Panama

3/14/13

Unfortunately Panama has closed the rickety Sixoula bridge so we have to take the fancy military bridge over into Panama….boring.

The original dilapidated rail bridge that has since been closed.

There are 3 things we have to do. Buy Insurance, get passport stamped, and import bikes and it must be done in this order….supposedly.

Insurance lady is on lunch so we wait in the rain. Thirty minutes later she shows up and spends another thirty minutes to get our policies completed ($15/each for insurance).

American Dollars!!

Off to the passport stamping booth we are second in line and it still takes 30 minutes to complete the both of our passports by two grumpy individuals (no charge). However, the police office next door will gladly accept $3 to let you cut in front of the line and have them stamp your passport. I found this out from a tour bus driver who brings his “guests” here so he can depart quickly.

Then import the bikes. Again we are 2nd in line. Give them all required paperwork and wait about an hour as we walk from the window to the edge of the building to keep an eye on the bikes. This is without a doubt an impoverished area. People aren’t “glaring” too much but you can tell life is hard.

Back on the bikes it is now 2:00 PM. We have 140 miles to ride to Boquete. So we tear out of there on a mission.  I few miles later we are stopped by the police. SLOW DOWN!! No ticket, nice and friendly, just slow it down.

Slow for a few miles and then get through the next little town and we have to pick up this pace to make it before nightfall. Flying across a bridge we get stopped again. SLOW DOWN!! No ticket, nice and friendly, just slow it down. The fact that it was a bike cop probably didn’t hurt.

We make it off the shoreline and start into the jungle. Just incredible!! About 500 feet off the sea and maybe ½ mile inland you can see the island of Boca Del Toro on the left just on the horizon. The aqua blew sea is very inviting but I know the temperature and humidity levels down there so I’m good with the current position.

We are deep in the rainforest with any significant towns for miles around. Just machete yielding men working in the farms down below their small wooden huts with thatched roofs on the hillsides. The road is of decent condition, low traffic, but it is raining. We climb high into the cloud forest where the temperature drops significantly and the rain continues to beat down relentlessly. Soon every corner you complete there is a waterfall where once it was just an inclined stream. The water is rushing down the mountain and it seems like a landslide could happen at any time. As we climb higher the road deteriorates with sunken reliefs that you jump off of and then crush your front rim on the other side. I am loving every single minute of this. It is truly what I came here for.

At some point we made it over the mountain pass and dropped down into high desert, sunshine, rainbows, and distant cloud cover. Only 40 miles to go. Exorbitant winds almost remove us from our bikes and off the road but we manage to quickly drop roughly 3,000 feet and then head west to Boquette. Back on a main highway we turn north for the last 10 miles and roll into Boquette unscathed.

The town appears nice and safe down in this mountain bowl and we stop at our first hostel on the list. I’m loving the Triumph and Royal Enfield in the driveway of the house but the price is just too steep @ $32.

We move up the road to another where the price is even higher….Well maybe this is just a higher priced town and we have to suck it up. But first we must try one more.

Jump on the bike, down the little street that T’s into main. I briefly glance up the street to my right (into town), look left; there are cars but I can easily make it as can Al. I take a sweeping right turn and end up about 3 feet from the centerline of the road. Right in front of me is a Truck, he is moving fast and ¾ of the way in my lane, All I can do is lean right and hope he sees me because I can’t correct this much. He pulls hard on the wheel and the trucks suspension dips hard as he cuts back to his lane. It is not enough, not in time, and I brace for impact.

KAFUCKING BOOM!!! I miss the front grill but I nail the rear quarter of the truck, fly over the handlebars and the end of his tailgate. Holy son-of-a-bitch I’m still kicking and glad to be here. I hop right up full of adrenaline with no idea what to do next.

A kid who is at the same intersection facing me on the other side jumps out of his car and runs over to help….he asks me if I’m okay. “I think so”. I check my body over, fingers and my wrist are quite sore but that seems to be it. Right behind me Al slammed on his brakes, skidded, and dropped his bike.

We’ve got two men and two bikes down and a 4-door Toyota Hilux with a ridiculously large dent in the rear quarter panel on main street in the middle of Panama.

