Panama has a law that says after visiting for six months, you are technically illegal. Being illegal is not the best thing that could happen to you. For one, there are a lot of checkpoints here, and if you get caught, you could get fined, or even jailed. This affects me and my family because last year we stayed almost ten months in Panama. When we reached our six-month mark in Panama, we had to leave the country for three days, and then re-enter. Then, we would be allowed to stay another six months.
The easiest way to do this is to drive two hours to the border of Panama and Costa Rica. One day, my dad decided he didn’t want our family to be illegal and we went to the Panama/Costa Rican border named Paso Canoas. The plan was to cross the border and stay on the Costa Rican side for three long, twenty-four hour days. So, we left at noon and made it to the border at 2:00 in the afternoon.
The Costa Ricans aren’t as obsessed about border patrol as we Americans. They basically have a building big enough to let cars go through, and they have a bunch of houses and stores lined up wall-to-wall alongside the building and that’s it! No ten-foot-tall walls, no obnoxiously guarded gates, just the building and a bunch of stores. The stores were right on the border, so there is a Costa Rican door on one side of the store and a Panamanian door on the other side.
The next thing we had to do was to leave Panama. That sounds easy, but anything that includes paperwork is obviously hard. After we left Panama, we entered Costa Rica. That part wasn’t hard. We just walked about two blocks to another building that says “welcome to Costa Rica.” Thank goodness for the sign, there is absolutely no difference between Costa Rica and Panama at Paso Canoas.
On the Costa Rican side, we had to wait thirty minutes at the immigration office so they could do that boring stuff with your passport: examine it, stamp it, and hold it up to the light to make sure we weren’t fakes. (I haven’t mentioned yet that the border is hot and humid. So, while we waited, we lost a little water weight in sweat.) After thirty minutes, the border officials were satisfied.
We walked around until we found a “wonderful” hotel called ‘Real Victoria.’ Then my dad and I went back to the Panama side to get our car we had left parked on the side of the road. My dad then drove around to try to get our Panamanian-licensed car to the Real Victoria’s parking lot. (Technically, our car is not legal to drive in Costa Rica.) Even though the hotel is on the Costa Rican side, we were able to drive a short distance in some back alleys that connect Panama and Costa Rica in order to park it at the parking lot of our hotel. This is a much better option than leaving the car on the side of the road, where at a border town, your car might disappear! It did feel a little like being in a spy movie as we tried to smuggle our car to another country without being spotted.
The room we stayed in was a bit larger then my own room (about 12ft x 14ft), had an air- conditioner, and no blankets on the beds. The a/c made the room so cold! I think this was their foolproof system to save money: they had an air conditioner but no blankets. So, people would get cold and not use the air conditioning. Well, my dad had the air conditioning going full blast, blankets or not. So, we got our money’s worth. The hotel owners also saved money by not heating the water. I did my best to avoid having to take a shower.
Speaking of saving money, my parents avoided the extra cost of eating out by stocking a cooler with milk and sandwich supplies. We had cereal for breakfast, and sandwiches for lunch and dinner. The disadvantage was the cooler took up space in our cramped room, but having cold juice and pop available when we were thirsty was a definite bonus!
During the three days that we had to spend in “Costa Rica,” (basically living in a cramped hotel room for three days), we had a number of different activities for our entertainment: swimming in a pool with murky, green water, leading a church service for a bunch of Venezuelans we met, and watching Animal Planet in Spanish on a “non-flat,” very thick, monstrously large T.V.
Finally, after three days of staying in a tiny, cold, and uncomfortable hotel room, we got to go home. We were overjoyed to get back to Panama. Jesse was kissing the ground, I was doing the snoopy dance and JonDavid was running around. It sure was good to be back!