3/19/2007 - DOMINICAL, COSTA RICA - LA CHORERRA, PANAMA
| DOMINICAL, COSTA RICA
having buried the investment scheme in the back of our minds, we made our way down to dominical. about seven or eight months ago, we met a guy at a supermoto exhibition in denver who said he was going to tow an old caravan down to costa rica and open up a diner on the beach. he said he'd be open by the time we arrived, and gave us his business card. neither of us thought much about it at the time, but brian kept the card anyway. this being our only solid connection in costa rica, we decided to find the makeshift beach diner in hopes of a good meal and an easy conversation in english. the tongue and the brain can only handle so much spanish, so it would have been a nice reprieve. ca1 is a relatively easy road to travel by, that is, if it weren't for the other drivers. each country has it's own driving style, and in c.r., it's a little too leisurely, and somewhat annoying. as for the mountains and cloud forests that make up central c.r., they're amazing. we actually got cold for the first time in months as we drove over the mountains through the cloud forest, which, according to our gps, was about ten thousand feet in elevation. a half day of squirrelly roads eventually lead us to the small resort town of domenical. our time-worn business card had some vague directions on it, and we searched for the beachfront diner for hours, but it was nowhere to be found. we drove past resort after resort, finally finding a little hole in the wall restaurant surrounded by several pathfinders with surfboards strapped to them. it seems that wherever there are surfers, there are nachos... you'd think that because all of the ingredients to make nachos are easily available in most parts of central america, that the streets would be paved in nachos, but it's just not the case. if you do find nachos, then look a little further, because chances are, there's a good beach nearby.
by the time we finished dinner, it was dark, which makes it difficult to set up camp, but there was no way we were going to pay a hundred dollars to stay in a resort hotel with a hundred other americanos. when we drove up to the campsite, we saw a family of catoman scurry past the lights of the truck. then there was a tarantula, big enough to be seen from our moving vehicle, creeping across the road in front of us. all this, in addition to the snake museum that we had visited earlier, made for a rough night's sleep. i was scared that the catoman would use it's sharp claws to tear it's way into the tent, and attack us in our sleep. brian was more concerned with bushmaster snakes or drug dealers making their way into the camp for the sole purpose of killing us. dremel was preoccupied with the heat, and we had a difficult time convincing him that the tent was definitely where he wanted to be. the daylight changed everything, and our scary campsite turned out to be a harmless little coconut grove beside a good beach. the only bad thing about finding a good beach is that we still hadn't found a skimboard. hanging out and staring at the ocean is okay to an extent, but that day we were looking for a little more.
THE COSTA RICA - PANAMA BORDER
the panama border was only about fifty miles away, so it was the next obvious destination. our border guide was only about twelve years old, but what he lacked in years, he made up for in persistence, which was how he ended up being our guide. he rode perilously perched on the rocker panel bars on the outside of our truck, as he guided us through the heavily congested markets that surrounded the border buildings. the old schoolbuses that we once rode in as children have found a new home in panama, and have all been revived with intricate murals of wrestlers and naked women, sparkly seats and stickers, and various kinds od window tinting. our guide was nearly scraped off the side of our truck by such a glorious vessel as he hung on for dear life and a ten dollar tip. most of the stamp collecting process went fairly easily, that is, up until we got to the quarantine official. seems we failed to have the dog inspected by the official panamanian veterinarian, and wouldn't you know it, it was saturday and the vet doesn't work on saturdays. "you'll have to wait unteeel monday, seenyor" is a common saying in these parts. in order to avoid sleeping in an unsavory place with insavory charachters until monday, there is a fee, which is based loosely on the mood of the official. the fee on this particular saturday started at one hundred and fifty u.s.d. brian maintained a calm and pleasant demeanor, but the expletives were flowing like poetry from my own mouth. then we tried the sad story, the one where we tell them that we don't have much money, and we can't even afford a proper home, which is why we now live in a nissan. then we tried to stare him down. when he beat us at the staring contest, we tried the waiting game. we waited, milled about, waited... finally brian pulled a twenty out of his pocket and tucked it neatly inside his passport. still no stamp. one more twenty in the passport did the trick, and the hombre gladly stamped every piece of paper we had.
