Clearing Panama customs I head outside and get directions to the other side of the airport where the cargo companies are located. The airport terminal taxis want US $12 for the few km trip. "Muy lejos", they insist. And it is too hot and humid to walk that far. Yeh, right. In the parking lot I find one for $7. Feeling good with myself I arrive at the Girag office and step into the air conditioned comfort of the front office. I show the nice lady my shipping documents and she replies "hay no moto aqui". Huh!? Has to be! Either came in on the midnight flight or the one at 2 this morning. I repeat the promises I've been given in Bogotá. No deal, there is no motorcycle here. Come back Monday morning. Murphy, you bastard!
A bit numbed, I head outside to consider my options. There is only one logical option. Get a hotel nearby and make the best of la fin de semana (the weekend). A taxi takes me to the violently bright green and fuchia/rose Hotel 24 Horas in nearby Tocumes. I am 25 kilometers from the City of Panama Hats.
Hotel 24 Horas turns out to be one of dual purpose, and the alternate purpose the more profitable one I'm sure. To get through front door security one must ring the buzzer. Now, for some obscure reason, the irritating buzzer rings loudly on all floors. I take it from the constant ringing that lovers come and go all night long. What a bloody zoo! And since horny latinos are not there long enough to need blankets, the hotel doesn't supply them - so I sleep in my clothes. On the TV, instead of BBC or CNN, I get two porno channels. That pretty quickly wears thin. So I watch stuff like CSI Miami and the National Geographic Channel in Spanish. And read my Central America Guidebook. Find out that the Panama/Costa Rica border is 519 km from my hotel.
Sunday, July 9. Great tour of the canal this a.m. Didn`t realize there was an zone several km wide down both sides of the canal that was essentially American soil. In fact, the canal and properties were just turned over to Panama Dec 31, 1999. There is Panama City, a typical latin american city with extra north american influence, then right next to it is "Panama City, USA" (for lack of a better name) and the contrast is startling. The USA city next to the canal is self-sufficient with power, water, etc, and populated with huge mansions, big shady trees, decorative parks and statues, ornate buildings, theatres and curving roads. All obviously town-planned. But like Joyce and I saw in Nairobi, you just have to look at the amount of deterioration of the infrastructure to tell how long it's been since the colonial powers left.
Next, I took a tour of the Miraflores Locks and watched an ocean cargo-container ship get lifted. Truly a marvelous piece of engineering. Sure hope the maintenance for the canal stays on track.
The highway out of Panama City doesn't lead north, as I had expected. Another geography lesson: Panama sits like a S on its side. I travel south and west instead. The good news is the Panama Panamericana is divided 4 lane, the good ol' U.S. of A's fingerprints are all over this one. Lots of stuff has happened since 15 September 1513 when the first foreigner, Vasco de Balboa, showed up. Wonder how long it took him to figure out he had to walk south to see the Pacific?
As I move north through Central America I will be following the rainy season which will hamper daily distance: the thunderstorms can be like those on the Cook Islands - black with rain for a couple of hours, usually in the afternoon. The Pacific side of Central America is reported to be a bit drier (1700 mm rain annually compared to 4500mm on Caribbean side) and cooler so I'll tend to stick to the western side where possible.
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