driving to central america

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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_signature

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!

lito_salute

I open my eyes, turn my head and feel my muscles shriek as I attempt to roll off the mattress, my noodley arms are useless so I flounder on the bed till I manage to work into a semi-standing position. My neck feels like Andre the Giant stepped on it, I think my spine is crooked and my stomach feels like some sadistic trainer made me perform 500 crunches in a row. No, I haven’t been in car accident, I did not trip or fall down the stairs, and I am not following some insane work-out regime.

I am learning to surf.

This sport, which surfers perform so effortlessly, has been one of the hardest, and one of the most humbling, things I have ever tried to learn.

This is a rough idea of how I tend to surf: grab my board, paddle through the white water as it continues to hammer me, fall off, lose my board, get smashed by the white water a few times, finally arrive at a place where the waves can’t beat me. Face my board to the beach, look behind for a wave, paddle (again) to catch the wave while trying to time it so the wave doesn’t crash directly on top of me, if I manage it right, get pushed faster than I expect, try and stand up, lose my footing and perform a spectacular crash into the water, almost drown for a little bit, subdue the panic attack and with the last bit of air leaving my lungs, come to the surface gasping and spluttering, turn around only to find another wave preparing to land directly on my head, hang out underwater, do a couple back flips, wonder how my head can touch my toes like that, resurface, and repeat 4 or 5 times. Once the set has ended have a little cry and thank the heavens, Buddha, Vishnu whomever that I am alive, climb back on my board and REPEAT.

Catching a wave

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The beautiful part is that very slowly you figure out how to stay on your board, being beaten by the waves is a little less scary, wiping out becomes humourous, and eventually the feeling of riding a wave gets addictive in an “I can’t move my arms but just one more” type of way. There are still moments of indescribable panic but somehow this lessens and I’m finding myself wanting more. I’m still a little scared that I could drown but Tom doesn’t want me to worry because:

Victory

“You won’t drown…your wetsuit floats.”

Crash

Te Chirrepeco

As a lover of tea (especially chai), I was pretty ecstatic when Krista mentioned a cinnamon tea grown on a local cooperative in Guatemala. At her suggestion I asked our lovely host mom, Sonia, if she might be able to tell me where to buy Te Chirrepeco, and she was quick to tell me that she would buy and prepare it for Tom and I. I tried my best to dissuade her from actually buying the tea but she refused to listen—and every morning till the day we left there was piping hot cinnamony-goodness waiting for us!

This little box makes twelve cups of tea and costs about twenty cents. All that’s required is to boil some water with a few cinnamon sticks, add a few leaves and let it steep for a while. Not only does it taste amazing but, according to the cooperative website, some of the health properties include:

1. Strengthens mental capacity
2. Increases energy
3. It eliminates the bodies absorption of heavy metals like lead and mercury
4. Helps to reduce cholesterol levels
5. Contributes to the decrease in uric acid and much more

It is an absolutely divine tea and great for cold mornings in Xela. If you are interested if buying some I believe you should be able to order it here.

Wend Magazine, a great magazine dedicated to adventure travel with a focus on environmental issues, took notice of our blog post about one El Salvadoran police officer who couldn’t do without our Wend mag!

Thanks so much for mentioning us Wend, we really appreciate it.

We have been hard at work with our friends to create a website with the most up-to-date information for driving the Pan-American highway. When we began planning our trip we were frustrated with the lack of current information available so the four of us decided to create a site to fill the void.

After 2 weeks of computers, brain-storming, banana smoothies, scrapping ideas, coding (or learning code), writing and fireworks we have started www.drivetheamericas.com. We hope to encourage those who have driven, those who are driving and those who plan to drive to post up helpful tips, ideas, suggestions and anything else that would help a curious driver get on their way to driving the Pan-American Highway.

We have launched the site and hope that those of you out there who are looking for answers stop by and that those of you already on the road do too (we are looking for driving information for South America).

Our work environment was pretty ideal and provided the comfort we needed to really dig into this project so we owe Mango Rosa a big thank you. In between work bouts we found time to relax, read and plan for more upcoming travels.

I think I need to mention how amazing this team is…Tom brought his design prowess to the table, Kristin wrote tons of great content and also began her career as a coder and Chris, resident web-ninja, has been patient with all of us as we learn more about building a site–his enthusiasm definitely is a force to be reckoned with. We are really happy with the start of the site and aim to continue providing helpful and insightful information as well as a place for roadtrippers to connect.

And, of course, a website isn’t complete without a launch party…for those of you who were invited and couldn’t make it you missed out on a good time…drinks, laughs and cul de sacs.

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Cul de Sac Party

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