I ask the kid if he speaks Spanish. Yep, perfectly bilingual. I am in some great luck here because the truck driver doesn’t speak a lick of English. Al tells me that the truck driver said something about get the bike out of the street or the cops are going to come. I am very hesitant to move a vehicle that was in an accident in this country because I just heard that it is automatic jail time if this is done in Nicaragua. I’m rather dazed and just say screw it and get the bike out of the street.

The kid tells me to look over my bike and my body and see if there are any major problems. The truck driver seems a little nervous and I can tell he is thinking that it is his fault. I honestly didn’t know, he might have been passing a car and I just pulled out in front of him. What I do know is that I have little chance of winning a case as a foreigner and I’d prefer to stay out of the court system and/or jail. I check the bike over and found a small piece of cast aluminum on the pavement. Don’t know what it is but my bike isn’t leaking fluid and it seems to roll okay. I also pick up the Sena Headset that flew off when my melon made contact with the concrete as well as some paperwork that flew out of my backpack upon impact. I say everything is good let’s just part ways. I want to get the hell out of here. The dude was quite pleased with that answer and with a big smile on his face he waved Audios.

I am really feeling on top of the world right now. This was a serious impact (he was going probably +35mph) and I seem to be completely unscathed. We immediately ride 2 blocks back to the hostel with the Triumph motorcycle and gladly pay $32 to get the bikes off the street and a place to sleep.

I did find that the REI pots in my left saddle bag took a large portion of the impact. The only reason they aren’t completely crushed is because of the MSR stove located within….pinched tight.

Then it dawned on me what the small cast aluminum part was. My steering stop. I can now turn the bars a long ways to the left….not sure how I’m going to fix this one. My leather gloves are also in tatters now but my hands are completely clear of any damage. Now just to find some nice leather gloves……good luck huh?

What a day!!! A border crossing, hot humid jungle, fierce rain at 4,000ft, waterfalls, reservoirs, pine trees in the high dry desert, 2 traffic stops, and one serious collision. I’m pooped I’ll see y’all in the morning…..but first an ice cold brew!

3/14/13

First order of business was breakfast. After that we headed out in search of a new/cheaper Hostel because we decided to stay here for two more nights. After 5-6 different places we found the perfect joint. And there was a K1200R BMW to boot. Not exactly a common bike.

I cool bridge in town on the way to breakfast.

Then back at the original place is was time to survey the damage seeing as I got fricken creamed yesterday. Subframe and the saddle bag mount that I built seem to have handled the blow very well. The steering stop is non-existent but we’ll worry about that later. Bars seem relatively straight given the circumstances. Only a touch of blue paint remains on the hand guard…..glad I opted for the spendy ones for this trip!

Decide to load up and ride the 6 blocks to the next hostel. During this short trip is when I realize my front rim is bent along with some nice tire tread on my front fender. I must have collided directly with the real wheel of the truck….but still managed a large dent behind it….maybe that was my body doing some additional cosmetic work.

3/15/13

Feeling quite sore today I opted for a paved drive higher into the mountains from Boquete to check out some waterfalls. The drive was nice but it was very misty up in the higher elevations. There seems to be clouds of mist coming over the mountain tops from the Caribbean side but it all evaporates before it can touch the ground (at least in Boquete).

We walk across a suspension bridge and start the incline. A half mile of slippery rocky slope later we come to a shack where now we have to pay some guy to continue on. Another ¼ mile up a muddy trail and then 100 yards down sloppy footing in my superd Sidi hiking boots and we made it to the waterfall. It was nice but I’m starting to reach a state of boredom with the whole “water falling from an elevated position” thing.

Back to the bikes we make a quick getaway and find a Botanical Garden to walk through.

Then Marnix and Lisan show up at our hostel and we celebrate their one year “on the road” anniversary with too many beers and a couple bottles of cheap rum.

Alex and I made a nice dinner of enchiladas and steamed broccoli/carrots over white rice. The Dutch enjoyed the Enchiladas.

SOBERANA Beer….the jokes in the can.

 

3/16/13

Today I slept in and then went over the bike adjusting the fork/wheel alignment and tightening some spokes.

