Let me clarify. There is nothing wrong with Boquete. It is nice to visit for a few days. We enjoy the landscape and flowing sound of the river running through the center of this mountain community, along with the cooler weather. Mikkel visits occasionally mainly for promoting his business products at the Tuesday Morning Market and touch base with his product dealers. I tag along to support him.
But it seems that every time I go to Boquete, we have car trouble. When Mikkel goes alone or with his business partner, the vehicle runs fine. It doesn’t matter if it is our car or a rental. Something always goes wrong – flat tire, overheating engine, dead battery, alternator not working. This last time, the serpentine belt broke and shredded due to a failed bearing. But first let me apologize for the lengthy posting I have written that you are about to read; I just felt I had to write all this so my readers can get the whole picture of what we experienced these past few days. Hopefully you will understand why I think I shouldn’t go to Boquete anymore.
Mikkel and his business partner Tim had driven our car to Panama City for the previous 3 days for a Tourista convention. The plan was for me to meet them in Divisa, where the highway to the Azuero Pennisula meets with the PanAmerican highway. I had Tim’s car and he would then switch with me and return home while I joined Mikkel and continued on to David where he had a business appointment. From there we would go up the mountain to Boquete for the Tuesday Morning Market. Mikkel was the guest speaker, giving a presentation on entrepreneurship. I would man the table to sell our products that weren’t already being sold there at other dealer’s tables. I hadn’t gone to Boquete for awhile, so it would be a nice little vacation.
When I arrived in Divisa, I found Mikkel and Tim standing over the opened hood of our car; the serpentine belt was hanging down below. Mikkel had previously called our friend Dave who was an auto mechanic in the states and assured him that as long as he had battery power, Mikkel could continue to drive the car. I really wasn’t sure that was a good idea, but Mikkel insisted that because we had a heavy-duty battery and he had to be in Boquete on Tuesday, that he was going to continue on to Santiago or even David where he could get the battery recharged and possibly a better chance of finding someone to fix the car. Reluctantly I agreed to go with him. But this was Sunday. Later I thought we should have just driven to Chitré and rent a car there, but it was too late; I was already committed and on our way.
So off we went. We stopped in Santiago for lunch at Subway, and then looked for a shop that might be opened to re-charge the battery; everything was closed. We continue on the PanAmerican highway toward David. For the last 2 years the highway between Santiago and David has been under construction for widening. In the past, we have taken the bypass through the town of Soná, a longer and more winding road, but without any construction. This time we decided to take the more direct way. Other than one small old section filled with potholes, the drive was smooth-going. Without a serpentine belt, the air conditioning was turned off. Fortunately it was a cooler day, so with the windows opened, it wasn’t too bad; fortunately it wasn’t raining, only a few sprinkles in one short area. We stopped about halfway to get gas with no problems.
Then about 40 kilometers outside of David, the gauges stopped working. Then the engine power slowed down going up a hill. Mikkel described it as a “baby could crawl faster”. He just kept praying we could make it up the hill while others behind us slowly followed and past when they could on a two-lane highway with no place to pull over. We did make it up the hill and the car sped up as we went down the other side. But when we arrived to the small town of San Lorenzo, about 30 kilometers from David, everything started shutting down and going crazy. Luckily there was a gas station across the highway where we were able to pull in before the car died completely. The battery was dead and the station had no battery charger. Now what were we going to do?
We could call our insurance company for roadside assistance to tow us to David, but that could take a few hours or even more, plus we didn’t know where they could tow the car. Having made some friends who live in David, Mikkel first called my blogger friend Kris, but he could only leave a voice message. Then he called our other friend Don who also writes a blog and is the U.S. Embassy warden for the David area. He was able to share a contact for a taxi driver who works on Sunday and speaks good English as well. Don also was kind enough to offer to charge our battery overnight since he had a battery charger.
We called Delvin, the taxi driver, who was willing to come to San Lorenzo to pick us up. While waiting, Mikkel called Thrifty car rental in David and reserved a car after finding out they would be open. Delvin showed up about a half hour later. We loaded our suitcases and battery into the taxi; Delvin explained to the gas station attendant and the police who just happened to drive in to fill up on gas that we had to leave the car overnight due to the dead battery but would return. Off we headed for the car rental agency at the airport in David having a great conversation with Delvin along the way. He is an English teacher for a primary school while driving a taxi part-time to support his own continued education to teach in high school. When we arrived at the airport, Delvin only charged us $30. We will definitely keep his contact number for future reference. The car rental agent greeted us kindly and soon we were off in a small rented compact. We stopped at Don’s house to drop off the battery; then had dinner before finally arriving at our reserved accomodations for the night (Little Italy B&B outside of David). Mikkel canceled his business appointment for the next day, knowing we would have to deal with the car issue. Before going to sleep, we discussed several options as to what we would do the next day, but it all depended on if the car would even start after hooking up the charged battery.
