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(125) Panama

November 23, 2015

After an amazing break from what felt like an endless continent it was time to take in the sights of Panama city before riding even further south west to see what this country has to offer. After riding from the Caribbean to the Pacific yesterday although it felt incredible I just couldn’t shake my headache no matter how much water I drank. I just hoped I was’t getting sick as I wanted to feel refreshed before I set off. 

Thursday 4th October

With a day planned to visit the Panama Canal I went to have something to eat  and while I was having breakfast with Sarah who’s going to join me she told me she was flying back home via Costa Rica.

It was at this point I asked whether she had her yellow fever certificate as they often won’t let you in if you have travelled to an area with it present. After a look of panic she did some research then managed to organise a certificate to be emailed to the hostel. By the time she was finished it was 2pm but it had given me the time to work on the blog. She was so apolgetic but for me it was perfect. we organised a taxi to the the canal where the driver was really great and gave us a running history on how and when it was built. After 25 minutes we arrived at the canal and were first shown a short film about its history.

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This was then followed by making our way outside to see a ship come in. We had heard from others that we may not see one but they were almost cueing up. I thought it would take ages for them to go through but was surprised at how fast they moved and with ease.

Short piece about the canal from wikipedia

The Panama Canal (SpanishCanal de Panamá) is a 77.1-kilometre (48 mi) ship canal in Panama that connects the Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean Sea) to the Pacific Ocean. The canal cuts across the Isthmus of Panama and is a key conduit for international maritime trade. There are locks at each end to lift ships up to Gatun Lake, an artificial lake created to reduce the amount of excavation work required for the canal, 26 metres (85 ft) above sea level. The current locks are 33.5 metres (110 ft) wide. A third, wider lane of locks is currently under construction and is due to open in 2016.

France began work on the canal in 1881, but had to stop because of engineering problems and high mortality due to disease. The United States took over the project in 1904, and took a decade to complete the canal, which was officially opened on August 15, 1914. One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, the Panama Canal shortcut greatly reduced the time for ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, enabling them to avoid the lengthy, hazardous Cape Horn route around the southernmost tip of South America via the Drake Passage or Strait of Magellan. The shorter, faster, and safer route to the U.S. West Coast and to nations in and around the Pacific Ocean allowed those places to become more integrated with the world economy.

During construction, ownership of the territory that the Panama Canal now passes through was first Colombian, then French, and then American. The US continued to control the canal and surrounding Panama Canal Zone until the 1977 Torrijos–Carter Treaties provided for handover to Panama. After a period of joint American–Panamanian control, the canal was taken over by the Panamanian government in 1999, and is now managed and operated by the Panama Canal Authority, a Panamanian government agency.

Annual traffic has risen from about 1,000 ships in 1914, when the canal opened, to 14,702 vessels in 2008, the latter measuring a total of 309.6 million Panama Canal/Universal Measurement System (PC/UMS) tons. By 2008, more than 815,000 vessels had passed through the canal; the largest ships that can transit the canal today are called Panamax.[1] It takes 6 to 8 hours to pass through the Panama Canal. The American Society of Civil Engineers has named the Panama Canal one of the seven wonders of the modern world.[2]

It was amazing when a small sail boat pulled up to the gates followed by a huge ship carrying cars. They just looked up at this huge beast slowly moving up behind them.

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One of the thousands of ships that pass through these gates

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These trams slowly guide the ship through the narrow gates

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Taking five while we wait for the next one

We sat and watched four ships go through the gates and could have stayed there forever it was so fascinating. As the forth ship started to pull up it was time the place closed and we headed back to the city.

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My hostel for a few days

Once back it was our last chance to meet up with Christina, Laura and Launa also from our boat and have a few drinks.We headed a cross the city and met up with them in their hostel. It was so great to see them again and enjoy our evening chatting and just having a few beers. It had been great to meet up with the girls but like always traveling by bike I would be back on the road and probably never see them again. I just had to be grateful for the time I did have.

