• Panama – Caribbean to the Pacific in a day

    Posted by Murray on February 23, 2011

    Having thoroughly enjoyed Costa Rica, we were looking forward to cruising through Panama – and it didn’t disappoint! We exited Costa Rica via a small border crossing at Sixaola, close to the Caribbean Sea and it was a barrel of laughs. At this point, the countries are separated by Rio Sixaola, joined only by a sturdy old railway bridge, no longer used by trains. After being stamped out (both ourselves and the bikes – many of these countries have stamped our passports for the bikes), we topped our sordid breakfast up with a $0.10 banana and a $0.40 fresh OJ and pointed the steeds towards the bridge. The bridge crossing was a classic with the numerous loose or missing planks making the flowing river far below seem even further away. It was unfortunate to see several elderly pedestrians plummet through the gaps as the bikes roared passed.

    Walking beside and chatting to a young boy as he lead me through a maze of streets and run down houses to find a photocopy shop reinforced to me the reward of travelling. It is those little moments that remain with you for years that are the true treasures of international travel. Always smiling, he happily described his family, school, friends, favourite food and his country as he trotted along beside me in his tattered little clothes. It  is fun sharing with these children some of the highlights of Australia and they often know about our kangaroos and koalas, bouncing around like Skippy and laughing. His eyes and smile widen even more when he gets some coins for his help, no doubt keen to run off and show his mum or buy a cool drink in the tropical heat. With a cheeky grin a wave, he skips off to tell his mates…..

    The final part of sorting our paperwork included climbing flights of stairs, weaving through the aisles of a supermarket selling toilet paper and car tyres whilst the floor was being jack hammered up, and finding a little window up the back selling the compulsory liability insurance to enter the country with a bike. Conversation was pointless as the rap music competed against the jack hammer so it was mime games again. Lozza has his injured duck down pat…. just not sure of it’s application sometimes.

    After the border the ride from the Caribbean to the Pacific was just awesome. Touring passed the Bocas del Toro islands was a highlight, as was crossing the mountain range dividing the country. One interesting moment later in the day was just as we summited and came out on a ridge – rainforest on the caribbean side and pine forest on the Pacific. We were almost in the clouds and exhilaration levels were high. I was leading and as we burst clear onto the top of the ridge the view either side was astounding, so much so that I yelled out on the radio that it felt like being on top of the world. In mid sentence the wind that was belting up the ridge at a hideous rate of knots nearly ripped my head clean off and the bike nearly followed suit – funny in hindsight and probably for Lozza at the time.

    We rode our bikes on the sand on a Pacific Ocean beach at near Boca Chica just as the sun went down. Tents were pitched near a old fishing shack, a safe distance from the water as it appeared the tide could fluctuate substantially. Then, time to track down some grub as our out of date split bag of rice and a few jelly beans in the bottom of the tank bag didn’t hold a great appeal right at that moment.

    $5 fresh crayfish and fried plantains (starchy bananas) for dinner on someone’s front porch chatting to an off duty cop was a great way to finish a great day, our first in Panama.

    The next morning comprised a few hours fishing with the locals. Our 8am start transformed into 9:30am as old mate decided to do some mods to his crusty old boat 15seconds before we had agreed to leave. A few minutes after heading out through the small waves, one of the blokes hooked up a decent pelagic fish and we thought we were in for a pearler of a morning. Unfortunately that was the only catch of the day besides the dozen crayfish that were pulled up in the nets that we checked. All in all, a top morning out. Noone spewed, bonus!

    Saturday evening saw us pulling into Coronado, 1hour from Panama City, and being welcomed by a friend Gary Hill up to the 9th floor of a 1990′s James Bond apartment, teetering on the waters edge with beaches far below. What a great spot – way to go Gary!! After a quick dip in the ocean and a run along the beach, we sat down to a feast of gourmet salad, stuffed potatoes and BBQ sirloin prepared by Gary and had a great evening. Thanks Gary, you are an excellent host :)

    Sunday was spent with friends and this is where Loren met the women of his dreams – unfortunately the lovely lady was 60 years his senior so I had to take him aside and have a mates talk. But what an inspiring classic individual!

    She was so excited about the motos and was disappointed my helmet was such a tight squeeze. It was the first 96year old lady I have had sit on the bike.

    The Panama Canal was and is an extraordinary engineering project. 153 million cubic metres of material, mostly blasted rock, was excavated between 1907 and 1913. This is a phenomenal amount of earth moving, even in today’s terms with modern equipment for a civil construction project. The canal joins the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea which, when opened in 1914 two years ahead of schedule, had an enormous positive impact on the shipping industry. Sadly, 5,600 construction workers lost their lives over the entire 10 year construction period.

    We saw several carrier ships come through one of the 3 locks on the canal which was great. The ships are designed specifically for the dimensions of the lock and it seemed that there is little room to spare. The 3 locks are necessary due to the varying elevations along the 77km passage and it was great to see the 100 year old structures working just as designed so many years ago.

    A $5billion expansion is underway to allow larger container ships to pass through and has a planned completion of 2015.

    Sunday found us staying with some more friends on the 38th floor of a very cool highrise in the heart of Panama City. Thanks Dale and Patty for a great evening and tour guides.

    Panama is another awesome country to ride a motorbike, without a doubt. Tomorrow, off to meet our yacht to sail to Colombia!

4 Comments | Leave a Reply

  1. Donna on February 23, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    A man. A plan. A Canal. Panama. (A woman. A plan. A husband. Loren.) Panama looks and sounds amazing. So glad you updated your blog for us armchair travelers!

  2. Carmen on February 24, 2011 at 2:15 am

    A motorbike. A plan. Getting back to Loren. Today!!

    • Carmen on February 24, 2011 at 2:16 am

      Another motorbike. Similar plan. Getting back to Murray. NOW!!!

      • Carmen on February 24, 2011 at 2:24 am

        Maybe the old mamacita followed you secretly, had a chat to the captain and took them away, ha! Thanx for the update, guys….. LOVE EVERY PIC (except the one with the dead fish)! X