And before me lay Panama, the last country in North America. Here the road ends. Panama and Colombia are separated by the so called Darien gap. It is an area of around 200 km of dense jungle through which they never managed to build a road. This means that one cannot just drive (or cycle) from North to South America. There are however alternatives. From cargo boats that go along the Panamanian Caribbean coast and then continue onwards to Colombia, to speedboats that connect the frontier coastal towns (which in turn can only be reached by plan or another series of speedboats), to tourist sailboats which for 600 USD take you through the San Blas archipelago or the most simple and almost the cheapest way, flying directly from Panama to Colombia. But I was still some 600 km away from this point.
I have entered Panama near the city of David, following the Panamericana. I have been forewarned that at the border they want a proof that I will leave Panama. So I came prepared. I took an old plane ticket I had on my mail, changed some data (cities and dates), print it out and when asked, showed it to the nice lady at the border. She liked it so I was allowed to enter Panama.
Immediately on my first day I was introduced to two constants of my Panamanian experience. Almost daily afternoon showers and the Panamericana which becomes horribly uninteresting here in Panama and is for most of the time the only road that takes you to Ciudad de Panama, my destination. Dense, tropical greenery on both sides of a boring four lane that is almost half of the time under construction. This sometimes means I do have a two complete lanes that are closed to traffic (but not to cyclists) just for myself. Very handy when there is heavy traffic, but truth be told, this is not normally the case. These sections that are closed for being under construction, can really be under construction. This means you can be enjoying a nice, gentle downhill, both lanes just for yourself, not a care in the world until you reach the bottom where there is a bridge across the river. Just the bridge is not connected to the road. Breaking, trying to stay balanced and a bit of slalom between the cones to get back to the open section of the road. Also an adventure of a kind.
And there was again some scuba diving for me in Panama. Somewhere on the internet I have read that the island of Coiba, former prison turned into a national park, is one of the top diving destinations. The fact that, for the most of the 20th century the island served as a prison and was immediately turned into a national park after the prison was closed, means there is still lots of unspoiled nature to be found here. Above and below the water. Didn’t really feel like exploring the above the water part, but the below, that I did. Sharks, hammerheads, rays, big fish and a seahorse or two for good measure. Pure joy!
I spent a week in Santa Catalina, a small coastal town. It is located at the end of a road, sometimes cut off from the rest of the world with occasional power cuts. It would all be much more idyllic if the town itself would not be on a fast track to a tourist destination. It’s not there yet, but not far from it either hence its prospects are not so good.
After the joy underwater there came a time I had to move on and cycle to Ciudad de Panama. Side roads took me to Santiago where I reconnected with Panamericana. But before I managed to make the firs kilometres rain caught up with me. The entire afternoon it seemed like someone was pouring down buckets of water just in front of me (I was sheltered under a roof waiting for the skies to clear). Since evening was approaching and there was no sign of rain stopping, I managed to take use of a short break (probably they had to refill the buckets since there was just a drizzle) and cycled to the fire station. Solid roof over your head is an incredibly appealing option in this kind of situations.
The firemen took me in and as I was walking across the yard full of parked fire trucks I have noticed another fully loaded bicycle. Another cyclist! Soon the owner has revealed himself to me. It was Neil who is, together with his girlfriend Vicky, also cycling this parts of the world. I have met them before in Costa Rica when they were idly sitting in a shade by the side of the road while on the other side of the road they were drying some of their equipment that got caught by the rain during the night.
Since we were both heading to Ciudad de Panama we hit the road together the next day. I have somewhat forgotten how it is when you are cycling with someone. All of a sudden you have to start compromising and adjusting your plans. But at the same time you get company during your midday breaks as well as in the evening when you are cooking yourself dinner. Pluses and minuses as with everything in life. What matters in the end however is what there is more of. And at least in this case, there were more pluses. So we stayed together all the way to Ciudad de Panama.
After almost a week I was cycling up a small hill and to my right I noticed Puente De Las Americas (Bridge Of The Americas). An iron giant that leads across the Panama Canal to the city itself. As I pushing the pedals I was getting a sense of satisfaction, a feeling that I’m finishing a stage that will continue. In this sensation of elation I was looking to the left and right admiring the ships below. Obviously I managed to get too close to the right edge, hit the curb and fell. In a case of incredible luck there was only light traffic on the bridge that day. The truck that was a bit behind me only honked his horn very loudly and pass me by about a meter or so. I tucked my head between the shoulders and hoped for the best.
We entered Ciudad de Panama triumphantly. It just happened that this day they have closed one of the main roads for the entire morning and turned it into a cycling lane. This is how we got rewarded and hence did not have to navigate the traffic of a big city. What a lovely present!
I left Panama 4 days later on 5.5. at 5 am. An iron bird took me and Lou (packed in a box – a sight that I never like since I know he does not belong there) towards beautiful Colombia.
South America – here we are!
With a Smile on my face, until next time!