Thursday, December 30, 2010

Maracay to Puerto La Cruz, 320 miles.

Returning back over the mountains from Cuyagua, our engine started making rather weird noises on the hair pin turns which is not very comforting when you are on remote mountain passes. Tom thought it might be the motor mounts or the bushings or the fan hitting something or God knows what else. Regardless, we decide to have it checked out in Maracay before going further. After pulling into a Goodrich repair shop, we were surrounded by people wanting to help. Fernando, who works there and spoke English, has a mechanic friend who could look at the motor and may be able to help us. Another gentleman, who is an Army General and also spoke excellent English, chatted with us and when we told him our expected route through Venezuela said that he was a General based in Ciudad BolĂ­var and gave us his contact information for when we arrive there. It is always so much fun meeting people who instantly want to help and who are as interested in us as we are with them. Following Fernando through the chaotic streets of Maracay, we were glad he offered to show us instead of giving directions to his friend’s shop. His friend, Frank verified that yes, our motor mounts and bushings needed to be replaced. We had had this work done before we left home but the road conditions have given the Ford engine a beating. It was getting late and he told us to return the next day and he would have the parts ready to do the work. Needing a place for the night, we remembered that a grocery store we had shopped at in El Limon had a huge guarded parking lot, so we headed there. The security guard brought over the manager who said we could not park overnight but instead directed us next door to a military substation. We pulled in and the militia came over. Smiling, they told us; yes we could park in their lot and showed us to an area not too far from the armed guard point. We were so pleased, this has been a long day and we are tired. Imagine our surprise and gratitude when, not 15 minutes later, a soldier tapped on our door, smartly saluted us and presented us dinner in the form of chicken, rice and plantains. “Thank you so much” both Tom and I said. Later as I gave Winston his last walk of the night, it was comforting to be surrounded by armed military watching over us. The next day, we got up early, said good-bye to the soldiers and we went back to Frank’s shop, getting lost only once on the way. The repairs took all day so it was back to the military station for another night. They waved and called out to Winston as we drove in. Yes, no problem, of course we could stay another night. Finally Wednesday, December 22nd, we were on our way to Puerto La Cruz, the port terminal for ferries going to Isla Margarita which is where we wanted to spend Christmas. It took us two days to drive the 320 miles and bypass Caracas - by the way Venezuelans do not pronounce the S, making it sound like Caracka. We found the terminal and decided to park overnight as the ferry leaves at 7am and we still need to purchase our tickets but there was one more important thing to do. Our family was having their Christmas get-together today and we needed to find an internet to Skype them. The Gran Casino and Hotel filled our purpose. We were able to go to the lounge, have a glass of wine and use the internet. Two security guards in the parking lot kept an eye on our RV. Skypeing our kids and family is so satisfying as we can see as well as hear them. I especially, am feeling a little sad because of the holidays and being so far from the kids and the rest of the clan but as the computer in Sacramento was passed around and we spoke with everyone, for a little while it was as if we were there, sharing in the joy of Christmas. Happy Holidays.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Maracaibo to Henri Pittier National Park – 374 miles

It took us two days to drive the 374 miles from Maracaibo to Maracay, which is the starting point for the park. There were detours, military and police checkpoints and of course the ever present pot holes. We are stopped at most of the checkpoints and after checking our paperwork and with much goodwill and handshakes, we are sent on our way. The countryside is lush and verdant with banana plantations and small villages which sell their handmade crafts of woven baskets, carvings, hammocks and paintings. From Maracay, we start our journey through Henri Pittier National Park to the Caribbean Sea, which since 1937, is Venezuela’s oldest protected environmental zone. It is noted that over 550 species of birds live here, making it popular with birders from around the world. For non-birders, it’s winding scenic routes over 3 mountain ranges, are surrounded by enormous bamboo growths, cloud forests and huge vine covered trees which provide plenty of amazing views. The first mountain range brings us to the town of Ocumare and the last place to buy gas in the park. As we passed over the second mountain range we were rewarded with a breath-taking view of the Bahia de Cata. This spectacular bay is very popular with weekenders from the city due to its calm, sapphire blue water, white sand and a variety of small hotels and restaurants. However, we wanted to get to the outer reaches of the park and the beach town of Cuyagua, which is famous for its surfing. It took us more than three hours to transverse the 60 miles from Maracay to the beach town of Cuyagua and is not for the faint hearted. The roads are narrow and the drop offs steep and unguarded but what waited for us made the trip worthwhile. We were able to park right on the beach, with an unobstructed view of the ocean. It was not too crowded although we were told that the week between Christmas and New Year is extremely busy. We decide to stay for a few days and enjoy the beach. Everyone we met was friendly and helpful. Miguel who was an electrical engineer from Valencia who was vacationing with his girl friend, introduced us to more of the local food by bringing us breakfast of arepas filled with chicken accompanied with rice and fried plantanos. Very good. Tom caught some great waves boogie boarding and Winston was able to roam free. We played and read and chatted with other campers. What a neat place.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Maracaibo - Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Located in the westernmost state of Zulia, this is the secong largest city in Venezuela and is the center of the nations oil industry It is populated by many of the indigenous Guajiro and Parajuano people. Lake Maraciabo is the largest lake in South America and one of the world’s most valuable containing vast oil reserves and providing about 40% of Venezula’s gas. The Rafael Urdaneta bridge, which conects the city to the road to Caracua was the longest pre-stressed concrete span in the world when it was constructed. It was also very good to us. We needed to find propane and since Mexico this has developed into a problem. Due to the connection, we have to buy direct from the plants, just like the large trucks that then disburse it to cylinders. Only the plants see us and either say (true or not)that they do not have the right fiiting, or they don't sell to the public. We had asked the guards at the restaurant and shown them what we had as a fitting. After some discussion between themselves and a couple of delivery drivers, they pronounced that we needed to go to the Industrial Zone, to a plant called Tony Gas. After replenishing our tanks with water and tipping the guards, we set off and it quickly became apparent that we were hopelessly lost. We adopted our now frequently used stand by plan and hired a taxi. This is far less stressful than trying to figure our own way and battling unknown streets and traffic. Also, it often times works out to be more economical than getting lost and using gas, not here, of course. We got to Tony Gas and the jefe (boss) looked at our tank. "We can't fill you" he said "but Regina Gas can". regina Gas is only about half a mile away and he obligingly drew us a map. At first Regina said they couldn't either but then another person came over and another lengthy conversation ensued. It turned out that they had the fitting but not a hose long enough to reach our tank. Another worker said he knew what to do and after attaching two hoses together, we had propane. A full tank lasts a month or so and without it we have no refrigeration and no stove for cooking, so whenever we fill up it is with a big sigh of relief. Tom also wanted to check the A/C that feeds the RV and we went in search of a shop. We pulled into one place and they only serviced cars but a gentleman had wandered over and was listening to the conversation. It turned out the Frank is an air traffic controller at the airport and speaks excellent English. We chatted. His brother serviced home A/C units and he offered to call him and see if he would check out the RV system. His brother drove over and looked at our system, climbing on the roof of the motorhome. He needed his compressor, freon gas and tools. "Come to our home", they said. They have a 2 story house in a nice neighborhood in the city. "Our house is your house" they said. They invited us the use of thir shower and use of computer for internet, also to plug into their power so we don't have to use the generator. Frank and his wife, Susan live in the house, along with his brother Maurice, Maurice's little 4 yr. old daughter, Natalie and their mother. Susan teaches 8 - 12 yr olds at the local school and is also an attorney. We offer to take them out to dinner, which they agree but only after decorating the tree. They had promised Natalie that the tree would be up today. All over the city, we have seen houses with lights and decorations and the city plaza and main street are also decorated. Seeing all the Christmas activities is making me a little homesick and I tell Tom that we need o buy some lights or a small tree for the RV. After a great dinner at Tony Romas, Frank directed us through the city streets. They are ablaze with lights and decorations and we get out to walk Winston and enjoy the main plaza. It was beautiful. Susan loves the motorhome. "When we retire, this is what I want to do", she told Frank. Frank agreed. Susan's uncle lives in Atlanta and they have been trying for a while to get visas to visit the States. It seems the US Consulate is quite stingy giving out the required entry visas and most people are turned down for no reason. Once that happens, they have to wait 6 months before they can apply again. Tom and I felt bad for them. It seemed unfair that our government should punish the Venezuelan people by not letting them visit relatives just because of Chavez's rhetoric. If anything, we felt that we should invite the people so they can see that the majority of Americans are kind and generous, especially given our fantastic treatment, thus far by the Venezuelans. Oh well, politics! Wednesday morning, their mother made us a traditional breakfast. Arepes. These are a pancake like sandwich filled with meat (chicken, beef or pork), cheese and a slightly spicy sauce. Delicious. We said goodbye to the family and promised to stay in touch via email and the internet. Hopefully, one day we will meet them in the United States and return their generosity. For us it is on to Henri Mettier National Park (on the Caribbean Sea) and then to the Pearl Islands and Isla Margarita. Adios or as they say in Venezuela "ciao".

