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12th Dec Paso Canoas to David
The night before we’d slept behind a petrol station, it sounds sort of depressing but there was a field and palm trees behind it and the family who ran it let us use a shower. We woke that morning and Naoto managed to get some coconuts from the tree and he cut it open, a great way to start the day. I made coffee with the help of one of the petrol station workers called Tio. We were out by 6.45, stamped out of Costa Rica no problem and then had to join a giant queue to enter Panama. To enter Panama you needed proof of exit, and a boat ticket wasn’t enough so I’d had a fake flight reservation made up. You also needed to prove you had $500, either in cash or a copy of a bank statement, I’d printed out a bank statement. By the time I’d faffed around in an internet cafe and then had to wait in the giant queue it had been about 2 and a half hours. I was kept company by a Canadian women called Susan who lived in Costa Rica, she made this visa run every 3 months.
Wed set the target of David, only 50km away, but we were now setting out in the heat of the day, the road to David was an incredibly mundane dual carriage way, with barely any shade or places to stop. We stopped at a little corner shop to buy snacks and drinks before making it easily to David. This is Panamas second biggest city and it was really Americanised, the supermarket had lots of American products, and the streets were lined with chains like dairy queen, mcdonalds, KFC, Dominos Pizza. All the towns in Panama were like this, maybe it’s the influence from the Panama canal.
Here I’d planned to stay in a hostel, I was looking forward to washing my clothes and sleeping in a bed. Although these things never work out how you imagine as we slept horribly in a wooden unstable tree house with lots of loud backpackers. Panama is an hour ahead time wise but this didn’t make too much difference to us as we wake at sun rise anyway. I’d initially planned a rest day here in David, I was tired, but Naoto didn’t want to take a day off and I wanted to stay with him, so I decided to keep on keeping on.
13th Dec- David to somewhere near Remedios
Another sunrise start and we were on the bikes, cycling 20km out David we stopped for breakfast. Food in Panama was pretty dry and mundane- I ate rice, boiled eggs, something that was like a slab of Yorkshire pudding and some fried maize thing, all beige food. Naoto was saying how happy he was to cycle together, it was a nice feeling to be cycling with someone who kept a good pace then chatting away over food.
The countryside that day was probably the nicest of the whole of Panama, shady jungle, some small hills and rolling countryside. That evening we were pretty much in the middle of no where, we’d cycled 85km but I was totally shattered. We decided to ask outside a college, the security guard said yes and we set up camp under the shelter of the college building. The security guard and Naoto chopped some coconuts from the tree, so again we drank that water. We made pasta on the stove and Naoto said it was his favourite camping spot of his whole trip. I slept so soundly that night.
14th Dec camp to Canacillas c
Coffee on the stove before cycling a pretty hot and hilly 20km to Tole. Had almost exactly the same dry mundane breakfast as the day before, with plenty of coffee.
We had a pretty long breakfast and then set off. About 10km down the road we were heading up a hill then Naoto said he was getting stung. He’s pretty sensitive to insect biteS so I thought nothing of it. Then I got some stings, and he realised it was bees, we were being attacked! We were going so slowly up the hill that the only thing we could was ride back down fast. We were swiping at our faces and getting pretty distressed, Naoto lost his glasses which I picked up. We got down to the bottom of the hill, next to a river. I counted over 25 stings on Naoto and around 12 on me. We were sort of going back and forth over our options when a man came up to us and asked if we were ok. He lived in the house facing the river and said we could come and rest in the garden facing the river untiwe felt better. He told us that these were African killer bees! He went to buy us some soda, I felt a bit worn out so had a good lie down on the grass. The man, Nacho his name described himself as a campesino (peasant), and he showed us round his home, and pictures of his family. He insisted we should stay for a night to rest and swim in the river. I think if I’d been on my own I would have stayed, the river was beautiful and there was a lot of shade in his garden and I was feeling bothered by the heat. But anyway, we headed back up the hill. Naoto went first and yep, the bees were still there, we headed back down the hill, realising we would have to hitchhike to get past the bees. I kept laughing about how this was the first lift I’d taken of the whole trip, and it wasn’t banditos, sex pests or a hurricane that had caused me to ‘break the line’ but killer bees!
We got picked up by a guy with a pick up after a few minutes. He offered to drive us all of the way to Panama City, it seemed pretty tempting, but of course we couldn’t. We got dropped off the other side of the hill, and just as we did it started to rain. The humidity in Panama is so high, the air is so thick. We sat under a bus stop for an hour or so and ate chocolate and both took the time to write in our journals.
