Shipping - Part 1: Panama

Bus Art in Panama

Saturday 26 January 2008, Panama City
Yasha left on the 10th of January from San Jose and flew to Australia. She had promised her father to be there for his 80th birthday, and there are a few other things she wants to take care of. Ever since she has left me things are unfortunately going downhill - who knows why.
First my glasses, which I had rushed to the optometrist to order on the Monday before Yasha left, weren't ready on Friday as promised. Stupid receptionist told me to come and get them tomorrow; I realised that it would be Saturday and asked her specifically if they were open on Saturday, and maybe would close earlier, "no, we are open all day" - on Saturday I found the door locked and the shop owner next door told me that the place is always closed on weekends - so there was nothing left to do but to wait until Monday - 3 days wasted...
I finally left San Jose and squeezed in a few more days of quiet beach life in Dominical, at the same place we had stayed before. Most of the time I spent sleeping (I really didn't sleep well with all the traffic noise in Belén) and being deliciously fed by Ricki and Christine, the two Alaskan 'girls' we had met in our last report. But finally I had to leave for Panama, since I had made an appointment to be there on the 21st.
Upon leaving Costa Rica things seemed to go really wrong again (again, because our last Panama trip was accompanied by several hic-ups as well...). Actually, to be fair, it had already started in Costa Rica shortly before I reached the border. At my last stop, for an early lunch and a quick cigarette, I noticed that one of the 4WD-hubs looked strange; I went closer and was shocked to notice that the entire hub had melted and the oil was splattered all over the wheel. Now, moving car parts without proper grease tend to get even hotter and eventually either block up or sometimes break off. Between where I noticed it and the border there aren't many large settlements, so my best option was to reach David in Panama as quickly as possible. On our first visit I had noticed in this rich farming community quite a number of large US pick-up trucks. I figured I had to be there mid-afternoon, since it was Friday, and I was expected at the shipping agency in Panama City on Monday morning.
Lucky for me we had crossed this border once before, so I knew the ins-and-outs. At the immigration counter in Costa Rica I managed to beat an entire bus load of tourists, so I was ahead of this group for the rest of the way = one of the quickest border crossings in under 40 minutes! Foot down and I had found the FORD dealer in David by 2:30; but, as I have experienced before with other FORD parts in Latin America, they didn't have the hubs in stock (nowhere in all of Panama)! One of the mechanics understood my problem and made a phone call, which resulted in him sending me to another mechanic who was supposed to have the parts. This was a backyard operation in really poor state, but they had an F250 Diesel of same age which they were wrecking. The guy quoted me $300 for the pair (they have to match) and added with a wicked smile "Yes, for $300 he would put them in straight away." And then they started, right there in the dirt; by 5:30 the truck was driving again and we went together on a test drive.
During the test drive I noticed once again that my brakes were a little soft (even though only a few weeks before I had had them completely overhauled in San José, and the front ones re-shoed), so I asked him if he could quickly check them. To my complete shock he pointed out that the rear brake on the driver side was dripping out fluid. Sh#%, another major job and not one to be put off, so we made an appointment for the next morning, Saturday, and I drove to the Chiriqui Mall to once again spend the night there. Next morning by 9:00 I was back, the brakes were dismantled, and to my even greater shock they had completely fallen apart: broken springs and bolts were lying together with the brake pads loose in the drum, the cylinders finding nothing to press against and squirting out their fluid. Luckily it couldn't have been too long that I had been driving with them in this state because there was no visible damage to the drums, but the pads had suffered badly, so it was time to change them. And - behold - the local FORD dealer had the pads and all assembly parts in stock, so by 14:20 I was finally, another $200 poorer, back on the road.
My aim was Santa Clara and the XS Memories RV Park, since I needed power to recharge the camper battery, and I knew that they have WiFi = a good chance to ring Yasha on Skype, since it would be Sunday morning in OZ, and to move money for the shipping expenses into my bank account. By 19:20 I pulled into the campground, hungry and tired, having driven the last 35 kms in the dark, only to find the WiFi wasn't working - Sh#% again! The next morning I took my time, hand washed some clothes, cleaned the inside of the camper, emptied and flushed my waste tanks and filled up with drinking water, ready to go the last hundred-and-some kilometres into Panama City.
By about 5:30 pm I pulled into the parking lot near the Balboa Yacht Club, quietly hoping that maybe I would encounter some other travellers - none. I had just settled into a spot and started to prepare dinner when I noticed a lot of cars driving into the parking lot. Strange! There are usually a few couples looking for privacy, or some late joggers parking their cars, but never more than a few cars at once. These were hundreds of flash looking, almost new cars, many sports models or large SUVs, and an endless row of more arriving, each and every one with really loud music playing. But it got weirder as they unpacked their toys: noisy micro motor bikes and even bigger sound systems. One guy drove in with what looked like a totally normal Japanese pick-up truck; as soon as he had parked he started some mechanism to tilt the complete tray upright, and then he took the cover off: the entire tray was filled with a powerful sound system including a generator! Others had systems to match his... I packed, as well as I could in the middle of preparing dinner, and drove to a separate section of the lot, hoping to get some peace and quiet, but during my dinner this lot was slowly filling, too.
After dinner I thought I'd walk around to inspect the spectacle a bit closer and take a few pictures, but to my disappointment the main lot was just emptying. Strange again! In the middle was one lonely tiny Nissan Tsuru Police car driving in circles, lights flashing, sirens howling, and via speaker system calling the people to turn off the music and to leave - and everybody did so! Unbelievable!!! In other countries this would take a force of at least 30 to 50 police to break up a gathering of a few thousand people... But not all had really left! When he had emptied the main lot he stopped in the middle, as if to admire his work, and turned off his sirens - only to hear the music from the group in the smaller lot, where my camper was parked. [LINK to sound snippet [1,190 kb], taken whilst I walked along three rows of cars - turn your volume up to get the real sensation!] Sirens back on and the same procedure once again: within roughly 10 minutes he had emptied this lot too. I still don't know how this gathering came to happen - probably through some radio or internet announcement. In OZ we would call these sorts of people "Hoons" [link - not yet found], but this Panamanian kind was far too well behaved!

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