Sunday, February 22, 2009

PANAMA PART 2 "On Your Own in BriBri"

Maria, My little German "River Rat" Joins the Journey

So the bus gets to Bri Bri...a small town about 6 miles from the border...named after the indigenous Bri Bri Indian tribe. The driver says "that's further". WHAT???? A local taxi driver shows up with a helping hand...a hand turned up, into which you are supposed to place large quantities of American dollars. The remnants of tourists pile back on the bus to go back to Limon. However, Maria, my adopted little German sweetie companion, and I, and three other stalwarts board the taxi and give the smiling driver a 20 dollar bill. We go 5 miles. The driver says "that's further". WHAT??? We get out of the taxi (and, keep in mind, that it has NOT ONCE stopped pouring ). Some twenty yards down the road from where the taxi stopped is a raging river. Wait! That's not a river...that's the road. Make that "where the road used to be". The three stalwart (sissies) got back in the taxi.

Maria looked at me. I looked at Maria. We both looked at a little boat at the edge of the road with a guy waving for us to come on. Now I have a tendency to exaggerate, but in this case I'm not. The boat appeared to be constructed from what you might find in Home Depot's trash dumpster. It was powered by something that looked like it spent the best years of its life attached to a lawnmower. But the worst part was that it already had 20 people in it and appeared to be taking in water very rapidly. I might add that 2 friendly Costa Rican Policia were standing nearby in yellow slickers, enjoying the amusement, and telling us that this was the last boat. Period.

Maria looked at me. I looked at Maria. We both looked at the taxi down the road on its way back to Bri Bri. In gallant fashion, I told Maria, "Oh Shucks...Why Not". Inside me, a little voice was crying out "I Want My Mommy". So I gave the boatman a twenty (10 for me and 10 for Maria, because she was now out of funds without an ATM in sight) and I asked the Boatman if his name wasn't Charon and if this was the river Styx. He told us to get in the boat and muttered something like "Loco Gringo".

Maria and I have the front seat of the "boat" and try to look nonchalant as the water in the boat gradually rises over our ankles. Not to be overly dramatic, but it is still pouring and darkness is beginning to descend. The twenty minute meandering ride through the flooded landscape brought to mind images of being endlessly lost in the Amazon basis...Bogey and Hepburn in "The African Queen"...piranhas and leeches. Always having my sense of humor in my pocket, I turned to Maria and said "Boy, you sure don't get this at DisneyWorld!" She put her head on my shoulder, hugged me and convulsed. To this day, I don't know if she was laughing or crying.

The "boat" finally made landfall and there was, quite naturally, a "Jesse James" there to help us. At the border there are always more than a few fellows who are very eager to assist you to lighten your load...mainly the weight of your wallet. And, for some reason, they all seem to be named "Jesse James". I knew this Jesse James (Willie) from past trips and he grabbed my overnighter and told us to "Hurry..the border closes at 5". I told him it's only 5 to 4 and he reminded me it's Panama time (East Coast) now, Mon. Duh...dat's right...I knew dat. So the race to the border begins. And this chapter ends. Stay tuned for Part Three.

OH....and I posted a picture of Maria up top, so you can kinda identify.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

PANAMA PART 1 "Bus or Ark?"

Wednesday afternoon, Feb 4, it started raining, and, as usual, I put out my 5 gallon, 18 inch high rain gauge. It poured all night and at dawn , the bucket was overflowing. For those of you that might be slow at math, like me...that's 18 inches of rain overnight. And it continued to pour. I was leaving for Panama that morning, and I sure wasn't going to let a little thing like a flood bother me.

At 6 AM I did a check to make sure everything was, camera, paints, deodorant, passport. Passsport? Passport? PASSPORT!!!! I frantically checked all the usual places. I just had it at the bank, the day before...did I leave it there? I unpacked my suitcase. Twice. At a quarter of 7 I located it. I won't tell you that it was in one of the 28 zippered, velcroed, hidden pockets of the shorts I had on...I wouldn't want you to think I was a Bozo or something. Ten to normally takes 15 minutes to make it to the highway where you catch the bus to the Panama border. The Bu
s comes at 7. Since Costa Rican buses are seldom on time, I wasn't too concerned as we pulled up to the pick-up point at 3 minutes past 7. Wasn't too concerned that is, until the bus barreled by 150 mph. The bus is a straight through to Limon, and you DO NOT catch CR bus drivers who think they are in the Indy 500. We returned to the farm in the pouring rain.

The next bus was at 11. As I watched more pouring rain, I painted a big sign that read "SIXAOLA"...the border town destination. We got to the pick up point at ten to 11. It would have brought tears to the eyes of most compassionate people to observe an old man like me standing in the pouring rain in a bedraggled straw hat, holding a soggy Sixaola sign waiting the 45 minutes I did to catch the bus...a bus that did not want to stop. It did though....100 yards or so from where I was waiting. All those
physical fitness programs, stop smoking projects, lose weight diets that I meant to take flashed before my eyes as I jogged that 100 yards in the mud, toting a 250 pound overnight case. Arriving at the bus, it's full. They did manage to stick me in the rear stairwell, amid 30 or 40 hung-over backpackers from the UK. Two delightful young ladies befriended me though, and made the next 50 miles painfully enjoyable. Painful because their accent was so thick, I could understand only one word in 20...painful because they talked continuously...but enjoyable because they were just so darn cute.

This is a sloth...very common in these parts. What is uncommon is to see him not in a tree. While the bus was stopped for the fallen power lines, I noticed this poor fellow traveller and snapped a shot of him trying to figure out how to get back to some tree somewhere.

We had a 15 minute stop in Limon, where I had a Milky Way and 4 cigarettes for lunch as I watched it rain. Boarding the bus and on the road again I fell into a little catnap that was more like a deep coma. Jostled awake by some bloke standing on my hand, I noticed people getting off the bus. My first thought was that the bus was on fire. My second thought was that we were having a bus robbery. My third thought was that I sure was snoozing good. A tree roughly the size of the Eiffel Tower had fallen over some power lines. Aha, another 3 hour delay! But no...about 20 guys with long bamboo poles lifted the lines and let the bus sneak under and around. As we edged by, I couldn't help but reflect...pouring rain..wet poles...a billion volts of electricity going through the wires...probably not a good idea. But nobody else seemed concerned. This method of handling problems in Latin America is ever so common and reminded me of the photo I posted below.

This also concludes Part One of my little odyssey tale. I'll continue with "On Your Own In Bri-Bri" in a liitle bit.