Archive for April, 2013

Panama HouseI couldn’t afford to stay at the Hotel Milan indefinitely so needed to find a more reasonable place to stay and have lucked out by finding the Panama House B&B, which used to be known as Casa de Carmen (http://panamahousebb.com/)

I have been here a few days now and there is a truly international crowd for me to talk to and pass the time whilst I wait on the customs process to complete.

Donovan's GangSurpisingly I am not the only person to have driven here from the USA. Upon arrival I met Donovan who had ridden down here in only three weeks on a motorcycle.(www.enduroearth.com ) The pace of that is mental, given I have been pushing on contantly and it took me over three months!

He gave me this wonderful sticker from his motorcycle chapter back home, which is a fine addition to my scrapbook.

Arizona OverlandersI also had a little chuckle to myself when I saw this vehicle from Arizona parked outside, because it is about as far removed from my own means of covering the distance as you can get. It is owned by Monica and Jeff Yaeger and comes complete with roof tent, river fording engine snorkel, awning, etc. (www.overlandtheworld.com )

Most people have taken the normal option of flying in and there is a great mix of cultures going on. For me it is great just to be interacting with people again after spending so much time largely on my own.

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groceriesAt the end of my day of sightseeing I had got off at the last stop which was the Multiplaza shopping centre. My latest digs have a kitchen so I bought some food in order to prepare something wholesome as opposed to the spaceman diet of packaged or junk food I am regularly living off. With a couple of boxes of groceries I didn’t fancy the walk home so hailed a cab.

taxi driverI made the mistake of not asking the fare when I got into the car, but knew how cheap cabs should be, so reacted with incredibility when the driver wanted $10 for the short trip to my hostel upon arrival at the end of the street.

It was at this point that I realised that my driver may not have been quite as mentally unstable as Robert De Niro’s character Travis Bickle, but he may have come a close second!Round Trip

After I had the audacity to suggest the fare should be no more than $2.80 he went nuts ranting at me in the front of the car. He locked the doors and started to drive off. When I pointed out that he was going the wrong way I got ranted at once more and understood enough to get that he was taking me back to the Multiplaza. I think that he thought I would find that terrible and beg to pay $10, but I just said ok finding the situation rather amusing in the back of his car. Sure enough he took me back to the exact spot where I had been picked up and turfed me out at the side of the road. Laughing as I got out I wished him ‘Feliz Viaje’ which roughly translates to bon voyage, and I dont think this helped calm his mania, but I closed the door as he sped off having got nothing for providing me with a further ightseeing our of the city for free.

30 seconds later I was in the next cab that wanted $5 for the trip, which I happily paid before chuckling all the way back down a road I was traversing for the third time in under an hour.

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Bridge-of-the-AmericasThe customs process takes a while so I have done a double decker bus tour of the city to see the sights.

Most impressive was the Bridge of the Americas which I had driven across on my way into the city. Until it had been completed the only way across the canal was a laborious ferry. Like the canal it is massive. It has to be so the huge vesssels can sail underneath.

Harbour View 3I also went out along the huge casueway which has been built linking the mainland to what were once three islands off the coast.

Flamingo island at the end is a duty free zone and home to the rich yachting fraternity.

Old Town 6In contrast to that you have the old town when ramshackle stalls line the streets and cars have to be triple parked.

I had a great day getting on and off the bus to wander around when I wanted to and it was good to stretch my legs because I have been holed up in hotels and my car for too long.

 

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Canal Boat

The Panama Canal will be 100 years old next year and truly is an engineering marvel. It allows massive ships to cut across the continent instead of sailing all the way around the treacherous southern end of the Americas, saving days on transportation and a huge amount on fuel too. it is one of the times when mankind has refused to be held back by the simple fact that an entire country with hostile geography was in its way.

Saying that though it took nearly 30,000 lives to build it, the dam which holds back the huge artificial Lake Gatun and all the associated infrastructure used to guide the massive ocean going vessels through the locks.

Miraflores 4A second larger set of locks to accommodate the modern massive shipping freighters is currently under construction and should be finished in time for its centenary. However I went to the Miraflores locks near the Pacific end of the canal and watched a few of the mighty vessels going through. The science and method for getting ships through the waterway is no different to that of the narrow boat canals in Great Britain, but the scale of the undertaking here is staggering.

Container VesselThe little things you can see alongside this container vessel are actually deisel locomotives known as Mules.

Rather than pull the vessels through the canal they are used to limit the amount of banging around that the ships do once inside the locks. If you can imagine a wrecking ball with that much weight you can understand it wouldn’t take long for it to smash almost anything up.

Nothing I can say will do justice to it, and the slow pace pace at which things traverse seems to take away somehow from the magnitude of the undertaking, but it is still an awesome sight.

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Taxi

Taxis in Panama are really cheap. You can get to the airport from the centre of town, which is roughly equivalent to Central london to Heathrow, for less than $3.

As a consequence I had no qualms about getting into one this morning to go to the customs brokers and hopefully sort out the importation paperwork. 

panama-cab1I was somewhat surprised however when the driver of my cab pulled over about half a mile down the road to speak to somebody, who then climbed into the back of my cab with me.

My first thoughts on the situation were a tad worrying, mostly because I had about $3,000 on me to cover whatever import duty was required on my car. The bloke seemed quite friendly though and because it was so early in the morning I thought it was unlikely ne’er-do-wells would be up and about bothering people like me, so I just sat there in nervous silence wondering what the hell was going on.

Having been to Choro’s office twice before I knew we were heading the right way so there didn’t seem any cause for undue alarm, and sure enough I was dropped off correctly for a $1 fee, before the two of them carried on down the road. When I asked the girls in the office if that was normal I was told it is. Apparantly the drivers decide that one fare is not enough to warrant the petrol, so they try to get two or three for the price of the fuel, which might explain why the fares are so low. Quite odd!

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22Apr
Comments Off on Importing The Car (Part I)

Importing The Car (Part I)

PaperworkMake no mistake about it, importing the car into Panama is going to be an administrative nightmare. I wouldn’t stand a chance of sorting it out on my own so have retained the services of a Customs Broker called Eliecer Alvarado Guardia, but who likes to be called Choro. He and everybody else at his company (http://www.aduanasalvarado.com/indexE.html) are being brilliant walking me through everything (literally at times!)

Shipping containersThe importation process is basically the same as that if I had sent a shipping container full of merchandise here. The ‘goods’ need to be taken to a bonded warehouse where they are left (for a fee) until the paperwork is correct and customs have inspected them.

In my case that entails taking them to a company called Kintes, by following one of Choro’s guys riding a motorcycle. Their site is exactly as you would expect a haulage hub or equivalent to be. I.e lorries and containers all over the place.

Kintes LGSM

They inspected the car for damage, etc and then take it off my hands until I have sorted the importation paperwork at the customs office.

I dont mind telling you it felt a bit weird watching the bug being driven off into the distance by somebody else.

Kintes FerrariI hope the bug will be ok on its own for a few days while Choro and I tackle the customs. 

I was delighted however when I found somebody for it to play with in my absence. I hope they get on!

Dont even want to think what the owner of the Ferrari is paying in duty though.

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Se VendeMy top priority is now selling the bug and I have advertised it locally towards that end.

As well as using a traditional for sale sign (with a Spanish twist) I have posted the details on a couple of forums and a car sales website on the internet, which has already generated some interest in my little car.

Jump LeadsA local pilot, coincidentally also called Robert, was very keen on the car and wanted to see it straight away becuase he thought it would be great for his wife.

We met in a MacDonalds car park and he was quite impressed with it. However the little green surf machine was obviously not impressed that I was trying to sell it and refused to start as soon as the other Robert wanted to take it for a test drive. I was clear that it was a flat battery and he was kind enough to call the Panamanian version of Batteries-R-Us for me and they came out quickly to sort it. Sadly this required a replacement battery because cells in the old one had given up the ghost, and it would seem that my regular use of the air con since being in the city had been the straw that broke that particular camel’s back.

ImportDespite all this Panamanian Robert is still interested but for both his sake and mine we have agreed it is necessary for me to undertake the importation of the car into the country.

I am the registered keeper of the vehicle and it will make life easier for me to undertake the process, and then we may just have to come to a compromise over the cost of having done so if he is still in the market for another car when it is completed. I have a few interested parties though so am not hanging all my hopes on him just yet.

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Post Office

After living out of the Little Green Surf Machine for four months I have acquired quite a lot of stuff. Cooking equipment, maps, guide books, souvenirs, T shirts, beach towels and other bits and pieces.

