Archive | June 2014

Driving to the City from Chiriqui … and back.

After spending two months alone, with just three of our five animals, my sigo 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 be greeted with all the kissy-kiss from the absent animals, not to mention Sigo.

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.  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 my sigo 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.  In the morning 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 named Jose Saenz to see us through the process at the Panama end.  He wasn’t cheap but he was well worth the money.  An hour or so after landing, we were all loaded in our car.  My sigo, our two animals, and me.

My insurance agent in El Valle had given 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.  (Much later I found that there was an exit that put, or kept, one on Corredor Sur.) It seemed we were on a road to nowhere with no easy exit. But eventually another autopista (freeway) presented itself so we (I) took it. A toll both appeared before long but they wouldn’t accept the card I bought the day before for Corredor Sur.  Only  another card specific for that particular freeway would work. One can readily imagine my frustration in trying to back out (of what I took to be a cash lane) and trying to navigate to the one and only lane that sold these cards. But eventually we were on our way again on an unknown route that only hopefully would put us at some identifiable landmark. That didn’t happen. But we DID encounter yet another freeway that required another unique transit card and from this we DID find an exit that indicated a route to the Bridge of the Americas.  Fom there I knew my way home.  Up to now, the GPS had proved essentially worthless. It indicated roads where there were none.  And no roads where there were, in fact, roads.

Knowing full-well the definition of literally, I can say that we were literally lost in the city for over two hours. We left the airport mid-morning with the expectation of arriving home an hour or so before dark. That was now looking shaky. On top of that, we were running low on gas. I remember seeing a gas station on the opposite side of the road but was averse to taking an exit with questionable access to this station.  I would soon regret the decision to continue on.

We finally realized that the GPS database might show gas stations in our proximity.  Well, it didn’t really. It indicated fuel where we found none. But continuing to put our fate in technology still seemed better that driving blindly, just hoping to find gas.

The gauge was getting really, really low when the GPS indicated a gas station 4+ miles away. The exit we took just didn’t look right. We soon found ourselves surrounded by overhanging trees, the only sign of civilization being the road we were driving on. But the gas gauge assured me there was no logic in turning around and trying to get to our exit point and THEN look for another station. So we trudged on. We were starting to breathe again when the GPS said to turn right … where there was no road. But the gas station was only 3/10 mi away? In dense jungle? Yeah, right. I told Sigo to let me have a look at that GPS. It said “Cascada” and I almost cried. All along she thought Cascada was the name of the gas station, not realizing that cascada is Spanish for waterfall. Now I could believe that a waterfall was  3/10 mi away, but not a gas station. We still don’t know how a Points of Interest waypoint found its way to Fueling Stations.

The gas gauge was indicating below empty at this point. The GPS indicated there was yet another station “only” 3+mi away. What choice did we have? None.

Fully expecting to run out of gas at any moment, we continued on. Then the road turned to the right and miraculously, out of the jungle, appeared a small settlement, with a gas station! A real lesson was learned here. Now I fill up when the gauge gets below ½ full.

We had gas but we also has a long way to go for home. After backtracking to our autopista exit, we were soon on our way again and not that far from the Bridge of the Americas. I looked particularly grand on this occasion.

Being well into my “tercer edad”, I’m really not much into speeding these days. But given the distance from home and full knowledge of how bad the road was, I made an exception this time. My technique was to tag behind speeders. It’s always a matter of time before someone passes you. Then, if you can stay a bit behind them, the theory is that they will be the one to get stopped, not you. That generally worked but there were many drivers simply going too fast for me to keep up. I do have my limits. One other approach worked very well. Although Panamanian drivers have a well-deserved reputation for aggressive driving, they do tend to look out for each other. They aren’t the least bit bashful about flashing headlights to warn of radar ahead.

At one point I passed an 18-wheeler only to come upon 2 cops w/radar. No flashing lishts to warn of this one. Looking in my rear view mirror and expecting the worst, I saw that they were stopping HIM, not me!  Maybe his radar echo was so much larger than mine that mine was swamped.  Or maybe they just have this thing for truckers.   Whatever.  I’m still not believing my luck.

With all of that we arrived home just as it was getting dark. Bed never felt so good.