My legs recuperated well over the day of rest in Penonome. I said goodbye and thanks to my hosts and quickly rode the first 20 miles in less than 2 hours. As I continued, it became more obvious that making it to Panama City in one day was a possibility. I knew it would be a long day of riding, so I stayed on the road and took a short break for lunch and another to sip on some coco frios at a roadside store. The sun was cooking me from above but I was determined to make it to Panama City. Pretty soon I passed the 50 mile mark, then 80 miles. At times it seemed like the end would never come, but I finally approached the famous Panama Canal after passing through 10 km of forested buffer zone. As I rounded a corner, the large Bridge of the Americas came into view. The bridge was a great place to catch views of the Pacific Ocean to the right and the busy Panama Canal to the left, but the speeding traffic and lack of shoulder space made it hard to take my time during the stressful crossing and unfortunately no good pictures were taken. I descended from the tall bridge into the large spread out city and soon found myself in the busy central area of the historic district of Panama City. People were everywhere, crowding a wide pedestrian strip lined with fast food restaurants and clothing, electronics, and home appliance stores. I wove my rig through the colorful crowd with a smile realizing I had reached a big milestone in this epic journey. I landed at Hotel Casa Grande a few blocks away from the central madness with 95 miles on the dial and settled into a nice room with a double bed and plenty of space.
Panama City has quite the international makeup. I quickly noticed how many races and cultures were represented, which seems pretty logical given the areaís history and geographical setting. I started realizing I wasnít the only freak on the street anymore. There were many other different and interesting people to stare at now, not just the Big Red Dredded Viking on the bike. Iíve noticed many blacks, Chinese, Indians, and the colorfully dressed indigenous women from the San Blas region of Panama which is in the eastern end of the country along the Caribbean coast and borders Columbia and the relatively uninhabited Darien region. The women wear patterned bead coverings on their lower legs, have beautifully colored dresses, a unique tattooed line that runs down the nose of some, and most seem to wear a thick gold ring under their noses. Not to say the more common Panamanians arenít just as interesting. I can barely understand the Spanish down here as their words seem to flow together pretty fluidly and fast. The women call the men Ďpapaí and the men call the women Ďmamií. You can find mamis wearing very little clothing on a hot day (which is every day, I think) regardless of their size and shape. They love their music loud, preferably Reggaeton, which is fast Latin dance reggae.
On my first day off the bike in the city, my goal was to find boxes for my bike and trailer and pack them up. I met a 66 year old English speaking local with Caribbean roots named Roderick, one of those guys who you can always find in the same place in a city and seems to know how to get everything you need and even things you donít need. He quickly assumed the position of my personal guide and I happened to be open to the idea. So together we took a cab ride across town and got a nice bike box at one of the cityís nice bike shops, then returned and packed everything up. I was making better time on my chores than I expected so I decided to tackle the big airport send off. We found a taxi driver with a pickup, a friendly Peruvian guy, and make the half hour trek to the airport to find a cargo company to ship the two boxes with. On the way, our Peruvian driver entertained me with stories of his friend who transports cocaine from Panama to Europe through Russia for a living. I also enjoyed the sites of the city, big fancy churches, tall buildings, ocean views and historic ruins from the days of the pirates. Once we got to the cargo area we had a frustrating time finding the right company but we eventually found the right one and got everything shipped out a lot cheaper than I thought it would be. At the end of the day I was pretty exhausted from all the running around, but I had to be thankful for the help and patience I got from Roderick and the taxi driver Juan Carlos. The next morning, I purchased a direct bus ticket to San Jose, Costa Rica for the following day and enjoyed the rest of my stay in the big city taking photos and browsing some of the stores and city market, looking to replace some of my tattered and worn out clothing.
If you are interested, at this point, Iíve cycled over 11,000 miles through 9 countries. Whew!
Peace n Love,