Charlotte’s Late – But Wait, Cartagena’s Great!

Having spent a week in Panama City arranging to ship Charlotte to Colombia, Ned and I finally flew to Cartagena on Saturday June 14, 2014. The easy hour long flight found us excited to be on our first new continent of the trip, but we were still worried about Charlotte. Is she getting beat up in the container? Was she tied down correctly? Robbed? Lost amongst the hundreds of thousand containers that go through these ports daily? Or worse yet, fallen into the ocean!? Regrettably, we had watched those YouTube videos of cargo containers stacked hundreds high, suddenly collapsing and hurling themselves to a watery death….uhhhh! The thought of her loss was devastating. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t be able to get to the port to begin the frustrating process of retrieving her until Monday, and this was still only Saturday! What would we do? I had a vision of Cartagena being a seedy port town and was not looking forward to being there. Happily, I could not have been more wrong!

Flying into Cartagena…South America, a new continent!

Flying into Cartagena…South America, a new continent!

We had found an inexpensive, but cute hotel on the internet near the "Walled City" in the old part of town. The taxi ride from the airport was short, and when we pulled into the ancient, tiny streets of the neighborhood we were delighted!  Hotel Pedregal turned out to be wonderful.  The owner, Patricia, was warm and welcoming, assuring us that this was our home while we were in Cartagena. Our room was charming, featuring a colonial style vaulted ceiling and windows (sans glass) with wooden shutters, which looked out on the street below where cheerful locals hung out, enjoying their Saturday.

We had found an inexpensive, but cute hotel on the internet near the “Walled City” in the old part of town. The taxi ride from the airport was short, and when we pulled into the ancient, tiny streets of the neighborhood we were delighted! Hotel Pedregal turned out to be wonderful. The owner, Patricia, was warm and welcoming, assuring us that this was our home while we were in Cartagena. Our room was charming, featuring a colonial style vaulted ceiling and windows (sans glass) with wooden shutters, which looked out on the street below where cheerful locals hung out, enjoying their Saturday.

Patricia’s adorable co-host, Luna (Moon) was good company during our visit.

Patricia’s adorable co-host, Luna (Moon) was good company during our visit.

Walking the streets that afternoon was delightful. We hadn't had such a good experience since Mexico.  The neighborhood around our hotel was charming and very local.  No tourists around here.

Walking the streets that afternoon was delightful. We hadn’t had such a good experience since Mexico. The neighborhood around our hotel was charming and very local. No tourists around here.

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We eventually wandered into the beautiful Walled City, which yes, does have an ancient wall around it.

We eventually wandered into the beautiful Walled City, which yes, does have an ancient wall around it.

We bought a cheesy arepa (corn muffin thing) from a street vendor.   It was hot and gooey and wonderful in a guilty-junk-food kind of way.

We bought a cheesy arepa (corn muffin thing) from a street vendor. It was hot and gooey and wonderful in a guilty-junk-food kind of way.

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Interestingly, the FIFA World Cup (soccer) games, being held in Brazil, had just begun.  Cartagena was alive with fútbol fever, proudly flaunting (and selling) the yellow, red and blue colors of Colombia.

Interestingly, the FIFA World Cup (soccer) games, being held in Brazil, had just begun. Cartagena was alive with fútbol fever, proudly flaunting (and selling) the yellow, red and blue colors of Colombia.

Our arrival in town coincided with a win for Colombia!  Cartagena was alive with ecstatic Colombians celebrating in their soccer jerseys, reveling and dancing, making a lot of noise....and just plain being happy. After Central America, the energy was refreshing, and, not normally soccer fans, we too were unexpectedly swept up in the passion South Americans have for the game.

Our arrival in town coincided with a win for Colombia! Cartagena was alive with ecstatic Colombians celebrating in their soccer jerseys, reveling and dancing, making a lot of noise….and just plain being happy. After Central America, the energy was refreshing, and, not normally soccer fans, we too were unexpectedly swept up in the passion South Americans have for the game.

Inside the Walled City we found lots of pricy, touristy restaurants.  We were hungry, so we decided on this less fancy sidewalk café in the church plaza. The food tasted ok and was fun to look at, but the celebratory atmosphere in the plaza was the best part.

Inside the Walled City we found lots of pricy, touristy restaurants. We were hungry, so we decided on this less fancy sidewalk café in the church plaza. The food tasted ok and was fun to look at, but the celebratory atmosphere in the plaza was the best part.

In the plaza, musicians were singing and playing cool instruments, and there were a lot of hawkers.  One guy, Luis, really wanted us to buy his jewelry, but ended up sharing Ned's ice cream instead.

In the plaza, musicians were singing and playing cool instruments, and there were a lot of hawkers. One guy, Luis, really wanted us to buy his jewelry, but ended up sharing Ned’s ice cream instead.

But this was the main attraction in the plaza!  Vendors were lined up selling little replicas of the lovely lady.

But this was the main attraction in the plaza! Vendors were lined up selling little replicas of the lovely lady.

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A resourceful mother and son team.  Mom was cutting little soccer ornaments out of wood, while the youngster painted them in bright colors.

A resourceful mother and son team. Mom was cutting little soccer ornaments out of wood, while the youngster painted them in bright colors.

Part of “The Wall”

Part of “The Wall”

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Back in our own neighborhood people were doing more ordinary things…like reading the paper…

Back in our own neighborhood people were doing more ordinary things…like reading the paper…

…and making homemade ink.  No, really!  We stopped to ask this guy what he was doing.  He explained that he was extracting a henna-like ink from these fruits to be used for temporary tattooing.  He wrings the ink out of the fruit using a cloth and discards the leftover brown fiber.  What covered his hands and forearms didn’t look very temporary to us!

…and making homemade ink. No, really! We stopped to ask this guy what he was doing. He explained that he was extracting a henna-like ink from these fruits to be used for temporary tattooing. He wrings the ink out of the fruit using a cloth and discards the leftover brown fiber. What covered his hands and forearms didn’t look very temporary to us!

As much as we were enjoying Cartagena, the weather was miserably hot with temperatures around 100 and 90% humidity.  We went back to the hotel to rest in our relatively cool room.  (the A/C could barely keep up).  Outside our shuttered windows, we could hear the vibrant sounds of a lively community...music played, a dog barked, church bells chimed, and the clippity clop of horse hooves faded off down the street.  A totally cool place to hang out.  All good.  Oh wait!  Ned just captured a cockroach the size of a small cat (ok, mouse) in a cup and threw it out our window.  Hope no one was hanging out directly below!

As much as we were enjoying Cartagena, the weather was miserably hot with temperatures around 100 and 90% humidity. We went back to the hotel to rest in our relatively cool room. (the A/C could barely keep up). Outside our shuttered windows, we could hear the vibrant sounds of a lively community…music played, a dog barked, church bells chimed, and the clippity clop of horse hooves faded off down the street. A totally cool place to hang out. All good. Oh wait! Ned just captured a cockroach the size of a small cat (ok, mouse) in a cup and threw it out our window. Hope no one was hanging out directly below!

Night time in our little local barrio was even more fun.  Everyone comes out to enjoy the balmy evenings after roasting all day.

Night time in our little local barrio was even more fun. Everyone comes out to enjoy the balmy evenings after roasting all day.

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The local church square was alive and vibrant.  It's a poorer area but did not have a scary, druggy feel.  Just good folks.  Street vendors selling spicy smelling food, kids playing soccer (oops, fútbol) and riding bikes, teenage boys showing off their horses, old women sitting, taking it all in.  We sat and enjoyed the vibe for over an hour.

The local church square was alive and vibrant. It’s a poorer area but did not have a scary, druggy feel. Just good folks. Street vendors selling spicy smelling food, kids playing soccer (oops, fútbol) and riding bikes, teenage boys showing off their horses, old women sitting, taking it all in. We sat and enjoyed the vibe for over an hour.

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We loved watching this artist create our delicious pizza out of fresh, local ingredients.

We loved watching this artist create our delicious pizza out of fresh, local ingredients.

A few nights later, our Swiss friends, Simone, Michael and Michele caught up with us after their not-so-wonderful boat ride from Panama City.  It was great to see them again, and they were happy to be in Cartagena.  We had another great meal in our local church plaza.  (Note, everyone but Michele and me in Colombia fútbol jerseys!)

A few nights later, our Swiss friends, Simone, Michael and Michele caught up with us after their not-so-wonderful boat ride from Panama City. It was great to see them again, and they were happy to be in Cartagena. We had another great meal in our local church plaza. (Note, everyone but Michele and me in Colombia fútbol jerseys!)

An Argentinean and a Swiss guy accompanied our meal with wonderful Argentinean music.

An Argentinean and a Swiss guy accompanied our meal with wonderful Argentinean music.

This was our favorite breakfast place in Cartagena. We ate there 5 times!  Dadiana and her daughter Laura are the owners of Locombia, where, for little money, you get lots of good food and cheerful service.

This was our favorite breakfast place in Cartagena. We ate there 5 times! Dadiana and her daughter Laura are the owners of Locombia, where, for little money, you get lots of good food and cheerful service.

Monday June 16. It’s port day! Get our game faces on…time to face the mother of all border crossing/bureaucratic nightmares. We got to our favorite brekky place at 7 am, then took our first taxi to Seaboard Marine (the shipping company) on the far side of the port. We stood in line to exchange our passports for a badge to enter the secure area. We were then directed to the offices of Seaboard Marine, the shipping company that brought Charlotte over, only to find out that the ship did not sail! Charlotte was still stuffed in a container in Panama! The boat was now not due to arrive in Cartagena until sometime Wednesday. Evidently the delay was due to heavy rain…blah blah blah. The very nice, helpful lady at Seaboard told us that Panama was notorious for unreliable shipping departures. Fortunately, we could still get the Aduana paper work done over at the DIAN offices (customs). We took our second taxi ride back to other side of the port. More badges to enter. It was a huge office building with masses of employees stuffed in cubicles. We were directed (by another very kind security officer) to the cubicle of a young man who asked us to fill out the all important import papers. Then, what do you think he asked for? Yes, copies! What a surprise. And of course we had to exit the compound, give back our badges, go to the copy place down the street, get the badges back, then back to cubicle. You mean nowhere in this gargantuan office complex is there a copier??!!! Next, we were able to set up an appointment with a customs inspector for Thursday at 8:00am to approve Charlotte into Colombia. In the mean time, what were to do until Thursday? These itchy feet of ours make it hard to stay in one place for very long.