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Border Crossing Colombia to Venezuela. Monday December 13th, 2010

Venezuela. It was with trepidation and a lot of thought that we added it to our itenerary. Travelwise, it made sense but the politics, Chavez and anti-American sentiment made us wary. We decided that if, at any time, either one of us felt uncomfortable at the border, we would return to Colombia and head south through Ecuador. The worry was for naught. When we arrived at the Colombian border, I stood in a long line at immigration, while Tom went to take care of exiting the RV and Winston. He was done in record time and my line had not budged an inch. There was one man hanging around who had said he could get our exit stamps immediately for $15.00 each. Hmm. I ignored him but we knew we would have at least an hour wait, possibly more. In the past, we have tried not to use tramitadores and work on crossing by ourselves. The main reason being that there is many borders and if you keep using these "helpers" then you never learn the process yourself. Also, border crossings are part of the travel experience. The officials are the first people you meet and it's nice to get a feel for the personality of the country through them. We have found profound patience and lots of smiles go a long way to helping the process. The man came back. $10.00 each. I looked at Tom, "let's do it". "You sure" he said as usually I am more adament than Tom at autononomy. "Unless we want to be here for the next 2 hours, yes". We handed over the money and followed him to the back of the immigration building, where we were told to wait. Tem minutes later he was back and as we walked to the front where our RV was, he showed us the stamp. I looked at Tom in surprise. "Guess what today is?" I literally shriek at him, laughing. Everyone looks. Tom runs the month of December through his head. "The 13th?" he quizzes. "Yep!" I squeal "and we forgot". It is our wedding anniversary. I explain it to the people around us and suddenly everyone is cheering and clapping. "You must kiss her", said one of the crowd. "I didn't even get you a card" Tom told me. Travelling, the days and dates roll together and neither one of us had realized. "Me neither", I commented but I could not stop laughing. To the sound of cheers and handshakes for Tom, hugs for me, we climbed into the RV for the short drive to the Venezuelan side. Surprise #1 - The Officials. We were greeted to smiling, helpful officials and directed to immigration. After filling out a slip of paper for the reasons we were visiting and where we would travel, our passports were stamped. We inquired about Winston. Everyone looked puzzled. The dog is ok and requires no processing. Customs for the RV is a 3 mile drive into the small town of Guarero where we need to look for a large building named SENIAT. The SENIAT building was easy to find and again we were shown where to park. Inside, we were told which window to go to but it was 12:40, lunchtime. At 1pm, a lady came up to us. After some halting Spanish on our part and English on hers, she told us to wait. Five minutes later, a man, who spoke English started asking us some questions and filling out our paperwork. Within 30 minutes he handed us our import permit. "Welcome to Venezuela", he said smiling and shaking our hands. Welcome indeed. As we drove the 60 mile to Maracaibo, we could see the devastation and ravages left behind by the flooding. Water came up to the side of the road, at times even swamping it and on more than one occasion was up past the wheel wells. At every junction, large and small, groups of military personnel stood to direct and assist traffic. We surmised, correctly, that the government had sent the military to help in the cleanup. Surprise #2 - the Military and Federal Policia. At all points, they waved, smiled and as we wound down our windows, directed us to the correct roads to get to Maracaibo with handshakes and good wishes. What about all that hype with Chavez and ill will? about surly officials who do not like Americans? Our RV has California license plates, so it is obvious where we are from and yet they seem kindly disposed towards us and genuinely happy to have us as guests in their country. It takes us 3 hours to complete the 60 mile drive and it is almost 4:30 before we arrive in the city. We need gas. Again, due to the flooding, gas trucks had not been able to reach these areas yet and our RV sucks up the petrol. Surprise #3 - Gas. We pull into a gas station and fill up, Almost 20 gallon. "5 bolivares" said the attendant. 5! We already knew that it was roughly 4 bolivares to a dollar and that gas in Venezuela is amongst the cheapest in the world but $1.25!! Yes, read it and weep. Gas in Venezuela is about 8 cents a gallon. Unbelievable. As we are driving the streets we are looking for likely spots to park for the night. Tom wants to go out for a "nice" meal (read splurge) for our anniversary. We come to an intersection. Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Burger King and also a gas station and a "nice" restaurant. We park in the gas station and as I give Winston a well deserved potty break, Tom goes on a scouting mission. Just as he returns, the manager of the station approaches us. He asks if we have a problem. "No", Tom said, we just need a place to park for the night. Surprise #4 - the people. The restaurant has a large parking lot and the guard has said we can park there. Two issues solved, where to park and where to eat. The restaurant looks like a high end steak house. The manager at the BP station also told us that if it didn't work out, he would open a gated side lot for us to stay. There are 24 hour guards in all spots. At both places, we were greeted with a warm, easy friendliness. We settled the motorhome, fed and walked Winston again and cleaned up for dinner. As we went into the restaurant, we noticed that it was closed. Two private parties, one downstairs, one up. We were disappointed and it must have shown. The manager came up to us and told us to follow him. We squeezed past the cordoned off area and went upstairs. He showed us into the bar/lounge and said he could set us up in there. Perfect. And so we sat and toasted our anniversary and this day with wine, we recalled our misgivings about Venezuela and we were once again glad that we had ignored the hype. They might prove to be true but on this day, we could not have wished for a better first day in a country and Surprise #5 - the food. Excellent, though a little more ezpensive than that gas.

Cartagena to the Venezuelan border, 314 miles

Since it is so far, we had decided that our first stop would be in Barranquilla, which is 73 miles but about 3 hours from Cartagena. The roads are still flooded due to the exessive rains and it is slow going. Barranquilla is another port on the Caribbean coast and we intend to get our air conditioner in the car fixed. We entered the town and found a cab to help guide us to a repair shop. He took us to Aire Express, owned by a wonderful gentleman called Jairo. He arranged for the A. C. repair and chatted with Tom about our trip. It was getting late, so we asked him about a place to park. We were hoping he would offer his parking lot but he said he knew a better, safer place for us. At that moment, his 16 year old daughter arrived. She spoke fluent English and told us her father was arranging for us to stay in a enclosed, secure parking area. Fantastic. We parted company, with Jairo providing us with his home and cell numbers and if there were anything we needed to call him. That night, our generator started to splutter a little so we decided to stop by and see if Jairo could help again on Tuesday. Before that though, we had seen a hospital across the street from the parking lot and thought we would try to get the final vaccine shot in a series of three for Hep A & B. The hospital directed us to a clinic and we decided to take a cab there. After a couple of minutes in the clinic, I looked at Tom in horror. We had both taken our Sony Ereader´s in case there was a wait and I realized I no longer had mine. I had either left it at the hospital or in the cab. Please God, let it be at the hospital. Not 5 minutes later, Tom saw the cab driver climbing the stairs to the clinic, holding my ereader. Thank you so much, we told him. No problem, he said and did not want any more money. Tom insisted he take the $10.00 we offered him. I was relieved. After getting the shots, we headed back to the RV, to once again visit Jairo. He called a friend of his, who came over to his shop and worked on the generator. All fixed up, we were on our way, next stop 55 miles to Santa Marta, which we had heard was pretty. The only problem was the darned flooded roads which made driving very slow. We got lost leaving Barranquilla and finally pulled into a police station close to the airport. It was shift change so we gave two of the policia a ride to the road to Santa Marta. It was quite novel for them and us. When we parted company, Nola gave me her contact information and let me know if we had any problems to call her and she would officially take care of it. That night we had to stop about 20 mile from Santa Marta but it was beside a restaurant on a beautiful riverbank. On arrival into Santa Marta on Wednesday, the pretty part was right but there were no good places to park. We could have parked in a city parking lot or at the Port Authority but neither was on the beach, nor looked good to us. We decided to keep going towards Riohacha which is the last beach resort prior to crossng the border. Again, we found a great spot right on the beach but close to a hotel which had 24 hour guards. Thursday, we were up bright and early as we wanted to cross both borders before lunch, so we would have plenty of time before dark to get to Maracaibo in Venezuela. It was not meant to be. Just before the border we were stopped by the miltary guard. The road just past the border in Venezuela was closed due to flooding. They said the water was chest high and would take about 3 days to subside. All the trucks that pass through the border were lined up for about a mile. Oh well, back to Riohacha and another holdup. Also, three days put us to Sunday and crossing the borders on Sundays can be a problem because not all branches work the weekend and we need three, immigration for us, customs to get an import permit for the RV and Animal Control for Winston. It turned out we were right. In Venezuela, customs for the RV is only open Monday through Friday and they close for 2 hours at lunch. So, Monday it would be.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cartagena. December 3rd - 6th, 2010

We are relaxed and enjoying our trip once again. After the torrential rains of the past few days, even the weather has improved and the days are warm and sunny. We walk around old town and get some great photographs. We sit at sidewalk cafes and people watch. We walk Winston on the beach across the street from the parking and get some fabulous sunsets. The parking lot is at the west entrance to the walled city and across from the beach. On Saturday, the manager comes over and asks us how long we are staying. "Until Monday", we tell him. He took our entrance card, which he said was costing us too much money and gave us a better 24 hour rate. $18.00 per day with electricity. Perfect. The lot is gated, fenced and guarded. Also, on the other side of the fence from where we are parked is a monument guarded by the military. They also keep an eye on the RV when we leave it. We try a different restaurant each night and even found one that had sushi, which was the best we had eaten since leaving the States. The people are delightful and the town is really pretty. After the stress of the past couple of weeks, we are now ready to drive and complete our circle around South America. From Cartagena, we will head east following the Caribbean into Venezuela then onto Brazil, Argentina, around Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia to Chile, Peru and Ecuador before returning to Colombia in the west where we will visit Cali, Bogata and Medellin. We are excited at the adventures to come. But first, we must stop in the port city of Barranquilla. We need to fix our air conditioner in the vehicle which has mysteriously stopped working and get the generator serviced. It "hiccups" now and again. Monday we will drive to Barranquilla.

