Sorry to have kept you waiting.
The good news and the short story is that we now have four containers perched on their respective columns!
But it wasn’t all pretty.
Karina, the young Panamanian woman we hired to act as our agent and do the legwork did a great job. Thank you Karina. We have no complaints with her and will recommend her in the future. She is a dynamo, raising her three-year-old daughter, holding her real estate license, and going to school full time to become a lawyer.
She had a Dickens of a time at the port, working her way through the paperwork and fighting with the Powers That Be to ward off “price increases” and “additional fees.” But after two full days of unexpected haggling and sticking to her guns, she prevailed. The containers were loaded on the four trucks that she had arranged to transport the containers.
Karina and the trucks left the Port of Colon at midnight, rendezvoused with the crane in Panama City, and they all drove until 4:00 AM. They parked at the bottom of the mountain and the truck drivers took cat naps on the roofs of the containers. At first light they headed up the mountain.
I made sure to eat my oatmeal early. Karina called me before they arrived, and I was at the corner when they all pulled up. I was both elated and overwhelmed with the prospect of work that was ahead of me.
The crane driver pulled onto our lot and set up to off load the containers. The truck drivers all had to return to Panama City, pick up another load, and drive to the city of David on the other side of Panama. They were expecting to be unloaded in just minutes and to be on their way. But the crane operator wanted to place the containers as they came off the trucks. He struggled with the first container for a few hours; the crane wouldn’t hold pressure and a computer problem was finally diagnosed. I stayed out of the fray, but no amount of talking at the operator made any difference. He simply didn’t, wouldn’t communicate with anyone, even those of us who were attempting to help with the guide ropes. I think that he was so massively distressed, so incredibly flummoxed at his inability to make the crane do what he wanted it to do, it simply froze his brain. Or fried it in the hot sun.
After several hours mutiny was finally threatened by the truckers, and the operator agreed to get the remaining three containers off the trucks. Because of the malfunctioning crane, this in itself took several more hours. By 4:00 they were finally unloaded and placed so that the crane could get out of the lot. He promised to return the next day with a different crane.
Now, here is where we really had difficulty with the operator’s logic. The next morning at 11:00 he showed up with the same broken crane! Seems that no one at the crane place could find the key to the other crane so, against the advice of those around him at the time, so I am told, back he came in the broken one, as if determination alone would get the job done. He struggled all afternoon with the crappy crane. By 4:00 he had the first container in place. There were high-fives all around, and he tackled the next one. At 5:00, after much discussion with Karina, and after the operator nearly pulled one of the steel plates off its column and made a slash in the side of one of the containers, I made a gesture with my hand, passing it across my throat, the universal sign to let’s call it quits for the day. It felt really good; I should have done it when he arrived at 11:00!
Karina made calls to the owner of the crane and there was agreement to bring the other crane the next day. She also stated that another operator needed to accompany the other crane.
At 6:00 the next morning, the new crane arrived with a new operator and one of the owners of the company. He was very apologetic.
I say “new” crane, but it was a 1986 model and was somewhat tired itself. But by 11:30 the last container was in place.
Oh, I forgot to mention that the first crane had to have a threadbare tire changed. The second crane arrived with a run-flat tire that had shredded on the road, the remaining rubber flapping in the wind. The battery died in the second crane but fortunately they brought another one with them. And I had to make a run to town to buy a gallon of automatic transmission fluid. Additionally, because neither crane had power at much of a reach, both had to get off the solid driveway and got stuck in the soft dirt. A backhoe was needed to pull them each out of the quagmire. It took some doing, as there are four backhoes in town; three of them were broken down with one or another malady.
But in place the containers were, and Cynthia and I did our best to celebrate given the diesel smoke that was coming out our ears. We went out to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. Cynthia had the chicken in salsa crillo, a traditional Panamanian dish. I ordered my usual, the cheese ravioli in a tomato sauce. But to top the day off, I ate a few of the raviolis and said to Cynthia, “these taste different tonight.” Being tired, frustrated, and brain dead from three days of moving four containers, after eating about a dozen it struck me. The raviolis had no cheese stuffing! So I called the waitress over, told her, and she went to the kitchen and returned with the package of frozen pasta. She showed me that they indeed were cheese, so there must be cheese stuffing. It took some doing, but I finally cut one open and asked her to “show me the cheese.” Okay, now she understood. I ordered the corvina a la plancha, a sea bass type fish cooked on a wood plank on the grill.
There was an earthquake, a magnitude 6.2 between Panama and Colombia the next day, but fortunately we didn’t feel it. The containers didn’t shift and all was well. I was in the dentist chair in Panama City at the time. The next day I did some precise measurements, and with a three-foot crowbar, I was (surprisingly) easily able to move the containers a bit here and there to get a good, square job. I got the welder out and welded all the corners of the containers to the steel plates, and painted the bare metal with a good red-oxide primer.
Now the fun can begin. Next I am going to hoist the welder up on the roof of the two containers that adjoin, and run a bead the length of the containers.
Here are some photos: