1st of July till 14th of July 2018.
Borders. One more.
Crossing a border makes you wonder why it was created at this spot, why it is there and in the case of Central America, if the boundaries could disappear as in Europe. Fun part of the crossing in Paso Canoas is that the road we took yesterday in Costa Rica and the road we will take today in Panama run parallel to each other for a few miles. There are even quite some shops which have a door at the Costa Rican side and one at the Panamanian side. We could easily have crossed without any checks of our documents but of course we obey the law and check-out from beautiful Costa Rica and enter the official way into Panama. Fast and easy.
Panama (75,517 km2) is 2.0 times as big as the Netherlands with 1/4th of the people. Main resource is the Panama canal and in 1903 separated from Colombia.
If you look at biking possibilities there are not a lot of non Pan-American Highway routes to take as it is long and narrow with side trip possibilities but not so many loops as large rivers close to the sea are not bridged .
Only when just having crossed the border we choose to bike to the right and do a gravel road loop to David. First part big road without any traffic, stopped by army for the first time in a long while. They wonder where we are heading and why we don’t take the Pan American HWY.
Amazing scary bridges build from old rail road rails. Frank even needs to come and get my bike as I fear I will disappear between the cracks.
Huge palm oil plantations, burning sun and almost no traffic. Perfect.
Until early afternoon when rain season catches up with us and soaks us with the worst storm we have had till now. First we decide to continue biking and sing in the rain (see Instagram movie @spinningsouth) but then lightning is creeping in closer to where we are biking and side winds blow us almost out of our socks. Time to shelter and try out ceviche and quail eggs in vinegar. For the first time we really start to feel the chill and water seeping through our jackets. As it is only a few more km to the first hostel we decide to continue once thunder and lightning are further away. It has rained so much that streets are flooded but we continue biking at a slow pace. No pictures, sorry.
David in rain and sunshine, no sign of Goliath.
We arrive soaking wet at the Bambu Hostel. Lucky they still have a dry private room and even if it looks a bit tired, so are we and we don’t want to search any longer. Long hot shower, to the Italian restaurant with a taxi and a big nice pizza to celebrate that we entered our last Central American country (any excuse for a pizza is OK).
Bright sunshine gives a total different view of the city when we weave through it discovering ATM’s and bakeries. As we probably will return through David once we meet up with Ans and Henk (Frank’s sister and husband), we don’t feel like spending time in this colonial city. Here you see indigenous people in kind of transitional dresses and school kids also wear uniforms here .
Pan American Highway.
Again biking on the Pan American Highway in a very very long time! What a noise. This is something you only experience when on the bike. If in a car (even with your windows open) you don’t know what a noise and pollution is created by cars and of course even worse by trucks. I now better understand the speed reduction on the highways in the Netherlands, when a highway is close to an urban area.
After some kilometers we suddenly see two bike packers at the other side of the highway. The concrete barrier cant stop us to chat for at least half an hour with the barrier in between and traffic speeding by. Liv and Scott are from Saddlewoth and Crosby in the UK. Have traveled by bike from Ushuaia in 6 months and will fly home in 4 weeks from Costa Rica to continue their world trip in Europe. Amazing you have done it so fast. Check out Instagram @brokenspokescycling.
Rolling ride and of course rain again in the afternoon.
Paradise in(n) Las Lajas
We reach Las Lajas drenched in rain and our rain gear is definitively no longer waterproof. What is the benefit of expensive Gore if not protecting against the rain?
First location closed for the season (or forever?), second says they are fully booked but we think they don’t want to host some soaking wet bikers in their cabins, on a Monday when their restaurant is also closed . Next location we are lucky and they even give a 2$ discount 😊.
Next day greets us with bright sunshine. As Santiago is 125 km away I am happy that iOverlander indicates a nice restaurant at 42km and close by down the road there should be a hotel. Aim is short distance today and longer tomorrow, what should be great as it will be a hilly ride today. So we take our time to leave and stop for photo’s etc.
Resulting in arrival at 14.00 where the restaurant and hotel should be.
But same as Google Maps, iOverlander is not perfect. No restaurant and no hotel to be found. Locals say there was never anything and only possibility of sheltered lodging is Santiago.
We bike to the next settlement and they also say there is nothing there, only in Santiago. On the request if we can camp they are very negative and the people hanging out at the small bus terminal don’t give us a good feeling. We consider wild camping further down the highway but it is challenging to know if we would find a secluded, flat stretch before afternoon rain would hit the area and most of the land next to the highway is anyway fenced off. So we go for a solution we have not taken in a very long time and hitch hike the remaining kilometers to Santiago. Funny how this almost feels like cheating, but at this point it was the best thing to do. Cindy gives us a ride in her pick-up and we listen together how Columbia looses the match from England. Game is just finished when we arrive at Santiago so we have not really talked with her, only know she sells corn and rice to local shops and is everyday on the road.
After checking out 3 different hotels we settle for the last one and it does start raining just after check in. I make the worst dinner ever with noodles and peas. Not into the vibe today.
Biking out of town we have a strange encounter.
Poor thing and no, Frank did not run over it.
As we know that Belgium has won from Japan with the world football championship and will have their quarter final game in a few days we are in contact with Ans and Henk to see if we could watch it together. They already made a hotel reservation for the Friday night at Valle de Anton which can’t be changed. We will see how far we can go tomorrow but they will pick us up so we can travel together to Valle de Anton and watch the game there.