So we decided to fly to Bogotá, the capitol of Colombia!  Ned and I have a car enthusiast friend based in Bogotá who knows many people involved with Colombian auto racing, past and present.  He had offered to get us together with two Colombian race car drivers who drove one of Ned’s Porsche race cars professionally back in the 70’s.  We were interested in obtaining more history on the car, and this was an amazing opportunity.  Unfortunately, our friend was leaving the country on Saturday and would not be in Bogotá when we planned to drive through in a few weeks.  We couldn’t miss this generous offer, so flying in to see him while we waited for Charlotte seemed like a great idea.   On Tuesday June 17, dressed in our wrinkled tropical wear and flip flops, we caught our 9:30am flight to chilly Bogotá. All our clothes and shoes were in Charlotte. We had only brought along small day packs to Colombia.  Bogotá’s climate is a consistent 50-60 degrees year round, and it was embarrassing to be meeting with our friends in our inappropriate, living-on-the-road-in-the-tropics-wear.  But heck, we were driving around the world!  Getting off the plane, a Bogotáean woman actually laughed at my sun dress and flip flops saying. "Hace frio!"  Meaning, “It's cold!” ‘Ya, I know it's cold, but we’re only here a few hours.  Surely we could endure the cold and ridicule!

So we decided to fly to Bogotá, the capitol of Colombia! Ned and I have a car enthusiast friend based in Bogotá who knows many people involved with Colombian auto racing, past and present. He had offered to get us together with two Colombian race car drivers who drove one of Ned’s Porsche race cars professionally back in the 70’s. We were interested in obtaining more history on the car, and this was an amazing opportunity. Unfortunately, our friend was leaving the country on Saturday and would not be in Bogotá when we planned to drive through in a few weeks. We couldn’t miss this generous offer, so flying in to see him while we waited for Charlotte seemed like a great idea.
On Tuesday June 17, dressed in our wrinkled tropical wear and flip flops, we caught our 9:30am flight to chilly Bogotá. All our clothes and shoes were in Charlotte. We had only brought along small day packs to Colombia. Bogotá’s climate is a consistent 50-60 degrees year round, and it was embarrassing to be meeting with our friends in our inappropriate, living-on-the-road-in-the-tropics-wear. But heck, we were driving around the world! Getting off the plane, a Bogotáean woman actually laughed at my sun dress and flip flops saying. “Hace frio!” Meaning, “It’s cold!” ‘Ya, I know it’s cold, but we’re only here a few hours. Surely we could endure the cold and ridicule!

Kat and I spent an amazing day in Bogotá with our wonderful host. He had a driver pick us up at the airport (in an armored Land Cruiser!) and take us through the city's dreadfully snarled traffic to his private "man cave/restoration shop." There we were served a wonderful lunch while we had a couple of private hours with two of Colombia's most famous (rival) race car drivers. They shared information and memories from their days together as teammates in the '70's, racing America's most famous long distance IMSA endurance races (Daytona, Sebring, etc.) in what is now my vintage race car. I came away with some new found history on the car, but better yet, two wonderful new found friends. Later in the afternoon we were driven to our host's home for wine and a viewing of his car collection, complete with beauties like these C Type and E Type Jags, an Allard, a Cobra and a dozen more great cars of similar caliper. The icing on the cake was sharing this time with a former mechanic (now a close neighbor) who worked on my car extensively during its heyday!  All too soon it was time for us to be driven back the 1½ grueling hours in bumper to bumper traffic to the airport. We arrived back in muggy, hot Cartagena at 9:30pm, knowing we had experienced a very special day.

Kat and I spent an amazing day in Bogotá with our wonderful host. He had a driver pick us up at the airport (in an armored Land Cruiser!) and take us through the city’s dreadfully snarled traffic to his private “man cave/restoration shop.” There we were served a wonderful lunch while we had a couple of private hours with two of Colombia’s most famous (rival) race car drivers. They shared information and memories from their days together as teammates in the ’70’s, racing America’s most famous long distance IMSA endurance races (Daytona, Sebring, etc.) in what is now my vintage race car. I came away with some new found history on the car, but better yet, two wonderful new found friends. Later in the afternoon we were driven to our host’s home for wine and a viewing of his car collection, complete with beauties like these C Type and E Type Jags, an Allard, a Cobra and a dozen more great cars of similar caliper. The icing on the cake was sharing this time with a former mechanic (now a close neighbor) who worked on my car extensively during its heyday! All too soon it was time for us to be driven back the 1½ grueling hours in bumper to bumper traffic to the airport. We arrived back in muggy, hot Cartagena at 9:30pm, knowing we had experienced a very special day.

Thursday June 19.  Port day, take two!  Our first glimpse that Charlotte was alive and well! Ned and I arrived early for our 8:00am appointment with the inspector.  We checked into the compound, got our badges and floundered around for a while before discovering where we were to meet him.

Thursday June 19. Port day, take two! Our first glimpse that Charlotte was alive and well!
Ned and I arrived early for our 8:00am appointment with the inspector. We checked into the compound, got our badges and floundered around for a while before discovering where we were to meet him.

We never did find our assigned inspector, but a different one took pity on us and, after a 30 minute wait, took the 2 minutes to check the VIN number and scribble something on our customs form.  We had been hoping that we could finish up here on this side of the port, but our new inspector friend, Federico, informed us that we would have to go back to the DIAN offices to get his boss’ signature.  Ughhh, another two taxi rides!  Federico then surprised us by kindly offering to drive us over in his company truck.

We never did find our assigned inspector, but a different one took pity on us and, after a 30 minute wait, took the 2 minutes to check the VIN number and scribble something on our customs form. We had been hoping that we could finish up here on this side of the port, but our new inspector friend, Federico, informed us that we would have to go back to the DIAN offices to get his boss’ signature. Ughhh, another two taxi rides! Federico then surprised us by kindly offering to drive us over in his company truck.

This is where poor Charlotte spent the last week.  Makes our little hotel seem like the Waldorf Astoria!

This is where poor Charlotte spent the last week. Makes our little hotel seem like the Waldorf Astoria!

A final taxi ride back to the other side of the port and another 45 minutes of fumbling rewarded us with the final step…getting the key back.

A final taxi ride back to the other side of the port and another 45 minutes of fumbling rewarded us with the final step…getting the key back.

Happy Ned drives Charlotte out of the compound…while I go turn in our badges.

Happy Ned drives Charlotte out of the compound…while I go turn in our badges.

Freedom at last! Looking back, the overall process of springing Charlotte wasn’t that bad here on the Colombian side.  All of the people involved were very nice and everything flowed smoothly.

Freedom at last!
Looking back, the overall process of springing Charlotte wasn’t that bad here on the Colombian side. All of the people involved were very nice and everything flowed smoothly.

We rushed back to our little village…Colombia was just starting another World Cup fútbol game, and we joined the locals in this bar to cheer on “our” team.  Ned had even bought a yellow jersey so we didn’t stick out too much.

We rushed back to our little village…Colombia was just starting another World Cup fútbol game, and we joined the locals in this bar to cheer on “our” team. Ned had even bought a yellow jersey so we didn’t stick out too much.

Another victory for Colombia resulted in a massive street party.

Another victory for Colombia resulted in a massive street party.

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Driving Charlotte from her (illegal) parking spot on the street took us through the heart of the reveling.

Driving Charlotte from her (illegal) parking spot on the street took us through the heart of the reveling.

The next day, Friday, we said goodbye to our comfy neighborhood, our hostess, Patricia and our Swiss friends and made our way through the teeming urban hell of the rest of Cartagena.  We were so happy to be back in Charlotte and we loved being on this new continent.

The next day, Friday, we said goodbye to our comfy neighborhood, our hostess, Patricia and our Swiss friends and made our way through the teeming urban hell of the rest of Cartagena. We were so happy to be back in Charlotte and we loved being on this new continent.

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How many lanes of traffic can fit on a two-lane highway? It took over an hour to get out of the huge city, but we finally headed southeast on the 90, then east on the 80.  The area was all swampland; hot and humid.  Even driving down the road with the windows open I was dripping sweat. Our goal was to get to a higher elevation with hopefully cooler temperatures at the Parque Sierra Nevada northeast of Cartagena.  We did not want to go the coastal route, thinking that it would be worse.  Now I couldn’t imagine it being worse.  It was miserably hot.  And loud.  The small towns along the 90 boasted numerous roadside places to eat....all blasting music...no, I mean REALLY blasting.  I'm not going to call them restaurants or cafés; they all had the colorful kindergarten chair thing going and most looked like food poisoning waiting to happen.  They also had pool tables in at least 4 or 5 different places. It was really weird. The roads were jammed with trucks, and the truck drivers were kamikazes, playing chicken with oncoming traffic to pass other trucks.  It was insane. And hot. Then the road construction started.  There was one-way controlled traffic all along the 90, but the roads were still rutted and potholed.  To make matters worse, they collected $3-4 tolls every 10 miles!

How many lanes of traffic can fit on a two-lane highway?
It took over an hour to get out of the huge city, but we finally headed southeast on the 90, then east on the 80. The area was all swampland; hot and humid. Even driving down the road with the windows open I was dripping sweat. Our goal was to get to a higher elevation with hopefully cooler temperatures at the Parque Sierra Nevada northeast of Cartagena. We did not want to go the coastal route, thinking that it would be worse. Now I couldn’t imagine it being worse. It was miserably hot. And loud. The small towns along the 90 boasted numerous roadside places to eat….all blasting music…no, I mean REALLY blasting. I’m not going to call them restaurants or cafés; they all had the colorful kindergarten chair thing going and most looked like food poisoning waiting to happen. They also had pool tables in at least 4 or 5 different places. It was really weird. The roads were jammed with trucks, and the truck drivers were kamikazes, playing chicken with oncoming traffic to pass other trucks. It was insane. And hot. Then the road construction started. There was one-way controlled traffic all along the 90, but the roads were still rutted and potholed. To make matters worse, they collected $3-4 tolls every 10 miles!

By dark we were hungry and nowhere near higher elevation, nor could we find anywhere we wanted to eat or camp.   One place looked like it had pretty good pollo asado (which we determined to be the safest thing to eat) so we stopped.

By dark we were hungry and nowhere near higher elevation, nor could we find anywhere we wanted to eat or camp. One place looked like it had pretty good pollo asado (which we determined to be the safest thing to eat) so we stopped.

