Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Man. A Plan. A Canal.

My story at the edge of the Northern Continent starts in a barbershop. I arrived to Boquete by sunset; once I got out of the car, the cool evening air came to greet me with a breezy embrace. As I had my hair cut, the barber and I engaged in passionate conversation about his tools and life in Boquete. While admiring many of his well-worn artifacts –many of them imported from Japan in the 1970’s– a woman popped her head into the establishment and shyly asked if she could take a picture with me –a request I accepted in puzzled amusement. Shortly after, I proceeded to have a well-deserved $2 meal at a local restaurant, and walked in the main square of the empty town as a soft drizzle began to cool the warm asphalt. What relief, what calm!

Tools of the trade!

Two days later, I found myself clinging to a walking stick, in intense pain. I had walked seven out of the nine miles to the top of the Balú volcano; my feet felt fragmented, my legs felt numb and my lungs were empty, but my chest urged me to march onwards. I had to lie several times on the road to catch a breath, but by sunrise I had reached the end of the road. I had walked over fifteen kilometers upwards, and I felt flooded by a sense of achievement. I looked over the cliff’s edge to see a sea of clouds, and the Sun’s orange brushtroke in the distance. I leaned against a nearby wall, ate some raisins and collapsed.

The road to Panama City was unceremoniously smooth. No trouble whatsoever. As I drove past the Bridge of the Americas, I came to the sudden realization that the next country would inaugurate the second half of the trip in a whole new continent. I had driven that far, because the car and the driver could. And I was proud.

Glorious 3-lane highway, perfectly paved. On the other lane, highest level of traffic ever recorded in Panama!
Getting back to my hostel from a quick airport run. I love doing occasional taxi service!
Panama City, in one picture.

My health deteriorated substantially in the new climate. The humidity was dense and sticky, like some sort of pork broth. I could hardly eat anything, and I barely had any strength to move around and visit. Three of four days into my stay I met with Vitali and his family, who had spent eight months traveling the world from his hometown in Russia. Armed with a tremendous confidence in my bureaucratic Spanish, we decided to skip the whole agent process and deal directly with the shipping company. We organized the process with the Barwil Agency (Wallenius Wilhelmsen, AKA Seaboard Marine), but I will not go into too much detail on the process because it has been thoroughly covered in many travelogues such as Home on the Highway. All I can say is that, at $1,125 to ship each vehicle from start to finish, we both saved close to $1400 in agent’s fees.

Inspecting the list of contents in my car.
Rolling in dough! Cost at the office: $950 per vehicle. Ouch!
DAT ASS (my car's).

After dropping the cars at the Colón port, I returned to Panama in better health to do some sightseeing. The following day I met with the Polish filmmakers of the Cinemaya initiative, to get them started in the shipping process. We drove through the city, pointing every stop of the police inspection process, and headed for the local mall to get some photographic equipment. Because my old G9 camera was bulky, heavy, and past its prime days, I snatched a very light and conspicuous Canon point-and-shoot for $79. The next day, we put all our gear to the test at the Panama Canal.

The lock in question: Miraflores.
Vehicle container ship being steered (NOT towed) through the narrow passage.

Here comes a new challenger!

Just passing though...
The Panama Canal is an engineering marvel that is hard to put into words. Witnessing a gargantuan tanker get across one of its locks can only be compared with a neurosurgery theater… with cranes. The scale and minuteness of the whole process is no less than fascinating, handled with the customary proficiency of a chef making pancakes: business as usual. There are no surprises, no sweat; just a squirt of adrenaline into the tourists’ arteries, and an unconscious purse in their lips.

On the next post, I shall narrate my adventures in the North of Colombia. In those two weeks, I learned Russian, found another Gullwing, and almost killed two people. Until then, stay tuned with my everyday shenanigans at This European Life’s Facebook Page. ¡Hasta luego!

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