somewhere in the middle of the border crossing process, our truck caught the attention of an expatriot who once lived in colorado. not wanting to miss an opportunity for a free ride with some fellow coloradans, he perched himself on top of his backpack right next to our truck. panama was already proving to be a little manic, so we were more than happy to have an english speaking local along for the first few panamanian miles. turns out that willy used to live just outside of telluride, and used to be a snowboarder and a river rafting enthusiast. he happened upon a small help wanted advertisement in the back of a rafting magazine, and was hired on the spot. his new job as a riverguide in panama kept him happily occupied for about five years, and he's been here ever since. willy shared the back seat with dremel, and we sat up front and grilled him with a million questions about panama. some of willy's stories seemed a little far fetched, but a few more days in panama would probably shed some truth in his crazy tales. according to willy, something like sixty kilos of cocaine washed up on the beach near his house. the locals made the most of it, and sold it at cut rate prices so that they could afford groceries and school supplies for the ninos. no one ever came looking for it, because sixty kilos is small potatoes in comparison to the massive quantities being moved in the panamanian ports. i guess it's quite common for trafficers to dump their cargo to avoid getting busted, the local fishermen often supplement their incomes with the traffic scraps that they find in their nets.
we had initially planned on driving as far as david, panama to stay the night, but willy managed to talk us into going further to santiago. it was probably all for the best, anyway, because in the thirty seconds it took to drive through david, we didn't see one place that we would consider staying the night in. on the way to santiago, we passed numerous teak tree farms. at one time, the heavy demand for teak caused a lot of deforestation. because teak is very strong, beautiful, and has many uses, they used the deforested patches of land to plant more teak trees. they fill up the voids quite nicely, but the birds and animals are wary of unfamiliar environments, and the farms are completely devoid of wildlife.
willy already knew santiago pretty well, and he knew which hotel was the best for the money, which made our first night really easy. people don't really make a point to camp around here, and after spending time here, i can understand why. the jungle is too dense to even set foot in, let alone pitch a tent. also, they're surrounded by nature all the time, and the houses are built with open air courtyards and rooms with hammocks. sometimes they'll take their hammock to the beach, or they'll rent one at a restaurant, but that's about the extent of it. since we left guatemala, we've had a hard time finding national parks that are able to accommodate campers, so we always head to the beach if we're looking for a campsite. if it's getting dark, then we head to a hotel or hostel, which sounds extravagant, but twenty bucks is a pretty good deal for a few creature comforts. the usual fireworks at six in the morning were set off in santiago, and the only thing that i can figure is that i haven't seen one clock since we left guatemala... my theory is that the fireworks are central american alarm clocks set off early in the morning to wake up the working folk.
brian has become an expert in ordering pork chops, which is nice for me, because i've been disappointed with the chicken lately. we ate our giant pork chops and potatoes and returned to the hotel, where they were hosting a quinciniera. there were panamanian teenagers running rampant through the halls of the hotel all night long. we hid out and watched saturday night live... we're generally a tough audience, but the lack of television has turned us into easily amused little kids, free of inhibition, we laugh out loud at the dumbest things t.v. has to offer. breakfast has become our best bet for getting what the menu describes, so we made it a point to get breakfast before we hit the road. this was the first time we noticed how slow the pace of panamanian business is. we thought maybe it was just the restaurant, but no, it's all of panama. in the states, you get nothing but customer service, and fast! down here, it's a totally different story, and everyone accepts it. i really don't know how anything gets done around here, maybe it never does. this reminds me of a funny conversation i heard down here- an american woman said that she did things in her particular manner in order to save time... the panamanian woman then responded, "what do you do with all the extra time you save?" and to this, there was no response. neither woman had any understanding of the other's ways, nor could they give a reasonable explanation for their own ways, and so their differences were settled by just accepting it.
