Having read that the main border crossing from Costa Rica to Panama is the worst in Central America we elected to try an alternate route. We spent our last night in CR at San Vito, a lumpy, bumpy half-hour drive from the crossing at Rio Sereno. Few people cross here and it may be that we were the only ones who brought their car from the US. There were no lines and little to indicate the frontier other than an “ALTO” sign. Officials on both sides of the frontier were courteous and efficient. The only snag came when we needed $10 revenue stamps in our passports. The nearby market was out of them so we walked 500 meters to the national bank where they had only $1 denominations. (Panama uses the US dollar but they call them “Balboas.” I would take this crossing any time and we will return to CR the same way. Today we were stopped for a routine check and the officer introduced himself, shook my hand and told us everything was in order before waving us on. Nice people!
Last night we stayed in David, the first sizeable town on the highway. A lot of Panamanians must spend weekends in the cities because finding a room was difficult, tonight too. We are staying in the town of Chitre; already well off the beaten track. Chitre is on the Gulf of Panama on the south side of the country. Panama is oriented west to east with the Caribbean on the north so the Canal runs north-south. After several tries we found a cheap hotel near the center of town but made reservations at a nicer place for the next couple of nights. There are a few things we want to do before we go to Panama City. This afternoon we went to Playa Aguillato to check out the birding. At low tide it’s not a beach but a large mudflat surrounded by mangroves and covered in shorebirds. We had already seen most of them even if we had trouble identifying them without the book but Connie found a few new ones. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a gas station to sluice some of the mud from our toes and Tevas.
Turn signals are very important when driving in Central America. Using your left signal can mean it is safe to pass. At other times it is used as a warning when speeding down the wrong side of the road. I used it to indicate a left turn, on it happens we didn’t really want to take. The guy who zoomed up behind us decided it was OK to pass. Only through his skillful maneuvering did we avoid a major accident. The only damage was minor; my mirror was knocked off and he had a tiny crease on his new van. He insisted it was our fault and repairs would cost at least $200. (I fixed our mirror with some duct tape.)