The owner of the hostel (and K1200R) decided to put on a Potluck BBQ where he would grill up all the meats and guests can bring sides. Nobody brought sides and nobody needed to….this was quite the feast!

Best hostel we have stayed at. Hostel Refugio del Rio in Boquete, Panama

The refuge by the river does in fact have a small river in the backyard

3/17/13

Something I failed to mention about yesterday is our efforts to find a different mode of transportation to Colombia. One would think this would be an easy and straight forward process since there is no road to get there. It is not! There are only a couple of sailboats that are willing to take motorcycles that sail about twice per month. The other option is to fly the bikes and ourselves but this has been ruled out because it is much more expensive. Not only that but we have a place booked in Medellin for a specific time so even if we flew, then we would have to burn up a weeks worth of time which is even more money. Another option is a cargo ship but the paperwork sounds like a nightmare and will probably cost close to the same as the sailboat.

So alas, we are sticking with the boat. The reason it was questioned is because of a number of recent and terrible reviews on the particular boat we have chosen….didn’t exactly choose it was the only one available. Everything from disgruntled drug attic captain, to not enough beds for the entire crew, to terrible eating conditions, to the purified sea water that isn’t exactly purified, to paperwork hassles, to questionable loading process of motorcycle (it may take a swim), etc… And on top of this the weather patterns in the San Blas islands is “sub par” this time of year. I believe our Dutch compatriots have opted out of the ship and are going to fly the Africa Twin…I don’t blame them, the cost difference is minimal given their situation. Don’t worry guys, we don’t hate you for it.

And moving onward….We just packed up today and road 240 miles to Coronado beach area.

You know it’s Sunday….burn garbage by the highway and catch the fields on fire. Hooray!!

But first Al ran out of gas so we drained one of our spare liters into the tank, rode a few miles and ran out again, the 2nd and last liter was just barely enough to get us to a station.

Anyway, a friend of a friend lives here and we were able to crash at his pad….and drink his scotch….and eat the delicious meals prepared for us….all while having a fantastic view of the Panama coastline. Thank you very much Steve for the hospitality.

He lives on the 26th floor of this badboy

Spare bedroom balcony view

Not a bad place to excercise

Or play pool…or pingpong….or fooseball….or hot tub….or really just about anything

 

First taste of Crown in quite some time

Straight down over the balcony….right on the course

My wheel seems to have handled the trip just find. The front end doesn’t start shaking until about 60mph but we cruise slightly less than this so it’s not too bad. I’ll still try to get a fix in Medellin where the resources are a bit more plentiful.

3/18/13

Up and out of Steve’s high rise we headed for the big city.

I had a few Hostel options picked out so we wanted to grab our room and then head for the locks on the canal.

I should be used to the plan not working out by now but I still get frustrated. It’s really the temperature and traffic that does it to me. But all the hostel options were booked full.

I even stopped at the hostel that is in charge of catering to the people that will sail on the Independence to Colombia. We still don’t know where to show up for this boat even though we have emailed multiple times. Here is my conversation with the gentlemen at the desk who was in fact wearing an “Independence” T-shirt. “So where do I need to be and when do I need to be there to sail on the Independence on the 21st? You should go the day before the boat sails so you can load your bike. Okay so I’ll show up on the 20th; where do I need to go? It’s about 1-1/2 hours from here. Okay, so if I leave from PC 2 hours early then I should be fine. Maybe 3 hours because it’s really hard to find. Okay, so where do I go? Well….I’ll right down some instructions. Okay great.” He hands me a piece of paper with about 8 turns listed….no street names, no north/south, nothing. And then starts helping the next in line. There is really no point in asking further questions because I have little patience for stupid answers but I continue on disregarding the whole “where am I supposed to go to spend my $1K” question.

“I understand that this is the middle of nowhere so where can I stay after I load the bike the day early. You can sleep on the boat. No I already asked the captain this and nobody is allowed onboard early. Well there is nowhere to stay so you can sleep on the river bank.” And thank you sir for your time and exceptional help that you have been able to provide me with this afternoon.

From there I drove around to other Hostels all of which were booked through what appeared to be a crime riddled area and settled on a fancy $40 hotel room right above the sex toy shop.  There is always tomorrow right….

