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June 15, 2013

Postcards from Nowhere: Peoria to Panama - Day 27: Uvita, Costa Rica - Antón, Panama

Above: Finally, Panama at last. This is a self-portrait of me rolling down the PanAmerican Highway after finally crossing into Panama. :)

Update: I am alive and well and resting peacefully in the Hotel Rivera in Antón, Panama. Antón is a town in the Coclé province of Panama, located near the north-western shore of the Gulf of Panama.

Saturday June 15, 2013

Motorcycle Odometer (at start of day): 5,066
Motorcycle Odometer (at end of day): 5,395
Miles driven today: 329 miles

Local Currency: US Dollars

1 US Dollar = 1 US Dollar

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This morning, I wake up and I'm laying in bed. It's 7:30 a.m. No roosters crowing. Only the jake brakes from the PanAmerican highway outside my window. I would have searched for a cabina down by the playa, but it was raining so hard last night, that I couldn't have left without scuba gear.

I'm not a morning person. I don't want to get up. I don't like to get out of bed. Inertia works against you in the morning. Always this is the case. I don't want to get up. I decide that I'll just spend another day in the hotel. There's no harm in it. No shame in it. I need a break. I need a day off.

But then, I decide that I have to get on the road. If I'm not traveling, the I"m not really clear what I'm doing any more. Lying in bed all day isn't going to help me any. I get up, throw my gear into my CC Filson bag from the Circle 7 Outpost and Provisions in Madison, and head out onto the Pan American highway, rolling south always, on Highway 34.

I take a quick exit down to the playa at Punta Uvita. There's a youth hostel called the Flutter By Hotel, I think. Roll out onto the playa and snap some pics. Then head south on Highway 34.

When I get to a town, a bit later the road forks. I'm not sure where to go so, as always, I roll into a gas station and ask "Donde Panama?" and he points which way I should go. Across a large river.

A family is selling something on the side of the road. I"m not clear what it is. I have to know. So, I turn back.

Now, there's a trick to turning the KTM around. I finally figured it out. The turning radius is not as tight as my XR's. So, finally, what I figure out is you have to lean into the turn, and then you can do a sharper U-turn. So I do this. I'm practicing my U-turns without putting my foot down and I turn around and go back and park the bike.

Approach the roadside thatched roof shanty where they're selling these hanging...things...I'm not clear what they are.

"Que significance?"

But I'm not getting it. Finally, I tell him I want to taste just one. So, he gets one from his private stash, and starts carving into it with a knife. He essentially peels it, hands it to me, and I eat it. The closest thing I can say it tastes like is maybe a boiled peanut. Kind of hard to place. And dry. So now, I'm thirsty. He pours me a few sips of Coke into a communal cup. I thank him and I drink it.

He tells me that they're called "pejbayes de palmas".

I buy a bag of them for a dollar. Not because I want them so much as I just think it's the right thing to do.

I resume the journey on the bike, but now, the road gets worse and worse and keeps deteriorating. I don't have a GPS, and I'm loosely going south, according to the sun. But the road is so bad, that I want to turn back. Finally, I come to some tiny little town and I stop and ask them..."Is this the way to Panama?" "Si." "Is this the PanAmerican Highway?" "Si."

So, it's hard to believe, but I'm on the PanAmerican Highway. It just so happens that no one else on the planet earth is on it. And it's in a sorry state. Lots of patched bumpy asphalt. Potholes. Not good.

I truly have no clue how far it is to the border. People measure distance down here in time, for whatever reason. They don't talk about distance in terms of kilometers. They talk about distance in terms of hours. But I'm not sure how that translates to a lunatic on a KTM that likes to take pictures. I just nod when the say the border is two hours away. I have no idea what that means.

But after I've gone about 100 miles or so, I'm rolling into a situation. It's now crowded. Some buildings. Lots of 18 wheeler trucks. Coyotes wandering the plaza with a sharp glint in their eyes. Their eyes are seeking my eyes. Suddenly, it hits me. I'm at the border. Christ. Now I recognize the signs that I'm rolling up to a border town. It's not a good feeling.

What you want to do is turn around a flee, away from the frontera. But this is not an option. I have to cross over. This is my burden. My struggle. My cross to bear. The curse of the village idiot.