In the morning, Mikkel decided he was no longer comfortable driving our car back home without a serpentine belt. I had reservations the night before on that idea, unsure that the car would even make it back to Santiago where we would plan to stay an extra night to recharge the battery. We bought a small battery charger at Do-it-Center in David for that scenario. Our friend Kris had then emailed us and gave us the name of her mechanic Venturo, just outside of David. Having thought we might have to leave the car for several days in David to get fixed, and knowing we had a car full of products for the Tuesday Morning Market, we decided to trade our small rental in for a larger SUV and a one-way drop off in Chitré in 3 days. Mikkel could take the bus back when our car was fixed. After exchanging cars, we picked up the charged battery and drove the rented car back to San Lorenzo. Mikkel connected it to our car and it started up. Yeah! I followed him back to David and we stopped at the Honda dealer (one of two dealers in all of Panama, the other in Panama City). They did not have the parts we needed but could order them, quoting a cost of $120 just for the belt, not for the other part needed or labor, and it would take 15 days. We said we may be back, but then continued on to Kris’ mechanic after switching all our gear in our car to the rental. Venturo has his business behind his house out in the countryside. But thank God for Kris’ directions and recommendation. We left the car with him after showing the problem and explaining in Spanish how long it would take the Honda dealer. He chuckled and assured us it would not take that long. Mikkel had saved the pieces of the serpentine belt showing the part number which was probably a big help for Venturo.
Off we went in the rental to Boquete, spending the night at Boquete Garden Inn where we have previously stayed and who sells some of our guides and maps. Previously we had met a couple from Florida who lived in Boquete and invited us to dinner at a restaurant called “The Rock”. It is located just down the road from the B&B. We had heard about this restaurant, but never had eaten there. Monday nights they have live jazz music. Although it was loud, the food was delicious. We had a good time talking with our friends. Now that we had a plan in place to fix the car, we could enjoy the evening.
The next morning after breakfast, we went down the road to the Tuesday Morning Market, set up our table, and were opened for business. Mikkel then checked on the room and equipment needed for his presentation and when the time arrived for it, he left me in charge of any sales while he was sharing his information to the attendees. Soon after he was finished and had returned to our product table, I received a call from Kris. When the mechanic tried to call Mikkel but did not get an answer, he called Kris. She in turn called me to let us know that the car was ready. Wow! In less than 24 hours! When I reported this to Mikkel, he wouldn’t believe me; he thought I was pulling his leg. I think he called Kris back just to make sure it was true. Then he discovered that he had a “what’s app” message from Venturo with a picture of the serpentine belt on the car and the bill which came to a total of $94.63 including parts and labor. This is something we had never anticipated. Even in the U.S. it would take a few days and cost a lot more. So afterwards, we packed up the rented car, had lunch, and headed down the hill to the mechanic. He greeted us with a smile, showed us what he had done and the bill for the cost of the serpentine belt and bearing which he replaced instead of the whole mechanism surrounding the bearing which the Honda dealer probably would have done. Mikkel paid him $100 stating he can keep the extra for cerveza. We thanked him and off we went back to return the SUV to Thrifty car rental in David after again switching everything from one car to another. This time we had more because we had stopped at PriceSmart before going up to Boquete and loaded up with several items to take back home. Mikkel said our car’s engine was sputtering a little and claimed that it sounded like we may had received some bad gas. But that seemed to clear up soon afterwards and we had no problems returning home.
As we drove back on the highway, I gave God thanks for His protection and how everything worked out. Although we really should have not driven the car without the serpentine belt, a safe place in San Lorenzo was provided for us when the car died. Both our cell phones were low on battery power, but there was enough charge for us to make calls to our friends, the taxi driver, and for the car rental. Don was home to answer and had a battery charger we could use. The taxi driver was available that Sunday afternoon and willing to drive 30+ kilometers to rescue us. Thrifty Car Rental was open that Sunday evening and was very flexible with our continued changing requests. Our good friend Kris had a good mechanic she could recommend to us. And to our surprise, he was quick to fix the car and it didn’t cost an arm and leg as well. On top of all this, it rained heavily for about an hour outside of Santiago. If we drove back as originally planned without the serpentine belt, our car would have surely died out in the countryside in the rain due to the use of the windshield wipers and headlights needed during the rainstorm. As I have reported before, when it rains, it really rains here- thunder, lightening, and a deluge. God, once again, certainly watched over us and saved us from what could have been a worse situation.
This morning I woke up by loud thunder and lightening, so loud the our dog Bella insisted on jumping on the bed and laid between us trying to hide as she shook and panted in fright. She is not let up on our bed usually, but she would not move. A big rainstorm came through Pedasí lasting for over 4 hours. I like the much needed rain, but like Bella, not so much the thunder and lightening. I am grateful that I have a nice bed to sleep in and a comfortable home to keep us safe and dry. Again I can chalk up this whole past adventure to part of our journey in “our third life” here in Panama. Oh, since things worked out the way they did, maybe I will consider going to Boquete again some day, but not for awhile.