Reaching Panama was a milestone in the journey. Undoubtedly the most difficult point of the tour. While we waited in Panama City from the heights of the house of Fede and Maria, Catire was still overcoming obstacles. He traveled in a Colombian low cost who did not want to let him board because he had no return ticket. Although he gave all the papers that showed the kombi was going by boat, there was no case. He had to make a fake reservation. Which of course he did not pay. At noon on Friday, when we went down after a dip to placate the Panamanian hit on the 51st floor (!) where the vertigo pool was he appeared tired but triumphant. The kombi would arrive the next day but we had to wait till Monday could to go and get it. A bit later. Tata and Juan Dodero, Catire fellow faculty who he did not see since 20 years ago, picked us up to go and visit the Panama channel. We also went with Juan’s parents and his brother Quique who were visiting and their three children. We invaded the facilities of this impressive feat of engineering linking the two oceans. The work was began by the French who could not find the way, after the Americans designed the system of locks that pushes the boats up and down through water stairs. Its been a short while that Panama is the owner and manager and there are still many traces of the years when the United States operated. We saw huge cargo ships passing paying fortunes for using this path of just over 80 km. The museum tells you the story and let you become a boat captain. The kids learned a lot.
That night we celebrated the crossing in Fede’ s home with a lot of talk and a barbecue on the balcony overlooking the Bay of Panama. We ate “entraña”, a classic Argentine cut, that was even better than what we have at home… The next day, we celebrated Catire’s 41st birthday with a surprise breakfast as we always do. Candles blown in Panama will be well remembered.
In the evening we continued celebrating the birthday with a great meal generously organized by Tata and John. Cala made a cake and Catire blew out the candles again. The 41 were well met.
The next day we visited the fish market and ate pasta with shrimps, delicious!. We walked along the promenade that has wonderful plays for the kids and visited the old beautiful town with Fede and Maria. Luckily the city is wisely restored and you feel transported to another time. Then we ate a pizza in an outdoor plaza with a very attuned Panamanian singing ballads from a staircase, and talked about how they had come to stop in this place, good and evil, projects and dreams. These are the highlights of the trip.
On Monday Catire went to Colon to take the kombi home. He took a bus and had to wait several hours until he could withdraw the car. Then he began to made different steps between different offices where no one of the employees explained him what was missing. Every time he tried to withdraw the car, there was one more step to do. With curls out of control, the oppressive heat and splitting nerves he ran from side to side trying to end it all before the closure of the port. But no way…he returned defeated without Francisca. María’s mother came to visit her so after giving big hugs we move to Tata and Juan’ s home who had just said good bye to their in-laws… The children did not stop playing with the Dodero clan. The next day Catire returned to Colon and finally returned with Francisca whom we hadn´t seen for a week. Great reunion. The journey could continue. We washed clothes, make order and clean the kombi. The crossing had taken almost two weeks. We had to move on.
We faced the Panamericana north and we turned to the coast to swim in the sea in Las Lajas, a long, empty beach that seems to be full of people in summer. We looked for a cool place under a tree on the beach and put up tent. It was very hot, despite the dark night and the sea breeze we were sweating as if it were three in the afternoon. Very early in the morning we were already in the warm sea under the harsh burning sun. Across the street, there was a neat wooden house and Nivaldo housekeeper of the Texan owner allowed us to take a cool shower, bath and a plug that we used while we were there. Catire’s curls were as big as ever so we thought of selling them to finance part of the trip (!) But the heat was taking its toll and we opted for a homemade cut. So I took scissors and the curls lost several cms.
Looking for cooler winds we continued our journey to the sixth border. We had been warned that Costa Rica entry could take several hours but we were lucky and it was very quick. Welcome Costa Rica flag to the trunk of Francisca! We thought about going to Pavones, in the jungle where we had been invited by some Uruguayans but decided to go to Dominical beach on the Pacific coast that it had also been recommended a lot. Catire bought coal and groceries for a night cookout and we moved into a leafy green route with rivers running through all the way. Pure Life is the national motto that serves as a greeting, as thanks and to replace our ‘todo bien’ (everything is all right).
We arrived to Domincal, a nice town, full of colorful posters in English, inns and small bars, very graceful. On the beach of giant waves we found a Westphalia kombi parked under the palms. So we settled next to Martina and Steve, she from Argentina, he Canadian who were coming down from Vancouver to Argentina. They had met in La Habana and within months were together in Canada and then making the trip in reverse sense to us. In Mexico they had run out of money and learned, by watching and copying, to make macramé bracelets and necklaces. With that income they could keep track. The children received craft and yoga classes. We shared a barbecue under the stars, exchanged good data on where to visit and where to stop and we talked a lot about the traveling life. Hopefully we’ll meet elsewhere!
We had decided to move on but we were mesmerized by the atmosphere of the place and stayed several days. We met great travelers, Ur of Bilbao who lent his surf board to Dimas and gave him skate classes; a German couple who was on their third trip around the world, and some Argentinians from Neuquen that had decided it was time to see a bit of the world and with their backpacks were looking for new horizons. On we had sunny days, rainy nights. In the pizzeria La Anita Thomas and Mati from Buenos Aires lent us the shower that was complemented by the tropical downpour that fell every night.