Collecting the RV in Cartagena. Part 3. December 1st & 2nd, 2010

What a process! We went to Naves shipping at about 9am. Arleme was there but they were still waiting for some central accounting office to credit our account for the shipping paid in Panama. Some 2 hours later, we had the original bill of lading and had to go to Customs to arrange a vehicle inspection. Only it is absolutely pouring with rain and the streets are flooded. After some conferring, a gentleman from the office offered us a ride to Customs. We meet there with a lady who doesn´t speak much English but utilizes Google´s translator, whereby she types in Spanish and it gets translated on her computer screen to English. Very cool and very useful. She schedules an inspection for 7am on Thursday. Tom & I look at each other. Another night without the RV. Also we now have to go to the port to have them arrange the vehicle for inspection and mobilization. It is still pouring with rain and lunch time. All shops, banks, offices in Cartagena close between 12 and 2 every day and we have forgotten to bring an umbrella. By the time we had walked and found a taxi, we were drenched. The cab driver is grumbling about taking us. It is quite a way to our apartment building in the Bocagrande District and as I said the streets are flooded so badly that water is starting to seep into the car. Cartagena is at sea level and after heavy rains a boat would be a better option than a car. People here refer to the city as the Venice of Colombia. As we approach the historic walled city, the roads are getting worse and our cab driver pulls over. He sits and sits, chatting with us in Spanish as Tom and I struggle to understand. Now we get it. He wants us out. He is taking us no further. We look at each other. Tom refuses to pay him. He doesn´t care. He will not go any further. We get out and are immediatelly up to our calves in rushing water. It´s OK, I tell Tom, we are already drenched. We walk a little way up the road and find another taxi willing to take us to our apartment. 2 hours after leaving the Customs building we arrive back. A trip that should have taken 20 minutes! And we still have to get to the port to schedule the vehicle for mobilization. We eat and walk Winston and set off again. This time we decide to have the cab wait for us, regardless of cost. Our arrival at the port signalled another round with officials. It is slow. They are very nice. We are offered tea, coffee cookies. Do we need anything? Only our RV. Finally at 5pm, we are scheduled. "See you tomorrow", they say, "oh and you need to wear long pants and closed shoes". We only have sandals with us, allour other footware is in the RV. We ask the cab driver to stop at a shoe store on our way back to the apartment, so Tom can buy a cheap pair of shoes. And tomorrow we get to do this again. We were back at the port by 7am and we wait. At 8, the lady who helped us Wednesday, arrived for work. "No-one showed", we tell her. She calls and another gentleman shows up who speaks English. "We don´t know what the problem is" he says "we are trying to call the inspector now". We wait and wait. At 9, another man comes to sit with us. He brings Tom a hard hat and reflector jacket. "Let´s go" he says. I sit. Again everyone is charming and helpful. "Do I need anything?". I smile. They realize their process is slow and go out of their way to make us more comfortable. Tom comes back, covered in mud. It was a long walk to the RV and because of the rains, the roads were a mud pit. The inspector hasn´t shown up but it doesn´t matter, they say, you go back to customs and they will issue the release. We are puzzled. If it wasn´t important to them to inspect the RV, why the process in the first place. Like a lot of things, it makes no sense. Fortunately, there are 2 other officials from Customs at the port and they offer us a ride. We get to Customs and meet with the inspector. After lloking at her and her heels and attire, Tom and I surmise that the reason she ditched the inspection was because of the mud and yes, they have our temporary import permit ready. Now we need to go to another office to pay the port fees. We are frustrated. This is now the fourth office we have had to go to and none are really close to one another. We manage to snag another cab. Another lady official, we pay our fees. It is noon. "Come back at 2", she says and I will have your paperwork ready". "Will we get our vehicle today", I ask. "Yes, this afternoon". At 2pm, we get the last lot of paperwork and go back to the port. Tom goes off with another official and 30 minutes later, I saw our RV, my home. I could have cried with relief. What an ordeal and process. We stop off at the apartment and collect our luggage and Winston. We are going to park the RV at one of the city parking lots, close to the walled city, that we had seen on our travels. Imagine our surprise when we pulled in and were directed to the back fence. There, set up were power outlets for motorhomes and trucks. We are the only one´s using them at this time. A safe, 24 hour guarded facility and with power. We decide we have earned a splurge dinner at the Charleston Hotel. A beautiful hotel in the walled city. We order wine and after a great meal, decide to stay in Cartagena over the weekend and enjoy our remaining time here by sightseeing and organizing the RV. If you would like a detailed account of our shipping process in Panama and Colombia, with relevant addresses, contact names, telephone numbers etc., please email me as I have the complete shipping instructions available in a word document format.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cartagena Chaos

Well, things did not go as planned on Thanksgiving Thursday. After having made sure that the motorhome was here and docked and unloaded, we set off for the shipping office to pick up the bill of lading. After much discussion, Arlene, our contact told us that we had been given incorrect information. We had been told to have a cashiers cheque, made payable to Wallenius Wilhelmsen (the cargo carrier) for our shipping fees. We are now informed that they do not have that name in Colombia and the cheque should have been made to Naves Shipping. Naves! Tom and I looked at each other. This was the first time we had heard of the name. They were unrelenting. We can give cash or we need to take care of the cheque another way (no options were offered) but until the money issue is resolved we will not be given the release on the vehicle. We are stunned. We now have a cashiers cheque, that we handed over cash for to the tune of $2,600.00 and it is no good, at least not in Colombia. We called Joel, our contact in Manzanillo. He apologized, Arlene apologized, but the end result was we would not get our RV today. We must now, send the cheque back to Manzanillo to Joel and when he recieves the money, then the RV will be released. We leave and assess our options, the first being getting more time at the hotel. We have another problem. It is now after 12pm and the Hilton due to hosting a convention, does not have any rooms available for tonight. They suggest we try across the street from the hotel where there are many condo/apartment buildings but they do not know which accepts pets. Fortunately, most do and we got a 1 bedroom apartment in the El Conquistador. Our next stop was to the Federal Express office to mail the cheque to Wallenius Wilhelmsen in Panama and since we are here to mail the Christmas presents back to the US. We find out there is no overnight service to Panama, only a 2 day service and so the cheque will not arrive until Monday. We get back to the Conquistador and contact Joel in Panama to let him know the cashiers cheque will be there on Monday. Monday is a holiday here, he tells us. Cripes! What more can go wrong. We will now be at the Conquistador until Tuesday at least. After getting back to the condo, we took time to regroup. The whole shipping process has thrown us off and we are reconciling ourselves to being without our RV for another 5 days minimum. We spend Friday grocery shopping. The condo has a small kitchen area so we will be able to cook some of our own meals and be more self sufficient than at an hotel. We are just across the street from the beach so can still walk Winston and enjoy the town. Tuesday finds us checking the Fedex website every couple of hours to track the cheque. Finally at 4pm, Joel signs for it in Panama. I email him and he assures us that all is well and we can get the bill of lading tomorrow (Wednesday) from Naves in Cartagena. I am so relieved I am almost in tears. Thank You God! Tom is as thankful as I am. We really are missing our rolling home and looking forward to picking it up in the morning. It is truly a good Tuesday and hopefully a better Wednesday.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Waiting in Cartagena

Our flight to Cartagena was quick and uneventful. We had once again given Winston a sedative so he would not stress in cargo. The plane took off on time and one hour and one glass of wine later we had a smooth landing. By the time we had cleared immigration, Winston's crate and our baggage were waiting along with an official from animal cuarentina, known in Colombia as ICA (eeka). He took us into an office, checked Winston's paperwork, filled out and stamped another form for a total cost of $26.00 and we were clear to enter Colombia. We had elected to splurge a little and stay at the Hilton Hotel, which are a pet friendly chain. Once we arrived, the entire staff became smitten with Winston. One of the desk clerks is also called Winston and this caused great hilarity for all concerned. We were shown to our room, beautiful, fantastic and awesome come to mind. After spending most of the past 8 months in the RV, having a king sized bed and huge bathroom with plenty of hot water is indeed a luxury. Oh, and let's not forget a television! Being late, we fed Winston and gave him a walk on the beach but he was still too groggy to enjoy it much. We ate at the hotel restaurant and before going to sleep, I took a luxurious bubblebath - heaven. Monday, our RV was supposed to arrive but there was a delay leaving the port in Panama so we will be staying at the Hilton for another night. We decided to spend the day in the old town. Cartagena was one of the original walled cities and as such is filled with historic landmarks and forts. We also wanted to get some Christmas shopping accomplished, so we are not rushed at the last minute sending the gifts back to the States. Colombia is famous for it's emerald mines and I wanted to check out emeralds and prices. After a day of shopping we found most of the presents we needed to purchase and a beautiful emerald ring for me. I was ecstatic. We had decided to try one of the restaurants in the walled city and after asking around went to one called Casa de Sorocco. They serve typical Colombian food so it should be interesting. Hmm. Turtle, which is protected all over Central America was listed on the menu. Tom decided to try it, I declined. He didn't like it. I also found the beef dish I ordered quite greasy and had most of it wrapped to go - Winston will be grateful. All in all, it wasn't very satisfying. Tuesday, we ran into another problem proving once again that having some flexibility is essential. The boat is here in Cartegena but the port is congested and the shipping office has not been given any information on when a dock will be available. "Call tomorrow morning (Wednesday) I was told". Another night at the hotel. We spent Tuesday hanging out at the hotel, on the private beach with Winston and lazing by one of the three pools - I could get used to this. Everyone knows Winston and staff calling out his name, greet us whereever we go. This night we eat in the hotel restaurant again. The food is excellent and the service attentive, especially because we are Winston's parents! We called the shipper early Wednesday morning. Ship is still anchored out at sea and please call back in the afternoon, they are hopeful there will be a dock available today. Not an hour later, our ship with the huge Wallenius Wilhelmsen markings appeared in the bay. "There's our boat" I said excitedly to Tom. It remained in the bay so tantalizingly close all day. I called the shipper again at 4pm and we were told that they should be able to get into port at 6pm. and for us to be at their office early Thursday. Another night in the hotel. The expenses for the part of our travels is rising exponentially. To boot, there is a huge convention happening at the hotel and it is now at capacity, which raised the room price by $100.00 to $300.00 per night, ouch! But we are reconciled with the wait and again spend our time between the playa with Winston and the pools. We also hope that we can get our motorhome back on Thursday. It is Thanksgiving at home but in Colombia just another day.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cargo an RV from Panama to Colombia. Part Two. November 18th, 2010.

