I apologize for the length of this installment.
This is a catch-all entry, combining several experiences over the past week.
First, back to Portobelo, the funky town on the Caribbean. One of the regulars at our hotel bar was a Colombian man who lived down the road. Jairo Montoya Núñez. We became friends, and Jairo graciously invited us to his home. He met us at the hotel the next afternoon, and we all (including the pups) walked the kilometer or two or three to his home. Walking is a major form of transportation for many folks in Central America, especially the rural areas. Besides being a form of exercise, it is a very friendly practice. Everyone greets each other, keeps up with one another's news, etc. Jairo is well-known, and should perhaps consider running for mayor.
Jairo has a painting business--furniture, doors, floors, cars, boats. You name it, he paints it. His home is a simple, comfortable, open-air structure. He and his 14-year-old son, Wilson, live there.
Jairo served us ice-cold cervezas and prepared arroz, patacones, and pescado entero frito for dinner. Patacones are plantains (the green ones) that are pan fried just until they are soft enough to smash. Then they are removed from the pan, flattened (Jairo did it with the bottom of a plate) and returned to the frying pan. Yum! Not sure they are any healthier than fries, but they taste more interesting.
Fried whole fish is a common meal here, and it is one of our favorites. I'm still not sure whether the fish are gutted by the fishermen, or whether Jairo did that. We were drinking cervezas during that step. But anyway, diagonal cuts are made down the sides of the fish, and they are then pan-fried. No breading. Fantastic! The three of us munched away happily.
Stuffed, we walked back to the hotel and provided Jairo with a few cervezas. The next day, we gave him a lift to Panama City, and his girlfriend prepared lunch for us in her apartment. We consider ourselves fortunate to have been invited into both their homes.
Jairo speaks little English, so our times together were great practice for us. Jairo's español is very clear, confirming what we have been told regarding Colombiano español. We look forward to hearing a lot more of it!
Back in Panama City, it was time to start the process of shipping the Jeep to Cartagena, Colombia (South America-a new continent, for me). First, we needed to find the inspection station, located at a confluence of several closed and one open street. Once there, we found several other vehicles geared for overland travel. Since this reported extensive inspection HAD to be performed on vehicles with "cold" engines, we all stood around for an hour or so with hoods raised. In 90+F degree heat. We met some more fun folks from several different locales. Switzerland, Czech Republic, etc. Finally, a man with an ID tag hanging around his neck came out and walked around the cars, announcing that he would not, under any circumstances, speak English. He told most of us to return to an office across the highway after 2:30 pm to receive some document. He told us, through the Czech Republic folks that, since the Panamanian border folks had not filled in our engine number, we had to go to another office to get this rectified. Off we went, negotiating more closed and one-way streets. We handed the paperwork to a gruff man who seemed to understand what we needed. He indicated with a brisk wave to sit down and wait. Since we were in a government building, I occupied myself with reading (in español) pamphlets about proper use of antibiotics, and high blood pressure treatment. Muy importante.
Finally, a smiling woman returned with our "corrected" vehicle permit. Lo and behold, they determined (without laying an eye on our Jeep) that the engine number was identical to the VIN. Todo bien. No problema.
Back to the other building at 2:30, more waiting (brought my Spanish Grammar book this time), and bingo! We had the form that we need for shipping.
In the meantime, the second annual Ironman 70.4, Latin American Pro Championship, was held in Panama City on Sunday, February 3. Last year, Lance competed in the inaugural event. Remarkably, he didn't show this year. We drug (hehe) ourselves out of bed at 6 am, me not missing this part of racing at all, and made our way to the start.
Latin American style, the start was 30 minutes late. So, we watched the helicopter make its rounds, and one of the big container ships headed to the Miraflores locks blew its horn at the waiting competitors.
The swim was in the Panama Canal. Later, a competitor from Brooklyn told us the water was unusually, alarmingly cold. As in, take your breath away cold. Apparently, even the Panamanians were really surprised. We saw only tank-top, shortie wetsuits, at most. We watched and walked along with the swimmers (pro men) to the transition. Those poor folks had to run barefoot on concrete at least 100 meters to their bikes. After we cheered for a lot of the non-pros, we called it a morning and caught a cab back to the hotel.
