We experience the final country in Central America, but have to bid farewell to the heroine of our tale. Dropping Annie off at the docks was gut-wrenching. 😦
Friday, February 16th (cont.)
Riding into my final Central American country really felt like an accomplishment. My total route through these 6 six countries only represents about 1,400 miles, but these are tough miles for lots of reasons. To put that number into perspective, I covered a similar distance in just two days from (Yukon Territory to Vancouver, BC) early on in this trip, powered only by Zebra Cakes. Ahhh…to be young again.
One of the first things that jumped out to me was the speed limit: 100 km/h! I hadn’t seen a triple digit sign since Mexico. Bananas anyone?
I didn’t have too far to go, having reserved a place in David. On border crossing days, I usually don’t plan on making significant progress beyond the border. It is impossible to know how long they will take.
My home for the evening was Bambu hostel. I was sort of unsure about the nature of the room I had reserved. It was in the “Jungle House.”
At $10/night, the rustic conditions did not bother me in the least.
I made a simple supper and met a whole host of other traveler’s. As I’ve said before, one could easily write volumes about the people one meets along a journey. In the interest of brevity, I will just share one quick story:
A group from Cairn College in Pennsylvania was staying at the hostel. Their leader, Stephen, heard that I was from Nebraska and asked me which part. It came to light that his mother actually lives in Norfolk, my proud hometown. It’s a small world (or at least a small state). 🙂
Saturday, February 17th
The Jungle House has a warning sign, which proved to be prophetic.
By 4:30am, there was already a chorus of cock-a-doodle-dooing. Ear plugs fixed most of the issue, but I had to fight my innate inclination to put my boots on and go find some cows to milk.
As I cooked breakfast, the kitchen was visited by the local coati, William.
William is actually a female, but no one has bothered to change her name yet.
I was initially planning on reaching Panama City this day, but I was unable to finish writing an update by the time check-out time arrived. I felt very welcome at this hostel, so staying an extra night was an easy decision.
My day passed easily and lazily, occupied by lots of good conversations. I was party to a fascinating discourse on Oprah’s fashion choices, and now now feel thoroughly equipped with talking points should the subject present itself again.
Also arriving this day was a fellow moto-traveler, my new South Korean friend, Ahn.
He has been travelling a similar amount of time as me. He shipped his bike, a 500cc Royal Enfield, to Argentina and has been making his way north. He’s had a lot of mechanical issues and doesn’t speak Spanish, but he was still in great spirits. We were both able to share good insights about the road to come.
I got some laundry done…
….and had a thoroughly relaxing day.
Sunday, February 18th
Time to get back on the road.
I have a number of observations of this stretch. Perhaps first and foremost was the amount of law enforcement. Some of them have motorcycles, but many are just standing in a shady spot along the side of the road wearing a bright yellow shirt.
There was also a change in vehicles, especially with regard to motorcycles. I had seen so few big bikes in Central America, but here there were numerous locals on 1,000cc+ machines. I’m not sure about the rest of the roads, but the Pan-American is wide and straight in this country.
I also had a new experience: Getting stopped at a police checkpoint. I’ve driven through countless such spots in Central America, but each time I’ve just been waved through. This time, however, one of the officers was a real motorcycle fan. Upon directing me to stop, he only had questions about the bike. He glanced briefly at my passport, before returning to our conversation and soon asked for a marker.
He showed me the keys for his police Suzuki (a 650 V-Strom, I think). I told him that it would only be fair if he let me sign his bike, but that seemed to be contrary to protocol. 🙂 It was a pleasant stop with these guys.
The Bridge of the Americas crosses over the Panama Canal, bringing one into Panama City.
(I wrote up a brief history of the canal, but I’ll save that for my next post when I visit it.)
My hostel, Hostal Amador, was located in the old Canal Zone. I didn’t know it when I checked in, but this place would become one of the most long term residences of my whole trip. It was comfortable, clean and the staff were excellent.
Monday, February 19th
The hostel had a great kitchen…
….where I made many interesting concoctions….
….but the branding on the dish rack was a bit questionable.
Food is more expensive in Panama City, so I made all sorts of improvised solutions.
This day was completely spent trying to choose my method of getting Annie and I into South America. At this point, my storytelling will kind of diverge. I am making another post which goes through all of the steps of that process (link here when it’s done). In this post, I will focus more on daily happenings.
I decided on sharing a shipping container as my means for rounding the Darien Gap. This is usually the cheapest method, but is also logistically the most complicated. I went with an agent named Tea, who helps to coordinate the process.
In the evening, I met a group of Lutherans on a mission trip. They were so kind, friendly and interested in what I was doing. I had lots of good conversations over the next couple of days, both with the group in general and with some of its individual members.
They bought me a little poker chip from the Harley dealership in town. I’ll have to find a place to affix it once I have Annie back.
