El Valle to the big city, PAN

April 18, 2017, Trip: Panama
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April 18, 2017

After leaving Nata, we drove straight through to El Valle in Anton Valley. It began to rain before reaching there (which hopefully washed some sea salt off Tigger!) but stopped when we arrived in the town.

 

El Valle is a small town that sits in an extinct volcano crater at about 600m.

 

Our friends, Christine and Mark, had been here a couple of weeks ago and recommended staying at Hotel Valle Verde so that’s where we went. They usually charge $20 a night but when we said we’d stay three, they charged $15 per night. We parked at one side of the hotel’s Peruvian restaurant and there’s a small building with a bathroom complete with HOT shower. It’s just about a km from town but the town is not big. There does not seem to be the usual town square with a church.

Doug’s been experiencing some heel pain lately (since his hike up Volcán Barú) and finally feels confident it’s plantar fasciitis so we’re looking for a foot brace/splint but this town is too small.

Wednesday we awoke to mostly cloudy skies and mugginess and the forecast is rain here for the next several days though not all day, every day. There are a few attractions here, one being a small grove of square – yes square – trees so we headed out to find them mid-morning before the rain begins this afternoon.

There is a trail behind a hotel about 1km from our campsite and we sort of saw what could be an entrance booth (where they charge foreigners $3) but it didn’t seem manned and we saw the exit gate so we snuck through the fence and walked till we found the trees – maybe 7 minutes.

We saw on maps.me that the trail gets pretty close to a road so we thought we’d go back that way and just as we were sneaking through the brush, a woman came along – we’d been caught! Doug told her we were lost and continued through the brush and Fran followed a moment later. We then walked into the village looking for a few things (dentist for Doug to have his teeth cleaned, foot brace, a cellular shop to buy some more data for our Mifi, and a few other things). We found the latter but not the oothers and did find a small market where we bought some fruit and a gift for Fran to take the grandkids next week when she flies to the US/Canada.

There is an amphibian research centre in this small town specializing in the golden frog which is also the town school’s mascot.

 

They have been dying off in recent years and they are trying to determine why.  We thought about going to the centre but it is apparently housed in an especially sad zoo and it was over 4km to walk there so with Doug’s foot and not wanting to see animals in cages that are too small for them, we passed.

Doug’s foot was beginning to hurt more, so we caught a cab back to the hotel and it began to rain just as we stepped inside the taxi – good timing. It rained pretty much the rest of the day and although not overnight, it’s pretty damp. We spent the afternoon indoors watching movies.

To our frustration, we still seem to have a leak from our bathroom vent and the back window/wall opposite the bathroom back wall is also now wet! We’re entering into the wet/rainy season here so Doug hopes to take care of this while Fran is away.

Thursday was much drier than forecasted and Doug gave his foot a good rest by not doing his daily walk, icing it, taking ibuprofen and stretching. Fran took a few short walks but we pretty much hung around the hotel.

Friday morning we packed up and drove out of El Valle towards Panama City. Now there are very few places to camp/park in the city and even fewer with electricity so we were planning to stop in Los Chorrera before the city where others have stayed at the home of some friend of an overlander. We arrived there late morning and no one was home nor did it look like a convenient or nice place so we pushed on into the big city.

We crossed the famous Bridge of the Americas over the Panama Canal – yes we are at the freakin’ canal now! Central America is almost complete!

First stop in the big city was the Ministry of Health; Fran needs a yellow fever shot before going to Colombia – Doug had one back in 2012 when he went to climb Kilimanjaro. Now these shots cost more than $100 in the US and only $5 here in Panama.  The location of the Health Department was on iOverlander (like many things like this) and we found it without difficulty and the man at the gate showed us where to park our rig.

First you go to a window across the road from the nurses station, show your passport and pay your $5 and you get a number and a receipt to bring to the nurse. We waited about ten minutes and Fran and three others were called into the office. First you all stand in a line facing the nurse, she gives you “instructions” like what’s about to happen and that your shot is good for life. We all line up at the door and boom, boom, boom, boom all four of us got shots in less than two minutes, like an assembly line! Then we all sat down and awaited our certificates and it was all done.

While waiting Doug met a couple from the US, Paul & Nancy; they now live in Panama but were planning a trip to Colombia so she was here also to get a yellow fever shot; he is over 60 and they do not administer this vaccine to people over 60 – interesting. We also met a young Panamanian gentleman here to get the same shot; Edwardo works as a bible missionary and goes to some interesting places, like Romania!

We had heard from the young Canadian couple we met back at Neil’s garage that there was one hostel in the city where you could park out front and get power so we headed there first; unfortunately, there were already two rigs parked out there with space for no others. Fran went in and was told they were staying for “several days” and to try this other hostel. When we read up about it, it looked doubtful that we’d fit and instead Doug suggested we head to “Procars” where we wanted to get some more work done on Tigger – that dang leak at the back window and with any luck we’d get parking with power while the work was being done. Today is Friday and traffic was not as bad as we thought it would be but still not good.

Driving in Panama City traffic

We drove up to Procars and the owner arrived shortly after we got there. Rui, a Portguese man who’d lived in Venezuela for several years, welcomed us and felt he was going to be able to help us. We also wanted the brakes checked as Doug was hearing a weird noise.

Rui said we could “camp” in the front secure area of his shop and they began looking at our problems.

