6/17/10 Calamity on the First Day!
Saturday, June 19th, 2010
The Costa Rica / Panama border crossing went smoothly. By the time I got to the border, I’d changed my mind about trying to get one guy to pay another not to spray inside of my car. I decided I would deal with it myself. It worked, all I had to do was ask. I told them I was allergic to the insecticide and that it would make me sick. So they didn’t spray. And the price to enter Panama was less this time, too. They charged me $4.00 to bring my car in, $15.00 for insurance and that’s it. They’ve dropped the $8.00 tourist fee! I got to the border at 11:00 a.m. and was on my way by 12:15. That’s pretty good.
My stop in Changuinola went well. I found what I needed and got my car washed, too. (You know, the toxic spray was still on the outside of the car.) Then for the next two hours I drove up and up and up. The roads in Panama are good, there was no traffic and I was immensely enjoying the first leg of my trip. Everything was so green, so beautifully green. Frequently, the ocean and the islands of Bocas del Toro came into view. After a while the road veered away from the coast and I knew I was headed up over the Cordillera.
Now there were no towns. All I saw was jungle – a million kinds of palm trees, bananas everywhere – growing wild, fuchsia flowers and prehistorically huge “house plants”. Throughout the jungle that flanked the road, were thatch roofed houses: Indian villages with the women in their traditional, long, gathered and brightly colored dresses. Their homes were basic wood houses, many mounted up on stilts, most with no glass or even screens on the windows and some with open doorways, too. When I stopped to take a picture, I remarked to the people in the yard, on how beautiful their house was. I wondered if they thought I was crazy. These houses were quite primitive yet to me they were lovely.
As I climbed higher the houses disappeared and instead I saw road construction. I had been this route, by bus, twice before. The road was devastated by the floods and landslides from the rain, in the fall of 2008. Every stream that came down the mountain, crossing under the road became a roaring monster, heaving up over the road and leaving rubble strewn crevices in its wake. This was the same grave weather system I discussed in my book, “If She Can Do It, So Can I !” Pummeling rains inundated the Costa Rica Caribbean for weeks, without respite. And now, two years later they are approaching completion of the reconstruction. It looks good, too. They are putting in strong, substantial bridges; much higher than before, with cement drainage ditches on either side.
Soon I knew I was at the top because I was deep into fog soup. No problem, though, I just drove slow. Soon it passed as I began to drive downhill. Then suddenly – “clunk, bam, bang!” It sounded like something hit the engine! There was nowhere to pull over so I just stopped as close as I could, to the side and turned off the ignition. Looking under the car, everything was fine. But what was that noise? The engine was turned off but still making a whirring sound. I opened the hood. There it was! (Or more accurately, it wasn’t.) I’d been hearing the sound of the compressor, flying along with no fan belt. That’s right. The fan belt was hanging loose and a second fan belt was gone, altogether.
No matter how well one may prepare, you can’t control circumstances. I had a mechanic inspect the car, the day before I left. Nevertheless, there I was in the middle of nowhere, on the blind side of a curve with no place to pull over and a car I could not move. (No phone either, by the way. My cellular only works in Costa Rica.) The first thing I did was insist to myself that everything would be fine. Then I locked my valuables in the trunk and flagged down some help. Within minutes a middle aged man and his nephew stopped. When they told me there was no mechanic and no town for miles in either direction, and no cell phone service to call for help either, I could not hold back the tears. It was getting dark. I continued trying to reassure myself, inside, but I was scared. The kind man assured me that they’d help me get this figured out. Men just hate it when you cry.
My car was on a hill above a huge hydroelectric dam called Fortuna. If we could get it down and across to the other side, there was a night watchman who would be able to guard the car. Then perhaps I could get a bus to David, my destination city, two hours away, where my friends were waiting for me. The two of them, obviously not mechanics, looked at the engine; yapping back and forth rapidly, in Spanish and fiddling with the loose belt. This was not getting us anywhere and it would be dark soon. I was inclined to coast the car to the bottom but they guys were afraid that without the engine on, the brakes may not work. It was a steep hill.
Then a guy in a pickup pulled up. Turns out he is friends with the first guy. He saw us there and was concerned about the possibility of a car flying around the corner and crashing into mine. The consensus was that we’d try to coast the car down. Well, it worked just fine and at the bottom, I brought out the tow rope I keep stashed in the back and that worked well, also. The guy with the pickup pulled my car across the top of the dam and into the (unfenced) security area. They spoke to the guard, who said he’d be up all night keeping an eye on things and that my car would be fine. The guy with the pickup was headed to David, so there was my ride. I pulled everything out of my car and had a pleasant ride with Benito, to David.
As I shared the Hershey bar I’d been saving we agreed that when you get in trouble, chocolate helps. And inside, I kept telling myself that somehow this, just like the recent theft of my camera, would have a positive outcome. In some ways, it already had. Almost the minute the car broke down, there were good, kind people, there to help me. And there just happened to be a security guard nearby to watch my car. I know your imagination may produce another, not so nice, scenario and it crossed my mind, too. That is why I locked my stuff in the trunk. But soon it was plain to see that these people were trustworthy. At least the guys who stopped to help were, any way. We’ll see if my car is still there tomorrow and all in one piece.
An interesting aside here, is that Benito is a mobile Ham radio enthusiast. I didn’t know they had those things for cars. In fact I had not seen a Ham, or Amatuer radio in years. I remember my great grandfather, always up in his workshop talking to people all over the world. My father liked them too, until computers came along. Seems like, in the States, most went the way of my dad and left their old Ham radios behind. Apparently that’s not the case in many other countries. Some people seem to enjoy the sound of a voice emanating from an electrified tin can with rocks in it, because that voice may be coming from Italy or Russia! Benito said he talked to a guy from Russia just the other day. “But what about the language?” I asked, “You don’t speak Russian, do you?” Seems the Russian guy was half Colombian. He spoke Spanish.
So here I sit writing, comfortable and safe, at the home of my friends; thankful for the kindness of strangers and infinitely grateful to Jah (that’s God, in Caribbean) and my many guardian angels. They are always there when I need them. Even now, I can picture four little angels, stationed at each of my car’s tires, just like in that TV commercial. Soon, I will sleep soundly, knowing they are there; and that everything, absolutely everything that happens to me in this life is for the best and I can handle it.