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Overseas and Overthere! - News - bespk

Overseas and Overthere!

Posted on Sunday, 20th January 2013 by Eunice

The Panamanians celebrate New Year's Eve in a typically Central American fashion; sharing dinner with their family and then lots of noise, music and of course fireworks.  We watched these from the roof of our hotel along with several other quests.  It was very strange to feel so displaced and away from those you love and care for, but a sense of camaraderie prevailed and wishes of ‘Feliz Ano’ were exchanged.

The commercial break over New Year gave us the chance to catch our breath, unpack our bags, catch up on domesticity, sleep and relax.  We walked around the city - the best way to familiarize ourselves as well as get some much needed exercise.  Just around the corner we discovered a Heladoria that produced the best chocolate ice cream yet; in Guy's on going quest of discovery.  It took a lot of willpower not to find our way home past its door every day, but weight is a real concern and we know the car is at its very limits.

Panama is far more westernised than any city we have encountered since central Mexico.  They are obviously more confident about the stability of the tectonic plates and hence the centre is teeming with high rise buildings, some quite spectacular in design.  It is also appears to be much more affluent than other Central American cities, with vast shopping malls full of designer stores.
If you have an income of over $2000 a month Panama is keen to welcome you as a citizen.  For a country with very little taxation this is quite an incentive and there is a large ex-patriot population.  The old part of the city is fascinating, surrounded by the protective walls of the old fort and full of colonial style buildings.  Unfortunately many of these have fallen into disrepair but there seems a concerted effort at restoration here, as in the rest of the city to improve things and there was plenty of building and renovation underway.

We gave ourselves the weekend off and took the Tourist "open top" double decker bus.  The top is actually protected by a yellow plastic canopy, but this does not protect you from being hit by branches of trees or palm tree fronds.  There are two routes, one around the city (Saturday) and the other out to the Panama Canal and Miraflores Locks, which we visited on the Sunday.  We were lucky to see 6 small boats pass through the locks, but it is quite a lengthy process (8-10 minutes each lock of 3) and did feel a bit like watching paint dry.  This does not detract from the amazing feat that the building of the canal was; started by the French and finished by the USA in 1913.  They are updating it and putting in even longer locks to accommodate bigger ships which currently have to go via Cape Horn.

As soon as normal working resumed we were busy organizing the servicing and shipping of the car with the help of wonderful contacts at IIASA CAT who took delivery of the carnet for the car, delivered it to the hotel. They also organized a venue for Guy to service the car on the Friday after we arrived. A gruelling task in the hot tropical sun, especially as his thick denim boiler suit (cover all) was purchased in the very north of America and is designed for cooler climes. 

The shipping was arranged with the help of IIASA CAT and Neptune Shipping with detail input from the incredibly helpful Mudanzas  Xpress. We cannot thank Elizabeth, her mother and husband enough. Without them we would never have coped with all of the complex administration that goes with moving a car from Central to South America.  They were so kind, picking us up from the hotel, taking us to the various offices to get the car inspected, wait for the appropriate papers to be delivered, stamped and processed. Finally, helping to load the car into the container in the hot midday sun, when there were no ramps available; constructing them out of the wedges that were to be used to secure the car.  When all this was completed it was discovered that the container was distorted and needed the help of a massive fork lift truck to realign it.  Guy looked on anxiously as the container was wiggled vigorously.  A good test to see if it would cope with a tropical storm!

Whilst this was taking place Eunice was busy trying to arrange an adventure to fill the time between leaving Panama and picking the car up in Guayaquil on the 17th January.
How about the Galapagos?  It was already the 8th and hence there was only a little time, but thanks to the help of Lina at Journey Latin America, we were able to take a flight to Quito on the 10th. (Unfortunately this was only for a brief overnight stop). We understand it is a truly beautiful city; one of the first two cities to be made a World Heritage site on account of its very fine Spanish Colonial architecture ( in 1977). 

Early the following morning we were airborne again en route to San Cristobel, where we joined 22 other passengers on board the Yacht Pinta cruising around the Galapagos Islands for four nights. 
The islands are outstanding in a dramatic way, each different from the others, in their landscape and inhabitants, who thankfully have no fear of mankind.  The guides on the trip were very informative and took us in small scheduled groups (all co-ordinated by the National Park) on various hikes on San Cristobel, Espanola and Santa Cruz.  The transfers from the mother ship were sometimes very exciting; either due to the swell of the ocean or creatures seen on route, particularly sea turtles, in a large inflatable boat (a panga).  Here the sea lions are very numerous, monopolising the coast line, and seem to have adapted to some human traits; like lounging on the benches along the piers.  We saw marine and land iguanas, lava lizards and of course the famous giant tortoises.  The bird life is extraordinarily abundant with nazca, red and blue footed boobies, pectrels, frigate and tropic birds. Not forgetting the famous Darwin finches (which he literally got muddled) and the mocking birds, all of which are also fearless.  We even had the amazing good fortune to see a pair of albatross who had returned to the island early and were seeking their nesting spot. 

There were opportunities for kayaking, swimming and snorkelling in the ocean and for those not so keen; a trip on a glass bottomed boat, from which sting ray, white tipped shark and many different varieties of fish were seen.  Funny, no one seemed to be too keen to go swimming after the shark had been spotted.  There was plenty to see on the beaches, with lots of scuttling crabs, manta rays and turtles swimming in the shallows and of course more sea lions and marine iguanas.

We met some lovely people on board and shared some of our adventures so far with them.  It made a wonderful change to have some additional company as most of the time it is just the two of us and this can get very tiresome.  Sadly, all too quickly it was over and we were back on shore. Fortunately we had two further nights at Finch Bay before flying back to Guayaquil where we are due to collect the car from the docks on Thursday or Friday.  Let's hope it all goes well.  At present there are extreme spring tides here and concern about ships being grounded or the land being flooded.


Please be aware that there are 3 albums relevant to this story. They may be found under Journey Details which drops down from the headings on the Home Page. They are 1) Panama City,  2)The car in a container Panama and Guayaquil and 3) Quito, Guayaquil and the Galapagos. Enjoy!

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