Archive | July 2014

A trip to the big city, PTY … and back!

After spending two months alone, with just three of our five animals, Jan was finally coming to join me in Panama.  In a nutshell, I was setting up housekeeping in Panama while she was visiting her sister in Puerto Rico.  Work for me, vacation for her.  Oh well, such is life.   It would be great to have the family together again.  I couldn’t wait to see and be greeted with all the kissy-kiss from the absent other animals, not to mention her.

I would be driving from one end of the country to the other, almost the entire distance on the Pan American Highway.  In spite of its importance and worldwide fame, this road is in only marginal condition for half the distance.  The other half is in terrible shape.  I had long heard that this was a road to be avoided at night at almost any cost.  One trip during daylight would explain why.  There are potholes almost big enough to swallow a car.  (Notice that I didn’t say “literally big enough”).  Ordinarily, she would have taken public transportation but the presence of the pets precluded that option.

The length of my drive and the arrival time of her flight necessitated my spending the night.  Just as well.  14+ hours of driving within 24 is prudently too much.  I had reservations at a hotel/hostal that had decent reviews, was cheap and very close to the airport.   Not something I could expect her to join me at but it was fine for me.

As it was described as being within walking distance of the airport, I didn’t concern myself too much with directions. Big mistake.  I drove around for 45 minutes looking for lodging within walking distance of the airport.  Although I had a cell phone with me, I had no number for the place.  An airport cabbie familiar with the area ended up being my salvation.

I spent an uneventful night in a very basic but secure bed.  I couldn’t wait to get to the airport to see everybody.  The process of bringing pets into the country can be daunting.  It’s worthy of a separate post in itself.  But we hired a Panamanian that goes by the name Golden Frog to see us through the process at the Panama end.  He wasn’t cheap but he was worth the money.  An hour or so after landing, we were all loaded in our car.  Jan, our other two animals, and me.

My insurance agent in El Valle gave me really good directions for getting to the airport (PTY).  Got there without a hitch.  Getting back was another story.  It seemed logical to simply go back the way I came.  That was the plan, but it certainly didn’t work out that way.

I left the airport thinking we were on Corredor Sur, and we may well have been.  But things soon started going south, no pun intended.  I took no turns or exits but soon realized we were in strange territory.  (Later I found that there was an exit to the right that put, or kept, one on Corredor Sur.)

Driving along we eventually came across what I thought (hoped) was an entrance to Corredor Sur.  It wasn’t.  We found ourselves on Corredor Norte with no means of exit in sight.  Adding to the frustration, the toll card that I bought earlier for Corredor Sur wouldn’t work for Corredor Norte.  Another card was required.

I finally became desperate enough to turn on the GPS that I surely wouldn’t need.  After all, getting TO the airport was so easy!  I think the Panama database is a local production, which might explain some of it’s shortcomings and known anomalies.  Whatever, with or without the aid of the GPS we were eventually on a road that indicated we were headed for the Bridge of the Americas.  Not the bridge I wanted, but it would work.

But by now the gas was becoming a concern.  I knew from previous experience that gas stations are essentially non-existent for a good many miles west of the Bridge.  I HAD to find something before then.  But we were on something of a freeway that had few exits and seemingly fewer entrances.  I saw a gas station on the wrong side of the road and a half-mile down there was an exit to the right.   But there was no assurance that this exit would provide ready access to the gas station and even less assurance that a reentry would be readily available.  I would soon regret passing up this opportunity to at least try.

We had had the GPS on “Nearest Fuel” mode for some time.  But kinda like the cops, they don’t seem to be around when you really want them.  The gas was getting really low,  showing right on empty by now.  Finally we were shown a route that indicated gas was 4+ miles away.  The exit we took certainly was beautiful, but it didn’t look right.  It looked like a road cut through a jungle.   And it was.  As the GPS countdown continued it soon directed us  OFF ROAD to the right for .3 miles.  WTF?  Let me see that GPS!  And when I had a look myself I saw that we were going toward CASCADA!  My lady love didn’t realize that cascada meant waterfall.  She thought it was the name of the gas station.  Somehow, it seems, a record from “Points of Interest” on the GPS got filed under “Nearest Fuel”.

It can be correctly assumed that by now the gas gauge was showing below empty.  We had no choice at this time but to put our trust in the GPS.  It now indicated that gas could be found if we would but only continue ahead for another 3 miles or so and then turn right.  The breathing in our car was slow and deliberate for the next 3+ miles, at least for the humans.  We turned right as the GPS directed and about 1/2 mile down there was our gas station!

Back on the road and feeling as fully satisfied as if we’d finished a Smorgasbord buffet, our concern now was getting home before dark.  Again, the problem was the sections of terrible road that could literally (yes, literally) destroy a car.

I’m not comfortable speeding in a foreign country but speed I did.  I’d rather deal with a ticket or a cop looking for a bribe* than risk that road at night.  I tried staying behind other speeders to the extent possible, but invariably their tolerance for speed proved greater than my own.  Fellow motorists in Panama have proven to be quite reliable in warning of radar ahead by the universal flashing of the headlights signal.  But this courtesy cannot be counted on without fail.  On one occasion I passed an 18 wheeler only to come upon 2 cops with radar.  I thought my goose was cooked.  Looking in my rear view mirror I was amazed to see that they stopped HIM!  Can’t really explain that one.  Whatever.  We managed to make it to David right at dusk.  Boquete was yet the better part of an hour away but that would be on a new divided road that’s one of the best in all of Panama, at least in my experience.

Tomorrow, the Panama experience really begins.

*Bribery solicitation by police and other workers is way down with the new administration.