Last 2 weeks on dry land, PAN

May 18, 2017, Trip:
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May 18th,  2017

So this morning we had to ready Tigger to finally leave ProCars and head to the Caribbean side of the country to drop it off at the Port of Manzanillo near Colon for shipping next week (the 24th). We plan to stay one night at least over on that coast.

We didn’t pack away all the stuff that Fran brought back with her unless we needed it as we need to pack for the two and a half weeks we’ll be living away from Tigger and the entire contents of the cab of Tigger will have to be moved into the coach for shipping to keep it secure (at least that’s the ideal!).

Fran got a chance to briefly meet Doug’s neighbours, Gail & Scott and we left a couple bags with the manager at ProCars to hold for us so we didn’t have so much to bring back with us on the train from Colon. We took the road to the locks at Pedro Miguel to have a brief look

and then it was on to Portobello where we spent the night at a closed hotel that offers overlander camping on their grass in front of the beach. Before setting up we drove into the town to check out two forts from the 18th century and then sat on the beach outside Tigger.

Friday morning, we finished packing, put up the wall in Tigger, took down anything that was not permanently affixed to the outside of the vehicle and the inside of the cab and packed into away in the coach. We’re holding thumbs!

We then drove into Colon to meet out shipping agent, Boris and at the meeting place we met two other camper vans (one with 3 Spaniards travelling with BC plates, a Mexican in another camper van and an Australian motorcyclist (named Mick like Crocodile Dundee!) who were also shipping to Cartagena – they were all sharing a container.

The meeting place was Domino’s Pizza in the thick humidity.

Boris had all four of us follow him to customs to get our TIP’s cancelled and there we met his son, also named Boris, and between the two of them we continued the process. We learned at the last minute that we cannot ship with propane in our tanks (contrary to what we’d been told last year when inquiring – rules have changed) so we first had to release all the propane out of tank which, of course, Doug was not comfortable doing himself. The Spaniards had portable propane which they were not allowed to ship. Boris Jr. took us to the shipping company’s yard and there he had a man come and release the gas for us while Fran stood well back with all our electronics in hand.

There was no trouble; just a loss of a bit of money as Doug had just filled the darn thing! While this was going on, Boris, Jr. went to handle the paperwork for the shipping and upon his return, we locked up Tigger and Boris had us follow him directly to the port.

Only one person is allowed to enter the port in the vehicle so Fran took the bags and placed them in Boris’ car and was directed to the RORO waiting area with him. He passed through the security and went to meet Doug inside.

While we had expected them to re-measure and weigh Tigger, they did not do this. They did, however, inspect the vehicle, inside and out, wanting all locked cubbies opened and using a sniffer dog.

Doug had a lot of waiting around to do inside with Boris and after over an hour, they met back up with Fran. Boris drove us to a place to eat and sit until our train later in the afternoon and we spent a couple of hours in the Domino’s Pizza place using Wi-Fi and filling our bellies as it was well after 1:30 when we were done. We had decided not to stay in Colon as it is really quite an ugly not safe feeling place.

One last glance at Tigger:

Later we took a cab to the Panama Colon Railway station and boarded the train around 4:30 for a 5:15 departure. We sat in the scenic car with lots of windows, enjoyed a beer and read until departure.

The crossing takes an hour and the train was not full by any stretch of the imagination when you consider it’s at least 8 cars long. Part of the journey is on “mainland” and part crosses the lake.

We arrived back in Panama City at 6:15, grabbed a cab and went to a hotel we’d booked that afternoon online. Hotel Valencia was small and cheap and the Wi-Fi worked great; we weren’t too sure about the AC at first but slept comfortably enough (they give you a remote but you cannot adjust the temperature).

We had booked a Choice hotel to stay at until our sailing departure but seeing how we’d have to eat out all the time, we decided to cancel all but one night of that and we found a hotel/apartment place that gave us a junior suite with a full kitchen, Wi-Fi, AC, a pool, free breakfast and cheap (50 cents!) laundry machines. So we’ll just take it easy now until May 31st when we will be picked up here in Panama City and taken to the port on the Caribbean side to begin our sailing adventure.