The people were decidedly unfriendly, and the music from across the street was so loud we literally could not hear each other speak.  The taciturn young man brought our plates which looked good, but we didn't dare eat the lettuce, tomato or cheese. We ate the chicken (which actually was delicious) and the boiled potatoes.  And we fought the flies for our dinner.  We ate quickly while an exuberant teenager asked us about our car.  I asked him about the music, and he grinned, telling us that it played 24/7.  I then asked him how they sleep, and he said they just go inside their houses. ‘Ya, that would work!  The music was brain splitting, and we scarfed our food before the flies could.  After eating, I jumped up to use the baño and wash the chicken grease off my hands....no sink.  The still non speaking owner pointed to two big bowls...one with murky water, the other with soapy murky water.  Uhhhh, no thanks!  Oh god, is that where they wash the dishes?  We were so going to get sick tonight!  I opted for baby wipes.  Ironically, the town was called El Difícil (The Difficult).

The people were decidedly unfriendly, and the music from across the street was so loud we literally could not hear each other speak. The taciturn young man brought our plates which looked good, but we didn’t dare eat the lettuce, tomato or cheese. We ate the chicken (which actually was delicious) and the boiled potatoes. And we fought the flies for our dinner. We ate quickly while an exuberant teenager asked us about our car. I asked him about the music, and he grinned, telling us that it played 24/7. I then asked him how they sleep, and he said they just go inside their houses. ‘Ya, that would work! The music was brain splitting, and we scarfed our food before the flies could. After eating, I jumped up to use the baño and wash the chicken grease off my hands….no sink. The still non speaking owner pointed to two big bowls…one with murky water, the other with soapy murky water. Uhhhh, no thanks! Oh god, is that where they wash the dishes? We were so going to get sick tonight! I opted for baby wipes. Ironically, the town was called El Difícil (The Difficult).

It was now 7:30 and dark, and we were still in the boggy lowlands. Where were those damn mountains?? So far, we have really liked Colombia, but this area was not great. Around 9:00pm we pulled off the highway and went up a dirt road about 5 miles. It was still agonizingly hot, but looked quiet enough. We figured no one would bother us till morning…we would get up early and move on. Wrong on both counts. And what happened to our rule about hiding off the road? And the one about not trying to find camping in the dark?

The night was miserable. Dogs barked, cows mood, and donkeys brayed, letting us know we were close to a pueblo or rancho. Too close. Sweating, I lay on my towel dripping, even with the fan on. Ned seemed ok and fell asleep, which is good because he is the driver. It was taking massive concentration to not get squashed like a bug by the trucks on these roads. Oh, speaking of bugs…yes, there were lots inside our little hothouse. We spent the first hour hunting them down with the bug zapper. Sweet revenge! Around 1:00am Ned woke up to say we had to turn the fan off or it would draw down the battery. Really? I was dripping sweat WITH the fan! The air was perfectly still. No breeze. Just lightning flashing in the distance and no rain to cool things down. Wait, did I just say I wanted rain? Yup, it’s all about perspective again!
I read all night.

Around dawn, 4:30am, I was finally dozing off when a little motorcycle drove up…adrenaline rush, but it kept going. Trying to go back to sleep, I heard another motorcycle! Arggg. Then around 5:00 some guys came up on bicycles and on foot, uttering something loud and guttural. Shit! I grabbed my pepper spray and tried to stay hidden. Now Ned was awake. They kept saying something but we couldn’t understand them. It sounded like a native language (we had heard there were a lot of indigenous people up north). The men ended up just hanging around Charlotte for about 15 minutes, smoking cigarettes, while the smoke drifted in through our screens in the still dawn air. That was it. We were out of there. Just hope the battery lived through 4 hours of running the fan! Yes! Back down the dirt road toward the highway, with me still in my jammies.

Uh, oh…oncoming headlights stopped right in front of us, blocking our way. It was a big Chevy pickup…full of police. Jeez, what happened to our quiet little, out of the way camping spot? Five officers scrambled out, pointing their AK47’s at us…

Stay tuned next time to find out how we got out of this one!

Panama – Fairwell Banana Republics, and Fairwell Charlotte???

Last words of advice from Costa Rica at their exit border.  Maybe they were forewarning us of things to come in Panama…

Last words of advice from Costa Rica at their exit border. Maybe they were forewarning us of things to come in Panama…

Panama, our final Banana Republic before getting to the meat of this trip, South America.  Our main goal in Panama was to get Charlotte on a boat to Columbia.  For those of you who don’t know, there is no road that connects Central America with South America.  Between the two continents lies roughly 100 miles of jungle and swamp known as the Darren Gap.  Due to political and monetary issues, the Pan American highway has not been connected at this one spot along its entire run from the top of Alaska to the bottom of Argentina.  For Overlanders like us it means a big pain in the ass.  One would think this simple passage would be a perfect place for a quick ferry ride, but noooo, it’s a perfect place for corruption to make a killing.  To get your car to South America you have to go through a lengthy and expensive process of hiring a shipping company, loading it into a container and shipping it the 100 mile overnight journey to Columbia.  The mountains of red tape are enormous and everyone gets a cut along the way. So, this was our goal for Panama, get the hell out of it!  Kat’s finger on the map shows where we entered to the west or left side on the Caribbean coast.  You think of the country running north to south but in fact, it runs west to east.  Her other finger points to the port of Colon, where Charlotte was last seen.  Just below her hand, on the Pacific coast, is Panama City where we spent the majority of our seven days in the country, mostly going to various government offices chasing down ludicrous amounts of paperwork, stamps, seals and the all important copies, copies, copies.   Oh yeah.  There is this canal in Panama, too.  Yes, we did take a minute to see it. Read on.

Panama, our final Banana Republic before getting to the meat of this trip, South America. Our main goal in Panama was to get Charlotte on a boat to Columbia. For those of you who don’t know, there is no road that connects Central America with South America. Between the two continents lies roughly 100 miles of jungle and swamp known as the Darren Gap. Due to political and monetary issues, the Pan American highway has not been connected at this one spot along its entire run from the top of Alaska to the bottom of Argentina. For Overlanders like us it means a big pain in the ass. One would think this simple passage would be a perfect place for a quick ferry ride, but noooo, it’s a perfect place for corruption to make a killing. To get your car to South America you have to go through a lengthy and expensive process of hiring a shipping company, loading it into a container and shipping it the 100 mile overnight journey to Columbia. The mountains of red tape are enormous and everyone gets a cut along the way.
So, this was our goal for Panama, get the hell out of it! Kat’s finger on the map shows where we entered to the west or left side on the Caribbean coast. You think of the country running north to south but in fact, it runs west to east. Her other finger points to the port of Colon, where Charlotte was last seen. Just below her hand, on the Pacific coast, is Panama City where we spent the majority of our seven days in the country, mostly going to various government offices chasing down ludicrous amounts of paperwork, stamps, seals and the all important copies, copies, copies.
Oh yeah. There is this canal in Panama, too. Yes, we did take a minute to see it. Read on.

A welcoming view into Panama, the all important fumigation hut where all the bad juju from the neighboring country is magically cleansed away so you can pick up new, but not so bad juju, during the first five miles into the new country.

A welcoming view into Panama, the all important fumigation hut where all the bad juju from the neighboring country is magically cleansed away so you can pick up new, but not so bad juju, during the first five miles into the new country.

We were told by a taxi driver in Panama City that the Panamanian Government makes up to 9 million dollars A DAY from the canal. But this is the best they can do for a welcome building into the country?  Note the nice rain drop on the camera lens, a sign of things to come.

We were told by a taxi driver in Panama City that the Panamanian Government makes up to 9 million dollars A DAY from the canal. But this is the best they can do for a welcome building into the country? Note the nice rain drop on the camera lens, a sign of things to come.

Would you hire these kids to watch your car?  These little urchins were pretty pushy but quite harmless.  Nevertheless, we watched Charlotte a lot more than they did during our four hour ordeal getting through the silly red tape to enter Panama. Here are Kat’s notes on this border crossing: Exhausting border crossing.  No real difficulties other than the usual lack of any signs or directions of where to go, and a lot of waiting.  Getting used to The Process:  Find Costa Rican Immigration and get our passports exit stamped.  Find Costa Rican Aduana (customs), get Charlotte’s permit canceled.  Cross border, change money, get Charlotte sprayed.  Find place to pay for spraying.  Find Panama Immigration and have passports stamped.  Pay fees.  Find copier to make appropriate copies.  Find insurance place to buy “seguros”.  Find Aduana to get Charlotte’s new permit.  Same system, different hassles and delays.  We brought Charlotte’s original title back with us, so no hassles with that any more.  We got stuck behind a group of 4 motorcyclists on brand new BMWs, complete with a factory provided guide.  The Panama bureaucracy moves at snail’s pace, so we waited at the insurance place and then the Aduana behind these guys forever.  Whole thing took over three hours, but we were finally out of there. Then, 20km into the country, we got stopped by the police at a roadblock.  They wanted a $10 car permit receipt and $3 stickers in our passports, both of which we failed to get (did not even know we had to get) in the confusion at the border.  We offered to pay them on the spot but they said no, we have to return to the Frontera to get them.  Maddening, why the hell can’t they put the checkpoint right out of town, or better yet, offer a list or have a sign explaining ALL the steps needed for entering the country.  We were tired and hot and it was getting late.  No choice but to go back. Make that a four hour crossing!

Would you hire these kids to watch your car? These little urchins were pretty pushy but quite harmless. Nevertheless, we watched Charlotte a lot more than they did during our four hour ordeal getting through the silly red tape to enter Panama. Here are Kat’s notes on this border crossing:
Exhausting border crossing. No real difficulties other than the usual lack of any signs or directions of where to go, and a lot of waiting. Getting used to The Process: Find Costa Rican Immigration and get our passports exit stamped. Find Costa Rican Aduana (customs), get Charlotte’s permit canceled. Cross border, change money, get Charlotte sprayed. Find place to pay for spraying. Find Panama Immigration and have passports stamped. Pay fees. Find copier to make appropriate copies. Find insurance place to buy “seguros”. Find Aduana to get Charlotte’s new permit. Same system, different hassles and delays. We brought Charlotte’s original title back with us, so no hassles with that any more. We got stuck behind a group of 4 motorcyclists on brand new BMWs, complete with a factory provided guide. The Panama bureaucracy moves at snail’s pace, so we waited at the insurance place and then the Aduana behind these guys forever. Whole thing took over three hours, but we were finally out of there. Then, 20km into the country, we got stopped by the police at a roadblock. They wanted a $10 car permit receipt and $3 stickers in our passports, both of which we failed to get (did not even know we had to get) in the confusion at the border. We offered to pay them on the spot but they said no, we have to return to the Frontera to get them. Maddening, why the hell can’t they put the checkpoint right out of town, or better yet, offer a list or have a sign explaining ALL the steps needed for entering the country. We were tired and hot and it was getting late. No choice but to go back. Make that a four hour crossing!

