Panama - Don't Stop! by David Hogg (1975-1980)

Panama City was our rainiest posting. Its climate may be summarized as three months hot and dry and nine months hot and wet. During the rainy season it sometimes rained all day. When that didn’t happen you could expect at least one heavy rainstorm every day.

In general, the drainage system could cope with the tropical rain, but you had to be prepared to meet local floods. The technique for driving through standing water was to go at moderate speed, keep up the engine revs (and pressure in the exhaust) and – above all – don’t stop!

Of course, sometimes you don’t have any choice about stopping. It happened to me once in Panama. My wife and children were in the car and we were driving home in the evening rush-hour traffic. A torrential rainstorm was just petering out into steady rain and we soon came to a flood at a low-lying crossroads.

As we entered the water, I remembered the drill, kept up the engine revs and crossed my fingers. Don’t stop! But, sure enough, our stream of traffic soon stopped. In a minute or two my engine cut out, and we were stranded in our low-slung car in the middle of the intersection.

After several futile attempts to restart the car, we took off shoes, rolled up our trousers and stepped in to the calf-deep muddy water. It was hard work, but we soon managed to push the car to a slightly higher side road. There the engine heat dried out the system and we could soon restart the car. We drove home by a circuitous route, and, once safely on our way, were quite pleased with our escape. The children thought it had been great fun.

We were still in an excited mood when we got home, and had to tell the story to Agnes, our ancient West Indian maid. Agnes listened wide-eyed and made appreciative “My”s and “Oh”s as we told our story. She showed increasing concern as our story unfolded, “ My, you didn’t go in to the water? What about the snakes?”

The word ‘snakes’ had a sobering effect, as Agnes explained that floods commonly drove the snakes, rats and other inhabitants of the underground drains into the surface water. In her view, we had done a very risky thing. That was enough for me and I never paddled in Panama floodwater again. If ever I was tempted, I just remembered Agnes’ words, “What about the snakes?”

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