« Crossing the Darien Gap | Main | Shipping the bike back to USA »

June 16, 2013

Postcards from Nowhere: Peoria to Panama - Day 28: Antón to Panama City, Panama

Above: Looking north at the Panama Canal from the Puente Centenario (Centenario Bridge) near Paraiso, Panama City, Panama.

Update: I am alive and well and resting peacefully in the Riande Hotel at the Tocumen Airport, in Panama City, Panama.

Sunday June 16, 2013

Motorcycle Odometer (at start of day): 5,395
Motorcycle Odometer (at end of day): 5,523
Miles driven today: 128 miles

Local Currency: US Dollars

1 US Dollar = 1 US Dollar

View Larger Map

In the morning, I wake up...there are three doors into a small, unremarkable room. One goes outside. One goes to the bathroom. The other one opens onto a veranda overlooking the pool.

But when they're all closed, you're just in this little box. And I keep getting disoriented, for some reason. I have a remote control, and I lie in bed and look at the doors and try to remember which one I came in. It sucks getting old. It's hard changing rooms every night. Every night, you've got to figure out how to work a new remote control for the TV, and a new remote control for the A/C.

Changing currencies all the time is a nightmare. My suitcase is stuffed full of central american currencies. When my guy was helping me get into Panama, he pushed a form in front of me to sign that said I didn't have more than $10,000.00 on me, (added together, counting all currencies). I wasn't sure how he knew how much money I had. I had to do some quick numbers, but I think that the 2 grand she blackmailed me out of so she could start off fresh with your new boyfriend just got me under the 10 K limit. I knew that that $2,000 was the best investment I ever made. I should celebrate the occasion every year. I'll have a party at my trailer and burn twenty one-hundred dollar bills every year on that date, just to celebrate being alone, unfettered, and fiscally solvent.

I walk around and shoot the grounds of the hotel. Most of these flowers I've shot before. It's beautiful, of course, but some of it starts to look the same after a while.

Check out of the hotel and oil the chain in the parking lot. Rolling out of town, I pass the local National Police station. I stop and take soma quick shots of their bikes. I'm not familiar with these bikes. Doesn't look like anything I've ever seen before. hard to place. Like a white crotch rocket, but not a Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, etc.

Roll out of town. Will try to get to Panama City today. Of course, they just call it Panama, the same way they call Belize City just Belize. Like....wouldn't you think that would be confusing? What do I know?

I'm rolling south on the PanAmerican highway, and for parts of the way, it's concrete. Now, apparently, it takes skill to pour concrete so that it's smooth. A skill that is sorely missing in Latin America. Because every concrete road I've been on down here, it feels like you're riding a galloping horse.

So, I'm galloping down the road, and I pass one of those police guys on the white motorcycle. And I don't really like this. It's like....my entire view of Central America is founded on the premise that you can do whatever you want, and not get stopped by the policia. But now, I'm seeing a lot of police down here in Panama. And I'm starting to worry that maybe the zeitgeist has changed. Maybe things are different down here. Surely that police wouldn't stop me, right?

I pass one sitting under bridge going 88 mph, just to see what they'll do. He doesn't do anything. Good. I was getting worried there for a minute. Keep driving. I begin to realize that, pretty much every bridge I come to, there's a pig on a white motorcycle sitting under the bridge, in the shade, monitoring traffic.

I see one about ever 10 to 15 minutes. I really don't like this. And I consider slowing down, but of course I don't. It's kinda funny because, I've been driving balls-out through Central America for so long, that it sort of starts to fell like it's not fun any more. LIke, what's the point in running, if no one is going to chase you? What's the point in chasing something that won't run. All of this is connected together somehow. I want to run, but no one wants to chase me, so after a while...it's not really fun any more.

Finally, the Panama National Police points for me to pull over. I do. I shut the bike down quickly, and circle back to see what he wants. I couldn't believe it, but he actually had a radar gun, and he was stopping me for speeding. Now, he was never on his bike. He just pointed for me to stop, I did, and when back to him.

He asks for my license, and I hand it to him.

He asks for something else, but I was never clear what else he wanted. I offered to show him the papers for the bike, but he wasn't interested in those.

Apparently, I was speeding.

He claims I was going "ceinto veinte" (one hundred and twenty), I never asked him if it was km/hr or miles/hr. I wasn't really paying attention.

I start telling him how I drove the bike down from Chicago to Panama, and he's laughing. He just lets me go. But then, I ask him about his bike. I want to know what kind it is. Apparently it's an "AVA" from China. (Or possibly AWA? I'm not clear.)

"Seis ciento," he explains. And I'm thinking...that can't be right. My bike will only go dos cientos km/hr. (200 km/hr) How could his possibly go 600 km/hr? Then, I realize, he's saying his is a 600cc bike.

And I'm like..."oh....mil" Meaning, mine is 1000 cc.

Then, I ask if I can take his picture, and he lets me shoot a few pics before I leave.

Now, rolling down the Pan American Highway...probably I'm heading more East than South now. Heading into Panama City. As it turns out Panama City is at the southern entrance to the Panama Canal. Who knew?