3/19/13

Today we headed for the Miraflores locks….the largest of the locks at the Panama Canal.

Locking bikes to a signpost

We showed up in time to see a huge barge and one nice ocean cruiser going through the locks toward the Caribbean side.

We also watched the short “3D” movie about the building of the canal. Somehow they left out the presence of the United States and what our country did to help dug that little ditch….a bit disappointing.

The museum was very cool. Four levels of boat models, drilling bits, blasting videos, etc… It also had one floor dedicated to the wildlife that existed in the area when the canal was built.

The whole thing was pretty cool. Guess I’ll have to come back after they have completed the new larger locks that will be used to move the super tankers through this area.

Then I just had to take a detour and ride over the bridge of the Americas. Really appreciated the architecture/engineering of this one.

Then off to the fishing store to prepare for the boat trip. I really wanted to buy a spear gun because I enjoy it a lot. Then I realized that the chances of me making it through another 6 borders with this contraption was slim to none. So I just went with a hand line and some lures….I hope I can produce something for dinner on the boat.

Then to the hardware store for WD-40 to coat the engines with before getting on the boat. And a large tarp and duct tape to cover them. And then a nice strong piece of rope that I will use as a safety line just in case the old crappy ropes on the Independence should fail.  Yeah I’m a little concerned.

Then off to the grocery store for the essentials….Al’s bike carried all of this and his suspension was just about bottomed out for the hectic ride back into Panama City. The outskirts of this town are complete shit…makes for some serious lane splitting.

Now that I’m back to my awesome hotel I need to figure out how to carry all this crap up to the Caribbean tomorrow morning.

The sun has set and the crack heads are thick as thieves. Some woman on the sidewalk just flashed me her golden teeth and pushed a blue pill out between her ugly grill….the security guard with a flak jacket and rifle looked her way and she sucked that badboy right back in. Oh Panama, what would I do without you?

Wish me luck guys. I’ll catch up with you all on the south side. Salud!

3/20/13

So today we leave Panama City and head for the boat.

 

These buses are so fast!

Communication with the Independence has been very poor at best so we were quite surprised how easy it was to find. Drove out of PC, paid a couple of tolls, jumped on the highway and headed towards the Darien. Probably 40 miles out of PC there was a sign pointing towards Carti. This road has steep climbs that would drop off the backside giving your stomach the weightless feeling like riding a rollercoaster. The problem is hitting them with any speed is difficult to say the least because of potential washouts and sharp corners looming on the other side.

I didn’t grab a photo but after diving down around one corner and hammering up a steep curving incline all of a sudden there is a dump truck and a backhoe in the center of the road blocking the entire thing. I’ll I could do was slam on the breaks and come within a few feet of the blockade. Then with front and rear brakes locked up it wasn’t enough to stop the dizzer loaded down with liquid encouragement……slid down backwards until it got squirrely and dumped the bike. Guy in the backhoe just shrugs and smiles.

About 20 miles into this road you meet your first Kuna Indians charging $10 to get into their property plus $5 per vehicle. They know you are headed for a boat to Colombia so your negotiating power is quite slim….actually none at all. Even for being nice and letting them sit on your bike and taking pictures with their cell phones.

Then you reach a military checkpoint that just looks at your passport. And yells at you for taking a photo of this super secret high profile building…

About 100 yards passed this there is a gravel road to the right that will take you down to a river.

Here you fork out another $20 for these guys to load your bike and drive you out to the Independence. We showed up just in time to meet Micah who is traveling from LA on his KLR. This process is fairly easy but I can’t imagine doing it with a liter bike or larger.

While Micah headed out to sea I went to work coating the chains with bearing grease and spraying down the engines with WD-40.

The ride out was pretty fun. Sitting on my dirt bike in the Caribbean Sea on a small boat in an attempt to make landfall in Colombia…..SWEET!!

Safety first right?

 

We made it to the boat without any hiccups and then Mee-Shell came down to tie the ropes. He looks like one seriously weathered sailor that probably isn’t going to be taking shit from anybody. Most reviews I have seen commented on how questionable the ropes are. My experience; they are slightly worn but these are serious braided marine ropes with nylon cores….they are fine. Bikes went up into the vessel without a hitch.

