Friday, August 30, 2013

Boquete, Panama

Following our stay at the La Jungla Rescue Center, we met up with the Hopp family in their beautiful rental home in Boquete. Scott and I met the Hopp's through my dad. We had learned that they would be visiting Panama, so we worked hard to make sure we could see them during their 1-week visit. We were also eager to meet their daughter, Nicole, their son, Chet, and his girlfriend, Erica. The latter two volunteer with the Peace Corps right here in Panama. Chet writes about his experiences here, and Erica writes about hers at the awesomely-titled, "This Erica Life". Aren't all Peace Corp people just really cool? We couldn't tear ourselves away from the comfortable climate, fantastic hilly road-biking, delicious coffee, and visiting with the Hopps, so another 5 days passed before we left Boquete.

Ron, Nicole, Yvonne, Chet, and Erica hanging out in the insane outdoor living space in Valle Escondido

Fireside in Valle Escondido

Our first night with the Hopp's, we went to George's Fireside Grill. It is a bit out of town and the setting was very rustic and casual. After we gorged ourselves, Scott, George, and Chet started in on a jam session with George's instruments. Chet was on a drum-set that was up in a loft. All of us had the impression that we might be in for a nightcap of a little jazz, blues, or maybe even some classic rock. Instead, George started in on his original pieces, which I can only describe as Egyptian/Canadian punk-rock protest songs.  Not really singing, just low-frequency yelling -- in French! It was a hilarious end to a great night.

A round of frozen mojitos at George's

The punk rock band with Chet overlooking from the loft

The day before we were going to leave, the owner of Boquete Outdoor Adventures stopped us on our bikes to ask where we had been riding. One thing led to another, and before we knew it, he had convinced us to join him on a whitewater kayaking trip the following day. The only reason we agreed was because he offered up his 2-person inflatable kayak, while the rest of the crew used rafts. It was hilarious and frustrating trying to work together to maneuver the kayak. Scott wanted to go through the biggest gnarliest rapids/holes/pour-overs and I wanted to find the calm line just outside of them - just like it used to be when we kayaked. Scott calls my style the window shopping approach.

Pictured below is what happened on the first rapid as we pulled off the shore. Luckily, we only swam one more time, as we started to get the hang of the orange beast. Also pictured is one of the moments where Scott was yelling WOOO HOOOO, while I was probably not yelling (or thinking) the same thing. The trip definitely made us (even me!) miss kayaking and renewed our desire to eventually get back into it.

Woohoo -- not window shopping

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Costa Rica and Panama Cuteness - Lots of Pictures

What does a juvenile sloth and a spider monkey have in common?  Irresistible cuteness.

We had the great fortune, to happen upon a young sloth while poking around the beaches and coves near Quepos, Costa Rica. A local was feeding it small leaves from the almond tree, so we followed along. If it hadn't been for his unusually slow movements, those little pokey hooks on his feet would've been a little intimidating.  He didn't have any teeth, so he just gnawed at the leaves until they were pulverized enough to swallow. His hook nails work great for hanging from trees, but didn't work so well for grabbing the leaves from our hands. After we stopped feeding him, he curled up in a ball, and went to sleep on a branch. Can you just hear us saying, "awwwwwww"?

Soon after leaving this area of Costa Rica, we headed across the border to Panama, and made a beeline to the mountain town of Boquete.  The cooler air was refreshing.  It's about 70 +/- 5 degrees all the time (day or night). We set up camp at a place called La Jungla de Panama, an animal rescue and rehab place. While Scott worked on the never-ending list of truck and bike projects, I volunteered every morning with the animals. The star of the show was, without a doubt, Daisy, the spider monkey. She was abused in the past, and has subsequently been known to break into dangerous fits, so no one is allowed in her cage. It's sad because she is so sweet. She also thinks I'm sweet. Without fail, she hugs and grabs me when I walk up to her cage. With other people, it's hit or miss - even with Scott. Muchas fotos follow:

Friday, August 16, 2013

Costa Rica to Panama Border Crossing - Small Misstep

Border-crossing days are always a bit stressful. Crossing from Costa Rica to Panama was no different. It usually takes 1-3 hours to cross a border because we have to deal with getting ourselves and our vehicle out of one country and into a new country - passport stamps, vehicle permits, insurance, changing money, etc. Costa Rica to Panama was about a 3-hour crossing.  It could've been pretty smooth/fast, but we weren't prepared when they asked us for proof of funds ($500/each) for entry into Panama.  Apparently most people don't get asked this, or perhaps they are starting to crack down more? Another theory is that we looked so sketchy that they wondered if we had $500. Neither of us looked too sharp.  We were sweaty, and we weren't wearing long pants or closed-toed shoes (do crocs count?).

Camping at Playa Pinuelas and doing some last-minute research for the border crossing

The view from the lovely, free camping spot at Playa Pinuelas

Scott didn't feel comfortable slapping down the $1000 in cash that we had in the truck.  I was comfortable doing it as long as it was in an envelope.  We tried to figure out a way to print out a bank statement, but the printer driver wasn't installed on our new computer (yes, we carry a small printer), and our internet connection was too slow to even get a recent bank statement. After an hour of heat and stress, we finally just slapped down a couple of envelopes containing $500 each - the customs guy was really surprised.  He asked me to show him what was in the envelopes, as he didn't want to touch them. I cracked the envelope a little bit, and he nodded "yes". This is a bit of a warning for anyone following behind us - have a recent bank statement available!

