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Panama 2010!!

So as most of you know we have just arrived back from Panama to get Jacob and the kids’ passports stamped.  We were blessed to find out 2 weeks ago that a group from ILE (the language school that we attended last year) was leaving this past weekend for Panama and we could join them.  The trip would cost us $115 per person, except Sophia, she was free!  It included a private bus trip, hotel stay and breakfast.  That was by far the cheapest and safest route for us.  The problem was that it was to Bocas del Toro – the place that we went in 2008 for this same process and, to put it nicely, was probably the worst trip we have ever been on.  This was the last place we wanted to go and yet it seemed that this was the answer to our prayers, so we agreed to go with the ILE group.

We woke up at 4am and set off at 4:30 to be at the bus by 5:30am and also drop the car off at the Leckie’s house.  Francisco stayed at our house while we were gone to keep Zorro and be a body in the house, so he had come the night before.  As we were walking to the bus and turned the corner to the street it was on and saw the bus – it was this beautiful, private bus!!  We were starting off on a fantastic foot!  We set off through San Jose and on our way towards Limon we went through beautiful rainforest.  We stopped for breakfast which the tour guide from ILE decided to pay $3 towards the cost of each person and again she arranged for Sophia to be free, so we had breakfast for $3 each!  What a blessing.  Then we were back in the bus for the remainder of the trip.  We arrived at the border and all got off the bus to have our passports stamped – we were praying the whole time that we would not have any problems – Jacob and the kids’ passports were 3 days past the 90 day limit!!  Well, I guess because we were in such a big group, the guy at the border did not even glance at our entrance stamps!!  Praise the Lord!  Now, with that over, we had the dreaded walk across the 100 year old bridge!  Jacob, Kelsey and I each had one child and started off.  Well, to our surprise it seems that they have worked on the bridge since we crossed it in 2008 and there was actually enough boards to walk a straight path without feeling like one of the kids were going to plummet into the raging river below!  As we made it across it seems the temperature went up about a billion degrees!!  It is hot in Panama!!  We are used to it rarely getting about 70 at our house in Boqueron and it must have been at least 100 in Panama!  The kids did great though and we were definitely happy to have our stamps on the Panama side and to be back on the air-conditioned luxury bus!!  So we were then off to the water taxi place.  We had to ride through some pretty poor places in Panama.  It is always sad to see the living conditions of some people and here we were in this awesome bus and we had no rooms for complaints.  It is in these times that we certainly see God’s blessing and realize we have no room for any complaints.  We all loaded up in the water taxis, which by the way are no more than speed boats with rows of seats, and took off toward the island of Bocas del Torro.  Again, we passed people living on the edge of the water whose living conditions just broke your heart.  After we were hurled towards Bocas for about 40 minutes, we arrived and walked to the hotel.  We were hot and sweaty, ready to get to our room and get to supper.  When we got to the room we were assigned, it was a single bed and a double bed.  Clearly 6 adults and 3 children were not going to fit in this room.  So I went to talk to Nina – the group leader – and the only other room available was next door and it was just a double.  So we agreed to make that work.  Jacob and I in one room and Kelsey braved the other room with all of the kids 🙂  What a trooper she is by the way!!  We were so thankful that she went along with us for this adventure!!  We then headed off for supper and then came back and went to sleep by like 7:30!!

We woke up on Saturday with no expectations for the day except to be hot!  Well, while we were eating breakfast, Nina came and said that she had arranged a tour for the whole group.  We were thinking we could not do a tour because they are normally $20 per person and now we are being told that we are going to be getting back in the boats and going to see dolphins, swim on a private beach and then go to another private beach where we can see a ton of starfish!  And all of that was going to be paid for by the money that was collected to pay for the trip!  It was quite a surprise and we were so excited!  We had a fantastic time and were so amazed at God’s provision for our family.  The kids got to see dolphins and starfish and play in a safe quiet beach.  The tour lasted from 9:30am to 4:30pm!  It was such an unexpected treat!

We woke up Sunday to another great breakfast and then had a worship service together on the dock/restaurant on the water connected to the hotel!  Then headed back towards the border and Costa Rica around 11:45am.  We went through the Panama border easily and then I had Benja, Kelsey carried Sophia on her back and Jacob had Lizzie and we crossed the bridge.  On a funny note, our bus decided to cross the bridge after we had started across and after our “adventure” doing this in 2008, we were not about to try to move over to the side and let him pass us.  Jacob looked back and he said that it was like the ball chasing Indiana Jones!  I refused to look back and just kept going.  Once we got over to the CR side I stepped off and looked back at Jacob and Kelsey and it was kind of funny to see this huge tour bus looming over their shoulders!!  Back at the CR side we again were praying that nothing would happen with our stamps and guess what….when they guy went to pick up Jacob’s the phone rang…it distracted him and he again did not hardly look at anything and just kept stamping away!!  Praise the Lord!!  So we got back on the bus and headed back to San Jose/San Francisco.  We arrived back at our house around 8:30 or so.

