Update 20th April 2008

April has been a very busy month for us with packing, preparing the vehicle and sorting things out at home.   When we first started planning this trip 18 months ago, it seemed like a long long way off and now here we are with only a week to go before we leave.  The Toyota was all dressed up and  ready to go. This shot is our final visit to Footloose 4 x 4 before we went to Bury St Edmunds and Classic Cars where she was loaded for shipping to Panama City.  Hopefully, she will arrive on time and not keep us waiting.  All of the other vehicles were being prepared for loading and there was a sense of excitement in the air - finally things were happening!  With the cars on the way, all that was left was for the rally members to get in some preparation for the trip -in the form of a First Aid Course.  This was held at the Santa Pod race track in Northamptonshire and, despite the terrible weather, a productive, practical,  day was had by all of the group.  It was good that we were split into different groups for the day, which gave John and I a chance to get to know some of the others.  How we will all remember everyone's name I don't know - but I'm sure we'll get better as we travel along.  Hopefully, we won't have to put any of our training into practice en route, but I know that we both feel safer, armed with this additional knowledge!  As we left that day to cries of "See you in Panama!!", the realisation that we were actually going to do this finally hit home - what a trip we are going to have, what wonderful sights are we going to see and who will we meet along the way? 

The bags are packed, the camera's are primed, the paperwork is all done.  John is bored stiff BUT this time next week we'll be waking up in Panama City.

Update 29th April 2008

After a good send off by Andy and Bridget together with a bottle of bubbly we had a comfortable journey to Manchester by train and started our trip with a night at the Raddisson Hotel - might as well treat ourselves a bit now, by this time next year, we might not be able to afford it!!  Have to admit it was strange leaving home and wondering when we will be back!

Finally, we are off!  Delta worked well.  Great seats, good food, only 30 minutes to clear immigration and customs in Atlanta.  We were laughing and wondering how the rest of the team were doing at T5!  Laughing stopped, when we reached Panama and one of our bags did not appear.  It was late, we were tired and fortunately it was John's bag and not mine which had gone astray.  Can you imagine me without my essentials!  The staff helped as much as they could at that time of night and after a crazy taxi ride we got to the hotel at around 11.30 pm local time.  Seriously ready for bed now.  No one else around.  They must all be tired too.

On top of losing the luggage, we had no electricity in the room and of course John had no soap bag.  Can you imagine him having a shave with a lady shaver, wearing his head torch so that he could see what he was doing?  Pity I had no camera around at the time.

Met up with everyone else around the pool in the morning.  They all had the last laugh as we had been pulling their legs about coming through T5 and losing their luggage when it had actually happened to us.  Phone calls to Delta did not do much good at that time, so off we went to the local mall to get essentials for John who was roasting in his jeans and boots.  After a successful day's shopping we joined some others from the group and went for supper.  By the time we got back his bag had arrived.  Great News!!!!  

The day that everyone was waiting for - the day the vehicles arrived.  We were all shuttled off by bus to the dock, which took around 2 hours and we spent the day waiting, waiting, and waiting for the shipping agents to work their magic and get us on our way.  Surprisingly, the dock canteen was excellent and we had a great lunch for just 6 dollars each.  The day seemed to go on and on for ever and we were all supposed to go to a reception at the British Ambassador's  residence that night.  Finally the decision had to be made to either leave the cars and come back for them the following day or go to the reception.  The unanimous decision was to stay and dissapoint the Ambassador. Unfortunately, the person tasked with letting him know failed to let him know and he was ringing the hotel later that night to find out where we all were.  Apparently, some of the other guest were heard to say "if they can't find their way here, how do they expect to get to Alaska?......"  (We'll show em!!!)  Finally  at around 6pm we saw the vehicles coming across in the distance.  Most had started first time but we had problems with a couple at the dock with lack of fuel and battery issues.  Fortunately for the vintage car owners John and Paul were around to help sort things out. 


Some of the vehicles at the dock.                                                Those that were raring to go........                                   Is that Rick's Healey?...."Great Toyota John but not a vintage car"


Thank Goodness a Fuel Station.                                                Oh Oh someone needs a tow and JC having fun already!        Ready to roll with the Cortina in tow.

With jump leads and tow bars we all made it back to the hotel.  Last ones to arrive ourselves with the Lotus Cortina, Paul with the Rover, Rick and Di, Stuart and Barbara and Angie and Stuart.  It was a long way back in the dark with the vehicles in tow and we all learnt a few things for the future.  Poor old Ron (in the Lotus Cortina) was just about hallucinating after following our tail lights for a couple of hours.

Update 3rd May 2008

Finally had time to do a bit of site seeing and visit the Panama Canal (its hard work this rallying game).  Ships going to the canal pass by our window regularly.  From massive container ships to cruisers - we were keen to see how the locks ar Miraflores worked and found our way there without a proper map - just the compass and JC's nose for direction only.  What an amazing fete of engineering.  Sadly it must have been the ships' day off - not one came through whilst we were there but the museum and the movie were interesting.  First fridge magnet Faye!! 


Views from our window - the ships and some of the 'boys' after a heavy lunch and few bottles of wine!!

The best views we had of the canal were when we all went for dinner in the evenine.  The restaurant overlooked the canal and we had a fantastic view from the terrace.  Sadly we didn't take the camera - lesson learned.  You will have to wait until we come back down again.