We dropped our gear into the Saloon area and then Michel called for a water taxi to bring us to a Hostel on the island next to the boat. An hour later the owner of the hostel showed up and drove us ashore. Nothing but crystal clear water so when you roll up to the dock you get to see all the interesting artifacts on the bottom (brooms, old engines, beer cans, trash, trash, and more trash). Watch your step because the dock is very questionable (not sturdy). Our accommodations were on the top floor of the green high rise. Not great but really F*cking hot/humid.

Our room had an ocean view!!

Walked around town (probably a 100 meter diameter circle of sand filled with huts with small alleyways for walking and plenty of docks with real dugout canoes). Really a neat little place. The only restaurant didn’t have a menu but served chicken, beef, and “wait just a second, HEY (to the guy on the dock), did you catch any fish, YEP”, and yes we have fish”. Great I’ll take the chicken! The chicken was old and not really edible but the rice was pretty good…and the beer was cheap.

This guy created an oar on the dock while we ate, impressive.

The AssWadDub….what else would you name your vessel?

Back at the hostel I drank rum and tried to “fall asleep” in the hammock but the heat wouldn’t allow. Laid in bed but my pillow was packed absolutely full of synthetic cotton and wouldn’t compress a bit….I had fits with it all night. And the owner slept right next door to us a snored like a SOB. Perfect, no sleep for the first night on the boat.

The boat driver and owner of our Carti Homestay Hostel……enjoying some of our rum

The Culprit

A description of our vessel. I’m going to hold them to this one!

 

3/21/13

A cup a crappy coffee in a dirty glass and some bread with jelly and I’m ready to do a little morning business. The bathrooms are built out over the water just off shore. You actually get to look down between your legs and drop bombs on tropical fish. Come on guys you know you want to try it.

Back on the boat headed for the Independence. We just wait upstairs and bullshit with Michel until the rest of the shipmates are hauled out to sea from their hostel. Michel is nice enough but totally full of shit. No point in questioning the captain before a 5 day sail but I had little to say to him.

The crew shows up. 4 cute Germans, 1 hot Swiss chick, a couple other girls, an old retired lawyer, 2 young Dutch dudes that love to party, 1 lonesome Colorado guy, and the 3 of us bikers. Michel’s crew consists of 2 Colombian women and 1 Panamanian woman. First Michel goes through the do’s and dont’s and then brags about how awesomely fast and strong his ice breaking capable ship is.  We are assigned cabins (which really aren’t bad at all besides the heat) and get our stuff put away. Lift anchor and crack the rum!

A nice toy out on the sea

I’ve been on a number of boats in the past but apparently I’ve become prone to sea-sickness over the past 5 years after remaining land locked. We show up at the first set of islands and I lie in bed and try to recuperate while everyone swims and drinks. A few hours later I pull my stuff together and start to have fun. Tonight we build a bonfire on a beach.

First we had an amazing lobster dinner. The food on the boat is perfect. Simple, lots of it, good flavor, good variety, and very fresh.

The supermarket comes to you out here

The fire was a bit boring because there wasn’t any wood. Just palm fronds so after a big WOOSH it smoldered for a few hours while we finished the rum. Most folks were a bit “clickish” and spoke native tongue with each other but after a bit it was American vs. Germans/Dutch in some game where you drink, run 20 meters, pick up a stick, hold your head to the top and run a circle around it, take a drink, then run back to the next in line. Needless to say the Americans dominated this game.

Then back to the boat where you can guess what happened. I have to do the same…Hah!!

3/22/13

Most people slept on the deck of the ship but I made it to my cabin. Woke up hot and sweaty ready for a big breakfast. Just swam in a luke warm water starring at the picturesque islands. And listened to Michel talk about how the world is overpopulated and the Illuminati will immerge one day and kill almost everyone….blah blah blah.

Defining a deserted island

Pulled anchor at noon and headed for the “Party Island.” After dinner we showered (showers are at 5:00 PM sharp) and hopped on the boat. Headed to the only island with a bar, beach volleyball, and a bunch of expats taking a break from their boats. Volleyball was great but somehow I got stuck on the Dutch/German team and we lost. Go figure.

