26th September 2015

26 September – 6 October: Panama & Panama City – final destination of Central America….

This time it‘s my turn to do the paperwork at the border Costa Rica – Panama, no problem at all, quick and easy – only that I had the luck to have two bus „loads“ of backpackers in front of me who crossed the border at the same time….well means in the end again 2 hours for the crossing but at least no problems….after that many border crossings I’m geting used to how they work …. and as I am on holidays the time doesn’t really matter as long as I get to my day’s destination before dark.

Navigation systems directed us after the border village Sixaola to a „shortcut“, away from the main road. Should save us some minutes and kilometers. First nice pavement followed by nice gravel and slowly changing to a small country style road with deep rims. And finally then 5 so called „banana bridges“: normally 2-3 meters long, car-size wide, wooden planks over a small creek. The first two no problem at all, the third already a little more cracked and holes in the planks, at the fourth I already had to gather my courage and at the fifth I probably would have turned back without the encouraging help of Pat: too many holes, totally unstable and of course my legs too short to be of any help. So I was really happy (and also a little proud) to get successfully over it and shortly after that back to the main road.

After that, a great road – besides to the all of a sudden upcoming deep holes in the pavement - up to the mountain region to the lovely village Boquete, 1200müM; quite touristy and famous for its good and cool climate; many rich Panamenians and Americans spend their retirement here in the numerous villas. It is really a most welcome change after the hot and humid weather the last few days.
From Boquete we intend to drive to the Pacific Coast again, with a stop in between in David – that mainly because we both are looking for new tires and in David are most of the common motorcycle brands to find. But no luck at all; only one tire as choice so we will wait until Panama City. David and the hostels there nothing to remember : noisy, bad air and – if we believe the not really motivated hostel owner – absolutely dangerous. Even that dangerous that we have to take off all our luggage although the bikes are standing in the hostel’s locked backyard. At the same time she recommended us restaurants for dinner that had been a 10 minutes walk away. Well, we did not feel in danger at all but gladly left David the next morning.
The way to Santa Catalina a real pleasure -once we were able to leave the Panamerican Highway which was consistently under construction after leaving David. In Santa Catalina many hostels and restaurants were closed already because of the rainy season and thus not many guests were there. So we were only four guests in paradise Hostel ElRanchero. The visit to the village but then fell again into the water (not literally said), a storm let us stay the whole evening in a small restaurant next to the hostel. I've never in my life seen so many flashes, directly above the sea anyway totally impressive.

However, the tropical heat the next day let us drive back into the mountains again - El Valle de Anton, “quasi” the twin-village to Boquete, just a lot less crowded. I had lots to talk with the young owner of hostels "Bodhi" as he had attended an international hotel management school in Montreux, Switzerland. Throughout the evening then we had been accompanied by the hostel dog Orio, who was virtually adopted by the Hostel after he had saved some hostel guests at a botched hike. Of what he wanted to save us, however, I did not found out ;-)

The next day then: off to Panama City where we would stay at a private family’s home for a week. Driving into Panamy City in the afternoon we were caught the first time by a really violent storm and that in the middle of the rush hour of Panama City. What the storm did not accomplish from above, the racing by cars and buses have taken over: wet down to the little toe, thanks to the partially massive water fountains. And when I believed before that I was prepared to the crazy driving style of the locals after being in Mexico and the other Central American countries, I was taught a lesson quickly. Here there are no gaps be availed, here they relentlessly create gaps, especially the taxies. If you are not slowing down (better) or dodging (dangerous) you've simply lost. And unfortunately I had been told that the Panamanians in comparison to the South Americans drive almost mannered - well, that'll be fun!

Panama City is not exactly a tourist highlight (my personal opinion) but in addition to the service for my Suzy, the search for a new front tire, a visit to the Panama Canal, we had hoped to drive through the Panama Canal as so-called "line handers" (prescribed assistants) on a boat. But again, it is not really season for boats from around the world and so we could “only” see the canal as normal visitors. But even that way the canal is absolutely impressive, especially when keeping in mind how long the planning, the construction lasted and how many lives it costed.
Our family where we live, is originally from Ecuador and of course they have so many tips for visiting Ecuador – they would last at least for several months ;-) Carlos works for the Unicef ​​and accordingly their home is in a safe, quiet residential area - could not be safer actually: right next to the National Police Academy of Panama, and I am awakened every morning not by street noise but much more probable either by trumpet fanfares, the song of the Panamanian anthem or screamed drill commands.
It is now already 3 months that I'm "on the road", a little more than half of my sabbatical is (already) over. And now just before the change to another continent everything is ready: Suzy after the great service as good as new, changed front tires after 22'000km, washed linen, finally planned itineraries and possible Hostels more detailed - at least for Colombia. On Thursday I will travel – together with Suzy and other 11 bikes on the Stahlratte (look for it on google, is interesting!) - after 1-2 days relaxing on the San Blas Islands - to Cartagena, Colombia. My feeling is similar to Alaska / Canada: I want to leave here, want to see the new, unknown country, finally experience the new continent.Once again, a completely different world, different cultures, road and climatic conditions. I know that I certainly do not justice Central America but I realize that these countries, looking back had been more "drive through station" for me. And yet so infinitely beautiful, varied, colorful - and incredibly poor. It did not and I will not get used to that - and that might be better anyway. And what will stay for sure in my memories are the many people I've seen and encountered; and at the risk that I repeat myself: not a moment of fear, always friendly, interested people who often even met me with joy.

Hasta luego mi amigos..... I will be back on this blog....from Columbia next time ;-)