Monday, April 18, 2011

4/14/11. From Panama City to the end of the Road in Yaviza: 360 miles round trip, 8 hours.

End up spending the day with A, talking about everything and seeing the sights of the old town while alternately dipping into cafes and under awning to escape the intermittent rain showers. We end up back at the hostel, and we hang out until she has to leave for her flight back to France, managing to find some privacy in this madhouse. We say good bye and promise to keep in touch. I hit the sack and am woken up by a bunch of drunk Israelis doing a stomp dance upstairs so hard, that pieces of the ceiling are falling on me. I have to get out of this place and plan to head to Panama Passage.

I end up staying at Luna's castle for one more night, and spend the day checking out the Panama Canal at the Miraflores locks. It is pretty awesome and I am lucky enough to see a ship being pulled through. I stand there looking at it and reflecting back on the past several months, and all that I have done to reach this point thousands of miles away.

I load up the bike the next morning and head over in the morning to Panama Passage which is a 5 minute ride away, but I still manage to cross back over the Bridge of the Americas out of town and eventually pay a cab a couple of bucks to show me to the place. I am greeted by Luc, a Belgian motorcycle traveller who has gone down Africa, up South America, and is now here in Panama. He is a really nice and cool guy, totally excited about all things motorcycle, and I find out he has a large collection he likes to work on himself. Shaun is out for a while and Christian has flown back to France for some business. Have to mention that before I arrived, I received an email from Shaun which said " going out to smoke hookah and drink at a Colombian hooker bar, bring your dress shirt." I got a kick out of that one, and let me put out the disclaimer that none of us actually wanted to get hookers. But we did in fact go to El Congrego, the downtown district where me, Shaun and Luc did end up eating dinner, smoking hookah (mango flavored) and having drinks at a Colombian hooker bar. How do I keep ending up at these spots? The ladies were incredibly beautiful I have to say, but no crazy stories. Back at Panama Passage (which by the way is a great operation with nice clean rooms, travelling books, maps and magazines everywhere, and plenty of places to store gear and work on bikes, wifi, good breakfast with great coffee), I stay up for a while on the computer and plan the next couple of days, which includes taking a train ride the rest of the way up the canal, and riding to the end of the Pan Am highway to Yaviza, in the Darien territory, just 25 miles away from the Colombian border.

After spending the previous day at Panama Viejo, the ruins of the first settlement in present day PC, I end up the next morning at 7:15 AM on the old style passenger train which runs 22 miles from one end of the Panama Canal to the other. The car has a partial glass ceiling and large picture windows, as well as an outdoor viewing area. The train passes by the locks, the Gatun lake, through thick rainforest and ends at Colon an hour later. I share my table with an older guy from Brooklyn and his early 20's Nicaraguan love-boy. Colon is a shithole, and I take a bus to the Gatun locks where again, I am lucky enough to see a huge ship being pulled through, and then back to Colon where I catch a modern bus with AC back to Panama City for 3 bucks. I am dropped off by a huge mall, again with AC, so I do a bit of shopping and eating, but no good movies playing, so back to Panama Passage. I plan to go to the end of the road to Yaviza tomorrow, so I go to bed as early as a guy like me can.

Leave the house at 10AM and head south to Yaviza. The Pan Am ends in this town deep in the heart of the Darien province, known for its proximity to lawlessness, drug trafficking, and groups of indigenous people who live in houses on stilts, are sometimes naked, and are mostly self-governing in this autonomous region. The road is smoothly paved and I keep waiting for it to turn to shit, but it never does. Far cry from a couple of years ago when you needed a 4x4 or similar vehicle to get through, and there were 5 military checkpoints, both to make sure you were safe and to make sure you weren't a danger to others. Now there is just 1 checkpoint and after taking down my information, passing through Indian communities where people live and dress as they have for centuries, and riding the rest of the pavement, I end up in Yaviza less than 4 hours later. Not much to see here, I cross a bridge and step out onto a pedestrian footbridge overlooking the river and taking a few pics. Hard to believe Colombia is only 25 miles away, but impossible to get through because of the Darien Gap, which is completely undeveloped, full of mountains, rivers, jungle, drug traffickers, guerrillas, etc. I have reached the proverbial and literal end of the road, and now I am headed home. It feels good. On the way back, I run out of gas, and buy a gallon from a farmer and hang with him, his kid his chickens, puppies and big momma rottweiler for a bit. I'm back in Panama City before dark, hit my favorite spot Nico's Cafe for some food and then I'm back at Panama Passage once again, sharing stories with Shaun and Mario, a French-Canadian living in Burkina Faso, and vacationing in Central America. One more day in Panama for me, and I am headed north and slowly home to the Bocas del Toro archipelago in the Panama Caribbean, close to Costa Rica and a completely different vibe from my week in PC.

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