without much left to do in santiago, we wanted to move on, but didn't really know where to go. we have a little guide book that we refer to every now and again, but we try not to rely on it too much, because it tends to lead us into resort towns and tourist traps. throwing the guide book aside, we consulted our address book instead. months ago, when we were staying at brian's stepmom and dad's house in houston, we were introduced to the family of dolores and tony guererro. senora guererro was a very kind and good natured person who seemed to watch over the neighborhood and help wherever she could. she reminded me of both my grandmas, and the short amount of time that i was able to spend with her was an absolute pleasure because i was already missing my family at that point. sra. guererro made sure to give me the address of some friends she had in panama, and said if we called them, they'd be more than happy to give us a place to stay if we needed it. well, it seemed like that time had come, because we were feeling a little aimless in panama, and there was a lot to be done as far as the logistics of shipping the truck into south america.
LA CHORERRA, PANAMA
we bombed down the ca1 toward the town of la chorerra. the only stop we made was a quick diversion to the beach to cool off for a little while. it was a black sand beach, and would have been perfect for skimboarding on, but still no luck wih our skimboard mission. on the way back to the ca1, we passed a concrete skate park built in the front yard of a local woman. she was nice enough to let people come and go as they pleased, and all the skaters seemed to respect her premises. brian watched in envy, he meant to bring his skateboard, but in our last minute packing frenzy, it was forgotten. back to the ca1, and back to the reality of having to figure out how to get into ecuador, we pressed on to la chorerra. it's easier to communicate in espanol in person, but there was a sense of urgency, we really could have used the help of someone from panama to show us the ropes. i didn't have an address, so it would be harder to make myself clear on the phone, but i did my best, which seemed to work out just fine. the payphone we stopped at to call the dunkel family was only about two blocks away from their house, which was pure luck. senor marco, the father of the household, told us to wait, he'd be right down. minutes later, he rolled up in a nissan frontier pickup, with the rest of the family in tow. it's hard to ask a stranger if it's alright to stay in their house for a couple of days, but after hearing about what we were trying to do, he gladly rolled out the red carpet.
the dunkel family could not have been more concerned about the details of our travels and well being, and they helped in any way they could. sr. marco sent us into panama with frankie. frankie was a genuinely good person who never had to be asked by anyone to do anything, he just did it, no matter what it was. he was a humble twenty three year old who was trying very hard to learn english so that he could earn more money. the average wage in panama is about eight dollars a day, but goes up if english is spoken. frankie lead the way while brian did the driving... we had an appointment at the shipping company, which went relatively smooth, but we were informed that the truck wouldn't ship until sunday. this was monday, so we would have to find a hotel to ease the burden of sr. marco and his family. sr. marco wouldn't hear of us staying elsewhere, and made it known that his casa was our casa, so that was that.
in order to ship the truck, we would have to go on another stamp collecting spree, this time in panama city. first, we had to go to ptj, the police station that sat directly in the middle of the bad part of town. the shabby, ran down apartment tenements loomed ominously over the tiny, disorganized station. one hour later, we had a vin inspection and an official stamp on an official piece of paper of some sort. we were then instructed to go across the street to the secretary general's office, where we were to get another stamp. at eleven am, we turned in the paper to be stamped, and were told to wait in the lobby. thirty minutes turned into an hour, which turned into an hour and a half. nobody had come for us, and we were becoming increasingly more impatient, so i went to see what the deal was. only then did it dawn on the secretary's assistant to tell us that the secretary general had gone to colon, and would not be back until two thirty. only slightly irritated, we made the best of our extra time and went to the mall in search of some maps and books of south america. i ran inside and scoured the mall, while brian ran the air conditioning in the truck for dremel. my options for books and maps were limited, but it became unimportant after i caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye... a skimboard! a perfect and beautiful little skimboard, sitting way up high on a shelf, just waiting to be purchased. i ran out to grab brian, who by this time, had figured out how to play video games on the gps unit. when i told him the good news, it was like he was hit with a cattle prod, he bolted into the mall and forked over the money for his little slice of heaven. our spirits renewed, we returned to the ptj office. the secretary's secretary informed us that we'd have to come back at four, the secretary general still hadn't made it back yet. in an effort not to lose our temper, we bit our tongues and left immediately. we saved our expletives for the private confines of the truck, where we vented our frustrations. with a couple more hours to burn, we went down to the copa airlines office and set up our airplane tickets. by this time, we were becoming pretty familiar with panama city, which is weird to think that we'd ever come to have any sort of understanding of such a strange and seemingly complex place. back to the ptj, the secretary general still hadn't returned. the whole day would have felt like a total waste were it not for finally finding our beloved little skimboard.
