Trip Diary
Pictures
O2K Home
Odds and Ends
Contact
Links

Panama
Previous | Next

01/24 -This day started with a tortuous, steep, winding climb. (We took a taxi.) That was followed by a steep, winding downhill with fantastically beautiful views.

-We crossed the border with little problems but long delays. To get out of Costa Rica, we had to pay 250 Colones for a 200 Colones stamp. Then we completed a questionnaire and took that with the stamp to the window line to get us out of Costa Rica.

-After that, we pedaled about 200 yards to the Panama border. Then we stood in line to get a $1 stamp, Took that stamp to the next line where they took our passports (along with about a dozen others) and disappeared behind a locked door.

-About 30 minutes later they opened the door and passed out about six of them -- including Lisa's, but not mine. Then they told us they were taking a lunch break for 45 minutes. They closed the door and pulled the shade -- and we cooled our heels.

-After lunch, the door opened and I (David) paid the $5 to receive my passport along with the form they filled out.

-Then we stood in another line with the stamp, our passport and the form. There they made some notes, stamped our passports, and give all three pieces back. (We're still wondering why we bought the stamp.)

-Then we were free to enter Panama.

-Oh. While we were waiting in line a HUGE, ladybug-shaped beetle took up residence on my bicycle seat. When I say HUGE, I mean about 3-inches across and about 4-inches long. I took a picture. Hope it turns out.

- So far, it's been nice ride into Panama along CA (Central America) 5. No shoulder, but the drivers are friendly and forgiving. It does seem, though, that motorists drive by the horn more than anything else. The horn might mean "hi and good luck" or it might mean "get out of the way, I'm coming through." It's the precurser to a wave and it's an impatient blast.

-One other thing we've noticed is that every vehicle is a desiel, and most are not properly tuned. The noxious fumes are thick everywhere.

-Costa Rica was lush, mountainous and beautiful. So far, Panama is relatively flat and not quite so lush -- but we'll see more tomorrow. Thats when we'll have 160 KM's on the rolling hills of CA 1.

-Love to all, David and Lisa


1/25 - 160 Km's (100 miles) today, all along the Pan-American Highway.

-Last night I (David) came down with a cold, so I SAG'd today. Usually that puts a cramp in tandem cycling, but not out here. Lisa really wanted to ride, so she "hired a captain" to take my place. Actually, we met a couple from Canada, Bryan and Theresa, who used to tandem together and really liked it. They both agreed to loan Bryan as a captain with Lisa.

-All day I heard stories about them as I waited in camp. First, that they pulled into the midday checkpoint, stopped, and fell over. Then many reports that they were looking good and not very far out.

-When they came in, I heard the stories from them. They "jumped" over a hole in the concrete only to hit a sharp rock and get a flat. Then they had to try to share the road with a pickup, a semi-, and a bus all at the same time. By their words, they were lucky to come out alive.

-My day started with a walk around the downtown David. Quite a large town with friendly and interesting people -- mostly. One strange thing happened.

-There's a central park in the middle of town. As is the case in many small, old towns, the central park takes up a city block, has sidewalks around the perimeter and sidewalks across the center from corner to corner. I had walked diagonally through the park to get to the Pharmacia. When I came out, I started to retrace my steps across the park when a policeman stepped in front of me and wouldn't let me go into the park. I couldn't understand his Spanish, but his actions and his continence made it very clear that he did not want me to go into that park. No apparent reason that I could tell - there was no police action going on. Other people were sitting and walking through the park. But I didn't argue. I walked around the park to get to the bookstore.

-It looked like an interesting town. Wish I could've spent more time there.

-We're camping tonight in the weeds outside an open-air (all buildings here are "open air") school house. The school mom's are fixing dinner and breakfast and serving us in a large, open-air dance hall. It must be the cultural center for miles around.

-Talk about remote. There's a tiny, tiny store here -- and the next tiny store is at least 60 miles away.

-Tomorrow we may hitch a ride directly into Panama City so we can have some extra time there. If we do, I should be able to get these emails sent.

-I understand there has been some concern because you don't hear from us very often. Please don't worry. Phones have been hard to find, difficult to use, and expensive. (We appreciate the phone cards you all have given us, but we haven't been able to use any of them yet. I guess these third world phone systems don't get a big enough cut on prepaid phone cards.)

-In any event, we only "intend" to send messages about once a week -- so don't think you've been forgotten if you don't hear for awhile.

-Later

-Love to all, David and Lisa


01/26 On the road to Penonome' (140 Km's) and on to Panama City (157 Km's)

-The days continue to be long and hard.

-In the last two days, Lisa and I have had an epiphany (an awakening, an enlightenment) that led us each to the same conclusion even though we were in widely divergent locations.

