We spend the last day in Costa Rica in a nice hotel in Ciudad Neily trying to dry our stuff since pretty much everything was soaked after riding in heavy rain. We needed to be on top of things for the border crossing to Panama. If anything would go wrong here it could screw things up later on when we were to ship the bikes from Panama to Colombia. Luckily we were getting pretty experienced in the art of crossing Central American borders by now.
Arriving at the border at Canoas.
Checking out of Costa Rica.
Heading for the border to Panama. This is where we needed to get our papers right.
There’s a special atmosphere at borders and you always meet a lot of people. Lars was doing the paperwork while I had a long conversation with this gentleman – not that I had any idea what he was saying!
We also met Ray from Quebec, Canada and Soren from Nuuk, Greenland. They started their trip in Canada together with Ray’s wife and had Panama as their destination. Unfortunately she crashed and broke her wrist in Mexico and had to fly home and Ray and Soren continued without her.
Soren waiting patiently while Ray does the work.
Once again we managed to cross the border under 3 hours – success! We headed for the city David together with Ray and Soren and spend the night there.
Next day we headed towards Panama City as destination. Since there are no roads through the Darien Gap between Panama and Columbia you need to either fly or sail and we had decided to fly the bikes from Panama City.
The Darien Gap is not more than about 160 km of rugged mountains with swamps and dense rain forest and home to 2 indigenous Indian tribes. Only a few handful of people have managed to cross the Gap either in 4-wheel drives, by foot or canoe. Very few have managed to take their motorcycle through the gap. The legendary Helge Peterson is one of them and he came out with a broken leg and an ugly infection.
Building a road through the Gap has been discussed several times but despite the positive development in Columbia, the Panamanian government is still reluctant to create a direct infrastructure to the neighbor.
We had long decided that we were going for the comfortable, quick and expensive air shipping to Columbia. We had spent a lot of time in North America and were left with little time to cover the entire South America. In fact only 3 months to cover 17.000 km and a lot of that would be on dirt roads not to forget the extremely stormy conditions of Tierra Del Fuego.
On our way to Panama City we accidentally ended up in a large gated community at Coronado. It’s one of those places where North Americans come to buy property and live a comfortable life completely secluded from the outside society. We had to pass a gate and were questioned before entering. We thought we could find a little hotel on the beach, but we were sent to the only hotel in the area, a large resort hotel. We passed enormous mansions behind tall barbed wired walls and could just as well been in Florida or Los Angeles. It was all very pretty and polished and we felt so misplaced there in our dirty riding gear and our shabby setup. Outside the gated community there were small farmer’s and fishermen’s houses. Basically sheds with stray dogs and garbage all over. We would have preferred to put our tent up next to them rather than staying behind the walls.
At the Corcovado beach.
We don’t understand the whole concept of gated communities for immigrants. Isn’t that phenomena exactly what the western world is constantly complaining about; immigrants sticking to themselves, never learning the local language or adapting to the culture or religion. Many retired Canadians and US citizens move to Costa Rica and Panama and live in these wealthy gated communities. In Panama they get significant economic advantages if they can document that they bring $1000 monthly to the country. They get large discounts in basically all stores when they present a retirement ID. They can live in luxury by moving to a place where local workers are paid much less than in Northern America and basically have no job security or legal protection. But didn’t the same people demand those rights for themselves when they were working in their own country? Well, guess it’s easy to get appalled by this parallel society and wealthy immigration and forget that there are many North Americans who come here and do get involved with the local culture. They work hard and create jobs, they do community work to improve the living conditions for locals, preserve the National Parks and much more.
We spend the night at a small hotel outside San Carlos run by a Canadian couple. One of those places where they gave up renewing the hotel 20 years ago and had gone blind to the obvious out-datedness but still charged 2011 prices.
On the way we met Paula and Martin from Buenos Aires. They just started their trip in Panama City and were heading up to Mexico where they planned to buy a van a drive back to Buenos Aires.
We arrived in Panama City December 1st. Having spent 2 months in Mexico and Central America it was surreal arriving in this ultra modern city with its magical sky line. The traffic was hectic and we had a hard time finding our way round. In the morning we used Google Maps and prepared ourselves thoroughly to be able to find the way to Villa Michelle, a small hotel in the northern part of the city. But since we didn’t have a detailed map of the city or a GPS map with us it was hard. As we missed a large turn-off we were left with our compass and intuition. You don’t easily turn around in Panama City. The roads are huge and split up in all directions and you really need to be in the right lane. Buses, taxis and cars are all honking and trying to squeeze themselves through the traffic a little faster and if you hesitate just the slightest, you loose.
The lady in this car asked me: “Are you lost?” Guess it was pretty obvious 🙂
On the way we were stopped by one of the many police checks. The police officer just checked our papers and let us go. Don’t know why Lars had the “I didn’t do it” look on his face!
