Day 36 to 43 – Panama – Thinking in the rain and preparation for the Darien Gap Crossing

2016-10-17 – Day 36 – San Jose, CR to David, Panama (429 km – 7:45 hrs)
2016-10-18 – Day 37 – David, PA to Las Tablas, PA (306 km – 5:00 hrs)
2016-10-19 – Day 38 – Las Tablas, PA
2016-10-20 – Day 39 – Las Tablas, PA
2016-10-21 – Day 40 – Las Tablas, PA to Anton Valley, PA (188 km – 3:20 hrs)
2016-10-22 – Day 41 – Anton Valley, PA to Panama City, PA
2016-10-23 – Day 42 – Panama City, PA
2016-10-24 – Day 43 – Panama City, PA to Puerto Carti, PA (150 km – 2:30 hrs)

My trip to Costa Rica was a bit overshadowed by high prices, but mostly by rain.

I still ended my visit on a high note with a simple but pleasant evening, with Laura and her friend in a small resto-bar next to my hotel. It ended a little late so I left San Jose a bit on the late side the next morning.

2016-10-17-david-03

My goal was to drive to the National Park of Manuel Antonio area, but the rain was too strong, and I simply decided to get to Panama.

So I crossed the border in the rain, which does not help with all the usual confusion of those places that are, the more I see them and think about it, such pathetic places! But as they are required, you must attack them head on and this morning was no exception.

Small note, plan to keep a few hundred colones, because there are several toll stations getting out of San Jose.

Procedure to exit Costa Rica: Go to pay the $12 (which may be paid in colones) exit fees, go get your passport stamped from immigration, go to customs to cancel the import permit for the motorbike. A pencil is necessary because a form has to be filled in each location. What pleasure that was with wet hands and clothes!

No costs, no waiting.

Panama entry: Start by going to get insurance ($12, payable in colones or $) for the bike.

Going to customs where a form is given. The lady then sends me to immigration to get the right to enter the country. Meanwhile, she proceeds with the paperwork. Then I return to the customs to get the temporary import permit.

Go to the fumigation for the bike, pay $1.

Besides insurance, and fumigation, no other charges.

There is a checkpoint one kilometre away where signed forms need to be shown.

2016-10-17-david-04

2016-10-17-david-05

2016-10-17-david-06

2016-10-17-david-07

2016-10-17-david-08

2016-10-17-david-09

2016-10-17-david-10

2016-10-17-david-11

2016-10-17-david-12

2016-10-17-david-13

2016-10-17-david-14

2016-10-17-david-15

Upon my entry to Panama, what strikes the most is the quality of the road, which becomes a 4 lane highway. Unfortunately, the speed limit is only 80 km/h and is frequently controlled by police doing radars checks.

You might have guessed it, I got pulled over for speeding for the first time! But the intervention from the police officer, who was on a motorcycle, quickly turned into a series of questions about my bike and my trip!

No “multa” (fine) for this time!

I get, in pouring rain, to the city of David, although I was hoping to go to the mountains in the village of Boquete, but it was unnecessary to add 100 km to my already long day (and that of tomorrow) because I am convinced that the rain there would have been quite similar to the one I had before me in David!

The city centre is downright awful and very busy. I was totally drenched, exhausted and I brought myself to pay US $50 for a hotel, which is not so bad, but far above what I wanted to pay for this type of stop.

The good news is that the lady at the counter gave me her personal fan and, with the help of the air conditioner in my room, I was able to get my things dry overnight!

I walked around the city in the rain. The centre is still adapted to the rainy weather because the shelters are present on all the main streets. Here is my only photo of the city!

2016-10-17-david-16

No interesting restaurants so I also bring myself to have a meal from the hotel restaurant delivered to my room. A first (and last, I hope!)… Fortunately, I had a small reserve of wine hidden in my backpack!

Side note.

In addition to writing this blog, I copy it to a forum on a site dedicated to passionate motorcycle and adventure fans.

ADVRider.com

Several readers contacted me to join me at some point during the trip or to wish me luck.

