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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Hobbit Hole in Costa Rica

My first three months in the country were coming to an end, and I had to renew my right to stay in the country.

On a regular tourist passport one can stay in Panamá for a maximum of ninety days. (Some say the limit is twice that – Panamanian law is rather fluid, and subject moreover to considerable interpretation by local officials; I prefer to err on the side of caution.) Unless a foreign national has secured one of the prized permanent visas, one must leave the country and then reënter Panamá after 72 hours.

I decided to go to the nearest border, which was at Río Sereño. I took the bus out of Volcán due west toward Costa Rica. This part of Panamá, new to me, I found ruggedly beautiful. But the best part of my travel was yet to come, and entirely by accident.

Río Sereño could just about have been a frontier town out of Zane Grey or Louis L’Amour. Men wearing cowboy hats rode their horses among the buses and trucks in the main streets. Native American families sat together on benches watching the passers-by. A few streetside carts were set up to sell trinkets or snacks.

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