The road forks, and I follow the signs for Panama Centro. This takes me across a bridge over the Panama Canal. I want to take some pics as I drive across the canal. Now, normally, this is not an issue for me, but now I'm shooting with this stupid Digital Rebel I purchased from a complete stranger in San Jose. And the guy screwed me, lets be clear on that. He sold me a defective camera, and I was too stupid to realize it. There's a problem with the camera where, when you shoot, sometimes it freaks out, and you have to open the battery compartment, remove the battery, reinsert the battery, and then it works fine.

So, as I'm driving across the Panama Canal on this bridge, I start shooting the canal with this camera, while I'm driving across the bridge...so....let go of handlebars with both hands, look through the lens, and shoot. I do this all the time while I'm driving. Not a big deal. Probably not safe or smart, but I do it. Let's move past that.

Now, I get this error....so...now...driving the bike across the panama canal with no hands, I have to take the camera apart...so...I open the battery compartment, only, this time, when I do this, the battery compartment door comes off of the camera and falls down into the area of the motorcycle around the front fork tubes...as I'm driving across the bridge with no hands.

Now...I can't be sure...but I think when it fell down into this area of the motorcycle, that it didn't fall onto the road, leaving the camera useless, but instead., I believe that I saw it fall onto a little ledge indie the motorcycle down around the fork tubes. So, as I'm driving across the Panama Canal bridge with no hands, I think....I bet I can reach down in there and get it.

Now, I stick my left hand down around the front fork tubes (I'm not wearing gloves, a jacket, anything that a normal person on a bike with a brain would wear), and it occurs to me that, if I get my hand stuck, while I'm driving down the road, I'm probably going to die, because I won't be able to use my clutch, and it's very hard to drive a bike with just one hand.

Somehow, I feel around and find the little battery compartment door down there, slide my hand back out, reassemble the camera, and now I turn around and drive across the bridge going the wrong way because I'm so pissed I didn't get my shot.

Then, I repeat on the other side of the bridge going in the other direction.

I go down and watch some of the ships going through the locks. It's pretty impressive, but nothing to write home about.

Decide to head on into Panama City. I have a vague idea of where I am, as I googled my trip before I left the hotel this morning.

Eventually, I end up coming into downtown Panama City along the waterfront and I'm just stunned. Just blown away. I expected Panama City to just be another 3rd world slum, and instead, there are countless 50 story buildings as far as the eye can see. Like walking into Oz. I was as shocked as the first time I saw Vancouver. Now, people will say..."Oh...Vancouver is nicer" and maybe it is. But I'm telling you that the skyline of Panama City is stunning. Totally blew me away. Completely out of left field.

The only thing I can think is that the revenue from the Panama Canal has made them as rich as Croesus.

I dunno. Never seen anything like it in Latin America.

I decide to head out to the old cargo airport to see if I can get my bike flown back to the U.S. I drive around and get pretty solidly lost. I end up on these tollroads, and they won't take cash. It's toll tag only, apparently. The first guy just waves me through with a look of disgust. Then, I just start running the toll plazas, because they won't take my money, and they always act like I'm such an idiot. So I just blow through them. I always look for one with a short arm on the little barrier that comes down so I can get by it easier.

Eventually, I stop at a gas station and fill up. Realize I haven't eaten anything all day, so I buy a palleta sandia (watermelon popsicle with seeds, no less. insanely decadent.) and some various trinkets at the gas station. Sit down for a light snack. Choke it all down, and get back on the road, running toll plazas all the way. Finally find the old Tocumen airport. I drive out there, park, and tell the girl at the information booth that I want to fly my moto to the United States, and she looks at me like I have 10 heads. Like, that's obviously never been done before. So, this is going to be harder than I thought. I decide to check into a hotel near the airport, regroup, and try again tomorrow. I'm completely exhausted, even though I didn't drive very far today.

So I check into the Riande Hotel at the Tocumen Airport, in Panama City, Panama, take a warm shower, and climb in bed.

Above: The hotel grounds at Hotel Rivera in Antón, Panama.

Above: The hotel grounds at Hotel Rivera in Antón, Panama.

Above: The Nacional Police Station in Antón, Panama.

Above: This is the Panama Nacional Policeman that stopped me. He just pointed for me to stop and I did. He had a radar gun and said I was doing cien viente (120). I didn't as if it was km/hr or mph. He let me go. He said the bike he rides is a Chinese AVA 600 cc bike. He asked me "quanto es?" I was like..."mil." Suck it.

Above: Looking south at the Panama Canal from the Puente Centenario (Centenario Bridge) near Paraiso, Panama City, Panama.

Above: The Puente Centenario (Centenario Bridge) near Paraiso, Panama City, Panama.

Above: Watch out for crocodiles. A sign near the Miraflores Locks

Above: The Panama Canal Railway near the Miraflores Locks.

Above: The Panama Canal Railway near the Miraflores Locks.

Above: The Panama Canal Railway near the Miraflores Locks.

Above: The stunning skyline of Panama City.

Above: The stunning skyline of Panama City.

Above: The stunning skyline of Panama City.

Above: The stunning skyline of Panama City.

Above: Decadent treats at a local gas station in Panama City.

Above: Decadent treats at a local gas station in Panama City.

Above: Decadent treats at a local gas station in Panama City.

Above: Decadent treats at a local gas station in Panama City.

Above: Decadent treats at a local gas station in Panama City.

Above: The skyline of Panama City.

Posted by Rob Kiser on June 16, 2013 at 3:34 PM


Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)