One of them offered me his house on the seaside in Panama! Considering that I have a bit of time on my hands, and to visit the villages in constant rain does not motivate me to stay on the roads, I decided to accept his offer!

The next day, my mission is to travel to the Las Tablas, where his house is located.

I managed to find it at the end of the afternoon and it was a somewhat tumultuous arrival because I had problems with the water supply.

After using my Plumber knowledge (!) and worked to solve all for a few hours, I had to return to the village because I had no provisions for the evening.

Have I mentioned that I NEVER wanted to drive in the dark?

I made an exception and this has only reinforced this rule. The supermarket is located about 15 minutes away, but it rains heavily, a portion of the road leading to the house is made of dirt (read: mud) and above all, the road to the village, although very recent, is repaired with large smears of tar that seal holes, but creates sports as slippery as a skating rink. It was downright dangerous and I had to drive no faster than 30 km/h, especially when approaching curves!

I come back in one piece, happy to have some pasta on hand (and a few beers and a bottle of wine!).

I must admit that for the first time of the trip, I started wondering what I was doing here.

What a brilliant idea motivated me to come to be rained on the head for days, make me risk my life on such dangerous roads?

The last few days have been a bit depressing and I was starting to have second thoughts.

The following days and nights allowed me to realize that the bad roads, mechanical problems, loneliness or even bad weather are sources of discouragement and questioned, but precisely that it is these difficulties that are, in reality, challenge for which I am here.

I ate overcooked pasta alone, in a small pot, with a 50-cent sauce, in a kitchen that was not mine, with very cheap bottle of wine, in heavy rain.

But I ate (and drank a bit!)

I slept under a roof.

I’m healthy.

I have financial security.

I have a house.

I have family and friends who appreciate me.

I had a few bad days, but you know what, even if I have cursed in more than one occasion, I also laughed a lot, in fact probably more than cursed.

As the water was overflowing on the floor of the house and I was laughing alone like a clown without a crowd.

Pathetic?

No, I think it was just the thing to do in front of the situation so out of my control, but at the same time, that only myself could manage and resolve.

I realized that night that the challenges and difficult situations are so important.

I’ve been gone for over a month already.

I had some difficulties.

I also realize I still have six more months of difficulties, dull days in the rain, of getting cold, or hot, more miserable roads, execrable motels.

But that’s what challenges are made of.

And the challenges to expect in the coming weeks are so great that it is difficult to realize their extent.

There will also superb roads, full of curves, sunny days, with unique and new landscapes, future friends, or just a hotel, a restaurant or a person who will be there to make it a memorable day.

This is what keeps me positive and motivated to continue.

But hey, to each his own! The important thing is not so much the nature of the challenge, but always to have one close at hand.

And this is not my problem now!

I’ll spend a few days on the beach, take the opportunity to go running, even if it rains, do laundry and prepare myself mentally for a long crossing to Colombia that is very soon!

The 19 and 20 October were nevertheless beautiful days with very little rain. So I took the opportunity to do my laundry, went jogging, relaxed in the hammock, wrote these lines, cleaned up a mess in one of my bags, because although I have water proofed my things against the outside elements, I was attacked from the inside!

A bottle of soap supposedly made for this kind of trip has opened and spilled its contents in one of my bags. I had clean and dry everything (and throw some non-recoverable items). Fortunately, the sun was present and was my ally for this task!

2016-10-19-las-tablas-29

2016-10-19-las-tablas-26

2016-10-19-las-tablas-25

2016-10-19-las-tablas-21

2016-10-19-las-tablas-03

2016-10-19-las-tablas-10

2016-10-19-las-tablas-02

2016-10-20-las-tablas-02

2016-10-20-las-tablas-14

2016-10-20-las-tablas-39

2016-10-20-las-tablas-44

I left Friday the 21st to a village in the mountains called El Valle de Anton, located just over 2 hours from Las Tablas.

The normal way to get to El Valle, also known as Anton Valley, is Highway 71, but from the North, Google Map made me go through a road newly paved, but much more isolated and with the bonus of offering great landscapes and curves.

I am now a veteran of such roads, mountains, curves, but a new challenge awaited me.

