Sudan

 

 

 

 

Around the world by bike

  

 

Blogs

ESCAPE - cycling touring Media Videos Other adventures Photobook Project 365
 

 

Panama

 

(1 081km - 43days - 18 April – 30 May 2012)

 

     Home                                                                                                                                                                   next country

     previous country

18 April - Puerto Obaldia

After a long rigmarole, Ernest and I were eventually stamped into Panama. Hallelujah! Puerto Obaldia was a military post with very little to do, and it didn't take long before meeting Simon, who hailed from Italy. Simon was travelling by 50cc motorbike from Ushuaia to Alaska, and he had, by then, already set a new record for distance travelled on a 50cc. Simon had been stuck in Puerto Obaldia for a couple of days while looking for a boat.

 

Spotting a small wooden cargo boat (the Rey Emmanuel) anchored in the bay, we went in search of the Captain who, like any good captain, was found drinking in the local cantina. I didn't know if this was a good time to negotiate as, by then, I didn't have enough money left to pay the trip fee. Captain Marseille was, however, in a good mood and offered Ernest and I a fair price ($80 each) and agreed that I could pay at the end of the trip. I understood there was an ATM about 50 kilometres from where the boat anchored. The trip was to take between three and six days, cooking wasn't allowed on the boat, and no food was included in the price. Armed with this information, we took off to the only shop to buy tinned food, and stuff we thought one might be able to cook whenever the boat docked.

 

The only tinned food at the tiny shop consisted of spam as well as pork & beans, which was purchased in the hope that one would be able to stock up somewhere along the way. The Captain further informed us that he could take us to Miramar, a small village along the Panama coast from where a road ran to Panama City. The Rey Emmanuel delivered supplies to the San Blas Islands. On the return journey, the Captain collected outstanding monies and empty bottles and gas cylinders. I suspected it to be a slow journey.

 

With the Rey Emmanuel being anchored in the bay, a "lancha" had to be arranged to row us out to the boat the following morning. According to the Captain, he was to leave at 9 a.m. sharp the next morning. Not wanting to miss the only boat, a "lancha" was arranged to ferry us across at 6.30 a.m.

 

19 April – Day 1

The following morning, all gathered at the jetty eagerly awaiting our passage but were told the Captain was NOT leaving that day. Laughing at the madness of it all, we hung around and waited for further news. Nine o'clock came and went and, still, we waited, hoping something would crop up. Then, in a sudden rush of urgency, the Captain appeared and told us he was leaving at that very minute. With great urgency and speed the two bicycles, motorbike and luggage were loaded onto a "lancha" and paddled out to the boat. Besides the crew, also on the boat were, Simon, Matthias from Uruguay, a Colombian guy and a lady from Colombia on her way to visit family in Miramar. There wasn't any space on the boat for passengers, and the crew weren't particularly friendly, which one could understand as we were in their way and it meant more mouths to feed. All of us settled down on the small wooden deck where one could sit on the floor or roll out a sleeping mat to lie upon.

 

Finally, the boat sailed off, small and unstable, she rocked and rolled over the big swells, while the three Europeans hung on, tooth and nail, in order not to be flung overboard. There was little else to do but find a spot to wedge yourself in. It was impossible to walk around, and due to the noise from the diesel engine, any form of conversation was out the question.

 

After about three hours of sailing, we caught our first glimpse of the San Blas Islands. Three hundred and sixty-six islands in total. Once amongst the islands, the sailing was much smoother. Still, it wasn't possible to walk about or chat. The Captain anchored at two island villages to pick up empty gas cylinders and empty crates of cooldrink bottles. Captain Marseille must have relented on meals as all passengers were given lunch (rice with chicken wings and feet, give me strength!). By 4 p.m., the Rey Emmanuel reached yet another little island village, where they moored for the night. Supper consisted of cooked bananas (plantain), cassava and salted pork or, rather, pork fat.

 

There were three other boats moored along the small jetty, and it seemed everyone knew one another. Soon it became dark, and all settled in, crew in hammocks and passengers on the hard, wooden slats of the boat deck.

