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!