Panama, being the last country before the Darian Gap – a 66 mile stretch of land between Panama and Colombia which is considered unpassable – meant we figured we should take advantage of the availability of US car parts. We’d also found an ex-pat mechanic originally from the US based in Boquete, who we linked up with promptly. Our van only just fit into his shop, but being able to discuss our mechanical problems in English was an absolutely massive help. Also he seemed to know everyone there is to know in the north of Panama!
Our first issue was one with the spare wheel – where the bracket had been bolted through the door moisture had found its way into the drill-hole. This meant that for a while now when you shut the door the wheel would shake back and forth and we’d been having nightmares of the wheel falling off on the highway! So we asked Josh about it and the next morning we were in David, the next major city at 8am to meet two metalworkers with an incredible eye for problem solving. Whilst usually spending their time rebuilding motorcycle engines, they squeezed us in before their busy day, cut the plate of rusted metal out and welded a reinforced plate in. Needless to say we were thrilled when we could close the back door with no shaking anymore! They did all this in 2 hours at an incredibly reasonable rate and with big grins on their faces too.
The other problem we’d been having was the van had been stalling at low temperatures, which we knew wasn’t a major problem as it drove fine when hot, but felt we should try to have a look whilst the parts would be available. After wrestling with the engine cover, Mikey & Josh managed to get the engine off to have a look at what was going on. We replaced the air filter which would have helped but didn’t solve the problem. Then we found a faulty part and had a new one ordered within a day, made the simple replacement and we were good to go. The problem was quickly solved.
Josh then did the once over on the van, sealing some leaking vacuums which helped our brakes and rebuffing the headlights so we could see far better at night! All in all we feel confident going into the last part of our journey now that the van is ready for many miles more to come!
While we were hanging around in Boquete, it wasn’t the worst place to be. Rather than paying for campsites, we felt comfortable enough to wild camp, so the first night we camped at the highest point in the town, right in the mountains. It was nice to have a cold night, but trying to shower was actually freezing cold, and it rained all night to boot! We did do a lovely hike which we thought would be 1 or 2 km but turned out to be a 4 hour trawl with so much climbing – with the promise of an incredible view. Unfortunately the clouds somewhat detracted from it but we did get to see a fantastic rainbow!
After all our repairs were done we headed to Anton Valley, to meet Paul & Dougie who are the two guys we will be sharing our container with. We camped out at the fire station – to save some money as it was free of charge with an obviously great supply of water! The next day we all did a short hike and planned on doing a round trip but unfortunately on our way up we met another English couple who’d been robbed at gunpoint on the other half of the trail. They were understandably shaken up and we all decided to go the top but then come down the same way – it would be so frustrating for something to happen but even more so if we’d already been warned! Then we wandered around in search of a bar and found a suitably dive level bar with $1 beers and turned in for an early night. It was onto Panama City next!
We never usually enjoy camping in cities. It’s notoriously hard to find safe spaces to sleep, and even then it’s never that comfortable leaving a van with all our belongings in which stands out in the centre of a city. We had previously read about a great spot however where all the driving schools come to teach their students. This would be perfect as there would always be people around looking at the van! We also met some great Argentinians who’d just shipped their van which gave us confidence we would in fact see Betty on the other side!
We’re keeping our fingers crossed…