 

20 April – Day 2

Our first morning arrived, and the boat sailed out of the little harbour at around 6 a.m. The first stop was shortly afterwards at a small island village, to pick up the necessary goods and where a breakfast of boiled banana and chicken were served. I had great difficulty eating the food, but the others were pretty happy about being given food, as there appeared to be no shops on these tiny islands. The tins of pork & beans purchased turned out to be only beans and no pork, in a very watery, tomato juice – quite gross! Gross or not, we had quite a few of these tins to work through. Soon after leaving, the crew caught a large fish, and I was sure it would be lunch.

 

The inhabited islands were packed "wall-to-wall" with reed and palm-thatch shacks, and locals wore traditional clothes and were surprisingly short. The Rey Emanuel slowly putt-putted between the tiny islands of the San Blas, stopping numerous times to load up empty crates and gas cylinders, and to collect outstanding money. The Rey Emmanuel couldn't have covered much distance before reaching our overnight stop. Sure thing – supper consisted of rice and fried fish, which was much more edible than the salted pork fat. Life in the San Blas was slow and, with no electricity, everyone went to bed when it got dark and woke again at sunrise, making for a long night on the uncomfortable deck.

 

21 April – Day 3

Day 3 brought an earlier departure than the previous day. At the first island stop, breakfast was served, which again consisted of boiled banana and salty pork fat! I'm not ungrateful but, honestly, I couldn't eat that. The crew, however, seemed delighted with their breakfast. Fortunately, there were still a few stale rolls and half a jar of peanut butter left, and, of course, the famous pork & beans (without pork).

 

After loading, sailing continued past numerous small islands with coconut palms and white, sandy beaches. It looked idyllic, coupled with the fact that the water was so clear one could see fish swimming even in the deeper water - it was close to paradise. The local Kuna people were quite shy and didn't like being photographed. I did, however, manage to steal a shot or two. Small kids ran around naked and rowed about in their wooden dugout canoes, seemingly before they could even walk.

 

The days were getting increasingly hot; it wasn't too bad while sailing, but when the boat moored, the heat sent everyone running to a shady spot. The rhythm of loading on and loading off, sailing to the next island to do the same, became a familiar routine. Food was always served while moored; a good thing too, as the boat rocked far too much to be able to cook or eat. Lunch was rice, beans and liver. I happily gave my liver to Ernest and ate rice and beans.

 

By evening, anchoring was at a relatively large island, for the San Blas, (about 500m x 800m) and all sat watching the local teams play basketball. With the Kuna people being tiny, it's a good thing they played each other. Supper consisted of boiled banana and fried fish. We sat around the square until there was nothing more to do. When darkness fell, all crawled in, trying to get as comfortable as possible while lying listening to the snoring and farting of the crew in hammocks above.

 

22 April – Day 4

The Rey Emmanuel stayed moored the entire day as the Captain had business to attend to. Still, I never saw him doing anything but lie in his hammock, or sit in a chair on the dock, drinking beer. At least breakfast was slightly different, being boiled banana and tinned meat (spam). There was a small branch of the Bank of Panama (closed on Sunday), but someone mentioned there was an ATM inside and we decided to give it a try in the morning.

 

So small was the island it took no time at all to criss-cross it. It rained on and off most of the day, and the local kids loved it, playing endlessly in the puddles, and never seeming to tire. Every island appeared to have a central basketball court where everyone gathered. The courts appear to be well-used and most of the time various games of basketball and football were being played at the same time. I felt privileged for the opportunity to experience these remote islands.

 

23 April – Day 5

The following morning it was up early to catch the bank as soon as it opened but after rushing over in the pouring rain found there was no ATM inside. Receiving the wrong information appeared to be a daily occurrence. Tails between our legs and empty-handed, we returned to the boat to eat our breakfast of fish and boiled banana.

 

Instead of sailing in the morning as planned, nothing happened, and all sat around waiting for the Captain. It never stopped raining all day. The cook boiled crabs for lunch, which he served with rice. Everyone seemed delighted with their lunch, except me.

 

Captain Marseille finally steered us off to the next island at around 3 p.m. The boat putt-putted through the islands for about two-and-a-half hours before anchoring at another tiny island. Supper was rice with tinned sardines, and everyone was grateful for the change in diet. Still, all were, by that time, sitting around fantasising about pizzas, wine, coffee, and whatever people could think about. The weather turned absolutely foul, with a strong wind and bucketing rain. The boat rocked and rolled, and the crew were swinging wildly in their hammocks (some eventually opted for the floor). Simon tried sleeping out on the dock, but the rain soon drove him back onto the boat.

