Pete left me an email. He’s going to be in Las Lajas for a couple days chilling and catching up on some work. I’m never really sure how long it takes to get places….. in Central America, you can count on it being much longer than you think. It doesn’t help that my bike is a 650 and not really designed to go faster than 70mph. I’m still used to my big GS1200 on the highway and always want to goose poor KLaRa. Speed is just not her thing. More about this later.
Here’s some riding video from the last couple weeks!
I ride smooth fast roads until late afternoon. Las Lajas is the closest town to where I can comfortably stop for the night. It’s getting dark already, so I choose the first nice-looking hostel. It’s not cheap $35/night and no wifi. This is always a bit of a problem for me. Wifi is important because I try to research my next days stop.. also, I have been using my phone as a GPS. In the morning, I like to map the distance I think I can travel in one day and plot the course with a blue line… if I go off track, I can quickly look and see. Also, since I’m alone, I like keeping my friends and family updated on where I am.
I throw my bags in the room, hop back on the bike and with the last light of the day roll around until I find his bike. It takes less than 10 minutes. He’s’s parked at the big resort at the end of town soaking up some good wifi.. and a couple margaritas.
“Hey! You found me!” He’s catching up his blog and working with his manufacturer. I’ve arrived at a good stopping point and join him for dinner. We talk about our rides and after a couple drinks, I tell him about the strange lady at his hostel in Costa Rica… He laughs and tells me she was just jealous.. when she showed him the room, she draped herself on the bed telling him how comfortable it was… inviting him to “try it out”
Eureka!! It makes total sense! I laugh and feel sorry for the poor gal.
I wrap it up early. I am wiped out anyway. We make no plans to meet the following day.
In the morning, I wke before dawn, walk for a couple hours on the beach and take a little ride around town.. just to see what happens here.. It is a local beach, packed on the weekend, but is 12 Kilometers of empty sand, palapa and ocean during the week!!
After my walk, I decide to change the air filter on my bike. It takes me longer than I think and I’m not ready to roll until 10-ish. As I’m tightening the last bolts, I see Pete roll past on his beast… He’ll make it to Panama City way before me… I smile to myself.. ah well. KLaRa has been a reliable moto and I’m happy with her now.
I click my bags into place and strap my wing to the back.
I ride steadily for the next two and a half hours. I pass a LOT of policia on the road.. Panama must be wealthy, all the cops have radar guns.. good cars, bikes and clean looking uniforms.
As I ride, I notice another cop… who has a bike pulled over.. an orange and black KTM… and he’s not looking thrilled. I wave as I cruise by… just over the speed limit.
I stop for lunch and as per the gas station attendants reccomendation, get a pile of chinese food for cheap. I carry on for about an hour. I am the fastest motorcycle on the road. The locals all ride small bikes. 150cc’s average.
An hour and a half later, I see a single headlight in my side mirror. It catches up quickly.. only one bike on the road is going to do that. He slows to meet a pace right behind me. We ride for a while but I have to get fuel. I pull in and top off the tank.. I ask him about his ticket.. he laughs it off. “I don’t have a speedomoter!” Grinning… “I thought I’d get behind since you do, and I can’t use another ticket.”
He broke his in the wreck he had in Nicaragua.. He must have been really moving, because he thought we were going slow… alas, even with pokey KLaRa, we had been doing more than 20km over the speed limit most of the way.
We ride the rest of the way into Panama.. and get rooms in the same hotel.. It was a good idea, because I can’t find anywhere that has safe parking for the bike… and I’m blazing hot in my full riding gear.
I try to avoid big cities. I’m not entirely sure why I’ve put myself here. It is by far the busiest city I’ve visited… second only to Mexico City… (which I have vowed never to ride through again.)
