Thursday, July 14, 2011

Panama Lite

Golfito is about 1 1/2 hours by bus from Paso Canaos, at the Panama - Costa Rica border. We needed to get some additional R-134a refrigerant to recharge the refrigerator. It  has had a small, slow leak for awhile. I finally got hold of the tiny O-rings that are needed to reseal the connections. But I’m getting ahead of myself here…
golfitoIMG_8520 There’s a company here in CR called American Export. They apparently are ex-customs officials and know the system well. They have a warehouse in Miami that you send stuff to. They take it from there and get it to you in CR. Since I needed the O-rings, I figured we’d go all out and get our mail sent and get a portable generator shipped in. Bought everything online and had it shipped to Miami. Two days from Miami to San Jose, CR. Then it turns out they don’t usually send stuff to Golfito, so it was trucked down which took the rest of the week to get it here. Less than $200 total shipping Miami to Golfito with customs handling included – pretty good deal, as shipping into Central America can be a black hole of no return. 
image I decided  to go counter to the crowd and get a Yamaha ef1000is  generator instead of a Honda.  We saw too many new Honda 2000s that were in for repair. The other option was to add more solar panels, but this time of year we’re not seeing enough sunshine to rationalize that cost.
So. back to the R-134…After sorting through all our mail and goodies and getting the new O-rings installed, we headed to the border via the ‘directo’ bus. The border is pretty porous. It is a dense complex of shops, some lined up on the CR side others on the Panamanian side. We’d been there before, so we headed straight off lugging our bags down the CR street on the right. About every 500 feet  or so, there is a small narrow alley like slot between the stores. You slide through these and you are now on the Panama side, sans customs and immigration. We headed to the right, past the bank, where all the auto parts shops are. Each shop we hit up for the R-134a sent us along to another shop saying they will have it. After about  4 re-directs the guy tells me to go 85 meters down the road to the ‘Refricenter’. Its hard to judge 85 meters when you are lugging bags in the tropical heat. But there it was. We went in and they had every model A/C unit on full bore. An Artic penguin would have felt at home, and we avoided heat stroke.
The sales guy looked at my empty can of R-134a, headed to the back, only to show up with just what we were looking for. I decided to try and push my luck and asked for recharging valves that would fit the odd-ball container of R-134 I’d picked up in Mexico but hadn’t been able to use.  Just as the language barrier was rising  its ugly head, another sales guy came out from the back. He asked in English what we wanted. Grabbed his cell phone and started making calls. He told us he has it in David (Dah veed), and he could have it here in 2 hours. We told him  we were off to David that day. So he offered to give us a ride. I told him we had to go back to immigration to clear out of CR and into Panama first. He seemed OK with this. So we left the Artic shop and headed back out into the blazing sun. We were far enough down the street that we could see where the CR street merged with the Panama border. So we hopped over the dirt strip between the roads and hiked back past the bus station to CR immigration. Stamp, stamp and we were checked out of Costa Rica. Then a hike to the Panama immigration, a 45 minute wait in line, a one dollar stamp fee, a photo with hats and glasses off, and a couple of stamps and we were legally entered into Panama. We hiked back down to the Artic store and found Ernesto behind the counter at his keyboard. He did a few things around the shop and then directed us to his SUV. Turns out he didn’t have much more English than we had already seen. As he said,   a few years of English in school and all he was really good at was saying “Good morning teacher, Good morning class”. We had a nice conversation in mixed Spanish/English for the 45 minute drive to David. He took us to his friend’s refrigeration shop and got us setup with exactly the valves and hose I wanted.  26USD for two valves and the hose. Good deal. Then he drove us to the center of town, Parque Cervantes, and to the front door of the Hotel Castilla where we planned to meet Dennis and Virginia from Libertad. We said thanks to Ernest and he bid us well --- truly a nice a guy.
Dennis and Virginia’s boat Libertad had just been put into bond in CR. After your import permit is up (90 days), the choice is to leave CR or bond the boat. Bonding requires being in a marina, not on a mooring or anchor. CR really has a set of screwed rules. Even after the boat is legal in the country, to get your visa extended you have to leave the country for 3 days. That is what Dennis and Virginia were doing in Panama. They also were looking for an Ice-maker. When you have an ice-maker on your boat it officially changes it to a Yacht. Once they get it plugged in, I doubt the will even talk to us.  We decided to catch up with them, do some shopping and then head up to Boquete in the mountains of Panama for a few days.
image Hotel Castilla was a great deal. Clean rooms, good WFi and cable TV. 33 dollars a night. 50 dollars a night if you are Panamanian – go figure. Located in the heart of David, with easy walks to all kinds of stores and restaurants.
The reason I really want to go down to Central America was so I could go to Panama to buy a hat. Dennis found a little shop run by an old guy who sold real Panamanian hats. Cool. 25 dollars. Chris bought it while I got break-in directions along with fashion wearing hints. As soon as I got on the street I could sense the added respect I was getting.
golfitoIMG_8428 Think respect… you can call me ‘El Jefe’, ‘El’ for short.
I also headed off to Cable and Wireless Panama to buy a 3G modem so we’d have some connectively while in Panama next month. They seemed to have the best deal on their website. They told me that if they had 3G modem in stock they would sell it to me, but they don’t have any in stock because their modems don’t work well. OK. Off to the main Claro store a few blocks away from the main square. No problem – 30 days for $38.
Then it was off to Boquete, a 4 dollar investment for 2 on the bus. Boquete is a small city in a valley in the mountains at about 3,000 feet. It has a remarkably mellow climate. Here you are 500 miles from the equator and need a blanket to sleep at night. Chris and Virginia found us a cool place to stay, Boquete Garden Inn. Nice rooms with bird filled gardens all around.The owners are a couple of ex-Toronto advertising execs.
image golfitoIMG_8442 golfitoIMG_8433
Lots of very cool birds coming to the fresh fruit that the staff put out first thing each morning.  
It was raining, so we rented a car to check out the mountains and the hiking paths. golfitoIMG_8464 golfitoIMG_8468
  Road sharing with the local bull
At the end of the mountain road we hit the sign that says its not safe to hike in the park… bummer.
So we headed to ‘La Jungla’.
image Chris continuing to get her critter fixes. This time a critter hospital/rehab center just outside of Boquette. This little guy is Rocky, the squirrel monkey. Chris wanted to take him home.
Cute monkey taking some quite time.
Virginia learning how to do Toucan photography
Carrying a heavy load.

Paul and Chris

1 comment:

  1. Nice hat, cute monkey! heard you had some pretty uncomfortable sailing going out of BDS but you are in Panama now, how cool!! Looks like a great place and new adventure. We are enjoying the family, today it is actually cold and i am ready for the sun again. Looking to help our friends sail down to SF, crazy I know. Miss you, will keep up with your travels, stay safe, Always, Vicki