 

 

24 April – Arriving in Miramar – day 6

With the canvas rolled down to keep the rain out, all slept late, and it must have been around 7 a.m. before our unfriendly crew started moving about. The boat was out of coffee for days by then, but they must have found a wee bit stashed away somewhere as there was a sip of coffee before breakfast. Then, in a sudden spurt of urgency, the engines got started, and in no time the boat was untied from the quay, nearly leaving Matthias and the Colombian guy behind who had camped ashore.

 

The routine of sailing to the next island, where the Captain collected outstanding money and breakfast was eaten, continued. Rumour had it that this was our last stop before a straight six-hour sail to Miramar. We had all had just about enough of the boat by then and couldn't wait for the trip to be over. Immediately after leaving the San Blas islands and reaching the open ocean, the weather deteriorated. At times I feared our tiny boat wasn't going to make the final stretch. She rolled, and she pitched, and whatever wasn't latched down, came flying across the deck! Again, it appeared only the three Europeans were hanging on for dear life. There was little to do but wedge yourself in between the cargo and hope for the best. It rained so hard the engine noise was almost drowned out, and visibility was down to only a few metres.

 

Finally, and to everyone's relief, the Rey Emmanuel arrived in Miramar in the late afternoon. We couldn't have been happier to be off the boat. All passengers went in search of accommodation which was found in the village. Ernest and myself in one room and Simon, Matthias and the Colombian guy in the other room. The place was fairly basic, but I think all were happy to be on a mattress of sorts and to have a shower, at least!

 

By this time, no one had any money left, and I mean zero money. Ernest cooked up pasta which was mixed with the infamous pork & beans without the pork. Matthias also threw in his last few tins and, it was, in the end, quite a substantial pot of food.

 

25 April - Miramar – Portobello - 44 km

Early morning, Simon gave Ernest a lift on his 50cc motorbike to the ATM at Portobello, which was about 45 kilometres away. I still had to pay for the boat trip and the Captain had kept one bike on the boat as ransom, and I had to pay Matthias back for the room, which he had kindly paid for the previous night.

 

This was all easier said than done. The front tyre of the motorbike had a large hole in it, and Simon glued a piece of old inner tube over the hole. I had my doubts as to whether the tire would last 45 kilometres. Soon after they left, the Colombian guy hurriedly caught a bus to Panama City, and Matthias and I waited for Simon and Ernest to return.

 

They got back all smiles, and although Simon hadn't been able to get any money in Portobello, at least Ernest and I now had money to pay for the trip, and I could get my bike out of the pound. To his dismay, Simon discovered his costly Canon camera and lens had disappeared from his bag in their room while he had been away! He straightaway reported it to the local police, but there was little they could do.

 

Eventually, Ernest and I saddled up and headed down a very lush and forested road in the direction of Portobello. The way was reasonably good but came with a few very steep uphills. However, we still reached Portobello in good time. I was quite surprised to find a tiny but interesting village, with remains of an old castle and fort.

 

Many international sailing yachts lay anchored in the bay - an indication that this was a popular sailing route. The famous Captain Jacks was a bit pricy at $11 per dorm bed, so we looked elsewhere and found a room at Hospedaje La Aduana on the square for $13. Although not the cleanest of places, and albeit mice nibbled at our food bags during the night, it wasn't all bad as it had a big balcony where we could sit and people-watch.

 

26-27 April - Portobello - Colon - 44 km

I awoke with a seriously upset stomach - it felt as though I had dined from a garbage truck the previous night! Despite this, we packed up and left Portobello to cycle along the very scenic coastal road.

 

Unfortunately, my camera was playing up. I heard Colon was a free trade zone and turned off to Colon to see if there were any bargains to be had. There were plenty of warnings about Colon being a nasty and dangerous place. We, however, only met friendly people in the city (all warning us about the dangers), ready to help us find a safe place for the night. Our hotel was lovely and I straight away went to the free trade zone. It appeared to be more of a money-making area, and not a place to pick up a good deal. I looked around but couldn't see any cameras I liked at a reasonable price. All I could do was try and have mine fixed.

 

The following day was laundry day and time to sort out internet stuff which was, by then, long overdue. Although Colon was situated close to the Panama Canal, I never saw the canal.

