Feb. 1-24: Panama City (Mega Post)

On February 1st (day 93) Danielle and I awoke at the Hotel Aranjeuz in San Jose, Costa Rica. We enjoyed the legendary breakfast buffet, and packed up our stuff. We'd decided that we weren't getting anywhere when it came to figuring out what to do with the vehicle, so figured we might as well try our luck in Panama. Thus, we headed out to pack up Bilbo, which was parked in probably the most secure parking lot the vehicle had seen the entire trip. I'm talking locked gates, barbed wire, and security cameras. And yet, what do I find that morning but an attempted break-in of our Pelican Case we had mounted on the roof. The would-be thief managed to cut the straps which ran over the case as well as our traction pads (also mounted on the roof), but I guess decided they didn't want to bother with the locks so gave up. Luckily they didn't smash any windows.

Regardless, we checked out and headed back to our classic beach-side camp-spot in Dominical. We spent the night of the 1st, and 2nd (day 94) in Dominical (and I finally found a replacement hat!), and then said our final goodbye to the beloved town on the 3rd (day 95) and headed towards the border, staying one last night in Costa Rica in a small mountain resort's yard.

On the 4th (day 96), we crossed into Panama without great issue. We crossed at a small crossing and one that isn't very high-trafficked. While this made us the only ones crossing, it also led to some slow-moving workers. Nevertheless, we did eventually get through. However, it's imperative that I mention something that took place at this border: I cancelled the Costa Rican Temporary Import Permit. This is very important because Costa Rica does not allow a foreign vehicle to re-enter the country if the permit has been cancelled within 3 months, unless one leaves it open, which I didn't, thinking I wouldn't want to drive back in.

Anyway, we hit the road and entered Panama.

From here, the blog (and my memory) gets fuzzy. The time Danielle and I spent in Panama was an absolute mess, there's really no other way of describing it. We did so much, yet at the same time so little. My time there was some of the most frustrating times I've ever experienced. I'm not really sure there's any real value in me giving a day-by-day narrative of our time spent in Panama so instead I will try to summarize some key points to the best of my memory, so bear with me. I really need to stress that much of what I'm about to describe will be grossly out of order. I also need to add that because of the high-stress I didn't take too many photos.

I think the easiest thing for me to do will be to break our time spent in Panama into a few sections. Section one being Panama City – which I will cover in this post – and section two, David, which I will cover in the next post.

Okay, Panama City. Firstly, this is a really cool city and I would definitely visit it again. What's super cool about it is that it's a meeting of cultures from all over the world as is to be expected from not only the capital of a country but also a world business hub. What's also really cool about the city is the fact that in 20 minutes or less of walking, one could walk through streets lined with colonial buildings, to the gritty projects, to ultra-new skyscrapers. Basically the diversity of the city is amazing.

Now, while in Panama City, we spent almost all of our time between two places, staying at La Cresta Inn and camped behind the Country Inn on the Amador Causeway. Basically we would flip-flop between the two. When trying to organize shipping we would stay at La Cresta and then when trying to save money or when we thought we were about to ship out in a couple days we would stay for free on the Causeway.

Before I go into the shipping fiasco, I will cover other activities we partook in while in the city. Again, the exact dates are a blur so I will highlight some of the main things, absent of dates.

When we weren't in the hotel room cramming away on the computer we were usually at Starbucks (then later another coffeeshop closer to the Causeway) working on the computer there. When we weren't on the computer, we did check out the city a bit. One of the first things we did while in Panama City was hit up a Rob and Danielle Europe-Signature Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus tour. Even though they're super touristy, I do recommend these as they allow somewhat of a snapshot of the city. While on the tour we stopped in and looked through the Canal's museum/viewing building, which was super cool.

Also while in the city we visited the Bio Museum, which is a state-of-the-art, pride-of-the-city natural history museum located on the Amador Causeway. I would highly recommend visiting if you're in the city. Here, Danielle and I copped the wifi password which became very useful when we would camp on the Causeway.

Also while in the city we walked around checking out the various architectural marvals as well as a few of the local restaurants. On another similar day we checked out a number of art galleries which was pretty cool.

Pretty much every night we camped on the Causeway, Danielle and I would go for evening strolls along it. On one such night we saw a giant boa cross the pedestrian walkway right in front of us. It was a pretty incredible sight that unfortunately we weren't able to capture because we didn't have our phones or cameras. On one particular day, Danielle and I climbed one of the hills on the Causeway and overlooked the city while also checking out some old American bunkers.