They also checked the brakes later and they were fine. So it seems we have to break open the seal on the coach opposite from the bathroom, have it resealed and replace the wall around the window and in the corner. So here we go again….. but we feel confident Rui knows what he’s doing and he’s allowing us to stay here while the work is done (and we’re hoping Doug can stay here while Fran flies to the US/Canada). After settling in and discussing the matter at hand, Rui called us an Uber and we went to a large mall to see about getting a few things done. One of them was finding the splint for Doug’s foot. We did find a place and bought something but it wasn’t exactly what we wanted but the pickins’ were slim so we bought it; after some other small shopping, we grabbed a cab (which was half the price of the Uber!) and returned to Procars.

across from the mall:

inside the mall – can’t say this mall is not anywhere in the world!

Turned out the brace did not seem to work correctly and was possibly the wrong size. Darn but he was going to try it anyway.

So Saturday we ran some errands in different directions; Fran went looking for a jewelry repair place to have her engagement ring repaired – got that done. Doug tried to return the brace but they wouldn’t take it back as they claimed he should have been given an invoice, not just a register receipt but he did not have one nor did he remember receiving one.

Rui and his team cracked open Tigger, removed all the Gorilla tape we’d be using to try and seal it up and found the wood quite damp but the insulation was not too bad. They are going to vent it until Monday, hoping it will dry out by then. We are parked under a roof so even it if rains, we’ll stay dry.

Sunday we decided to grab a cab and head into the city to see some sights. We had a cab drop us near Avendia Balboa where we rented a couple of bikes for the morning. They close down one side of the boulevard to traffic and it’s open to bikes, roller blades, runners etc. It’s a lovely boulevard along the ocean and it travels the circle road around Casco Viejo (the old compound which was the second site of Panama City).

 

Panama City (PC) is considered the most cosmopolitan city in Central America and the canal makes Panama, the wealthiest. It was founded by the Spanish in 1519 at the site now known as Panama Viejo but in 1671, the pirate, Henry Morgan destroyed city leaving only ruins. The city was moved to Casco Viejo and it was surrounded by a wall. It is now a UNESCO site declared 2003.

The bike ride was good; fairly level and we took the road all the way to Amador which consists of two islands. When the canal was dug, they moved the rocks and debris to this area and built a causeway to the islands and now it’s been renovated and is a lovely place to walk or cycle and it’s a four lane road.

View of Amador from the causeway around Casco Viejo:

We stopped a few times for photo ops and then returned via the Balboa Yacht Club. Here Doug looked on the sign board for a “job” as a deckhand on a boat going through the canal. There are many small boats that may only have one or two people on them and the canal administration requires a minimum crew of four to traverse the canal so there are people looking for “deck hands” to make the crossing. So Doug wanted to do this while Fran is away. He saw a few ads, made a couple of calls, placed his own ad and we returned to the bike rental place. It was a day with some clouds but plenty of heat and humidity. We were glad we went early in the morning and we were done by 10:30.

We then walked over to Casco Viejo to explore the old town. We stopped at various plazas, churches and cool architecture and tried to find the Tourist Office so Doug could get coordinates for the Camino Real – he plans to walk back to PC after taking the canal so he can fulfill a bucket list item of crossing from the Pacific to the Atlantic. We did stop at the historical canal museum and wanted to check it out but it was pricy and all in Spanish. There were however showing a video (in Spanish) in the lobby which we watched for about ten minutes enjoying the AC!

While walking around in the sweltering heat, Doug received a message from a sailor named Patrick about being a deck hand. He arranged for us to meet him here in Casco Viejo and he joined us at Subway for lunch. Doug is very happy as he “got the job” and Patrick plans to cross on Sunday, April 30th. It will take two days and Doug will sleep onboard for two nights before beginning his trek back to PC.

By this time it was about two, we were hot and sweaty and had seen what we wanted to see, so we took a cab back to Tigger, turned on the AC and spent a cooler afternoon.

Monday, Doug went for a run which proved not a good choice for his foot; when we went out in the afternoon to run some errands and get ice at a Dairy Queen (yes a Dairy Queen – first in a long time) his plantar fasciitis was really acting up. One of the errands we ran was to get him stuff to help with that and we found some tape which he can wear all day.

Rui has now purchased the wood to replace our back wall and the left corner and work should (remember, this is Latin America) commence tomorrow. Doug ready something that claims that clocks in Latin America don’t “run”, they “walk”. How true!

They have already removed the rubber out of the molding on the outside where necessary and the walls seem dry now. We’re happy camped here so we’re in no rush as yet. The first hurdle now is that the bolts on that molding outside are stuck and he’ll need a special drill bit to drill them out completely.  Rui bought one of these bits for us too on Doug’s request.

Tuesday, we finally heard from the shipping agent and chose the day of May 24th to ship Tigger to Colombia. So we’ll have less than a week after Fran returns to see what’s left that requires driving and get Tigger through the hoops necessary to ship.  Next we booked our sailing adventure from Colon, Panama to Cartagena, Colombia. This is a five day journey; the days sailing in the San Blas islands then 40 hours or so of traversing the open sea to get to Cartagena (not looking forward to that if it’s rough seas!).

Today Rui purchased the special drill bit and his employee was able to finally get them all out and clean up the area around the molding; a step in the right direction.

Wednesday Fran caught a cab to the airport at 5:30AM and that day Rui and his crew removed the inside walls of Tigger and found that the water damage had extended beyond what we thought so they removed the couch (Fran’s bed) and they will replace both walls completely and the cupboard under the window.

Our living room (Fran’s bedroom) with no inside walls, no end cupboard and no couch (what you see in the corner is the fresh water tank):

 

Fun fun fun!

 

 

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