And then the German game Flunky Ball

All of us attempting to speak Spanish and say something nice to the cooks of the boat

A great deal of drinks later and we were back on a dingy headed for the ship.

This is a height competition if you can’t tell

The Dutch boys. Jurian & Lukas

 

3/23-24/13

Today we had a decision to make. Leave after dinner into the open ocean and pull into Cartegena just before midnight or leave the following morning and arrive in Cartagena in the morning where we immediately get off the boat. Thankfully we went with the first option so I could have a night to recover from seasickness before going ashore. Then Michel helped us with a bunch of tarps to cover all the bikes from any ocean spray.

27 hours of lying in bed feeling a bit noxious but never puked. I think we lucked out with only 4-6 ft. seas rather than the typical 10’+. I emerged the last night for dinner and a few beers and then went to bed anticipating landfall in South America the following morning.

Not a good group photo….everyone is exhausted.

View from my cabin

 

17 thoughts on “Panama

  1. Sorry about your accident Andrew. I am sure you are stiff and sore but so kluckey. In. Am so glad you are ok. Hope you can fix your cycle. Lol

  2. I loved the picture of you holding up the crushed pot/stove. You have a bit of the madman/crazy eyes thing going on. I’m glad you are in one piece after the wreck.

    • The look of a man who just cheated the system… I’m glad as well as surprised, I guess all that money that went for gear wasn’t a total waste. Good to here from you Rob.

  3. Hey Andrew~
    Wowie Zowie!!! Living vicariously through your journey… I just returned from working on a trip.. and have spent the last few whiles getting caught up on your incredible journey. Bowing down. We say “our” trips are a trip of a lifetime…. but actually have to say that it is YOURS that is the true journey of a lifetime!! Your blog has really given a sense of your trip… to finding the hostels, appreciating food…. and even taking photos of flowers. Strikes me that you get on your bike to go for short jaunts even on your rest days. So glad to know that your gut is feeling better… and that you survived the accident unscathed… and all the friends you have met.. and all the hospitality that you have received while in ‘da flow.
    Very much appreciating that you are sharing your experience… and LOVING the photos of you and Alex… looking very ALIVE indeed.

    Left hanging in suspense however as you make the crossing to Columbia…. looking forward to your next post!

    happy travels

    • Thanks so much Susan! It has been quite the trip thus far. Can’t wait to here where you ran off to for the past few weeks :) I appreciate all you guys that take the time to read through this thing!

  4. Glad to see you guys are doing so well. The blog has been very consistent and incredibly entertaining. It’s obviously been a long road since we saw you in Cabo. Stay safe brothers, and tell Alex that his hat suits him much better then it did me! Cheers!

    • Thanks Forrest! I’ll let Al know about the hat. We are stilling rocking the drug rugs and I have yet to loose the fake Ray Ban’s. Thanks again for what you guys did for us!

  5. Andrew,

    You being “off the grid” for a few days has made me notice how often I check for your updates and progress. Although I enjoyed watching your bike “drive” thru the sea, I have to admit, I am addicted to your posts and pictures. It’s becoming an almost daily occurrence where someone in the office starts laughing.. after a couple “What?”s are echo-ed around… it’s something funny you wrote. Thanks!

  6. Okay I found what I was looking for. Dad and I go to bed grab our iPads and chuckle at your various descriptions, pics and comments. Safe travels. I delivered your underwear ,camera ,bug spray, and tooth paste to Robert. He’s anxious to spend a week w you and Alex. I think Alex is losing weight- has to be the cat soup.

  7. ANDREW!!! I am so fucking jealous that my parents are going down with Tom and Nancy to visit you!! I really really really wanted to join too (obviously) but I decided that asking for vacation time during week 1 of my PhD program would probably be a bad move haha. Lame lame lame. I actually seriously considered faking mono just so I could go…. Argentina is amazing! you must have like 20 Choripáns for me, the sketchier the dude selling them, the better! So glad you are having a good time and are staying safe and healthy! Your writing is excellent.
    ox CH

    • Total Bummer! Wish you could have made it but you probably made the right, or at least smart, decision. We’ll just be killing brain cells where you are stacking them up. I’ll eat the hell out of the sausage for you :)…..Look forward to seeing you stateside Christina! XO

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