Panama
July 25, 2006 GMT
Panama - Puente del Mundo

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Beach - Panama

Panama - The Bridge to South America. A country literally cut in half by a man made Canal. Home to the infamous and wild Darién Gap. We were looking forward to our last country of Central America.

BORDER CROSSING

Exit Costa Rica - Pañoas Cañas
Very, very simple
* Take passports to Migration window for stamp (they wish to see each individual with their passport at this crossing)
* Take all bike paperwork to Aduana for cancellation

Enter Panama
Again, very, very simple
* Take passports to Migration for cursory check and issue of a small paper to purchase tourist cards ($US5.00 each + $US1.00 each for municipal tax)
* Purchase tourist cards (if arriving at lunch time you will have to wait, as we did, for the officer to return)
* Return to Migration for stamps in passport
* Visit Aduana with copies of bike rego and ownership
* Once permit is issued, a check by Customs officer, who will ask you to open bags, boxes and such and look inside, ask a few questions and send you on your way.
* Ride to quarrantine where they may or may not spray the bike. We did not have the bike sprayed.

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Pan-American Highway

The Republic of Panama is a narrow long isthmus (80 kilometers at its narrowest point and 193 kilometers at its widest) with a beautiful tropical climate that remains consistent through out the year. It has a dramatic landscape, lush green forrests covering high mountains and farmed rolling hills stretching to the sea with classic Spanish fortifications and beautiful palm fringed beaches.

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Fort - Portobello

By the time we reached David, the second largest city, 50kms from the border the chain guard was once again clattering wildly about the rear end. The first repair in Mexico City had been easily completed with the guard still attached to the swing arm, which was probably as well with the front mounting bolt being in such a rediculously cramped position (only design by computer could be so impractical!) that it had proved imposible to remove. However, with the present state of the guard we had no option but to remove it and throw it away or weld a new section to the original repair.

Grant lowered the bash plate and removed the (rarely used) tools which sit hidden and happily forgotten for most of the time. Amoungst a small collection of spare bolts, nuts and washers a philips head driver was found, which with the help of a shifting spanner, tyre lever and large quantities of WD40 managed to move the offending bolt.

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Fort - Portobello

With the guard now removed he walked the short distance to a muffler repair shop and proceded to completely confuse the owner and himself trying to explain in Spanglish the necessary repair.

Fortunately the gentleman was patient, a common and endearing trait of Central Americans, and with due course he grabbed the rather grubby and mangled plastic/metal chain guard and raced off into the rear of the building.

Perhaps a half an hour ensued with much clanging about, drilling and welding noises eminating, he re-appeared. Proudly he passed the repaired guard to Grant who, amazed at the new strength of the repair, asked the cost.

The man, now busy attending to some other task, looked up, furrowing his forehead and pursing his lips in thought. "Two dollars" he replied!

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Piggy in Paradise

A day ride to Boquette in the Mountains was a refreshingly cool treat before returning to the InterAmericano (or Pan-Am). It is long, relatively straight and often a 4 lane highway. The sparsely populated road skirts along the coast past the occasional waterfall tumbling from a cliff top, through farm lands and beautiful scenery. It is easy to chew up the miles and miss the sights and sounds of Panamanian life.

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Waterfall - Pan-American Highway

We thought it may be nice to stay in Penonomé and visit the local archeological sight. The accommodation options were limited to expensive to the Pension Estrella Rojo.

Jules went to the Reception desk, well a mirrored window with a small hole cut in the glass for communicaiton. She asked the price of a room. "$8.00 and hour" came the reply. She tried again this time asking how much it would be for the whole night. "$8.00 and hour" was the reply again. Trying another attack she stated that she would like the room for the whole night. "Are you here with a Caballero (Gentleman)?" "Yes" she replied. "$8.00 and hour!". Leaving smiling, she relayed the story to Grant, who looking her up and down, observed that in her tight jeans, black t-shirt and sporting her body belt was maybe more suggestive than intended!

We never did find suitable accommodation or the sign to the archeological site! Which is rather an irony as Panama is spread very thin with pre-colombian archeological sites.

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Church - Anton

Anton, 120 kilometers from Panama City, is a pretty town with two hotels, one on each side of the Pan-American. We chose the cheapest and they happily allowed us to park Piggy in the foyer. The sleepy town is located slightly off the highway and within an easy walk to church and the lovely colonial building located around the central plaza.

Posted by Julie Rose at 05:05 PM GMT
August 02, 2006 GMT
Panama - Corozon del Universo

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Recycle! - Making birdcages from old fan cases

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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.

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Container ship in the Canal

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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.

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Riding in the Darién

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Military Check Point - Signing in to the territory

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'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.

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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.

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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 10:30 PM GMT
 



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