Day 78 San Vito Costa Rica to Santiago Panama
For my last border crossing in Central America I chose a lesser known location. The crossing at Rio Soreno is not used by cargo trucks and is very low key. So much so that it is difficult to determine exactly what buildings are the official Immigration and Customs office. In order to get there one must travel on about 5 miles of gravel from Sabalito to the border. It was raining this morning so I waited until about 8 before moving. I have read that finding the gravel road out of Sabolito is challenging but I located it with only one U-turn required.
Arriving at the frontier I found an official looking place with a few people queued in front of a “Migracion” sign.
After about 10 minutes I looked at the brightly colored rock being used as a door stop. It had “Panama” written on it. Oops, I need Costa Rica first. I back tracked down the road about 100 meters where there is a building that looked likely so I entered and found I was at the right place.
The Migracion building is directly across from this place
A quick stamp in the passport and I needed to turn in my vehicle permit. There is no Aduana on the Costa Rica side so the agent merely takes your document from you. He warned me that I could not re-enter Costa Rica here if I do not have the permit. I said no problem, I’m not coming back.
The view from Costa Rica Migracion to Panama
Once again in the queue at the Panama Migracion building I met a couple from Switzerland who are on a two year adventure in a huge 4×4 monster truck. www.thirdgear.ch They were going north into Costa Rica and we briefly chatted about the road into Panama. While in line I wondered if I should get my insurance first. Turns out I should have because after the 20 minute wait they said sorry go get insurance then come back. Okay where’s the insurance office? “Not far” they said, so I went looking. I found it after asking a few more people and the guy made copies of my passport and registration. I had to go back to the bike for some cash and while there met the Swiss guy again who had just been to the Costa Rica building. They were being turned around and sent to a bigger crossing because there is no Aduana (Customs) at this location.
After paying my $15USD for 30 days insurance I trudged back to the Panama Migracion building and got back in line for the third time. Mind you the “line” was only 2 deep each time. I got my passport stamp which I double checked for the correct entry date. Then off to the Aduana, a tiny shack with a dirt trail leading to it. The wooden step below the door has a faded “Aduana” painted by hand.
In the cramped little office a man sits behind a tiny desk on which a computer rests. In front of the desk is a printer/copier and beside it is chair for the victims. In one corner of the office is a fridge with contents unknown. The man requested my passport, registration, drivers license and insurance document. He made copies of all of them and started entering information one finger at a time into the computer. He produced two copies of a form which he stamped and then I signed. I carefully reviewed the document to find a big mistake. He had entered the VIN wrong. In place of the letter S he had entered a 5, twice! I pointed it out and he started all over again with me looking over his shoulder at all of the entries this time. It is absolutely vital that all the information is correct if I want to leave Panama in a week. After my approval he produced 3 copies of the signed document. One I gave to the fumigation dude who collected $1 from me and gave me a receipt. Two copies I gave to the military guy who was inside the Migracion building. He just took them without even a glance at the papers or my bike and continued chatting on his cell phone.
This whole process took about 2 hours but was so much nicer than the hectic major crossings.
The road on the Panama side is paved and beautiful. I was lucky enough to ride it for about an hour while it was dry. The rest of the day was mostly rain and some sun but I enjoyed it despite the moisture.
I must have horse shoes in my arse. Hoping to wait out the rain I stopped for lunch in Volcan but it didn’t relent. After eating I stopped for fuel but my routine was disrupted. You see, I normally record my fuel stop data on my helmet camera but I put the camera away due to the rain. I started reciting the information over and over in my head so I would remember it. I kept repeating the numbers as I rode away in the downpour. The rain was so heavy my speed was quite slow and the turns required caution. I felt something drop on my left thigh…when I looked down I saw the fuel cap lying in my lap and fuel sloshing out of the opening. “Holy @#*&” I can’t believe it didn’t drop on the road. Finding it would have been a nightmare.
I arrived in Santiago at about 4:45 and started looking for a hotel. After driving up and down the main street a few times my first stop was a $65/night place. The second stop was $85! Neither of these hotels could suggest an economical alternative. Finally I pulled in to the Hong Hotel which I had seen but dismissed due to it’s run down appearance. An economical room is $17.50 and I can live with that.