August 02, 2006 GMT
Panama - Corozon del Universo

Puente de las Americas (off in the distance)

Approaching the Puente de las Americas, an oddly familiar coat hanger shaped bridge, we crossed the Panama Canal. It was very exciting reaching this milestone in our trip... Panama City.

Once across the bridge we consulted our map of Panama City and decided on our route to the hotel district. It was Sunday afternoon, traditionaly a quite time for traffic and we had no problems navigating the city. Basically, once over the bridge you head straight for Avenida Balboa (on the esplanade) and from there the hotel areas clearly run back from the sea to the city.

Storm Clouds over Panama City

With near perfect temperatures, a beautiful bay, antique colonial buildings and modern sky scrapers Panama City was a pleasure for us to spend three weeks checking out a few transportation to South America options and touring the sights.

Docks - Casco Antigua

Highlights were:

Casco Antigua: The old town, where we admired the architecture and relished in the tranqility of the old city. Being the original location of Panama City and raided by pirates on numerous occasions, many of the buildings have been left in disrepair, their former glory still apparent, while others have been lovingly restored and given new life as trendy appartments and offices. It was a treat to walk along the old docks and watch the merchants busy with their wares and particularly interesting was the 'Bird Cage Builders', who by using old fan cases were able to fashion a new saleable product - ie bird cages!

Recycle! - Making birdcages from old fan cases

The old city - view from Avenida Balboa

The 8th Modern Wonder of the world - Panama Canal: Mira Flores locks was an excellent place to watch the enormous ships pass through the canal, and observe the engineering feat of raising/lowering the enormous ships two steps of 26 feet each using only gravity to feed the water to fill the tanks. We enjoyed our stay of several hours.

Container ship in the Canal

Raising a tanker - Mira Flores Locks

Department of Darién: Running to the border of Colombia, where the Pan American Highway eventually stops at Yaviza. Darién is considered dangerous and inhospitable. It holds some of the worlds most pristine rainforrest and has the wettest climate in the world. It is an easy ride from Panama City through areas of thick tropical jungle, rice fields and very large cattle ranches to the welcome sign just outside of Aguas Frias. After we were signed into the Territory we were advised by the military police not to travel any further than Aguas Frias as our safety could not be guaranteed.

Riding in the Darién

Military Check Point - Signing in to the territory

'Welcome to Darién'

We met Cynthia who has been on the South American leg of her RTW trip. She had been in Panama City for about 6 weeks awaiting an organ transplant for her beloved 'Old Dear' BMW 800 Boxer. We spent several pleasant evenings with Cynthia talking about travel, motocylces and also celebrating Julie's Birthday - the second on the road.

Birthday Dinner with Cynth

'¡Aye! Muchas Agua': The catch phrase for all Panamanians when it rains..... The main streets, almost instantly, turn into rivers as people scurry for cover to avoid becoming drowned rats in the almost daily heavy tropical down pourings. We were glad that we were being taxied about.

Bus - Panama City

Transportation to Colombia: We spent a little time checking out some options to send Piggy to Colombia. One was a RoRo (Roll On/Roll Off Ferry) from Colón to Cartegena (Barwil - sails twice a month, takes 11 days, costs about $US400, no passengers). There are numerous freight and cargo agencies, they usually sail once a week and take a day and a half. Many are not interested in a one off Motorcycle shipment however AMT Cargo were keen. You may be able to hook up with a sail boat and sail through the Caribean with the bike on the deck - we did have this option after meeting a Captain of a 28 footer sail boat at Portobello, however it seemed all too difficult and actually more expensive than flying. All boats go to either Cartegena or Baranquilla.

The easiest, competitively priced, option is to fly directly to Bogota, in the end we used this option. Copa Cargo fly weekly and Girag daily. Girag, certainly, were the more knowledgeble about flying bikes. The bike costs $US350.00 plus $US100.00 for Dangersous Goods and $US25.00 Manajando.... dont know what that was but we have heard others have had to pay it on arrival in Panama too!

We took Piggy out to the airport (cargo terminal) on a Wednesday morning in the pouring rain. Looking like drowned rats we drained her tank, put her on the scales (weighing in at a paltry 304kgs fully loaded) and then removed mirrors, screen, disconnected battery and said goodbye until we were to see her again in Colombia.

Leaving the Girag office you need to stop by Customs, which is located in the old International Airport Terminal, and have your Panama temporary importation cancelled.

We spent our final evening in Panama in a little bayside restaurant with Cynthia enjoying dinner, good company and a beautiful Panamanian sunset over the bay.

So it was 'Goodbye', hopefully not forever, to Central America on the 3rd of August 2006.

Posted by Julie Rose at August 02, 2006 10:30 PM GMT

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