02.12.16 Panama City, Panama.
A lot to catch up on today. This week has been mainly rain, and lots of it mingled with upset tums.
Both of those things held us up for a couple of days, and so we only arrived in Panama City yesterday.
The rain was of astronomical proportions, and continued like that on Tuesday and Wednesday, although when we set off on Thursday from Santiago, we thought the weather looked ok. It was, apart from a ten minute stretch in the middle of the ride, which once again ended up with me being soaked through to the skin despite the goretex suit. The rain comes from every angle and fills up the sidecar like a bucket, so I’m effectively sitting in a puddle! Still, it’s never happened before, so maybe it’s just a Panama thing?
We took the ride with a little trepidation, we were watching out for Customs and Migration people, more than normal actually. This is because on Monday we seemed to narrowly avoid a bit of trouble when we were stopped at a Customs checkpoint in the mountains. On inspection of our vehicle paperwork it turned out that when the annoying man at the Nicaraguan border had completed our vehicle permit, he had noted Paul as owning the vehicle, and me as the driver!
Now, although I have a bike licence I have never ridden Paul’s bike, with or without a sidecar attached. However, when asked if I was the driver, Paul answered that we both were, we took turns. What came next was a comedy of errors, because the Customs guy said that because it named me and not Paul on the paperwork, then I had to be driving. My heart started racing, as I turned to Paul in horror, to hear him saying ‘ok, no problem, we’ll change over there’ pointing to a pull in by the side of the control area.
Paul gamely climbed into the sidecar telling me ‘I’m no happier than you are’, and I climbed onto the bike, with Paul giving me instructions, and Customs guy shouting out ‘thank you’ in the background. I stalled once, then twice before managing a lurch to the right heading straight for a steep bank (in my defence it’s extremely different riding a bike with a sidecar), before there was whistling and shouting from Senor Customs. Paul leapt out, and walked towards him, and I stood with my head hanging low in shame. There followed a discussion about how I clearly wasn’t the driver, and he was following the law of Panama, only doing his job. Paul ate humble pie, explaining the document was done incorrectly, and he was sorry he didn’t know why he’d lied, but we were scared. Luckily Senor C was a compassionate man, and allowed us to go on our way with Paul driving, and a handshake each. I think he saw that he’d saved us all from disaster! He did, however, warn us of a control checkpoint with Migration and Customs checks together on the Pan American highway. This left us quite worried, but we paddled our way through. The checkpoint was actually about 35 miles before we swam into our stop on Monday, and someone must have been looking after us, we slowed down for the inspection, but due to the torrential rain, we think the officer just didn’t fancy getting wet, and waved us straight through. Thank goodness!
The next couple of days were rest and recuperation, and as we left on Thursday morning, we were lucky enough to meet a Canadian biker called Gord. What a smashing fella, he’d left us a note on the bike, and we met up over breakfast to swap stories.
Gord is also riding to Ushuaia, although his passage to Colombia is by way of a sailboat on 13th December. The passage takes a couple of days, with visits to some Panamanian Islands and overnight stops there on the way. This would be a lovely way to travel to Colombia, but we have not chosen this way because of the size of the bike and sidecar and the need to remove the sidecar. Sending our bike over by plane we are not required to make any of those preparations. Anyway, we hope to meet up with Gord somewhere further down the line.
Just before reaching Panama CIty on a quick rest stop, we met a guy from Cadiz in Spain, who had ridden from Spain to India, in India he shipped his bike to Vancouver and has ridden from there. Alberto has been on the road for 7 months and ridden 36,000 miles, a bit less than double our mileage.
We rode with Alberto in search of the Panama Canal Visitor centre, although Alberto decided to ride on and find his hotel as he was completely soaked through (I was still quite cool on my bottom half). We entered the Visitor Centre and spent an enjoyable hour and a half watching the big ships enter and be navigated through the very tiny Miraflores Locks. On the old Panama Canal (the one we were viewing) there are three sets of locks to navigate on the 80 km length of water which allows boats to pass through Panama from the Pacific Ocean to Atlantic Ocean or vice versa. This canal allows ships to avoid circumnavigating the whole of South America, and is of great importance to both Panama and the world. The canal is totally in the control of the Panamanian Government, since 1999 and provides a source of revenue that benefits the entire country.
Panama City is very modern, and has an American culture. This is most likely because the Panama Canal was governed by the USA until 1999 and the influence was huge.
We set off for our hotel by the airport from the Visitors Centre at 4.45 pm. We had underestimated and perhaps forgotten the horror of being in a busy city. It took 2.5 long, hot, dusty hours to navigate our way through the 18 mile journey. Other countries traffic behaviour can quite often seem a mystery to us, but this was something else indeed.
We arrived hot, and exhausted to the hotel, and very pleased to make our way for something to eat and a good nights rest.