Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Panama city, ghost town!

With mixed blessings I arrived in Panama, a breeze through the border; ever since I've been praying for a breeze, talk about hot and humid! It's carnival week, oh shit I thought! I made for the city with trepidation, how the hell was I to find a room amongst the mayhem? To save myself the hassle I thought I'd stop short, stay out the city, maybe travel in and out as required. I really need a new rear tyre, also to sort out the sailing to Colombia, being within a bus ride would be good. No chance! I tried some areas near the coast, they were horrendously expensive ($55)and gearing up for a full on five days of carnival. That's when I realised the carnival was not just the city, in fact the city was rapidly emptying, everyone wanted to be on the coast to celebrate; and who can blame them! I was delighted, a straight run into the city, plenty of hotel space and deserted streets. Yeeha!

For the first time in Latin America I had to travel a long distance on a multi-carriageway road; Ok, so it was only two lanes! It gave me the chance to make good headway, blitz that highway at 80mph, until I meet the policia! I had actually slowed down for the small town I was passing through, a roadsign had declared a 60kph limit, they claimed it was a 40kph limit. After Costa Rica I assumed it was another shake down, I walked back along the road to prove my point. In a way it did, there was no road sign within a half mile anyway. Sometimes I don't know what gets into me, they asked me for my license and I just asked what for, a couple of times! Simple answer, they are the police! Of course, I apologised and gave it them, ready with my wallet. Wow, it wasn't needed, they told me to slow down and continue!

I did, I swear it! Every time I came to a hamlet or town with a restricted speed I slowed down, I also kept a really good eye out for Policia. They were more interested in the hoards of traffic coming form the city, or so I thought. After passing through one place I got stopped again, when I most definately not speeding. I got a lovely welcome of the bike cop, he'd had a radio call form the peublo I'd just passed through. The patrol there thoght I was going too fast, I tried explaining I didn't think so, he only wanted me to understand I must ride slower. I was stunned, so much so that I obeyed the speed limit virtually the whole ride into the city.

And what a ride! There was much more open space than I'm used to on this stage of the journey, many areas of sugar cane plantation; even more for grazing cattle. There were not the enormous plantations or ranches I'd seen in Honduras, there were a lot but they were lower key affairs. I would guess it is smaller scale ownership, but more than a home self sustaining plot. Housing was still of a good quality, modern and well constructed. There was only one area I saw decrepid shacks, they were the exception. The terrain was not so mountainous, more like low undulating plains. Though I did go directly through the centre of the country, it is different in other parts of Panama, much is covered in rain forest. Like Costa Rica there are very few roads, habitation is few and far between away from the main highway.

Unlike the Trans-am highway in CR, this section was boring. At least when it wasn't raining Costa Rica had gorgeous twisty mountain roads, they almost made up for the time I spent in torrential rain. In fact they more than made up for the rain, that's just an occupational hazard. Oops, a Fruadian slip, do I really see my occupation as riding bikes through foreign countries? Not yet, maybe in another life! I do after all need to find another one some day. Anyway, the road to Panama city was all fairly straight, two lanes and pretty much a free for all. Once I'd slowed down I was at their mercy, something I'm not used to. By riding at a higher average speed I generally avoid the congestion, and extremes of crap driving. It only meant not making the city in one go, I had to stop short by about 50km. Golden rule, don't ride at night!

It was a delight arriving in a capital city with few people and virtually no cars, it gave me time to find my way! Where to I didn't actually know, not having a guide book. But this was the idea, no preconceived plans; a map and follow my nose. Both Cai and myself thought this would allow for more surprises, more adventure and profoundly better experiences. It has worked so well, I ride according to which roads look interesting to ride; those with lots of bendy bits are my favourite, especially the thin ones! So far its proved successful, it keeps me off the main tourist routes, leaving me to make the decisions as to direction, not that dictated by a travel guide!

Despite my initial glee at stumbling into a near deserted city, there is a negative side. All the bloody shops are closed for five days! Doh!! Never mind, it's given me the time to walk around and find out where the motorcycle shops are located. I've found seven now. Two only sell Chinese bikes, so I can forget them; like their bikes, the chinese only make poor quality tyres. There are a couple of dealerships who sell similar bikes to mine, I'm sure they have the same tyre size. They advertise themselves as tyre specialists (actually taller specialists), so they should be my best bet. Ooh, I'm getting all excited now, I can buy my bike a new tyre, hopefully get it fitted before my ride through the jungle next week. But that is another story for another day, at least for now I'm safely ensconsed in the city. I've walked for about four hours each day, so know my way round real well. So now I just need to rest my knee, it's just a tad sore!

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