We knew that flexibilty is key both with travelling and shipping. Wednesday we felt pretty good about things. We had successfully dealt with the DIJ and Secretariat General. We made our hotel reservations for the 6 nights in Panama, picked up our rental car from the airport, got our laundry done and RV washed. Wednesday night we went to the Balboa Club to get on line, skype and check emails. After talking with family and friends, I logged onto our email. One from the shipping company. We are shipping with Wallenius Wilhelmsen and have been in contact with Joel, their logistics coordinator for the past few weeks. We are booked on the Galaxy Leader scheduled to leave Tuesday. Not anymore. It appears the Galaxy Leader is stuck in Texas so we need to be at port in Manzanillo, Colon as early as possible on Thursday because they are going to try to get us on a vessel, the Kassel, leaving Friday. Friday! That means we need to leave for Colombia on Sunday instead of Wednesday. Thank God we haven't purchased tickets yet. We send an email to Joel that we will be in Manzanillo as early Thursday as possible. I barely sleep. Thursday, we get up early, pack up the items we will carry with us on the plane, mainly our expensive electronic equipment, install our temporary plywood wall and feed and walk Winston. I also give Winston a tranquillizer pill. We want to sedate him when we fly and his vet had suggested we try the pills out first to see how he responds to them and this seems as good a time as any. When we get to the terminal at port we meet up with Joel and get our final bill of lading. Winston sleeps. We then go to Aduana (Customs) to cancel our temp. import permit and give a copy of the authorization form we had recieved from the DIJ on Tuesday. Winston sleeps. It's then onto the exit office for another stamp and finally to the harbor master where the RV was inspected for shipment by customs both inside and out by both officials and drug sniffing dogs. I couldn't help but wonder..drugs. Didn't they know we were going to Colombia. I mean, if we were so inclined, isn't that like taking sand to the beach! We are given the go ahead and finally hand over the keys of our beloved casa rodante to the harbor master. A sticker is fixed on the windshield, I hope it gets on the right ship! Winston sleeps. We head back to Panama City to our hotel for the next three nights, not six as originally planned. The RV is on it's way to Cartagena, Colombia and now we need to get reservations to meet up with it. We get to the hotel, check in and get our luggage into the room. We have to wake Winston up, he is groggy. Tom walks him a little so he can go to the bathroom and we settle him into the room before going to get a bite to eat. When we return to the room, Winston sleeps..and so do we.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Our final few days in Panama. November 20th, 2010

We had originally planned for 6 full, free days of sightseeing and shopping in and around Panama City but now that is cut short. We contacted the airlines and made reservations for Sunday and since we will spend only one night in a hotel in Cartagena, decide to splurge and stay at the Hilton, which we found, after doing an internet search is pet friendly. In Panama City, we are staying at the Hotel Benidorm, also, pet friendly and economical. It is a small hotel close to Avenida Balboa (the main thoroughfare) but has everything we need. In addition, Carlos the owner whose family besides owning this hotel also owns the Hotel Veracruz in Panama City is extremely helpful and was invaluable in assisting us with obtaining a cashiers check. We had visited every main bank in the city (HSBC, Banco General, Banco National, Scotiabank to name a few) and because of the banking laws to get a cashiers check, you need a bank account. To cargo the RV, you need, not a credit card, not check, not cash even, you need a cashiers check. We were in a catch 22, until Carlos arrived. After we explained our dilemma, he talked to his bank and then he and Tom went to the bank and we finally got the blessed check. We also, got to visit the Miraflores locks. The Panama Canal consists of a series of lock systems to negotiate the route from the Pacific to Atlantic Oceans and Miraflores is the closest to the city. We were able to watch a huge cargo vessel negotiate through the locks being guided by small trams on each side called mules. Absolutely amazing. After that we went to the highest point in the city for a spectacular 360 degree view of the city, extremely photogenic. We then visited the historic section with it's churches and government buildings before heading back to the hotel. Tomorrow, it is a travel day to Colombia but Tom and I relished our last night by eating at Bennigan's and discussing our time spent in Panama. We can now understand why so many Americans retire here. It is accomodating with many of the conveniences of the US - shopping, medical, dental, hospitals, housing and communications to name but a few but significantly less expensive than the US.

Cargo an RV from Panama to Colombia. Part One. November 16th, 2010.

We have done a lot of research on RV shipment and it seems everyone has a different experience during the shipping process. We knew the procedure and now is the time to put it into reality. The first step on Tuesday is to go to the Policia National Dirrecion (DIJ) to have the RV checked against the VIN/ID number to be sure we have not been involved in an accident or have any outstanding tickets. Then to the Secretariat General office to get an authorization for permission to leave the country. Everyone who takes a vehicle from Panama needs to go through this process and it must be done no more than 6 days prior to leaving the country. So, 7:30am on Tuesday finds us outside the DIJ even though they don't technically open until 9:00am. The reason for this is that all vehicles both import and export must go there and if you don't go early enough then you are told to come on another day. As it was, we parked and Tom went in. Five minutes later he comes out and gloomily says "They said come back tomorrow". No explanations, no reasons just, come tomorrow. We talked it over because Wednesday would cut it close for us as we need to be at port on Thursday. After some discussion we agreed that I would go and try. Putting on my most cheerful face, I went in. I shmoozed, I cajoled, I was adamant. We had to be seen today. The gentleman I was trying to win over was also adamant. "My captain has told your husband to come back tomorrow". "Then I need to talk to your captain", I said. "He speaks no English", I was told. Undeterred I flashed back "Fine, then I will practice my Spanish on him but we need to be inspected today". The officer walked away and came back not a minute later "Come back at nine am today". "Gracias' I smile. I walk back to the RV. "Today, at nine" I tell Tom. "Great" he says "maybe you should deal with them, they like you better". Since it is 8:15, we decide to wait, as the office is downtown and in a really rundown, seedy area. As I walk Winston, I can't help but notice the slum tenement buildings and poverty of the area. Definitely a part of the city that tourists don't visit. At 9am, we are back in the office. We wait and wait. There were 5 other people waiting and many others were turned away. I guess 6 is all they can handle on any day! At 10:30, a man came out of an office and gestured to everyone to follow him. We were told to lift the hood and have our temp importation permit and shipping confirmation forms ready. He walked over, checked our paperwork against the vehicle ID number and we were told to return at 2pm in the afternoon. After a 3 and a half hour wait, we were inspected in five minutes. At 2pm we return and Tom goes in, whist I walk Winston and warily eye the neighborhood. Ten minutes later, Tom and an officer come out. Because of the danger in the area, the DIJ escort you across the street with an armed officer but first... Tom has been told he needs to put on long pants and a dressier shirt. (He was in shorts and a T shirt). Maybe that is why they sent him away this morning, his informal dress style. To see the Secretariat General it seems, one must be attired correctly! Also, the officer said to me, "it really isn't safe for you to be walking in this area. Bad people with guns. Much shooting. You need to stay inside and lock the doors". This is in the police yard but even the police do not come out alone and are always armed. "This is crazy" I say to Tom. "Tell me" he says "who would have thought there was a dress code. I hope sandals are ok. Oh, and stay inside, we don't want you shot!" "Gee, thanks, try not to take too long". Tom leaves and I turn on the generator to get A/C. An hour later he appears and waves the authorization form at me. We are done for the day and more important, successful. "Let's get the heck out of here" I say and Tom agrees but only after he puts shorts back on. He also agrees that we deserve a beer and Winston needs another walk. Tomorrow is another day.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Onto Panama City, November 13th - 15th, 2010

The two weeks at Playa Santa Catalina went quickly and it was with regret that we said our goodbyes to Juventino and Abby with promises to see them again when we return to Panama in about a year. We have had lots of fun but it is time to get prepared to take the RV to Colon for shipping and arranging our flights to Cartagena. Our plan is to stop at XS Memories one more time, clean the RV and tanks before going to Panama City on Monday to start the exit process. We have also been using up all our refrigerated and frozen foods in preparation for leaving so our only stops on the way to Santa Clara is at a home depot type store for plywood and the pet store to purchase a travel crate for Winston. Our RV is open from the front cab to the rear and we need the plywood to create a temporary wall to separate the front cab from the living quarters and this will hopefully, deter anyone from stealing our personal items. After the stop in Santiago we are once on the panamericana and once again.....yep, same lead-footed husband, same spot and..same traffic police with radar gun. We both groan and try to look contrite. Tom wound down his window. "So sorry, so sorry" he repeated as the policeman came up to us. "My friends" he shouted "how are you?" as he firmly shook our hands. "Too fast, too fast" he said. Tom continued to apologize. "No problem" he said "we are friends". We are travelling with T-shirts and baseball caps from the San Jose Fire Dept, which Tom got when he retired and we offered him a T-Shirt. "No, it's ok", he said and after about a 10 minute chat, we all shook hands again and we started to drive. I sent the remainder of the drive, driving Tom a little crazy by reminding him of the speed limit was at any given time. We spent Sunday figuring out the plywood for our temporary wall, sprucing up the RV and bathing Winston. Monday, it's Panama City and the Balboa Yacht Club again. We also have a vet appointment for Winston. He needs some shots updated and the vet is going to prepare the paperwork for flying into Colombia. In the evening we adjourned to the club and sat outside, skyping family and friends and watching the flotilla of boats of all sizes meandering their way up the Panama Canal whilst having a glass of wine. It really is a beautiful view.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Santa Catalina. October 28th - November 12th, 2010

Both Tom and I love the quiet little surf beach community of Santa Catalina. It is quite far from the beaten path and remarkably undeveloped. We set off fairly early for the 6 hour drive. In addition, we knew we needed to stop for groceries as the place we stay in Santa Catalina is remote, so for the duration of our stay which will be 2 weeks, we need to be self sufficient. The first part of the journey from Santa Clara to Santiago is fairly smooth going on the Panamericana and after a stop in Penenome for provisions we were making good time until....traffic police with a radar gun. Yep, my lead footed husband was speeding as the police was eager to tell us. We tried everything and he was remarkably undetered by our abysmal spanish and his little English. "Are you sorry" he asked, we both nodded. "Lo siento" Tom kept repeating. "I'm sorry". "Will you slow down and be carefully?" We both nodded again. "Very careful". Tom responded "and slow". The questions kept coming. He spotted a dictionary we carry and went through it, collecting various words and phrases. Where were we coming from, where were we going, how long were we staying in Panama. "I could give you a ticket and then you would have to go to David (which is really far) to pay it". We frowned. "So sorry" Tom kept repeating whilst I was beginning to think he would keep us there all day chatting. "What does he really want" I whispered to Tom. So far no money had been mentioned so we took matters into our own hands. "How much would a ticket be?" asked Tom. "Oh, I don't want to give you a ticket but you were going 90 kilometers in a 45 kilmeter zone". Tom took out his wallet and extracted a $20.00 bill, all the while checking out the policeman. He calmly folded it up and whilst taking back his license, shook the policeman's hand, pressing the folded bill between them. "Drive slowly, be careful, good luck, mi amigos" the policeman cheerfully. After a 30 minute stop we finally said our goodbyes and waved. Thank God and the speeding fine has only cost us $20.00, much cheaper than the United States! After Santiago, the going through the town of Sona and then to Santa Catalina was much slower. Narrow roads, less well maintained, lots of pot holes and, rain but we plodded on and finally arrived at the Rancho Cosa Mia by 5pm. The property is owned by Americans and managed by a Panamaian couple, Juventino and his wife Abby. They live on the property in a small house and then there is one cabin to rent and plenty of space for the RV. It is on a cliff, overlooking the beach and the access to the water is only a short 5 mins walk. They were not home when we arrived but we parked in the same spot as on our prior visit which is close to the bathroom, electricity and the deck with it's amazing views. By the time Juventino and Abby get home, we had even gotten our awning up. Since our automatic, custom installed awning had been torn off in Mexico (refer to Mexico blogs) we are reduced to a simple set up using ropes, stakes and cover but it works and gives some protection, even though it is quite cumbersome to set up. They were thrilled to see us again and volunteered to let us know when they would go to town so we could get fresh milk, produce and of course, freshly caught fish and prawns from the local fishermen. Abby also told me I could use her washing machine to do laundry. We will stay in this idyllic spot for 2 whole weeks. There is good surf here so Tom is thrilled, Winston is allowed to roam without restriction, so he is excited and me, well I'm glad because I can catch up on preparing the RV for export to Colombia, reading and long walks on the beach.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Return to XS Memories in Santa Clara