 

Friday 5th October

Wanting to get up and get some work done I had breakfast and got to work but for one reason or another I just couldn’t seen to achieve anything. With the internet dropping in and out adding to my frustration. I was getting things done but slowly and couldn’t seem to shake my headache. With my laptop almost flat I decided to head out and have lunch using this as a way of looking around town at the same time.

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Once I’d had food I headed around the old city to find a lot of the buildings were derelict with a few that had had a lot of money spent on them.

IMGP9531Just a few of the restored buildings in Panama city

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I saw these and thought how fun the one on the right would be to drive

With investment coming into the old town I could see that in ten years it could be almost as pretty as Cartagena. Still with so much to do I headed back to do some work but I wasn’t feeling great and just hoped i wasn’t going to be sick. With no appetite I headed for bed to find my whole body was covered in a rash and was starting to get to me.IMG_0429

This was all over me and it was unbearable

I hoped that a good sleep would help but seeing what my body looked like I didn’t hold out much hope.

Saturday 6th October

As I heard people move around in the room I found I could barely open my eyes. My whole body was sore, itchy and I felt nauseous with a splitting headache and fever. I got up to try and eat something for breakfast but I had to return back to bed. Not having booked another night I asked if I could stay where I was but they told me my bed was booked. Luckily  I was sharing a room with some amazing south Africans and one offered to change rooms so I could stay. With my bed now free I headed back to bed and just slept.

The day seemed to go in to a blur and time seemed to make no sense. After what felt like a lifetime I went out to get some meds and return to my sub conscious comma to recover as fast as I could. I knew I was sick but I also knew I couldn’t stay and would need to move on tomorrow. All I could do was try and rest as much as I possibly could and hope for the best.

Sunday 7th October

Even though I still wasn’t well I wanted to get going. I was feeling a little better in myself but my whole body was still covered in a rash. I was up around 9am to have breakfast and started to repackage my panniers for the off. The South African guys were a great help and I really appreciated it. It was about 10 am by the time I was ready to leave but by then I was starting to feel bad again. Hoping a day in the bike would sort me out I left the city on the highway that circles the old centre out in the sea.P1030123

looking out at all the ships waiting to pass through the canal

Once around it the road went inland and joined onto the main highway. Looking at the map I should run parallel to the motorway and hopefully less traffic.

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I felt a little nervous crossing this huge bridge but it was fun


Once over the bridge that leads to the canal the road went inland and became the theme of the day. A busy highway with little to see. With a town coming up and working right for dinner I looked for a place to sit and rest. Still not feeling great I hoped that good food and cold drinks might help before setting off again. Having stopped for about an hour I left town feeling a little better but the road got worse. As the highway merged with the motorway I was left with no choice but to join it. Being the only road that runs up through Panama it was busy, really bad concrete with a terrible hard shoulder.

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This was a slightly better bit of road but the hard shoulder was horrendous 

Most people were good especially when I had no choice to be on the highway and then there were a few that would get angry even though there was no other way. It was the first time I had got this and wasn’t very nice especially as I was feeling great.

Wanting to try and get to the coast I pushed on to within 15 miles of San Carlos where I stopped to get so refreshments. While I was there an English guy who was now living there came over to chat. He was very nice and recommended a place to stay. With just over an hour of light left I thanked him and rode on. His directions were spot on and the place he recommended was amazing but at $77  I couldn’t afford it or justify one night then leaving early the next day. I rode back to town and found that even the horrible ones were expensive so I decided to ask at the police station if I could camp. With them more then happy I went for food then returned to shower and pitch the tent. Looking like the police station was being built I was shown a room with a clear concrete floor where I pitched my tent. I was actually excited about camping as I missed it and felt more of an adventure, it was also free and outside so a little cooler. It was perfect.

 

Monday 8th October

Even though it was cooler outside the air was still making it a hot and humid night making me restless. As the rain drops started to tap on the tin roof I wished for some cool air to cool me down but little came. Waking up and feeling sticky wasn’t nice and knew this was going to be my life for the next few months. My hands and feet were still sore but I was less itchy then before.

