This was to be a long day's travelling
involving 3 flights and then a drive to our destination that night,
Santa Catalina on the Pacific coast of SW Panama. There had been no
guard at La Fortuna airport on our arrival a week earlier, but this time
there was a man there. He told us the owner of the landing strip wanted
to charge us US$220 landing and parking fees! When we complained, he
called the owner who soon turned up. Fortunately I was able to negotiate
a better price with him, but we still had to pay US$100 - rather steep
compared with the other landing strips in Costa Rica where we had either
paid nothing or less than a dollar.
It was just over a half-hour flight to San Josť (Pavas) and a more
comfortable ride than it had been on our arrival in Costa Rica a couple
of weeks earlier, since this was a morning flight and the cumulus hadn't
had time to build up yet. Less than an hour and a half later we took off
for David, our port of entry for Panama, a flight of 1 hour, 20 minutes.
In spite of making sure this time that we sent our request for the
internal flights to the Operations office at Panama City several days
before, apparently the officials at David airport had not been informed.
This was a Sunday and no permits are issued on Sundays. But all was not
lost. The official knew the private phone number of Alexander Smith (the
Operations official in Panama City). He managed to get hold of Alexander
who confirmed that permission had been requested and was granted. Phew!
An hour and a half after landing in David, we were cleared to take off
for Santiago, an hour's flight to the east.
There was no security and no one guarding the landing strip at Santiago
so we put on the throttle lock and had to hope for the best. We would be
away from the plane for 4 nights. Our rental car was delivered to us at
the airstrip as arranged and we set off for Santa Catalina (me driving
as Flemming still didn't have a driving licence). We wanted to get there
before it got dark, but the map we had was practically useless, the
signposts almost non-existent and the road was full of dangerous
potholes, difficult to spot in the dark. The car hire company had said
it would take us one and a half hours, but it took 2 and a half.
And when we got there, I very quickly started to wonder whether we'd do
better to turn back to Santiago - it was pitch black night, the only
sign we could see for the small 'hotel' where we were to be staying led
up an almost vertical road with no clue as to where the reception was
and the few people in the street were all drunk! The guide book said the
town had a 'laid-back' feel to it, but I wasn't prepared for this! After
a further unfruitful search for our 'hotel' Sol y Mar, Flemming decided
it had to be the first place we'd tried up the steep hill, so back we
went - with him driving this time. We knocked at a door at the top of
the drive, and a man came to show us to our room in another house
further down the hill. The room had an unpleasant chemical smell and we
wondered whether this was DDT to kill cockroaches. Anyway, there was no
choice and we were tired and hungry. We asked him where we could get a
meal and he took a ride to the village with us, pointing to a shabby
looking shack before leaving us to return to the Sol y Mar on foot. On
further inspection, we found just a congealed plate of fish and rice
perched on a dirty table top. I was almost relieved when the drunk
manager told us the 'restaurant' was closed for the night.
Another drunk villager accosted us and slurringly told us to follow him
to a pizzeria down a dirt track. We began to think he was leading us on
when we came to a halt before what looked like an impassable puddle. We
certainly weren't going to risk getting stuck in the mud, so abandoned
the car there and continued on foot, after first making sure that the
pizzeria was in fact a reality by inquiring about it from some
pedestrians returning from that direction. Things started to look up a
bit when, half an hour later, we were eating one of the best pizzas I
have ever tasted, washed down with a good bottle of Chilean red that we
had brought ourselves, not knowing what we would find locally.
We have no pictures for this web page. On 10 January inside this Sheraton airport shuttle van, our laptop computer, it's back-up disk and our Canon EOS 20D camera with a 2 GB flash card got stolen by two professional thieves. We lost 2 1/2 months of high resolution digital photos as well as US$ 5000 worth of equipment.