March 07, 2010

Panama Manana


I just reached the Panama border after a marathon sprint from San Jose.  This border looks like all the others, or maybe even sillier, so I will reserve that experience for tomorrow.  Tonight I will be stuck in a 36 dollar per night hotel, (displayed above).  I am tough, I can stay anywhere.

I am sure you all have heard about how Costa Rica is this tropical paradise with magnificent scenery, awesome beaches, etc. etc..  I can now report that this is absolutely true.

Last night I stayed in the Best Western in San Jose.  I am going to give a plug to Best Western because I really like the way they do things.  They are always nice, and good value too, and you never wake up wondering what city you are in because today's room looks like yesterday's and the one from the week before.  The Best Western in Managua was really great as well, despite the fact that if look carefully at the layout and buildings, it is identical to an ATCO work camp in the Northen Alberta bush.  An ATCO work camp in the middle of a tropical garden where the temperature is always warm is actually very cool.  One more gratuitous plug as long as I am at it, Hotel Higuerone (where I am) is really fine as well, an oasis of calm just a few yards from the chaos and anarchy of the Costa Rica Panama border.  The only way to describe it is Niagara Falls on amphetamines run by lunatics.

I met some really great people these last few days.  Buddy whatsisname and the other fella, cousins, just got off the plane from Cleveland to holiday in somebody's house or condo somewhere in Costa Rica.  We had a few free beers at happy hour (free drinks!), One (buddy) was a boilermaker and the other fella worked in the Ford plant.  Apparently they live nearby a huge KTM distribution center.  It was like meeting long lost relatives :-)

Then I met the Morgans, Gary, brother Jeff and his daughter, Anny, who run an adventure-eco lodge on the Osa peninsula. http://www.morgansjunglelodge.com/  Gary had seen me arrive on the KTM and wanted to know my story.  They shared how they are taking a group of med and premed students to their lodge so that the med students can learn about practicing medicine in Costa Rica.  Very nice people.  It was my first opportunity to have a real conversation since I left Jaime's hotel in Chilpancigo, and I discovered that I had missed it, or at least was pleased to be able to talk to someone face to face without having to struggle with language issues.  

It seems that whenever I leave a very large city (million plus) I get lost looking for the way out, very ecomical with the signs these Latin Americans.

San Jose, a very modern city with no discernal slums and good roads was a bit easier.  I was using a nearby town named Cartaga as the destination to ask for directions, as it seems nobody knows where Panama is, or maybe it is the way I say it.

I ended up in Cartaga OK, lost there in thick fog.  The San Jose area is mountainous and I was stuck in a cloud again.  Eventually I found my way back to the Pan American Highway, and discovered why no one knows where Panama is.  The Pan American Highway, or CA 2 as it is called in Costa Rica is very long (350km), very narrow, very winding with a very low maximum speed limit of 50 kmh.  It is difficult to go much faster.  The road is pretty rough, rippled and pounded by heavy trucks besides being an endless series of hairpin turns, very tiring.

At one point I ride through the clouds and into sunshine, and then back in to the cloud (fog). There are places where the road has literally fallen off the montain (!!), so it narrows down to a single lane at these points, and there are several.  First come first served, don't drive over the edge in the fog.  

While I was stopped at a McDonalds in San Ysidro, getting a Gringo food Big Mac fix, a nice young mother with kids who had parked beside me suggested I take an alternate route. She was also going to Panama, and said I could follow her, which I did.  Pretty soon I was on the coast road, a much smoother and faster way to get to Panama.  I had not planned on getting this far today, but here I am, she even showed me where this hotel was. 

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