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My camp for the night in the not quite ready police station

I dragged myself out of bed and started to pack before the police moved me on but I felt tired and drained with my legs feeling like I had just finished a marathon. I said thank you to the officer who had let me stay looking as pristine as he had the night before.
Needing food I found a cafe to have a coffee and quich before continuing west. As the haze started to lift I could tell it was going to be a long hot one. The road was rubbish with a bad main highway made of concrete that was really badly joined and a hard shoulder that was worse then a farm track. Most drivers were nice but I was now getting more and more driving really close on purpose with a clear lane next to them. Being the only road from South America to the north and one that carried the majority of the drugs I thought it best not to make to much of a fuss.

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The traffic was so fast making it hard to relax and added to this the road was constantly undulating making it really tiring 

I stopped a couple times for a cold drink and to stretch but I was tired. The road although wasn’t mountaineers in anyway rose and fell constantly with little or no break. Stopping on the side of the road I lay out a sheet and lay down for five minutes to see if that helped but I just seemed to get sprayed with gravel and road debris. Finding a place for lunch was the next best thing and seemed to help. Whether it was the food, drink or just stopping out of the sun but it helped a lot. From here the road got better with less climbing and nicer surface. People beeped their horns and waved and everyone seemed happier. As the temperature dropped I picked up and was making better progress. Having set my sights for Aguadulce it was looking like I would get there in good time.

Arriving in the town an hour before sunset I decided to eat dinner then look for a place to stay leaving me with the option to camp. The police station looked tiny but as I ate I spotted the firestation across the road and down another street. Once I’d finished eating I headed across and asked if I could camp but was told I could stay inside in a large room. It was perfect and having all the facility’s all I needed to do was wash, relax and try and get some more energy back from being ill.

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Tuesday 9th October

Although I had a good safe place to sleep it took ages for me to drop off. I woke around 8am with the sun coming through the window along with the heat. I got up and the first thing I noticed was how sore my feet were. They felt more bruised them anything and I felt tired. As I was packing I got a call from Sharon’s parents which is always amazing although it did make me crave Wendy’s famous coffee cake which I’m a little partial to and very possessive over. It was so nice to chat for a while before it was time to hit the road once again.

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Three mean machines although mine could put out a fire

Today felt hard and I didn’t want to ride my bike which was strange for me. I thanked the fire crew and went into town to have breakfast to find a quiet town with everyone looking relaxed and happy which helped me. I headed out of town back onto the pan American highway which seemed quieter and people seemed happier often beeping and waving.

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Out on a much quieter road and was hard to believe it was the Pan Am highway

This picked me up but I had to force the peddles around with my legs feeling twice the weight. I really had to kick myself to get to the town of Santiago to have lunch where I stopped at a restaurant. Fed up with chicken and rice I opted for soup which came with rice before riding on. By this time it had cooled a little and so was feeling a little better but I had hardly eaten anything and felt annoyed for not having more. I had also got some money out and not spotted my gloves on the back of my bike and losing them in the process. I knew I had to sort myself out and that being poorly for a few days had knocked me a bit.

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This should cool me down a little

The road to Sona was good with ups and down that I could keep a good speed a part from a few hills but at least having a rain storm for an hour helped me cool. Now being off the Pan American highway felt great as the road was quiet, in great condition and so many waved or smiled. I reached Sona about an hour before sunset and stopped for food deciding to find the fire station in town. With the locals helping me I soon arrived and was welcomed in. They had a good spot on the roof under a canopy with a good view and cool. It was a perfect place to wash and rest for my ride to the coast tomorrow. I was so greatful to the firemen as it was all I needed and was free.

Wednesday 10th October

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Packing up for the days ride

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It was hot on the roof of the fire station and took me ages to sleep with the unbelievablely loud music playing across the street. It did fall into silence and woke to a nice quiet day but felt tired. My feet hurt and my legs ached and I felt tired. Really tired. Leaving Panama sick wasn’t the best idea but I knew I had to do it. With a few days planned at the beach I just hoped I could leave feeling refreshed. I thanked the fire crew and went and had breakfast to give me some energy. I left town and started the road south which was good to start with and then the climbs came.

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They weren’t long climbs but they were steep and one after another. I would drop in to a dip dropping in my hardest gear then climb the other side in almost the lowest gear. Start to pick up speed at the top and do it all over again.