-Lisa's occurred when she overheard a rider rushing past a scenic spot because "if she stopped to look, she wouldn't be able to finish the miles."

-Mine occurred when I was walking around David and realizing that this (seeing the city and meeting the people) is what I want this trip to be about.

-We realized that we have been getting up at 5:30, striking the tent, having breakfast and hitting the road by 7:30, riding 'til 5:30 or 6, exhausted, setting up camp, showering, eating and going to sleep. That is not what we had in mind for our year.

-Consequently, Lisa and I decided today we wanted to spend more time seeing the people and their lives -- including those in Panama City in particular -- than seeing the countryside between the cities. So we rented a pickup truck to take us, our friends Joan and Larry from Boston, our bikes, and our baggage all 297 Km's into Panama City.

-We got there about 4 p.m., rented a room, and went out to a wonderful dinner at a hotel-recommended restaurant (Jimmy's Greek Restaurant) where we could SIT DOWN and BE SERVED. It was WONDERFUL!

-Then we signed up for a tour tomorrow, of the canal, the old city and the ancient city.

-We realized that TK&A's first priority is for everyone to ride EFM (every f***ing mile) in this ride around the world, while our goal is to see the people, the sights and the sounds of the world while we are riding our bicycles.

-Sooo, we've decided to evaluate each day before we start, then make that day work for us. Maybe we want to ride every mile, maybe not. Maybe we'll take a cab, bus or hitch a ride for a little while to cut off a few miles to give us more time. Whatever works.

-Of course everyone knew the daily miles before we started this trip, but no one expected the terrain. To give you an idea, even a woman from Denver --who is accustomed to mountains -- said this is a lot tougher than anything she generally does. Also, even on the flatter parts, the roads often just aren't the same quality as what we're used to, so the riding is tougher and slower.

-There are a lot of unhappy riders around -- mostly due to the extremely long and hard rides scheduled every day, and the lack of two-way communications with Tim and Karen-Ann. We're wondering where, when and how things will blow up. Keep tuned.

-Love to all, David and Lisa


01/27 -This morning we took a tour of the canal, the ancient city and the colonial city. Very interesting.

-First, the canal. I never knew the canal worked entirely on gravity flow of rainfall runoff water that is collected in Gatun Lake at 85 feet above sea level. There are three sets of locks at each end of the canal.

-Ships enter the canal from one ocean at sea level. They are raised, through the locks, to the 85 foot level of the lake. They sail through the lake to the other end, then they are lowered through the other set of locks to sea level at the other ocean.

-An unusual bit of trivia about the canal is, ships travel in a Northeast direction to get from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. (Think about it.)

-The time to get from one ocean to the other is about 24 hours. That includes waiting time to get into the locks and to get through the channel in the lake. The actual passage takes only eight to nine hours.

-So how do the ships get raised and lowered through the locks without pumps? Simply by letting the lake water flow into any lock that they want to raise ship in, or letting the water in a lock flow into the ocean from any lock that they want to lower a ship in.

-The cost of traversing the canal is based on the ships capacity -- in either people or goods. The largest ship was the cruise ship Fantasy. It -- and the battleship Missouri -- had two feet of canal width to spare at the narrowest point.

-For those interested in knowing more, the book, "Path Between the Seas" by David McCullough is highly recommended.

-We visited the ancient city and the colonial city. The ancient city was built in the early fifteen hundreds. The colonial city was built in the late sixteen hundreds. The colonial city was a walled city -- walled for protection from pirates -- with a walled area within that separated the classes. Much of the walls were built from the rocks taken from the ancient buildings. Thus, there's not much left of the buildings of the ancient city.

-We also saw that the very rich part of the city (where Noriega used to live) is just blocks away from the very, very poor areas. According to the tour guide, the average wage is about $1 per hour, and the average salary is about $400/month.

-In the afternoon, we checked out of our room and into another. Then Larry and I (David) went looking for bicycle and camping supplies, while Lisa and Joan looked for clothes and perfume.

-Tonight Tim finally had a meeting where he listened to complaints, concerns, compliments and suggestions. It was long overdue. Tim accepted them all, brushed some off, and said he would look into some. We'll wait and see if anything changes.

-Tim did say that the rigorous schedule that we've had through Mexico and Central America is the worst that we will have all year. But, he still is telling everyone they need to ride to their limit, then go 10% more.

-Tomorrow is free day, then Saturday we leave for Santiago, Chile. TK&A has rented an L1011 for this flight, since the two 727's used last time were not big enough. We have to leave at 6:30 Saturday morning for the ride to the airport.

-My cold is subsiding. I'm sure I'll be ready to ride by Saturday.

-Love to all, David and Lisa


01/28 -97 miles to get to the hotel, and, we are told, the route took us through the roughest part of town. An area where, locals in town tell us, they would hesitate to walk. (Glad we were in a truck.)

