Most of the road towards the Panamanian border was through banana plantations. Most people will have eaten a Costa Rican banana, with the country being up there among the world’s top suppliers. Dole, Del Monte and Chiquita all have huge operations here.
The border at Sixaola is one of the more scenic crossings I’ve made. Historically an old iron rail bridge was used to enter Panama. This has been condemned but is just about still standing and makes for a nice photo. Instead you walk across a more functional, albeit somewhat boring adjacent bridge. While the border looked nice, the bureaucracy was a bit of a palaver. First of all you need to pay an $8 exit fee from Costa Rica and obtain a ticket as proof of payment. You then queue up to get your passport stamped upon departure. Next is walking across the bridge. More queuing is required to get your passport stamped at Panama customs. It’s then across a road, under a bridge, up some stairs and into an office where you pay the $4 entry Panamanian fee and get a slip that you need to keep hold of until leaving Panama.
We were all allowed into Panama and it was then onto a bus to a dock in order to catch a ferry to the island of Bocas del Toro. Well the literature said ferry. I’d call it a small motorboat. It was nice and cosy with 19 people aboard and you could certainly feel the waves during the half-hour crossing.
Bocas del Toro seems a nice sort of place. Apparently Columbus docked here back in the day. Judging by the amount of hostels it’s certainly a bit of a backpackers destination. Bizarrely I’ve never seen somewhere with so many supermarkets. Walking along the shortish high street I counted nine of them, all essentially selling the same produce. Our hotel was right in the centre of the action. Unusually for an island there was no nearby beach so it was great to have a hotel pool to cool down in.
Despite being in the Caribbean and having a plethora of close-by seafood, I had a burger and potato wedges for tea. I wouldn’t normally but saw someone else eating one that looked nice and it was. Panama prices are marginally less than those in Costa Rica. However beer aside, not much is could be classed as cheap here. Being is a country that uses US dollars (with the still-weak pound) doesn’t help. I’ve been in a few countries that use US dollars as their currency. Some (such as Ecuador) use bone fide notes and mint their own coins that look very much like the ones you’ll see in America .Others (like Cambodia) also use dollar paper money but have a local currency for split denominations. Panama uses dollar notes, with change given in a mixture of real US coins, Panamanian minted cents and Panamanian balboas. One balboa is equivalent to a dollar, half a balboa equals half a dollar and so on. It can get a bit confusing when you’re attempting to pay with coins. Back to tonight, we visited a couple of nice bars, both of which were located next to the sea. And I mean next to the sea. One had a terrace over the water where you could walk right off the edge and into the water. Obviously there is no sort of health and safety requirement here of trying to prevent drunk people jumping, which somewhat predictably happened later on in the evening.