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Spotted these incredible cows with their massive humps

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These hills although not big were steep and energy draining

It sucked the energy out of me and so had to stop a few times to grab a cool drink or ice lollie. The hills lasted the whole 38 miles until I finally reached Santa catalina and pushed my bike up to a hostel. It was not only nice but cheap at $11 and $8 for surfboard hire a day.

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It was perfect and once in my room the clouds closed in. The heavens opened and it rained heavy for the next 3 hours. With nothing to do other then relax I waited for the rain to stop before a Dutch guy and I grabbed a surfboard each and headed out to the beach which was a twenty minutes walk away. We dropped down to a river to see it was really high and with a lot of debry floating down river. We dropped our things off at a cafe and went for the river crossing knowing if we get swept down river it would just take us to the sea. After a bit of a fight we made it across and walked out across the beach to surf. As soon as my feet touched the water I couldn’t believe how warm it was. It was incredible and felt like stepping into a bath it was just amazing. The thing we did have to be careful of is the amount of wood, trees and debrie in the water. We started to surf but with the tide on the turn it wasn’t the best but we caught some. Dodging big logs was fun but it felt great to be in the water. After an hour and a half we called it a day with fading light and headed back to the hostel. I felt tired but a good tired and looked forward to a day off tomorrow.

Thursday 11th October

I woke with tired eyes but knew I didn’t have to get up. I rested until 9am when I finally got up had breakfast and went to wash my clothes. It was so nice to stop but I hadn’t ridden all this way to put my feet up. With my washing dropped off back at the hostel I grabbed a surfboard and headed to the beach. 25 minutes later I arrived back at a much smaller river and crossed to the beach. The surf looked cleaner then yesterday and so paddled out to see how I would get on. Not having surfed properly for years my chances of a good wave wasn’t great but my luck was in. I couldn’t do anything wrong it was incredible. I caught wave after wave and they lasted ages. I would drop in and the wave would ease then build to another crest where I would drop in again and again until I was almost on the beach. I would walk back along the beach paddle out in the rip and as soon as I was out I turned and caught another then another.

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Rolo had some photos up of him surfing at Santa Catalina and although the quality isn’t great you can see what an awesome, fearless surfer he is 

I was still way off what Rolo the owner could do but it felt great and well worth the detour. After 3 hours of riding numerous waves my arms were about to fall off so I headed back to the hostel to have lunch. It was good to be back and once eaten I relaxed in the hammock enjoying a chat with Joe back home. Once I’d rested and with a few hours of light left I headed back to the beach this time on my bike to speed things up and have a quick surf. Not being quite as good as before I made the most of it when the waves started to clean up and started to catch more good ones. It had been so good to be in the water and still couldn’t believe how warm the water was. It was just like being in a bath and must have been around 28-30 degrees it was perfect. Only being in the water for an hour and half this time after feeling tired I caught one more wave and headed back.

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As it got dark I spotted this chap trying to escape 

Once back I noticed the power was down so relaxed to watch a film on my laptop before having dinner in the restaurant at the bottom of the hostel and then bed. It had been amazing and part of me wanted to stay and rest one more day. I didn’t want to force myself to leave but also felt I needed to go and so decided I would just wait to see what the day brought and how I felt.

Friday 12th October

Waking up feeling tired I knew I needed another day off and hearing the rain beating on the roof was the next best reason. After about 9am the rain eased and so did my tiredness. I got up and had breakfast with no one around. As the sun started to shine I grabbed a bourd and headed for the beach. Taking my bike I was soon at the river where no one around I carried my bike across and locked it to a small thatched hut. The surf didn’t look as great being around 3-4ft but I headed out anyway. After being in for about an hour the tide turned and the surf picked up. By that time I was shattered and it was now well over head height. I had still managed to catch some amazing waves and was so pleased I had stayed the extra day. It had been so good to have this time to stop and I had enjoyed every second. Not wanting to leave to tired tomorrow I grabbed my bike and headed back to the hostel. Spotting some sandals for sale on the way back I popped back to drop the bourd off and went to make a purchase. I returned to the hostel ordered some food and started work on my bike.