 

28-30 April - Colon – Panama City - 90 km

Panama is a small country, and therefore effortless cycling across it from the Atlantic coast to Panama City on the Pacific coast. It wasn't a bad ride; a bit hilly but no rain. On cycling into Panama City, we encountered a sprawling, cosmopolitan area. The city was the centre for international banking and trade in Panama and, therefore, sported a modern skyline of glass and steel towers.

 

Cycling around, looking for a budget room, revealed that we were in the wrong area. Instead of budget accommodation, we encountered international hotels with the likes of Le Meridian, The Radisson and the Continental. In the end, a more reasonably priced room was found in the old part of town.

 

The following day an even less expensive room was sought and, in the process, we cycled through the old city and on to the famous Panama Canal. Panama City was located at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. Still, the canal wasn't half as impressive as the Suez Canal, and there was an entrance fee.

 

The interesting part about Panama was that sunrise was at approximately 6:20 a.m., and sunset at around 6:20 p.m., every day, year-round. No wonder it had been amongst the top five places for retirement in the world.

 

Sadly, my camera packed up completely, and I went in search of a new one, or at least a place to fix it. Being a Sunday, most shops were unfortunately closed. The following day turned out to be a public holiday and, once again, little got done.

 

1 May - Panama City

Off to the shops I went again, back and forth between the large shopping centres. Firstly, looking for a place to have the camera fixed and, secondly, to check on prices for a new one. I found both, handed in my camera for repairs, but then went wild and bought myself a new Canon Rebel as well. This deed, unknowingly, marked the start of a long love affair with Canon.

 

I spotted a somewhat professional-looking bike shop and handed the bike in for a service and then returned to the room to play with my new toy.

 

2 May - Panama City

The old city of Panama, known as Casco Viejo, had an interesting history. The town was a significant trading post for oriental silks and spices. Being a wealthy city, it was the envy of many pirates. In 1671, the town was ransacked and destroyed by the Welsh pirate, Sir Henry Morgan, leaving only the stone ruins of Panama Viejo. At the time, the area consisted of crumbling buildings with narrow lanes, forming part of a high-density slum. Although the area was said to be an unsafe, the only danger I encountered was the missing drain covers.

 

3-4 May - Panama City

Panama was a confusing country, direction wise. Due to its 'S' shape north, south, east and west were never where I expected it to be. In Panama City, the sun rises over the Pacific Ocean and sets over the Atlantic Ocean. It surely must be the only place in the world where that happens. The canal runs roughly north to south (not east to west, as I thought). Weird!

 

5 May - Panama City – Chepo – 73 km

The camera repairs were going to take 20 days and I was secretly happy as it allowed for heading into the Darien. Not only remote, but the unsurpassable jungle of the Panamanian Darien Region had a reputation for danger (drug traffickers and Columbian rebels) and that was enough to make me want to visit. Mostly, my desire to visit was because it was said to be one of the most remote places on Earth.

 

I was excited to get going, but with Ernest always dragging his heals, (big eye-roll) it was 11 a.m. before finally getting on the road. Nearly the entire way was built up, and it took 50 kilometres of cycling before the road spat us out in the countryside.

 

On arrival in Chepo, we met Mr Singh, who ran the Pizza King. After chatting to him, we learned that he lived in South Africa for five years. No sooner were the panniers off-loaded, and Mr Singh arrived with a pizza. He further insisted we visit the shop for coffee and cake, and an enjoyable time was spent chatting about his life in South Africa.

 

 

6 May - Chepo – Unknown settlement – 60 km

Woken by Mr Singh, who invited us to breakfast, didn't come as a surprise. We scurried across the road and had a good old chat while enjoying breakfast.

 

No sooner had we left, or it started bucketing down, forcing us to take shelter waiting for the worst to pass. To our surprise, the paved road came to an end, and it became a battle along a muddy and gravelly road until, finally, reaching a paved road again. At around 5 p.m., a tiny settlement was reached where we camped at the local cantina. No cantina makes peaceful camping, and the music blared until late in the evening and people were understandably noisy. I only hoped no one would fall on the tent. Covered in mud, but with no privacy to wash, I crawled in, muddy feet and all.

 

7 May – Unknown settlement -Torti – 38 km

It appeared one went through stages of things breaking. This must have been the tent-pole-breaking-stage, as in one night, both Ernest and I suffered broken tent poles. Luckily duct tape, cable ties and the odd hacksaw blade came in handy. After a late start the road led past tiny unmapped settlements with thatched huts and indigenous people going about their business. However, the amount of deforestation in the area was alarming.

