¡Todo norte – Hitching Panama to Alaska! Part 2: Panama City to Tamarindo, Costa Rica

This is Part 2 of a series, ¡TODO NORTE!. You might want to read the brief Part 1 about hitching out of Panama City.

Ok, now I am in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, and I can properly describe the events of the last few days.

As I was saying in the last post before being interrupted when I was offered a free ride out of Tamarindo, Cat and I hitched out of Panama City about 45 minutes north on our first ride. We were dropped at a busy bus stop, and soon a car stopped, driven by an off-duty Panamanian policeman and his petite wife on their way to the beach for the weekend. The policeman drove fast and he eventually got pulled over and given a $65 ticket for speeding. They dropped us off in Santiago.

We didn’t know it yet, but Santiago is an industrial/commercial transporation hub. We made a sign that said “Costa Rica” with trash cardboard. We waited a while in the noon sun. A lot of pickup trucks and worker vans slowed down to whistle at Cat. She wasn’t too bothered by it. Maybe they thought she was a prostitute. She’s a good looking, curvy girl after all, and prostitution is fully legal and regulated in Panama. Though I must have looked like a surfer-bro-cum-pimp with my long golden locks and half-baked smile as cars go by. 45 minutes later, Cat and I were scooped up by a traveling electrician who maintains batteries in the factories of Santiago (Santiago has 40% of Panama’s industrial factories despite having only about 3% of the population). It was a total industrial, transpo hub, and were lucky to not get stuck there in a town with few, if any, hostels.a

The electrician was headed to David, a 3-4 hour drive up the coast. Cat slept in the back of the van. I sat up front and chatted up the Electrician. He had a long drive back home for the night so he seemed happy to have a chill conversation with me as we drove into the sunset. It was dark by the time we reached David, Chiriqui, so the Electrician was generous enough to find a hostel or us. Inside, we put our bags down in our palapa roof jungle hut dorm room, and we sat and smoked a celebratory cigarette out by the pool. A freshly baked and very talkative young Lithiuan dude joined us at the table.

Cat asked him, “How is Lithuania?”

Without hesitation, he said, “There is a lot of men masturbating in the forest.”

Vulgar conversation, I know, but the silliness was welcome after a long day riding in cars with strangers.

The Next Day

Cat and I left the David hostel around 10am and walked down the street to the Panamericana. We got a ride 10 or 15 minutes up the road to a busty bus stop. Cat went inside to buy cigarillos. I ate carrots at the bus stop, waiting for her. An older man at the bus stop began trying to help me catch the ride bus/taxi to the frontera.

It’s funny, you can explain to people that you hitchhiking in perfect, PERFECT Spanish and they will all respond the same way, word for word: “Esta muy muy lejos. Hay un taxi o bus. Siete dolares) Or, people say “Caminar? No se puede andar. Hay barrios muy peligros.”

But some Panamanians go out of the way to assist hitchhikers. A nice air-conditioned bus pulled over, despite our waving him away. Down the steps came a middle-aged man. I was barely able to explain that we follow the David Cho hitchhiking philosophy of never paying for rides when he offered to pay for both our bus tickets and waved us on. Cat and I exchanged a glance, shrugged, and got on the bus. I sat next to the benevolent guy and chatted a bit. Soon we were disembarking in Bulaga.

Here in Bulaga the Mr. Benevolence bought us orange gatorades and bus tickets to the Costa Rican border. We gratefully accepted, said goodbye, and were at the border 30 minutes later.

It was my second time entering Costa Rica through Paso Canoas. We had our fake onward flight tickets prepared (print or on mobile is OK). Use Onward Flights. The total crossing took only 20 minutes, including Panamanian emigration, Costa Rican immigration, and the 5 minute walk through the Zona Libre.

Passports stamps on fleek, Cat and I walked 200 meters down the road and quickly thumbed a ride from an off-duty collectivo heading to Ciudad Neily, the first bordertown you come to in Costa Rica. Here you can find buses to Manual Antonio for $15 or San Jose for more. But buses we did not seek.

We stood for maybe 20-25 minutes along the highway on the outskirts of Neily. Here a scruffy looking Costa Rican picked us up. Soon he had invited us to stay the night for free at his apartment, and we didn’t see the warning signs so we accepted. The drive to Quepos is a few hours and before long we were knocking back Imperials in his Toyota sedan and buying a bottle of rum to party on the beach later. Marcelo was also stopping in random neighborhoods off the highway to check in with his “clients.”

He claimed to be a special events photographer, and he had plenty of framed and sealed portraits in the car. But he was probably a narco: He had money; he showed me the pistol underneath the gearshifter; he claimed to have a wife and family in Nicaragua but had a second apartment in Quepos, ostensibly to store some of his framed portraits; he took us to a barrio to buy cocaine; we went to the beach to drink rum and do the cocaine; he got really aggressive towards me about my American predecessors bombing his family members in Nicaragua; and when some cocaine dealers approached us and hung around a little too long, Marcelo produced a crowbar-type weapon and banged it against the driftwood as he stood to shoo away the drugdealers.

The most danger came when Marcelo drove us home from the beach, totally wasted and coked out of his gourd. Cat was texting her friends that she loved them. But we made it home safe. I didn’t get beat up, and Cat didn’t get raped, although Marcelo was very sexually aggressive and Cat informed me the next morning that she had been awake all night fending off his advances, except for the brief hiatus when he drove back to the casino for more booze.

The next morning, Marcelo was more sober and he bought us sandwiches. He dropped us off at an intersection near the grocery store. Our last image of him was of him drinking a fresh six pack of beer in his car in the middle of the grocery store parking lot.

Not 10 or 15 minutes later, an RV passed us. We both drooled about escaping the sun into a comfy RV. To our delight the RV pulled a U-turn and picked us up. Wish, and ye shall receive.

This was a pimped out van. A mid-80’s Ford Econoline with 36,000 miles on it. The drivers were an Philadelphia carpenter and his Swiss/American girlfriend. They were going all the way to Tamarindo, and we quickly decided to check it out. On the way we stopped at Puente Cocodrillo (Crocodile Bridge), where tourists hug the rails and ogle the muddy behemoths below. Hours later we were dropped in Tamarindo, where we found a hostel.

We spent the next day chilling. The day after that, was yesterday…

Cat and had planned to leave in the morning. Over breakfast with some hostel mates, I found a ride from Tamarindo to Liberia in a Jeep. I woke Cat up, but she declined to join. She was with a man, and of course nothing is more important to a happy life than getting some regular everyday lovin’. So she stayed in bed, and 5 minutes later I was in a Jeep going to Liberia.


Coming in the next post… the events of yesterday

Cops and Robbers on the Nicaraguan border – Liberia, Costa Rica to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

It was an eventful day yesterday. I walked into Nicaragua and realized I was on an immigrant highway. Nicaraguans were walking in droves towards Costa Rica. Only I was going north. But soon I noticed a man following me, also coming from the border. He caught up to me and struck up a conversation. A young, fit guy carrying an empty backpack. He quickly asked me if I had documentation. He then recommended I take the bus for only 2$, and how much money did I have with me? I soon realized he was sizing me up to rob me. And so I met my second possible narco. Check back TOMORROW for the detailed story and what happened next.



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