We were finally in Panama. No spraying for bugs, no searching. An altogether uneventful crossing. But now it was starting to get late and would be dark soon. Again we would have to drive at night. Luckily the highway was good and we only saw a few cows and they were still out in the pastures. (You have to watch out for livestock because the cows like to sleep on the warm pavement at night.) It was about 30 some miles to David the first big town in Panama; we were going to spend the night there. The only campground was out of our way so we elected to spend the night at one of the gas stations. We pulled around back and parked for the evening. Next to the station was a Chinese restaurant - so that is what we had for dinner. Chinese food in Panama - hum…. Tomorrow we would leave for Panama City 300 miles south.
Up at sunrise and on the road again. The Pan American Highway was in good condition most of the way. We had to pass over a small mountain range. We would be driving along and suddenly in the clouds where it would be misty and gray then just as quickly we would be above the clouds looking into the rising the sun. It was a spectacular sight - the bright blue sky with the purples, pinks and golds of a sunrise reflecting on the tops of the clouds that covered the valleys below us. Each time we came out of the clouds we all were overwhelmed by the beauty anew. It was a sight never to be forgotten. Soon we were back in the lowlands driving through ranchland where the cattle were kept in by fences made of posts that were growing. Some had almost become trees. Off in the distance every once in a while we would see houses and outbuildings, usually by a stream. Yet again the tropical foliage was beautiful. We passed by banana and sugar cane plantations and other farms growing rice, and other fruits and vegetables. To our left were more mountains and on our right flat lands all the way to the ocean. We crossed lots of streams (on well built bridges) and drove through several small villages. Seems like every small village has a police check where we had to pull over, stop and show all our paperwork. No problems though.
As we got closer to Panama City we began to see sugar mills and vegetable processing plants, a Nestle plant and larger more modern towns. Lots of gas stations and restaurants and police checks.
About 100 miles from PC we came to a strange sight - a run way crossing the highway! It was a military air field and if a plane was taking off or landing someone came out and stopped the traffic. I hoped.
More farm land and stands by the road selling tropical fruits and vegetables.
Soon we were crossing the Bridge of the Americas. Looking to our left we could see the end of the Locks. Then we were going into Panama City itself. Now to find the campground where we would be staying. Out came the guide book and the maps.
“It says to go down 4th of July Avenue and turn right at the third signal and keep going till we come to Via Bolivar.” So far so good. “Oh look at that a big Sears store and a Kentucky Fried Chicken!”
Okay - Via Espania is the street we want it goes right to La Siesta Hotel which has a campground. It is near the Tocumen Airport. The book didn’t say how near - again we had to drive across a runway to reach our destination.
The campground at La Siesta was great. Lots of grass, trees and flowers. And as we would find out in the days to come, many many BIG, UGLY, exotic bugs. A little boy’s paradise.
The campground was part of a very nice hotel complex. It had a pool, tennis courts, coffee shop, a casino and a playground. It cost us $3.50 per day with electricity. Bill checked us in and we drove around to find a nice place. Finally stopping under a big tree for shade as it was now getting pretty hot and humid during the days.
Of course the first thing the boys wanted to do was unload part of the trailer to get to their bikes and motorcycle. I wanted to go to one of the large supermarkets we passed and Bill wanted KFC. So we unhooked, unloaded and cleaned up. That night we ate fried chicken. Yum delicious. And we could even get TV in English. All of us crowded around the TV to watch M.A.S.H.
Just some odd facts - Since we had left Los Angeles, 5625 miles ago, we experienced no mechanical problems with the motorhome or trailer, except for the back window. Gas stations and gasoline were plentiful. Propane was easily found. Groceries were always available, sometimes in supermercados, sometimes in little one room holes in the wall. We all loved the baked goods that were available. We added Clorox to our water tank and had no problems with any illnesses. At first we measured it as we added it. Because we did not always add the same amount of water we used our noses to tell us when we need to add Clorox or when we needed to add more water. It worked. Also we cooked our meat well and peeled or washed all fruit and vegetables before eating. I learned how to convert liters into gallons and kilometers into miles. I never did learn grams or kilograms, I let Bill convert those. We had no problems exchanging money from country to country. No problems with the police or soldiers and no problems with bandits. Mostly people were curious about the motorhome and us. Remember this was 1978 - not many 24’ motorhomes had traveled to Panama. We usually stayed in campgrounds or well lighted public areas like gas stations or airports for the night. When we went somewhere to sight see we had to take the motorhome or else take a bus or taxi or rent a car. To take the motorhome meant everything had to be secured for travel, but we got that down to a science, everyone had a job: lock refrigerator, secure shower head, make sure drawers and closets were closed and things were not on the counters, put spring on bunk bed, unplug and unhook hoses etc. Anyway most of the times everything got done.
