Crossing the border from Costa Rica to Panama to arrive at Bocas was a 5 hr trip involving two vehicles,two lines, and a boat trip. The cost was $25 one way .The driver was a guy I recognised from my morning coffee in Puerto Viejo as a dude who smoked a joint every morning with his coffee. He took a van full of us to the Panamanian border. Was he driving while stoned ? of course but he was very good at it. Turns out he has a shack he wants to sell 400 meters from the beach for $12,000 which is a few minute walk to the town and very close to where I played poker. It is 18 meters by 18 meters. Sounds perfect. I promise him I will look at it on my way back.
After a long line at the border in the sun and saving a $14 fee by showing a return plane ticket to the states, that I was forced to buy when I came here, my passport is stamped. It is swiped into a computer system and a chechink sound is heard and no alarms go off. I guess the NSA has not gotten around to reading all my anti government emails yet so I am not being recalled to the homeland for re-education. I cross a bridge on foot over a river which looks like any small child could easily fall thru the numerous gaping hole areas. Arriving in Panama no one’s luggage is inspected and I am told I should pay a mysterious $3 fee so I go in a room and offer to pay but the officials don’t have change for my $20 so I offer some Costa Rican money worth a little over $2 and they keep that and wave me on. The young Italian guys outside the room who look like bicycle racers ask me if they gave me any receipt or anything and I said no and they don’t seem to be checking if you pay, so they decided not to pay. I will call this fee optional. Then we pack into another van and there is a good looking Italian woman with a big ass but it is very shapely and the van driver instructs her to sit in the back seat between three young guys from Finland. I offered the seat next to me but her boyfriend is told to sit there. She looks at the space and frowns and says "there"? and she stuffs her butt in the space and it fits like a cork in a bottle.The The guys from Finland on either side of her look like cats that swallowed a canary smiling sheepsihly.The boyfriend squirms uncomfortably next to me.Then a little boy about 10 comes up and asks me for money. I tell him I just gave all my small bills to the $3 collection people but he does not accept this and comes around to my side of the van and presses his face against the glass looking straight at me for many minutes . I banter with him doing motions like thumbs up saying good luck but he gives me a thumbs down.
We drive for quite some time thru Panama and I notice that it is poorer than Costa Rica if that could be possible. There are longer lines of laundry hanging out, more trash, and dilapidated buildings , but the country itself is very beautiful. It is also warmer here by a few degrees. The people are browner than Costa Ricans and the women don’t seem to be as pretty to me. At the boat dock while everyone is unloading their luggage to transfer to a boat, a young black guy comes up and insists on carrying my heavy backpack for me.I am wondering why he chose me. Perhaps he thinks I am an old man with special needs. I ask him if he is with our group,he says yes he is helping me carry my bag. We walk 20 yards and I tell him I cant give him a tip because I gave all my small change to the $3 people. He says I can get change at a restaurant nearby. This does not appeal to me so I just stand in an awkward silence as the dude is getting annoyed. Finally we have to move again to get on the boat and he starts to pick up my backpack . I say I don’t have any money for you and he drops it and leaves in disgust.
After a 25 min ride on a very long overloaded boat that goes incredibly fast and passes very tropical scenes of wooden buildings lining the shore filled with palm trees, we arrive at our destination. At this point I lost track of the guy who brought my group over and I get my bags and I am on my own to find a hotel. Immediately "Ramon" appears out of nowhere and offers to assist me. I tell him I want a $20 a night hotel with a separate bathroom .He says he knows just the place so off we go. He has a bike so he insists I put my smaller backpack in the basket as we walk along. I do this but I am thinking there was a sign earlier that said beware of people offering services because many people are cheated. I wonder if Ramon would try and steal anything from me. I walk very close to the bike so if Ramon starts to take off I will simply grab the bike. Ramon is a chubby young man and I realise that even with a backpack on my back I could take care of him so I relax and trust him to guide me. (Later we meet again and I take his picture,see below)The first hotel has just sold out so we rush to a second one that he knows of trying to beat the lines of backpackers in front of us dragging their luggage through the mid day heat.That hotel is also just sold out. Now I am concerned. Ramon has one more hotel he recommends but it is not gonna be in my cheapy cheap price range. I tell him let’s do it and we get to a hotel where there is one room left ,a double bed for $45 a night. The owner is a tall shirtless American who overhears me talking and says he will let me have it for $35 since he knows it is not what I really want. When I go to pay he is no longer around and the stupid cashier lady charges me $45 anyway. Ramon had insisted that he would charge me nothing because he gets a commission from the hotels. I gave him a couple bucks anyway because he was actually very helpful. I look down the hall of the hotel and see open water and its very pretty a lounge deck on the water. My room has AIR CONDITIONING and real hot water which is a huge luxury for me and so I settle in to Bocas Del Toro .After thinking about how to Retire in Costa Rica for so long I now start to wonder what it would be like to retire in Panama. The town of Bocas has a wide main street with hardly any cars and the people stroll down the middle of the street. There are buildings that are not shacks here and the town is bigger then Puerto Viejo Costa Rica. Things are also cheaper here like beer $1 and a cup of coffee $.89. I relax in my air conditioned room and take a nap. A few feet away is water lapping at the lounge deck.