Posts Tagged ‘beer’

From Costa Rica back to Panama

2 May 2011

I am writing this on Sunday May 1st from the Cerro la Vieja Eco-hotel and Spa outside of Penonomé in central Panama. I arrived in San José on Wednesday April 27. Roberto Hernandez brought the truck to the airport from San Isidro de el General and had to immediately take a bus to La Fortuna where he had to escort some clients. I was feeling pretty tired, as I had woken up at 4:00AM instead of the 5:30 I had planned to catch the 8:30 flight to San José from Toronto. Had I bothered to check my itinerary, I would have realized that the flight was actually at 9:30, so I could have theoretically slept for another hour. But then would I have fallen asleep again?

Balconies at Cuna del Angel

Roberto suggested I might make it to Dominical before dark if I took the new toll highway, which is longer but would take less time than the Pan-American Highway. The road was pretty good, although it did go down from four lanes divided expressway to a regular good-quality two-lane road. I did make it to Dominical on the Pacific coast and started looked for a hotel. I finally stumbled upon the Cuna del Angeljust as it was getting dark.

Dining room at the Cuna del Angel

The Cuna del Angel was a wonderful resort, with excellent food. I wish I could have stayed longer. I had an excellent ceviche followed by a roast pork with pineapple. The morning breakfast buffet was excellent: the usual Costa Rican fruits (mango, papaya, watermelon, pineapple, cantaloupe), scrambled eggs and the ever present gallo pinto(rice & beans).

I left around 9:00AM for a relatively uneventful trip to the border. The coastal highway started out as excellent, but when I reached the Interamericana, it turned into the usual bombed-out state of Costa Rican highways. Imagine! A country that would rather spend money on social programs and medical care instead of highways! What is this world coming to?

Anyway, I got to the border and dealt with the inflexibility of the Costa Rican bureaucracy. I first went to the customs office, the “Aduana”, to see if I could get an extension for my vehicle temporary importation permit. No way! The cute Tica customs officer told me I had two days left, and if I left the country, I could come back and stay in Costa Rica for two days, no more. Otherwise, I would have to wait 90 days before my truck would be allowed into the country again. Broad hints about other possible arrangements met with a flat refusal; there was no way to do it. Don’t you just hate honest civil servants?

I also asked what would happen if I came back and stayed for more than two days, not that I would ever do that, I told the customs officer. This did make her smile rather broadly, not that she had been unpleasant before. It turns out that for the first eight days I might get away with a fine of $150, depending on my reasons for overstaying the permit, which I would have to document. More than eight days, I would have to pay the taxes, which I had previously estimated at about $3,000, as well as a $500 fine.

Then I had to go to immigration office to get my passport stamped. Unfortunately, the immigration officers were all in a meeting, so we all had to wait for over an hour before they came back and took the 30 seconds to examine & stamp the passports. Can’t say they were inefficient or slow once they showed up. Back to the customs office and got the paperwork on the truck, which was already prepared.

Then to the Panama border for another rigmarole. The immigration stamp went fast, but the importation permit took a while. I already had insurance for the truck & though I had photocopies of everything (passport, registration, driver’s license), but after waiting 15 minutes, a customs officer told me I also needed a photocopy of the insurance policy and then get it stamped by the transit police upstairs. I went upstairs, but there was a sign saying they were out to lunch. Oops, I meant out for lunch. I went to the other side, decided that I would go for lunch too as it now was past 1:00PM.

Then this guy said he would help me. I was somewhat wary, but he took me upstairs, took the police stamp and stamped my insurance document. This is one of the “helpers”, not a government official, who has access to a traffic police stamp and can use it with impunity. Welcome to Panama! I then had to get another stamp, I forget for what for, and I stopped the helper and asked him how much he wanted. He said: “Anything I wanted to give him (“lo que quiere”).” I said bullshit, just tell me how much you expect. I felt like saying: “How about 10 cents?” He insisted “Anything you would like to give me.” Then the woman official at the desk piped up and said “ten dollars”. I asked him if that was satisfactory. So then I went to pay for the fumigation spray, closed the windows in the camper. A customs officer then came and checked out the camper and the inside of the truck. He also asked me if I had any firearms. I said: “No tengo armas. Soy canadiense, no soy americano.” He laughed but I still had to show him practically everything. He missed the compartment behind the back seat of the truck & I opened it to show him my spare parts.

Old wooden building in David

Then to David, the first major town along the way and the capital of Chiriquí province. Stopped for lunch at the grossly overpriced TGIF ($3.00 for the lousy American-style Panamanian beer rather than the more usual $1.00) restaurant at a mall on the highway, where Marilyn and I had stopped before. I tried getting my bearings. (Panamanian beer is pretty lousy, tastes just like American beer, i.e. it is just like making love in a canoe. At least Costa Rica has Bavaria Negra which is more than drinkable. No local dark beer or ale in panama, just the pissy dishwatery American-style so-called “lager”.) I was parked in a mall parking lot next to a taxi stand. When I went back, one of the taxi drivers jokingly asked me if I wanted a taxi. I said, “Actually I do. I’m looking for a hotel, can you show me some and I will follow you.” He suggested the Best Western and Hotel Ciudad de David. I said: “OK, I’ll follow you into town.”

