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Jan. 2 - 9, 2012, Day 84 - 91, PANAMA

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DAY 84-86, Jan. 2-4, Bocas del Toro, Temp 25-27C Rain off and on, (100/11,515km)

Got my camera going again so back in the world of video and photography.  Off to the not so travelled border Sixaola in the Northeast corner of Panama that has a tough to navigate bridge well known to motorbikers.

It was a slow border crossing, not because it was that busy, but more the fact that they only have one person working each check in and out station so a border that normally sees 20 people per day and few trucks can get quite jammed up when there are 40 people crossing at the same time.  About an 1.5hrs on the Costa side and then another 2 hrs on the Panama side.  The bridge was super cool with a few tough spots where boards were missing, but manageable.  Only crap thing was these kids who surrounded me at the bikes trying to get money off me and trying to get me to go for a cool swim in the river about 300m from the bikes.  One kid would try for 10 minutes and then another would replace him.  No way you could leave the bikes with these vultures around.  BTW, thanks for doing the paperwork Guy.

Bridge out of Puerto Viejo

Road to the border C4R6T2V7

Border line on Costa Rican side.
The only guy working the desk was
working his phone pretty hard
 texting in between border crossers
which slowed things up more.

The scary border bridge which was quite fun in the end.

Success, at getting over the
bridge that is.

Great shot Guillaume, that's the river the kids wanted me
 to swim in.
Dodgy kids trying to steal our shit

Border done

 Check out the stats page for more on the crossing

Leaving the border we were lost for a bit and then after many requests for directions we finally got on the only road to Almirante.  The hwy portion was fantastic C7R7T2V7/8.  Arriving in Almirante we all thought "I hope the islands are nicer".  Rough looking spot and we didn't love that we had to leave our bikes there then boat to the main Island Colon where Bocas del Toro is.  I sent my GPS Spot location and forgot it on the mirror of my bike in the parking place.  Worse case it would be gone and not such a bad case it would be there with dead batteries.
This can't be the right road
 to Almirante / Bocas?

Welcome to Panama

Made the last day boat for $4,
after 6pm they cost $20 / person
Rough looking Almirante

In Panama's Party Central Bocas del Toro.  A video below of Fireworks in the street.  One night in Bocas was good for us.  At the bar we met the niece of Manuel Noriega who looks normal, but was definitely on the wild side.

Niece to Manuel.
Look him up and you'll know why
she's a bit wild.

The next day we decided to go to the more relaxed island Bastimentes / Red Frog Beach which meant we had to move all our shit.  But first I took a little tour of Bocas del Toro.
Cool kid, someday he'll be the Dj at Barco Hundido

Next to the Cemetery
Next to the Morgue
Sweet cop unit
On to Bastimentes Island...

What do you think about moving Guy?
Neighbouring dive shop to our
Water Taxi owned by a Nova
Scotian. $30 per dive, but I didn't go.

Fun ($7 return water taxi to Bocas)

Look at all the "Big" boats...

Actually remember seeing this
one in Auckland, NZ.

Arriving we realized there would
be no Taxi to the backpacker.

Path to Red Frog Beach

Nice enough, but I had big
expectations.  The surf was quite
rough and the beach was not that

Brad's version of Top Gun V-ball

Keep it alive man!

A good worldly team: Germany,
Finland, Canada, Brazil

Our very industrial Bocas Bound Hostel on Bastimentes which people raved about, but I found to be soulless and hammockless (well, one lopsided one, which is not enough for a big hostel).  Air conditioning you can't control meaning it was about 15C in our dorm at night, back breaking beds and the expectation we were right on the beach were the big negatives to this apparent paradise.  Where were the little beach huts I had in mind?
"Give it to Guy, he'll eat it, Guy eats everything."  A man
that needs to eat every 2 hours as long as it's not carbs!

The usual no internet in the rooms
so I found myself in their expensive

I saw this little fella climbing in to the
kitchen around midnight. Yikes.

The backpacker may not be liberal, but that doesn't
stop the animals!