Tuesday, February 20th
An inspection is required before being allowed to ship a vehicle out of Panama. I arrived at the inspection station at 7:30 and waited about three hours for my turn. During this time I got to meet lots of great people, including Andres and German from Argentina, the guys with whom I was going to be sharing a shipping container (though this would change later). I also met some of the others who were working with the same agent.
I also met some fellow bloggers, Elizabeth and Jeff from Travel Ur Dreams. It was a lot of fun talking to them about their adventures with their trusty Jeep Cherokee, Eldo. They were shipping off to Belgium next to continue their adventure in Europe. One of my favorite things about their blog is that they really personify their vehicle. It makes me feel like less of a weird person. 🙂
My inspection lasted less than five minutes. He pretty much checked the VIN number and sent me on my way. In the afternoon, it was time to pick up the document. I got a little lost on the way, but found some nice views of the city. Panama City is perhaps the only city in Central America with a true skyline.
I got to the office around 2pm and waited until around 4:30 for my document. I try not to become frustrated about the diminutive value placed on people’s time down here, but it does seem kind of counterproductive. The five hours I spent waiting this day could have been hours when I was out spending money in the city (Well…not me, exactly, since I don’t really spend money, but a generic tourist usually does.)
After finally receiving my document, I felt a little bit of pressure. I had to be in Colon the next day (about an hour away) to drop off the bike, but I was still searching for my quintessential Panama picture. I wanted Annie to be a part of it. I went over the bridge of the Americas, where there is a big monument to Panama-China friendship (of course).
The view was OK, but not perfect. I decided that I would get up early the next day and try to catch a picture with a ship along the canal.
I spent that night making the tough decisions of what items to leave with Annie and what to take with me. I knew we would be apart for at least five days, but wanted to have as little with me as possible. I basically just packed all my electronics and three sets of clothes.
Wednesday, February 21st
A day of guilt.
Today would be the day when I would abandon my baby at the docks, hoping that we would meet again soon. I woke really early, since I knew I wanted one more shot at finding a passable Panama picture. I was on the road around 6am to try to complete this quest.
Close to Panama City, there’s just one place where the road runs close to the canal. It is near the Pedro Miguel locks. I waited for as long as I could, hoping to catch a ship passing. One went by on the far end of the locks and I got a couple pictures.
Not ideal, but satisfactory considering my time frame. The road between Panama and Colon was one of the fastest, smoothest stretches that I had ridden in Central America.
Indeed, it may have been my first time surpassing 80 mph in the isthmus.
I had been switched to a different container the day before. I would now be sharing a 40 foot container with the following people: Severine and Margeaux from Switzerland in a VW van, two bikers from Argentina (names) making their way home after a long trip, two bikers from Mexico (names) trying to get down to Patagonia before the weather turns. So in total: One van and five bikes.
We had arranged to meet at the office of our shipping company at 8:00am. At the risk of perpetuating stereotypes, I thought our arrival times were mildly amusing: The Swiss people were there at around 7am. The American (yours truly) showed up at 7:55am. The Argentinians rolled in around 8:25am. The Mexicans? I’m not sure when they arrived as we only met up later. 🙂
I will write lots about this day in the step-by-step shipping document that I’m working on (link here when it’s done), so I’ll be more brief here. Through all of the confusing steps, I was really grateful to have my “container companions” who all spoke Spanish very well. The frustration that can come with waiting and confusion was mitigated by swapping stories from the road.
I took off Annie’s windshield (which would stay with me), Sonic, the mirrors and got her all ready to be packed up. I thought about bringing Sonic with me, but didn’t trust my Spanish enough to explain a “hood ornament whirligig” made of metal when passing through the airport security line.
Security sniffing (sorry for the blur)
One last look:
It was really tough walking away.
We took a taxi to the bus station. I’m not sure if you will believe me or not, but this was the very first time in my life riding in a taxi.
The driver’s personal form of evangelism was to play Christian music and gradually raise the volume at each stop light. It was nearly uncomfortably loud by the end of our ride.
The bus back to Panama city was just $3.15.
It was close to a four mile walk back to the hostel, but I didn’t have much else to do.
My evening was punctuated with the standard break-up procedure: Beer, ice cream and crying myself to sleep.
I’ll stop there for now. Unfortunately, this story is about to get much more complicated.
Stay attached to inanimate objects, everybody.
Realtime update: I could write another 2,000 words here. I’ve made it safely to Cartagena, Colombia, but Annie’s status is still up in the air. We were supposed to have our vehicles by yesterday at the latest, but now it looks like it might be next week sometime. Neither the shipping company nor my shipping agent have been very helpful. I’m trying to stay positive and keep my three pairs of underwear clean. It’s hard being stranded without the bulk of my belongings.