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Panama

Filed Under The Americas '09


I hit the road early today and made for the Sixaola border crossing. Exiting Costa Rica and entering Panama was painless. Whole process took less than an hour. However, there is a bridge that spans the river dividing the two countries.

Its an old rail road bridge converted for vehicle and foot traffic. Loose planks have been placed on either side of the tracks for cars and people to pass over. If my bike’s front wheel should happen to slip between the boards or the rail it could get really ugly fast.

There was no way I was going to push and my legs are too short to Flintstone across, so it seemed to me the best way was to just go for it at speed and pray. I queued up on the bridge and waited for the longest time for all pedestrian traffic to clear on my side. The last thing I wanted to do was have to stop or slow. I took off and it went pretty well until I came up to a man pushing his bike on my side of the tracks. Had no choice but to stop and negotiate around him. After that, I was all over the place and almost lost it. Here’s the video:

After that the ride was nice. There is little need to ask directions in Panama. If you screw up (as I constantly do), everyone on the side of the road starts to wave at you and point. Made navigation very easy.

Panama is a really beautiful country. A lot like Cost Rica. However, the food so far has been horrible. Their main brew is called Atlas, and is undrinkable. Tried an old standby “Heineken”and it was worse. Not like what we have back home. But at least the place is cheap cheap cheap. My steak dinner was less than 10 bucks (sure it was only worth two, but still)

H


This morning I got a tour of the park. Monkeys, green snakes, sloths, exotic birds and fauna are said to be in abundance. But not today it seemed. We did see termites, ants, and a butterfly. But it was still cool to just wander through the jungle with my very hungover tour guide Bambi.

Termites:

Bambi had me try different fruits that he picked up off the ground or from the trees. “Go ahead try this. The monkeys eat this” I don’t know, looks little odd, are you sure its safe? But it was all good. Some of it was actually really tasty.

After awhile it started raining in buckets again. We decided to call it a day, and while I didn’t really get to see anything, hanging with Bambi was a good time. Back at the hotel, I was so soaked, I decided to spend another day here just to dry out. But tomorrow Ill have to iron ass it to Panama in order to make my flight to Colombia.

H


This morning it rained like mad. It did not stop for 12 hours. Hard solid rain. The kind of rain you can’t be under even for a moment and not get completely soaked. This kept me indoors for most of the day. I wanted to go visit the national park next door, but decided to just hang back and try again in the morning. The town seems to completely shut down in the rain. No body was around and the streets deserted. Not much to really do other than sleep I guess. Fortunately there is always something that needs to be fixed or adjusted while traveling so keeping busy was not a problem.

That night the rain finally cleared, and the same crew from last night were hanging out across the street again. There were some Indians as well. The locals thought it was cool, because they speak Indian and no one understands it. There was a pregnant girl pounding one beer after another. The other Indians in her group were talking with her and kept pointing at her very pregnant belly. I figured they must be trying to talk her out of drinking so much being with child and all. But I was wrong, and another beer was shoved in her hand as the conversation continued.

Cahuita is a small very cool tourist town. Nothing has been done to beautify the place for the tourist, and I think that is one of the reason I like it so much. The people here are incredibly friendly, and you can walk around with ease anywhere and strike up a conversation with anyone. Reminds me a lot of Belize. Pristine white beaches that extended under the jungle canopy, palms trees, clean blue water, and waves! Every beach town I’ve been to along the Caribbean side had no waves at all. It was like being on a lake. The only thing missing here was sun. Cahuita is surprisingly expensive though. You can go through money very quickly. Even the places the locals go to aren’t that cheap.

So tomorrow I try for the Parque Nacional Cahuita. Bambi, my tour guide promises me that Ill see huge amounts of wildlife. Can’t wait.

H


Back in Costa Rica and armed with maps. This should make travel much easier.

I took a red eye and flew in to San Jose early in the morning. Retrieved the bike from the very nice people who looked after it for me. I wanted to give them an extra $20, but they declined it. Great people. Next was another visit to Wild Rider. I figured they would know where I could get my tires swapped. (I brought a set of TKCs with me) Again, they were most helpful and sent me to a place just a few blocks away.

This time around Ill be doing more camping so I brought all the necessary gear with me. The bike is starting to look and feel a bit overloaded. I’m going to need to figure out how to redistribute the weight and/or ship some stuff back.

The next day I hit the road again and was confronted with my first challenge: How to get through San Jose. I of course immediately got on the wrong road and ended up heading in the opposite intended direction. Pretty typical for me. I back tracked and started again. Fortunately I had a detailed map of San Jose with me (now why didn’t I consult this first???) and was able to figure out the perfect route through. An hour later I was out.

I headed toward Limon on the Caribbean side. I’ve been to Limon before and I know it’s a hell hole and my opinion hasn’t changed the second time through. I continued on to Cahuita along the coast. The intent was to find a spot to camp, but it got way to late and had to hotel it. Upon arriving in town, a kid ran up to me and wanted to help me find a hotel. In this town it’s a no brainer for lodging, so I think I knew what he was really after. And sure enough, right after I pull up to hotel reception, I got the pitch: “What do you need: Mota, cocaine, shrooms, pills? Let me know Ill get it.” Damn, what do I look like? I just got here. Told him I just need some cold beer. “You have to go to the bar to get that.” Ok, sounds good.

Few beers later, it was time for some grub. I went to a restaurant that had a balcony area overlooking the street below. Im chowing down when suddenly there’s a gun shot in the street in front. The waitresses all run behind the bar for cover, while the rest of us gringos immediately head for the railing to see what’s going on. Let if be noted that self preservation is not necessarily on the top of list for gringos. The street is swarming with cops all racing every which way. Wonder what this was all about?

Later on I head back toward my hotel when a couple of guys who were hanging out in front of my hotel (they had been sitting there since I first arrived) asked me about my friend, the earlier kid who tried to sell me some junk. I told them I had no idea, and than asked them about the gun shot earlier. They started laughing. Turns out the kid was wanted by the police. The police were in hot pursuit and fired a shot at him. He was ok though. He disappeared in the jungle and got away. I guess this is a common occurrence.

I ended up hanging with the guys across the street for awhile. I learned that Cahuita is a hub for cocaine traffic heading north. These guys were seriously considering getting involved because the money is so good. But they would play it safe and just transport a kilo at a time. They figured you only hear about large busts on television where 500 kilos are seized. My take was that the consequences out weighed the gains. Nevertheless they wanted me to take notes on what gets searched at the Panama border and get back to them. I don’t think so.

Flashing the bird wasn’t my idea, but it is the ADVrider salute so what the hell.

Good to be back on the road.

H

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