9/22/2009-Crossed over into Panama. Bochette at the Pension Topaz:
This crossing was very simple and we were the only ones there. The only problem was that we had to go to the bank in the panama boarder town, which didn't have any money in its Atm. So we borrowed some money from John and Sharon as they drove out of town. We would have never gotten to this boarder town without the help of the Americans that allowed us to camp on there finca the night before. Not many people cross this particular place so Customs and Immigration agents and the agriculture agents all had out dated computers. I was surprised that the customs agent to give us permission for importing our car typed out the whole dang thing on a 20 year old portable typewriter with carbon paper. After that the drive to Brochette was slow but we made it by the afternoon just in time to bump into John and Sharon. We found a place that had a yard for us/Paco and a room for John/Sharon and the pets. The Topaz Pension cost us $10 a night with breakfast in the morning for $5.00-mmmm I got some juevos revueltos(scrambled) with hot sauce..
9/23/2009-Coffee plantation tour. At Pension Topaz :
We walked around town that day and Karla and I decided to take a coffee plantation tour. This was a three hour tour and was quite extensive. Beans were not being harvested yet so all was rather quiet. We learned about all the different kinds of beans and the origin of this whole coffee thing. The workers on this plantation were housed there. There was a school on sight and a Doctor/hospital. The beans were hand picked one by one. They had a method to encourage them to only pick the ripest beans with a bonus. Each of their bags of from 50 to 100 lbs apiece were checked for quality. The workers were fired if they failed the quality test twice. So all in all that was an incentive to do it right. The beans have a husk on them and also a skin that must be removed. This is done with two separate processes. First the hust is poped off in a screw type press then the beans are soaked in water for a day then tumbled in a huge wash tub. Then the beans are dried in a dryer/rather than the sun(the old fashion way). Then the beans are separated for size and quality by hand. Yes, another way the worker could get fired or a primium for their quality of separation. The smallest beans go to supermarket coffee makers, the medium size beans and large beans go to specialized coffee companies around the world. This particular company has placed in the top of the world of coffee a number of times in the last few years.
Now comes the interesting part. The time that a bean is roasted. Wow the time is important and the heat is important. There are roasters that have to regulate the time/heat and amount to be roasted for uniformity. So it is the roast that is sort of the icing on the cake. Dark/medium/light. The connecouirs say that the most flavor comes with a light roast the least from a dark roast. When they say flavor that includes acidity. So that is why I like dark roast and add cream to it to get rid of the acidity. A poor bean will leave a lingering after taste on the back of your tongue, a good coffee will not. So the stuff one buys for cheep at the supermarkets may have more cafine in it and an aftertaste. I had some coffee a couple of days later after we took the taste test at the plantation and thought it was great, I later found out that it was a supermarket special. Oh well, I am easily pleased I guess. We, then had a great steak dinner at one of the local sports bars. It had internet but was so loud we moved out early.
9/24/2009-Thurs-left for Panama City and stayed at the Armador Parking lot next to the old Balboa Yacht club: This was a driving day so we spent most all day driving through the lowland countryside. The highway was terrific letting us able to travel at a constant 55+ mph. We stopped at a beach that was being developed into a huge complex. Hotel, condos, and a golf course. We had a hard time finding the way to get to the water because of it all being blocked by private land. So we ate under a nice shade tree near a beach, we couldn't see it but heard the waves. The temperature was in the mid 80's.
As we approached the canal we took the wrong road and crossed the new bridge over the canal, which was about 10 or so miles out of our way to get to Panama city. John and Sharon were planning on finding a pet friendly hotel and we were going to get in contact with them after we arrived. So we found our way into Panama city from the North and eventually found an internet connection to contact John and Sharon. Let them know that we would meet them at the shipping agency on friaday at 10:00AM.
We then tried to orient ourselves to where we were in this huge city and find a free Parking lot that we had read about. After about 30 minutes we found our way to the Armador Parking lot next to the Country Inn and the Old Balba Yacht club. It was hot and humid so we set up the fan and enjoyed the sunset in the background of the Old Los Americas bridge over the Panama Canal. As we were sitting in our chairs having some refreshments I noticed some beautiful Long tailed flycatchers congregating in a nearby tree. There must have been 50-100 of them, Yes they were birds that I had not seen before, Sissor Tailed flycatchers. That was a treat after a long day of driving. It was almost unbarable to sleep that night with the humidity and heat. At about 2AM we were approached by a night guard and eventually gave us permission to stay. That was unnerving.
