Tiffani's Yamaha FZ-07 Tour: Passport Trouble at the Panama Border

Chapter 3, Part 16.

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Pulling a giant U-turn at the border crossing in Panama leads to some unexpected, care-free tourist time.Photo: Tiffani Burkett

I think I like Costa Rica a lot. It's not the cheapest country, but my god is it beautiful. And the people are so good!

As much as I enjoyed connecting with other young travelers in the hostel in Quepos, the next day brought something much different and much better. I booked an Airbnb close by Golfo Dulce, hoping to see some nighttime bioluminescence. The room claimed to be a cabin (claimed being the key word), and it sounded like a cool experience, so off we went. The road in was already fairly majestic. Monkeys were speckling the trees, or so Hollywood tells me; I still haven't seen one yet! Iguanas darted across the road and we whizzed by grass that was taller than my bike. The pavement may not have been the smoothest, but the road was exciting and unique. Costa Rica was back to being full-on rain forest, and being on a road less traveled, the minimal traffic meant I could enjoy the scenery a little.

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We were told we were renting a cabin, but I’m still really not sure this counts as a cabin.Photo: Tiffani Burkett

We eventually made our way to the end of the asphalt, presumably near our room for the night. The road turned to dirt, and there was no indication of our actual destination. We made our way around the washed-out gravel roads outside Puerto Jimenez before we finally found something that looked like maybe, hopefully, the place. A woman there directed us to a mosquito tent that was built into a cabin-like space, and that would be our room for the night. Not quite what I was expecting, but I’m game for anything… I guess.

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Despite my protests, the FZ still handles dirt better than I can. I think all that time I spent getting through Honduras while dodging the rocks and pits and getting through the puddles somehow made Costa Rica just a little bit easier.Photo: Tiffani Burkett

We got out of our gear and went for a walk along the bay. The forest was alive with flocks of bright red macaws and birds I’d never seen or heard of, and the bay was jumping with dolphins, fish, and turtles. Our circumstances were already improving rapidly. We came back to our base camp for the day, where our host had made us a traditional Costa Rican dinner of gallo pinto and chicken with an avocado roughly the size of my face. And then we spent the night playing darts and having a good time with the owners. As the sun set below the horizon and the rain died down, we made our way back out to the bay.

Unfortunately, only a few small specks of the bioluminescent organisms could be seen, as even the heavy cloud cover wasn’t enough to blot out the light of the full moon. But it was still pretty neat to see the firefly-like flashes of light as we splashed around in the water.

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The scenery in the mountains of Costa Rica may have been the first time I’ve ever wished a road was a little less twisty so I could take more time to look around. The rain forests are everything I had hoped, plus so much more.Photo: David Hayward

The next day, we made our way to the Panama border. And this is where things stopped going quite so smoothly. We checked out of Costa Rica with little paperwork fuss but when it came time to check into Panama, the border officials were not so kind. Now, Hollywood’s passport has always been a bit (or maybe a lot!) on the raggedy side, having maybe seen the inside of a washing machine and rainstorm one or eight times too many. But as everything was still intact and still could be scanned properly, most borders hadn’t really cared. Panama, however, cared a lot. One look at the frayed cover and they immediately told us no entry. Our pleas were met with a snide laughter, as the woman handed the passport to her colleague and had us both technically deported back to Costa Rica. So close, yet so far.

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I really can’t imagine a worse torture than getting stuck in a breathtaking tropical paradise full of exotic wildlife.Photo: Tiffani Burkett

To say I felt devastated is the kind of understatement that can only be written in hindsight. Panama was right there, I was technically already standing in it as they started the process of nullifying the exit stamp for Costa Rica, and something as silly as a frayed passport cover on a passport that had literally just passed the inspection of 10 different countries over the last year was going to be what stopped us?

Hollywood proposed having me go on alone, but that felt like saying, “Hey you just rode like, 30,000 miles with me, but see you later, bro!” He then proposed taking it as a sign to just head back to the states, as delaying our trip would mean missing our chance to corner work at WSBK in Laguna Seca again this year. But I also couldn’t live with that option. After sitting through months of blistering humidity, sketchy roads, cockroach-ridden hotels, uncomfortable encounters and enough bug bites to cover probably the entire surface of my skin, the thought of just calling it a failure was completely unfathomable to me.

So the decision was made. We were going to go to Panama. And we were going to do it together. Somehow.

The only U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica was in San Jose, so that became our new destination. The good news: there was a whole stretch of roads down the center of the country that we hadn’t explored yet. What better opportunity to see some more of this lovely place! So we headed north and twisted through the tightest mountain roads I’ve ever encountered, some roads being so steep and narrow that I found myself wishing I was on my KX65 mini Supermoto bike instead of my FZ-07!

Tiffani Mexico
If I can’t be tall, can I at least be flexible? The reason I picked the FZ as my adventure bike was because it was a bike that was both incredibly lightweight, and I could comfortably touch the ground on it. I really appreciate these things when navigating the rocky and uneven parking areas in third-world America, but my luggage still does me no favors, haha!Photo: David Hayward

After a few days of rain and mountains, we finally made it to San Jose to get Hollywood’s passport replaced, and we were informed the process would take about 2 weeks. We were now less than 100 miles from La Fortuna, an area filled with hot springs, volcanoes, hiking and waterfalls, which meant things could be a whole lot worse.

So we found a cheap hostel in La Fortuna and opted to use this as a home base to look around for a bit. I think this is the perfect opportunity to finally figure out where all of these alleged monkeys are hiding! I’ve never been so excited to be stuck!

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Two weeks in La Fortuna starts NOW!Photo: David Hayward