Yesterday, April Fool’s Day, I did another of my ‘let’s see where this one goes’ bus rides. Turns out I wasn’t a fool at all.
Regular readers know I occasionally get on a bus just to see where it goes. It’s a great way to see the countryside, it’s inexpensive, and sometimes you meet some interesting people along the way. Of the buses that pass El Cruce at the foot of the Boquerón Road headed west towards the Costa Rican border, I’ve ridden the Armuelles bus that ends up at the Pacific Ocean, the Porton Bus (there isn’t any Porton. It isn’t even as grand as Boquerón which is nothing.), the Cerro Punta bus up into the bread basket of Panama and the Rio Serrano bus WAY up in the mountains and is a border crossing town into Costa Rica. The remaining two, Divala and San Andres was cut in half when I boarded the San Andres bus yesterday.
Canoas is the main border crossing into Costa Rica. The main sign on the buses say ‘San Andres’ and then in smaller letters it says Dominical. That’s the end of the route. San Andres, what there is of it, is about 2/3rds of the way between Canoas and Dominical.
Since I stopped smoking over three months ago I haven’t been over to Bugaba/Concepcion in the last couple of months. I was surprised to see that the little layover bus stop for the Cerro Puna and Serrano buses has been torn down and something, who knows what, is going to be built in its place.
I’ve only been west of Bugaba a few times, so the scenery is new and interesting, and of course, when we made the right-hand turn off the InterAmericana it was ALL new.
The bus was fairly full when it pulled away from El Cruce, swapped a few people out in Bugaba and now, as we proceeded into the countryside more and more people left. The houses, quite close together and very similar to middle class houses in the south Florida style became further and further apart with small farms between. At first most of the crops were corn and then what looked like trellised fields of pole beans, but were actually fields of Ñame (nyah may), a tuber-type vegetable much valued here. I wouldn’t have known what these were if it wasn’t for the fact that my neighbors grow the stuff. As the housing thinned out there were fields of yucca. plantains and papaya. Every so often there were small, lean to-like structures with tobacco hanging to dry and sometimes you could spot small fields with red and yellow peppers growing. Here and there we came across shady stands of bamboo and every once in a while small, modest houses built from bamboo.
We passed half a dozen elementary schools and finally came to what I assume was the center of San Andres. The only clue that it might actually have been the town was that, the houses were grouped close together and there were three fairly large ‘super mini’ markets and two or three fondas (small, informal restaurants).
By this time three quarters of the original passengers had left the bus. The young man at the door who takes the fares (you pay based on how far you’ve ridden) looked at me quizzically and asked where I was going. I explained, in my butchered Spanish, that I lived in Boquerón, didn’t have a car and liked to take the buses just to see where they go and see what the countryside is like. This, then, got me into a discussion with three Panamanian gentlemen about my age at the back of the bus. I went back and chatted with them for a while. They were interested in where I came from and what I was doing in Panama. It was an interrogation of interest, not aggression and as it turned out I was the first foreigner they’d ever spoken with in their lives. One by one they arrived at their destinations and departed with a handshake and a smile.
By now we were out of what could be considered San Andres and well into the mountains. This Google Earth photo gives you an idea of what the topography of the area is like.
The vistas are breathtaking and their grandeur simply can’t be captured in the two-dimensional medium of a camera. The following photos were all taken quickly out of the window of the moving bus.
The road, as we ascended, got narrower and rougher. We crossed probably a dozen rickety, scary bridges. Simple iron structures long in need of a coat of paint and the surface simply sheets of iron.
If you look closely you can see in the upper part of the photo, just left of center, the road we’ve just come up on…
Around noon I was the only passenger on the bus. The young man at the door got off and the bus took off again and stopped about five minutes later on the side of the road. The driver asked me if I had any specific place in mind I wanted to go, and I explained again how I liked to ride the buses to see ‘el campo.’ I noticed, in the seat opposite the driver, there was a young boy, perhaps four or five years old, sound asleep. It was the driver’s son. It was the driver’s lunch time and he brought out a Tupperware kind of container with rice, beans, plantain and a small piece of some kind of meat. He handed me a local newspaper, La Critica, and I retired to my seat where I learned a new Spanish word…Wao that translates to Wow in English.
After a half hour the driver turned the bus around, we picked up the doorman and proceeded on our way. A short while later the driver stopped and took the young boy on his shoulders and took him to what was apparently their house.
As we went on our way the road turned from blacktop to dirt and we left a trail of thick dust behind us. We stopped and picked up two passengers. A young man in his early 20s and an old Indian man well into, I’d guess, his 80s though it’s hard to say. They were loaded down with plastic grocery bags and after about a mile they were let of at a crossroad. There were no houses to be seen and it didn’t look as if any money changed hands. It doesn’t surprise me. Way up there in the mountains it was like one neighbor helping another.
Way up here, along the dirt road the houses were fairly basic shelters with wide, thick plank siding and gaps of probably an inch or more between them.
And then, out in the middle of nowhere you’d see something like this and ask, ‘yeah, but why would you build that here?’
Eventually, of course, the road turned from gravel to macadam and we started to pick up passengers, including a group of five, giggling, frolicking first grade schoolgirls who were enjoying themselves to the utmost. A few passengers got off in Bugaba, others got on to fill every seat by the time we got back to El Cruce nearly six hours after I got on in the morning. Total cost: $6.00 and worth every penny. Time and money well spent.