(update on Sept. 7th)
The woman who issued our vehicle permit stayed in her air-conditioned office, behind a wall while she filled in all the information about our vehicle.  She never looked at it!  She also never asked us to verify the information before issuing the permit.  The list of mistakes is long and Scott argued with her to change 2 of the items, which she reluctantly did, by simply handwriting on our permit and then stamping it. She didn't change her official copy in the computer. Apparently, this is how it's always done and aduana (customs) don't really care what's on the form, as long as it has your correct VIN number and the date of expiration.  This is not true for people who need to ship their vehicle out of the country! Lesson: make sure everything is correct and do not leave the border until it is. Here are all the things that she did wrong:

  • She put vehicle type as "mula". We asked many locals what a "mula" was and/or if our truck was a "mula". The answer was a resounding "NO WAY!". Most people probably have a "camioneta"
  • She used Heather's passport number with Scott's name on the permit. Lesson: don't hand her 2 passports!
  • We've read many sources that says you must list a number for the motor and chassis because the police who inspect your vehicle before you ship it, want a number in this space. I can't verify that this is true. We asked her to put the VIN number in this space and she was not happy. It was a fight.
  • For number of doors ("puerto"), she put "2". We clearly have 3 doors. Too bad she didn't get out of her air conditioned room to actually look at the vehicle first.
We had to renew our vehicle permit after 30 days and tried to get all of these things officially changed at the office in Divisa. They told us to come back in 3-days (which of course turned into a week), and they would have a new permit. When we arrived to pick up our new permit, we found that the only thing that was changed was the passport number (from Heather's to Scott's). It was still listed as a "mula" with 2 doors and no motor number. After about an hour of discussion, the kind lady at the Divisa office handwrote all of the corrections on the permit and stamped them. One weird thing she did, was put tape over the stamp and handwriting.

When we used the new, mangled copy of our vehicle permit during the shipping process, we got quite a few sideways glances. The customs office at the port in Colon were suspicious and gave us a hard time. Lesson: a mangled, hand-written vehicle permit is quite possibly worse than a permit that is wrong. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Stray Dog Theater

by Scott

During our second stay in Esterillos Oeste (Costa Rica), we didn't see Patty, the dog that broke our hearts during our first visit. While we were gone, her owner was deported, but she was adopted by a local gringo. Unfortunately, he doesn't live by the beach, so that meant we had to go for runs and walks and find monkeys on our own.

That didn't last long. A couple days later, we met a new dog at Dominicalito, Costa Rica. She looked similar to Patty, but with different coloring. She clearly was or had been someones pet. She'd been spayed. She had a nice Animal Planet collar, but no name tag. We called her Mimo, Spanish for mime, because of her black triangle eyes. She was very skinny, so we gave her lots of treats.

Like Patty, Mimo loves to go on walks and runs on the beach. She also loves chasing birds, lizards, and pleading with the monkeys to come down out of the trees. We stayed at Dominicalito for 2 nights. Both nights, Mimo slept under the truck, and barked if anything look suspicious. Good puppy.

We were nervous about leaving. We didn't want a repeat of a desperate dog chasing us down the highway. Mimo hadn't left our sides for two days, so we were worried that she might chase us. We nonchalantly fired up the truck and started driving slowly down the pot-holed road to the highway. Mimo just sat there and watched. It was almost as sad as Patty sprinting after us--like she's been abandoned so often that she's lost all hope of something better.

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Quickie Update From Costa Rica

I guess we should never be surprised when we have vehicle problems, considering we drive on lots of pretty rough roads. Over the past couple of weeks Scott has had his nose under the hood and under the truck much more than normal. He recently replaced the fuel filter, air filter, and oil filter as part of his regular maintenance on the truck. After a slightly botched job on our suspension by a shop near San Jose, Costa Rica, he is resigned to doing everything himself.

Our truck had been starting rough a couple of weeks ago, and quite honestly, we weren't surprised that our 10-year-old starter batteries might be nearing the end of their life. Instead of preemptively buying new batteries, we waited until they completely kicked the bucket. Stupid, but luckily we were parked on the beach near a town called Esterillos Oeste (you may remember this town from our previous post where we met "perfect puppy Patty").

Esterillos, the best pleasure - unless your truck won't start

We had a friend in town, named Brett, who we had met a couple of months ago.  He was a life-saver.  He helped us procure 2 new batteries while being our personal Spanish-English translator. Batteries are not cheap in Costa Rica.  The new Interstate batteries, which would have been around $100 each in the states, were $200 each. OUCH!

Brett helped deliver our batteries with his 1968 Land Rover

We were excited to get the batteries, install them, and see if the truck started up.  Our anticipation was met with flashing dashboard lights and a clicking sound we later learned was from our glow-plug relay (kinda irrelevant though). Scott stayed cool and calm during the blazing heat of the day while working to try and figure out what the problem was.  We erected a temporary shade shelter and spent the next 2 days researching what the problem might be.

Nose to the grindstone

He did 3 things all around the same time, so we don't know exactly which one fixed the problem, but it starts up better than ever. He cleaned all the corrosion from the battery cables, added a new ground cable, and discharged the residual system voltage to force a hard reboot of the engine computer. We expect there to be more problems related to corrosion as we continue to park on the beach with salty air and onshore winds.

Not the worst place to be stuck for a week