Having completed our business in Panama City and with now about 3 weeks to wait for the Galaxy Leader to take the RV, we have decided to go back to one of our favourite places - Santa Catalina and settle there for a couple of weeks. As we don't really like to drive too far each day, we will take a break in Santa Clara at XS Memories. This is an RV park complete with sewer (so we can clean our tanks) and internet. The restaurant is pretty decent also, although we tend to cook most of our meals ourselves. We will take the opportunity to skpye Tom's mom and sister, the kids and those friends whose skype addresses we have. If you would like to add our skype to yours, the address is Tom.Angela.Conry. The only drawback to the park is that we have to keep Winston tethered because of the 2 large Dobermans that are onsite. In addition to the dogs, the owners have a few cats and quite a menagerie of birds - 3 green and yellow parrots, an african grey, a scarlet macaw, a pair of military/blue & gold mixed macaws and 3 toucans, 2 are the regular type that you see in lots of pictures and the other is much smaller, oh and let's not forget their monkey that swings in the trees. The birds make quite a ruckus in the morning but the 3 parrots talk all day. One knows the ring of a cell phone so it will "ring" 4 - 5 times and then answer in a sweet old lady voice, incredible English "Hello" pause "How are you doing?". At this point the other 2 pipe up and one says "Hi" in a young, almost childlike voice and the other a loud "Hola" in a gruffer male voice. Then all birds go quiet, only to start the whole exercise over again, every 3 minutes or so. This is intersperced with other questions from them "How are you?" "What are you doing?" and "I'm fine" amongst others. It is all very amusing if a little repetitive. Winston was very enamored with them at first but now when they start up he just sighs and tries to go back to sleep. The best part of the park though, in my opinion is the swimming pool. It is really quite a treat to have access to a pool and on the hot, humid days there really is nothing better than to slip into the cool water. But, we will only be here one night before going to the beach at Santa Catalina. I will make use of that pool a couple of times. We will return here from the playa before we leave Panama as it is a great place to regroup and get the RV ready for shipment. Tom is hoping there are some good waves for boogie boarding and we have a few books that we have downloaded from the library onto our Sony ereader. For anyone interested in getting into the electronic books, Tom & I love ours. They have proven invaluable as we both like to read and because of space the only books we are travelling with is a few guide books. We can download books from our library in San Jose so we don't have to purchase books at all and we have plenty of reading material. Well, it is time to prepare the RV for moving and get on the road as we have a rather long drive today to get to Santa Catalina. Have fun.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Balboa Yacht Club, Panama City. October 26th, 2010

The drive from Santa Clara to Panama City was an easy 90 minutes through some pretty countryside as the road wound through mountainous areas and then dropped to sea level where we could espy the ocean. Our destination and the place we knew we could park the RV overnight is the Balboa Yacht Club which is located at the base of the Puente de las Americas (the Bridge of the Americas). We had seen photos of the bridge but nothing does it justice. I was reminded of moving to California and the first time I saw the Golden Gate Bridge. The view as you make the approach from 19th Avenue is unbelievably beautiful and the approaching road to this bridge did not disappoint us. I was squealing with glee as the bridge came into view and then we were crossing it. This is the start at the Pacific side of the Panama Canal and we could see boats, large container cargoes, small personal vessels and everything in between lined up out at sea as far as the eye could see waiting for their turn to pass through the canal to the Caribbean. We found the yacht club with little effort and decided to drive down the causeway. Throughout the drive, my gaze kept returning to the bridge and the boats in the waterway. We got back to the club and after parking the RV we went to the restaurant with it's outside patio facing the water and the bridge. As we ate dinner we just could not stop marvelling at the view. We walked Winston on the promenade that lines the approach to the canal and again I reflected on how fortunate we are. Today, Tuesday our first steps were to contact Joel again and finalize the RV paperwork. We are in almost constant contact with Joel and were able to accomplish everything by phone and email. Afterwards we hired a cab to take us to a post office (we have been carrying postcards and a small package for our youngest niece since Costa Rica) and it is definitely past the time to do mailing. We have discovered that post offices are few and far between and that from some they recommend that you don't mail packages so we have been careful but Panama does have a fairly good post system. We had planned on leaving Balboa in the afternoon but decided to take advantage of the club's facilites namely a washer and dryer. Our taxi driver/tour guide informed us that the club has very nice showers and a laundry room on site. We have not had the opportunity to get laundry done in a while and this was the perfect time and place. As we were waiting for our wash and having a beer at the restaurant we were rewarded with the sight of a huge cruise ship, the "Island Princess" coming out of the canal and sailing under the bridge. Totally awesome! And as I sit here tonight with Tom and Winston, looking out over the water those are still the two words that describe my feelings. Since we now have time to kill until November 22nd, we plan on returning north to the beaches for the next couple of weeks. For tonight, watching the boats sail by while a warm Panamanian breeze blows sipping on a glass of Chilean Merlot is perfect.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Santa Clara, Panama. Monday October 25th.

It's been a busy week. Our main goal since coming to Panama is trying to arrange for the RV, Winston and us safe passage to Colombia. There is no overland route from Panama into Colombia. The Pan American fizzles out into the jungles of the Darien Gap and it seems there are no plans in the near future for any border crossing in that area - my guess being mainly in an attempt to halt the drug trade. There is also no passenger ferry that we can take so our only option is to cargo the RV from the port of Colon to Cartagena, Colombia (on the Carribean side) and for us to fly. Since there is no overland route there are many vessels that cargo goods from Panama to Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador. However, again because there is no other way to get goods from Central to South America (and vice versa) it is also extremely busy and sometimes difficult to get space. I had sent a few emails from Costa Rica to an agent in Panama to try to get information but never got a response, so after doing some research online I contacted the shipper directly and since then have been dealing with a delightful gentleman called Joel who is being very helpful. He tried to get us on a ship which sailed today but because of the extensive paperwork involved and that the RV had to be delivered to the port by last Thursday, we decided it was to rushed and would wait for the next space which is on a ship called the Galaxy Leader leaving November 22nd. In dealing with the shipper directly instead of using an agent we are saving, by the way, about $1,000.00. I will keep you up to date on the total cost and process. We also now know that we will probably be without our beloved "home" for at least a week even though the voyage is only 8 hours (!) due to loading and unloading. This presents a small problem in finding hotels that will accept Winston but we have already been given the names of three in Panama City and will keep you informed on which we choose. So, today we are leaving Santa Clara and going to Panama City, which is about 2 hours from here and possibly to Colon where we will meet Joel, begin the paperwork and pay for the RV. Wish us luck.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Where to begin!

To my defense, we have not had access to WiFi. But, since we have our own satellite, that is not really an excuse. I am sorry we worried our family especially Tom's mom (at 80 something! your children have no right to make you anxious), our children ( who having just visited us were not as concerned about our travels as they once were) and my sister and brother in law (who were ready to contact the State Dept). Everything is good. We spent our last few days in Costa Rica on the beach relaxing and had decided to cross the border to Panama at Paso Canoas on Sunday, thinking there would be less traffic (trucks). We had become complacent. Up until now the border crossings were almost identical. Check in to exit, get the temporary vehicle permit, our passports and Winstons health cert. stamped. Then do almost the duplicate for our new country. We checked out of Costa Rica with no issues and unlike some borders, Panama is just a block away. We had no problem at immigration but when we came to get our vehicle permit we were told to process Winston first. It was then that we found out that Panama needs to have the pet physically inspected by a vet and the vet is only available Monday though Fridays. "It's Sunday" we say to the official. "Come back tomorrow, Monday" we were told. All well and good but right now we had exited Costa Rica and were in no mans land. Looking confused and perplexed sometimes works in your favor. In addition to the official from Quarantine there was also a couple of customs officials available to check out the motor home and we told them about our problem with Winston. There was sympathy but everyone agreed that nothing could be done until Monday and we were directed to two areas that we could park until the on-site vet office opened. In the meantime they agreed to process the RV but kept stressing to us the importance of waiting to get Winston's paperwork in order. It turns out that we could have left the border without taking care of it but when we would leave the country there would be a $150.00 fine. I do not want a problem in Colon at the airport with Winston's paperwork and for an overnight pit stop with a $6.00 charge to the vet, it was worth it to us to take care of business. Come Monday we knew all of the officials and they knew us, so it was with smiles and waves that we finally entered Panama. Our first stop was to be the city of David (da-veed) to get groceries and money. We see a supermarket and a HSBC bank in the same center. Tom heads over to get money at the ATM. DECLINED! He comes back. "Our card got turned down" he says. Maybe the ATM. He grabs his passport and heads into the bank. After seeing a teller and several attampts later, our Visa card is still getting turned down. At that point, frantically we get out the satellite to contact our bank. Several button pushing and persons later, we finally find out that Visa does not honor transactions in Panama because of credit card fraud. After much negotiation with our bank, they agree to honor the card providing we let them know the minute we leave Panama. In all of our travels to date, we have not had this problem. We go into the market and shop. At the checkout, what do you know, our card is declined again. Tom is fuming. I go to the RV and pull some of our emergency dollars to get us out of the store with some dignity intact. We again contact the bank. Now, it turns out that after 10 uses (attempts) per day the card shuts down. We are assured that tomorrow (Tuesday) we will be able to use it. Thank God that we travel with emergency money in a safe. We had decided our first stop was going to be in the mountains at a small village called Boquette (Bo-kett-eh), which is only about 30 miles from David. We had read that there was street parking but on arrival we find out that Boquette is a busy, thriving town with narrow streets and seemingly nowhere for the RV. After touring the streets we stop by the bus depot to assess our predicament. Next to the depot is a mechanic shop and the owner Nick came over, curious and wanting to chat. We told him about our problem. "No problem", he said, "I am closing, just park in front of my shop. A guard will be here and you willl be safe.". We offered him money but he scornfully turned us down. "I just want to help, you don't have to pay me" he said. An hour or so later, Nick's son (Noel) showed up with the guard. They both knew about us and said that they would be in the next house all night if we needed anything. After situating the RV, we walked into town with Winston to explore. It was busy with lots of restaurants and tourist souvenir type shops. This is a coffee growing region of Panama and there are quite a few plantations. We decided to forgo the restaurants and just have a simple meal in the RV. The day had been taxing and we were tired from the whole ordeal between the border and the banking. Hopefully tomorrow we can get money!