a little groggy from the events that unfolded at the ptj the day before, we dragged ourselves out of bed and back down into panama city. i was dreading walking into the ptj, i was sure that the secretary general hadn't made it in to stamp our paper, which was due to be returned to our shipping agent by the end of the day. the security guards were getting to know us, and we didn't even have to sign in anymore. we walked in to the office, where, holy moly, they had the stamped paperwork all ready to go! with a little more wind in our sails, we set off to get one more stamp from aduana, customs. customs was a breeze, and we were in and out in no time. just when we were thinking we were so tough for having driven so far in such unfamiliar conditions, we ran into a guy in the aduana parking lot. he was on an old, clapped out harley davidson, and had rode all the way down to panama from canada on it. we felt so spoiled to have such a cushy ride, what with the air conditioning and the radio and all. a brief chat with the old guy turned us into sissies, but what can you do about that? with our stamped pieces of paper in hand, we made it back to our shipping agent with a few hours to spare. seemed like tomorrow was going to be a busy day of getting the truck up to the port, so we took the rest of the afternoon off. in panama, no matter where you are, you're only about forty five minutes away form the beach, and it was time to spend a little quality time with our new skimboard. it was the first time we had a legitimate use for mr. zog's sex wax, which was a popular replacement for chewing gum in the late eighties - early nineties. guess it's really used for surf applications, keeps you on your board, if you can manage to get on in the first place. not really knowing what we were doing, we beat ourselves up trying to learn how to skimboard. brian has so far figured out how to jump on and skeeter down the beach for about twenty feet, which is way better than i can do. i'm still on the jumping on phase, but it was fun and well worth all the trouble it took to find it.
i have yet to meet a panamanian that isn't afraid of going to colon, and wouldn't you know it, we had to deliver the truck to the port in colon. apparently one of the largest free trade zones in the world, there are a lot of people who enter the city with large amounts of cash for buying electronics and goods at super low prices. where there is cash, there is crime, and colon has a notoriously criminal past. it is also one of the main ports of import for colombian goods, and this, of course, includes cocaine. whenever there is violent crime reported in the news, it generally takes place in colon, so we were a little apprehensive about going there, but had no choice. i followed brian in a rental car, and the super highway from panama city to colon quickly deteriorated into a two lane third world highway. traffic would dictate our late arrival to the port, where we were told that we only had one hour before we were to stuff our truck into it's designated container. we scurried from one window to the next, trying frantically to get stamped, filed, and admitted. our one hour deadline came and went, and we were still standing in line hoping for a little slack from the ship workers. after all the paperwork was completed, brian was escorted by port security to the container. there were definitely other people waiting on him, but late arrivals seem to be almost expected. it took a little more paperwork and a lot of men to officially break the seal on the container. the truck was stuffed, and brian was escorted back. dremel and i were waiting in the rental car with the a/c running, listening to ricky martin, which is all they ever seem to play. we had no business messing about colon, and were looking forward to getting back to our surrogate family in la chorerra, so we got out of there as fast as we could without incident.
