Panamá hadn’t really featured much in our ‘vision’ of this trip. Really only as the only bit we wouldn’t be able to ride, as there are no roads between Panamá and Colombia. We both had a feeling about lots of ships and cargo going through the canal, but not a lot else.
Having left (very sadly) our friend Anna in Bocas del Toro to ponder her own onward journey and try to sort her rear wheel out, we set off along the roads of Panamá. The northern (really western) part of the country has lots of mountains covered in forest. There are large areas of indigenous reserves, and we almost felt we were back in Guatemala at times.
We’d not gone to any great route-finding lengths, other than to note that it was going to be pretty difficult to avoid the Panamericana with its cargo-laden trucks. So we resigned ourselves to a few days of listening to podcasts, audiobooks and music to maintain our sanity and set off for Panamá city and the final step to Colombia and America Sur.
During our climb over the mountains we belatedly celebrated our wedding anniversary by staying at a hostel perched high in the cloud-forests. It was my turn to organise something, and I felt that I’d not really managed anything special enough..
The slog along the major arterial road of central america began benignly enough with plenty of food stalls and not that much traffic as it was the weekend. Finding places to stay just seemed to work out. During the wet season a lot of the ground gets pretty boggy, needing greater care with campsite choice. We’ve taken to asking people if they know of a flat, safe place for us to put our tent as a routine. Our willingness to do this with its concomitant need for speaking spanish at the end of a long day surprises us. Maybe we really are getting somewhere at last. During this section we stayed in an empty house with coconuts for breakfast, the front yard of a farm, the backyard of the municipal police in Santiago, an open-sided community hall, a quiet grassy area near a beach and with the bomberos (firemen) at Arraiján. Not a bad haul really, and we felt genuinely welcomed and looked after at all of them.
Along the way we discovered that Panamá has free wi-fi in most towns. We were also minding our own business and slowly chugging along towards the main bridge into Panamá City when the police stopped us and insisted on driving us and our bikes across the bridge to avoid us being taken out by the rush-hour traffic!
Now we have to admit the truth…. We’re flying to Colombia (shock, horror!). It’s easy to get the feeling from other cycle tourists we meet that this is the lame way out and that we should be battling smugglers while catching lanchas (speed boats) along the northern panamanian coast, or finding a kindly sailor to drop us off in Turbo (nearest town with a road in Colombia). I (mainly), want to get back in the groove and catch up the time we’ve lost in various wanderings lately, so that’s basically it. This way we get instant altitude, and a few weeks distance, and it works out as being a year after we left Australia too. We’ve also got some significant mechanical issues (when won’t we from now on!), with a crack that appeared in my front rim in Costa Rica now extending scarily. Flying to Bogotá means that the replacement rim being sent by Velocity can be built into the wheel straight off without a less than ideal temporary measure in the meantime.