Page 43: - No Return Ticket - Just a Ride Report /w Pics - From the beginning
Ready for Panama. Five weeks in Puerto Viejo has been nice but it seems way too long. Heidi and I have had several discussions about it and have had a difficult time explaining our feelings. We’re comfortable, feel safe and this is paradise. Maybe something to do with being on the road for so long, it’s been nine months. The feeling to do more then just hang out is in us. Either way, our 12 week visa for Costa Rica expires in five days, we are out of here.
AGAPI Apartments, Puerto Viejo:
Back on the road and we like it but of course there is always the ‘pre-border jitters’. Panama is only 50 miles away so it should still be early for the border crossing, just the way it should be. The crossing is at Sixaola, a small border post on the Caribbean side. Riding right up to the bridge that crosses into Panama there are no obvious buildings or signs indicating immigrations or customs. After riding back to find the customs an officer at a police station tells us that customs and immigration is right at the bridge. OK, back again and ride back to the bridge. Heidi stands by the bike while a friendly guy guides me to a small building. There I get my passport exit stamp for Costa Rica, no charge. Right next door is the customs office. I go in and un-declare the motorcycle from Costa Rica. This entire process takes less than ten minutes and no money, nice. Back to the bike Heidi goes in and gets her passport exit stamp. Bada-bing, bada-bang, Panama here we come.
The crossing is over an old and narrow railroad bridge. We had to wait for a truck to cross coming from the other direction.
Other travelers have described this bridge as being scary and difficult on a motorcycle. I didn’t want to stop once I got going so I waited a little longer to let the pedestrian traffic thin out.
I pick the line I want the bike to travel and start riding. The first slanted board with a severe twist threw me off line and forced me to stop for a second. Wooo! I start back up and prepare myself for the next twist. No problems.
The Panama immigration and custom offices are right at the end of the bridge on the other side. They are both in the same building. What a concept. In no time I get my passport stamped and pay the five bucks. Next I wait with about a half dozen truckers at the customs window. Very slowly the truckers all got their permits while all the time laughing, joking and poking each other. While waiting the truckers instructed me to get right up to the customs window and stand there with my papers sticking in the hole at the window, nice guys. I wanted to let them all go first because they’re working and on the job but it didn’t matter because they all got taken care of first anyway. About an hour and a half later all the truckers are gone. Next the customs guy instructs me to come inside the building. Inside I help him fill out my customs form on a computer, bike make, year, VIN, plate number and where I’m going after Panama. He introduces me to his wife who was also inside. We all have a lively conversation about our trip, where we are from and where we are going. This was the most enjoyable border crossing experience we have had. Nothing but friendly smiling people and zero hassle.
In panama and ten miles later we tool through the town Changuinola. There a green Harley painted in an army theme appears in front of us and seems to be going the same way we are. We both wind through town and end up on the other side on what seems to be a secondary road. The road suddenly turns to rough dirt. The Harley in front of us turns around. We stop side by side. I open my face shield and say “I was following you!” We both laugh. He says he’s just riding around then asks where we’re going. He says he will show us how to get to the other side of town and to an interesting bridge we need to cross. He says he lives in Changuinola and that it’s a difficult city to navigate, there are no signs indicating how to get through. How did we get so lucky?
Another one lane train bridge. No problem but I still ask Heidi to walk across. This bridge has lights to control the direction of flow. There’s a lot more traffic on this bridge. Heidi said she had only inches to move over while several large trucks passed her as she walked across. She was pretty scared.
The roads we were on through Panama are narrow and hilly with plenty of sharp turns. The country side is exotic looking with thick jungle, broad leaf plants and wooden houses all built on tall stilts. The people here have a distinct indigenous look to them which adds to the exotic feel of the land.
This truck had to come to a complete stop because it ran into the back wheels of the oncoming truck. A couple truckers jump out of their rigs to help their fellow drivers get around the turn. The traffic waits patiently.
We lost an hour with time change from Costa Rica to Panama. The riding here is much slower than expected and we for sure weren’t going to make it to Santa Fe, our planned destination for the first night in Panama. We arrive at a cross road and see a sign pointing to a port city, Chiriqui Grande. It’s only five miles off the main road and being a port city I figure it has to have a few hotels. Well Chiriqui Grande is not grande (not big). There are a couple hotels in town but none with parking. This is not looking good. The map shows no town of any size ahead and the towns we are riding through have nothing coming close to resembling a hotel. I prepare Spanish phrases in my head to ask a local family if we can make camp in their yard or barn or something. I will not ride in the dark no matter what. There are killer potholes on this road at least a foot deep and three feet in diameter. Out of the blue we pass through a small community not even marked on our map. From the corner of my eye I see a sign that I think said ‘Huespedes’ (Guests). I put on the breaks and start to turn around while Heidi is asking me what’s wrong. I say “I think I saw a hotel back there!” Unreal, we pull into a cute little place, $15 a night and the bike is parked right outside our room hidden from the road. And we’re right next door to a police station. For the second time in one day if feels again like we pulled a rabbit out of a hat.
The hotel owner tells us there is a store just up the road. After we get settled in we ride to the store to look for some food and a couple of beers. A few kids were asking us about our bike and where we are from. We felt very welcome.
The next day and back on the road we find ourselves riding through more beautiful tropical scenery. Alongside the road locals have stands set up selling their handmade items.
We finally make it to the Pan American highway. Yesterday I thought if we could have made it this far before dark that there probably would be a hotel or two here. But no, only one gas station and a cafeteria style restaurant. We sit down to eat and I ordered way more food then I could handle. Buses pull in here and there were a few street kids hanging around. I still had a big pile of rice and chicken and was thinking that one of these kids may like it. A minute later one little boy walks up to me and says “?Comida?” (Food?) I instantly say “Si!” and motion to the kid that he’s welcome to have it. The kid walks over to his little brother and tells him to eat the food. The little boy sits with us at our table and was beaming while he ate.
The Pan American Highway is in good shape with speed limits up to 60 MPH. It wasn’t long before we pull off the Pan American and start heading up into the mountains toward Santa Fe. There’s nothing along this road except more beautiful scenery and decent pavement.
We pull into Santa Fe. After looping around town a couple of times we stop to look at the map and guide book. Heidi says “Are there any hotels in this town?” All we saw was one hostel. I thought I saw something that looked like a hotel just before town but it didn’t look like it was open for business. After reading the guide book again we head back out of town the same way we came in.
Hotel Santa Fe. The owner is super friendly and there is a restaurant and bar on site. Score!
The guide book says there is a lot of hiking here. We devote two full days to explore the area on foot.
The hiking is good here and we met several interesting travelers at the hotel. Every where we walked here people wanted to talk with us. Greetings were exchanged with every person we passed. The people in Panama we have run across so far have been warm and friendly making us feel welcome and at home. We like it here.
The Ride Continues…
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