it was nice to have a family for a little while, and they were a lot like my family back home. every morning, grandma amuy would set us up with juice, coffee, and bread with jam. sra. dunkel, though she was bound to a wheelchair, was a sweet and vivacious little lady, who did everything she could to make us feel at home. i'm not sure how long she had been confined to the chair, but as i understand it, she was in a terrible car accident. it doesn't seem to slow her down, though, and she always seemed to make time for anyone who needed it. she and sr. marco dedicated their lives to the children that they had taken in, as well as the children in the neighborhood, who seem to stop by almost every evening to eat dinner and do their homework. sr. marco is an architect and a pastor, who built his church with his own earnings. an honest, and hard working man, he seems to be the best influence that all these children could hope for. then there was frankie, who would come over every night to try to learn as much english from us as he could, in exchange, he would teach us spanish. he is a construction worker and a student, with aspirations of working in the shipping business in panama. marjorie, their teenage neighbor, also came over in the evenings, and she sat in a couple of the informal language classes in the dunkel driveway. jorge, a nephew, was a good boy, who helped his uncle out with the church in his spare time, he was also a student. last, but not least, there was nadji, a beautiful girl with more intent and motivation than i'd ever seen in anyone before... when she wasn't at school, she was up all night studying for her medical exams. nadji also had an affliction, which at one point, kept her from walking. western medicine and multiple surgeries did little to help, so the family turned to god. it was a miracle that eventually allowed her to walk again, and only with the aid of a cane. the family never questioned their faith again, and have since been devoted to helping others through their church.
it seemed to us that there is was a pressing need for the children to learn english. frankie, marjorie, and jorge would instigate our informal classes in hopes of absorbing as many new words as they could, and we were impressed with their want for knowledge. it seems that the english teachers in panama know that they are offering a precious commodity, and charge dearly for it, about fifty bucks a month. doesn't sound like a lot by u.s. standards, but when you only earn eight bucks a day, most of your money goes toward food, rent, family. we have decided to try to repay the favor of the hospitality that the dunkels have shown us, and were hoping to get a few of our readers involved in what we thought would be a life changing cause for a couple of kids... we gave the dunkels some money to get frankie started in english classes, and he has agreed to teach the younger kids until we can raise enough money to send all of them to learn english. it would help to secure their future, and give them a better advantage in the workplace. because we're on the road, it would be a little difficult for us to put this whole thing together as a tax deductible kind of charity thing, so we've chosen a couple of trustworthy folks to help us out with the initial phases of our project... my mom has agreed to accept funds in the states, which will be sent to sr. marco, who has agreed to make sure that it is spent on as many kids as possible, to learn english. we're hoping to raise 1800.00 u.s.dollars to be able to either send all three kids to english class for one year, or better yet, sr. marco is on the hunt for a private tutor who would be able to give english lessons in the church to as many people that would like to attend. sounds like one of those heartbreaking save the children commercials, i know, but this is more legit, we are actually going to send all the charitable funds directly to the source, not just the mandatory twenty percent. it's time to pass on a little of that american love, so grab your checkbooks, there's some people down here who would really appreciate the chance to really change their lives.
every little bit matters big time, and if you want to help, send a check to my mom-
sandra l. miranda
26365 holbrook st.
conifer, co 80433
please make check payable to sandy miranda
no worries, she's not going to blow your hard earned money on fancy clothes or anything, she's an a+ trustworthy mamacita who will see to it that the money gets to the right place. she's also doing some work on her own to see if she can organize a little fund raiser at the school that she teaches at, so she's down with the cause. i will do what i can to get more information about the english lessions, frankie is currently researching their options, and he will be reporting back to us soon. thanks in advance, love, erika and brian.
back to la chorerra... every night, we sat down to dinner with the dunkel family, where we all managed to communicate as best as we could, until eventually, it seemed like there was no language barrier. we learned a lot about each other over the course of six days, and grew to respect each other as well. we were sad to go, and they were sad to see us go. sr. marco and brian have all kinds of new business ideas, and they are anxious for our return. even more so, they are eager for dremel's return, and it was all we could do to get him out the door, they just loved him! we will miss them, but we hope to return one day to find them well and speaking english.
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