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Dolly in great company and as good as new

Being well overdue for a service with the chain needing a replacement, the tyres swapping around and a puncture mending not to mention a clean, tighten bolts and refix my flags. It took some time but felt great to get it done. Finding there was a 7am bus to Sona it would mean I didn’t have to ride back along the same road and would make good progress towards Costa Rica. I was pleased I had taken the detour as I was getting a little disillusioned with Panama but Santa Catalina had certainly made up for it and had made me recover from being ill.

Saturday 13th October

Needing to get up early I packed my things and headed down to the bus stop. I was pleased I had chosen to do this as I had already ridden this stretch of the road and would save me valuable time needed to get to Costa Rica. By the time I reached the town of Sona it was already hot. Needing breakfast I grabbed some food then headed  off west. Even though I was rested I felt tired and legs heavy.

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The pretty road leaving Sona

Road was good with little traffic, The people were nice and often waved but as I headed further west the clouds started to build and it wasn’t long before I started to hear the thunder. I pushed on and finally reached a restaurant where I could stop and eat.

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By the time I had stopped it was 3 pm and within a few minutes of stopping the heavens opened. While I waited for my dinner, I made myself comfy and slept in the hammock not realising how tired I was. With no sign of the rain stopping I paid for my dinner and left in rain, riding while watching intense flashes of lightning.

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The pro’s of a storm when the sun can shine

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By the time I reached Las Lajas I was soaked through. It took me a while to find a hotel but with a little searching I found a nice one with restaurant and relaxed for the evening knowing I was tired but making progress.

Sunday 14th October

Waking up from a really deep sleep felt amazing but I still seemed to have a knot in my shoulder which was really painful. Not wanting to leave with out making the most of the pool I got up and headed out into the sun which was already getting hot.

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Dolly waiting while I had breakfast

After a few lengths and a bit of stretching I packed the rest of my things and got going. Having had so much rain meant the day was much cooler and made me feel a lot stronger. My legs didn’t seem to protest as much and the road was good with little traffic. With it being under construction I would often have to change lanes but the traffic being so light meant the cars and trucks were kind often waving or even taking photos.IMGP9600

Looking back at the next brewing storm

I stopped at a garage to buy some snacks as I hadn’t had breakfast which picked me up and although it was still quite early the clouds were already starting to build. A nice BMW X5 pulled up beside me with everyone started taking pictures and asking questions. While the drivers eye were off the road he started to mow down bollard after bollard which judging by the look on the drivers face there may have been a bit of damage. They waved as he drove off and a cone popped out from underneath making me chuckle. With the town of David not far away I thought I might beat the storm that seemed to be rapidly growing around me. With about 8 miles to go I spotted a cyclist coming the other way and so stopped to say hello.

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Josh and David form Texas

Josh and David had ridden from Texas and were on there way south and was great to chat. We were talking for about 40 minutes and all the time the storm was building in front of me. We said goodbye and I set off with the rain visible at the top of the next hill. I stopped half way up the slope and could see the rain bouncing off the road in front of me and yet I wasn’t getting wet.

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Here it comes

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I was right on the edge of the storm and to stand next to the rain curtain was incredible. As you may have guessed it didn’t last long and soon I was engulfed in the down pour. By this point I had put my jacket on but with it being so heavy I changed my shoes for flip flops. It was torrential but yet warm and as the cars passed warm water would spray up around me. I rode on for about a mile and stopped at a restaurant to sit out the worst of the rain and have some dinner. It was good timing and nice to be out of it. As the rain eased I made my way into town and back into the heavy rain to find yet another hotel to rest up.

Monday 15th October

Recently it had felt like I was always tired and today wasn’t any better. Struggling to get out of bed even though I had slept well was hard but with a border to cross I was up and on the road by 9.30am. I put the border position into my GPS and saw I had 40 miles to cover to get there which judging by the road I should cover quite fast. Although my pace wasn’t great I was ticking off the miles, I had the chance to buy a small water melon that I could eat all of along with a couple bananas to give me some extra energy.

