So where were we……?
A big HOLA to ………CENTRAL AMERICA
After a straight forward flight to Panama City and settling into a nice cheap safe hotel, with a pool, we waited for Lodzi to arrive.
We then spent a couple of days exploring the "gringo area". Panama City is a very distinct old and new city with new condos, blocks of flats and skyscraper bank buildings overlooking one side of Panama bay, the old colonial ruins and presidential palace on the other side and the slums and squalors surrounding. The weather was warm and muggy and we were extremely thankful of our air conditioned room.
Panama City also has countless malls and shopping centres so we were able to immerse ourselves into a bit of retail therapy, well more like window shopping. We also visited the old colonial section of the city which is very impressive although the residents still living there must be fighting death on a daily basis by the lack of safety in everything from the actual buildings to the electrical wiring hanging around every where. Right next to the very poor houses is the Presidential Palace in all its opulence.
The highlight of our Panama City encounter was a visit to the Panama Canal museum, a token of Panamas most famous asset, where we were brought up to date on exactly what a major man made structure it is actually is. The facts are all staggering!!! Over 12,000 people died during the making of the canal. The French who first started the canal ran out of money and the task was completed by the Americans who actually owned and ran the canal up till 1999. There are six individual locks in total, three on the Caribbean side and three on the Pacific side. On the Pacific side ships are raised 16m high to continue the journey across Panama to Gatun locks on the Caribbean side and the lowered 26m into the Caribbean ocean. And most amazing was the canal has been open from 1913. We could not wait to see the actual locks.
Anyway after confirmation from our Quito shippers that our ship had docked in Panama, we engaged a Panama customs broker whom picked James up first thing the following morning and took him down to Balboa Port to clear all the formalities. Unbelievably just over 2 hours later we were free to go with an unscathed Lodzi with all contents still owned. Was this a sign of things to come in Central America!!!
After clearing out of the hotel, we headed north across Panama straight to the Caribbean coast towards Isla Grande, a picture perfect area of the coast with coconut fringed white beaches. Our first night camped in Central America was unfortunately the first time we have been hassled by locals in the car. We had located some cabanas that allowed us to camp and use their facilities right on the beach which was great. Unfortunately that night one of the Afro-Caribbean workers got drunk and then thought we could donate to his drinking kitty and hassled us for over 3 hours for some money for beer. Even when we had retired to bed which was a little nerve wracking but fortunately that was all that happened. Along with that we were introduced to the local wildlife when James shared his shower with a scorpion and a tarantula. Needless to say Kerry chose to shower out the back of Lodzi.
The following day we encountered our first tropical rain storm. As Lodzi leaks like a sieve we had a nice internal shower, but took the opportunity to wash over 2 months of grime off the car.
Headed back along the coast towards Colon we visited Gatun locks, the most impressive of the locks where entrance to the spectator platform was free. Excellent! We were also lucky just as we arrived a giant container ship was passing through the locks. It is unbelievable there was absolutely no clearance on either side of the ship and we got to watch the whole process as the locks closed, filled to lift the massive ship about 10m and then release it to continue the crossing. We stayed watching this for over 2 hours as they move a ship through about one and hour.
Heading back south to Panama City we camped the night in the Balboa yacht club with a view of the canal entrance and the bridge of Americas where we would cross into the North American continent the following morning towards Costa Rica.
A notable stop was to the north of a town called David where we stayed camped in a hostel garden in the town of Boquette for 3 nights. The town is in the mountains and overlooked by an extinct volcano and surrounded by numerous coffee plantations. We were also there for the HUGE Panama independence weekend celebrations where we were subjected to 24 hours of drum banging and marching bands and a very festive party all weekend. We also spent a day on a 13km hike into the mountains to see waterfalls and bird watch. Very tranquil but way too much energy.
Next stop was the Caribbean Islands of Bocas del Toro on the north coast, famous for excellent diving, snorkelling and Colombian drug running. After parking up the Landy on the mainland we caught a speedboat ferry to Isla Colon where we treated ourselves to a nice hotel, luckily once again with air con. We did a tour out to dolphin bay where funny enough we saw dolphins and then went snorkelling for the rest of the day. Unfortunately the weather was overcast on and off, so the coral reef was not at its best…but we saw loads of cool fish.
Anyway, a hop skip and a jump and we were at a remote border crossing, not even on most maps to get into Coast Rica. Bracing ourselves for the worst we were pleasantly surprised to a.) not be out of pocket by one cent and b.) be one our way about an hour later.....
................. Into Costa Rica.