Day 11 (Jun. 14):
The Devil in a Black Cab:
Traveling days. They’re starting to take a toll on me, both physically and mentally. David to Changuinola… 5 hours. This route leads to the isolated Panamanian border town of Guabito/Sixaola. A quick stroll across the rickety Guabito/Sixaola Bridge counts as the border crossing from Panama into Costa Rica. The respective national flags flap in the wind at each end of the bridge reminding you that your peaceful stroll has some significance. It’s truly a beautiful border that provides travelers with a calming silence as they meander across the bridge. Halfway through the abandoned railroad tracks I stop to acknowledge my surroundings. Panama behind me, Costa Rica waiting ahead. To add to the setting, the Sixaola River roars beneath the rotting floor boards that provide a false sense of security for those that casually amble over the bridge. To my left and to my right is a far reaching scene of mountains and jungle. I could stand here in No Man’s Land all day, but I force myself to continue the short jaunt across the bridge.
As I make my way off of the bus my mind feels fried. The taxi drivers routinely maul the exiting travelers like paparazzi feasting on a group of rock stars. Typically, I just blow through the ravenous mob, but I’m fucking tired and I really don’t want to think about where to go or how to get there. “Taxi! Taxi!” One voice stands out to me, so I lifelessly nod in his direction with a quiet, irritated “Cuanto a Hotel Aranjuez?” There is no way in hell that a San Jose taxista will take me for another $40 taxi ride. I may be exhausted, but personal pride prevails. In San Jose, you can recognize “official” taxis by their bright red paint jobs and gleaming taxi signs that hang onto their roofs. As we approach the taxi driver’s vehicle, It appears that I managed to summon the only taxista of the bunch driving the “unofficial”, black cab. For some odd reason I find a slight thrill in all of this. I think that I need to mix it up a bit, generate some more interesting stories and the black cab could be an ominous sign of things to come. The driver even looked a bit devilish with his finely trimmed goatee wrapping around his tight jawline. Sweet! Count me in! I toss my bags into the trunk of the black cab of death and we begin our race through town. The devil breaks the silence that is growing in the cab. “You have reservations at Hotel Aranjuez?” I respond, “Nope, I just assumed they would have an opening.” Without missing a beat the devil pushes a few buttons on his cell phone and throws the damn thing into the back seat like some type of explosive. “Hotel Aranjuez. Ask for a room.” This guy is a bit of a whack-job.
As part of my work it’s necessary to spend some quality time on the border as a means to get acquainted with the way that life moves in Guabito/Sixaola. It’s important that I pay attention to the type of work and goods passing by and the way that border crossers, local workers, and state officials interact with one another. But, there isn’t much action here. Nothing like the western border of Paso Canoas. There are loads of looming duty free shops selling cheap imported goods, makeshift bars offering local beer to the truck drivers in queue, and the typical street vendors with their deliciously fresh fruits and vegetables, but that’s about it. It’s as if there is not a border connecting the towns of Guabito and Sixaola. I have official authorization from the Instituto Nacional de Cultura to hang around, but I can only manage to spend a few hours creepily wading in the shadows taking pictures and speaking with passers-by. It’s not long before the gringo with the red pack starts to stand out, so I decide to head to the bus station for another long ride to San Jose. Sixaola to San Jose…8 hours. The initial plan was to head to Managua, Nicaragua early in the morning, but I just don’t have the motivation after 13 hours of bus travel. It’s 10p.m., my ass is killing me, and I can’t even start to think about gathering my things for another 6 hour ride to the Costa Rica/Nicaragua border at 6a.m..
After a quick conversation with the receptionist I’m informed that the hotel is full and I catch a glimpse of the devilish driver smiling in the rear view mirror. “Don’t worry. I have a great place”, he boasts with confidence. Oh, fuck. Who knows where this guy is going to drop me? At this point, I don’t even care. As long as they have a bed, shower, and Wi-Fi I’m good to go. Oddly enough, we pull up to the Meson del Angel Hotel and the devil whirls me into the lobby knocking waiting travelers to the side like some kind of maniac. He abruptly nudges his way into a conversation with the pre-occupied receptionist, I hand him the few Colones that we agreed upon, and he quickly shuffles into the shadows. I need a day to gather my thoughts, so I decide to pay for two nights and as I walk towards my room I see the smoke bellowing from the exhaust of the devil’s black cab as he races out of sight.