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Dave and Jan's travels, day 290:
Western Panama

4th March
After the near-perfect beach of Manuel Antonio, we paused briefly to repair our broken car and admire the Wilson Botanical Gardens (bromeliads, palms, hibiscus, agaves and butterflies too) before slipping over the Panamanian border on March 1st.

Our first stop in Panama was to be the Parque Nacional de Amistad. "The" place to stay in this vicinity is Los Quetzales, so we called ahead, but found that we could not stay that night. Undaunted, we headed north on progressively narrower (and rougher) roads and checked ourselves in to the Hotel Cerro Punto nearby, having first confirmed with the Los Quetzales people that we should get to them at 7am the next morning to take part in their daily guided tours.

Next morning, we duly arrived at the appointed hour, and were greeted by chaos, as no-one knew we were coming and no-one wanted to address the issue. Eventually the driver suggested we follow him up the "not too bad" road. A little later we were well and truly bogged down in a river, which I can tell you is not a great place to discover that your four wheel drive has ceased functioning. Fortunately we were blocking the road, and so eventually the owner of the establishment - Carlos - arrived. After a lot of excitement, including great precipice-edge steering from Jan, we got ourselves towed out. We returned to the hotel, where Carlos promised to come down in ten minutes or so and take us up the hill to see one of their guides. It was about 9.30 am.

At 12.30 pm we decided to go to lunch, a good choice because Carlos eventually showed at about 1 pm with some nonsensical story about how someone else was supposed to have come. So off we went, and met the "guide". The guide immediately set off to walk to a waterfall, and we followed. He occasionally stopped just after a tricky leap across a stream or similar, but never actually looked back, and had apparently no knowledge of the forest. Bored with the silence we eventually tried a couple of questions, but after his failure to identify an oak we decided to draw a veil. Still, it was nice scenery, and it was followed by a pleasant evening spent with some co-guests.

The next morning was going to be "much better" because Carlos was "very sorry" about the problems. At 7am the guide "hadn't come to work", something "they'd only found out at 9pm the previous night". So we were up at the crack, pointlessly, because they couldn't be bothered to give us the message the previous evening. I have to confess I lost my temper and frightened a relatively inculpable receptionist, which bought Carlos running out. He started by denying that they'd known about the guide the previous day, then retracted, then started blathering. At this point we regained our sanity and set off to walk up the hill alone, where we had a lovely morning (guideless of course) including more beautiful hummingbirds and quetzals. In summary, the hotel has a beautiful location, some wonderful cabins deep in the woods with stunning wildlife around, but staying there feels rather like visiting Fawlty Towers. In retrospect it's highly amusing and you're therefore glad you went, but it was rather frustrating as the story unfolded.

From there, we headed on to the town of David to get the four wheel drive repaired. We'd met a local named Jose Fernandez at Los Quetzales, who'd arranged to meet us in David to take us to his pet mechanic, a guy by the name of Bruiña. To describe this chap as disreputable would be only fair. His garage is very al fresco, and not without misgivings, we left our car with him.

A few hours later he explained to us that both our freewheels were broken. Unfortunately, new ones are $300 each.Fortunately, we should be able to find second hand spares in scrap yards. Unfortunately, a lengthy tour of David's scrapyards yielded nothing. Fortunately, this didn't matter too much, because the next morning a different diagnosis appeared - apparently we just need a new lock washer on one side only. Unfortunately, there are none of these in Panama (told you we should have bought a Japanese car). Fortunately, a local genius with a lathe turned one for $30.

Next day we were there to see part of the fitting process. First the guys went off to borrow the special "lock washer removing spanner" from another garage as they didn't have one. Later, they went off to borrow the rather less special "completely standard but three foot long adjustable spanner" because they didn't have one of those either. Then, much to everyone's surprise, they completed the job successfully and the four wheel drive was seen to work! The dramatis personae appear in the photo at the right.

From there, we also visited the local town of Dolega to see a bit of carnival before driving on to Panama City for more carnival.


   (click thumbnails for a larger picture)

Wilson Botanical Gardens

Mechanics, David

Hummingbird, Los Quetzales