This quarter’s Visa Run was to San Vito, a small (15k population) town about forty minutes from the border with Panama. I read online that it was one of the less traveled borders and that the views getting there were terrific, so I thought, why not? Since the bus to San Vito left about the same time the buses started running where I live in Santa Barbara, I decided to stay in town and take a cab to the terminal. Here’s where I stayed:
Kaps Place – kapsplace.com.
I really enjoyed the spaces there. It’s much larger than it seems, there are a couple of hammocks, an area for foos ball and table tennis, rocking chairs, a couple of burbling fountains, and a general sense of relaxed bonhomie that I quite enjoyed. The owners call it a 41-room guest house – and for good reason. The service is the best I’ve yet to experience – relaxed, immediate with multi-lingual people on site. There is a kitchen you can use that even I, the hermit, felt comfortable using, and a 24 hour tea and coffee service. I highly recommend using this as a place to overnight or stay during your visit to Costa Rica. I was so tired I didn’t mind being immediately adjacent to the common area, but if you want quiet just ask for it when making your reservation. It’s close to downtown, easily walkable; and there are many restaurants and museums close by.
Next I caught the Tracopa bus and began my trip.
I was surprised when we took the Cartago, mountainous route, but immensely pleased that we did. The ride was almost total switchbacks through scenery I’ve never experienced in any way in my life. Absolutely beautiful, rural, original Costa Rica. Prehistoric vistas of untouched valleys, hills, mountains … everywhere … for three solid hours. Of course there were small to medium sized towns here and there along the way to San Vito where clearing had been necessary, but once outside of each the wild countryside met on both sides of the road we were traveling on, sometimes mingling overhead which made it seem as if we were in a green tunnel. I saw many men on working horses, many children and their moms or grandparents hand in hand along the side of the road going to or coming home from school, and indigenous women wearing their tribal dress getting off and on buses.
I must say that being on the bus as an observer was a clever way to lull me into an acquiescent state that was immediately shattered as I departed the bus. Only once in my life before – when I lived in Honolulu in the early 70’s – did I feel like an obvious outsider. This experience provided the second instance of empathy for minority folks. I think I was the only gringa in town. I’m sure that can’t be true, but I didn’t see any other ethnicities while I was there, and as I stepped off the bus into a long line of folks waiting for the next bus out of town it was immediately apparent that I was different. It’s a good experience I believe every adult should have in order to understand exactly what that means. Honestly! It made me attach to that place in my self esteem that says Niki is a very courageous woman… But, for all that, the town was quaint, hilly, and vibrant; busy with all types of vehicles, many banks, and seemingly content people. I got lots of stares… with children turning completely around and walking backward with curious looks on their faces while their parents pretended they didn’t see me at all. It was only Thursday night, but the evening was spiced audio-wise with very loud motorcycles, buffed up mufflers on cars and trucks and even ear-splitting latino “Hurrahs” that I’m assuming were the result of watching a soccer game on tv in a local bar. Then, of course, there were the dogs chatting with one another through the night. I stayed in a recommended hostel in the middle of town. The price at $21/night was right, but it was old and almost clean with sheets so laundered they were transparent. Since there were two twin beds, I slept on top of one with the cover from the other over me…
Onto the reason I was here… to get my Visa renewal stamps. As soon as I got off the Tracopa bus into San Vito I checked into the hostel, then turned around and went back to the bus stop for the Rio Sereno (border) bus. After six hours already on the bus, I was loathe to do so, but it was my goal and since I was leaving the next morning I had no choice. I know you can’t see me laughing and shaking my head back and forth here, but that trip was an eye-opener into the REAL Costa Rica that I would not have experienced in any other way. First, the bus was a chicken bus. I’ve read about them, and now I can say I’ve been on one and when I return I’ll do it all over again. But it was a bit of a shock. Old, crumbling, dirty, dirty, dirty, it wound it’s way through Saballito then through ever-increasingly rural areas until we hit a dirt road.
After about twenty minutes of my wondering where the heck we were, we arrived…. here:
I’d had the idea that the Customs/Migracion people would be busy enough, but less busy than the more popular border crossings, and that I would be shuffled through without much notice and get my stamps out of the country of Costa Rica, into the country of Panama, then out of the country of Panama back into the country of Costa Rica on the same day. Part of the Costa Rican Migracion law states that you can do this, but there’s another part that states that if you are bringing in more than $500 worth of product or monies, you need to be out of the country for 72 hours. The law has been misinterpreted by many, including Migracion officials and it’s often that they assume or believe you need to be out of Costa Rica for three days before you can get stamped back into the country. So… here I was, obviously in the back of beyond, the ONLY person in sight that needed stamps for the two hours I was there, all the while realizing that I very well might not get through this process as scot-free as I’d assumed I would. But, since I was there and since it was the last day on my 90 day period on my Visa, I tried. I had to go to the Costa Rican office first, and after clumping around wrong, abandoned buildings, I finally found my way to the correct location where they were not happy to see me under any circumstances, much less the fact that I assumed I could check in and check out on the same day. The Panama officials were very nice, had some English and delightedly joked around and gave me the stamps I needed. Then… back to the Costa Rican office where, again, I interrupted an obvious meeting amongst five officials, the boss of which entertained a long – long – long – discussion regarding whether or not he should allow me the stamp or not. The consensus was to give me the darn stamp and get rid of me. Which he did with barely a look at my face he was so angry. One of the officials actually stomped out of the office, even. Evidently the woman involved in this discussion explained to them several times that I had the right to do this (thank God), but the men, they were not happy and went round and round with her, but she must’ve had some kind of clout because I eventually was given the stamp I needed. I think it pissed the guys off that this little (younger than all of them) woman came to my rescue as much as having to give me the stamp. At any rate, deep breath later, I went back to the bus stop where there was a soda – a little restaurant – and had lunch, spilling Orange Crush all over my white blouse and not caring one whit because I’d made it through by the hair of my chinny chin chin.
Next Visa Run I’ll spend the three days necessary to appease the male Migracion Gods and be a tourist in this most beautiful place on top of the world