We spend 2-3 hours riding in circles before we finally found our way to Hotel Villa Michelle. Well hotel is probably not the right description. It was more a hospedaje or a B&B without the Breakfast A funny little place with 9 rooms, shared showers and bathroom, 2 large kitchens, a 2 large living rooms and a pool. The hotel owner Ivonne was a rather eccentric lady who at first seemed a little reserved, but she turned out to be real nice. We got a room next to the outdoor kitchen and living room which was ok, since we didn’t mind the noise from all the people hanging out there.
We arrived Friday afternoon just in time for the first Roller Derby bout in the first Roller Derby World Cup ever. So obviously I was really pleased.
In Panama city with good WIFI, cold beer and Roller Derby World Cup streamed online! Now leave me alone for the next 3 days!
Oh and a little side note: Congrats to USA, The well-deserved winner of the first Roller Derby world cup ever! (Sorry, I get a little enthusiastic whenever the subject turns towards Derby!)
Party at Villa Michelle. We thought it was a pretty lame party when still at 10 pm there was hardly any people. We thought differently when the last guests were still partying at 11 am next morning.
Friday morning we contacted different shipping companies and decided for Girag. They were expensive, but transparent. No crating or disassembling the bikes and no hidden fees. They had one price $902 per bike all included. We just had to bring them to the airport and do the customs paperwork. We made an appointment Friday morning 9 am sharp in the Cargo Terminal. The bikes would be flying to Bogota Saturday morning and we could pick them up Sunday morning.
The next morning we overslept. Argh! Wrong day to get stressed. We hired a taxi to drive in front of us the fastest way to the cargo terminal at the airport. As we got there Lars realized that he had forgotten his passport. I was very close to blowing up by then.
We found Girag and after some difficulties communicating they found a lady who knew what this was about. She started making the shipping paperwork. Luckily Lars had brought a copy of his passport and she was able to do all the paperwork with that. Meanwhile we disconnected the batteries and I removed my top windscreen and emptied my spare petrol container. Otherwise we left all our bags and tied our riding suits on the bikes and only took clothes for 2 days with us.
The lady came back with our paperwork informing us that the flight Saturday was cancelled and she didn’t know when they could fly the bikes to Bogota. She asked us to call her directly the following Monday and hopefully the bikes would be leaving Tuesday morning. This was not exactly the plan. BUT it meant I had an excuse to spend all weekend watching the Roller Derby world cup! 🙂
It was quite strange leaving the bikes there on the ramp next to all the pallets and trucks passing by. There were a lot of people going in and out and we wondered if the bikes and our luggage would be safe.
On the way out we went to a small office for customs. They did the usual bike check out paper work and luckily they were also satisfied with Lars passport copy.
When we left the cargo airport it was with crossed fingers that we had done all required paperwork and that we would be reunited with our bikes soon again.
Feeling lonely left with only boots and helmet! :'(
We spend the next few days enjoying Panama City (and watching Roller Derby online :).
Panama City is a melting pot with everything from the extreme rich to shanty towns ad beggars. It’s piles of garbage next to polished glass sky scrapers.
Everything is possible in Panama: McDelivery! Every Sunday hangovers’ dream!
The buses are a cool contrast to the modern architecture. The bus driver does not have much of a window to look out through. And the little he has is decorated with mirror, feathers and graffiti style messages. That’s why they never notice the motorbikes.
The skyline is amazing.
Casco Viejo, Panama City Old town.
The fish market by Casco Viejo.
Plaza de la Independencia
Panama City’s old town is a fascinating mix of old ruins, run down houses and newly restored houses. It has been designated a World Heritage site and all restorations are done according to the original architecture.
Kuna Indian ladies with their beautiful pearl bands on arms and legs.
Cool dude singing “Feliz Navidad” in a very weird way 🙂
Pretty wall painting of the Panamanian traditional Pollera dress.
Naturally we visited the Panama Canal at Miraflores. Fascinating to see the enormous container ships go through the locks and slowly being lowered to the next level.
See Lars’ miniature video of a ship going through the locks.
The locomotives that steer the ships through the canal.
Outside we met Carlos, Roberto and Francis on their BMW’s. They had been on their first reconnaissance ride preparing for their new business: Moto tour Panama! They will be starting early 2012 so their website will be up and running soon.
Monday morning we called Girag and were glad to hear that the bikes were flying Monday afternoon. We got the flight number as confirmation and felt confident to book flight for ourselves to Bogota for Tuesday morning.
Flying out of Panama City on December 12th; Tocumen Airport is pretty and clean and nicely Decorated for Christmas. This was a very comfortable way to cross a border. We missed the usual border crossings with its tooth-less guys selling chilled coconuts, the fixers, the heat and confusion. 🙂