Cathedral and Parque Cervantes in David

I stayed at the Best Western there, pretty cheap at $55.00 for a relatively small but clean room with air conditioning and internet. I needed a new mouse (forgot the old one on the Vancouver-Toronto flight, I think) and a Panamanian chip for my cell phone. The Costa Rican chip doesn’t work in Panama and neither does my Blackberry, which is a piss-off. I am paying $25.00 per month for “Latin American coverage”, but Bell does not seem to have an agreement with Panamanian cell phone providers. No problem with the state-owned ICEin Costa Rica. Is this one more example where state-owned companies are more efficient than the private sector?

I misunderstood the directions given by the hotel clerk and ended up walking all over town instead of getting to the “Hong Kong” electronics store two blocks away. It seems that all the electronics stores—as well as many of the small groceries, not to speak of the classic laundries—are owned by Chinese immigrants.

I went for supper at what was supposedly the best pizza place in town at the Gran Hotel Nacional and casino. Not very good, although it was nowhere near the abysmal depths reached by a pizza joint in Holguín Cuba. I also checked out the casinos. Rather sad seeing all these people playing the slot machines. I was tempted to join one of the cheap blackjack tables, but avoided the temptation rather easily. There was also a karaoke contest, with some pretty good singers. After a G&T and listening to a few songs, I went back to the hotel to bed.

Truck next to cabin at XS Memories RV Park, Santa Clara, Panamá

Next day off to XS Memories in Santa Clara, the only RV Park in all of Central America. I went there to find out about shipping the truck to South America. The owner gave me a lead to a new to me agency, Norton-Lilly, which apparently could ship it to Ecuador. A number of Germans RVers had just used it. The alternative is to use Barwil Agencies and go through Colombia, which I am not anxious to do. However, it was then late afternoon on a Friday before a long weekend (May 1, Labour Day in most of the world except the US and Canada. This is because May 1 commemorates the massacre of workers by police at Haymarket Square in Chicago in 1886, an event the North Americans authorities would rather that people forget.) I stayed there that night in one of the air-conditioned cabins they have; it is just too hot to stay in the camper. Supper was pargo (red snapper?) with salad. Quite good!

The room in the cabin at XS Memories

I didn’t know what to do after that. I couldn’t do much research as the internet was down at XS Memories—along with the phone system so they could not do credit card transactions or answer enquiries. I thought of staying in central Panama and going either to the Azuero peninsula with its traditional colonial towns or to the Penonomé area in Coclé province, with cooler mountains and rainforest in the Omar Torrijos National Park. I decided on the Penonomé area and I ended up staying at the Hotel Dos Continentes in Penonomé as they were the only one with internet in the room.

I went for a little drive into the countryside up to La Pintada looking for an artisanal market. Then back to the hotel and got my cell phone which had stopped working. The Chinese girl at the cell phone shop told me it needed a new “flex”, whatever that was and it could only be got in Panama City. So I bought a new phone as a temporary measure.

Prancing Andalusian? horse

I got lucky as they were celebrating the 430th anniversary of the foundation of Penonomé in 1581. There was a major parade with children and dancers in traditional costumes as well as prancing horses, Lipizzaner or Spanish School style dressage. The traditional dress women wear is known as a pollera while the men wear a traditional Panamanian peasant hat (sombrero pintao), which is quite different from what we know as Panama hat, actually made in Ecuador. The procession/parade was kind of neat and should was followed by a traditional dance show. I ate street food, including some great barbecued chicken (pollo asado). The woman selling it convinced me to also have some rice with it. $2.00 for an excellent ¼ chicken with rice and potato salad.

Queen of the fiesta in her pollera

Penonomé, the start of the parade

This is what it's about.

Costa rican style road in Panama on the way to Cerro la Vieja

That night, I also decided to go to Posada Cerro la Vieja eco-lodge (TripAdvisor reviews)north of Penonomé instead of the National Park where I would have had to camp, and called to make reservations. Saturday morning I was off to the supermarket to get some drinks (water, Belgian beer—as the Panamanian stuff is like making love in a canoe—and Gatorade) and snacks. Then up to the Cerro la Vieja for lunch on a Costa Rican style road and a couple of days of total relaxing dolce far niente.

View from my room, Posada Cerro la Vieja

Nice room with nice view, good food and I am staying here until Tuesday morning when I will call the agency in Panama City and figure out what next. I think I’ll go for a massage now. I just hope no right-wing cop anonymously accuses me of doing something illicit.

The last word to Omar Torrijos: "the more one consults, the fewer mistakes one makes". This is for Jack who will hopefully be Prime Minister soon.

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