The coyotes come at me, pushing badges into my face. This is not as bad as some of the border crossings. Not that many coyotes, really. I shoo them off in Spanish. "Alto. Alto. No necessito!"

Shocked, they fall back and leave me alone. I've pretty much got the exit part figured out. This is the easy part. Immigracion, then Aduana (Customs). I find the line for immigracion, but she wants some form that I can't find. I dig through all of my paperwork. I don't have it. So, I return, and I'm like...."Do what you're going to do., but I don't have that form".

Like, I'm standing here, and I have to think I'm not the first person to lose a form when they're traveling abroad. I'd say I've done remarkably well up to this point.

So, she presents me with a replacement form, and I fill it out. I have my passport number memorized by now. I fill it out, she stamps my passport. Now, aduana. At aduana, I give them all of my motorcycle paperwork. They fill out another form. Now, keep in mind, I gave up wearing my leather jacket. It's too hot down here. If I die, then I die. If I hit a dog and all the skin comes off my carcass, then please, just shoot me and put me out of my misery. I don't want to be a freak of nature that people stare at at the beach. Just shoot me. Please.

I pull forward to the Panamanian border, and this is where it gets difficult. Going through Immigracion and Aduana when you're going into a new country is a royal pain in the ass. At first, Immigracion tells me that they won't allow me into the country without a plane ticket. I'm like..."that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard?!"

But then, a guy shows up to help me, and I let him. Because I need help getting through this part, and I know it. He explains that I need motorcycle insurance I'm like..."well why the fuck didn't he say that? I wanted to stranger the immigracion officer with my bare hands."

So, we go to buy motorcycle insurance. It costs about $20. Get that. And copies of motorcycle title, passport, insurance, etc. Now, we need to go upstairs for some reason. We go upstairs, and there's some third world hold up. I just sit down and get out my cameras and my laptop. Like, you can't get upset at these people. It's not worth it. I give my servant a $20 bill and tell him to go get me a Diet Coke. He leaves, and I doubt I'll ever see him again, but I figure it's well worth $20 to see if you can trust someone or not.

Finally, they start processing people upstairs. Everyone else jumps up to get in line. My servant just motions for me to stay put. He's got this all dialed in apparently, which is what I'm paying him for. Eventually, he returns. He's got all my paperwork in order. I pay him $10 for helping me. He explains to me very carefully that, 1 km down the road is a police checkpoint, and I'm to present them with this paperwork.

I roll south and, at the police checkpoint, I stop and present them with my paperwork. They act shocked that I know what's going on, and they glance at it, and wave me through.

He returns promptly with my Diet Coke and my change, of course.

In Panama, the country immediately deteriorates into the third world squalor I've come to associate with Central America. It's hard to describe how much nicer Costa Rica was than the rest of Central America. Costa Rica had a recycling campaign - Reduce, Re-use, Recycle. In Nicaragua, they drink water from plastic bags. There's just no comparison.

You may think that the PanAmerican highway is a highway, but it's more like a patch-work quilt of various roads through various countries. At this point, the PanAmerican highway is a path of patched asphalt and I'm bouncing across it at 80 mph and I come to a bridge. As I approach the bridge, there's a dog crossing the road on the bridge, and I use my horn a lot down here. Use it to communicate with the animals, other drivers, etc. Now, I decide I'll alert the dog to my presence and hit my horn. But when I start honking my horn, the dog panics and tries to cross back in front of me. This is going to suck. In a big way. I'm going 80 mph across a bridge and I'm about to hit a dog and there's no where to go. I pull on both brakes and just brace for impact. Without a jacket, or gloves, or boots, this is going to suck. I'm going to need skin grafts over 60% of my body. I'll be in intensive care in a 3rd world hospital with a nurse waving flies off of me with a stick.

Somehow, the dog makes it back across the road in front of me and I don't hit him. I've been pushing the envelope very hard for a very long time. It occurs to me that a smart person might slow down. I decide to seriously consider slowing down as soon as I get to Panama City.