I had to go up and down, all accompanied by very tight curves, and those were the steepest slopes ever seen in all my travels, including Corsica, Italy and other famous places with sinuous roads. All this accompanied by rain, and heavy oil stains easily visible on the brand new tarmac.

Do I need to tell you that all this was done between first and second gear, very slowly and carefully.

Unfortunately no pics, rain, rain, rain…

I had reserved a room by phone in a modest hotel near the village centre, which I knew, having stayed there a few years ago, but upon arrival, I noticed a large gate leading to a somewhat isolated small piece of property, which aroused my curiosity. The place, which is called Casa Mariposa el Valle, is not yet in Google Map, so I could not check the price and details of the rooms offered.

Before I got off the motorcycle, a nice lady came towards me and gave me the grand tour. In fact, it was a very small grand tour, because the place is just a house with a second building housing two small rooms, surrounded by beautiful greenery and a river flowing gently between them and the main residence.

Although a few dollars more expensive, and obviously above my budget, which is rendered normal since Costa Rica, the decision was easy because the other option was, very politely said, basic.

I get changed and meanwhile, the rain began to fall a little, and then, very strongly. I took my time and after an hour, the intensity reduced a bit and I decided to go out to see the choice of restaurants for dinner.

Ouch, the rain became very strong once more and after walking 45 minutes alone in the flooded village streets deserted by the local population, because of the presence of this tropical storm (!), I returned completely drenched. Not damp, not simply wet, I was as wet as if I had jumped into a swimming pool.

My boots, for which I had worked so hard the past few days to wash and dry, were like a little personal baths for the feet.

Returning to the hotel, face the ironic smile from the owner who kindly gave me all her newspapers of the week to stuff in my boots, I resolved to get dry a little and go back to get roasted chicken from a cheap restaurant on the other side of the street.

The lady tells me a bit about her story. She’s from Switzerland, where her husband is still working, and started this little project 3 years ago. She wants to keep it all very modest and does it more for the pleasure of meeting people from all over the world than for the money.

She also tells me about the road by which I came from. It is often used for bike workouts, but some portions must be walked as they are too steep, and this, as much for going up than coming down. I totally believe her!

I wake up the next morning with a small breakthrough from sun and I take advantage of it to dry my things, for because of the humidity is so high, everything was still wet.

2016-10-22-el-vale-de-anton-02

That’s when the lady comes up to me and offered me to come to see her « paresseux ». Paresseux in French means lazy. If I say « come and see my « paresseux » in my language, it’s as if I would be making a joke about someone lazy.

I simply thought that her husband had returned from Switzerland, but no, it really was a paresseux (lazy) monkey!

2016-10-22-el-vale-de-anton-12

It was really impressive to observe these animals from so close!

On this Saturday, October 22nd, I leave for a short drive to Panama City, where I’ll spend the next two days, which will be the last 2 before crossing to Cartagena in Colombia.

The city is really huge and although I expected it, because I had visited it a few years back, the perspective of entering it driving a motorcycle is impressive.

2016-10-22-panama-city-27

2016-10-22-panama-city-30

Before going to the hotel. I decided to make a detour to the motorcycle parts retailer called Moto Touratech Panama.

Motorcycles tech – Touratech Panama

I am greeted by motorcycle and travel enthusiasts. I spent an hour answering questions and taking photos. Finally, they invited me to a party to be held later that afternoon, to mark the first year of the motorcycle club.

2016-10-22-panama-city-35

I got myself a gift and a bit much needed luxury in Panama City, two nights at the DoubleTree by Hilton! Normally, these are good quality hotels but far from being 5 star locations, but today, it felt like it! What happiness! I know I’m soooo snob … Anyway, the next 5 nights will be in a floating dormitory and I need a good rest before facing this ordeal!

I get bat to the Touratech shop at 3:00 p.m. and have a good time with friendly people, curious and again, motorcycle enthusiasts. They really full of questions about my journey, my preparation, but most surprising of all, about how I’m going to cross to Columbia with the bike.

I expected them to tell me about the options I did not know! I happily answered all these questions, practising my Spanish, enjoying good grills (parrillada) and some good cold beers! La Gorda was even treated to a wash!

