My mind went numb from the waiting, the paperwork, the hot Panamanian sun. I was melting in my boots and Kevlar jeans. My stomach gurgled and grumbled with hunger. Am I not a seasoned enough traveler to have known the process would take until well past lunchtime? In my excitement to get back on the solo-ride, I skipped breakfast and now waited at the Aduana in David. Waited and waited, and waited.
A cockroach scuttled across the tiled floor. I tried to kick it out the open door, but he flipped over and lay inert on his back, stuck, probably forever. Every now and then his little legs would dance wildly, trying to catch hold of something, anything, that would save his little life. I watched, half mesmerized, half horrified. Guilt overtook and I righted him with a booted toe and watched him scurry away.
The nice older officer’s daughter is named Elisa, just a bit younger than me. His paternal side took over, and he watched and made sure things went smoothly as I had papers stamped here, reviewed there, copied and signed by half a dozen people. The boss slapped me with a $20 dollar fine, knowing it wasn’t really my fault. The Customs people in Panama City were notoriously bad, unhelpful, lazy-asses who didn’t lift a finger to help foreigners figure out the paperwork. It happened constantly. Every day some foreigner wandered into the country with the wrong stamps, the wrong papers, and every day the Aduana found them, fined them, and sent them on their merry way. Sometimes serving them coffee and biscuits for the long road ahead.
“You rode that bike all the way from Panama?” a Costa Rican asked a few days later. “No senor, I rode that bike from Chile”. I get blank stares almost every day. “You mean you shipped it here from Chile.” I point to the odometer, which read 22,500kms, confusing people more. Some just laugh in disbelief. “You, on that little motorcycle?” A 14 year old boy sat on a bench by the water and accused me of lying. “I don’t believe you. You’re lying. That’s too far away”. There was no way of convincing him otherwise, so we talked about his school, teachers, and his dreams of becoming a famous baseball player. Maybe soccer, if all else fails. I revealed I was a teacher and he looked at me warily like it was some kind of a
trap. He helped me load my things onto a small speedboat anyway as a few men manhandled my motorbike and broke a mirror while jamming it into place between the seats and rickety planks, my heart thumping wildly in my chest at the potential damage to be done, trying to control my anxiety as I half shouted, “Don’t pick it up from there! Not from there!!” Danilo, the captain of the boat, asked me to marry him for the fifth time as I gave the boy a few coins and the unsolicited advice to continue his studies, just in case he changed his mind about baseball.
The Panamanian countryside, islands and beaches and forests roll by, and through my visor I take in the sights and sounds, the smells and tastes of a new country. I talk to everyone, and make a game of getting the grumpiest and surliest of people to become my friends. It’s a skill that needs to be fine-tuned and practiced, a gift passed down from Dad that I’m only now discovering. Smile, be open and friendly, and the world shares its friendship and protection. I’m suddenly not alone on this journey. Friends in front are just waiting to be met, and friends behind offer support and encouragement.
Costa Rica is too expensive, but visiting childhood friends is too good to pass by, and I spend a couple days enjoying the rain and thunderstorms from Bev’s beautiful patio overlooking coffee plantations and lush green ridges and mountains while catching up and feeling at home and relaxed. Home cooked meals, conversations with those who have known me the longest, years of catching up to do. It’s such a treat and I realize I’ve been traveling too fast, taking in too much too quickly. It’s time to slow down.
Costa Rica rolls by slowly, verdant as anything I’ve ever seen, and I have to remind myself to enjoy it fully. I’ve become spoiled with lovely sights, massive volcanoes, green coffee plantations, exotic birds, kids walking to and from school, old men snoozing in rocking chairs, dogs playing on the side of the road, donkeys lazily watching me go by. So many different landscapes and people over so many thousands of miles. Someday I’ll look back and remember these moments that have become so commonplace and normal- my everyday life. I’ve started taking things for granted, and I make a mental note to stay in the present, to enjoy every moment like it could be my last.