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Clos … I like to give it a slightly Germanic drawl so it sounds like house. We first heard about Concha Y Toro wines from Luisa, a retired dancer from New York, who put us up in Mexico City – ‘you can get a decent bottle of red for six bucks’.

Living by the beach and watching our budget at Bob’s place in Costa Rica we found the Concha Y Toro line again, this time as Clos de Pirque and in a one-litre tetra pack … travel friendly! Clos also made a solid showing in Mancora, Peru when we hung out with Al for a few days waiting for the swell.

Al did get in touch with us after we left Mancora…  “By the way I met a German guy who told me Clos in German is slang for toilet (bog, shitter, dunnie) you get the picture. Still enjoying the odd glass though.” And while it’s not winning any wine awards it has to be said that Clos is a real backpacker favorite, this resealable, nonbreakable and fairly drinkable gem will only set you back about 3 dollars.

His name is Carlos Daviz but everyone calls him Lito, he’s a mechanic in Panama City and he knows six English words; Working, Today, Tomorrow, Bucks, Drinking, and Racing. He also knows and loves his VW’s.

We had a broken front shock and we were driving a punishing goat track in the forgotten back blocks of Panama’s Pacific coast – cringing and swearing as a multitude of unavoidable potholes battered our suspension. Sweating over some of the steeper inclines that demanded a preemptive reckless speed, there was no way back, we had to keep going.

That ‘road’ finally exited us onto a well paved, rolling country lane and we glided into Santa Catalina an hour and a half later, which softened the nightmare detour and gave us some hope of reaching Panama City where we could replace the part.

By chance, in Panama City, we ran into Slim Ferguson – an automatic transmission guy, who said he could replace our shock but that he knew a guy who would really enjoy working on our little VW … his name was Lito.

A slight man with a ready smile, Lito walked out of his shop, lifted the hood and whistled through his teeth. Shaking his head with an adoptive pride he looked at the dusty tangle of aging parts and smiled broadly… ‘What a warrior’ he said ‘what a warrior!’ which set Slim into fits of laughter.


Lito worked on our Volkswagen Golf for two days, only accepting payment for parts, ‘thirty-five bucks’. When he was finished he signed the engine and put a Panama flag next to his signature, then he took us on a guided tour of Panama City with his wife.

Cheers Lito, you’re a legend!


Time & Beer


We had some time to kill while we were waiting to sail the Carribean … the national beers were cheap and colourful, so we decided to have a sampling.

Panama has two big breweries each offering two products. The largest, holding most of the market share is Cerveceria Nacional which is actually owned by a Colombian company Grupo Bavaria which is a subsidiary of international beer giant SABMiller. SABMiller almost had the smaller brewery Cervacerias Baru too but the deal was blocked when they couldn’t show that the cost savings made from the transaction would be transferred on to the consumer, Cervacerias Baru has since been taken over by Heineken International.

To keep things fair and to remain impervious to whatever branding we had been exposed to we decided to have a blind tasting. Our only consensus was that the bottled beer tasted better.


ATLAS - from Cervaceria National
Ringing in at 3.8 % this lighter, flowery larger mainly drew comments concerning its lack of flavour. Atlas has a slightly sweeter taste that doesn’t last long, good fizz levels, not bad on a hot day after cutting the grass.

BEST COMMENT: Tastes a little like makeup.


BALBOA - from Cervaceria National
A fairly solid 4.8 % Balboa is the darkest of a light lot, not much scent but a little more depth. Pours well and pretty easy to drink – an all round contender but not very distinguished, good for a laugh.

BEST COMMENT: Fat bottomed beers you make the rocking world go round


PANAMA – from Cervacerias Baru
Surprisingly tasty and at 4.8 % not a complete lightweight but a little brackish on the backend. Makes up for its lack of depth with an evasive effervescence. Panama is that British friend who’s loyal but a bit of a prat.


SOBERANA - from Cervacerias Baru
A yeasty 3.8 % Soberana wasn’t our favourite. A pale, weak brew that needs a little more time mature.

BEST COMMENT: Ragwater and yeast burps

All said, the Panamanian beers leave a little to be desired but at around 40 cents each who´s complaining?


The missing link in The Pan American Highway is called The Darien Gap , the road terminates in Panama at Yaviza, ending in dense, mountainous jungle populated by poachers, gun runners and guerrillas – needless to say we won’t be driving through. We’ve spent the better part of a week figuring out how to ship our car to South America. Initially we had planned on shipping from Panama to Ecuador, but after talking to the people in the know we decided to ship by container to Cartagena, Colombia.

So after a mountain of paperwork we packed up wee Marlin, stuffed him into a forty foot container and left our little car on the port in Colon. We took the Panama Canal Railway back to Panama City which follows the Canal route and offers some spectacular views of both the Canal and the area that was flooded to create it.

Now we have a five day sail through the San Blas Islands to South America.

The Rich Coast


We’re staying at Playa Negra in a sweet little cabina on the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. It’s offshore here almost all of the time and we’ve had a couple of days of good surfing—we’re waiting on a big south westerly swell coming up from New Zealand that should hit here midweek. So while the waves are small we’re going to try our luck at spear fishing with some home made Hawaiian Slings. Yesterday we bought some lengths of 1/2″ aluminium tube and some spear tips, attached some bungee cords and we now have a couple of formidable looking slings …  heading out today, so we’ll see how it goes.

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