Okay, so here’s the deal. In Costa Rica you can stay in the country legally for 90 days at a time with your passport getting stamped as you enter and leave the country. So unless you have another type of visa you have to leave the country for 72 hours, every 90 days. Our plan was to apply for our student visas which would be good for one year and allow us to not have to leave the country every 90 days. This requires a great deal of paper work. We thought we had everything and when we went to begin the process we realized that we did not have the childrens’ birth certificates authenticated by the South Carolina Secretary of State and the Costa Rican consulate in Georgia. So the plan was to file for a 30 day extension with immigration here in Costa Rica and pray that those documents got to us in that 30 days.
So we went to get the extension and we could not get it, so we had to leave the country very quickly. The closest place to us is Panama, so we thought that would be the easiest/quickest place to go. Many people from school had just gone a few weeks ago, so we knew kind of where to go, but we also knew about “the bridge!”
The border between Costa Rica and Panama in this area is a river. So to cross the border you have to cross the river. The only way across it is this bridge at the frontera village of Sixaola. When we asked the employee of the school, Grettel, about this nightmare bridge she said, “Don’t worry about it, people do it all the time.” This is the place you need to go.” So we thought, okay we can do this. So we got on the bus to Panama on Saturday morning at 8:00. We were on our way.
The bus took a route through a beautiful rainforest and then headed toward Limon. I thought “This is nice, and beautiful…this may not be so bad afterall.” We stopped outside of Limon for lunch and then back on the bus to Panama. When we finally arrived at the border we gathered our backpacks and the children and got off the bus to get our passports stamped (that was the whole reason for this trip). In the meantime, the bus crossed the bridge and was going to be waiting on the other side for us. Being that we had the kids, we ended up being the last ones off of the bus to start the process. So we wait in line and finally get the stamps and then on to the bridge.
This bridge for an adult would not be much of a big deal, but for our children it was flat out dangerous. This bridge is an 100+ year old rail road bridge. So the way you cross it is to balance across these planks that are laid across the slats of the bridge. They are not nailed down and they are not in every spot that you need to step, making it dangerous because of holes being where you need to step. Not to mention the gaps that are between the railroad slats are big enough for any of our children to fall through if they miss step. And some of the wire barrier to keep people from falling off of the sides is missing.
So we take our time and set off across the bridge. The children are wonderful and they keep nice and quiet so that we can all concentrate on our steps. We are doing it!!! We look up and see a transfer truck beginning to cross the bridge, coming towards us. There is no space between the side of the transfer truck and the side of the bridge and we are half way across with no where to go. We see this grate that is sticking off of the side of the bridge and so we head for that. It turns out to be a rusted 4 X 4 grate with nothing to keep you from falling about 50 feet into the river and 2 Tico children and our family of five huddled on it as this truck passed. We make it the rest of the way across the bridge and head to get our passports stamped now that we are in Panama.
The American college students that were on our bus informed us that we had to go in this little office and pay $5 a person to enter, so we go in there. When we come out, there is only one of the students from our bus still in line, so I think, “I need to make sure that I get him to tell the bus to wait for us.” But there are so many people in front of us. These British students were in line with us, and we started talking to them. They were going to the same place that we were. When I looked up, the American from our bus was gone. But all we could do was wait our turn and try to hurry to the bus. The bus was going to wait for an hour on this side of the bridge before it left, so we would be fine. So we continue to chat with our new British mates.
We get finished and have our stamps, the children were champs the whole time and we set off for the bus. Only…..where is the bus…..it was supposed to wait one hour……what was that town called again it was supposed to take us……Chimichanga……no Changinola……yeah that’s it…….how are we going to get there…..here are some police……oh look there are the British students…….”Yes, we would love to ride in your van taxi with you to the water taxi.” Praise the Lord. Thank you Lord.
On the van the British world travelers, as we found out, started asking about us. What we were doing…why we were on this trip…why we moved to Costa Rica…how we knew we should do something like that…!!! It was amazing. We got to witness to this group of 6 people from across the planet in the taxi that is zipping us across Panama. It was amazing.
So we get to the place where the water taxi dock is and there are the American college students from the bus, that had left us. They are like “Oh my goodness! We cannot believe they did not realize you weren’t on the bus!” As they talk about what is going on we are signing up to get on the next boat. The guy behind the counter says, “That will be $35.” U.S. dollars? We only have Costa Rican colones. Great. This is the last water taxi out to Bocas del Toro and we do not have time to get in a taxi, go to Changinola and get money and come back. What are we going to do now Lord? When one sweet American student says that she has $35 dollars we can use. And I tell her that we will pay her back as soon as we get on the island…..
I will continue the rest of the adventure in a couple of days…….
We are getting ready to leave to go work with the team from our church in Cot on Irazu. I do not have time for pictures either, but I will add them later too.