Get your mandatory insurance here from this quality company, the only game in town.

Get your mandatory insurance here from this quality company, the only game in town.

This little gal was the only insurance salesperson.  Despite the line waiting for her mandatory services, she found plenty of time to chatter away on her pink phone while enjoying her pink fan. Meanwhile we peons sweltered in the heat outside her tiny office.

This little gal was the only insurance salesperson. Despite the line waiting for her mandatory services, she found plenty of time to chatter away on her pink phone while enjoying her pink fan. Meanwhile we peons sweltered in the heat outside her tiny office.

Next up was this inviting building, the Aduana (customs) where we get Charlotte’s paperwork done.

Next up was this inviting building, the Aduana (customs) where we get Charlotte’s paperwork done.

No shortage of waiting at the Aduana. They provided a nice waiting area though while they did our paperwork twice.  We explained to three different officials that we HAD to have Charlotte’s engine number, not just her VIN, on the paperwork or we couldn’t ship her from the port of Colón.  They still screwed it up, and finally I barged into the office and stood over the girl while she typed it correctly.

No shortage of waiting at the Aduana. They provided a nice waiting area though while they did our paperwork twice. We explained to three different officials that we HAD to have Charlotte’s engine number, not just her VIN, on the paperwork or we couldn’t ship her from the port of Colón. They still screwed it up, and finally I barged into the office and stood over the girl while she typed it correctly.

Our main entertainment while we waited was watching these street kids toss a quarter back and forth.

Our main entertainment while we waited was watching these street kids toss a quarter back and forth.

Check out that concentration.  If only the government workers could have some of that.

Check out that concentration. If only the government workers could have some of that.

The all important copies and stamps.  Check out all those stamps!  What the hell do they do with all this paperwork?  We will be gone from this country in a week!

The all important copies and stamps. Check out all those stamps! What the hell do they do with all this paperwork? We will be gone from this country in a week!

Three plus hours on we were looking down the open road into Panama. It was beautiful until the cop roadblock. Then it was back to the border for more fees and stamps.

Three plus hours on we were looking down the open road into Panama. It was beautiful until the cop roadblock. Then it was back to the border for more fees and stamps.

Most of the rural houses looked like this; up on stilts and very open air with animals living below.  This one was extra colorful with political banners flying.  Perhaps the resident was a big local muckedy muck.

Most of the rural houses looked like this; up on stilts and very open air with animals living below. This one was extra colorful with political banners flying. Perhaps the resident was a big local muckedy muck.

They’ve got a bit of a problem with the trash service.

They’ve got a bit of a problem with the trash service.

Dinner on our first night in Panama.  I’ll let Kat’s journal notes explain this one: 6/6  Panama so far not endearing to us.  Bad drivers.  Bad border crossing.  Garbage and filth.  Very poor.  Cannot find a place to eat or spend night.  Drove into Chiriquí Grande on coast.  What a pit!  Went back to the crossroads of highway 4 and 11 at Rambala.  Had to settle for dinner at the bus stop.  Very bad cafeteria-style Asian ick.  Met Belgian guy on motorcycle heading north.  His riding partner had crashed his bike earlier that day and was in a hospital somewhere.  Wow, I wouldn’t even want to see a hospital in these parts! Weird how priorities change.  I'm always looking forward to camping away from civilization, but after sleeping in muggy, buggy, rain forests I'm looking for pavement!  Pavement means no mud and a few less bugs.  In the town of Rambala we asked at the police station if we could camp in their large parking lot and they let us.  Sergeant Juarez wrote down our passport info just to be official.  Safe, but hotter than hell.  SUPER muggy, sticky, buggy.  Its 11pm now.  Running fan so it’s tolerable but will have to turn it off soon or will run down battery.    6/7  Rained like hell all night.  Everything sopping wet in bus.  Humidity off the charts.  Managed to get some sleep, but not great.  Still raining when we got up, but lighter.  Did a couple of exercises, filled water jugs, waved Gracias to Sergeant Juarez and drove off on the 4 south toward the Pam Am highway and Panama City.

Dinner on our first night in Panama. I’ll let Kat’s journal notes explain this one:
6/6 Panama so far not endearing to us. Bad drivers. Bad border crossing. Garbage and filth. Very poor. Cannot find a place to eat or spend night. Drove into Chiriquí Grande on coast. What a pit! Went back to the crossroads of highway 4 and 11 at Rambala. Had to settle for dinner at the bus stop. Very bad cafeteria-style Asian ick. Met Belgian guy on motorcycle heading north. His riding partner had crashed his bike earlier that day and was in a hospital somewhere. Wow, I wouldn’t even want to see a hospital in these parts!
Weird how priorities change. I’m always looking forward to camping away from civilization, but after sleeping in muggy, buggy, rain forests I’m looking for pavement! Pavement means no mud and a few less bugs. In the town of Rambala we asked at the police station if we could camp in their large parking lot and they let us. Sergeant Juarez wrote down our passport info just to be official. Safe, but hotter than hell. SUPER muggy, sticky, buggy. Its 11pm now. Running fan so it’s tolerable but will have to turn it off soon or will run down battery.
6/7 Rained like hell all night. Everything sopping wet in bus. Humidity off the charts. Managed to get some sleep, but not great. Still raining when we got up, but lighter. Did a couple of exercises, filled water jugs, waved Gracias to Sergeant Juarez and drove off on the 4 south toward the Pam Am highway and Panama City.

Safe haven at the police station.

Safe haven at the police station.

Ah, our favorite. The Pan American highway isn’t any less crowded in Panama.

Ah, our favorite. The Pan American highway isn’t any less crowded in Panama.

Just when you think of something else to whine about, someone comes along and puts a whole different perspective on things.  We first saw this guy last week in Costa Rica on the Pacific side and a long way from the beach.  Now he was still a long way from the beach but a couple hundred miles further down the Pan Am.  How’s that surfboard workin’ for ya buddy?

Just when you think of something else to whine about, someone comes along and puts a whole different perspective on things. We first saw this guy last week in Costa Rica on the Pacific side and a long way from the beach. Now he was still a long way from the beach but a couple hundred miles further down the Pan Am. How’s that surfboard workin’ for ya buddy?

Approaching Panama City we screwed up and missed the Bridge of the Americas which spans the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal and dumps you right into the city. After we missed the exit there was no way to get off the freeway and turn around.  We were directed another ten miles inland with zero exits and then the road crossed the Canal over the Centennial Bridge which is much more modern and actually more spectacular visually.

Approaching Panama City we screwed up and missed the Bridge of the Americas which spans the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal and dumps you right into the city. After we missed the exit there was no way to get off the freeway and turn around. We were directed another ten miles inland with zero exits and then the road crossed the Canal over the Centennial Bridge which is much more modern and actually more spectacular visually.

Our first view of “The Big Ditch” from the Centennial Bridge.  This area is known as the Culebra Cut.  This is a 7.8 mile, man-made slice through a mountain range that also marks the continental divide.

Our first view of “The Big Ditch” from the Centennial Bridge. This area is known as the Culebra Cut. This is a 7.8 mile, man-made slice through a mountain range that also marks the continental divide.

Entering the city was spectacular with the skyline black with an impending thunderstorm.  We were treated to these massive rain storms every day. Interesting facts (?) gleaned from a taxi driver:  The government of Panama took over complete control of the Canal in 1999.  Up until then the United States paid Panama $250,000 a year for the lease of the lands the Canal encompasses.  Of course we build the thing, protected it and ran the infrastructure but… today the country takes in $6 to $9 million a day in revenue from its use!  Even more interesting is that every high rise building that makes up the modern, spectacular skyline has been built in the last 14 years, most in the last five!

Entering the city was spectacular with the skyline black with an impending thunderstorm. We were treated to these massive rain storms every day. Interesting facts (?) gleaned from a taxi driver: The government of Panama took over complete control of the Canal in 1999. Up until then the United States paid Panama $250,000 a year for the lease of the lands the Canal encompasses. Of course we build the thing, protected it and ran the infrastructure but… today the country takes in $6 to $9 million a day in revenue from its use! Even more interesting is that every high rise building that makes up the modern, spectacular skyline has been built in the last 14 years, most in the last five!

Of course, we immediately went looking for the old city.  It’s not looking quite so bright.

Of course, we immediately went looking for the old city. It’s not looking quite so bright.

Interesting contrast between the old and new Panama City.

Interesting contrast between the old and new Panama City.

And then there was the rain… this was with Charlotte’s wipers on max!

And then there was the rain… this was with Charlotte’s wipers on max!

This is the infamous Panama Canal as seen from the observation tower at the Miraflores Locks.   These are the first of three sets of locks that a boat must pass through when traveling from the Pacific to the Caribbean.  We are looking southeast (weird huh?) here, back towards Panama City.  In the distance is a red and blue natural gas freighter approaching the locks.  There are two shipping lanes in each lock.  This boat is going into the far lane where the gates are open.  Notice how low the water level is in the far lock, matching the level in the near lock and the level in the canal itself.

This is the infamous Panama Canal as seen from the observation tower at the Miraflores Locks. These are the first of three sets of locks that a boat must pass through when traveling from the Pacific to the Caribbean. We are looking southeast (weird huh?) here, back towards Panama City. In the distance is a red and blue natural gas freighter approaching the locks. There are two shipping lanes in each lock. This boat is going into the far lane where the gates are open. Notice how low the water level is in the far lock, matching the level in the near lock and the level in the canal itself.

Now the ship is in the lock, the gate is closed behind it, and the lock has filled with water, raising the ship 23 feet.

Now the ship is in the lock, the gate is closed behind it, and the lock has filled with water, raising the ship 23 feet.

Next these powerful electric tugs on both sides of the lock hook on to the ship and pull it ahead into the next lock.  Not only must they pull the boat, but they must also climb the 45% grade of their tracks to reach the height of the next lock.

Next these powerful electric tugs on both sides of the lock hook on to the ship and pull it ahead into the next lock. Not only must they pull the boat, but they must also climb the 45% grade of their tracks to reach the height of the next lock.

Now the tugs have just about pulled the huge freighter completely into the next lock.  Note the old control house in the foreground which says Miraflores Locks 1914 – 2014.  The canal was originally begun by the French in 1881.  After many setbacks with financial, engineering and medical struggles due to malaria and yellow fever, the French went broke, gave up and the USA took over the project in 1904.  Incorporating advances in medicine and cleanliness for the thousands of immigrant workers, as well as mechanical advances in digging technology, we managed to finish the project.  The first boat passed through “The Big Ditch” in 1914.  Some trivia:  By the end of the project, 60 million pounds of dynamite had been used and enough holes were drilled through the solid rock of the country to reach completely through the earth and 900kms beyond! A huge expansion project is underway to create new, much larger sets of locks for much larger ships.  You can just see the digging going on in this photo at the left where the reddish strip is.  Today, container ships carrying up to 4500 containers can fit through the existing locks.  In the future, ships carrying 12,000 containers will be able to traverse the canal.