Right now, I'm watching the cloud forest on the mountains and wondering if it will rain today like it rained yesterday in Costa Rica. Lord that was a flood. In any other country, they'd call it a monsoon. In Costa Rice, they call it June. All of the rivers in Costa Rica were brown and running wild this morning from the epic storm yesterday. I promise you we got 10" of rain yesterday. According to this graph, that region of Costa Rica gets 160" of rain a year.

Now, I see a horse in a trailer, and I'm shocked. This is not something I've seen in Central America. In Nicaragua, a horse is transportation. Here, the horses are transported in trailers. Odd to see.

I don't know where to go in Panama. No clue. I stop for gas, and glance at my new free map of Panama. It looks like the PanAmerican Highway goest straight through Panama City, so I'll just go with that plan for now.

I see people selling fish on the side of the road. I'm hungry, so I stop at a tiny little roadside shanty.

The restaurant is called "Mi RIco Pescado" in Las Vuelta, Panama. They specialize in pescado frita, so I decide to break down and try it. It's not bad, but it's hard to get used to the fish watching you as you eat it.

Roosters crow and turkeys gobble. Caged parrots squawk. Naked chickens come in from outside the restaurant to pick at scraps of food on the restaurant floor. Like the chickens in Peru, these have no feathers. The owner comes out and kicks at them with his feet to shoo them out.

They have provided me a small bottle of Congo Picante Hot Sauce, made in Panama.

I spy a Del Valle Naranja drink in the cooler and order one for the road.

My bill is $5.00 for everything...rice and beans, fried fish, Diet Coke, and a Del Valle Naranja.

After lunch, I'm back on the road. I figure that I'll be drenched in a torrential downpour any second. Even as I drive, I watch the clouds form around the mountain ranges. They're evil and wicked and sinister. Dark and foreboding.

I open up the throttle until I'm running between 85 and 90 mph. I adjust the cramp buster/cruise control on the bike, so it hums around at about 90 of it's own accord.

Now, all of the other police that I've seen in Central America were in cars, and I always knew that, deep down, I could take them on any given Sunday. That I could outrun them, if I absolutely had to. Now, that doesn't mean I can outrun the radio. You can never outrun the radio, of course. But I'm pretty sure I could outrun the pigs, if push came to shove.

But now that I'm in Panama, things are a little different down here. Down here, the police ride around on white motorcycles. I'm not clear what kind, but they look fast. Like a white crotch rocket that will go 160, no problem. And the guy on the back has an AR-15. So, there's there to consider, also.

It's getting close to dark, threatening rain, and I'm very tired. It's easy to make mistakes when your tired and pushing triple digits all day in a third world country. I'm starting to make subtle mistakes in my driving that I can't afford to make. So the next little town I come to, I roll through very slowly, looking for a hotel. I've driven roughly 300 miles today, plus I also crossed the border into Panama. So, it's been a good day as far as mileage goes, anyway.

The police roll by very slowing on a white motorcycle and the guy on the back with an AR-15. Very intimidating. Not something you want to see, really. Because the assumption is that, if he's got an AR-15, there's a reason. He probably needs it.

As the sun sets behind some storm clouds, I pull over and check in at the Hotel Rivera in the town of El Valley del Anton, Panama, in the province of Cocle. They want $35.00 for the night, and it's more than I was hoping to spend, but I check in just the same, berate them when the internet and A/C don't work, so they move me to a room poolside with internet and a supposedly working A/C.

"En cinco horas mas, es frio", he assures me. Great. So, in just five short hours, the room will be cool. I can hardly wait.

Above: The playa at Punta Uvita, Costa Rica.

Above: The Flutter By Youth Hostel, at Punta Uvita, Costa Rica.

Above: A river just south of Punta Uvita, Costa Rica.

Above: Panama is not all bad. It's scenic in the countryside, at least.

Above: This vendor was selling these on the side of the road. He called them Pejbayes de palma. They taste kind of like boiled peanuts.

Above: This vendor was selling these on the side of the road. He called them Pejbayes de palma. They taste kind of like boiled peanuts.

Above: The world as seen by Panama, apparently.

Above: Welcome to Panama (assuming you have a plane ticket.)

Above: The Royal Dick in Immigracion that told me I couldn't enter the country of Panama without a plane ticket. Freaking moron.

