We are in Panama.

We crossed from Costa Rica into Panama at the delightfully mal-organized Sixaola border crossing. Imagine you had a 200 metre long, single track, derelict railway bridge that spanned the Sixaola river between Costa Rica and Panama, and you wanted to convert it into a road crossing.

The sensible thing to do would be to remove the railway tracks, lay down a road surface and a sidewalk, install traffic lights to control the alternate one way traffic flow, and create a customs and immigration compound well clear of the bridge at each end. How boring. What they actually did was leave the tracks, nail down a few planks on the railway ties (sleepers), put the immigration and customs on the embankment at each end of the bridge and forget about the traffic lights and the sidewalk. That way you get to drive over loose slippery planks whilst pedestrians hang on the the metalwork as they try to get out of you way. Don't even think about what happens when you meet an 18 wheeler coming the other way.

Luckily when we arrived at the border there was nothing coming the other way, so for an hour and half we blocked one of the two border crossings between Costa Rica and Panama.

The 30 cm crack in one of Mog's wheels.I know that everybody has been worried in case Mog's wheels break in two before we reached San Jose to collect the new ones (well I for one have been, every time we hit a pot hole!). The good news is that Mog now has two new un-cracked wheels, the bad news is that we had to wait four days before they were able to fit the wheels and sort out some of K-Nine's problems.

We arrived at the massive Mercedes garage (Autostar Vehiculos N 09.949225 W 84.093752) in La Uruca on the outskirts of San Jose on Wednesday the 19th. Unfortunately because of the backlog after the Easter holiday we were told our work could not start till Friday. So after spending Wednesday night and most of Thursday at the nearby Belen Trailer Park (N 09.980015 W 84.178432) we returned to the garage and spent both Thursday and Friday nights parked within the garage. As you can see Ann did not allow our unusual environment to lower the standard of our gourmet dinning experience (although for reasons of safety we did dispense with the customary candelabra).

In addition to Mog's new wheels, K-Nine had a jammed security lock removed, the fridge re-charged with gas, the front anti-roll bar mountings replaced and the brake squeal fixed (unsuccessfully).

We would particularly like to thank Mr. Eduardo Roriguez S.. who although not directly involved in the Mercedes side of the garage, was extremely helpful to us. Thank you.

But what about the orchids and snakes I hear you ask.

Before we left Costa Rica we visited the world renowned Jardin Botanico Lankester (the hosts of the 2007 IOCC "2nd International Conference Neotropical Orchidolog" March 19th to 24th 2007, book early). As well as admiring their orchids we camped in their car park (N 09.840208 W 83.888303) and so should you if you are passing.

As you probably know there has been a dramatic increase in the number of snake bites in Central America in the last fifteen years. This was predicted (exclusively) by Mr. Minor Camacho Loaiza in 1990.

Frustrated by the Costa Rican government's inactivity, Minor set up a snake research center where he developed his own technique for protecting agricultural workers from snake bites.

To help fund this research he opens his snake centre to visitors, where he demonstrates the "nearly" safe technique of getting away from an angry snake! Worth every cent of the $7 USA he charges for a two hour talk and demonstration. Not to be missed, it could save your life! (N 09.900037 W 83.627582).

Note that the two snakes on the grass are both highly venomous and one of them is capable of leaping about two metres.

Stephen Stewart.

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