Now the tugs have just about pulled the huge freighter completely into the next lock. Note the old control house in the foreground which says Miraflores Locks 1914 – 2014. The canal was originally begun by the French in 1881. After many setbacks with financial, engineering and medical struggles due to malaria and yellow fever, the French went broke, gave up and the USA took over the project in 1904. Incorporating advances in medicine and cleanliness for the thousands of immigrant workers, as well as mechanical advances in digging technology, we managed to finish the project. The first boat passed through “The Big Ditch” in 1914. Some trivia: By the end of the project, 60 million pounds of dynamite had been used and enough holes were drilled through the solid rock of the country to reach completely through the earth and 900kms beyond!
A huge expansion project is underway to create new, much larger sets of locks for much larger ships. You can just see the digging going on in this photo at the left where the reddish strip is. Today, container ships carrying up to 4500 containers can fit through the existing locks. In the future, ships carrying 12,000 containers will be able to traverse the canal.

The ship is now in the second lock and the water is beginning to rise.  All the water flow is done by gravity.  There are no pumps involved in the process.  In this stage of the lock it takes 5 minutes for 26 million gallons of water to raise a boat 31 feet!

The ship is now in the second lock and the water is beginning to rise. All the water flow is done by gravity. There are no pumps involved in the process. In this stage of the lock it takes 5 minutes for 26 million gallons of water to raise a boat 31 feet!

Up…

Up…

And up!  Now the freighter is 54 feet higher than sea level and is ready to continue on towards the Caribbean side of the continent, saving days in its travels around the globe.  It will pass through two more sets of locks, the first raising it still further and the second lowering it, before it reaches another ocean. The whole transfer will take between 20 and 30 hours.

And up! Now the freighter is 54 feet higher than sea level and is ready to continue on towards the Caribbean side of the continent, saving days in its travels around the globe. It will pass through two more sets of locks, the first raising it still further and the second lowering it, before it reaches another ocean. The whole transfer will take between 20 and 30 hours.

This was the next ship we watched arrive.  This one is using the nearside locks. Here you can see how modern ships just barely fit into the 1914 designed lock which is 110 feet wide.  There are just inches on each side of the boat.  If fact, much of modern cargo boat design is limited by the Panama Canal.

This was the next ship we watched arrive. This one is using the nearside locks. Here you can see how modern ships just barely fit into the 1914 designed lock which is 110 feet wide. There are just inches on each side of the boat. If fact, much of modern cargo boat design is limited by the Panama Canal.

Just one more… showing how the gates open between lock levels.

Just one more… showing how the gates open between lock levels.

The day after being tourists at the Canal, we got down to the business of shipping Charlotte. Looks like we’re pretty serious here doesn’t it?  Our shipping agent told us she assists 6 to 12 vehicles a week with the passage to Columbia.  Our group this week consisted of two Swiss in a Land Rover 110, a solo Swiss guy in a six-wheel Pinzgauer, a young couple from Argentina in an old VW bay window “Kombi” they picked up in Mexico, a Guatamalan couple with a Renault SUV going to the FIFA World Cup games in Brazil, and two American guys carrying 100 soccer balls to give away in a $1500 Dodge van.  Here we are all killing time in a filthy parking lot, waiting for a police inspector to check our VINs against our import papers already verified at the border. The inspector, who only inspects from 9am to 10am, was only 1 ½ hours late. This was was pretty good according to Amy, our agent.

The day after being tourists at the Canal, we got down to the business of shipping Charlotte. Looks like we’re pretty serious here doesn’t it? Our shipping agent told us she assists 6 to 12 vehicles a week with the passage to Columbia. Our group this week consisted of two Swiss in a Land Rover 110, a solo Swiss guy in a six-wheel Pinzgauer, a young couple from Argentina in an old VW bay window “Kombi” they picked up in Mexico, a Guatamalan couple with a Renault SUV going to the FIFA World Cup games in Brazil, and two American guys carrying 100 soccer balls to give away in a $1500 Dodge van. Here we are all killing time in a filthy parking lot, waiting for a police inspector to check our VINs against our import papers already verified at the border. The inspector, who only inspects from 9am to 10am, was only 1 ½ hours late. This was was pretty good according to Amy, our agent.

The actual inspection only took a couple of minutes after the stinky, sweaty wait. We were also required to provide him with a huge pile of copies of every piece of paper we have and a LONG list of everything we are carrying in Charlotte.  Fortunately, the rain held off because the inspectors don’t inspect if it is raining, and we would have waited in vain.  Later in the day we had to come back to another Government office to pick up our multi-stamped copies and the all important, police inspection approval paper – and its copies.

The actual inspection only took a couple of minutes after the stinky, sweaty wait. We were also required to provide him with a huge pile of copies of every piece of paper we have and a LONG list of everything we are carrying in Charlotte. Fortunately, the rain held off because the inspectors don’t inspect if it is raining, and we would have waited in vain. Later in the day we had to come back to another Government office to pick up our multi-stamped copies and the all important, police inspection approval paper – and its copies.

At 7am the next morning we all formed a caravan for the one hour drive to the port of Colón on the Caribbean side of the country.  2 ½ hours later we arrived in Colón.

At 7am the next morning we all formed a caravan for the one hour drive to the port of Colón on the Caribbean side of the country. 2 ½ hours later we arrived in Colón.

Our first stop was in a tiny, super crowded office to have copies of copies approved and stamped for some important reason, known only to the powers that be. Here Agent Amy sorts though our copies of copies.  She did this for all six of us, and does it week after week while still raising a family at home.

Our first stop was in a tiny, super crowded office to have copies of copies approved and stamped for some important reason, known only to the powers that be. Here Agent Amy sorts though our copies of copies. She did this for all six of us, and does it week after week while still raising a family at home.

Mostly we waited… and waited some more.

Mostly we waited… and waited some more.

Getting close to the port now.  This is where we get to voluntarily leave Charlotte in the hands of strangers.

Getting close to the port now. This is where we get to voluntarily leave Charlotte in the hands of strangers.

Hope they don’t put her in container number 45.  On second thought it might be better than the smashed brown one in front.

Hope they don’t put her in container number 45. On second thought it might be better than the smashed brown one in front.

Goodbye home.

Goodbye home.

This was reassuring.  Kat and the other non-drivers in our group had to wait in this outdoor cage for two hours while us drivers waited with the cars for more… no, not copies, inspections!

This was reassuring. Kat and the other non-drivers in our group had to wait in this outdoor cage for two hours while us drivers waited with the cars for more… no, not copies, inspections!

Three different sets of looky-loos went through everything quite thoroughly.  There was even the most unenthusiastic drug dog I have ever seen.  He was much more interested in peeing on our tires than sniffing our moldy carpet. In the end, one of them slapped a huge, bar-code sticker smack in the middle of the driver’s side of the windshield and Charlotte was deemed fit to travel – and I was kicked to the cage with the rest of our lot.

Three different sets of looky-loos went through everything quite thoroughly. There was even the most unenthusiastic drug dog I have ever seen. He was much more interested in peeing on our tires than sniffing our moldy carpet. In the end, one of them slapped a huge, bar-code sticker smack in the middle of the driver’s side of the windshield and Charlotte was deemed fit to travel – and I was kicked to the cage with the rest of our lot.

Point Last Seen.  Some mystery dock worker drove off with our life.  Wonder if we’ll ever see her again?

Point Last Seen. Some mystery dock worker drove off with our life. Wonder if we’ll ever see her again?

Back in the cage everyone was quite sad.

Back in the cage everyone was quite sad.

Ah, but buckets of yummy, ice cold Balboa beer back in Panama City with our new Swiss friends seemed to cheer us up.  We lost Charlotte on Wednesday. She is supposed to ship Saturday and arrive Sunday in Cartagena, Columbia, meaning we can’t start the process of getting her out of jail until Monday.  We signed up for a tour boat trip up the canal for Friday to get a feeling of the whole thing from the water.  Thursday night we got an email saying the trip was canceled for the first time in history.  Something about low water levels?  We ended up killing two days at the hotel in Panama getting our Costa Rica blog done, enjoying the air conditioning and eating too much.  The Swiss opted for a five day boat ride to Columbia via the San Blas islands.  We opted to fly on Saturday and check out Cartagena on Sunday.  We can’t wait to compare notes on the other side.

Ah, but buckets of yummy, ice cold Balboa beer back in Panama City with our new Swiss friends seemed to cheer us up. We lost Charlotte on Wednesday. She is supposed to ship Saturday and arrive Sunday in Cartagena, Columbia, meaning we can’t start the process of getting her out of jail until Monday. We signed up for a tour boat trip up the canal for Friday to get a feeling of the whole thing from the water. Thursday night we got an email saying the trip was canceled for the first time in history. Something about low water levels? We ended up killing two days at the hotel in Panama getting our Costa Rica blog done, enjoying the air conditioning and eating too much. The Swiss opted for a five day boat ride to Columbia via the San Blas islands. We opted to fly on Saturday and check out Cartagena on Sunday. We can’t wait to compare notes on the other side.

Friday night we ate at an awesome Lebanese restaurant and then hired a cab to drive us around the city at night.  Most of the impressive skyscrapers are apartment complexes.  What is really interesting is that nothing you see in these pictures existed 14 years ago and a lot of it is less than five years old - even the ground under it all!  Guess where all that canal revenue is going. Besides the canal, the Duty Free shops in Colón are the second largest Duty Free market in the world next to Hong Kong!  We found this interesting since Cólon is considered the most dangerous city in Central America.  According to our driver, 85% of the work force of Colón is bussed there every day from Panama City because the residents of Colón don’t want to work, just party and get into trouble!

Friday night we ate at an awesome Lebanese restaurant and then hired a cab to drive us around the city at night. Most of the impressive skyscrapers are apartment complexes. What is really interesting is that nothing you see in these pictures existed 14 years ago and a lot of it is less than five years old – even the ground under it all! Guess where all that canal revenue is going. Besides the canal, the Duty Free shops in Colón are the second largest Duty Free market in the world next to Hong Kong! We found this interesting since Cólon is considered the most dangerous city in Central America. According to our driver, 85% of the work force of Colón is bussed there every day from Panama City because the residents of Colón don’t want to work, just party and get into trouble!

