27 September – 3 October
Well, what a week! The good news was that we DID get the vehicle taken out of JC’s passport yesterday and then spent a quiet weekend lazing about. Took another trip out to the viewing point at the canal and saw some really big stuff going through this time. As the large car carrier came through a family parked next to us jumped on their roof and started waving at one of the crew stood right on the top deck, obviously someone from their family. With binoculars held high, they were waving and blowing kisses at each other for the whole time the ship was moving past. We wondered if he was just leaving or just coming home and docking at Colon. Everyone was very excited and other people watching, including us, joined in! As we were leaving, I heard someone calling “Denise” – don’t know that many people here so wondered who it was likely to be. It was a guy parked in the next vehicle to us, who had brought up our website on his Blackberry and was enjoying it whilst he sat there. He welcomed us to Panama and wished us a safe journey onwards.
We had a nice surprise later that day when we had a message on our board from Lesley and John. A British couple who have been travelling for the last 16 months in a B registered Land Rover 110 they had seen our vehicle in the car park and left their card on our windscreen. We quickly recovered it and checked out their website before sending them an email to arrange to meet up. It was strange looking at their site and seeing photographs of places that we too have visited!
Monday morning and its nine years today since I came back to the UK to live with John – seems like yesterday! Neither of us ever imagined that nine years later we would be doing a trip like this together. Sadly by the end of the day, we didn’t feel like celebrating. The agent advised us that the ship was delayed and that we would not be able load the vehicle until 5th October nor would it ship out until 7th October! Feeling very sorry for ourselves we went off to meet Lesley and John who had faired better than us with Customs and the Police. They cheered us up though. Over a few beers and some supper in the Yacht Club we exchanged tales about our journeys. They too had had problems with altitude as well as a couple of other mechanical problems with the Landie. As John said “ You meet up with two men travelling overland – one in Land Rover and one in a Toyota – the one in the Toyota talks about the journey and the things he has seen – the one in the Land Rover talks about the mechanical problems he has had en route!!!” They are shipping into Cartagena, Columbia and, at the rate we are going, they could have shipped, cleared the vehicle and made it down to Ecuador by the time we get there! (sorry to be such a pessimist!!)
Not getting much sleep wondering how long we will be here and if we should have gone to Cartagena like everyone else, we just hung around the hotel dozing and reading, when we got another message on our board from Chad and Anna also driving South in their 1977 VW camper – even braver than Lesley and John! Camped nearby, it seems that they too are shipping into Ecuador. Hopefully we will get to meet them too before we all leave. It’s just as we were discussing the other night with John and Lesley – Panama is the funnel where all travelers by road from Central to South America will meet as they wait to ship and I suspect that many of us will follow similar routes once we get out of Panama!
Running out of things to do, we had a drive out, along the Southern Causeway, to the airport – just to make sure that there is still one here!! Lots of new residences going up all along the coastal areas. Looks a bit like Dubai in some places although on a much smaller scale. Though, unlike Dubai, there are still small local homes crouching at the bottom of these huge skyscrapers. In Dubai everyone else would have been moved on an the whole area flattened before the skyscrapers went up! After an up and down day and more misinformation, we met up with Lesley and John, who again succeeded in cheering us up over a great Lebanese meal in town – great for Denise that is – it had to be the first time in five months that she had more than one vegetarian dish on the table! They have only been here 4 days and are loading their vehicle tomorrow. It seems that we have missed out by not meeting up with other travelers en route. They all share information and John and Lesley had had their agent recommended by someone else who had used them. Lots of people seem to go into Cartagena as it only an 18 hour sailing and more frequent – but, he ho, you live and learn and Denise was never keen on going into Columbia on our own. Relaxed and a lot happier after our evening away from the hotel we took a cab back and were not surprised when the lady cab driver asked us to lock the doors as we drove through the “back” streets of Panama – not a very welcoming place.
Another new day and, despite being concerned, over breakfast that we could be here forever, we had a phone call to go to our Agent’s office and then to take the Toyota to the dock for loading. AT LAST SOMETHING WAS HAPPENING. As usual, things did not go smoothly. We arrived at the office at 0930am as instructed. We waiting until 1030am when Maersk (the shipping company) finally told the Agent that they, Maersk, had made a mistake and produced an authority to load the vehicle at the wrong port! With no reason to hang around there any longer we left and arranged to go back to the office at 1330 when the correct documents would be ready. Always punctual, we were there on the dot and had to wait again until 1415 before everything was ready for us to leave. During our wait Maersk rang to say that the container had an aluminium floor – not good for chocking the vehicle securely inside! As we say in England (politely) our Agent “wiped the floor with Maersk” – she, like us was at the end of her tether with all of the delays. Finally at 1515 we were at the dock and by 1815 she was loaded into a brand new container with wooden floor – obviously the shouting helped! Getting the Toyota inside of the container was no problem for JC as you would expect. The problem was when he had to get out. The easy life and too much beer made it impossible for him to squeeze through the window and down the side of the vehicle, so much to the amazement of the customs officer and the stevedores he slid along the top of the vehicle and climbed down the back. As the top of the tent was wet and dirty – he was not a pretty sight when he appeared!! Even funnier were the conversations he was having with the non English speaking stevedores as he closely watched as they carefully strapped and chocked his baby! He just laughs and waves his hands about and they laugh with him. Sometimes I think he could laugh, wave his hands about and call them all the names under the sun and they would all still laugh together. He gets a lot further with his hand waving than I do with my Spanish!
Wearily we headed back to the Hotel where everyone was waiting expectantly to see if we had finally achieved what had seemed like the impossible. Our flights are booked for tomorrow morning. We have said goodbye to some of the lovely people that we have met here and we are happy to be moving on, despite wondering how long it will take to get our Toyota released from customs in Ecuador!!
Well sorry it's just been a short update this week but there are only so many pictures you can take of Panama.
Catch up with us next week……………at least we should have some new photos for you!!!!