Panama; more than just a canal, by Nick
Time to press on from the beautiful country of "costa packet".
We left early-ish to try and beat a bit of the heat, but knew the journey out of the jungle would probably be a hot and sticky affair especially after all the rain we had the previous night/days plus it would take about an hour and a half of rough gravel/stones and inclines before we hit actual tar seal.
Nothing dries out so damp clothes were packed and wet trainers lashed to the top of bags, and all our gear ends up a little smelly.
We both really enjoyed this part of the journey and thought we were real adventurers on these gnarly roads until the locals came along, some 2 up, hurtling past in jandles and shorts!!
We made good time to the border and leaving Costa Rica and entering Panama was the easiest crossing we have done so far.
Panama was, I have to say, quite a pleasant surprise (at least the start was) a beautiful country of rolling jungle and productive farmland.
My research had pointed out that Panama roads were good BUT full of police speed /radar checks, thank-you “Waze" for saving me some money in fines!
We had decided to split the ride to Panama City in two as the time crossing borders is always an unknown quantity, so it was a pleasant night spent in a decent hotel (that was cheap) some 200 kms south east of the border run by an expat Italian couple. It had a real homely feeling and the meals we had there were outstanding and they even had decent beer and wine!
Following breakfast the next day, we geared up for the 7 hour trip to Panama City, the ride became one of endurance with soaring temperatures (40+deg c) endless dual carriageway at average posted speeds of 70kmh enforced by countless police along the way.
We even had our first stop of the whole trip so far and Inspection of paperwork.
Many water stops later we hit Panama City, crossing as we did, the Panama Canal…… wow!!!!
A vast kaleidoscope of shiney sky scrapers rose to greet us as we neared the centre, the complete opposite of what we had seen since crossing the border into Mexico two months ago. We were used to seeing ramshackle houses and horses pulling carts; not skyscrapers! On the flip side the dumped rubbish started to appear again too, as much, if not more than we had seen in Honduras. It lined the edges of the street, the parking lots, and it even lined the shores of the estuary. Some of the locals that we met were really very embarrassed about this.
It was time to navigate another city during rush hour with some mad driving/riding encounters to our first destination of the day The Overland Embassy warehouse, a company we had organised to fly the girls across the Darien Gap to Bogotá.
*For those of you that aren’t aware, the short (55miles) piece of land that joins Colombia and Panama is impenetrable jungle full of nasty animals, insects, reptiles and humans! There are no roads! So the only option of getting motorcycles to South America is to fly them or ship them in a cargo container.
We were greeted by the owners father (it really is a family affair) and little to no English he settled us in with water and the offer of food, use of their facilities to freshen up. The young guy that runs the place, Alejandro, finally arrived from the airport to finalise the paperwork. We removed and left all our pressurised gear at the warehouse as it’s not allowed on the plane and made arrangements to take the bikes to the cargo facility the following day.
Hotel time, (score again Bec) which turned out to be cheap but with a fantastic view out over the city. We didn’t need a lot of rocking, but before bed had to sort out a carry on bag of clothes to last us 3-4 days in Bogata as all our gear would be shrink wrapped onto the bikes in the morning, and we were not going to see the bikes for a few days as they waited for space on a plane.
To cap it all Bec was not feeling too flash and between frantic trips to the loo we finally fell in bed at 2 am.
Following morning…… bikes loaded we rode to the warehouse again, where we would follow the father in his land rover to the cargo area at the airport and customs to get our bikes exit stamped and T.I.P (temporary import permit) cancelled.
He reminded me of Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses and was always stopping to do “business“. We even halted for his breakfast which involved buying an empanada and beer (it’s good for the constitution he said) and it was only 9 o’clock in the morning; respect!
We left the bikes with the cargo boys, last time we were going to see them for a few days! And after strapping our riding clothes/boots and helmets to the bikes we went to customs where Del Boy had us in and out, paperwork stamped in 15 minutes flat, he has the gift of the gab and is a really likeable chap we had a good chinwag and a few laughs on the way back to the hotel where he dropped us off (all part of the service).
The rest of the day was free, so we went and had a look at the Panama Canal at the visitor centre, and watched as a couple of ships came through the locks followed by a film narrated by Morgan Freeman (with Spanish sub titles????) on the history of the canal, all very informative but quite bizarre.
An Uber ride back into town saw us taking a route through the ghettos of Panama where people sat in rubbish next to the side of the road and everything was falling to bits. We were treated to a riot against police; around 20 plus youths throwing bottles/anything at them!!
We knew something was up when the cabriolet next to us put his roof up.
A complete contrast to the skyscrapers and clean streets just down the road, this really is a country divided of haves and have nots.
The next day we had to look for a foldable map of South America and saw there was a shopping mall down the road from the hotel. It was the enormous and full of designer shops but empty of people ...very bizarre, especially as Bec wandered around shaking her head saying "look at all this stuff that no one needs".
Flights booked we then taxied to the airport for our dash across the Darien Gap to Columbia.
See you there……