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We still prefer the old stuff and in the end we had our cab driver take us through the San Felipe district, the oldest part of the city.  This is the Cathedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción.

We still prefer the old stuff and in the end we had our cab driver take us through the San Felipe district, the oldest part of the city. This is the Cathedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción.

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Just had to say, “Goodbye, Banana Republics!”

Just had to say, “Goodbye, Banana Republics!”

One final laugh was at the airport.  Was that mannequin really peeing in the corner?  It kinda summed up our whole experience with Panama!

One final laugh was at the airport. Was that mannequin really peeing in the corner? It kinda summed up our whole experience with Panama!

Costa Rica – Wet Wanderings and Vivid Views

Two months have passed since Ned and I left Charlotte safely ensconced in the family home of Wison, the bell hop at the Country Inn in San Jose, Costa Rica. We had lots to take care of at home, and the time passed quickly. Early on, though, I would wake in the morning feeling as if our journey had been a dream. Did we really do all of that? Reading our own blog felt surreal. Ned and I loved catching up with friends and family, and I loved catching up with my much missed solo time running in the mountains.

As many of you know, we spent part of the time home preparing for and participating in the Mexican 1000 off road race in Baja. Having successfully completed the 1200 mile race in Ned’s Willys Jeep rock crawler, “Killer Bee” in 2011 and 2012 (see the stories on our website), Ned decided to build a “Baja-911” for the 2013 race and did a fantastic job transforming a roached-out Porsche Targa into a functional off road machine. The result was the eye-catching, unique “Coco-latte.” Unfortunately, we had some catastrophic issues in 2013, including a carburetor fire and a broken oil line, but we were determined to try again this year. Ned fixed all of the problems from last year and we were ready.

It’s always exciting to be on the starting line. Nothing beats the feeling of taking off with a green flag and 1200 miles in front of you. The car was amazing; the motor strong, the suspension working great, soaking up as many bumps as a tiny 911 with 8 inches of suspension travel ever could. If the race course had been the same as in previous years, we probably wouldn’t have had any problems. But the course was changed this year and it was too rough for this valiant little car. We made nearly 430 miles the first day, but ran into not only deep ruts with big rocks that gouged at Coco’s belly, but also silt beds…really deep, Porsche burying silt beds! Countless times we were buried, unable to move and were rescued by fellow racers with 4×4’s (didn’t we wish we had the Bee this year!). In addition, we had lost the starter AND the ability to idle, so Ned had to keep his foot on the throttle while I got out and waved the tow strap, begging for a tug, buried to my thighs in nasty silt.

In the end, we made it to Bahia de Los Angeles at midnight the first day, (it’s a four day race) but Coco was too beat up to continue. It was an arduous day and a valiant effort for all three of us, but this year we felt like we brought a knife to a gun fight. We also felt the tickle of the travel bug. As fun as racing is, we were missing life on the road.

On May 28, wondering how we would enjoy Costa Rica after our so-so experiences in the rest of Central America, we flew back to San Jose. We were warmly welcomed back by the great staff at the Country Inn; Fabio at the front desk, Flory our waitress and of course, Wilson. It was also wonderful to see Charlotte again. It took us a day and a half to get her repacked with supplies and water and then off we went. Rusty, but finally on the road where we belong.

Our time in Costa Rica was wonderful. The scenery is gorgeous, and the people are friendly. Having avoided the vicious wars that have plagued the rest of Central America, Costa Rica has a much more relaxed feel. We had worried ahead of time how we desert rats would deal with the rainy season in the tropics, and I can’t say it was the most comfortable time I have spent. It was hot and humid, and I ended up with lots of bug bites. We have screens to put up to leave the windows open at night, but most of the time there wasn’t even a whisper of a breeze. I spent many nights sweltering in Charlotte, lying on a towel to soak up the sweat, scratching at welts.

Ned wasn’t as bothered by the heat, and really, in spite of it, I had an amazing time. We even came to enjoy the daily thunder storms, listening to rain splattering on the tin roofs of open air restaurants, and watching lightning dance outside. Costa Rica’s national motto is “Pura Vida,” literally, pure, good or clean life, which I found appropriate. Costa Ricans use it in greeting, meaning all’s going great. The country also lends itself to fun, beautiful photos, so enjoy this trip through Costa Rica as Ned narrates our journey.

Our friend Wilson opens the gate to the driveway at his family’s home where Charlotte has been stored for the past two months.

Our friend Wilson opens the gate to the driveway at his family’s home where Charlotte has been stored for the past two months.


We brought some little gifts for the family. Wilson wears his new Lake Tahoe baseball cap while Kat explains a Lake Tahoe snow globe to him, his Mom, Marta and the family cat. Unfortunately, his Dad, Jesus was away that day.

We brought some little gifts for the family. Wilson wears his new Lake Tahoe baseball cap while Kat explains a Lake Tahoe snow globe to him, his Mom, Marta and the family cat. Unfortunately, his Dad, Jesus was away that day.

I felt bad that Charlotte had to leave her 90wt mark on their tile driveway. It’s a VW thing, I hope they understand. We also had a dead battery and a low tire to deal with. Our amazing Micro-Start Anti-Gravity Battery saved our butts yet again with a quick jump start from this pocket sized miracle black box. (Thanks again, Ricky and Micro-Start!)

I felt bad that Charlotte had to leave her 90wt mark on their tile driveway. It’s a VW thing, I hope they understand. We also had a dead battery and a low tire to deal with. Our amazing Micro-Start Anti-Gravity Battery saved our butts yet again with a quick jump start from this pocket sized miracle black box. (Thanks again, Ricky and Micro-Start!)

Wilson stops the never-ending San Jose traffic as I back a dusty Charlotte out into the mean streets. The adventure begins again…

Wilson stops the never-ending San Jose traffic as I back a dusty Charlotte out into the mean streets. The adventure begins again…

Like Wilson, another great employee who embraced us with kindness at the Country Inn (our adopted Command Center in CR) was Flory, our waitress.  We had enjoyed free breakfasts and Flory’s smiles and warm, friendly service on our previous visit, and it was great to see her again.  One morning she shared a bit of her story with us:  Flory grew up in a small fishing village on the Pacific coast. There was no electricity and no hotels yet. She had 12 brothers and sisters.  She got her first pair of shoes when she was 5 yrs old, and she loved them so much she went to bed with them on (with much teasing from her older siblings).   Flory loved to dance and drove her mother crazy. When she was a teenager she learned Salsa and other dances from the local prostitutes, which really made her mother nuts. Later, her husband would take her out but would not dance, so she danced by herself.  Now her husband has passed away and she has to work as a waitress. She does not go out but still loves to dance when she is alone at her house. Flory has 5 grand kids who all live in San Jose.

Like Wilson, another great employee who embraced us with kindness at the Country Inn (our adopted Command Center in CR) was Flory, our waitress. We had enjoyed free breakfasts and Flory’s smiles and warm, friendly service on our previous visit, and it was great to see her again. One morning she shared a bit of her story with us: Flory grew up in a small fishing village on the Pacific coast. There was no electricity and no hotels yet. She had 12 brothers and sisters. She got her first pair of shoes when she was 5 yrs old, and she loved them so much she went to bed with them on (with much teasing from her older siblings). Flory loved to dance and drove her mother crazy. When she was a teenager she learned Salsa and other dances from the local prostitutes, which really made her mother nuts. Later, her husband would take her out but would not dance, so she danced by herself. Now her husband has passed away and she has to work as a waitress. She does not go out but still loves to dance when she is alone at her house. Flory has 5 grand kids who all live in San Jose.

We’re going to try something new here; showing maps of where we’ve been. Let us know if this is helpful or confusing. We’ve drawn black Sharpee lines on all the roads we’ve driven.  Finally after two months down time we hit the road again. It felt like we had been home way too long and had lost our groove. I think we were both feeling a bit apprehensive about getting it back. We stayed the capital of San Jose, which is down in the right hand corner, only long enough to repack Charlotte, then quickly headed northwest to the area around the Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal. This was about a four hour drive.

We’re going to try something new here; showing maps of where we’ve been. Let us know if this is helpful or confusing. We’ve drawn black Sharpee lines on all the roads we’ve driven.
Finally after two months down time we hit the road again. It felt like we had been home way too long and had lost our groove. I think we were both feeling a bit apprehensive about getting it back. We stayed the capital of San Jose, which is down in the right hand corner, only long enough to repack Charlotte, then quickly headed northwest to the area around the Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal. This was about a four hour drive.

Along the way we passed numerous signs advertising this place called “Lands in Love,” featuring Israeli food.  Huh? We had to check this out. It turned out to be kind of a tree-hugger’s/animal lover’s sanctuary. Israeli? I had Pad Thai, and Kat had a plate of fruit and cheese.  We enjoyed our lunch outside surrounded by rain forest.

Along the way we passed numerous signs advertising this place called “Lands in Love,” featuring Israeli food. Huh? We had to check this out. It turned out to be kind of a tree-hugger’s/animal lover’s sanctuary. Israeli? I had Pad Thai, and Kat had a plate of fruit and cheese. We enjoyed our lunch outside surrounded by rain forest.

Then we checked out the “Pet Motel” where 142 rescue dogs live, hanging out on old couches and chairs and making more racket the anything we heard later in the jungle.

Then we checked out the “Pet Motel” where 142 rescue dogs live, hanging out on old couches and chairs and making more racket the anything we heard later in the jungle.

This was the best (and only) shot we got of Volcán Arenal which was shrouded in clouds the whole time. It is the beginning of the rainy season here which means it pretty much rains all the time except when it doesn’t!

This was the best (and only) shot we got of Volcán Arenal which was shrouded in clouds the whole time. It is the beginning of the rainy season here which means it pretty much rains all the time except when it doesn’t!

Just outside the tiny town of La Fortuna, we stopped for the night at this brand new hot springs “resort.” Most of the resorts around here are pretty high end, but this one was not a hotel and was designed more for the local and dirt bag bus-living crowd. They even let us camp in their unfinished parking lot for 12 bucks.

Just outside the tiny town of La Fortuna, we stopped for the night at this brand new hot springs “resort.” Most of the resorts around here are pretty high end, but this one was not a hotel and was designed more for the local and dirt bag bus-living crowd. They even let us camp in their unfinished parking lot for 12 bucks.


It was really cool to experience our first of many Costa Rica thunder storms sitting in these natural hot pools while a thunder and lightning storm raged and copious amounts of rain fell.

It was really cool to experience our first of many Costa Rica thunder storms sitting in these natural hot pools while a thunder and lightning storm raged and copious amounts of rain fell.