Friday, September 24, 2010

In San Jose, Costa Rica (again)

It has been a while since I blogged, so much was going on and we did a lot of travelling in the last couple of weeks trying to show Nicole and Danny as much of north and central Costa Rica as possible. We first took them to Monteverde where we explored the rain and cloud forest reserves and did a zip line and canopy tour. I was terrified, Tom and the kids loved it but the views were magnificent. We then went on to Volcan Arenal and to the hot springs. Then it was the one and only glitch to the plan. Danny behaving stupidly, cut his arm which required us to return to San Jose for stitches. After a days delay, we set off for Tamarindo. The kids had the opportunity to experience, first-hand the trials of driving in Central America. Just north of San Ramon, the panamerican highway was, again, washed out due to the rains. We pulled our maps to try to find an alternate route and turned around. 5 hours later in the dark, we finally made it as far as Puntarenas. We managed to find a small hotel for the kids and we were able to park the RV right outside. So, it wasn't until Monday that we arrieved in Tamarindo. Everyone loved the beach. Nicole got to try her hand at surfing for the first time. Johan was a patient teacher and she was able to get up a couple of times. We met a neat couple from Japan and everyone had fun socializing with them. Wednesday, September 15th was Independence Day and Tom and I had said that we would cook for everyone at the Tsunami. Clam Chowder and french bread was the menu with appetizers of chips and dip, cheese and crackers. About a dozen of us sat to eat and a lot of fun was had by all. We left Tamarindo, reluctantly but we wanted to head south on the coast to Manuel Antonio National Park. The park was interesting. We saw monkeys, sloths and coatis (members of the raccoon family). The beach was beautiful, propably one of the nicest to date and we were able to get a room at the Manuel Antonio Hotel with a huge grassy area in the back for the RV. After a day, we started north a little way, to Playa Esterillos Oeste where I had been told 13 pairs of macaws nested. Danny and Nicole spotted 2 pairs of scarlet macaws and were ecstatic. This is also a great beach to gather shells and we combed the area so the kids had a fine collection to tote home with them. Our last night was at Playa Hermosa, south of Jaco. We spent the day in Jaco having lunch and shopping for souvenirs for home. Tom barbequed on our last night together and after packing for the kids, we are sending a bunch of stuff back with them that we have either purchased for ourselves as souvenirs or that we simply brought from home and do not need, we had an early night. Monday, we were all up early for the drive back to San Jose. The flight is at 12:20pm but we want no surprises driving. As luck had it, we had plenty of time. We parked the RV, Danny and Nicole said their goodbyes to Winston and we caught a cab to the airport. With much hugs and kisses (and a few not so well hidden tears) we said our farewells. We probably will not see them again until March or so next year, depending on where we are. Christmas will be difficult for us. Tom and I intend to spend the next few days attending to the motorhome. We have developed a leak which requires Tom to reseal the roof and we want to shop for some supplies that are easier to obtain in San Jose. However those plans were put on hold as Monday night, I took a fall. Tom had gone to get pizza for dinner and as I was checking on Winston I noticed that the main gate had been closed for the night. I went over to make sure the side gate was unlocked so Tom could get back in. There is a path that covers only half of this gate and then there is about a 2 foot ditch that you have to step around. In the pouring rain, I stepped over the ditch to be sure the gate was open and somehow slipped on the slick moss and landed up in the ditch, on my back. After I extracted myself and hobbled back to the RV, I was bleeding from my leg, foot and arm and my right arm felt as though it had been yanked out of the socket. Bt the time Tom returned, I was washing the blood and he was greeted to my tears and the words "I fell". After he checked me out "That's going to be one helluva bruise on your arm", he said, I ate some pizza, took a Motrin and went to bed. The next day I felt like I had been kicked and stomped and it took me another day to feel better. In addition Tom was right, I do have a huge bruise running down my arm but at least I didn't break anything! As a side note for all those reading this and thinking of travelling, we put the kids in a variety of hotels, B&B's and cabinas with prices ranging from $28.00 to $60.00 per night for a 2 bed room with A/C, internet and private bath. In all places there are a wide range of rooms available with some being very inexpensive for the budget consious. We are now, once again ready to head south. Our goal is to be in Panama the beginning of October. I also have one request. I am happy and surprised at the number of people who are reading our blog and checking on us but for the most part I don't know who is following us. So, next time you read about us, could you please take a minute to sign up as a follower. That way Tom and I know. Thanks.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Playa Hermosa to San Jose. 93 mile.

San Jose has a true American style RV park complete with all hookups. This is great, especially the sewer, our tanks need a thorough flushing and cleaning. Water is easy to obtain from gas stations and restaurants and we can get power at many overnight locations plus we have the generator if we really need electricity but dumping our tanks is difficult to say the least. We try to be conservative by emptying our dish water outside and using alternate shower facilities whenever possible but the black water (toilet) tank is a problem so it is with relief that we can hook up and clean them out. Also, we need an oil change and the RV checked out. All those rough roads have us concerned that something might have come loose. The park is quiet but right in the center of a suburb of San Jose. There are three other dogs here belonging to the park owners so Winston settles in quickly and now has new friends to run and play with. There is also internet, which is great since we have a bit of last minute coordination with the kids before they come. We have ordered a ton of stuff online for us, Winston and the RV and they will bring it all to us, in addition to some last minute items that I have thought of. It also gives is the opportunity to Skype with friends and family and catch up on the news. We are so looking forward to seeing Danny and Nicole. We have been on the road for almost 6 months and I do miss the kids. Hopefully the next two weeks we can catch up on their activities back home and enjoy their company.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Puntarenas to Jaco/Playa Hermosa. 50 miles. August 29th & 30th, 2010

Our intent had been to go from Puntarenas to the RV park in San Jose but since we still have time before Danny and Nicole arrive, we will stay at one more beach before going to the city. Jaco is the closest beach to the capital and as such is the busiest but Playa Hermosa, which is just south of there, is supposed to be a little quieter and have better surf breaks. We are again winging it as far as overnight stays but we live in hope. On our first couple of tries, at hotel parking lots we struck out and were turned down to our suggestions of overnight parking, even with the offer of paying. We were instead directed to a public beach access with some parking. As we pulled in, we saw another RV, a little smaller than ours but with Nevada license plates. The RV belonged to a young (20's) English lady and her boyfriend. They had come from England and had purchased the motorhome in Las Vegas. Their plan was just to drive and hang out until either the vehicle disintegrated or their money ran out, whichever came first (oh to be that young and carefree again!). We talked about the expense of Costa Rica and like us, they had both enjoyed Nicaragua. We parked the RV with our door facing the ocean, so close that I was a little concerned about high tide but it turned out we were just fine. I do enjoy it when we have an unobstructed view of the beach. Winston also loves the freedom of the beach without worries from traffic, although because this is a public access there was some activity with surfers coming to check out the wave action. We also had a visit from the local police and after they knew we were staying for a couple of days, said that they would come by and check on us during the night to be sure all was well. Since there was another couple camping close by, we fely comfortable enough to sleep with just the screen door closed to let in the sea air and sounds. I spent my time under the shade of the palm trees, while Tom alternated between boogie boarding and reading. Winston played on the beach and with any other dog that happened to drop by. There are a few small cabina style hotels and we will probably bring the kids here to hang out whilst they visit.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Volcan Arenal to Puntarenas. August 26 - 28, 2010