Reaching the border around 2pm was great as there was a small town on the Panama side where I could grab some lunch. Seeing a Burgerking I went in and ate my last meal in Panama. After I was finished I felt annoyed I hadn’t stopped at a local restaurant as I didn’t feel full and at twice the price.

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With the border a hundred metres away I went to stamp out but the guard kept pointing to another office then that office pointed me back. It seemed like my bike was causing the issue as it wasn’t a vehicle they had in their system. After ten minutes of walking from one office to the next I returned to the first one where they shrugged their shoulders and stamped me out. I then headed the few hundred metres across the no mansland and reached the Costa Rican Border. I met a guy from The Gambia who seemed very pleased to meet me and was even more thrilled when I said that the Gambians are famous for being the best in the world at Scrabble. With a knowing grin on his face I said goodbye and went to stamp in. This border I was nervous about as often it is necessary to prove your exit and being on a bicycle that wasn’t possible. I filled in the forms and with no checks not even for yellow fever I was stamped into my 31st country. While I had been moving between the border posts I had failed to notice how the clouds were building to the west. The horizon was black and forbodding and with ten miles from the border to the next town I was going to get very wet. I set off and the first 4-5 miles were fine and then the cars coming the other way all had their windscreen wipers and lights on.  I pulled over by a tree and was soon joined by a guy on a moped who had the same idea. I changed my shoes for flip flops and put my jacket on knowing it wasn’t going to stop me from getting soaked but should keep me warm a bit longer. I set off in to the first rain spots which soon turned into a torrent and the roads turned into rivers which in turn the rivers swelled at a huge rate.

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The river was flowing at such a rate

P1030142As I crossed the bridges I could hear large rocks being forced down river and trees breaking under the power of the water.The rain was just insane and yet it was so warm.

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In seconds the road turned into a river

I reached the town by 4.30pm and looked around for a hotel and found one that wasn’t to expensive.  The owner was very nice and showed me where I could put my bike. Once in I had a shower, changed into some dry clothes before heading out for some dinner. I couldn’t believe how much it was raining and how hard. I was told it was the rainy season and walking in the street with the water rushing over my feet I wasn’t going to argue with that. For now I was happy to have made the town and made the border I was now in a new country and looked forward to what lay ahead. ‘Costa Rica’ I just hoped I didn’t feel to tired all the time.

It had felt amazing now being on the North American continent but Panama had tired me out. With the bad roads and drivers to start with I thought there could be nothing else of interest until Laura and Cristiana had put the idea of heading to Santa Catalina in my head. This had saved Panama for me and helped me rest. What didn’t help was I was pushing on a bit and it was probably this that was making me tired. Panama still had some gems that were out of reach by bike in the time I had and so gave me a tiny reason to come back but it wouldn’t be the first on my list.

I got the feeling Panama was selling its self out with almost all the first half of Panama being for sale and thus losing much of its identity to holiday resorts. I was how ever pleased I had go through safety and after just under two weeks I was now in yet another country Costa Rica. It was country number 31 and had been told it has the most species of birds in the world. I had also been told due to it being a popular holiday destination for Americans it was also very expensive. I will just have to see 🙂

Thanks for reading xx

30-Panama

Currency Panamanian Balboa/ US dollar Equal in value

Number of days in country: 13 days

Total distance cycled: 442miles / 711km – Running Total: 26,598 mls/42,796 km

Total altitude gain: 6,254 metres – Running Total: 414,705metres

Altitude gain per mile: 14.15 metres/mile

Totals from Ushuaia Southern tip of Argentina

Total Distance 10,450 miles/ 16,814 km  Total alt gain 220,921metres

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sara permalink
    November 25, 2015 10:12 pm

    I’ve just seen a programme on the Panama canal and the new expansion plans. It was very interesting but even better to be there. I hope you are feeling better now. Well done for keeping positive even though you feel tired most of the time. xxx

  2. Rafael permalink
    December 19, 2015 1:57 am

    hi Tim
    Great pictures of the canal
    bad to know that you got sick, but you are a very strong person!
    xx
    Rafael

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