Sometimes things just go wrong… maybe we needed a slap back into reality after leaving the realm of everyday life and spending a little too much time in the alternate travel universe. We were stranded in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica with a couple of rather large issues. The first being that the only bridge into town was half washed away by the unusually heavy tropical rains and had subsequently been closed. Tom’s surfboard needed a major repair after he lost a fin and its box surfing in Nosara; on top of that, Marlin was having some trouble with the alternator and his battery had died. Oh yeah and it had been pouring rain for 4 days.
This is part of bringing a car with you and we both knew that we would be bound to have some mechanical issues, especially with an older vehicle and although our Spanish is progressing, our mechanical terminology is a little thin, which makes dealing with car problems all the more fun. We did manage to find a rather interesting mechanic, one with a penchant for all things pirate. His first mate was an efficient Tico teenager whom we called Smee, jumping to attention, repeating orders and being generally subservient, he was incredibly conscientious providing tools and parts on cue. It was a pleasure to watch them work and we both felt that Smee held an enviable position.
As it turns out the plaque del Dios, the god plate, had malfunctioned causing the regulator to burn out (maybe one too many river crossings the week before). We were sent from the pirate to another mechanic, an older gentleman who had a spare god plate. He charged the battery and to showed Tom which part needed replacement as well as how to install the part. The regulador was the key to getting Marlin running smoothly again, it regulates the charge back to the battery (or so we think).
With Marlin working, Tom’s board fixed and the bridge opened for light traffic we felt a definite change in our luck. We took a risk and headed for the Panamanian border, which had been closed for two days because of the flooding. The god plate must have been working because the border opened an hour after we arrived and we cleared both Costa Rican and Panama immigration in under 30 minutes!
Insane Bridge to Panama
Knowing we needed the regulador we burned rubber to Changuinola, home of the famous Chiquita banana, a town of about 50, 000, 45 minutes south of the border. We rolled into the nearest gas station to fill up and Marlin died. I manned the car while Tom went off to find a new regulator. Returning fairly quickly we switched out the part but, since the battery was completely dead, we needed a jump to get started. Enter absolute chaos.
Somehow we had a policeman, two gas attendants, a truck driver and some random guy all trying to sort out why the car wouldn’t start. The policeman, a rather amusingly frantic fellow, had to try the ignition for himself… just in case. Then the truck driver who had been ordered to give us a jump by the policeman attached the jumper cables to the wrong terminals in his hasty obedience. Tom was looking a little stressed as he had noticed that the cables were mixed up but didn’t want to get the truckie in trouble with the cop who was dancing around the car looking anxious. The truck driver decided the terminals needed cleaning and the policeman whipped out a twelve inch hunting knife to help scrape away some of the corroded metal. While they were doing that Tom quietly reversed the cables on the truck and the next time Marlin came back to life. We thanked everyone profusely and were on our way.
Thinking that we should double-check that the battery was receiving charge we headed straight to a nearby mechanic for a multi-meter. After a bit of testing, some insulation paint, a lot of good will and a minor earthquake we got the alternator fixed and the battery charged. We spent the night in Changuinola and were up early the next day headed for Bocas Del Toro, a group of Islands in the Caribbean sea off the coast of Panama.