We decided to take a break and stay in the Volcan Arenal area on Thursday for one more day. We drove to the other side of the volcano and soon realized we were in tourist territory. The volcanic area is well known for it's hot springs and there were some beautiful resorts, all with hot springs and spas. Many very expensive. We checked out 4 of the best and one The Baldi Resort stood out. It was not the most expensive but it was absolutely gorgeous. If you are ever in this area of Costa Rica and want to splurge, this is the place. You can get a room (all face the volcano), breakfast and dinner, full use of resort facilities for $150.00 a night. We would like to splurge and stay there one night with the kids but.. no dogs allowed. We will however bring Danny and Nicole here to use the resort. That cost is $26.00 per person. We had also seen many smaller hotels and lodges and went into one called Carlos Lodge. Perfect. A cabina for us (again all face the volcano), dogs welcomed was $50.00 including breakfast. We talked to the manager and he agreed that when we return with the kids we can get 2 cabinas and they will take care of Winston for us whilst we go to the spa resort. We had thought we would have to take Winston and leave him in the RV, while one of us every hour or so would come out and walk him but now he has a place to stay and people to walk him so he's not cooped up. Excellent. We slept that night in bed with a full view of the volcano, again lots of hissing and smoke, no lava. Friday found us up and ready for what should have been a fairly easy drive to the port of Puntarenas, where we will stay at Danilo and Nidia's home. As we were getting back on the Panamericana there was a huge junction. mcDonalds, KFC, Burger King etc. Tom wants KFC. By now it is pouring with rain so we pull in, walk Winston and decide instead to go to a restaurant and eat and try to wait out the downpour. It was 4pm, when we left to a steady rain but not torrential with about 50 kms (30 mile) to Puntarenas. There by 5:30, Tom predicted. He is definitely not wired in to the psychic network. As we leave the town of Esparza, the traffic comes to a dead stop. We are sandwiched between 2 huge trucks - remember this is the Panamericana, the only truck route between Central America, Costa Rica and Panama. Truckers, people in cars, all are walking around. Probably an accident, it will clear in an hour or so was the verdict, these people are not part of the psychic network either. We sit, eat, sit, walk Winston, sit. It is dark and rainy. Tom reads his book, Winston sleeps, I sit. The idleness is killing me. We chat. Our worry is that the road opens, everyone moves and we do not know where we are going. 9:30pm. We decide to drive forward and at least see what is ahead. Tom puts on our emergency flashers and we take off on the wrong side of the road. Not a mile ahead, we come to cones and police. We are told it was a rockslide and though they are in the process of clearing, there was no time schedule. There was nothing to do but turn around and go back to Esparza. We had seen a Texaco station that looked as though there was plenty of parking. The Texaco gas station on the outskirts of Esparza. Only stay here in an absolute emergency, with zero other options. It is noisy, loud, did I say noisy. There is a bar/discoteque across the highway. They played music at a decibel level equivalent to those of jet engines until the extreme wee hours of the morning. Tom read, I tried to sleep, Tom tried to sleep, I read. Then the music stopped. Thank you God. Ten minutes later as dawn streaks the horizon, the trucks start up. The road is open. Gentleman, start your engines. They idle to warm up, their air brakes squeal, a cacaphony of beeps and horns belt out as they back up. Like I said, stay here only in an emergency. Sleep deprived, I get up and make coffee. We take off and half hour later are in Punarenas, we were so close but so far away. We find the house with no problems. Talk with Francis the housekeeper and get electricity for the RV. That settled, we walk across the street to the beach. Puntarenas is a port town for both ferries and cruise ships. No cruise ships today, so the town is quiet. The ferries transport vehicles and people from here to the Nicoya peninsula and we decide we may try it when the kids arrive to get us back from Tamarindo instead of driving. We get back to the RV and I grab a lounge chair and my book. After yesterday, I am gong to relax. Tom wants to explore more of the town so whilst Winston and I settled on the beach, Tom took off again, in the other direction. I had my eye on the ocean. After about 3 hours, the clouds atarted to form and I could see rain starting on the horizon. I folded my chair, sorted out WInston's leashes and we had just started to cross the road when the downpour began. By the time we got back to the RV, we were drenched and no Tom. I knew he just had on a T shirt so hopefully he can hunker down somewhere until the worst of it is over. After about an hour, the rain had abated and 20 minutes later in walks Tom, also totally drenched. We chat, read and eat dinner at the hotel next door. It was an early night, quiet and peaceful. No disco music, no trucks, just the way I like it.

Monteverde to Arenal Volcano. 65 miles. August 25th, 2010

This without exception was our most grueling drive to date. We knew we would have to drive the same route out of Monteverde to get to the volcano and the stretch of road between Monteverde and Tilaran is just jaw jarring, not to think about the stress on the RV. Ourfirst stop was a small woodwork shop that we had passed on the way in specializing in rosewood carvings. There was some beautiful wood carvings all done on site by the owner. We settled on purchasing a small bowl, cutting board and a wine holder, all exceptional quality and then it was on to see Danilo at the farm. This was a welcome break from the drive. Danilo has built a fantastic barn for his 4 horses, two of whom are pregnant. This barn looks better than some of the houses that we have seen. Lucky horses! We also checked out the rest of his property. Winston had a great time, running and sniffing everything. The beagle in him comes out so much more in the countryside with it's unique animal smells. We stayed about an hour and it was with reluctance that we set off but we knew we still had a long way to go. After Tilaran we circled Lake Arenal and across the dam towards the volcano. According to one of our guidebooks we would be able to park at the Observatory Lodge. This entailed another off road, bone shaking experience of about 15 kilometers. As we got closer, we could hear the volcano and see clouds of smoke erupting from it. There are 7 active volcanoes in Costa Rica, Arenal is the only one that erupts with molten rocks and lava, 2 others emit gases and smoke and the other 4are currently sleeping. We were looking forward to stopping and getting a break. It was 4:15 when we arrived at the lodge and the guard informed us that no-one but guests could get in after 4pm. We begged and pleaded but he was rudely adamant. We asked for him to call the manager for us and he refused. Perplexed we inquired if there was a restaurant at the lodge and we were told yes, but that is also for guests only after 4pm. We later found out that was not true but for whatever reason, maybe the guard had some bad experience with Rvers (hard to believe) or just didn't want to let us in (we tried to stay polite with him) but the reality was we had no where to go. We had parked just below the gate entrance and decided to cool our tempers, walk Winston and think. Darkness falls around 6pm here and we knew we could not drive back down the road we had come. In addition, I was frustrated because I so wanted to have a good view of the volcano in the hope that we could see a true eruption. Let me tell you, I was wishing evil on the guard as I vented. As we walked down the road just about a block, we came to a small private park operated by 3 men. We chatted with the man at the entrance and explained our our dilemma. No problem, said Lion (his name, no kidding), you can either park where you are or come into our park. We have an observation area and I will light the tiki torches so you can view the volcano. Our faith in the local people restored, we decided to leave the RV, where it was and take hime up on his offer to view the volcano. We walked back to the motorhome, ate, fed Winston and took off again for the reserve. Winston was allowed also. To get to the observation area, we had to cross a very rickety, wooden suspention bridge and follow the lit tiki torches to the viewing area. We sat and sat. The volcano seemed like it was almost within our reach and we listened to it huffing and puffing with intermittant explosions of fumes and smoke. We were fascinated but I really wanted to see molten red rocks and lava. By 9:30, we were tired and stiff from sitting. Manfred, their resident biologist stopped by and so did a young french couple who proceeded to set up their tent. They were going to watch all night. Tom and I decided to call it a night and go to the RV. We settled in, gave Winston a treat and I opened my book to read a little. "BOOM"!! I swear we felt the RV rock a little. "That was the volcano" I said gloomily "and we missed it". Sure enough, if we had only stayed another 30 mins. It was supposedly spectacular with a huge burst and 3 distinct rivers of flowing lava and I missed it. When we come back with Danny and Nicole, I am praying that I will see one. As we slept we could hear the spurts and hisses that the volcano constantly makes, how cool is that!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Las Orquideas Hotel, Santa Elena.

Well, two things are for sure. One, we had certainly ruined a section of the lawn at the hotel and for sure Nidia and Danny are one of the most delightful and charming couples we have met. As we all perused the gouges and ruts that now make up part of their landscape, Danny and Tom came up with a plan to extricate the RV from it's present location and they didn't kick us out. They had already came up with another location for our second night here. As Tom twisted and turned the steering wheel following Danny's instructions, it became obvious to both of them that we would not get out without help. "I'll tow you out" said Danny as he went to get his SUV. He attached a chain to the RV, Tom got into the driver's seat and again following Danny's instructions started slowly steering the RV as Danny towed. "Whoa" he yelled, Tom braked but not in time. Now we had taken out a few flagsones that made up a walkway. Finally, after two more starts and stops, Danny pulled us clear of the garden and had us located in our new spot. Still grassy but with better drainage. Now we could see the extent of the damage in all it's glory or goriness as the case was. "We are so sorry", we kept saying over and over to Danny and Nidia. "We will pay for any repairs or help out". They kept assuring us not too worry. Tom asked if they had a rake. They found one and we spent the next hour or so raking the deep ruts until they were at least flatter and putting the broken flagstones back in place. Just as we were finishing, the rain started again in earnest and we were glad we were on safer ground. We had wanted to go into town for dinner but the rain just kept coming down. Since we have decided to come back here to stay once Danny and Nicole arrive, we knew we would have other oppotunities to see the town so we contented ourselves with a dinner of salami, cheese, barbequed chicken and crackers with a glass of Chilean red wine. As the rain peetered out, I walked Winston and Tom chatted with Nidia. We learned that she is Italian, her father was from Naples and she and Danny have been married 42 years. Besides the hotel, they have other property in Costa Rica, a farm which we had passed on the way here from Tilaran and a house in Puntarenas. Their farm grows the coffee that they serve at breakfast, some cattle and pigs and 4 horses. The next morning we go in to breakfast and Nidia sits with us and chats. A little later, Danny arrives and we talk about their farm and home. Since Danny is going to the farm after breakfast, we agree that we will stop and visit on our way to Lake Arenal and the volcano. Also, after he finds out that we plan to stop in Puntarenas on our way to San Jose, he insists that we make use of their home there. He says we can't get onto the property because our RV is too tall but there is parking to the side and we can hook into power. He gives us the contact information of the housekeeper who lives on site and says we can use the house to shower etc. Their kindness is overwhelming to us, particularly considering our less than auspicius start but if ever you are in the Santa Elena/Monteverde area of Costa Rica, consider a stay at their hotel. It is beautifully maintained with amazing views and extremely reasonable. At present it is $25.00 per person which includes breakfast. As we prepare the RV for moving, I once again visit their mirador that overlooks the canyon. With Santa Elena, the jungle and the three waterfalls clearly visible, it is a stunning view and a reminder of the diversity that makes up Costa Rica.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Samara to Santa Elena/Monteverde. 114 miles. August 23rd, 2010

We had looked at many maps and guidebooks and one thing was clear, the road to Monteverde is without doubt the worst they had ever driven and now both Tom and I concur. First of all, there is no "good" road up here. Whichever route you take, you end up driving the last 25 to 30 kilometers on a rocky, gravelly road. This entails driving at a speed of about 5 - 10 mile an hour, if you're lucky. We elected to come via Tilaran which is supposed to be a little longer than the road direct from the PanAmericana but with less of an incline and mountainous turns. In other words, easier for the RV. It took well over 5 hours to do the journey and we were completely tired of the jarring and bumpiness of the road by the time we arrived into the small connected towns of Santa Elena & Monteverde. We had the name of one hotel located just outside of town that another RV had stayed at and that was going to be our first stop. After a couple of missed turns in town and asking a few different people for directions, we eventually found the hotel. The owners, Nidia and Danny are delightful and suggested we park right on the lawn one one side of the hotel. Also, they have internet and do not charge RVer's for parking, breakfast, if we want it is $5.00 each. Fabulous even though both Tom and I have an agreement that if we use someone's facilities we try to compensate them in some way. As Tom drove, I got out and with Winston, were chatting with Nidia. Suddenly there was a sound of wheels spinning and I saw the RV slipping. I yell and Tom got out. Cripes! Nidia then told us there had been more rain than usual for this time of year. We were stuck and not only stuck but had managed to tear up and put deep gouged ruts into their beautiful lawn. It was getting dark and even though we were not quite lined up properly, decided to deal with it in the morning. We got our power cord and Nidia plugged us in. The hotel is a B & B, with no bar and serves only breakfast. No matter. We got ourselves a couple of beers and walked Winston around the property, trying not to look to closely at the damage we have done. At the back of the hotel is a walkway that bridges out over a canyon. Although we can't see anything due to the clouds, we can hear a waterfall and river in the background. As night comes, we see the town lit up as it spreads into the surrounding hills. It is a beautiful sight. We discuss dinner and decide to keep it simple and microwave some taco meat we had done a few nights before, chop up avocado, grate cheese and with salsa make our now famous "gringo tacos". As we chat and get back into the RV, we grimace at our parking job and the lawn and hope our hosts, Nidia and Danny will be as delightful and friendly in the morning.