Above: Panamanian propaganda for Aduana. Keeping the world safe from...whatever.

Above: BOHICA. Immigracion. Lovely. Please Wait Here.

Above: Mi amigo helping me get through Aduana.

Above: Fumigating the KTM 990 Adventure at the Panamanian border.

Above: Children at the Panamanian border.

Above: This is the guy that helped me get through Immigracion and Aduana in Panama. I tipped him $10.

Above: Approaching the final Aduana (Customs) checkpoint in Panama.

Above: Panamanian customs agents couldn't believe how organized my paperwork was. They glanced at it and waved me through.

Above: The 13 millionth quasi-official government office I passed on this trip.

Above: Finally, Panama at last. This is a self-portrait of me rolling down the PanAmerican Highway after finally crossing into Panama. :)

Above: Dark clouds forming on the horizon already. Better speed up a little...

Above: More dark clouds forming on the horizon. Better go a little faster still...

Above: Someone trimmed their tree to look like a house. I'm not clear why.

Above: I'm not clear what this sign says. I think it's talking about the number of people that died in car crashes in Panama, and the number of deaths in this provide?

Above: These are the places I like to eat. Small, out of the way places, with only a few locals. The restaurant is called "Mi RIco Pescado" in Las Vuelta, Panama.

Above: A CocaCola crate.

Above: Pescado frita, con arroza y frijoles, y ensalada.

Above: Pescado frita, con arroza y frijoles, y ensalada, plus a bottle of Congo hot sauce from Panama.

Above: The KTM 990 Adventure needs a bath.

Above: Local children checking out the conures.

Above: Local children checking out the conures.

Above: A tree at the same restaurant.

Above: The chickens don't have feathers here, because the climate is so warm that they lost them through evolution, apparently.

Above: Any time you're near water in a third world country, you're going to see fish for sale on the side of the road.

Above: I think we can probably get some more bananas on top here. Go ahead and throw me a few.

Posted by Rob Kiser on June 15, 2013 at 7:02 PM


I've loved keeping up with you. Please come visit us in N.O. Would love to hug you, old friend. TL

Posted by: TL on June 16, 2013 at 11:11 AM

You know, people do the things they do for any number of reasons. I hate that what happened to you to (ostensibly) precipitate this adventure, happened, but nevertheless, it did. If there are other reasons people believe caused you to embark on this trip, so be it. Everyone has their opinion.

That being said, I've read all the feedback, and naysaying, and cautionary comments, etc. that have followed this trip, and it appears to me that most of it is coming from those who simply wish they had the balls to do what you're doing. Is it dangerous? Absolutely (irrespective of the locals' demeanor so far). Is it a good bit crazy? Hells yes! But those are the very reasons everyone following this "adventure" continues to follow it! Because, most of us know we'd never do it ourselves!

Bottom line: be safe (as safe as possible). It's all fun and games until someone gets an eye put out, so just do everything you can to eventually end up safe and sound on the NORTH side of the border (the US border with Mexico, that is)

I, for one, have been captivated by reading this travel blog......maybe that just says what you need to know about me.......either way, keep up the good journaling, keep both tires perpendicular to the road, and let's meet at Circle 7 one day when you return home!

Posted by: dnp on June 16, 2013 at 1:02 PM

Many thanks, Tammy. I'll catch up with you when I get back into the states. :)

Posted by: Rob Kiser Author Profile Page on June 16, 2013 at 2:33 PM

David, Many thanks for the positive feedback. It has been an amazing journey. Unfortunately, the impetus for this journey is the bone-stock truth. That has been very painful, but every day, my brain gnaws on the asphalt roads of Central America, and it helps to dull the pain. Some people say I have a death wish, but really I just couldn't hand lying in bed doing nothing, because that truly would have been the death of me. This adventure, though dangerous, has really helped me to focus on other things, at a time in my life when I truly needed something else to focus us. On a lighter note...rolled into Panama City today and I have to say...Panama City is insane. Nothing like I expected. Unprecedented in Central America, IMHO. Pics to follow.

Posted by: Rob Kiser Author Profile Page on June 16, 2013 at 2:40 PM

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