Cruising back to the main land with
waves crashing the sides of our
little water taxi.
DAY 87-88, Jan. 5-6, Santa Catalina, Temp 18-30 Rain to Sun, (450/11,965km)

Two rough boat rides back to Almirante which Guy definitely didn't enjoy with his sea sickness issues.  We picked up the bikes in the rain from our $2/day parking spot near the water taxi office.  I was happily surprised to see my Spot(GPS) still attached to my mirror and blinking away, Holy crap!  David, Guy and myself suited up in our rain gear and mounted our steel horses for a long day of riding.  A midday start couldn't be helped due to the 2 boats required to get back to Almirante.  The day was going to be long for sure, but really good riding was expected as we were going to pass over the mountains from the East Coast of Panama to the West Coast.

It truly was an amazing day of riding with a bonus handshake from a Canadian Member of Parliament.  What are the odds of that?  

Our first 65km was outstanding with jungle, ocean views, sweeping curves in the mountains and small undeveloped villages which started in the rain and opened to the sun 30 minutes in to the ride.  Great!  C7R6T2V8/9.

Rainy but not too slippery

Rain went away

One those crazy bicyclists
Me n Mark Eyking, Cape Breton MP
 Side story: A quick lunch stop at a Bus Terminal which looked dodgy, but was quite delicious found us chatting with some guy from Nova Scotia.  He turned out to be Mark Eyking the MP for Sydney/Cape Breton and a really friendly guy.  He had returned to Panama on vacation to see developments he had been a part of 12 years before.  We shook hands and he parted letting us know if we needed any passport help to give him a ring.  I will likely be calling you Mark, haha (that's not funny).

Up and up to the clouds and a bit more rain was next on the days Menu.  C7/8R5T2V8, very few cars on this road and I would say this pass as one of my great rides of the trip, RECOMMENDED.  Actually the only section of the day that was disappointing was the Pan American section after the city of David where about 50 km was quite shocking to say the least. Before choppy C2R6T3V5 and the choppy 50km C3R3T4V6.  Gorgeous section of road from PanAm to Sona = C7R7T2V7.

Small underdeveloped areas along the road side

In to the clouds, so cool

Fog riding

Very cool to see a dam up in the mountains

So excited I had to pee

Bit wet again

Looking at this as we made it over the mountain pass

How you doing Guy?

Indication of a bit more money in Panama than other
Central American countries.  Pedestrian overpasses

This guy must loose a few 

Good section of the PanAm

Bad section of the PanAm

Video of the dam along the mountain pass

Down from the mountain pass on the way to the PanAm

As night was approaching we had 70km from Sona to Santa Catalina which an America girl had told me was brilliant and freshly paved only days ago.  Sounded great so we rode in to the night to a nasty surprise that only 15km was paved and 30km had rough patches of gravel that were hard to see in the dwindling light.  Sorry Guy for getting tight with you, but I would rather go a bit quicker with the fading dusk light then hit this shit in total darkness.  

Not so paved road to Santa Catalina

Ran in to Conor (from San Cristobal, Mex) and had dinner at the Dive Stop bar where we parked our bikes, bought $1 beers and eat nice burritos ($9 with 3 beers).  The hotel Brisa Mar above the bar was ok. The quietest toilet of my trip! which was actually a bad thing because I could hear what I thought were rats running around in the roof all to well.  I really thought one of what ever it was was going to fall through the drop ceiling and on to my head over my 2 day stay.
What's in Santa Catalina.  Well, not much with only a few shops and restaurants the place was not as developed as I expected considering having a major national park on its door step where people pay too much to dive with Whale Sharks ($20 each to enter the marine park, $120 for 2 dives with out lunch which is double of any place on my trip. NOT recommended.  Spend $40 and go snorkelling as you still get to see Coiba Island, etc.).  However I did learn a new technique for releasing head pressure while underwater, thanks Luca.  What didn't happen is that I missed the damn Whale Shark by 2 minutes as I went low on air just before the others saw the big fish.  Still in the end it was great to see Coiba Island which you should stay on if you have the time as there are many things to see and hike to (including a resident crocodile very close to the accommodations).

I was surprised how poor the equipment at SCUBA Coiba
was for the price.  There are other shops if you can get in.

