Visas. Opening or closing doors?

Here, here kitty cat.

14th January 2023

Marina Carenero, Bocas Del Torro, Panama – Puerto Vierjo, Costa Rica via Puerto Vierjo,& Jaco, Costa Rica

Visas usually grant entry into countries, allow you to explore endlessly and are a golden ticket to all sorts of fun opportunities. A lack of visa can spell disaster resulting in fines, expulsion and the firm shutting of all doors leading to all things fun. In an effort to avoid this calamity our plan to renew our Panamanian visas has taken us to Costa Rica, allowed us to explore a new country and given us all sorts of new fun opportunities.

After parking Ruffian safely in a marina, with Cerulean alongside, we used boats, busses and boots to get to a new country. Cradling our bags in our hands it felt like we were in the middle of a prisoner swap as we walked across a border bridge which bristled with razor wire and was framed at each end with armed guards. As we were waved through to immigration, our passports were stamped, Costa Rican visas issued and our Panamanian ones annulled and were now ready to be renewed. In the meantime, however Costa Rica called.

Wanting to cram in as much fun as was possible, after hours of travelling across the country Iain thought we’d be able to squeeze in a hike to a waterfall through the depth of the jungle before darkness stopped all play. Together with Steve & Helen from Cerulean we picked our way along a tiny path through the thick jungle, birds circled high above in the sun, but down on the ground things were already feeling pretty shady.

The hours passed by just as the miles did under our feet and the sun slowly made its daily trudge to the horizon. Close by Iain & Steve could hear the waterfall, but not far behind there were Fiona & Helen’s very real concerns about light. We’d now been walking for 3 hours and full darkness was only 90 minutes away.

The draw of the waterfall was strong, but the draw of not being eaten by the forest was stronger and so we turned tail and raced against the sun back to civilisation. Just as the sun kissed the horizon and bathed everything in a dazzling yellow light we left the mud behind us, stepped onto sanitised tarmac and bid a farewell to all the creatures that were waiting for dark to devour us.

Tired from days of walking on beaches, hiking the hills, searching for birds and looking for sloths we were looking forward to a restful 7 hours on a coach ride into the middle of the country. We lined up with seasoned backpackers who sat themselves down, plugged themselves in and switched themselves off. We congratulated ourselves for our good luck as we slipped into 4 seats together but soon this congratulation was going to turn to commiseration.

We watched as the seasoned backpackers got comfy while we were contorted out of shape. There was a reason why our seats were free and that was because they were free of the ability to recline, free from the confines of statutory leg room and free from any views of the valleys we drove through. Those crafty backpackers knew a thing or two.

Changing from the backpackers’ bus to a cavernous car we found ourselves on the far western side of Costa Rica where wild wildlife teemed everywhere, trees sprouted birdlife and every hill housed a waterfall.

Even the major roads were not free of from the wild wildlife, but it was found far below the roads instead of squashed upon them. Stopping at the aptly named alligator bridge the river below us was alive with, errrr, alligators. The larger of these monsters lay stationary in the mud while those who still had to grow into behemoths fought and jostled for space, baring their teeth and thrashing wildly.

Thankfully the hills that we hiked were alive with less deadly wildlife. Whenever we looked into the canopy loud Toucans called, bright Macaws flashed across the sky, Bee eaters hunted bees and Wrens wrested with the foliage. Looking down, the ground was also alive as Red Poison Dart Frogs hopped about, and their deadly radioactively green and black cousins sought shelter from our boots.

Every hike seemed to culminate in a waterfall, but some were more special than others. Iain had heard about a waterfall not marked on google, not shown in any guides and only referenced fleetingly on the internet. This might be an El Dorado or a red herring.

With the roads being blocked by surging water we donned our walking boots and extended our hiking poles determined to make our quarry. Making our first river crossing our feet were soaked though and then the very fabric of the river was shaking. Cowboys were corralling a heard of cattle down the narrow valley and the river we’d just crossed was churned into a torrent by 100’s of pounding hoofs whose cows sported jutting horns. This was now feeling like the wild west.

The friendly cowboys waved us on our way and pointed to ‘Cascada. Cascada’ and following their directions farmworkers pointed to ‘Cascada. Cascada. We knew we were on the right track as the path meandered its way up the hillside, snaked along full rivers and then abruptly ended. A few steps ahead the whole mountainside oozed water as every tiny tributary found its own route down making every surface shine and turning the air cool.

The real treat was waiting for us as we’d walked through endless farmland, and along almost impassable tracks. Behind us was the majestic waterfall, but now in front of us was something much more majestic. In the height of the day, making no sound and seemingly leaving no tracks was a baby Jaguar, meaning that somewhere was a mummy Jaguar, who was bigger, more silent and even more majestic. This was a rare sighting and showed that wild things live in the wild west.

Away from the lush green interior Costa Rica’s coast was also a big draw for us. For many years we have come to know the Atlantic Ocean intimately, and we were about to see a brand new ocean that is waiting for Ruffian in time to come; The Pacific. Almost as a rite of passage, we dipped in our toes as we stared out at this brand new ocean. We knew that over the horizon are thousands of islands to explore, 10’s of thousands of miles to sail and countless adventures waiting for us.

Having the excuse of renewing our Panamanian visas has opened up a whole new world of inland travel to us, into a country that we never thought we’d visit with friends who feel more like family. Sometimes the threat of an expired visa doesn’t close doors, it opens them.

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Author: Iain & Fiona Lewis

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