 

On reaching Torti, Ernest spotted a hotel. The price was reasonable and I was in desperate need of a shower. As the room came with hot water, I made use of the opportunity to do laundry. Torti was an area where most people still travelled by horseback, and the town therefore the place to find the saddlemakers, making the most beautiful and decorative saddles.

 

8 May - Torti – Meteti – 77 km

After entering the Darian province, the road deteriorated even further. It was, however, a scenic ride as the road ran through a densely forested area. Police stops were frequent, and bags were searched; precisely what they were after I couldn't figure out. Drugs, I guessed.

 

I couldn't believe I, again, got bitten by ants and it appeared I had developed a slight reaction to ant bites. I immediately started itching under my armpits, and it burnt like crazy. It seemed to get worse every time it happened, how very strange.

 

Meteti was reached early and, fortunately, shortly before the rain came down. It rained so hard we couldn't even hear each other.

 

9 May - Meteti – Javisa – 54 km

 

It wasn't only terribly hot but also exceptionally humid. As is the case with any good jungle road, it wasn't without a hill or two. On reaching the small village of Yaviza, the way came to a grinding halt. The town marked the end of the Pan American Highway, and the start of the infamous Darien Gap. The assumption that there was a boat from Yavisa to La Palma was clearly incorrect, meaning we had to backtrack to Puerto Quimba.

 

 

 

10 May - Javisa –Meteti – 55 km

Backtracking wasn't all that bad as we escaped the rain and it became a pleasant day of cycling. At one small stall, the owner presented us with pineapples, avocados, mangoes and some strange unknown fruit. They wanted no money, and with panniers bulging, we continued down the road, soon reaching Meteti.

 

11 May - Meteti – La Palma via Puerto Quimba – 20 km

Leaving Meteti was at a leisurely pace to cycle the short distance on a slightly hilly and gravelly road to Puerto Quimba. The area was beautiful in its remoteness; and at times so quiet the forest noises sounded deafening. Once in Puerto Quimba, a boat to La Palma was located and being a short distance it only took about 30 minutes to get there.

 

La Palma was the capital of the Darien Province. Strangely, it wasn't reachable by road and only consisted of a few colourful houses on stilts. La Palma only had one street along a muddy riverfront and, besides the few shops, bars and restaurants lining the one and only road, there was nothing else. Our stilted accommodation was rickety, and one could not only hear the water sloshing underneath but also see it through the floorboards.

 

12 May - La Palma – Sambu - By boat

Initial information was that the next boat to Sambu was only on Monday (a two-day wait), but at the slipway, one got the impression there may be a boat sometime later that day. I read somewhere that the service in Sambu was "as slow as molasses" and I couldn't think of a better description. There was little else to do but hang around, watching boats come and go. Eventually, a boat arrived, and on an open speedboat we flew across the Gulf de San Miguel at breakneck speed while brown pelicans and shearwaters drifted effortlessly above us. The Gulf was scenic and peppered with small islands.

 

Soon after leaving, the boat turned up the River Sambu and after a further two hours arrived at the little settlement of Sambu, home to the Embera and Cimarrones. Interestingly enough, these were people of African descent whose ancestors escaped the slave trade by living in the jungle. Sambu was situated deep in the forest, and one would never have spotted it unless you got off the boat.

 

Although tiny, the settlement was considered substantial for the Darien as it had a payphone, landing strip, clinic and school. The centre of town was a large, shady mango tree where everyone gathered. In the event of wanting to reach anyone in the village by phone, the payphone was the number to dial, and someone in the vicinity of the phone would answer. The landing strip, was the only paved road in the town, and the place where kids rode their bikes and lovers took a stroll in the evening. Ernest and I sat on our little veranda overlooking all the action, and I was quite happy just sitting there. Watching the activities, I once again realised that although the Embera people lived in reeded houses on high stilts, cooked on open fires and wore traditional clothes, they were no different from the people where I come from.

 

13 May - Sambu

Early morning, I took a walk through the village and to the river where people bathed and I watched the village folk go about their business. We started inquiring about a boat back to Panama City, and the answer was, yes, there was indeed one and that it may arrive, maybe today, maybe tomorrow.