The traffic is terrifying. I would rate it as “Place most likely to be squashed on the bike” It is also loud…and a lot of one ways. The beeping is almost a background noise. Everyone beeps. It is impossible to know what exactly they are beeping at. They beep to say “hi!” they beep when they are passing, they beep when they are coming up behind you, beep the moment before they might be squished, beep a when there is a woman with tight clothes. There are a lot of women with tight clothes. I hit two busses with my luggage… I’m a little too wide to sneak between traffic like everyone else… should have beeped?
We leave the hotel on foot and find the Fish Market. Ceviche is the star of the show. The front is row of little ceviche stands.. inside, every day, they sell great piles of fish, clams, shrimp, langosta, octopus and crabs. Outside, for $2.75 you can get a cup of the ceviche of your choice (shrimp cocktail is my favorite) and for another $1, a beer to wash it down.
Panama’s unit of currency is the US Dollar. They also call it a Balboa… you can get coins in $1 denomination that are only spendable here in Panama. The rest of the currency is regular ‘ol greenbacks.
I feel clever about my Air B&B reservation in the mountains, but when I arrive, I realize quickly this will be my first AirB&B strikeout. The gate is locked and I wait in the rain for twenty minutes before I ride away and return an hour later. The pool has clearly never been cleaned.. nor the dishes in the kitchen… the sink won’t drain.. there are rodent droppings and some kind of hair in all the pots and pans. There is no wifi. Nothing is as advertised except for the private room. It has a bed, a fan and one thrift store-looking painting hung haphazardly in a corner. That is it. No closet, dresser, stand, seat… nothing.
I tell my host that I won’t be staying with him and want a refund for the remaining nights.
He returns.. “Well, everything is not 100%.” I could not agree more.
I return to the city in the morning to get wifi and research a place to stay.
My new accommodations are not appreciably better, it is a very expensive room in the heart of the barrio, but the internet and AC work.. and the kitchen is clean. It is the best (and only) place where I can find (somewhat) affordable lodging with safe parking for my motorcycle.
I spend my days walking around the city (I don’t like riding the moto) Meeting people and taking pics. I’m trying to save money and cook for myself OR eating at the street stands… and ceviche.. of course. Panama is a strange juxtaposition between old and new, first and third world.
I’ve been following Alison DeLapp’s blog for some time now http://www.alisonswanderland.com/ and have taken some advice from her as well a some great ideas about selling the bike. I get a message on my facebook from her Tuesday and find out she is LIVING in Panama City!! She isn’t nore than 10 minutes from me.
We meet up for ceviche and some excellent bike conversation. I LOVE hanging out with her, it is fantastically refreshing to have riding and maintenance conversations with another serious female rider…. another gal with a sweet smile and nerves of steel. I’ll never get enough of these women.
I’m super sad to say goodnight, but she has to ride her moto home and the traffic doesn’t get any better with more beers.
I met some other adventure riders who are staying at my hotel…a Aussie, four Germans and a Mexican fellow. We get together for dinner, and some tourist stuff (the Panama Canal). We discuss our rides, and the passage across the Darien. Two fellows think I can put the bike on a plane but there is some discussion about what the prices are. It is right before Valentines day, so the costs seem to be substantially higher because of the extra volume.
I’ve already booked passage on the Independance…an 85′ steel yacht that sails back and forth between Panama and Cartegena, Colombia. It hasn’t gotten great reviews, but I’m committed now… What I’m really afraid of is missing that sailing and then being forced into an expensive plane fare.
I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with Panama. The people are warm and friendly… except at the stores.. the attitude is a bit helpless and not focused. Especially at the banks. My debit card was cut off this morning because of the Target data breach. It is the day before I get on the ship. I still need $500.
My own bank and I made not less than 50 phone calls to different banks here… not a single live person answered the phone. I spent two futile hours trying to explain what I needed at one bank in person.
Finally, my father hiked out in the snow to the grocery store and wired me the money. Everyone else I knew on the East Coast was totally snowed in.
I had the new card sent to my hostel in Cartegena, and I can pick up my wired cash four hours before I meet my boat at the dock.
Crossing the Darien Next.