Today was big for three reasons:
- We went as far south as we are going to for the trip. We have now turned around and are heading north again.
- We simply had a very special day riding
- We did full on legitimate lane splitting through Panama City and Gaila did great.
So let me elaborate. Yes, we would so love to go further and reach the tip of South America. In fact, if we were crazy or rich enough we could have joined our friends Donn, Deby, Keith, Dave, Jim and Mike who were prepping their bikes for air transport tomorrow. http://advdonnh.com/ They were boarding a flight tonight for Columbia. But time and our budget just won’t allow it. We have gladly traded longer stays in so many cool places meeting so many amazing people versus a quick scoot down. So when we got towards the Darien area today we decided to turn left and head towards the San Blas Islands. We had heard the road was fantastic, the jungle very scenic and the beaches awesome. Well, two out of three wasn’t so bad. After reaching Chepo we went further before heading into the jungle in earnest. We found a very hilly and steep jungle with howler monkeys yet again. It was so thick that I kept thinking what it must have been like for Helge Pedersen and his German backpacking friend to drag and every so often ride a GS through the jungle. http://www.globeriders.com/10y2w_main_pages/10y2w_main.shtml Inconceivable really. I just can’t imagine what it was truly like after seeing the density of foliage and landscape terrain. Let alone crazy bugs and animals.
Heading into Niga Kantule Indian territory (or something like that) put us way off the beaten path. The road was paved mostly, but I have to say this was one of the most amazing and interesting 50km I have ever ridden. (Note to self, guide future tours here for the riding.) These pictures won’t do the steepness, the endless turns or the breathtaking landscape justice. For that we would have had to stop more often and that just wasn’t going to happen with this much excitement and flow. As we stopped at the first checkpoint gate we should have seen the foreshadowing of things to come – 5 guys sitting in a shack waiting for somebody to come by so they could collect at least $10 each. They tried to get $13 but we stood firm on only paying what the sign required. Next came a silly check of our passports from a guy in a Barcelona football/soccer jersey. You know, the blue and maroon colors you see EVERYWHERE in Mexico and Central America. But really, why not let the uniformed officers do it? Then we wouldn’t have been so nervous about weirdness. Once cleared here we meandered down yet one more hill into the actual port area. What we thought was going to be white sandy beaches with polite hotels and least some facilities turned out to be quite the dump. No nothing really. Just a parking lot, a soccer field and a dock with some boats ready to take tourist at $20 a head to the San Blas Islands. Trash everywhere and dirty sand was not what we were hoping to find. Sadly the parking just didn’t look that secure and since we could not find camping or accomodations on the mainland we were just not comfortable leaving bikes and lots of gear separated from us by miles of ocean water. Reluctantly we turned around and decided it was simply time to head back north. Unceremonious and a bit anticlimactic.
Now, the good part was we got to do the road again. Talk about a workout for us and the bikes!!! Once back on the PanAmerican we started to encounter some increasing traffic. When we got within 20 miles of the Panama City airport on the east side we hit a real wall. Nothing moving with no optional roads to sneak around and a fenced divider. We were in jeopardy of being stuck in 95 degree heat for an hour or more. Just then, 3 guys wedged into the front seat of their small Policia pickup turned on the lights and sound the siren. We tucked right in behind him and followed ever so closely and politely. OK, well maybe not too politely as we didn’t let other cars try to sneak in the draft. This is something you are legally not supposed to do at home, but somehow it seemed like just the right thing to do here. And you know what? It was. I thought they might be trying to rush to the accident or something 5 miles ahead but no, they were just trying to get through the bottle neck like all the rest of us. Too funny!
Now, the third part of this story is just how awesome Gaila and I did doing real legitimate lane splitting in the Friday afternoon rush our traffic of Panama City. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panama_City It is a big city and it seemed like a fairly large percentage of people were on the roads between 4 and 6 pm. Well this was just the event I was looking for to give lane splitting a real go. We would again be baking in the 95 degree sun for hours if we didn’t do something. Gaila rallied and said yes. I was so excited!!! While our 800 & 650 GS’ aren’t quite as big as full 1200 GS or Harley bagger fully laden, we are pretty wide and tall loads. Getting the bikes squeezed between stationary cars was easy provided there was enough room, but something else completely with chicken busses and dump trucks fighting for our space. All good though. Just twice did G get cut off or pinched out. She did so well riding today I simply could not be prouder.
Tonight I think I will continue to reflect on the turn as we head back up Central America and what might be lying ahead upon our return. But a good night sleep and some planning in the morning for my son Elliot’s arrival in San Jose Costa Rica next Wednesday are up first on the priority list. Here’s to another great day on this most awesome journey. Hard to be happier. P.S. After doing so well through traffic we were able to make it back and stay with Adolf and Willy of the Malibu Beach Hostel http://www.malibubeachhostel.com/ One more BTW, Panama City has one of the most impressive skylines I have ever seen. Way more spectacular than I expected. Crazy cool high-rise living space and corporate offices were everywhere. Sadly some of that is overshadowed by significant slums – larger and more dilapidated than Chicago or New York. Once again, the haves and have-nots are clearly called out in this Central American powerhouse. Did I mention the Panama Canal? Yes we did visit it on Wednesday and it was incredible. Humbling what man is capable of when we put our collective efforts together towards a common positive goal.
A little video fun from the day: https://vimeo.com/59779713