We start on Thursday with the idea that we will probably stay half way to Penonomé as it is 102 km away. We stop on the way for a cattle auction, held 3 x per week.
The foresight of seeing Ans and Henk, spending time together and watching the game tomorrow gives us wings. Or is it the fact that we first have a downhill and later a level road? Still we don’t reach the city before heavy rain soaks us to the bone. In the city we try to find a hotel that would store our bikes for a week with the promise that we stay now and a night with the 4 of us in a week time. We would even pay for the storage. The more expensive the hotel, the more they refuse to take the responsibility. Finally we find a very basic hotel that will store our bikes and remaining luggage with a smile. No charge is even mentioned. Again, Dos Continentos, thank you for helping us out!
On Friday we finally reunite with Ans and Henk! So much fun to see them again.
They rented a great car and everything we need for this week of holiday fits in there.
Valle De Anton.
We visit Valle De Anton. Happy we did not have to bike this very winding and steep road up, the road leaving from Penonomé is pretty, but very challenging for Henk, he will be the driver for the whole trip!Valle de Anton is located in the valley of an extinct volcano. Ans has found a cute hotel where they also still have a cabin for us.
A family from Martinique has bought this place 1 ½ year ago and converted it to a hotel with 9 rooms but are selling it again as it is too far from home. We visit Serpentine refuge, see a sloth crawling over telephone line and get insight in the development of the region in the Victoriano Lorenzo museum.
Most importantly, we watch the game which Belgium wins! Pouring rain outside.
To carve or not to carve.
On the way to our next address we visit an inspirational place full of petroglyphs, carved 1000 years ago, in Nancito, called after the nance, a cherry like fruit. Short but recommended detour with on the way with a beautiful mirador of the bay.
Next 3 days we spend at the sea side close to Bocca Chica. Ans has again found a great AirB&B address. Ida and Theo, Dutch, have been living here for 5 years and have build a beautiful house on top of the hill with view of the Pacific Ocean. They also bought the piece of land next to them and constructed a second house to host family and friends. Sometimes renting it out. Benefit of being on the road with the 4 of us, being able to rent larger AirB&Bs.
One day hike around the bay, other day island hopping with snorkeling, turtle and dolphin spotting and fish lunch at Island Parida. In the evenings we enjoy cooking and being together.
A real holiday break for all of us! Thank you Ida and Theo for giving us a peek into living in Panama as a foreigner, thank you for the warm welcome!
With a heart full of joy we leave this beautiful place and Ans does her magic again. She finds the perfect huge apartment in Boquet.
It is located in a country club where also most of the lots are not yet sold. We feel again how it would be if you would emigrate to this place. Lets say it is enough to enjoy it as a holiday.
What we see in Panama is that a lot of land is sold to investment companies, which prepare the land to build a house on. Remove all trees and install water/electricity and sewage. Many of the lots are not sold (yet). Apartments are build but empty. In our complex there is only one other couple in residence.
Spooky but we enjoy the luxury of being together. We are lucky to just arrive for the last part of the game Belgium-France. Took a back road which took much longer than planned. Bummer they lost!
Next day we hike the Quetzal trail together with our host, looks more like we are helping him than the other way around. The name rain forest has not come from the dryness or tropical temperatures. Already at 10:00 it starts to rain and does not stop. Never the less: great, wet hike and what else to expect in a rain forest!
Time slipping through your fingers.
The promised 7 days together have passed too quickly. We are very grateful we could spend this time together, cooking, talking, hiking, swimming, enjoying being together. But all comes to an end and Henk drives us, as he has done the whole time, in a safe way back to Penonomé. 350km in a day was a bit much but we made it before dark. Thanks Henk for all the driving! On Friday Ans and Henk continue their Panamanian holiday and we re-start biking.
The closer we get to Panama city the busier. Crazy traffic, but being rested it does not yet create too much stress. When passing us, Ans and Henk stop to say a final goodbye. So strange.
Also fun to mention, after a few kilometers biking out of the city a car stops closely in front of us on the shoulder and I kind of angrily pass him by as this is a dangerous situation. He waves Frank to stop and see what he got:
What is also fun is all the people waving and greeting us and car honking, especially after Frank starts carrying a Panamanian flag he found at the side of the road.
First night back on the road couldn’t be more different than the week in bliss luxury. We opt for camping on the beach, at a rancho. Don’t know why as there is a hostel next door and camping still cost 20$ with only an outside shower that does not even have enough water pressure in the morning. Do you find the shower?
It is great to be outside but sand is not our thing and when others on the beach keep music on until midnight; when stormy wind pulls out the tent pegs and on top it starts to rain, we will opt next time for a closed environment. Will we?
Next day we bike to La Chorrera. We see the end of the match for the 3rd and 4th place of the world cup at a McDonalds. We are the only ones cheering Belgium’s victory against the UK! Rest of the audience is more interested in their telephones. Further down the road more and more eye pollution from all the advertisements for new housing/investment. One new shopping mall next to the other, without any shops in them, what will this lead to?
We enter a bigger city, lots of traffic, basic but clean hotel just before rain starts to hit the road.
Teaser as this is the end of our weekly blog. Tomorrow is Sunday and start of a new blog. Will we arrive in Panama city?
As you may have noticed we have this time combined two weeks, as one week was not so much biking but we still wanted to share the highlight of the time together with Ans and Henk. Thanks again Ans and Henk for adjusting your vacation planning to our route!