The hoarder in me does not allow me to discard all of the above so I have to send what I want to keep home, because I cannot carry it all without my wheels, let alone need it or wish to pay for the excess weight it would represent on the rest of my flights. That sounds easy in prinipal but the practise was somewhat more complicated. 

parcels

First I had to lay out every single item I have with me in the hotel room and then sift through the lot deciding whether or not it was ‘backpacking necessary’ because that will be the mode I return to after leaving Panama. Then using the boxes which I have been segmenting the car boot with I prepared beautiful parcels all sealed perfectly with tape, to the extent that it would have taken an entire Welsh mining village to hack into them.

All good up to this point however at this stage my limited Spanish let me down. Carrying half a tonne of boxes around the centre of the city I kept getting sent to postboxes, when I thought I was asking for the post office. It is about 35C throughout all of this, draining me of all my energy and I am sweating cobs until my arms simply couldn’t lift the weight anymore so I practically threw the boxes down. At this point the rainy season appeared to have arrived and I got soaked for 15 minutes until I eventually hailed a cab.

Duct TapeIt took me to the post office (la officina de correos – in case you ever need to send home far too much stuff from Panama) but the first thing they made me do was completely unwrap the lot so they could inspect the contents. I was then offered a roll of masking tape to reseal everything, which wouldn’t have been strong enough for my bulging parcels so I had to abandon everything with the staff and then run a couple of miles through the heat until I could find some duct tape because I was running out of time before the post office closed.

wet dogEven though it had stopped raining it was still so hot and humid that I returned looking like the proverbial drowned rat. Thirty minutes of speed wrapping later I am at the till filling out forms like they were lines I had been given at school and ready to pay the huge fee for sending everything home. That is until I discover that the duct tape purchase has left me $1.17 short to pay for postage and there was by now only 12 minutes until the post office closed for the weekend.

Bank RunNothing I can do because they dont accept cards so I have to give it toes to a cash point, in the kind of run on a bank that Northern Rock Investors would be proud of! The third cashpoint I found actually worked and I sprinted back to the post office to hand over the $1.17, be handed the receipt and then be shown the door as they are locking up.

I am more than a bit traumatised by this whole experience and I walk back to the hotel to try and cool down, but in all honesty it took three Cuba Libres and half an hour of ice cold air con before I was at all human again. However I have lightened the load and the stuff is on its way. In many ways it is a weight off my mind.

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panama-hat-shop-2.tifI did a bit of research on Panama hats before I left the UK and discovered that they are actually made in Ecuador. They are only known as Panama hats because this is where the trade in them flourished (along with many other things) because the narrow strip of land faciltated easy trade from both Asia and Europe.

I was originally hoping to buy one of the hats made from the plaited leaves of the Carludovica Palmata plant when I travelled through Ecuador in my car. However I am no longer sure that I will be stopping there at all. Depending on how long it takes me to sell the car I may well be just flying over it, so Panama seems like the obvious place to buy one instead.

MontecristiAll Panamas can be rolled up to make storing or travelling with them less cumbersome. the narrower the weave the easier this is and the most expensive hats have as many as 2500 weaves per square inch.

They are known as Montecristis, after the town where they are produced. A ‘Superfino’ Montecristi Panama has a weave so fine that the hat can hold water, and when rolled for storage the entire hat can pass through a gap as small as a wedding ring.

I would love one of those bad boys but cannot justify the £400 I would have to shell out for something I might wear at the cricket or for picnics in the park, but have picked up the one you see here along with its storage box, which does have a very fine weave, even if it is not quite a Superfino.

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WrexhamIt has been pointed out to me that I have not given Wrexham Football Club any credit for their achievements this year.

Adding more glory to a fabulous year for the Welsh sports fan Wrexham won the FA Trophy last month and I really should have given them the mention they deserved then.

Wrexham TrophyI am sure I would have done so ordinarily, but checking my records suggests I was moving from Nicaragua to Costa Rica, which likely means another epic IT fail upon arrival in the new country.

However congratulations to the club closest to where I grew up. They have had a shocking few years, with financial problems, administration and the associated drama that goes with that.

I’m sure all those at the Racecourse will be suitably stoked about the trophy and hope it is the springboard to better times for the club.

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