Monthly Archives: October 2008

Diary of the darkness

Diary of the Darkness

This is so utterly insane. I am writing this by flashlight, which is dumb enough, but I am doing this to avoid going completely insane.

The water went out early in the morning. The power went out early afternoon.

The wind is still howling and the rain is pelting down. On top of everything else I am very worried about the state of the huge trees towering over the house. Five straight days of these gale force winds has to be weakening those giant limbs. If they come down I can only hope they fall away from the house.

Second straight day with no power. The food in our fridges is no doubt spoiled by now, along with my very expensive insulin. No internet. No TV. Nothing to do. I texted a friend earlier today asking her to call the power company, but she said they have no idea when power might be restored. It will obviously be sometime tomorrow at best. Even our cell phones aren’t working for some unknown reason. They just show “emergency calls only.” Even text messages need to be sent over and over before they go through.

It’s obvious that the infrastructure here is crumbling. Boquete is Broken should be the new slogan. Already suffering from the meltdown in the US economy, Boquete cannot afford a reputation of not being able to provide the most basic of services. People coming from Europe or the States expect a certain level of basics, like water and power, and Boquete is fast proving to be completely unreliable in providing them.

Even the much talked about takeover of Direct TV by the mighty SKY TV has proven to be a disaster. Calls to their service department that our service was out, long before the power went out, were answered with it might be anywhere from one to three days before they could come out. It’s been two days now and no response. Not much point when there’s no power anyway.

Third straight day with no power. My flashlight gave out around 9:30 last night and my two remaining candles also died, so there was little left to do but go to bed. I slept fitfully, not knowing what tomorrow would bring.

Other than my flashlight and candles, my one saving grace was that I had propane to heat water and to cook. When I put my water on for coffee this morning the flames were orange, which is usually a sign that the propane is about to run out. I have no phone to call for more and can only pray that the power is restored so I can charge my phone. I also only have a couple of dollars left on the phone so I have to choose who I call very carefully. My dimming phone still shows “emergency calls only” so I don’t know if I will even be able to make a call anyway.

Tomorrow being Saturday, who knows if anyone will be working on either restoring power or SKY TV. It’s all so very third-world and unbelievably frustrating.

The winds, although still brisk, have finally died down a little. The sun is still not out and the valley is shrouded in mist, obscuring any view of Boquete. With the wind and rain it was hard to tell, but last night it looked like the only power on was those businesses who had generators. If that’s true no doubt they will be the priority when it comes to restoring power. The needs of our little neighborhood will mean nothing.

It’s getting dark and still no power. I talked to my tenant who said I was right about last night. He was told that something major had happened to the main transmission line from David and that it should be fixed sometime today, but it’s Panama, so that means nothing. There’s never a sense of urgency about anything here so who knows if anyone is even working on the problem.

David did bring me some desperately needed candles plus a couple of bags of ice. I wrapped my insulin in a bag with some ice, so hopefully it will survive a little longer. No sign of my Magaly who was supposed to be bringing me some food and more phone minutes yesterday, but never showed up. My phone is dead now so she might have texted me. I’m a little disappointed that no one has shown up to check whether I am alive or dead, but this no power thing is a challenge for everyone, I guess.

Just when I thought I was truly alone in the world and no one cared, Amilkar showed up. His father’s house has power so he emptied out my fridges and took whatever food has not already spoiled to put in his father’s fridge, plus he took my dead phone and flashlight to charge.

He explained that the winds had apparently taken out six transmission towers on the main line. Power was restored only to the downtown area at 3:00 in the morning last night, but most of the surrounding areas still had no power. Apparently a tree took out a transformer at the end of our street and that is why we don’t have power. He spoke to an engineer from the power company who said crews were going crazy trying to get the power back on everywhere. He said we could still be without power for days.

We are truly living in the dark ages here. You don’t realize how critical electricity is until you don’t have it for days on end. No refrigeration. No TV. No lights. No appliances. No internet. No computer (mine died days ago). Absolutely nothing to do. I finished a 231 page book, start to finish, yesterday. I got all my paperwork sorted and filed. All that’s left to do is sit for hours, listening to the wind howl and praying for power. It is an incredibly helpless feeling when there’s not a damned thing you can do about it.

At least some people can jump in their cars and find a restaurant that’s still open to eat or a bar to watch TV to keep them occupied. I have no car, no money and can’t leave the house because of my situation with my Visa. I am a virtual prisoner in my own house. Oh how I long for the civilization of Canada.

Magaly did finally show up and brought me a much needed loaf of bread and more phone minutes. She managed to take $20 out of the bank for me, but that’s probably all that was there. If and when the power is back I need to go online and see if I am completely broke.

Sixth straight day with no power. Dangerously low on food now. Obviously everything that was in the fridge is suspect. The ice protecting my insulin melted and I don’t know whether or not to chance taking it. This blackout could well end up killing me.

Amilkar learned that this was all caused when the gale force winds brought trees down on six steel transmission towers, snapping them like twigs. Some ninety homes in David have been damaged by falling trees. Even on his own finca a three foot around tree was brought down. Despite everything it makes me feel a bit better that the huge trees above the house are still standing.

Not only has this ongoing blackout been a nightmare for residents, but it has also driven out the only tourists we were lucky enough to have. Between howling winds, no power and how unbelievably cold it’s been, who can blame them for leaving? Tourism was already off drastically and this at the normally high time of the year. This is the last thing Boquete needed right now. It will unquestionably force many companies who depended on normally high season to go out of business, not to mention all those Expats who will rethink their decision to have second homes here or retire here. The scope of this disaster, coming on the heels of the massive flooding last November, may well spell disaster for the future of Boquete.

Regardless of how unusual the weather has been for this time of year, the failure of Union Fenosa to act swiftly to restore power is a clear sign that the infrastructure here cannot cope with the demands. Their response to the thousands of phone calls was not to put more people on the lines; no, they just stopped answering the phones. What people are suffering through is bad enough. To not be able to even question when power might be restored, so that you can plan accordingly, is extremely callous on the part of Union Fenosa. It clearly shows how little they were prepared for this to happen and how little they care for their customers. The joys of being a monopoly.

It is beyond chaotic today. I am now out of one of my meds and my insulin is questionable so I had no choice but to go to Boquete for food, meds and more ice. After a quick shave and shower in the dark, downing the last of my bread and coffee, I started trying to call a taxi. For over two hours all I got was “limited service” or that the calls could not be completed. Still recovering from my surgery I cannot handle walking up the road to try to get a taxi on the main road. I also have a grand total of a dollar in change that I managed to scrounge up so I don’t even have enough to pay them. This is beyond third-world and more than words can describe what it’s like to live through all of this.

As if all of this has not been a living hell, while I was in town I overheard someone saying that the reason we had no electricity is that the contractor who works for Union Fenosa basically went on strike, demanding more money to continue working. I prayed this was not true, but on the way back I asked my taxi driver, a fellow very much in the know about things and he said it was true.

Low and behold when I got back to the house the power was on! None of the lines on our street ever went down. They estimate it was about a ten minute repair to fix the damaged part. Six days with no power for a ten minute repair. Only in Panama!

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