(4 p.m.)-The streets are incredibly crowded with cars, taxis and busses -- all kinds of busses. The exhaust fumes are terrible, the sun is hot, the air is humid. In other words, it's a run-of-the-mill day in Panama City.

-We just got back from another shopping trip. We found a kickstand for Joan, a stake mallet and some bungie cords for Larry, and stuff sacks and a Coleman Air Mattress for us.

-So why do we need another air mattress, you may ask?

-We don't, now that I have found and patched the leaks in our old one. But this one will be MUCH easier to inflate because our automatic air pump is made to fit this mattress. $45 is a small price to pay to eliminate 200 nights of the hassle we now go through to inflate the mattress.


01/29 7 a.m., Panama City

-Got up at 4:45 this morning so we could load our gear, have breakfast and be ready to ride the freeways at 6:30 to catch our 9 o'clock flight. Just got the announcement that our charter L-1011 is still in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, so our departure from the hotel has been rescheduled for 9, then we'll wait at the airport for the airplane.

-Another nice bit of news is that we will have a police escort (since it's illegal to ride bicycles on the freeways here) to the airport. Too late for us though. Our bike is already deep in the Rali bicycle truck.

-Oh, I think I forgot to cover this in yesterday's journal. When Lisa, Joan, Larry and I were in the Rali Bicycle Store yesterday, the owner heard about our trip and decided he wanted to help. He offered to transport 100 bicycles to the airport in his Rali truck, and to take the riders in his Rali bus. (So why does a bike shop owner have such equipment? Because he also sponsors the biggest bicycle club in Panama.) So that's the truck our bicycle is on.

-Lisa's taking a nap now. Think I'll join her.

-8:30 a.m. update -- The airplane is held up in Ft. Lauderdale waiting for a part. The new time to leave the hotel is noon.

-Jamie Berg had two sets of fenders that she wanted to sell. The price was to make a donation of any amount to a charity that she is collecting for. I bought a set. Unfortunately, I can't install them during this downtime because our bike is buried deep in the truck.

-11:00 update -- The airline found the part that was needed for our airplane, BUT . . . . The new schedule is: Have dinner here from 4 to 5; leave for the airport at 5; take off for Santiago about 10 p.m.; land about 6 a.m.; ride to the hotel in Santiago; breakfast 8:30 to 9:30; free the rest of the day.

-Lisa left at 8:30 to find a cool dress. As soon as she returns we'll go to lunch. With breakfast at 5 this morning, I'm hungry.

-11:30, Lisa returns. The truck and bus can only wait until 2 to leave for the airport. Tim says no, he doesn't want people and bicycles arriving at the airport early. Have to unload the T & B.

-12:00, bike shop owner relents. Will hold the truck and bus for a 5 o'clock departure.

-12:30, left for lunch at a vegetarian restaurant. Delicious.

-1:15, Lisa went with Joan looking for a dress for Joan. Larry and I are "hanging out." We plan to be in line EARLY for dinner so we can get a seat on the bus to the airport.

-(What we've found to be most consistent on this trip is CHANGE. I'm curious what the next change will be.)

-3:30 Got in line for dinner.

-4:15 Reserved our seats on the bus.

-5:15 Police escort of riders, busses and trucks to the airport.

--The streets in Panama City are full of old fashioned school busses that are brightly painted in all sorts of designs, cartoons, scenes, etc. They are called "Chevas," which means, I am told, "little goats." They provide the local transportation (cheaper than taxis, which are VERY cheap) and fight for space on the streets just as aggressively.

-By the way, space on the street goes to the driver who is the quickest and most aggressive in going for it. That applies to pedestrians too.

-6:30 Arrived at the airport. Our baggage was pre-checked earlier today. Transferred the bike from the truck to the airport storage area.

-7:00 Waiting.

-8:15 Our plane has arrived.

-9:30 Thru the security gate. Lots and lots of shops -- mostly fancy and expensive. Several that specialize in M&M's types of candies and toys. Several "perfumaries" - Lisa's in heaven.

-10:40 Tim made an announcement that the plane isn't big enough and you guys (meaning us, the riders and our baggage) are overweight. So, the riders and baggage will fly tonight leaving in about 2 hours. Then the plane will return and pick up the TK&A gear and the rest of the bicycles -- ours included. He thinks the bicycles will arrive in Santiago, Chile, about 6 a.m. on Monday. That's not good news, since after the last flight it took an hour and a half to get our bike ready to ride -- and Monday is a 96 mile day.

-1-30-00, 12:30 a.m. Started loading the plane.

-1:35 a.m. We're off!

-It's been a long day.

-Love to all, David and Lisa


Previous | Next


Comments or questions about the web page? Contact Douglas Valkenaar