I arrived at the border early today, not knowing what to expect but expecting long delays. The usual “helpers” came out of nowhere all looking to make a few dollars by making things seem more difficult than they really are. Exiting Costa Rica was easy enough, a stamp in the passport, stamp the motorcycle papers, check the VIN number, and “hasta legueo”. Entering Panama was also straight forward, stamp passport, buy insurance, hand in motorcycle paperwork , wait, wait some more sign a paper and I was finished, or so I thought. I approached the final border check point and was told that I needed another signature for the motorcycle inspection.
Finding the vehicle inspection guy was easy enough; he was carrying a clipboard and was inspecting a Costa Rican car. I stood by the car, waiting my turn when I noticed that nobody seemed happy. The owners of the Costa Rican car were a younger couple with a child of about 5 years old, they seemed upset. The inspection officer started searching the car and talking really fast in Spanish, so I did not understand much. His “talking” became very gruff as his inspection continued; all the time the couple were watching him nervously as he went through the trunk and even the suitcases. They seemed like quite an ordinary couple, early 30’s, well dressed, normal car and their child was well behaved. I have no idea what the problem was. I thought maybe the inspector was looking for a bribe so I went to my bike and stuck $20 in the top case, visible but not too obvious. Eventually the couple was allowed to enter Panama, the woman looked like she might cry.
The inspector approached me, not making eye contact and grabbed my form. He spoke two words “pais” (country) and “Moto?” I answered him; he signed the paper, wrote something on his clipboard and walked away, never looking at me or my motorcycle. I was free to enter Panama. As I was heading along the Pan America highway and could not help but think about the differences in how the inspector treated the Costa Rican family compared to how he treated me. I have no idea why but the family was given a very hard time and my process took less than one minute. I often hear from people that I have it easier because I am Canadian and a male, I don’t know if it’s true or not, nobody ever tells you why they are nicer to you than they were to someone else.
I followed the Pan American highway and was happy to see a speed limit sign of more than 80km, what I had been having in Costa Rica. I could do 100km/hr here, but with all the cops a the roadside I had to be very careful. I was eventually stopped and figured I was getting a big ticket as I had not been as careful as I should have. Turns out the cops just wanted to have a look at my bike. They asked the usual questions “How fast will it go?”, “How much does it cost?” “How long have you been travelling?” “Where are you going?”, I am getting good at answering these questions in Spanish.
The rain held off so I just kept riding. There did not seem to be a lot of hotels along the highway so at 3pm I called it a day when I saw a town with several hotels and a Chinese restaurant. I will eat Panama style food tomorrow.