9/25/2009-Friday-Met up with John at the Barwil agency to arrange our car transport, stayed at the Costa Inn. We met John and the Barwil agency and had a discussion of the cost and time frame of the transprot of the cars. It was going to be $950;00 per car, loaded from Panama. Evelyn, our agent, told us that we could expect to pay another $200-300 in Cartegena. That would include customs and some other fees. But we needed to do some work with Panama customs first before she could get us a bill of leading(the official document for the ship that we would use) This would later turn out to be a real problem in Cartegena, Colo. She told us that we needed to clear our cars for exportation with the National Police. They would check out the cars and then check to see if we had any outstanding violations. That took some time and she told us not to expect to get it done this day. That ment that we would finish up the final arrangement for the ship and container on Monday. Which ment that we would be in Panama city for the weekend...Uh... To make a long afternoon short. We spent over two hours at the Panama Police station waiting to get cleared and found out that the computers were down...So Monday would be the earliest that clearance could be done.
A side note, while driving to the station, we of course got totally lost. Finally we found our way and as we stopped in traffic no more that one block from the police station, we watched three drug addicts shoot up stuff in their stomach and toes. That was of course the most discuting thing I have ever watched. It gave both Karla and I night mares that night about this beautiful city. Looking at it with some perspective later we had to adjust to the situation and know that kind of thing is happing in LA also, we just hadn't ever seen something like it.
We then went back to the hotel and registered. However, I was thinking that the weekend might be the time to get a chance to stay at the Canopy Tower and do some serious birding. I contacted the tower and made arragements to arrive Saturday for Lunch and bird the afternoon and leave after breakfast on Sunday. I was excited. Karla wanted to come along, too. So this would be her first time to really experience birding with a guide.
Had a great dinner that night at an Italian restaurant.
9/26/2009-Sat- Drove to La Valle to stay at the Canopy Lodge to bird:.
After the complimentary breakfast at the Coasta, I contacted the Canopy lodge to confirm and get directions sent to us. We finally got them and headed off to the Lodge. Hmmm. We were going in the wrong direction from what I thought the Canopy tower was.. As we approached the Location in a small little city of La Valle, we encountered a street parade and celebration that totally blocked the way to the Lodge. So we enjoyed the final day of the Semana Compesinos (farmers week). This took over and hour causing us to miss our lunch at the lodge. We really enjoyed all the local dress and music so it really was worth the delay.
We arrived at the lodge and met or host Tino. He helped us to get organized and took us to our room and arrange to have our lunch for Sunday. He then made arragements to guide us birding around the area Sunday morning. We spent the afternoon on the veranda enjoying the birds at the feeder and walking around the grounds... Well, come to find out the Canopy lodge and the Canopy Tower are owned by the same guy and when I click online for phone numbers I got the lodge not the Tower.. So we were at least 70 miles from the Real Tower that I thought I was going too. Oh well.
Had a great dinner and met some wonderful people from an Adubon club in Florida, spending a week at the lodge.
9/27/2009-Sun-Canopy lodge back to the La Costa Inn:
Had a wonderful breakfast and Tino took us on a 3 hour tour... birding and hiking through the area. I really believe Karla had a good time. I figured that I got at least 12 new life looks the whole time we were there. After lunch and good byes, drove back to Panama city in a driving rain... boy those drops were huge. (this didn't give any trouble to Poco?)
9/28/2009-Monday-At the Costa Inn, finished paperwork and made final arrangements with Agent for shipping:
John and I went to the Police office and got our paperwork done. We made arrangements for our flight to Cartegena.
9/29/2009-Tues-At the Costa Inn, drove cars to Colon, loaded them into the containers, Took Canal train back to Panama city.
This day was to become one of the most frustrating days yet of just waiting for things to happen.
-drove to the Port
-directions to the Aduana(customs) was incorrect.
-Waited almost an hour for the agent to come back from a meeting.
-Went to Barwil agency at the port itself and picked up the paper work.
-To the Port/customs window in another place for the paperwork to get stamped,
-then to the Port/customs loading entry for an inspection. Damage inspection and a two dog sniff
-Back to the Port/customs window for permit to go onto the dock to load cars into containers.
-Drove to containers, ( waiting over half and hour to unlock empty containers)
-Drove cars into containes, portworkers tied down cars
-Another half hour waiting for Customs and Security to show up with paperwork and locks for the Containers.
-Another half hour for security and portworker to close the container doors.
-One hour+ back at the Customs/port dock entry station for final release papers for the cars.
-got a taxi to the train for the Canal back to Panama city.
After all of this we were bushed, had a nice dinner and hit the sack early.
9/30/2009-W/From the Costa Inn to Air port and flew to Cartegena