Future boat captain

Hoping to see a Whale Shark

The island we left the snorkellers
for the first 2 hours, great spot.

I went for a snorkel in between dives and finally saw a
sea turtle after all my dives to date with out seeing one.
Lunch stop at Coiba
It's pretty nice

These vulture things remind me of
flying turkeys.
Sad side story: For the lunch I needed to pack I went to the depressing corner store which was grim.  They had one bag of rolls covered in maggots or some kind of insect so that was out leaving me with a cup of noodles, a can of ham, a can of tuna and a snickers bar.  A very depressing shop indeed.  I managed to get 6 slices of bread for $1 at a cafe next to the dive shop.

Don't get me wrong, Santa Catalina is a good spot to go and I recommend staying towards El Estero Beach.

DAY 89-91, Jan. 7-9, Panama City, Temp 33C Sun, (380/12,345km)

Woke around 8am to get a quick swim at Playa El Estero which was great, but short as I left the bike taking up too much parking and figured I should get back to move it.  My silly North American attitude still ingrained in me.  People will just park around you so don't worry Brad.

Playa El Estero

Speedy sand crabs

Great view, but food wasn't great
and wasn't cheap

Looking at Playa Estero

Great video of sand crab running for cover

Shot of Marty a surfer from
Quebec and his kid playing in
the river mouth.

On to Panama city in the light of day so I had a good chance to take in the road from Santa Catalina to Sona C5R6T2V7 first part, rough section C5R4T2V7 and new pavement C5R8T2V7.   Then finally PanAm all the way into Panama City with a great double lane mountain pass finish C4R8T3/4V6.

One lane bridge leaving Santa Catalina
Conor getting left behind by David
 and Guy, but that's cool as he
 enjoys hanging in local hammocks.

Section of amazing road just passed Sona C6R8T3V7 (one of best roads on entire trip!!! RECOMMEND)


Panama showing signs of  USA 

Great two lane roads winding through the hills about 50km from Panama City

That's how to cut a coconut!
$2 healthy lunch/ snack.  Coconut
and a Pineapple.
Santiago and his road side shop
He gave me some free bananas
for the road, thanks.

Entering Panama City I went through an area of high poverty which is situated right next to Casco Viejo the sexy old town area.  Unfortunately we couldn't get in to the highly talked about Luna's Castle and with little options in the area we drove off to Bella Vista close to the Center of town where you can get a double bed with parking, Wifi and A/C for $25.  The Wifi at Backpacker Inn didn't work in the room so we moved to Hotel Cuba which was extremely lucky for Guy and I as our mate Dan who didn't move with us had his bike broken into the next night in the so called secure parking.  So, Backpacker Inn is SHIT! and Hotel Cuba with a crap reception area is actually really good for $15 each in a double room, very secure indoor parking and Wifi.  They place is so secure sometimes you can't even get yourself out.

Good video of bridge view of Panama water ways to the Canal.

Hard area of Panama next to Viejo

Over our three days in Panama we hit a bar on a Saturday night which was great, went to the Panama Canal ($8 for full access, go with limited for $3 as you only need to see the ships go through) and spent a lovely night with Richard and Lupe at their amazing place in Casco Viejo (Thank you so much for the food, drink, great stories and photos).

Awesome skyline in Panama City

Backpacker Inn where they steal
shit in the parking lot

Wild Architecture
Night out in club Prive.  Me, Guy, Dan, David.  $10 for 1 hr
 all you can drink.  We did our best.  Closing time 3am.
Cruise ship coming through the Panama Canal, check out the speed.
Miraflores locks

I'm so ...

Guy and Ceveche at the Marisco
del Mar Market

Casco Viejo in the background

A seen from the movie "The Birds"

Our bikes lining Luna's Castle
Richard and Lupe's beautiful

Richard travelling the world

On their amazing roof top.  Conor finally got to town.

Amazing night.

Other Stuff

Check out the gear shifter or should we be looking at the
dude hiding behind the window?

Wild paint jobs on yet another
cool looking chicken bus

Dying of thirst, this could be the best coke I ever had

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