 

When the boat arrived, I was quite shocked at the state of the old rust bucket. It didn't appear to be seaworthy or capable of reaching Panama City. I was also slightly concerned about how I was going to get myself, panniers and bike up the narrow gangplank and onto the deck. Word had it that the Do๑a-Dora was only leaving the following day. The reason for the delayed departure soon became apparent: as the tide went out, the ship was soon sitting firmly on the muddy riverbed. At least we knew it wasn't leaving without us.

 

A stroll through the village resulted in an invitation into one of the homes. I was surprised at how spacious and airy it was, and interesting to see they cooked on open wood fires even inside. A concrete slab was placed in one corner, and that was where all the cooking was done.

 

I also bought a wrap-around skirt from the lady and felt I blended in much better (ha-ha, not that I would ever blend in at all!). There weren't shops around the village and now and again someone pushing a wheelbarrow would appear selling whatever they had. Fish, cucumbers, even a cow's head, and later the shrimp man arrived who Ernest supported. He must have overeaten as he was dreadfully sick during the night. I sat on the balcony, watching a display of lightning in the distance and listening to the sounds of the forest.

 

14 May - Sambu

Getting used to the slow jungle pace came naturally and when told the boat was only leaving at 10 p.m., the news was taken in our stride! It rained most of the day, and there was little else to do but sit on the balcony watching the Embera people paddle their dugout canoes.

 

Each household had a few chickens which were, by far, the ugliest chickens I’ve ever seen. Fish seemed the staple diet as riverside living made easy fishing, even if it was only catfish. Rice, beans, bananas, mangoes and avocados seemed to accompany all meals.

 

By late afternoon we headed to the Do๑a-Dora where it required the skills of a trapeze artist to get our stuff and ourselves on the boat as the only access was via a long and narrow gangplank. Once on the boat, we found tiny wooden cabins – six bunks to a cabin, leaving little headroom or manoeuvring space. Most of the bunks were broken and not all beds could be used. Our fellow passengers were rather interesting, travelling with live lizards in hessian bags, parrots in boxes and buckets of fresh seafood.

 

15 May - Sambu –Panama City - By boat

The following morning, the boat anchored in the Gulf off the village of Geruchine, where local launches came out to meet us. Plenty of fish, empty drink crates, gas cylinders and more passengers were loaded. Getting on board was quite a spectacle as passengers had to be pushed and shoved onto the Do๑a-Dora from the small panga boats that came alongside.

 

Once out of the Gulf de San Miguel, and in the open waters of the Pacific Ocean, we sailed along smoothly while watching dolphins and flying fish. It was the first time I saw flying fish, and I was ecstatic as this wasn't even the South China Sea! Brown pelicans followed in our wake, diving for food, while shearwaters soared above.

 

The food served was based on the local staples of boiled bananas, and a dish made of rice and beans. The cook was much better than on the Rey Emmanuel (at least it wasn't only chicken feet and salted pork fat).

 

At around midnight, we slowly cruised into Panama Bay where we anchored. After coming from the jungle, the night view of the towering city lights was quite spectacular.

 

16-19 May - Panama City

Waking up on our rocking boat, I could hardly believe the Do๑a-Dora made it to Panama City. We sat watching the city skyline from a completely different angle, waiting for midday and high tide to go onto the pier. Both breakfast and lunch were served, and as other passengers had gradually left by small launches, the food served was much better.

 

The high tide allowed mooring, but the swell made it tricky getting bikes and panniers off the boat while the boat was bashing back and forth against the dock. I was more than ready to finally get off the boat and be on my way again. Once off the boat, we headed to a room to have a much-needed shower. As there was a supermarket close by, supper was much different from the food served on the boat!

 

 

20 May - Panama City – Capira – 55 km

Leaving Panama City meant cycling across the Bridge of the Americas, a road bridge, which spanned the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. I couldn't cycle over this bridge without snapping a few pics of the container ships coming into the canal.

 

The rest of the day was spent cycling along an excellent but hilly road. It was, as usual, hot and humid, which made for frequent stops to fill up with water.

 

On reaching Capira, a rural town in the Cermeno Mountains, we found it a typical Spanish Colonial-type town centred around a central church plaza. A room with a balcony, where one could sit watching the rolling hills around the city, was our home that night.