Playa Samara, Costa Rica. August 23rd, 2010

Samara worked out just fine for us. There is a reef offshore which made for some nice breaks for Tom to boogie board in. In addition, it is not crowded so he doesn't have to compete for waves with surfers and other boarders. Winston was allowed to roam free and made good use of his time by wading through the swamp area, playing on the beach with other dogs and digging in the sand to find the perfect spot to take his naps. It's a dog's life! I walked the beach and caught up on my reading. The only drawback is no internet, hopefully at the next stop. We hung out in Samara for four days mainly because of the weekend and driving anywhere in Central America on Sunday is awful. Everyone, it seems, takes to the road and goes to the playas. On Monday we have decided to go inland to the rain and cloud forest area of Santa Elena/Monteverde. We have eliminated this spot for bringing the kids. There is cabinas but I don't think even Winston would sleep on the beds, it is just too rundown. Too bad because we love places where we are right on the beach wih an unobstructed view of the horizon. However both Tom and I agree, we would come back only for those reasons. It was fitting that our last morning here ended the way it began when we arrived. The group of wild horses came through our camp, grazed, hung out and we got to admire them up close as both them and us checked out the view.

Tamarindo to Samara. 59 miles. August 19th, 2010

Our second day in Tamarindo was great. We relaxed, played at the ocean and the maid/cleaner at the cabinas did all of our laundry for us. After filling our RV with water, we bid Johann (the manager) adios with the possibilty that we will be back in a couple of weeks with Danny and Nicole in tow. Samara is another beach town headed south towards the gulf and once again there were no references in any of our literature of places to stay. The driving was uneventful but a couple of notes. The roads are terrible, full of potholes, cattle and other hazards. However, the countryside is clean and free of trash. After Mexico and the rest of Central America, this was easy on the eye. It is plain to see that Costa Rica and the Ticos take the eco (as in ecology) very seriously. There are plenty of trash cans around for disposing of garbage and even, in some places, recycling containers requiring you to separate recyclables from trash. Being Californians this is a welcome sight. Samara is bustling with tourists when we arrive but the streets are narrow. We head out of town towards the north. Cross a river and drive towards what looks like small cove. But, nowhere to park the RV. As we turn around and go back down the street, we pass an American couple walking their lab. They wave us down. "Did you come all the way from California?", they ask, checking out our license plate. "Yes and we are going all the way to Argentina". This always invokes similar responses of mostly enviousness at our adventure. We ask about a place for the RV and they direct us back the way we came, cross the river, take the first right and at a fork in the road, turn right again. They said there was a campsite there. As we approached the campgrounds we thought they were closed. Huge piles of dirt were piled on both sides of the road but as we pulled up on the beach, we saw a restaurant area, albeit closed and two men in their twenties. We chatted with them and they were open but not the restaurant and directed us to an area where we were able to park the RV so our door opened towards the ocean and still able to hook into power. This was all we needed. The campsite itself was seedy and a little trashy but with our unobstructed views of the water and beach, we knew we would be happy. As we settled in a group of horses appeared on the beach and as the sun was setting they looked as though they were enjoying the view as much as us. Tomorrow Tom is going into the water to board.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Playa del Coco to Playa Tamarindo. 49 miles. August 17th, 2010

As we were getting ready to leave the soccer field area, there was a knock on the door. Police. Not the usual but some government agents. Seems things were ok but they wanted to check our vehicle permit and passports. After they checked them, they said they would fill oout a form which both they and us would sign. We would keep the form with the permit and if we are stopped in the future to show the form and it would be understood that a check was made and should save us some time. They also said to be careful where we park as petty theft is an ongoing problem. They had no suggestions on places to stay in Tamarindo but since it is a famous surf beach, Tom wants to check it out. The drive is uneventful but the countryside is lush and vibrant. Tamarindo is indeed a beach town but as we drove through town, we realized that parking was going to be a problem. The streets are narrow and most of the entrances have low arches making it impossible to pass under with the RV. We get to the end, make the loop and decide to go through the village one more time. We stop at two hotels but neither would give us permission to park. As Tom went to ask a third hotel, he noticed a narrow driveway leading to Tsunami's Surf School and Cabinas. The hotel also turned us down, so he went to chat with the surf school people. We were pointed to a small area in the back that seemed ideal to us, particularly since our options were growing smaller by the minute. For $20.00, we could park, get electricity and water for the motorhome, also hot showers and WiFi were available and the beach is right across the road. Perfect. We settle in and discover that there is a communal kitchen for cooking and checked out the cabinas. The town is minutes away, same for a grocery store and both Tom and I agree, that this is one of the places we will put on the list for possibly bringing Nicole and Danny. This is a hip, young, surf town and would be ideal for the kids as there is some nightlife plus plenty to do during the day. After we park, Tom grabs his boogie board and with Winston we head to the beach. To get to the beach, we follow a wooden bridge across mangrove swamps. Crocodiles! With a lot of rain recently, the crocodiles have headed downstream and have been sighted on the beach. We are assured that as there is plenty for them to eat, they don't bother with people or dogs. Hmm. I am not convinced and pledge to keep an eye on Winston. Don't want to do the rest of the trip with a three-legged dog. As Tom was enjoying the wave action, Winston and I were content to play on the beach and then back to the RV to prepare dinner. We had steaks marinating. Our last two from Costco in Acapulco. The beef so far has been pretty dismal. The cattle are thin and I suspect that they are slaughtered and eaten immediately, no aging process here. Just as Tom is preparing the grill, a tour bus pulls in and off come about 20 Italians. It turns out they are on a 3 week tour of Costa Rica and Panama and it is with a lot of shouting and yelling that they get settled into rooms and cabinas for the night. They watch enviously as Tom cooks the potatoes and eye our steaks. Smells good, was the general comment, envy prevalent in their voices. We smile and agree. Yes, once again good fortune was with us. We have managed to find a great place to stay, safe and secure. The owner/manager is delightful and we look forward to a good meal with a nice Chilean red wine. We decide we will stay one more night just to relax and play. Starting to get that Tico feeling.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Liberia to Playa del Coco, 31 mile. August 16th, 2010

Propane, it is the primary need of the day. We get into the town of Liberia. McDonalds, Burger King, Cinnabon, Church's Chicken etc. It is fast food paradise for junkies. After a few false starts, we found propane at a gas staion called Total. there are quite a few in Cost Rica, so I am going to mark them on our map so we don't need to look as hard the next time. Then it is on to the playas. Our first choice had been Paya Hermosa but when we arrived there, it was a very built up, upscale resort town which had no room to accomodate the RV, which was ok with us. We are going through a kind of reverse culture type of shock. The resorts, the shops and the restaurants are all geared up for the tourists. It is more expensive than we have gotten accustomed to and we start to yearn for the tranquility and beauty of Nicaragua. We head for the next beach town of Playa del Coco. A little better. There is again no place for the RV but as we drive a long the beach we think that it would be a good place to boondock. Not so. A local gentlemen came by and told us that at night the beach is unsafe and a drug dealing hangout. He led us to an area, just one block from the beach, we could still see it, and showed us a soccer field that is lit and guarded at night. Perfect. Also, the field is completely fenced and once inside with the gate closed just like a huge dog park so WInston got to run off leash and play in the grass. We decide to try one of the many restaurants that line the main street in town. It was good. The fish was very fresh and Ton tried their Chicken Parmesan which was also good. However, we decide to stay here for just the day and tomorrow will head to another beach and see if we can get into the Costa Rican (Tico, as the locals call it) mood.

Nicaragua to Costa Rica. August 15th 2010

Border crossing day and once again, true to form we arrive at the border at 1pm, just in time for the after lunch crowds of locals who cross on the weekend to visit. Nicaragua was a little confusing leaving. We had to get the RV inspected first of all by a customs official and then by the police. the 2 signatures were required before Aduana would process our exit. After a time searching, we finally had the required signatures and then waited in the long line at immigration to get stamped out. After that, Winston was the easiest at Cuarencena. The requirements for the RV permit in Cosat Rica again took the longest. Surprisingly, they didn't care about Winston. No stamp was needed and they looked at his USDA form with all of the stamps we have accumulated thus far with interest. No, they assured us we didn't need a stamp and we would have no problems leaving into Panama. Thinking we were done we headed for the exit. Not so fast. The official at the gate told us we needed another form fr the RV., so it was back to the official at the bank for another round of paperwork and some photocopies. That completed we went again to the exit. No, one more signature. This time the offiial jumped onto the side of the RV and took us to another office for a final stamp! By the time we drove to the exit for the third time, everyone was laughing. Finally, we are through with everything and again it toook that magical two hours for the exit of one country and the entrance to another. Costa Rica. We had not seen this much development in a while and it was obvious from the beginning that the country is much more geared to tourists and their needs. Our first stop was going to be overnight at an old trailer park in Liberia (pronounced Lee-be-reea) before going to the coast. Also, we are in urgent need of propane for our main RV tank and we hope we can find a place in the morning. For now, our first night was spent trying to keep dry from the torrential rain that started just before dark and went through the night.