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The only level place in the whole hot springs was the bathroom. So that’s where we did our morning stretches. How convenient, all our morning “duties” out of the way in one room!

The only level place in the whole hot springs was the bathroom. So that’s where we did our morning stretches. How convenient, all our morning “duties” out of the way in one room!

The road the next morning led us into ever thicker jungle.  Or is that rain forest? We still haven’t figured out the difference.

The road the next morning led us into ever thicker jungle. Or is that rain forest? We still haven’t figured out the difference.

Lake Arenal is a good sized, man-made lake. It took about three hours to drive around two thirds of it on a slow, very windy, rain soaked, but paved road.

Lake Arenal is a good sized, man-made lake. It took about three hours to drive around two thirds of it on a slow, very windy, rain soaked, but paved road.

We stopped for a late breakfast at this wonderful German (!) bakery. Its owner was a German guy who started the place 14 years ago and admitted to us he’d been stuck there about 13 years too long. Our food arrived looking so good that we dived in without snapping a photo…sorry ‘bout that.  But we sure enjoyed our bratwurst, eggs, pretzel and apple strudel!

We stopped for a late breakfast at this wonderful German (!) bakery. Its owner was a German guy who started the place 14 years ago and admitted to us he’d been stuck there about 13 years too long. Our food arrived looking so good that we dived in without snapping a photo…sorry ‘bout that. But we sure enjoyed our bratwurst, eggs, pretzel and apple strudel!

Charlotte and Vaca Muerta had some admirers on the road towards the Pacific coast after leaving Lake Arenal and heading west.

Charlotte and Vaca Muerta had some admirers on the road towards the Pacific coast after leaving Lake Arenal and heading west.

We got a kick out of these tree fences the first time we saw them. Turns out they are everywhere in Costa Rica. The trees grow so fast that people just plant ‘em in a row, string some barbed wire and they are good to go.

We got a kick out of these tree fences the first time we saw them. Turns out they are everywhere in Costa Rica. The trees grow so fast that people just plant ‘em in a row, string some barbed wire and they are good to go.

Here you can see a mature tree fence keeping those happy Costa Rican cows from climbing further up the mountain.

Here you can see a mature tree fence keeping those happy Costa Rican cows from climbing further up the mountain.

After Arenal in the upper right hand corner, we headed southwest to the coast of the Peninsula de Nicoya. We stopped first to the left of my finger at Samara for a night. The next day we headed south down the coast on dirt roads all the way to the tip. Along the way we found some good muddy roads, some deep river crossings and got lost more than once. After dinner in Playa Santa Teresa we continued driving long into the night. Originally we thought we’d get back up into the mountains of the interior and it would be cooler with less bugs. Wrong! I ended up driving in a big circle until midnight and wound up back at the top of the peninsula where we originally came in. (directly above my finger)

After Arenal in the upper right hand corner, we headed southwest to the coast of the Peninsula de Nicoya. We stopped first to the left of my finger at Samara for a night. The next day we headed south down the coast on dirt roads all the way to the tip. Along the way we found some good muddy roads, some deep river crossings and got lost more than once. After dinner in Playa Santa Teresa we continued driving long into the night. Originally we thought we’d get back up into the mountains of the interior and it would be cooler with less bugs. Wrong! I ended up driving in a big circle until midnight and wound up back at the top of the peninsula where we originally came in. (directly above my finger)

Upon arriving at the Pacific Ocean in Samara, Surfer Ned (from Nevada) checks out the tubing action and decides to suit up and paddle out.

Upon arriving at the Pacific Ocean in Samara, Surfer Ned (from Nevada) checks out the tubing action and decides to suit up and paddle out.

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Wow! Big action on a rented Boogie Board.

Wow! Big action on a rented Boogie Board.

That was enough water for me! However, Kat says that’s the biggest smile she’s seen in a long while. Maybe I’m missing my calling here?

That was enough water for me! However, Kat says that’s the biggest smile she’s seen in a long while. Maybe I’m missing my calling here?

I preferred the dry beach, (no rain for a moment) a cold beer, a nice sunset...

I preferred the dry beach, (no rain for a moment) a cold beer, a nice sunset…

…making faces with the locals…

…making faces with the locals…

…and pigging out on this fresh fish/shellfish platter!

…and pigging out on this fresh fish/shellfish platter!

We spent a hot and muggy, but dry night in Charlotte (glad we’re not in a tent!) watching crazy rain and awesome lightning. The next morning we headed south down dirt roads with great views along the coast.

We spent a hot and muggy, but dry night in Charlotte (glad we’re not in a tent!) watching crazy rain and awesome lightning. The next morning we headed south down dirt roads with great views along the coast.

“OH MY!” take one…

“OH MY!” take one…

These colorful little guys were everywhere along the road. They were miles inland from the beach/water but seemed pretty happy just running around in the road. We watched one tumble about 40 feet down an embankment end over end, only to shake it off and start climbing up the cliff again. We learned later that they are deadly poisonous to eat.

These colorful little guys were everywhere along the road. They were miles inland from the beach/water but seemed pretty happy just running around in the road. We watched one tumble about 40 feet down an embankment end over end, only to shake it off and start climbing up the cliff again. We learned later that they are deadly poisonous to eat.

Happy Costa Rican cows and happy Costa Rican cowboy. All the cattle we saw were Indian Brahmas. Presumably they hold up better in the tropical heat and wet than other breeds?  We also couldn’t figure out why, despite green grass everywhere, they always looked skinny.

Happy Costa Rican cows and happy Costa Rican cowboy. All the cattle we saw were Indian Brahmas. Presumably they hold up better in the tropical heat and wet than other breeds? We also couldn’t figure out why, despite green grass everywhere, they always looked skinny.

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The first river crossing we came to was a no-go for sure. Rio Bongo was flooded way over its banks, causing us to backtrack and drive around endless muddy roads most of the afternoon, half lost, trying to get further south and back to the coast.

The first river crossing we came to was a no-go for sure. Rio Bongo was flooded way over its banks, causing us to backtrack and drive around endless muddy roads most of the afternoon, half lost, trying to get further south and back to the coast.

We made it through, though. This was land’s end at the bottom of the peninsula.

We made it through, though. This was land’s end at the bottom of the peninsula.

We headed back north along the coast watching the sun sink into the Pacific.

We headed back north along the coast watching the sun sink into the Pacific.

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Once dark we found ourselves deep in the steamy jungle again, looking for a way north and east into the mountains, hoping to find a cooler, less buggy place to spend the night. We kept running into flooded rivers which I had to wade first in order to see if they were too deep for Charlotte. Fortunately, none were more than knee deep and she motored through them like a Chris-Craft. They do look more ominous in the dark though.

Once dark we found ourselves deep in the steamy jungle again, looking for a way north and east into the mountains, hoping to find a cooler, less buggy place to spend the night. We kept running into flooded rivers which I had to wade first in order to see if they were too deep for Charlotte. Fortunately, none were more than knee deep and she motored through them like a Chris-Craft. They do look more ominous in the dark though.

Good driving lights are a savior on dark nights in the jungle! But horses? Where are the elephants, rhinos and big cats?

Good driving lights are a savior on dark nights in the jungle! But horses? Where are the elephants, rhinos and big cats?

I wound up pulling into the parking lot of this deserted restaurant around midnight. Within minutes some guy appeared out of the dark and asked what we were doing. After explaining we were looking for a place to sleep and if they had breakfast in the morning, we were once again welcomed with open arms. Restaurant parking lots are the ultimate home on the road!

I wound up pulling into the parking lot of this deserted restaurant around midnight. Within minutes some guy appeared out of the dark and asked what we were doing. After explaining we were looking for a place to sleep and if they had breakfast in the morning, we were once again welcomed with open arms. Restaurant parking lots are the ultimate home on the road!

At midnight the restaurant owner had told us that the kitchen would open for breakfast at 8am.  Perfect. However, at 6am sharp, Enny came to tell us cheerily that the “cocina” was open! Time to get up! Don’t want to keep our self-appointed hosts waiting. We ended up having a great breakfast and a nice chat with Enny who had only owned the place for two years. It was a huge restaurant set up for tour bus groups, but she told us the busses were few and far between. Out back was a nice swimming pool which she said the locals come to use daily and that income appeared to keep the place going. We almost felt guilty that she opened up her big kitchen just for us. I think we were probably her only customers that day.

At midnight the restaurant owner had told us that the kitchen would open for breakfast at 8am. Perfect. However, at 6am sharp, Enny came to tell us cheerily that the “cocina” was open! Time to get up! Don’t want to keep our self-appointed hosts waiting. We ended up having a great breakfast and a nice chat with Enny who had only owned the place for two years. It was a huge restaurant set up for tour bus groups, but she told us the busses were few and far between. Out back was a nice swimming pool which she said the locals come to use daily and that income appeared to keep the place going. We almost felt guilty that she opened up her big kitchen just for us. I think we were probably her only customers that day.

Our big loop of the Peninsula de Nicoya took us back to the Parque Nacional Barra Honda which we’d read had a cool cave tour… Later we drove back down the paved road along the northern side of the peninsula and took the ferry (dotted line) back to the mainland. From there we headed south along the Pacific coast.

Our big loop of the Peninsula de Nicoya took us back to the Parque Nacional Barra Honda which we’d read had a cool cave tour… Later we drove back down the paved road along the northern side of the peninsula and took the ferry (dotted line) back to the mainland. From there we headed south along the Pacific coast.

Joe and Mariela were our guides in the Parque Nacional Barra Honda. The park has 42 discovered caves, but many more are thought to still be in hiding. We first drove our guides in Charlotte up a steep 4WD road for about half an hour. (Sure don’t get to do that in a stateside national park!) Then we spent about an hour hiking in the jungle to the cave. Once at the cave we roped up and descended over 70 feet straight down into it and spent the next hour exploring an awesome underground fantasy world.

Joe and Mariela were our guides in the Parque Nacional Barra Honda. The park has 42 discovered caves, but many more are thought to still be in hiding. We first drove our guides in Charlotte up a steep 4WD road for about half an hour. (Sure don’t get to do that in a stateside national park!) Then we spent about an hour hiking in the jungle to the cave. Once at the cave we roped up and descended over 70 feet straight down into it and spent the next hour exploring an awesome underground fantasy world.

Interesting flora and fauna along our jungle walk included this “pokey tree.” Being the brilliant naturalists that we are, you’ll have to follow someone else’s blog to learn the official names of these things.

Interesting flora and fauna along our jungle walk included this “pokey tree.” Being the brilliant naturalists that we are, you’ll have to follow someone else’s blog to learn the official names of these things.