 

21 May - Capira – Anton – 79 km

The next day it was back on the Pan-American Highway as it was very much the only road heading to Costa Rica. It was, therefore, not unusual to meet other cyclists. The last time cycling along this highway was in Chili, many moons ago. No highway ever made exciting cycling and it became an uneventful day.

 

22 May - Anton – Aguadulce – 73 km

 

 

Early morning, a truck driver stopped and offered me a cycling helmet. He told us the road was busy and dangerous with many trucks and, therefore, safer to wear a helmet, what a kind man. Again, we met other cyclists heading to Panama City and the end of their cycling journey. The road flattened out, making comfortable cycling for much of the day. The rain encountered soon cleared, and we continued to the small village of Aguadulce.

 

 

 

23 May - Aguadulce – Santiago – 58 km

Central Panama, located between the continental divide and the Pacific, was a sparsely populated area, dotted with farms and ranches. I watched in fascination how ranchers herded cattle by horseback, something which is always a pleasure to observe.

 

24 May– Santiago

I managed to find a public phone that worked. After confirming that my camera would be ready the next day, we decided to stay put, allowing me to pick up the camera before moving on.

 

25 May– Santiago

Early morning, I caught a bus to Panama City, picked up the camera and jumped on a bus back to Santiago. It was a whole day affair and only arrived back after dark. At least I had my old, trusted Panasonic back.

 

26 May - Santiago – Los Ruices – 64 km

Being sweltering, humid and hilly, the day’s cycling was much harder than expected. The going was slow, and I watched sweat from my face drop on the tarmac. So hot was it that by mid-day I felt faint and nauseous, but there was little one could do but soldier on. By afternoon, a tiny settlement was reached where an abandoned restaurant with a small veranda made good enough camping. Discovering a laundry trough with running water, was a bonus. Ernest cooked food and as there was very little to do while wild camping we crawled in early.

 

27 May - Los Ruices - San Feliz – 58 km

After packing up, Ernest discovered a broken spoke and, once fixed, it was reasonably late and nothing came of the planned early start. It appeared there was no escaping the heat and I keenly looked at the sky wishing for a cooling shower. It was, however, another rainless day. Fortunately, the road seemed to have reached a high point as it felt like a mostly downhill ride.

 

The remainder of the day turned out a beautiful ride through the mountains, the highlight being encountering the Guaymi tribe. The Guaymi women made traditional crafts, both for their own use, and to sell as an extra income. These included handmade bags from plant fibres called "kra", colourful dresses called "nagua" and beaded bracelets and necklaces. The men, mostly, made hats from the same material.

 

When the Spanish arrived in Panama, they found three distinct Guaymi tribes in what is today western Panama. Each was named after its chief, and each spoke a different language. The chiefs were Nata, Parita and Urraca. Urraca became famous for defeating the Spaniards and forcing them to sign a peace treaty, way back in 1522. Urraca was, nonetheless, betrayed and captured, but he escaped and made his way back to the mountains, vowing to fight the Spaniards unto death, a vow which he fulfilled. The Spaniards so feared Urraca they avoided combat with his men. When Urraca died in 1531, he was still a free man.

 

To this day, some Guaymi still choose to live secluded lives away from modern society and with little facilities.

 

28-29 May - San Felix – David – 84 km

Again, it was a blistering, cloudless day. Fortunately, there weren't any hills, but the road deteriorated, and the shoulder disappeared altogether. The heat made exhausting riding and I was dead tired on reaching David.

 

In the centre of town, Parque Cervantes was surrounded by local vendors selling anything from clothing to local fruit juices (but mainly lottery tickets). Accommodation was a pricy room, but I couldn't care less as all I wanted to do was have a shower and lie down.

 

We also stayed the following day to do the dreaded laundry.

 

 

30 May - David, Panama–Paso Canoas, Costa Rica – 55 km

After leaving at leisure, we found the road had levelled out which made comfortable riding, past plenty fruit stalls to the Panama/Costa Rica border. The border crossing went as smooth as silk, and officials didn't give us as much as a second glance; only stamped us in, and that was that. There were plenty of duty-free shops and after searching for bargains, none were found. Being a typical border town it was packed with trucks and buses, dodgy-looking money changers and food stalls. Still, Ernest wanted to stay and only continue in the morning. He had his reasons.

 

    Home                                                                                    Top                                                                                next country