Panama Visa Renewal Run

March 21, 2011
Happy Birthday, Ricky. Rest In Peace.

Today is the start of our Visa Renewal trip. We have to leave Panama for 72 hours and get our passports stamped in another country for proof. We decided we do the usual ex-pat thing and go to Costa Rica. I have been online for the last week trying to make plans for Costa Rica. I wanted to go up to the small town of San Vito and from there go to the Wilson Botanical Gardens for birding. That plan wasn’t appealing to Gene. He wanted to find a place close to the border and vegg out.
  Via travel blogs, I found a nice place close to the border. We decided we would relax there and not do anything else in Costa Rica because we planned on doing a lot of driving and sight-seeing (birding) in the Panamanian highlands. Gene’s thoughts were we can see Costa Rica when we get there in Peregrine. (My thoughts are as soon as we leave Panama, we are going to go off-shore and sail straight home—no stops; but you’ve heard that before.)
  I was dreading this border crossing. I had read so many horror stories. Everything from a dusty, dirty ‘Twilight Zone’ filled with predators to four hour lines in the hot sun where the predators were officials from both sides feeding on the joy bureaucrats the world over get antagonizing weary, defenseless tourists. Well, it had to be done.
  I called ahead and made arrangements for one night at the Alcala Hotel in David, Panama and three nights at the Hotel Higuerones in Paso Canoas, Costa Rica. We left this morning in the car that brings the marina employees in from Panama City. The marina will arrange a ride for the return trip to Panama City for $15.00 a person. Unfortunately, the driver was held up because the office had paper work to send back and it was not finished. No worries though, we weren't late and everything worked like clockwork—the whole trip really except for a few small glitches.
  From Albrook Mall (and Bus Terminal) in Panama City, we took the air-conditioned Express Bus to David (Da-veed). It’s about a seven hour drive and cost about $14.00 per person. If you are a ‘Monk’or germaphobe, you might not be comfortable riding on the bus this long. One time when I was on the bus, I had a guy behind me who hacked constantly for the entire hour and a half long ride. I did a lot of cringing. Thankfully, this particular group was hacker-free and I didn’t feel claustrophobic until about the fifth hour. Flights are a more expensive option, but apparently, rental cars aren’t for crossing the border.
Our hotel was a $1.50 fare from the bus terminal and by six o’clock we were comfortably set up in the Hotel Alcala. In case someone is doing what I did and looking for information about a Visa Run, I need to be honest and say I thought the bedspread was too dirty and took it off the bed. The rest of the room was clean. The hotel has a restaurant and the food was good and inexpensive. The staff was exceptional. We were to come back to the Hotel Alcala several times on this trip.
David
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
We got up early and took the “Frontera” bus to the border town of Paso Canoas. The crossing was a piece of cake. Stamp from the Panama side, Stamp from the Coast Rica side. The officials were nice and there was no tearing the luggage apart. They didn’t even check it. We did get approached by a teen to ‘help’ but we told him we were fine, and that was the end of it. The whole thing took less than 30 minutes. I don’t think most of the people writing about how horrible this crossing is have checked in or out of many countries.
Los Higuerones
A short taxi ride later we arrived at the Hotel Higuerones. It is gorgeous with gorgeous grounds and it is spotless.
Scarlet-rumped Tanager on the grounds of Los Higuerones
We paid $60.00 a night and got the room with a small refrigerator; it would have been $50.00 without it. It was a good idea because the hotel has no restaurant and keeping some lunch and breakfast food in the room was nice. The drawbacks were no coffee in the morning unless you hiked to one of the Paso Canoas restaurants. After we checked in, I noticed there was no coffee machine in the room and went to ask about coffee. I was told that coffee would be made in the morning. There was a drip coffee machine in the check-in area. Before I turned in, I asked the evening staff what time the coffee was made and was told six. Next morning, bird song woke me early and I had to wait until six. I went down and no coffee was brewing. I asked the morning staff member about coffee and he went over to the coffee machine and flipped on the heat element switch to heat the remnants of yesterday’s coffee. I was thinking, “Are you kidding me?” I have to have coffee in the morning and I don't want re-heated, 24 hour old sludge. I was unhappy to put it mildly. Incredible--this is Costa Rica—it’s famous for coffee! And a hotel like this--it was crazy! I went back to the room and ranted. Gene got out of bed and we walked the shabby streets of Paso Canoas to find a cup of coffee.
Paso Canoas Restaurant
We had a good breakfast and cup of coffee here.
I later realized that the time zone was different and I was asking at five. However, even at six, no fresh coffee was brewing. We bought cups and a jar of instant and the next morning I used the microwave in the check-in area to heat the water. The other drawbacks were nobody at the hotel speaks English and the water and water pressure for the shower was almost non-existent. Maybe if my Spanish was better or they spoke some English I would have understood what the employee was saying and the coffee thing wouldn’t have seemed so incomprehensible. I do recommend the place. The staff was friendly and except for the coffee, accommodating. The gardens are really nice to bird, and it is a lovely spot. Take some instant coffee if you need it to be human in the morning and maybe one of the downstairs rooms might have better water pressure.

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