Monday, we drove to beautiful Colón (armpit of most armpits) and went through the process of putting the Jeep on a ship to Colombia. Panamanians love their stamps. As in, rubber stamps. After we received our Bill of Lading from the shipping company, we were told to go to the Aduana (customs) just down the way. Simple! The woman at the Aduana window with bright pink lipstick told me we needed to go to ANOTHER Aduana, down the road. We went back to the shipping company office, they explained which driveway to pull into, and we set off on this step. Found the office. Now, we were a few copies short of what this nice woman needed. Always with the copies. They sent me down the way to the post office. I entered the post office, and while reading a notice about the procedure for copies on one of the windows, I absentmindedly said, "¿copias?" The woman behind the window gave me a deadpan, attitude-filled gaze and said, "buenos." Well, excuse me. Por fa-fucking-vor. You'd think we were back in North Carolina, and I forgot to say, "How y'all doin? Can y'uns please make me some copies?". Yes, I came across as an uptight, impolite gringo. The ONE time I forget to say por favor. Lo siento. But give me a break. I just need a few copies. "¡No!" from the attitudinal bee-atch. She instructed me to go to someplace to do with Chile. Hmmm . . .
After wandering around for a bit and exchanging greetings with a few Panamanian dudes who had not a clue where in this hemisphere one could make copies, I went back to the government office next to the Aduana we were dealing with presently, and spotted a Xerox machine. This time, I remembered my manners, and asked for copies, please. This bee-oh excuse me, government employee, had her own set of issues. But I waited, stifling the urge to leap over the counter and shout, "for the love of Buddha, WHEN are you going to lift your ass from that chair and ambulate yourself to the copy machine and make 4. Freakin. Copies?" I stifled. And she did lift her ass.
Copies in hand, I marched back to the present Aduana office, where Douglas announced THAT official finally relented and made copies in that office. Super. More copies for us. Most importantly, that official STAMP, STAMP, STAMPED and scribbled on several packets of apparently crucial documentation.
Back to the first Aduana, to the window with the bright pink lipstick woman. She too, happily stamped away.
Next, to the RORO (roll on, roll off gate) to deliver the vehicle. We pulled into a gate that looked like the right place, and the official dudes blew gaskets. We were NOT supposed to be there. One came to the window and shouted directions. We pulled away, Douglas was not clear on the directions, and so he pulled BACK up to the ballistic dudes, despite my observation that this was going to REALLY piss them off. Sure enough . . . The Jeep got parked and Douglas was directed through a new gate. I opted to stay in the vehicle.
Douglas returned with the news that we needed yet more STAMPS. Back to the Aduana, this time at the window next to the pink lipstick lady. This one's window was nearly opaque, and communication was through a speaker that sounded like the teacher's voice in Peanuts. In Spanish. Back to the pink lipstick lady. More stamps (BAM! BAM! BAM!). Back to the Spanish Peanuts-voice window. BAM! BAM! More stamps. And a few scribbles. Oh, and money.
Back to the loading gate. I waited in the Jeep while Douglas did whatever. Then . . . he claimed we had the OK to enter the gate, with ballistic dudes. Hoo-boy. This was going to be good. Sure enough, whistles blowing, fingers pointing, no guns drawn, yet. Then, they got the radio message that we were ok. Except "señora" could not come inside the gate. Fine with me. I got the stuff we needed from the Jeep, and trotted around to wait outside the gate. I watched the equivalent of the Panamanian DEA zoom up with his dog. I will say, that official treated his German Shepherd very well. He walked him before the test, and gave him a hug and kiss after. The pup sniffed the car, and was most excited by our pups' scents, and probably their food. Passed.
Douglas dealt with some other hoops, and then we were outta there! Hope we see the Jeep again!
Tomorrow, we all fly to Cartagena. Very exciting!
As always, thanks for reading.