I crossed the border bridge between Changuinola, Panama and Sixaola, Costa Rica with a 30 pound backpack on my back and another small pack on my front. The border was formed by a river and traversed by a bridge made of rotting wooden planks with spaces between large enough to see the rushing water below. The bridge was only wide enough for a tractor trailer to squeeze by with a few inches clearance on both sides, so when one came towards the group of ten of us, we huddled on a tiny wire mesh outcrop off the side of the bridge and hoped for the best.
Once safely in the van headed towards Puerto Viejo on the other side, we watched silently as more of the same banana fields and lush greenery but notably less litter, corrugated metal houses and general poverty passed by in front of our faces. Maybe an hour later we pulled into town and were dropped at Rockin' J's hostel, known mostly for its cheap hammock accommodation and constant party scene. We also found out that the guys at Rockin' J's are fully prepared for an apocalypse. No joke, they have an "ark" out back made of repurposed shipping containers. Weird shit.
After we settled in we headed to town for food. We came across Dreadnut on a street lining the beach, and were drawn in by promises of iced coffee and huge sandwiches. My sesame bagel with basil pesto cream cheese and avocado was delicious, and Emeline's iced green tea and huge caribbean sandwich were too. This is where we fully realized the rumors of Costa Rica being expensive; this lunch cost us as much as it would have in New York.Everything else was expensive too. We found one restaurant, De Paso, with cheap options that we kept returning to in our three days in Puerto Viejo. It was here that I had the best fish sandwich of my life served on Caribbean bread, and equally the best fish tacos with fresh guacamole. One fish taco was $3 but it was almost the size of a burrito. When you're payin' $20 for a tube of non-waterproof sunblock, the savings need to come somewhere. I basically resorted to starvation in favor of conserving funds, but Em, my younger sister who has more money than me, wasn't too crazy about that idea.
Three days with on and off torrential rain in Puerto Viejo was definitely enough. The town had beautiful beaches and a contagious, laid back surfer vibe, but it was hard to ignore that the water was just too choppy for swimming. We left in a cramped van one early morning to head back to Panama, ready to take a break from the beach and hit the mountain town of Boquete.