Getting to Bocas Del Toro, Panama – Part 1

At 5:30 AM, I waited sleepily at Reagan National Airport to be processed through the enormously long lines at check-in and security in the hopes of leaving before what they eventually dubbed “the blizzard of 2010”. The security signs screamed “high alert” status as we inched along. Finally on the plane, there was an anxious moment as a flight attendant asked a seated passenger for his boarding pass and ID. She then announced “this is not your boarding pass”. The startled passenger looked at the pass and exclaimed “I’ll be damned. TSA on high-alert today and yet I was able to get through all the check points with someone else’s boarding pass.” She disappeared for a bit and when she returned she had another passenger in tow. He thought he merely needed to change seats, but she then gave them the bad news “Your luggage will wind up at this person’s destination and his at yours.” Nice. We finally took off mere hours before the snow began to fall in earnest.

Since I did not get through customs in San Jose, Costa Rica until after 4 PM, I decided to take a $10 taxi into town instead of the bus in the hopes of making it to the bus station before it closed. I’d just gotten colones from the ATM near the baggage claim so I paid the taxi window the posted amount in colones, passed the ticket to a red-coated gentleman with an ID badge and was whisked away in the next taxi. The taxi driver was kind enough to take me to the Terminal Caribe bus station, wait for me as I discovered the counter selling bus tickets to Sixaola had just closed and would not reopen until 5AM (although in the morning I realized I must have missed the “y media” part) and then drive me to a place that met my description of close, cheap and safe.

He dropped me off at Tranquilo Backpackers, a roomy bohemian hostel where the check-in also serves as the bar. They only had dorm spaces left – $10 plus a key deposit. I shrugged “OK, but I snore, so you choose”. He grinned and put me in the 8 person coed dorm room he was staying in saying “The guy in that bed snores too, so you won’t be alone”.

Tranquilo Backpackers I spent the evening frequenting the reception area for liquid refreshments and chatting with various backpackers. By 11, I washed up in the shared girls bath (3 toilets, 2 showers and 2 sinks – not bad), locked my valuables in the room locker for my bed (glad I’d brought a pad-lock with me), then climbed my way up to the creaky top bunk. Knowing I’d only have a few hours of rest, I slept with my clothes on, put my shoes at the end of the bed, hat and light by my side, and my fanny pack with my passport, valuables and a tennis ball strapped to my back in the hopes it would prevent me from sleeping on my back and thus snoring. It worked perfectly because it also prevented me from sleeping.

Terminal Caribe boarding area At 4AM, I finally decided to get up. Trying to be quiet, I turned on my light, gathered my things, and climbed my creaky way down the bottom of the bed. The last step was a doosy, I nearly fell and had to recover myself by stepping on the bed below (praying the guys toes weren’t where I had to step) and toppled over my water bottle in the process. Sighing, I climbed my creaky way back up so I could retrieve it from the middle of the bed where it had rolled, climbed down again, got my stuff from the locker and banged my pack against the narrow door on my way out. So much for being quiet.

It was still dark and bus stations are always in sketchy parts of town, so I had the reception guy call me a taxi. I asked the driver how much to the bus station – 1000 colones for a 3 minute ride. It was early so I let that go and wasn’t surprised when his meter (they call them “La Maria” – is that because females always run up the bill?) showed half the price at 500 colones.

Arriving at 4:50 AM to the bus station, the Sixaola window was not yet open. At 5:05 I asked the security guard (smaller than I and if he didn’t have a stick, I could probably take him out) if he knew when the window opens. Replying 5:30, I decided that my new motivation to learn Spanish would be to be able to sleep in. I sat on the cement seat and when the window opened, everyone formed an orderly line behind me. Ticket in hand, I was off for a 5 ½ hour ride to Sixaola. (continued “Getting to Bocas Del Toro, Panama – Part 2”)

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