The next morning, we had a decision to make. Two tow trucks were available, but one of them was $50 dollars more. The cheaper truck was not supposed to be in great shape though, and not wanting to be broken down on a broken breakdown truck, we decided to pay the extra. We sent a deposit via PayPal, and settled down to wait. It was around 4 hours drive from David to our location, so we weren’t going anywhere soon. We walked into town to kill some time as the afternoon dragged on. Now we realised we’d be getting there in the dark.
We’ve been on two other tow trucks since our trip started. Mostly for a short journey of no more than 15 minutes or so. This previous experience meant that I knew we would probably be travelling in the van on the back of the truck. Something that’s not allowed back in England. When our truck finally arrived it was 6pm.
It took some shunting to load the camper on as he wanted to put it on backwards, keeping Ruby’s heavy behind in the middle of the truck. As predicted, once we were loaded up we sat in the cab and the truck set off. Not only were we in the cab, but we were going backwards up the mountains roads, and soon it was dark too.
The drive was not pleasant. The road was not in the best condition and at times wasn’t paved at all. The camper pitched around all over the place, throwing us, our stuff and cats all over the floor. I don’t think our suspension has ever taken such a beating. Not only was it incredibly violent back there, but it was also incredibly long. It took 7 hours to reach the town of David. We did stop from time to time, for food and to retighten the straps that held us down as they kept loosening in a rather ominous way. As it approached 1am, we finally hit the smooth highway, and before long we were being unloaded in our place for the night outside the Volkswagen garage.
Alejandro was friends with the general manager here, Beto, and he had said we could stay there. We were exhausted from a stressful journey and after handing over the rest of the money, which added up to a grand total of $475, we set about rearranging our interior. The cats were not impressed at another night indoors, but we were parked next to an even busier road than the previous night, so there was little choice. In the morning we could come up with a plan.
We hung around waiting to meet Beto for a while, and when he showed up around midday he whisked us off to his restaurant and bought us lunch. He said we could keep the van at the garage and use the tools too. I wasn’t sure at the time whether it was a good or bad thing, but unlike previous times, we couldn’t stay in the camper. The garage alarm system would be set off with us living there at night. Therefore, after a quick hunt for accommodation which would be suitable, we found an air B’nB for the night. We packed up the cats and set off.
The place wasn’t far, only about a 15 minute walk and so we set off in the blazing afternoon sun with two angry cats, bags and a litter tray. After walking down a steep hill we arrived at a gated community. The security guard phoned our host and they turned up in their car. We loaded our stuff in and within a few minutes were at their house. The room had been advertised as having a garden, kitchen, laundry facilities and even a pool, which is great for a long term stay. After last time, we were under no illusions that we weren’t going anywhere fast. We decided that we needed somewhere safe for the cats and preferably somewhere that we could enjoy too. Why not make the most of being stuck after all?
The house was very clean and modern, with a huge open plan kitchen. We were shown to our bedroom with an ensuite. It looked nice enough. Being a gated community, there wasn’t much traffic so the cats would be safe. Our hosts were friendly enough, but we felt a little odd living in with two strangers. We had wanted somewhere with a kitchen, we weren’t going to eat takeaway for a month, but theirs was clearly, well theirs. There wasn’t really space for anyone else and when we got cleared a tiny patch of the fridge after asking, we couldn’t help but feel like intruders. It turned out the pool was on the other side of the community by the secured gate. Cameras monitored everything. I felt completely out of place, this wasn’t relaxing.
At the time though, it seemed like the best we were going to get and we asked if we could stay longer. They had another guest coming the following night, and in hindsight, I’m very glad. We paid one more night, at a higher price too I might add, but the next night we needed to move on. We decided to try a nearby hostel. While it wasn’t walking distance to the garage, it was doable on bikes. Despite the fact that it was further, it was probably easier as you didn’t have to contend with the monster hill. The hostel was pet friendly too and cheaper. Being a hostel, you know you’re going to be able to use the facilities too. It looked like it had a huge shared kitchen, which was a bonus.
So that meant on Friday morning, we piled all our stuff into a taxi pickup and headed over to Hostel Bambu. We met the owner Gregg in reception, who showed us around. I felt more relaxed already, nothing was awkward here. Our room was much more basic, but still had air conditioning, which was definitely welcome. We saved ourselves $5 by using the shared bathroom, it wasn’t a bad price and the internet was also super fast. We told Gregg we would be around a while, which he didn’t seem to mind, and got ourselves settled in. Another perk of the hostel was that there was a huge supermarket just a few minutes away. Back in the Air BnB, the nearest small shop was a good 20 minute walk. Frothy warm beer? No thank you. With the weekend rapidly approaching, we began to start the engine hunt.
We hesitantly messaged Nick, who had supplied our useless previous block. We reasoned that it wasn’t the company’s fault that the block wasn’t great, statistically what are the chances of two bad ones in a row? We also stuck a message on some of Panama Facebook groups as well as asking the Costa Rican Subaru manager, Jason, if he knew of anything. After putting the feelers out, we waited.
We decided that we would take our time. Previous breakdowns we have always been so desperate to leave that we threw everything back together and hit the road instantly. This time, we wanted to make sure everything was in order. We knew we had a bunch of other problems to fix which had been put off for some time. It was a week before we finalised anything on the engine. It always takes a while to sort these things.
It seemed like it would be coming from the States again, something that didn’t surprise me. Nick gave us a quote and we also got in contact with a freight forwarder recommended by Panama Subaru club. They were quick and easy to deal with and while Nick could get us an engine to the port, we would still need to get it through customs and 6 hours up north to our location. This company would do it all for us for the same price. We gave them the go-ahead and by the end of the day, we had paid. As we sat celebrating, having the first thing checked off our list, Jason messaged. He had an engine in Costa Rica, he could have it to us tomorrow and it was about $350, less than half the price. He really couldn’t have messaged at a worse time. The other company told me that our order had already been processed and we had no choice but to commit not only to the far more expensive but also to the far slower engine. What was a celebration was now rather tainted by the thought of how much money we could have saved if we’d waited just a few more hours. I tried to look at the good bits, we had no idea of the condition of the Costa Rican engine, maybe it was very high mileage, maybe it was worn out… but despite all the rationalisations, it felt like life was having a jolly good laugh at our expense.