July 3, 2015 by kimberlyfenton
Making my way down from Mexico, I have had my fair share of experiencing the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to Central American border crossings. Expect the unexpected, as they say. Very true for our Costa Rica – Panama border crossing. I guess it was lack of research on my part, but after checking and reading up on the different ways to enter Panama, I thought I had fully understood the entry requirements. Obviously not… two things. First, we needed to show the immigration man that we were good for $500 in order to enter the country. Clearly, we did not have this amount of cash on us, we only had around $100 to cover our fee for leaving Costa Rica (which they never actually asked for woohoo.) This is one of the times where I’m so glad I can speak Spanish, as nobody there was uttering a word of English, and so I had to do some translating for other backpackers who also found themselves in the same situation as us. After speaking to the immigration man, we agreed that we could run down the road 100m to the cash machine, take out a small amount of cash, and print a receipt which should say how much left you have remaining in your account.
If anyone knows my twin and I, you will understand why she went first and tried her luck. No good. The cash machine went crazy and said that she was minus 9,000 Collones. My Caxton card has played that trick on me before too, so I put my HSBC card in and we had the proof we needed. Back we went, running across no man’s land until we reached Panama. Luckily we were one of the first people off our Tica Bus, and there were still some of the passengers in the immigration queue, so we didn’t hold anyone up/miss our bus. I was proudly waving our cash machine receipt at the immigration man when we were hit with our second issue. So, I had been warned and had researched the fact that we needed to show proof of our flight out of the country in order to be granted entry into Panama. Now, I might have been caught up in all the travel plans, but I didn’t remember it saying that this proof had to actually show our flight back to our country of origin, i.e. the United Kingdom. Gah. My next flight is from San Jose to Mexico, so I had to blag my way out of that sticky situation, showing the immigration man my Mexican Visa (which if he looked closely at my passport had expired and I’m now on the yearly FM3 “No Inmigrante” residency card) and hoping to prove to him that my residency in Mexico makes my flight from San Jose to Mexico acceptable to meet the entry requirements. Somehow my Spanish speaking pulled off, and after a long day of travelling, starting at 4am, I was allowed to cross the border.
We arrived to the Albrook terminal in Panama City almost bang on 4 o’clock in the morning. A full 24 hours of travelling from our first bus in Playa Samara, Costa Rica, to Panama City. Today was probably our toughest day, arriving at 4am meant that there was no point checking into our hostel. The bus was freezing on the way down and we didn’t get much sleep at all! After 24 hours we were pretty tired to say the least, so we stayed in the bus terminal trying to get some shut eye, until an acceptable time to leave, 8am. After a groggy start, things actually went to plan and we had a great day exploring the city.
Panama City is probably one of the most bizarre cities I have ever been to, allowing you to witness 3, shall we say “social,” extremes all in the space of a 5 minute taxi ride. Leaving the terminal, we first travelled through parts of the city which were really run down and overcrowded. Buildings which looked like they hadn’t been occupied in about 10 years form the busy neighbourhoods which line the main roads travelled by thousands each day. It was eyeopening to realise it was actually the opposite, and these rundown buildings were overcrowded, full of families and children peering out of ‘windows’ which were just holes in the wall with no bars, let alone glass. Then, almost immediately after driving past these neighbourhoods, you are hit with a stark contrast: the overwhelming skyline of Panama City. A world away from what we had just driven past, huge skyscrapers lining the waterfront.
Continuing on this 5 minute ride travelling from extreme to extreme, within a couple of minutes of passing the impressive view of worldwide businesses and their daily operations, we arrived in Casco Viejo, the old town. What a difference! Again, a world away… I could draw feint similarities to the Old Town of Habana, but maybe that is just me drawing comparisons to the name, who knows. The buildings were colonial, bright and beautiful. After walking up to the Plaza de Francia past many artesian stalls we were treated to another great view of Panama City and it’s skyline, from another spectacular angle.
Gorgeous and diverse city!