I woke up in the early morning because it started raining. The sky had been so clear that I hadn't even considered the possibility. I had to scramble in my bag for my emergency tarp, and collect my belongings, which were scattered around. I huddled with my stuff under the downpour. I could feel the cold drops landing on my back through the thin material, so I wasn't sure how well a job it was doing to keep me dry. When it subsided, I surveyed the damage. My radio and blankets and some clothes were pretty wet, plus everything was kind of sandy. I hung everything on a horizontal palm tree trunk, and waited patiently for it to dry. Meanwhile, I ate some cold oatmeal. The tide came up and splashed against my blankets, so I gave up and packed everything up, sandy and damp as it was.
The hike was delightful! I could hear monkeys howling, and all sorts of birds. I was surrounded by such varied flora and wasted a bit of time chasing a beautiful blue butterfly. I thought I was alone until two locals passed me.
Later on, I saw them sitting on a balcony along some abandoned structure, smoking. They invited me to join them and I did.
"Lots of gringos around here, eh?" I said pretentiously. I felt like I should separate myself from the ordinary uncultured visitor by showing off my Spanish.
"Yes, only tourists here," one guy said. "We come here to get away from them." He passed me the joint.
I noticed some strange orange fruit growing on a bush beneath us and asked what it was.
"Oranges," I was told.
"Nooooo." I said. "Those are not oranges."
My companions looked a little taken aback.
"Oranges grow on trees," I defended myself. "And are bigger. And have different texture."
"There are many different oranges," one said. These are also oranges."
"Can I eat one?"
I climbed down and tasted one, after getting instructions on how to peel it. "It looks like a tomato," I reported. "But it tastes like an apple!" My friends agreed halfheartedly.
Soon I departed, after confirming that I was on the right route to Gandoca. The trail was not in great condition, and, remembering the fiasco in Xilitla, I proceeded with care. But according to my map, the trail would be along the beach the whole way, so I had nothing to worry about. But at times, the trail was flooded, or blocked by trees or bushes. It clearly was not used very often.
So I was surprised when the trail got better, and then I found myself walking on artificial grass. I found a pump and gratefully filled my water bottle. There were also lots of coconuts around, and I tried to break one open. I didn't succeed, so I sheepishly nibbled from a coconut that was already opened, nasty as that may have been.
There was a sign near the beach, which explained in English and Spanish where I was: "This place and this house keep the history of the people of African descendant and [sic] the first inhabitants of Monkey Point, Punta Mona, the original home of the last Jamaican fisherman, PADI, dear friend and known by many people all over the world..." There were some pictures of Padi, fishing, or sitting on docks, smiling in a Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt and flip-flops.
I saw a few buildings, and wasn't sure if they were inhabited or not, and didn't approach them. I heard the sound of weed whackers motors and saw a landscaping crew. This must be another retreat for rich gringos. I continued. But after a ways, the trail seemed to go down to the beach and stop. I couldn't find it again. So, I had no other option but to go back to Punta Mona.
There, I found two guys trimming a tree. One was in the tree and one was on the ground. I asked the guy on the ground for directions. He was a little startled to see me, and seemed a little impressed that I was hiking to Gandoca. He explained that when the trail ended, I would have to walk along the beach until the path continued. I thanked him. I noticed that the ground was littered with starfruit from a nearby tree and asked if I could take some. "Sure," he said. "Take as many as you want." The fruits were ripe and sweet but very tangy and stung my lips.
So I proceeded down the path. There were many segments where I had to walk along the beach, which was deserted and littered with driftwood. Sometimes I had to bushwhack through the jungle to avoid the waves. I would have walked barefoot, but the sand was black and often hot. Sometimes the beach was thin and I would have to wait for the water to recede, then sprint past that part to where the beach was wider.
I walked so long that I wished I had brought more food. I wound up mixing the last of my water with oatmeal and soup base, which tasted awful, and was salty enough to dehydrate me more. I was still considering trekking through the Darien Gap, so I made a note to myself to bring enough food. And purification tablets! There was no way I would be able to carry four or more days of water. And the jungle would be thicker. Here, at least, there was a trail... when I could find it. But it was so rarely used, that it was hard to tell if it was a trail at all. Sometimes I passed concrete buildings that were totally isolated and abandoned and wondered who'd built them.
Finally, exhausted, I came to Gandoca beach. And found a road, at last! It was pretty unused, so I had to start walking down it. I was beginning to feel weak and faint, and I was sweating profusely. It was hot. So I stopped often and rested in the shade. Eventually, a kind taxi driver saw me walking and offered to take me to the Panamanian border for free. He already had a customer to bring there anyway.