Sunday we strolled over to the waterfront to see the part of that area we’d not seen on bicycles last month. Turned out it was a longer stretch than we’d figured. It was a pleasant walk as again the main boulevard was closed to traffic being Sunday and as the day started out overcast, it was not too unbearably hot. Well, then the sun poked its head out and it began to heat up. We tried to walk in the shade as much as possible and under one tree we met a couple of Canadians, Heather & Horst, from Niagara Falls. They own a place on the peninsula not too far from Playa Venao and were going to catch their flight back home tonight. We chatted for a while, separated and then met up again while we were all looking for a place to cool off and have a drink. Doug led us to a McDonald’s and we chatted again for about another ¾ of a hour. They are retiring in four years and have bought a large vehicle they Horst plans to convert into a motorhome and do what we are doing. We wish them the best of luck.

Upon returning to the hotel, we thought about if there was a way to could still get to Yaviza (the end of the northern part of the PanAm Highway) and figured we could rent a car for a day, leave at the crack of dawn and be back by early evening as the trip is about 600 kms round trip. There’s not really anything we want to see there, we just want to say we made it to the end of the road. It will be a long a$$ driving day but it will be in a small rental car, not in our RV.

On Monday, our friend Mark reached out to us from Canada and he’s returning to Panama on Wednesday planning to catch an overnight bus to David to get their truck out of suspension, so we suggested he join us for happy hour before his bus ride.

Tuesday, Doug arranged a car rental and we picked up the car that night at 8pm. It was a little Suzuki New Alto – a 920cc 3 cylinder manual car (we forgot to take a pic of the car so it’s like this one only our was silver).

We were up before dawn and hit the road out of the city just before 5:30AM. Traffic was light at first then built up some but nothing compared to the traffic heading into the city. About an hour later we were moving along the PanAm with little traffic and the road conditions were pretty good. Weather was overcast but muggy and the sun tried to peek out at times. We passed by the twin lakes at Lago Bayona and it was rather pretty crossing but other than that, the scenery was not out of the ordinary.

 

When we hit the provincial border into the Province of Darien, the road deteriorated and here we hit a military checkpoint which we expected (thanks to iOverlander). They first asked to see Doug’s license and asked us to pull over and take our passports over to the booth on the other side of the road. Here they recorded our passport info and car specs on a piece of paper (not a log book, a piece of paper and there were many pieces of paper on this desk) and asked us why we were coming into the Darien: tourism.

We returned to the car and carried on. The next stretch of nearly 100km was about 75% under reconstruction and the road was full of pot holes, workers and equipment on and off the whole way.

rough stretch and a good stretch:

and we saw logging trucks with decent sized trees:

There were a few decent stretches but they didn’t last long. We arrived at Yavisa – the end of the road just before 10AM an decided to drive off the PanAm thru the village.

The road into the village is more of a concrete path wide enough for one vehicle. The tour took about 90 seconds and we were back on the ashphalt to return to Panama City.

We’d done it: reached the end of the PanAm in Central America. We were about 60km from the Colombian border at the shortest distance but just couldn’t get over there!

About an hour outside the city, we hit traffic and the last 13 kms took over an hour! It was a snail’s pace through the core and we returned the rental car after 3:30.   It was a long drive but way faster than Tigger could have done (would have been a two day trip for sure) and we accomplished our goal.

Wednesday, Fran awoke not well rested; seems she’s picked up a cold probably on her flight home. Luckily she packed some Mucinex in our luggage so hopefully it will go away quick.

Doug decided since Fran had had a physical done in Canada including bloodwork he’d try and get one done in Panama City. After a bit of a struggle he found a clinic that sent him somewhere else and after much waiting got into see a doctor. The appointment cost $25 and the blood work $84. He is supposed to get results by Tuesday which is the day before we leave so…..

Mid-afternoon, Mark (of Mark & Christine) showed up from the airport. He had just flown in from Toronto and we had a happy hour and then went out for dinner before he caught the Metro to the bus station to get back to Christine in Boquete.

Thursday through Saturday were quiet days just hanging around the hotel, going for walks and we did some laundry; it rained on and off and Fran tried to get some rest.

Panama’s national church and the University were near by out hotel.

Thursday we actually found a bar right down the street showing the playoffs so we caught Game 7 of the Senators vs the Penguins; very exciting going into double OT.

Sunday Fran was feeling better but still coughing at night – the most annoying part. We saw that the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie started a couple of days before and decided to catch a subtitled version of it that afternoon. We walked the 2km over the Cinemark Theatres in the huge downtown shopping complex and enjoyed the movie and popcorn.

The theatres were in a mall outside the Hard Rock Panama City Hotel, Restaurant and Casino.

Wonder who was in this vehicle?

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