Now we had to plan out the next part of our journey - crossing into South America. There were no roads through the Darien Gap an area of 15,500 square kilometers, only tropical forests and rivers. Adventurers in 4-wheel drives had hacked their way through to Colombia but it was out for us. This meant the motorhome etc. had to go on a ship. This would take some time to arrange.
We were up early our first day in Panama City, the sun shining through the windows made sure of that.
The kids were anxious to explore the rest of the campground and they of course wanted to go swimming. Bill went into the hotel to talk to the manager about obtaining information about shipping the motorhome to Colombia.
I was doing some much needed cleaning and rearranging. Randy, John Mc and John were putting up the green tent so there would be more room for everyone.
“Hello” - and a knock on the door. “Yes.”
“Hi, I’m Bruce and this is my son Lyle, were from Los Angeles, California too. Come over and meet my wife Lucy.” The kids had run into Lyle on the playground and then met his mom and dad.
Bruce personified a typical movie gringo. He was tall, about 6” 2” with a muscular build. His hair was blond and wavy. His voice boomed when he talked. He was wearing shorts and a T-shirt with sandals.
As we walked over to their Volkswagen van he told me a little about them. He had been a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and planned on working for the government in Peru flying against the guerrillas. Lucy had been born in the little town of Piura in Northern Peru. So they were going to visit her family who still lived there. Lyle was five years old and a dark haired, dark eyed bundle of energy. He attached himself to Gil and Paul and followed them where ever they went. Running along next to their bikes if necessary. Lucy was the exact opposite of Bruce, petite with long black hair and dark brown eyes. She spoke excellent English and was fun to be with. They had arrived at La Siesta a couple of hours before us. I told them Bill was trying to find out about the shipping and they told me to let him know we would need to extend our paperwork for the motorhome as the papers we received at the border were good for only a couple of days. Bruce went up to the hotel to find Bill, Lucy and I talked for a bit then we both went back to our chores.
Paul came running up to the door, “Mom, Klaus is coming and Mark and Robert are just behind him.”
They drove over near us and parked.
Bill had come back without finding out too much, it was the weekend and the manager’s brother who knew what needed to be done was off. Monday he would be there. Bill brought Bruce over to meet the rest of the guys. Now there were 14 of us preparing to go to South America.
The afternoon was too hot and humid to do much of anything so just about everyone went swimming. Also all the bugs had come out to enjoy the heat, lots of mosquitoes.
Later the kids were playing around the campground when we heard a piercing scream. I saw Paul running towards Bruce’s van - ("My God, what did they do to Lyle?" flew through my mind!) We all ran that way. Lucy was running towards Lyle who was still screaming and holding his mouth with both hands. There was no blood, what was wrong? Bruce grabbed him up and pulled his hands away from his mouth, between sobs out came his tongue. On it was part of a big yellow and black bumble bee. The tongue was really getting red and swelling! While playing by some flowers they had disturbed some bees. One got confused and flew into Lyle’s mouth and doing what bees do he stung him. His Dad carried him up to the hotel and got ice for him then took him back to the van to quiet him down. Poor kid. Paul and Gil couldn’t wait to tell everyone they saw what had happened. The story of the bee and the swelling keep getting bigger and bigger. After a few hours Lyle was fine, his tongue still swollen but not so sore and he was out playing but carefully watching for bees. Whenever anyone walked by him he would stick out his tongue to show his ouchie.
Not long after that I got a wonderful present from my sons. At least they gave it to me outside.
“Mom come on out and see what Randy’s got.” yelled Gil through the screen. “Hurry up, hurry.” That should have been my clue. Randy was standing by his bike poking at something on the seat. I got closer and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was a BIG bug with an armored body and a horn! We found out later it is called a Rhinoceros beetle. This was the first of many wonderful discoveries that crawled and flew.
Spent the rest of the day doing laundry and relaxing and watch TV in English! We had a transformer that converted the electricity 220 to 110 so we could power the motorhome. After the younger kids had settled down Bill and I walked over to the casino at the hotel. Panama mostly used US dollars but had their own coins so I had a handful of US coins that I wanted to give to the slot machines (I say give because I have never received so much as a nickel back whenever we went to Las Vegas.) Once we were in South America they would be of no use. In went a nickel, up came three cherries - I almost fell over - I got money back! I continued to play - and I continued to win. Pretty soon I had more money than I started with. Great and I was trying to get rid of it. It took a couple of hours but I finally won - or I should say lost - I was out of US coins. Hard work.
Tomorrow we first had to go to the Ministerio de Hacienda Y Tesoro to renew our paperwork as we would be in Panama City for quite a few days making the arrangements for shipping the vehicles.
Finding a Campground in Panama City, Panama