2016-10-22-panama-city-38

2016-10-22-panama-city-46

2016-10-22-panama-city-43

2016-10-22-panama-city-40
I then visited a bit in this huge city driving and on foot. It’s really impressive and I rather regret not having planned a little more time here.

Sunday the 23rd is devoted to walking the main streets of Panama City, but also Casco Viejo, which is the colonial and historical district of the capital. I’m impressed with all the renovations that have taken place since my last visited. There is much work to do, but there is clear progress.

2016-10-23-panama-city-14

2016-10-23-panama-city-20

2016-10-23-panama-city-21

2016-10-23-panama-city-23

2016-10-23-panama-city-25

2016-10-23-panama-city-26

2016-10-23-panama-city-39

2016-10-23-panama-city-41

2016-10-23-panama-city-44

Tomorrow, Monday the 24th, I head to the great Stahlratte sailboat. As I would not have cell signal for the next 5 days, this article concludes my time in Central America.

Although less exciting than Mexico, especially because of the many border crossings, wet weather and higher prices, I still had a good time and added good stuff in my souvenir bag, especially related to a superb trek in Antigua, and some surprising and pleasant meetings in places where I least expected it.

There is a multitude of things and places I have not seen nor, by extension, visited. It is only my fault, but it is not easy to do extensive research for several countries almost simultaneously to locate hidden jewels.

I consider the 21 days here as an introduction to future adventures, which will focus on specific areas and not on a continent in full on a single trip. You also have to choose the time of year to visit some countries because too much rain is not to my personal taste, nor desired, on a motorcycle or not.

Coup de coeur: Antigua, Guatemala
Disappointment: Costa Rica and Panama
Most welcoming city: Granada, Nicaragua, only because of the Hotel Sonrisas 
Best atmosphere: Antigua
Where I would have a full month in winter: Antigua (but possibly not a full month!)
Where I will not return: San José, Costa Rica, and Leon, Nicaragua
The surprise: Antigua
The best route: Exiting the village of Santa Helena, Costa Rica
Ugliest Roads: Around San Jose
If I had to do it again: slow down and explore a bit more Guatemala before making the jump to Costa Rica because the country costs a fortune and it rains too much (during certain periods of the year)
Next time: Phew, hard to say. Unfortunately, a little less time in Central America versus Mexico and South America, but possibly one or two more days in Panama City and Antigua
What I missed the most: Mexico, for its low price and more colonial appearance.

Number of days: 21
Distance: 3100 km

The next post will come to you from South America!

Next Article (Recent) ⇨

Day 43 to 47 - The Stahlratte and the Crossing to Colombia

2016-10-24 - Day 43 - Puerto Carti, PA to El Porvenir, PA (4:15 hrs - 124 km) 2016-10-25 - Day 44 - El Porvenir, PA to San Blas Islas, PA (4:30 hrs - 44 km) 2016-10-26 - Day 45 - San Blas Islas, PA in Cartagena, Colombia 2016-10-27 - Day ... Read more

⇦ Previous Article (Older)

Day 31 to 35 - Costa Rica - Pura Vida and... Rain!

2016-10-12 - Day 31 - San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua to La Fortuna, CR (Costa Rica) (275 km - 6:00 hrs) 2016-10-13 - Day 32 - La Fortuna, CR 2016-10-14 - Day 33 - La Fortuna, CR Monte Verde, CR (118 km - 3:30 hrs) 2016-10-15 - Day 34 - ... Read more


Marc Ouellet

Adventurer at heart. Travelling on 2 wheels to South America soon!

2 COMMENTS
  • Chris Cheston
    Reply

    Hi Marc, We did warn you about Panama in the rainy season. Why do you think we do not go back then? Sorry that you did not enjoy much our choice of ‘second’ home. We love it there with all its diversity, some good and some not quite so but…… each to his own my friend. enjoy the next stage of your adventure. Chris.

    1. Marc Ouellet
      Reply

      I know, but I didn’t really have much choice but to be there at that moment. I’ll make sure to visit you in summer soon!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

code

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial