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Tour du monde en autostop - Jeremy Marie

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 Travel Diary : Panama and Costa Rica: United States are getting closer

America... when we are quoting the name, the first idea coming in our mind, this is the country of the Uncle Sam, ,the rodeo and the country music: the United States.
Anyway, America, this is big, very big and we shouldn't limit it to the Northern part of this huge part of Land.
So, why am I talking about this country if I am still quite far from this one?
United States have an influence which is not stopping to his own borders... and we are very far from that. Thus, Panama and Costa Rica became very close of the United States by their way of developping themselves the last decades... and this is the first thing that I have seen when I put my feet on this part of the planet.
This is why I am going to start my newsletter about Panama and Costa Rica, two very similar countries, by talking about the influence of the United States of America.

An american influence in America

The Canal of Panama was still under the possession of the United States until 1999, so 10 years from now. The canal, which is reaching the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Oceans is a very important strategic place on the commercial business roads.
In this fact, this is a major economic interest for this country, especially when Panama get the possession of the canal in 1999.

The Panama Canal, used by the simple sailing boat to the huge container ship

The United States were very present in the Panamean life for many years and thus influenced their development.
Panama City, the capital, has known the last decade an astonishing evolution. Indeed, in the business city center, the buildings are evolving like mushrooms. When I talk about buildings, I talk about skyscrapers...

Here is a view of the center of Panama City, to give you an idea

I even had the opportunity to find myself in one of those buildings and the person who was renting the flat told me that his company was paying the rent of this flat of around 80 square meters...1300 dollars per month! Yes, because the currency in Panama is the american dollar by the way.
I remind that we are in Panama. Even if the country is developping very fast, we are not reaching the european standards. So I don't see WHO will be able to pay this kind of rent, exept the foreign companies of the local elite... which of course will not fill all those buildings.

Mac Donalds, KFC, Hamburgers, Hot Dogs and the rest... We can find them everywhere in Panama and Costa Rica. Strangely, my battery was getting discharged each time I was arriving in front of this kind of restaurant, so unfortunately I can´t share with you a picture of a building of one of those brands!
A little bit disapointed, culturally, because I had the feeling to assist to a development of deculturation from the costa ricans and panameans.
So in few words: Development yes, waste of identity no!

Anyway, as i am getting used to, i went to look for the little thing which make a country different and often, which is giving it his pride... that´s how I found myself in the jungle...


Fauna and flora, an incredibly rich nature

Arrived in Cartago in Costa Rica, Juan Carlos, my host of few days share with me his dilemna: "Tomorrow, do you prefer to go to the Irazu volcano or in the tropical forest? Personnaly, I advice you the tropical forest".

"The volcano or the jungle?" asked me Juan Carlos, down below

We will discover this part of central america that alone, I would never have had the chance to visit... and it would have been too bad.
The forest in Costa Rica is extremly important and the governement know it well. In this fact, around 25% of the Costa Rica is protected by National Parks.

Juan Carlos made even to me the honor to use the machete to let ourself going inside the huge vegetation. 

Vegetals unknown in Europe, plants of a huge size, birds of every possible colors, sounds coming from the bottom of the forest, fresh and strong smellings... those two days in the tropical forest were intense and inspiring.

The umbrellas-flowers... useful especially when it´s raining!

Back on the road, my eyes went to meet the fauna coming to meet me... A rather hostile fauna but fortunaly, the human look more hostile to them than them to us!

The iguana of Costa Rica surprised me along the road between two lifts

While the tarentula of Panama went between my legs because this one was crossing the path on which one I was going a this moment (I admit that i zoom a little bit on this picure!)

After having been reconciliated with the two countries, i went back happily on the road to taste a little bit of hitch-hiking in the central-american way.

Hitch-Hiking in Panama and Costa Rica

After Africa, which has been very easy for me to travel by hitch-hiking, I have to say that staying the thumb sticked out on the roads of central America was kind of more difficult... but not impossible.

First of all, I had the impression that the time to wait between two vehicles was much longer than on the old continent. By the way, I beat my record of waiting in Costa Rica with a duration of 7 hours without beeing able to stop a car.

By this way, I start to use different tricks to raise my chances to gain a lift on the panamerican road, this road that I am following and which will lead me to Alaska in the future.

A view of the panamerican road from my passenger seat

To look for a lift in the petrol stations worked pretty well in the area. Moreover, doing the negociation in spanish was a comic asset because I was just starting practicing in this langage... and this ha maybe convinced some of the drivers. I even convinced another kind of vehicle for a short lift...

Yes, hitch-hiking the police in Panama, is it possible? It is possible... and I succeeded to do it!

Still in Panama, it was a little bit difficult to identify from where the vehicle were coming. This is something that I like to do when I am looking for a vehicle. Indeed, it is easier to recognize the direction if we know from which country or which province the vehicle is.

No immatriculation plate on the front for the panameans

To conclude, hitch-hiking in Panama and Costa Rica was possible even if a little bit more difficult. I would say that it was similar at what we can see in Europe even if it doesn´t reach the level of difficulty of Italy, which is still the country where it was the more difficult for me to hitch-hike in this world tour. It is better to find your vehicle in the petrol-stations.

The resistance of the local culture

I have however been able to find some rest of indigenous culture remaining in Panama and Costa Rica. Those countries have a population quite diversified, with a caribbean influence on the Atlantic coast, a spanish influence coming from the colonisation in the 16th century and some indigenous indians like the Kuna Yala in Panama.
Even if , once again, the culture is americanizing in those places and it is difficult to find things properly locals.

In Panama, for example, it is possible to take the Diablo Rojo, the local autobus, which got some amazing drawings ont it... I love it!

The "Diablos Rojos" in Panama

Unfortunaly, those buses will be removed very soon to put instead some news kind of public transports like the one we can find in France. Security is more important than folklore isn´t it!

I turned myself towards the food. I have to say that there is a lot of vegetables and fruits in Panama and Costa Rica. It is possible to find a lot of watermelons, melons, pineapples, mangos, bananas, rice, beans or even the platano... which is the same green banana that I met in Africa.

The main meal for the middle class is a mix of rice and beans, which is there at every meals.
A funny proverb is saying in the countryside in Costa Rica that: "For lunch, this is rice and beans, for dinner, this is beans and rice and for breakfast, this is gallo pinto".
You have to know that gallo pinto is a mix of rice and... beans... did you doubt it?

The rice and beans for the lunch in Costa Rica (which is the same with the one of Panama)

At the end, i really liked those two countries, especially Costa Rica, where the contact with the local population was probably better. This latin culture is there and to practice my spanish make the life a little bit more... singing
I arrived recently in Nicaragua, and I must admit that this is already quite a big change... so see you soon to discover another countries in Central America.

About myself, I keep going north...

 

See you soon

Jeremy



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