Tuesday, 7 October 2014

0113 Bajo Boquete to Panama City, Panama

We ended up spending 3 nights in Boquete, doing a few exciting things in the village like getting a broken bag handle stitched, doing a little shopping for supplies, and just enjoying doing nothing and going nowhere for a while, and chatting with Axel and his friends who seem to drop in all the time.

On Saturday, after a leisurely pack up at Pension Topas, we topped off the water tank since the water was drinkable out of the tap for the first time in a while, and then went in to town to get some extra photocopies of documents – I brought a lot with me, but every border requires SO many copies I am starting to run low ! Since they are only 3 cents for each photocopy here, I took the opportunity to get a few extras for the next part of the trip.

As we left Boquete we somehow got into the middle of a procession of cars following a pick up with a statue of St Francis of Assisi (I think), all covered in balloons, and with everyone in the vehicle column (about 30 cars), blowing their horns and waving out of the windows, and of course, travelling at about 5 miles an hour !  So we were stuck in this line for a while until we got a chance to (politely) get past. (It is a bit like coming up behind a funeral procession – Should one pass, or should one respectfully remain in line ? )

Once past, it was south to David, all downhill from the 1500 meters of Boquete on the side of the Volcano, down to sea level.  Then we turned east towards Panama, still several hundred kms away.

This road is pretty flat with quite a lot of farming – sugar cane, pineapples, and quite a lot of cattle, but funnily enough we saw no bananas, which we had heard was the main crop round here.  Maybe they were further away from the road ?  Lots of big rivers to cross too.  And the road itself was for about 200 kms, the WORST road we have driven on so far on this trip – It was terrible.   And

throughout this entire stretch they were doing major roadworks – Essentially moving forest and fields to build a new dual carriageway highway – Which was sorely needed since this is supposed to be the main TransAmericas highway from Alaska to Argentina.  We were just surprised that Panama, supposedly one of the richer nations of Central America, should have the worst roads. 

Anyway, we eventually got through this section of road without Troopie being totally shaken to bits, or falling into any of the 12 inch deep potholes that lay in wait to catch the unwary, and by 4 pm we were still 100 kms short of Panama City. There was a campsite at Santa Clara listed in one of the websites we use, that supposedly was a full RV park with all facilities – But we have become used to these being very run down, or even completely closed.  Because it was listed as being just off the highway, we found it easily (there were even clear signs !), and surprise surprise, it was EXACTLY as advertised – A true RV park, with a great little

restaurant and bar area, wifi, swimming pool, showers and toilets, and lovely gardens with all sorts of birds housed in the gardens, including a very noisy (supposedly Australian) white cockatoo.  What a find, and what a change from gas station parking lots !!  We met Sheila, the American owner who has run it with her husband for the last 20 years, and she gave us lots of information and help.  The beach was just down the road, so we went for a quick look before setting up camp, and found a sandy Pacific Ocean beach with grass shelters and hammocks for rent, and lots of local families enjoying the beach (it was a weekend).  Quite a busy place –
We understand that this strip of pacific coast from here to Panama is called locally “The Gold Coast” (Ha ha – That’s where we live !), and is mostly resorts all the way along the coast.   Anyway, back to the camp site, set up right next to the facilities and since we were the only people there, we effectively had an “en suite” !  Which was just as well as the showers were “outdoor”, and although sheltered by a small wall, it would have been interesting if the campground had been full !   After setting up, we went down to the restaurant and chatted to a couple of expats having a drink with Sheila (ironically he was ex Oilfield !), had a couple of beers and some chips, did wifi, then after a quick meal back at the van, turned in for the night.

Some more pics from today are here


The next morning, Sunday, we set off the rest of the way into Panama City.  The first, and major, task to do in the city was to get the Police clearance so we could leave the country, so we booked into a hotel close to the Police department.   We got into Panama City at about 2 pm and my Garmin took me directly to the hotel, which is pretty surprising since most of the time it is saying “WTFAW ?” !!  Hotel is a local one, the Centro Americana, and is actually not bad – For $59 a night, including breakfast.  Also has free secure car parking underneath, and is close to the Police place we have to go to in the morning, which was why we stayed here. 

Spent the afternoon unpacking and sorting out the car so it is ready to ship, and we have enough stuff out to last us for the 3-4 days we will be without the car while it sails to Columbia.  We will then fly to Cartagena.  Also fitted some of the locking devices I made in Australia so it is more secure when shipping. Of course we will take all our valuables out, but it still has a lot of our clothes and pots and pans inside, so everything needs to be locked up.  It is going in a container this time, so should be pretty safe – Any problem is more likely to be at the Columbia end than here.

After we had got things sorted out a bit, we went off for an explore.  Both Janet and I had come through canal in the late r60's / early 70's (going in different directions, ironically enough !!) so to now arrive at the canal in our own car, 45 years later, was quite a moving experience - For me anyway.  Passing through the canal in 1968 was definitely a point where my life changed dramatically as I headed to a new life in Australia, even though I didn't realise it at the time.  So it was interesting to see it, although e need to go back as they were just closing up as we arrived, so we didn't get to see too much.

In the evening we thought the hotel restaurant looked a bit seedy, so we went down the road a little and found a slightly less seedy restaurant in another nearby hotel – Not too many restaurants around in our part of town ! On the way we heard this drumming and bugle playing, so went to investigate and in the park just up the road there was some kind of competition going on.  About 100 people, drummers and buglers, stand in a square, with the drummers facing each other on two opposite sides, and the buglers / trumpeters on the other two sides, facing each other.  In the middle are 2 or 3 “conductors” who signal when each is to play, and the drummers take it in turns and try to outdo each other, and similarly the buglers. And they are LOUD !!  And occasionally they all play together and then they are really loud !!  But great rhythm, and they sling the drums around their necks and throw them in the air, and generally have a wonderful time.  Very West Indian in many ways – Which is hardly surprising as there is a big WI population here since they were brought in over 100 years ago to help build the canal, and these are their descendants.  Anyway, a fascinating hour or so watching and enjoying them, and then we went off to our restaurant – And found it was just about as seedy as our own hotel’s !! Hmm.  Never mind – First chore at the moment is to get the police clearance and then the shipping organized, and to get an oil change for Troopie, as she is right on the mileage for one right now, and I want to get it done now so there is one less thing to worry about when arriving in Columbia.

After our seedy supper (and watching Transformers (what a weird movie – even more so when dubbed in Spanish !) on a very large (and loud)  screen right in front of us while we ate) we headed back to bed in the hotel.
Photos to be posted later as my cable is back at the hotel !!
Here they are ! 

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