When moisture was invading us, we continued our journey. We stopped at the Manuel Antonio National Park with white sand beaches, trails through the jungle, red crabs, raccoons, monkeys and birds. A paradise.
Then we continued to Playa Hermosa singing Argentina’s songs against Paraguay in the Copa America. We arrived late to the Casa Azul where Leticia and Joaquin and their daughters Luna and Delfina were expecting us. We stayed a few days with them, visiting Jaco and Punta Leona and getting into the life of these charming and generous Argentines who 12 years ago decided that this was their place in the world.
Wanting to know the up-country, we took the green path, from river to river to El Arenal volcano. Along the way we crossed the river and from the bridge Tárcoles saw live and direct a colony of crocodiles that very quietly were sun bathing. Amazing surprises that one finds in the trip.
We continued on the road and started climbing. And up. The slopes were getting steeper. Francisca snorted and we climbed in first gear while the children harangued. When we arrived to Palmares things got complicated. Before our eyes there was a rollercoaster slope. Catire took jerk, accelerated and Francisca made a huge effort. But reaching the summit, the kombi said enough is enough and came all the way back with us terrified with the possibility of another car coming upwards. A couple of attempts more and finally the engine refused to start. We slipped and fell back luckily at the gate of a house that seemed closed. Catire opened the engine and looked puzzled. And someone appeared. It was Marco, the owner of the house who was there just by chance… that day, a few hours before his father had died (!) And he came home to change before the funeral. We were shocked. Our mishap was nothing next to such sadness. Without hesitation he walked into the house and came out with fresh watermelons for the kids and water for all of us. He called Pablo a mechanic friend, and went to take him there. In 10 minutes they were both looking at the engine. And of course it started. With such help Francisca took courage and climbed the hill. We were so grateful!
We passed La Fortuna and continued to El Arenal, it was getting dark, windy and raining. The path full of curves, went along the edge of a lake. We reached the village which was very dark and deserted. We thought of sleeping in the kombi on the main street but saw the tower of the parish and decided to ask for help. Father Claudio opened the door and looked puzzled. We tried to explain what happened. We do not know how much he understood at the time but he opened the doors of the church and we settled into a parish hall just when the sky was coming down with water and wind. We had never seen so much rain.
The next day we visited the place in a sunny and rainy day. We discovered the Tabascón river with hot waters that emerge from the heart of the volcano. The children did not want to leave. On the way back, a truck had knocked down a lamppost and the road was blocked. Alternative route? Huge stones. Francisca again climbed in 4X4 Camel Trophy style and we discovered a very pretty road overlooking the lake between very neat houses, streams and rural life. Pic nic on the lake and back to our home in the parish.
Before leaving, we went to see a mechanic to change oil and grease. Once again, we found people who were excited with our trip and did not want to charge anything for their work. Thank you. From El Arenal, we returned to the coast, to heat and sun. How the weather changes in such short distances! We got to Tamarindo with its lively promenade, blue sea and green frame when the final of the Copa America was playing. The children went straight to the sea. And again the meetings. Tere Okecki friend of friend and brave adventurer who decided it was time to know other places, other people and came to Tamarindo, came to greet us. Excited about our trip, immediately connected with the children that adored her. We could not stay in her cheerful tiny house by the sea but she generously invited us to the hostel Botella de Leche full of cool Argentine travelers that were preparing a large barbecue. Of course we joined immediately. We met the Locos del Fiorino, two friends who are traveling from Neuquen. A Chilean couple who three years ago sold everything and went out to fulfill a dream, to live travelling. There was another Chilean with his Argentina bride that dared to say that the barbecue was to celebrate the Chilean victory, and the brand new owner of the hostel, an Argentine man married to a Canadian. A very hilarious group. The children were in ecstasies. Dimas was intimate with two rugby players from Perpignan who threw him into the air and Mia with a girl from San José while her perplexed family looked the commotion that had been armed.
We spent the day with Tere, talking about life in Tamarindo and projects that move us forward. We wanted to know more and continue to the beach El Conchal, very quiet and we park the Kombi under the trees by the sea. Luis Carlos and Marcela from Chile reached us. We had a wonderful time talking with this unique couple. Good humored, a joy, an incredible passion to live, to learn, to share. Luis Carlos had a fulminating cancer when he was young, when they thought he was dying, he was entrusted to Father Kentenich from Schoenstatt and survived. He has more radiation than the people from Chernobyl, he told us. I am a rare case. Former dean of the faculty of history of the Catholic University of Chile told us stories of their travels, he explained how the Nazca drew those huge drawings which are seen only from the heights, outraged by those who underestimate the talent of these people saying that the lines were drawn by aliens. We were amazed at their stay in Chiapas in the camp of Subcomandante Marcos with chess game included. The kids will never forget them. Gentle, cheerful, loving Marcela took large bathrooms with Carmine and proudly showed us their motor home, such a lovely house, tidy, cozy, everything in its place, nothing is superfluous. We loved it.
And with this last encounter of many we left Costa Rica with sadness and continued our trip to Nicaragua, entering the deeper Central America.