We cycled around 20km more that day before it started raining again, being English I can handle the rain but Naoto couldn’t bring himself to cycle, so we hung out in a bus stop before realising we might need to stay put in that tiny village for the night. I asked around and found a breeze block structure we could put our tents in, the family who owned it actually had a little restaurant next door and they cooked us up one of the best dinners I had in Panama, vegetable omelette and rice.
15th Dec Canacillas to Los Canelos
I’d slept pretty well despite being so close to a busy road. Wed experienced some hills the day before and this morning they continued for a little bit until becoming more flat, the road was awful though, not much space and lots of big holes everywhere, it was pretty bumpy. After around 20km we hadn’t found any breakfast so had to stop at a little shop to eat sweet bread and yogurts. It was 9am on the Sunday morning and this seemed to be the time for all of the local men to hang outside the shop sinking beers. They all had red eyes from the booze, and the queue to the shop was huge!
We continued alone the bad road until town of Santiago, another town lined with the same American chains as Id mentioned before. After this the road became a dual carriage way again and we began to cover some distance. We ended up finding a small village on the side of the road, we were eying up the church when a woman who lived across the road beckoned us over, she said we could camp in her porch. We went to find some food and came back, the family were so nice, they didn’t have running water but let us wash in their bathroom with the good old bucket method. The teenage children showed us videos on their phones of Panamanian folklore dances and customs. Naoto doesn’t speak any Spanish but he asked me if I could help him explain to the family that he wanted to make some origami for them. He wanted them to guess what he was making, he made a dove and wrote the names of all the family members on the wings. They then put it on their Christmas tree. I slept well that night next to the families nativity scene.
16th Los Canelos to Rio Hato
Before we left the mum insisted we pick mandarins off her tree, we left with about 20. We headed 20km along dull highway to the town of Aguadulce and stopped for plates of rice and eggs and plantains. We stopped again that afternoon, Naoto powers his pedals almost exclusively on rice, that isn’t s problem here as there is a big Chinese population in Panama and he would buy mountains of fried rice.
Again that afternoon we got stuck in a bus stop in the rain before we eventually found a place to camp. A guy called Luis who worked for the local government let us camp in his porch and use his bathroom. We didn’t have a chance that evening to get to a shop so I dined on spoonfuls of peanut butter, yum!
17th Rio Hato To 20km south of Panama City
We were back cycling along the coast for the first half of his day and the humidity was pretty awful, along with a few hills in the afternoon it made for a pretty hard day of cycling for me, the roads were dull and Id had enough.
That evening we found a big Catholic church in a big town just before Panama City, we camped under the shelter at the front of the church.
18th- riding to Panama City
We faffed around that morning as we weren’t in a rush. Naoto was heading straight to the airport so he worked on his bike a bit. We hadn’t found any food that morning and we were stuck on a giant free way so to my complete shame I ate some pancakes from Mcdonalds for breakfast. We cycled through miles of traffic jams to the Puente de las Amercias (bridge of the Americas), the bridge which crosses the Panama Canal. The Panama canal was obviously created to allow cargo boats to pass from the Pacific coast through to the Atlantic side, the construction obviously affected the whole world. The Panama Canal is the true physical separation of the continents of North and South America. And that’s was that, before I knew it I was riding my bike over the Bridge of the Amercias. The traffic was crazy but I pedalled on, Naoto behind me. I high fived construction workers, it was such an epic goosebumps and tears moment.
Naoto and I cycled along a cycle path before saying goodbye.
That evening it was so good to see Johanne the Belgian cyclist I’d met in Mexico and will be continuing the trip with. There was also an English cyclist James staying at the hostel, he’d travelled down from Alaska and was making his way down to Ushuaia same as me. That night we sunk some beers on the roof top and watched the sun go down.
19th-20th The following few days I spent checking out Panama City. I stayed in a hostel in the old town neighbourhood of Casco Viejo. Panama City was the first truly multi cultural place I’ve been to since the beginning of the trip. Because of the construction of the canal there is a big Creole and Carrabean community, there are Indians and plenty of Chinese as well as a pretty big indigenous Kuna population, it felt good to be in such a melting pot.
The other side of Panama City is full of high rises and shopping malls, even this has an intriguing charm, I loved darting in and out of traffic just like I was back in London.
I was really happy to spend a few days relaxing, blogging and sorting myself out, Cycling so far so fast just hadn’t allowed for my brain to keep up with all that had been happening, I was mentally spent and pretty emotional about having reached the end of a continent on my bike.
Panama wasn’t a pretty country to cycle through, especially when on a tight schedule but having my lovely friend Naoto with me I enjoyed the past week rather than wanting it to race past me. I wont remember much of what I saw in Panama but I will remember riding with Naoto and of course the kindness and hospitality I experienced from the Panamanian people.
- tangled up in blue
- This must be the place