After the experience with towing the vehicles when one of the tow bars broke JC couldn't settle until he knew we had something more substantial, so he and Paul set off one sunny afternoon in search of a steel bar.  Makes a change from JC just looking for a bar!  With no language skills between them and in 33 degree heat, they were thrown off three building sites before they found what they were looking for and got a chap at a boat yard to cut it as necessary.  Apparently, this chap was about a third of the way through the fixing when his boss turned up and asked them to leave.  JC kept him occupied by telling him about the rally and inviting him to come and look at the vehicles whilst Paul hurried the workers up and they made it!!  This has now set a serious challenge for all of the other rally members!! 

On the day we were leaving the Tourist Board and a police escort turned up to see us all off.  Four by Fours were parked at the back for the photos.  People looked on as the vehicles left - a very pretty site.  However, by the time we drove off they had left - we know our place!!


Getting ready for the off!

Finally its time to leave Panama City and we head off on our first day of 430 kms to Boquette.  At the rear of the convoy, the 4 x4s stay behind to pick up stragglers and help out where we can.  First problem was only a couple of kms from the hotel when one of the vehicles took a wrong turn!  Much radio discussion and then we followed whilst the others kept to the main route.  We all met up again along the way but the corvette was in a serious way at the side of the road.  Although we were outside of a garage it was a public holiday!!!  The weather was scorching.  Finally we picked up the co-driver, left the driver and Paul and Dr Nikki behind to either get it onto a low loader to the next town or fix it if possible.  Have to admit, I had been admiring the vintage cars and wondering which one I would choose if I could have one - think I'll stick to the Toyota - its reliable and the air conditioning is WOOOOOONDERFUUUUUUL!  Jill, our passenger, must have felt comfortable with us as she slept and SNORED most of the way.  I kept thinking it was the radio kicking in!!!  As we drove into the mountains the weather became a little cooler and we had our first real rain - it was weird you would drive through a wet band of around 100 metres and then a completely dry band of the same and when it came down it did so with a vengeance.  We were well behind the main rally and Paul, Nikki and Chris were around 2 hours behind us.  After a long busy day, the next task was to find the hotel in Boquette - not easy.  As the navigator - the map was totally confusing.  We followed what was marked on the map and were obviously in the wrong place.  Back down into the town we eventually found someone whose Spanish was understandable and Denise managed to get us there.  Apparently everyone had had the same problem - so it wasn't the navigator's fault!!  A lovely hotel - built like a small village - we were in Sunflower room!  Cool air - wonderful.  Drinks went down well I can tell you.


Hotel Valle Enscondid - Boquette

John's birthday - at breakfast he received a card from all of the group and a special gift from Paul and Nikki which he would not have noticed until they pointed it out!!!


Driver's checks allways!!!                           Paul and Nikki's gift - he keeps on telling everyone that won't do Alaska until they do Prudhoe Bay!!

A bit of a confusion at the start of today's trip.  Most cars missed the turn off but eventually we were on the road and what a road.  The scenery was terrific and so so green.  Today it was the turn of one of the Aston's to be in trouble so we all stopped to help Roger and Margaret - i was a joy to look at the views whilst the guys were tinkering with the car.  As we stood in a farm gate the milking was going on and the men came out carrying cans and buckets of warm frothing milk!!  The smiling farmers were happy to post for a photo shoot.


Bringing in the milk....             Smiling for the camera.....                    View from the road......

Fortunately, Roger's problem was not serious and we headed on to through Panama for the border with Costa Rica.  The road was fantastic for the vintage cars - they must have been having a fantastic drive.  The sun was shining, the weather was a bit cooler and the road twisted and turned up and over mountains.  Bit tougher going with the 4 x 4s and all of their weight but it really was beautiful.



Lake Fortuna.............................................................                                       The BIG girls having a break.................

Well we knew today was the day of the infamous bridges - one just before the border into Costa Rica and the one at Soxaila which is actually the border crossing.  Both of which are former railway bridges that have planks either side of the tracks.  The traffic flows both ways and includes people, bicycles, trucks and cars - interesting!  Some of the vintage cars were worried that their wheel span wouldn't be wide enough but by the time we arrived they had all passed over the first bridge OK apart from tyre damage to one.



                          Panama............                                       Costa Rican border Soxaila..........

Four hours at the border - what a way to spend your birthday.  The customs/immigration officials have a system which means you have to run backwards and forward between different offices to get photcopies of forms which they print out for you!! - strange.  Aside from that there was one person on duty at each plance and with 19 vehicles to process it was very time consuming and very very warm - much water was drunk and I was so so glad that we have a fridge - we were able to offer water to the others where needed.

Once through our road took us through banana plantations and along the coast line - we stopped at the 'Painted Palms' cafe and had our first dip in the Caribbean.


Painted Palms................                       One for Faye - the birthday boy........      Yes we do travel together...........

Long drive to the next hotel, very dark when we arrived at around 7.30  having crossed yet two more creaking bridges to get to the lodge, but still time for John to have a few birthday drinks with everyone before we sloped off to bed looking forward to a shorter day tomorrow. 

Don't forget everyone - we are looking forward to receiving your messages and comments - its better than sending email - keep them coming.