Dec 3, 2010

Car Trouble in the Middle of Nowhere, Panama-style

I had hoped for the best regarding my first long trip with my new twenty-year-old Japanese jeep.   And actually, things did go pretty well.  On the way back though, about an hour outside of Santiago, in the mountainous foothills, the car  broke down.   Unfortunately, I was too distressed to snap photos of where I was stranded, but suffice it to say it was isolated, hot, and full of vegetation.  (I'd managed to use the car's momentum when the engine cut out to get off the highway...).  I waited about 15 minutes, trying to figure out where I was located so I'd be able to tell someone how to find me. --- It all happened so suddenly I hadn't paid attention to where I was at the time.  A peasant happened by on foot and when I asked her to tell me where we were, she looked at me incredulously, then patiently explained we were in Panama.  I thanked her and asked for more specific information, at which point she told me there was a police station down the road about 2 kms.   
I tried to start the engine again, and it fired right up!  So, I headed back onto the highway hoping to make it to the police station.    The car would go a few blocks or so, then lurch and die, then start back up again, go a few more blocks and repeat the process.  I made it to the police station like that.  When I got there,  two very nice police officers looked under the hood,  checked the radiator,  and started the engine. Everything worked beautifully. But I knew better.  I wanted to see a mechanic.  There was ONE mechanic in the small pueblo where I ended up, but he was gone for the weekend.
I remembered my insurance agent told me my auto policy had emergency roadside service, so I called her to double check.  I hadn't been given any number to call when I picked up the policy.  The woman was a saint!  She arranged everything, and while I waited at the police station a tow truck was sent out from Santiago to pick up me and the vehicle and take us back to the city.  It took about three hours, and the shop where we went was closed already, but the mechanic was called in and subsequently fixed the problem .   Repairs cost $ 12. to clean a gas filter in the back of the vehicle near the gas tank.   The tow was free, and I didn't even have to sign for it. 
It was dark by then, though, and being a rather unadventurous soul, I decided to stay the night in Santiago.  Spent the night at the one main hotel in the area and then headed out at 6 am the next day.  As I drove past the police station that morning, the same officer was on duty and he waved as I went by.  

We'd spent a rather enjoyable pair of hours the previous day sharing jelly beans, watching soap operas, and chatting in a small, thatched-roof lean-to where I snapped the above photos. To the very right, about mid-way up in the first one, you can make him out taking down the flag at days end.  He was a sweet, mature 26 year-old with a 7 year-old daughter.  He said he became an emancipated minor at age 16
I arrived back in Boquete around 11 am, to learn there was a major parade happening in town.  November 28th is Panama's Independence Day (one of them, at least) and schools and organizations from all over the country go to Boquete for the parade and celebration.  Unfortunately, I was too tired to go to the parade, and from photos I've seen since, I really missed a great opportunity.