The border town was Sixaola. I asked the driver where I could find a store, and inside, I bought a gallon of fruit punch and nearly finished it outside. I also bought some food and snacked on it. Then I proceeded to the border. The road to the border was a long earthen ramp, which lead up to a steel-trussed bridge. Before the bridge, a small walkway led to the customs building, where I waited in line with many other tourists. I talked briefly to a German girl from Munich. There was also a guy behind me with a UK passport in a ziploc sleeve. He had a well-equipped bike with panniers, so I asked how far he was traveling. I was amazed to discover that he had started in Alaska, and was biking to Tierra del Fuego. "Wow!" somebody said. "You must have a lot of stamps in your passport!"
I asked him how he would cross the Darien Gap, and he said he wasn't sure, but was considering kayaking. I guess he wanted to do the whole trip with no motors. I also asked long this trip would take, and he estimated two and a half years. That must be expensive, I thought! We were at opposite ends of the spectrum of extreme travel. He was attempting it by great endurance, and I was attempting it by minuscule budget.
I got my exit stamp and crossed the bridge. There were two bridges, one which was newer and used for automobiles. The pedestrian bridge seemed to be a converted railway. It wasn't in great condition, and there were many gaps in the planked walkway, so we had to cross carefully. I was not the only one crossing. In fact, it was quite crowded. But once I was across, I was in Panama!
Across the bridge, I was first directed into a dim office. There, I had to pay a three-dollar tax and get a sticker in my passport. It seemed strange to me that Panama had a sticker instead of a stamp, but I didn't think much of it.
I walked out of the border town and stood for about an hour in the sweltering sun before I got a ride. I wasn't sure how hitchhiking would be in Panama, as this was my first experience. It seemed to be a group taxi in a pickup truck, but I was given a free ride because I was a foreigner. We drove a ways down the road, and I remember passing the cyclist, who was pedaling steadily along.
We were stopped at a military checkpoint. The soldier looked at everyone in the truck and asked me for my passport. I handed it over, and he flipped through it. Then he flipped through it again. "There's no stamp," he told me. "Sure there is!" I said, and showed him the sticker. But that wasn't a stamp, so I would have to go back and get one. This upset me a little, but it was a good thing that it had been noticed early, so I wouldn't have problems when leaving Panama.
I started hitching back the way I had come, and the soldiers, seeing this, discussed the possibility of giving me a ride. One of them was going that way anyway, so he gave me a lift and directed me to the migrations office.
I waited in a short line behind some German backpackers, and when it was my turn, I went up to the window. "Passport," requested the unsmiling attendant, and I gave it to him. He scrutinized it. I could feel the cool air conditioning from under the window. "Plane ticket," he requested. I told him I didn't have one. "You have no plane ticket?" he asked. I explained that I was hitchhiking. The word is different in all countries, so I tried to express it every way I could, including gesticulation. But he just shook his head. Then he waved the people behind me in line to come up to the window while I waited aside. They had a plane ticket. So did the next folks. But a French woman who was traveling by bus also had no ticket. So we both had to wait. I was feeling unusually weary and wanted to sit down.
The guy came around and out a door and started to walk away, with our passports. We had to follow him. Without a word, he walked back across the bridge to Sixaola. We followed him. The woman complained the whole way.
"In Europe, we have no borders!" she said. "You just go from one country to the next! There are no problems."
"He just wants a bribe," I explained. Like hell if I was going to give him one though.
"Exactly! You would never have this in France. It's outrageous!" She was right, of course.
He took us back to the Costa Rican migrations office and gave our passports to the guy there, explaining that we had no way out of the country, and therefore were being denied entry. We were both stamped for reentry to Costa Rica, and given six days, even though I originally had 90 days as a tourist.
This was frustrating, to say the least. What was I going to do? The French woman returned by bus to her hotel in Puerto Viejo. I found an internet cafe, but had to wait to use a computer. I was feeling quite ill. I wasn't in any pain, but I felt so tired. Maybe I was dehydrated. I sat down on my backpack, and looked at the stationery for sale in a display case. Suddenly I felt far from home. What was I going to do? There was no direct route to the other border crossing; I would have to hitchhike a roundabout route around the mountains to get there. It could take days. And what if the other border pigs required a plane ticket too? Would this be the end of my trip? Or should I just buy a plane ticket? Or bribe the asshole? I couldn't decide.
After I'd emailed my family, I began to look for a place to camp, as it was getting dark. I wandered through some corn fields, which were probably part of somebody's private property. I realized it'd probably be better to just ask whoever lived there if I could camp on his land. Then maybe he would be kind and let me use his shower. I was pretty dirty.
I found a house and asked a man on the porch if I could camp in his field. He said he would think about it and left. I waited for quite a while. I was exhausted and leaned heavily against a post. He came back and saw me and asked if I was OK. I told him I was feeling sick.
"Why don't you sleep in the park?" he asked. I didn't know where it was. He started to explain it, but I felt dizzy and didn't understand. "Why don't you show him?" he asked his children. So his two kids led me there. There was a little playground and a pavilion next to the foot of the bridge. I unrolled my dirty blankets on the concrete floor of the pavilion. The kids were really curious about me, and asked a ton of questions. I was unfriendly to them, because I just wanted to rest. I told them I was sick and was going to sleep.
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