Costa Rica to Panama to Serbia to Hungary

It’s cramped inside the car. I keep standing up, turning around, panting, and settling heavily only to realize my legs are falling asleep again. Kayla, Aaron (Andrew’s younger brother), and I are squeezed into the back seat of a taxi. Andrew’s head lolls nauseatingly up front as he attempts to sleep.

The road is impossibly bumpy.

We left our AirBnb earlyish this morning, packing up to head north to Tamarindo to visit friends and family who happen to be on vacation.

After fording two rivers and picking our way through rutted, pothole-ridden roads, Andrew suddenly pulled over. “Something’s wrong,” he said. “The car isn’t braking and it keeps pulling to the side.”

Kayla, Andrew, and Aaron all peered at the car’s engine and wheels, but they honestly don’t know much more about cars than I do. We piled back into the car, but less than a minute later Andrew pulled over again.

Kayla called a tow truck. They made a plan: we’d tow the car to the driver’s home, then they’d call a cab and go back to the AirBnb to pack all of our stuff up. Then they’d pile back into the cab and come back to the tow driver’s home. Then we’d all pile into the tow truck and head to San Jose. It was unclear if Turtle the car would survive the weekend.

Back to the bumpy car ride. It’s hot. The jostling is starting to get to all of us, though it’s remarkable how stoic the entire group is remaining. We’ve been in the car for almost 9 hours (3 hours in Turtle, 3 hours in the taxi back to the AirBnb, and 3 hours in the taxi to the tow driver).

It’s a bummer of an ending to our time in Santa Teresa. The food and beach in that little town were amazing. We spent much of our time with Ben and his friends Danny and Steven. Danny and Steven are chefs, so the humans loved hanging out around them. I just tried to spend as much time on the beach as possible.

I love the beach. It’s just that simple. Chasing waves, pouncing on bubbles, digging holes, all of it. The beach is a good place. I’m sad to leave, though Santa Teresa has been offensively hot and dry for much of our stay. So hot that even when I’m soaking wet, I get uncomfortable at outdoor restaurants. Kayla feeds me ice cubes sometimes, but she says they’re not good for me to eat a ton of.

Once we arrive at the tow driver’s house, it’s time to load up again. 3 more hours to San Jose.

There’s only enough space in the cabin of the tow truck for Andrew and Aaron, so Kayla and I pile into Turtle and ride inside the SUV while it’s being towed. She listens to podcasts and I sleep, grateful for paved roads and more space.

We arrive in San Jose late that night, wearily clambering into bed well after midnight.

The next day, Kayla and Andrew get the car looked at. It’s a bit of a stretch to translate Spanish mechanic-speak into something that any of us understand. It seems that something happened to the suspension, which in turn caused the front driver’s side wheel to cave in a bit, which messed up the brakes.

The mechanic assures Kayla it’s an easy fix.

We spend the next few days exploring San Jose – working, eating, running. Aaron flew out on Sunday, leaving me with some good belly rubs before he returned to his studies in Colorado.

Kayla takes me for a few gorgeous runs in the hills of EscazĂș. We’re joined by a funny little street dog for one pretty run. He and I raced through the forest, hip-checking each other and sniffing the same sniffs.

After about a week in San Jose, Ben arrives again. The car seems to be fine. We all pile in and drive down the Pacific coast towards Panama.

Kayla lived in Panama for six months as a high schooler, so she’s got a lot of intense memories around this place. We end up crossing the border barely before the border closes down for the evening. Kayla went to school with the guy who checks my paperwork for up-to-date vaccinations, but they don’t remember each other specifically. He was a year younger than her.

We drive out to Kayla’s old school, only to realize that it’s totally under construction. It’s gone. That’s a bit of a shock.

We share some delicious Caribbean food before heading to bed early. The ferry to the islands of Bocas del Toro leaves at 7am on Sunday, and there’s not another boat until Tuesday. It’s a one-hour drive to the ferry dock and we should be there an hour before the boat leaves.


Andrew usually does the night driving, but Kayla tackled the windy roads between Empalme and Almirante. We made it onto the ferry without a hitch.

We arrived in Bocas del Toro just in time for rain. The islands don’t really have any natural aquifers, so the rain is a welcome sight after the worst dry season since record-keeping began.

We sit in a little cafe, eating hojaldres and watching the rain oscillate between a full-on tropical downpour and gentle pattering.

After the rain eased up, we moved into our hostel at the edge of Bocas town. We then piled back into the car to head to Bocas del Drago – the other end of the island – to check out Starfish Beach.

I made friends with a huge Great Dane almost immediately, and we spent the rest of the day raising hell together up and down the beach. Kayla, however, seemed bummed. She said that this beach used to be quiet, almost deserted. There used to be more starfish. Now it’s full of vendors selling alcohol and blasting Reggaeton.

We still had a good day, in my opinion. But what’s a bad day on the beach, in a dog’s opinion?

We spent the rest of the week in Bocas del Toro working, swimming, and exploring. After just seven days, we found ourselves on the ferry again, heading towards Panama City.

We arrived in Panama City late that night, checking into a cute AirBnb well after dark. We spent the week mostly working and running – Kayla and Andrew had a ton of work to get done!

It’s about a week after that, and I’m now at a dogsitter’s home in Panama City while Kayla and Andrew galavant around Europe with Kayla’s family.

They spent a day in Frankfurt for their layover, exploring the city and eating pretzels. They arrived in Belgrade, Serbia about 24 hours after they left Panama.

They spent a few days going to museums and eating far too much rich food, enjoying the company of Ellie (Kayla’s sister), Lisa (Kayla’s mom), Sarah (Ellie’s friend), and Gwen (Lisa’s friend).

I got a bath from the dogsitter. So that sucked. But he takes me on great walks every day and I’m getting along well with the Parson Russell terrier, Shiba Inu, Giant Schnauzer, and Heinz-57 variety dogs in the neighborhood.

Yesterday (Sunday), the women all ran the Belgrade half marathon. The humans then piled into a car and drove to Budapest, Hungary. I’m enjoying the dogsitter’s, overall. I don’t understand why they left me behind – something about me being too big and hairy. Sigh.

Author: Kayla

Kayla is a biologist, writer, and web designer. She’s passionate about animal behavior, the science of habits, and anything outdoors.

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