I cannot say enough what a blessing it was to go with the group from ILE.  They welcomed us and loved our kids.  On another funny note, we got to see Sophia (our 4 year old) come out of her own little shell and into her personality more.  She has always been friendly with most people and loves to make new friends.  But she had to have met and had a conversation with everyone that she met from the ILE group.  They might not have known our names, but they knew we were Sophia’s parents!  She said at one point, “Mommy, all of these people are my friends.  They like me and talk to me and want to be my friend.”  Who cannot love Sophia or Lizzie or Benja?  All three were such troopers and did wonderfully the whole time!  God has blessed us with such amazing children!!  And we are also so thankful for Kelsey!  She was such a blessing to have along as well!   I asked her, if we ever have to do this again, would she please fly down and go with us?  LOL!  🙂  We are also so thankful for your prayers!  God was so wonderful to us throughout this trip!  Here are some pictures!  Enjoy!

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Posted by on June 28, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Quick Update and Prayer Requests

Just wanted to thank everyone for your prayers for our upcoming trip out of the country.  We will be leaving tomorrow at 5:30am CR time to go to Panama.   We hope to pass through without incident.  We will be traveling by bus to the border, we will most likely have to walk across the bridge to Panama, then the bus will take us to the dock where we will take a 40 minute water taxi ride to the island we will be staying on.  We will be returning on Sunday. We would appreciate your prayers as we cross the border, both for safety and for our passports to not cause us any problems.  We do not want to pay any fines, so please just be in prayer for us.  We really appreciate it.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Adventures in Panama Part 2

Okay, so we just got the money to pay for the water taxi to the island and the water taxi comes and we are on our way.  We have to cram all in this water taxi, which is essentially a speed boat with lots of rows of seats.  Apparently this is how supplies also get to the island, so they have us hold large bags of supplies that are also being brought over.  And we go for about 40 minutes on this boat until we get to Bocas.  We unload off of the boat and we wait on the young lady to pay back.

As we walk off of the boat dock I hear “Courtenay!  Courtenay!”  And I am thinking who is here that knows me and I turn around to see Grettel from school running to me from the restaurant across the street from the boat dock.  She could not believe that we had made the trip.  It was her first time here and her first time crossing the bridge.  We had known the day before that she and her husband too had to quickly leave Costa Rica, but she had told me that they were not going to go to Bocas, but here she was.  She is Costa Rican, so she obviously speaks perfect Spanish.  She is like, “I will take you to the ATM and we know of a great hotel that is run by Christians and I know that they have room for tonight, but after that everything is full because it is Panama’s Independence weekend celebration.”

So we pay the young lady back and Grettel and Gary help us find a place to stay.  When we arrived at the hotel Chichon she was able to convince the guy at the front desk to make one of their small rooms, that is available for the entire time we would need it, work for us by putting an extra mattress on the floor.  And when I say small I mean small.  It was in the area that the hotel had converted from an attic to more rooms.  But it was clean and air conditioned.  We were so thankful.  We found a restaurant that was cheap and we ate dinner and went to bed.  We woke up the next morning and had breakfast at the same restaurant and went to the beach.

That night as we were settling down in our room we start to hear drums and trumpets coming from the streets and the park across from the hotel.  Well, we remembered that it was their independence day and we thought it might last a little while and then start up the next day.  Nope.  It went from when we went to bed until late in the next afternoon.  At one point it stopped for about 5 minutes so I opened my eyes and thought it had finally stopped for the night, and it was daylight.  So we went back to the same restaurant for breakfast and ate and watched the parades.  We walked all over the island and watched the parades that went on the entire day.  I beleive that I have heard enough drums to last for quite some time.

The day before and the day of the celebrations the island was not allowed to sell alcohol, so the people were nice and calm.  After the parades ended, the alcohol was allowed to be sold again.  We could understand why they have this law when we saw the change in the people.  Grown men were loudly arguing with the police and starting to get rough.  We decided that we would spend the rest of our time in our room.  It was not a good sight for our kids to see.

Then the next morning it was time to get up, get on the next water taxi out, back over “the bridge” and on the bus back to San Jose!!!

It was a stressful trip, but the Lord was good and He watched out for us the entire trip.  He showed His hand in provisions and grace.  The beach was probably one of the prettiest I have seen and the kids did enjoy all of the parades.  We are thankful to have it all behind us and the documents that we needed to proceed with our student visas arrived earlier this week.  So hopefully for the next year we will not have to leave the country like that.

Here are some pictures…

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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Adventures in Panama Part 1

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.

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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