Another thing I would recommend one does if they find themselves in Panama City would be to check out the Smithsonian's Tropical Research Institute, also located on the Causeway. It's very cheap to get in an provides some wildlife viewing opportunities pretty much inside the city.

Worthy of an extra special mention is the day or so we spent at the Westin Playa Bonita Panama all-inclusive resort right outside of the city, compliments of Danielle's Uncle Ted, who was staying there on a business trip. We got to live like royalty while visiting a slice of home. I can't thank Uncle Ted enough for his generosity.

Now, since I've covered most of the fun stuff we did in Panama City, and before I get to the bad times, I must mention the work we did in the city. Remember that Jeff guy we met in San Jose who said he might have some work for us? Well, in our times of desperation I ended up sending the guy an email and we ended up meeting with one of his co-workers at her office in Panama City. It ended up that they worked for an upscale hostel company called Selena. Danielle and I ended up doing some market research for them online and made some fairly easy cash doing so.

So now the bad. Basically while in the city we were let on by multiple shipping companies who all ended up screwing us, hard. I don't want to get into the exact details because honestly it will take too long but let me tell you that if you ever want to ship anything internationally, start researching many months in advance. At one point we were literally on the road to the port and got screwed by traffic and then to find out we were going to be paying around USD$5000 for a roll-on-roll-off boat where the chances of a break-in is incredibly high. Then, we'd thought we'd arranged to ship the vehicle properly (meaning in a sealed shipping container) for around USD$3000 to only find out two days before having to get the vehicle to the port that we needed an agent – thanks for letting us know. So after much frustration and having to get the customs officials to inspect the vehicle at least three times, we gave up on the idea of shipping the vehicle home. Now what to do?

Well, as mentioned before, driving home wasn't an option, as I'd closed my Costa Rican Temporary Vehilce Import Permit. Which left us with two other options, store the vehicle or sell it. We'd read online that the best place to store the vehicle was back up north in the city of David. We decided to head to David and try to sell the vehicle up there, and if that didn't work, we'd store it there and fly home, maybe to return in a couple months when the vehicle could enter Costa Rica again. I'd already posted some for-sale ads up on the web mostly as feelers, and had a hit from an American expat living in the David area, so it seemed like a decent idea. Therefore, I believe it was on the 24th (day 116, I think?) we drove to David.

Just right off the bat I'm going to add this Iphone photo from San Jose that I forgot to add to last week's blog.

Took this photo of Bilbo where it got broken into to show that it's a pretty secure place.

With security cameras and everything.

This taken at the last campsite in Costa Rica.

Now for the Panama photos. This is a panorama of Panama City taken from the Amador Causeway. I really wish I'd gone back and taken this photo again during golden hour, but alas this is what I've got. That multicoloured building on the right is the Bio Museum.

This and the next few photos were taken on a day we just cruised around admiring the architecture.

Danielle capturing the iconic F&F Tower.

Danielle capturing the iconic F&F Tower.

This is Albrook Mall, the biggest mall in the Americas, and largest mall outside of Asia. I saw more malls in Panama than I think I've ever seen; they love their malls. We didn't go in to this mall but drove by on our bus tour. The next bunch of photos were taken along the bus tour.

The Canal.

Casco Viejo (Old Quarter).

Some kids swimming off Casco Viejo. The Bridge of the Americas, which spans the Canal, is visible in the background.

Representing Cowichan Cycles down in Panama. A lady actually read my shirt and we chatted a bit as she recognized the name as Canadian-sounding.

This is just a picture from inside Starbucks where we spent a great deal of time while in the city. Thank you, Starbucks.

A sloth holding it down at the Smithsonian.

As is this fish.

Lion fish, I think, at the Smithsonian.

Nurse Sharks.

My favourite part of the Smithsonian was their frog exhibit, no doubt.

There's three frogs in this photo, at least.

Some gold frog artifacts.

A few snapshots of our self-guided city art tour.

This and the following few were taken from the window of (one of) our room(s) in La Cresta Inn.

And finally, the last few photos were shot from the balcony of the room we stayed in at the Westin, courtesy of Uncle Ted.

All the ships waiting to get through the Canal.