A seed pod that when broken open contained syrup that tasted like chocolate mixed with honey.  The natives used it to sweeten beverages (that is until packaged sugar arrived!).

A seed pod that when broken open contained syrup that tasted like chocolate mixed with honey. The natives used it to sweeten beverages (that is until packaged sugar arrived!).

Smart worm.  The best camouflage ever.  Who wants to eat a bird turd?

Smart worm. The best camouflage ever. Who wants to eat a bird turd?

Another seed pod that looked like the Fuller Brush Man had been there. Anybody remember him, or are we really dating ourselves?

Another seed pod that looked like the Fuller Brush Man had been there. Anybody remember him, or are we really dating ourselves?

Green lizards

Green lizards

Big yellow frogs

Big yellow frogs

Ready to descend.

Ready to descend.

Going down.

Going down.

Here I’m looking down the 70 foot ladder to Kat and Joe at the bottom.

Here I’m looking down the 70 foot ladder to Kat and Joe at the bottom.

First stalactites

First stalactites

“OH MY!”  take two.

“OH MY!” take two.

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We’ve been in some really cool caves, but this one may have topped them all.

We’ve been in some really cool caves, but this one may have topped them all.

After the cave, we drove back down the peninsula and caught the 5pm ferry to the mainland.  We spent the crossing having cocktail hour (beer) in Charlotte, feeling nice and dry as the rain hammered her windows

After the cave, we drove back down the peninsula and caught the 5pm ferry to the mainland. We spent the crossing having cocktail hour (beer) in Charlotte, feeling nice and dry as the rain hammered her windows

After a night in Jaco along the coast, to the left before the map starts, we tootled down the coast until we arrived in Sierpe where my finger is. We really liked this very un-touristy little ‘burg which is off the beaten path. The waiter at the German Bakery had told us about it and about a boat ride in the mangrove swamps that was not to be missed.

After a night in Jaco along the coast, to the left before the map starts, we tootled down the coast until we arrived in Sierpe where my finger is. We really liked this very un-touristy little ‘burg which is off the beaten path. The waiter at the German Bakery had told us about it and about a boat ride in the mangrove swamps that was not to be missed.

Have we mentioned it rained most of the day… Everyday. Somewhere along this leg to Sierpe Charlotte rolled 10,000 miles from home.

Have we mentioned it rained most of the day… Everyday. Somewhere along this leg to Sierpe Charlotte rolled 10,000 miles from home.

We had a pizza dinner in this open air restaurant along the river in Sierpe. The cool mural was enhanced by the rain hammering on the tin roof, and the lightning reflecting off the river enhanced the tree growing out of my head.

We had a pizza dinner in this open air restaurant along the river in Sierpe. The cool mural was enhanced by the rain hammering on the tin roof, and the lightning reflecting off the river enhanced the tree growing out of my head.

The restaurant kept this poor crab on a string as a pet. He lived in a potted plant.

The restaurant kept this poor crab on a string as a pet. He lived in a potted plant.

It was a rainy night.

It was a rainy night.

At 6am the next morning the sun was shining brightly and so were we, as we set out on our boat ride through the mangroves to look for critters.

At 6am the next morning the sun was shining brightly and so were we, as we set out on our boat ride through the mangroves to look for critters.

And here are some of the critters we saw…

And here are some of the critters we saw…

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Jesus Christ lizard – because they can run on water for over 100 yards we were told!

Jesus Christ lizard – because they can run on water for over 100 yards we were told!

Just chillin’

Just chillin’

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Macaw!

Macaw!

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Just missed a full faced shot of this Ocelot. Oscar was very excited because in six years of doing these tours, he had never seen one.

Just missed a full faced shot of this Ocelot. Oscar was very excited because in six years of doing these tours, he had never seen one.

Mangrove roots look cool at low tide.  Oscar told us the river level varies by over seven feet with the Pacific tides.

Mangrove roots look cool at low tide. Oscar told us the river level varies by over seven feet with the Pacific tides.

We first saw these floating Hyacinth plants in the Mekong River in Cambodia and nick-named them “salad bars.” Our guide Oscar in Sierpe explained how they came to be in CR. According to Oscar, the plants were originally introduced by the infamous United Fruit Co. to clean up the toxic pollution the company created in the Costa Rican waterways, mostly from palm oil production.

We first saw these floating Hyacinth plants in the Mekong River in Cambodia and nick-named them “salad bars.” Our guide Oscar in Sierpe explained how they came to be in CR. According to Oscar, the plants were originally introduced by the infamous United Fruit Co. to clean up the toxic pollution the company created in the Costa Rican waterways, mostly from palm oil production.

Besides keeping the river clean, Hyacinths have nice, pretty flowers.

Besides keeping the river clean, Hyacinths have nice, pretty flowers.

A native totem pole to the Green Monkey God.

A native totem pole to the Green Monkey God.

Oh wait…that last shot got turned sideways!

Oh wait…that last shot got turned sideways!

The reflections off the river were magical…

The reflections off the river were magical…

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Our little pink hut where we spent the night.

Our little pink hut where we spent the night.

The inside was far from pink. All the upper lattice-like walls were open air with screens. The big fan made AC unnecessary, and the rain serenaded us to sleep.

The inside was far from pink. All the upper lattice-like walls were open air with screens. The big fan made AC unnecessary, and the rain serenaded us to sleep.

Charlotte found a VW friend in this cool ’63 Splittie owned by our innkeeper, Edwardo. A sharp eye will notice that the bus has been shortened about two feet in its center. This modification was done in the mid 70’s before someone drove the bus down to Costa Rica. Edwardo has owned it 36 years and drives it every day.

Charlotte found a VW friend in this cool ’63 Splittie owned by our innkeeper, Edwardo. A sharp eye will notice that the bus has been shortened about two feet in its center. This modification was done in the mid 70’s before someone drove the bus down to Costa Rica. Edwardo has owned it 36 years and drives it every day.

Edwardo’s garden was full of nice pretty flowers and butterflies.

Edwardo’s garden was full of nice pretty flowers and butterflies.

From Sierpe we headed north and then east again, up the Pan Am and over the highest pass in CR. Our goal was to cross to the Caribbean side of the country before exiting into Panama.

From Sierpe we headed north and then east again, up the Pan Am and over the highest pass in CR. Our goal was to cross to the Caribbean side of the country before exiting into Panama.

Ugg! We really don’t like the Pan American Highway. The few times we have had to be on it, it has been choked with trucks. This day was no different.

Ugg! We really don’t like the Pan American Highway. The few times we have had to be on it, it has been choked with trucks. This day was no different.

We did have open road at the top of what we’ll call “No Name Pass.” We climbed and climbed for about an hour, much of it in second gear. When the road finally leveled out and descended, our GPS said we’d climbed from sea level to 10,979 feet! There were no signs or any fanfare denoting this as anything unusual.

We did have open road at the top of what we’ll call “No Name Pass.” We climbed and climbed for about an hour, much of it in second gear. When the road finally leveled out and descended, our GPS said we’d climbed from sea level to 10,979 feet! There were no signs or any fanfare denoting this as anything unusual.

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We didn’t make the Caribbean side that day but instead drove off up a dirt road into the mountains in search of whatever. We just like the mountains better than the ocean. This was our camp site for the night. It was up a steep track that didn’t look very used and was slick from the endless rain. There was a wonderfully loud, rushing creek and waterfall just behind Charlotte, but it was down in a gorge so steep and slippery you didn’t want to get too close…shades of that scene from the movie, “Romancing the Stone.” About 5am, an ancient Toyota truck crawled by us with a wrinkled farmer at the wheel. He yelled a cheerful “Buenos dias” as he motored by. Later, when we were functioning, we also motored up the trail following his tracks. They ended, along with the road, at a clearing with a shack and just enough room for the Toyota. There were hundreds of tomato plants stretching all across the impossibly steep hillsides and we could see the old guy way up the mountain waving at us.

We didn’t make the Caribbean side that day but instead drove off up a dirt road into the mountains in search of whatever. We just like the mountains better than the ocean. This was our camp site for the night. It was up a steep track that didn’t look very used and was slick from the endless rain. There was a wonderfully loud, rushing creek and waterfall just behind Charlotte, but it was down in a gorge so steep and slippery you didn’t want to get too close…shades of that scene from the movie, “Romancing the Stone.” About 5am, an ancient Toyota truck crawled by us with a wrinkled farmer at the wheel. He yelled a cheerful “Buenos dias” as he motored by. Later, when we were functioning, we also motored up the trail following his tracks. They ended, along with the road, at a clearing with a shack and just enough room for the Toyota. There were hundreds of tomato plants stretching all across the impossibly steep hillsides and we could see the old guy way up the mountain waving at us.

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Up in the remote mountains is where we like to be.

Up in the remote mountains is where we like to be.

Finally we made it to the Caribbean coast and wound up in the funky town of Cahuita. It had a decidedly Rasta air about it with stoned-looking ex-pats wandering the streets and dreadlocked Marley look-a-likes offering us ganja on every corner. The yellow squiggly line is the border with Panama and where the Sharpee line ends is where we crossed into Panama.

Finally we made it to the Caribbean coast and wound up in the funky town of Cahuita. It had a decidedly Rasta air about it with stoned-looking ex-pats wandering the streets and dreadlocked Marley look-a-likes offering us ganja on every corner. The yellow squiggly line is the border with Panama and where the Sharpee line ends is where we crossed into Panama.

We had dinner at a cool Italian place that featured two huge couches with coffee tables and the biggest flat screen in Costa Rica. We ate dinner on a couch watching ‘80s MTV re-runs. At around 8pm it was movie time and the night’s feature was “The Book Thief.” Nothing like a last night in Costa Rica consisting of Italian food, mixed with WW2 Nazi drama, in a smoky Rastafarian village on the Caribbean coast of Central America. Ah, global living at its finest!

We had dinner at a cool Italian place that featured two huge couches with coffee tables and the biggest flat screen in Costa Rica. We ate dinner on a couch watching ‘80s MTV re-runs. At around 8pm it was movie time and the night’s feature was “The Book Thief.” Nothing like a last night in Costa Rica consisting of Italian food, mixed with WW2 Nazi drama, in a smoky Rastafarian village on the Caribbean coast of Central America. Ah, global living at its finest!

Our final Costa Rican resting place was in a parking lot next to the beach, right smack in the middle of Cahuita. Not a soul paid us any mind.  Pura Vida!

Our final Costa Rican resting place was in a parking lot next to the beach, right smack in the middle of Cahuita. Not a soul paid us any mind. Pura Vida!