller if he knew where I could find a bathroom. He pointed me toward a nearby restaurant called the Blue Marlin, where, luckily, they let non-customers use the bathroom for a small fee. As soon as I stepped inside, big batch of diarrhea flew straight out of me. Then a man partially opened the door, but I managed to push it back before he could come in. I could’ve sworn I locked it, but I guess it didn’t latch securely. Amazingly, I didn’t make a big mess on my pants when I leaned forward to shut the door.

    Back at the waiting area at the docks, which was just a small roof with a couple of benches under it, I sat and waited for the boat. The sun was stinging. The heat was suffocating. I was sweating like a pig. Surprisingly, my gut was still aching, and I felt like I had to use the bathroom again. It seemed like it was taking forever for the boat to arrive. Finally, around 1:00 pm, we all got to board the boat. Luckily, the ride across the Golfo Dulce was really smooth, complete with a cool, pleasant breeze.

    A fan room at Oro Verde Hostel in Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica.
    A fan room at Oro Verde Hostel in Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica.

    At the dock in Puerto Jimenez, taxi cab drivers were all over us. I declined a ride and set out on foot to find the Oro Verde Hostel. This would turn out to be a huge mistake, as I ended up getting lost in a maze of back roads. I asked a local how to get to the hostel, and he pointed the way and even drew a map in the dirt, but I still couldn’t find it. At a small produce store, I asked a young American lady if she knew where the hostel was. She said no, but was nice enough to look it up on her phone. Luckily, it was only a block away.

    Fried rice, French fries and a salad at Restaurante Carolina in Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica.
    Fried rice, French fries and a salad at Restaurante Carolina in Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica.

    I was stoked to check into a four-bed fan room for only $10 per night. After I took a nap, my gut was feeling better. So, I went out to dinner at Restaurante Carolina, where I enjoyed a plate of fried rice, vegetables and French fries with a chocolate milkshake. There, I asked an elderly WC Fields look-alike sitting at the next table over if it was safe to drink the tap water in Costa Rica. He said yes, and we ended up talking for well over an hour. His name is Ron, and he was with his partner, Carina. They are from the United States, and have been traveling together for the better part of eight years. Quite lively characters, they plied me with plenty of stories and advice on traveling through Central America. I wish I could meet more people like them.

    Later in the evening when I took a shower, I discovered that I had developed a small heat rash on my inner thigh from my leg rubbing against my nuts while I was walking in the overwhelming tropical heat. What an utter nightmare! So, I had to move into an air-conditioned room to clear it up. What’s worse is it may take two whole days of lounging in the air con to accomplish that. That’s unfortunate, because I only have 10 weeks left to cover four more countries. I had already figured out that I’m going to have to skip Nicaragua because of time constraints, and now I may have to skip another town or two somewhere if I don’t get this heat rash cleared up within a couple of days.

    Ron and Carina at Restaurante Carolina in Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica.
    Ron and Carina at Restaurante Carolina in Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica.

    Words and photos ©2017 Arcane Candy.

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