From the magnificent ruins of Copan, we headed north to the second largest city in Honduras, San Pedro de Sula. Veering south, and missing the well-known tourist attractions of the Bay Islands to the north on the Caribbean, we cut diagonally across the country to stop by the tranquil lake of Yojoa, the modernizing capital of Tegucigalpa, and the pine-smelling village of Valle de Angeles. Nicaragua was next, and we whipped through the country under an ever-increasing time schedule pressuring us to get to Panama. By the time we arrived in Costa Rica, we needed a break, albeit short and sweet.
Costa Rica is quite a change for us. It was clear that this country relies heavily on tourism. Service levels rise considerably, as well as the prices, and even if we are thankful for the change, being in the midst of communities of retirees from Canada and the U.S. makes us feel like we are not in a foreign country! Costa Rica has worked hard towards conservation and "eco-tourism," and with over 27 percent of its land protected, it is a delight for anyone seeking a bit of adventure and nature. From canopy ziplines, active volcanoes, oversized surf waves, and jungle walks, to just plain chilling out, living la pura vida (pure life) is never too difficult.
After a short stay in Liberia, a town that is reminiscent of any small town in the States, we began to climb up to Laguna de Arenal and the dirt track that follows its edge until settling in at Orosi. Located to the east of the capital, this sleepy village is nestled in a river valley known for resplendent mountain vistas, colonial churches, hot springs, and a lake. Finding a small cabin in which to stay, our days began to the sound of birds chirping and ended with the silence of dusk. It was the perfect place to recuperate for four days, our little slice of la pura vida.
Agents And Canals
Zipping into Panama, our all-consuming thought was how to find a ship on which to place the Scenic to Ecuador. Starting in Costa Rica, we'd begun to contact and ask for quotes from various shipping companies and agents we'd found. The prices differ radically. Some include most costs, while others include only a few costs. It was never very clear, and until we arrived in Panama City, there was no way we were going to fork over any cash until we met the company.
Deciding to go with the cheapest company, we made an appointment to check them out. A young woman was in charge of our account, extremely friendly, very kind, but it was obvious she had never done this before. Things started to sour when she introduced us to a man with whom we would pass through the police check and customs. It was clear he had never done this before, either. We eventually took the prudent course and settled on a deal with another, experienced, shipper.
What a difference. Manuel, assigned to be our assistant, met us at our hotel to take us to customs and the police. Within three hours, everything was finished, stress-free, and in three days he would pick us up again to take us to the port of Colon, where we would load the Scenic into a container, seal her up and be on our way. Door to door service! This was a good thing, since we weren't too keen to be on the docks, or in the city of Colon, which is known for its crime, by ourselves. To boot, when we asked Manuel if it would be possible to make a trip to the canal before heading to the port, he smiled broadly and said, "Certainly! We will make a day of it!" With pregnant wife in tow, Manual met us at 9:00 a.m. sharp, dressed to the nines, and ready to go.
The Panama Canal is a magnificent work of human engineering, cutting 80 kilometers from the Atlantic side in Colon across the Continental Divide to the Pacific Side of Panama City. With a set of three immense double locks, the 14,000 ships that pass through here yearly cross the artificial lake of Lago Gatun and also travel through the Gaillard Cut, a 14-km cut through the rock and shale of the isthmian mountains. It is quite a sight to see a 900-foot-long ship being moved through the locks as they slowly climb or descend (depending on their direction) with the volume of water-and a staggering 52 million gallons of fresh water is released to the ocean with the passage of each ship. Soon the Scenic would pass through here. (Ironically, it is cheaper to seal the car in a container on the Atlantic side and send it through the canal to the Pacific side than to have the car shipped directly from Panama City. We still don't understand why.)
When we arrived at the port, the container was waiting, one lone small box in comparison to the stacks of containers that flanked it. The admin guys surrounded the container, checking off boxes, and making sure it was packed correctly. Laurent inspected the seal to his satisfaction, Manuel handed us our papers, and we watched as the Scenic was lifted like a noodle between two chopsticks to its pre-boarding location on the docks. It would be one week before would see her again.