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June 17, 2013

Postcards from Nowhere: Peoria to Panama - Day 29: Panama City, Panama

Above: Weighing the KTM 990 Adventure at ServiCarga for shipping back to the United States.

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

Monday June 17, 2013

Motorcycle Odometer (at start of day): 5,523
Motorcycle Odometer (at end of day): 5,529
Miles driven today: 6 miles

Local Currency: US Dollars

1 US Dollar = 1 US Dollar

The hotel I'm staying in, the Riande Hotel near the Tocumen Airport, in Panama City, is insanely decadent.

Pool with a waterfall and a swim-up bar. Palm trees and orchids. Beds with 1600 threadcount sheets and deep comforters. The air-conditioner would freeze a beer on the dresser.

I wake up several times, and keep going back to sleep. Just so exhausted, and not really feeling up to dealing with the whole 'what do I do with the motorcycle now that I've finally reached the end of the road' type of question. Really not sure what to do at this point.

It's hard because, I don't have a phone. Or, strike that....I have an iPhone 4S, but since my carrier is Verizon, I have a CDMA phone, not a GSM phone. So, it pretty much doesn't work outside of the US and Mexico. Thanks for that, Verizon. Thanks for that.

So, I essentially don't have a phone, or a GPS (I had 3, they all failed...please, Doug, let it go). So, I don't have a functioning phone, GPS, and my Spanish is pretty weak, truth be known.

And I'm trying to figure out how to fly a motorcycle to another country. So, yeah....this is pretty much going to suck. I go on hotels.com, and check out the other hotels....there really aren't any other hotels out here that I'm aware of.

So, I decide to tell them I'll stay another night. This buys me a few things....a place to stay...a phone....internet service, and a place to leave my CC Filson gas tank bag, which is so heavy at this point I can pretty much no longer lift it.

I do some research...enough to realize that the Tocumen airport website is down and they're not answering the phone. I figure out a couple of promising companies that seems like they might ship my bike for me, and head back out to the airport. I leave everything I have at the hotel, essentially. I'm way past wearing a leather jacket at this point. I threw my gloves away. It's just too hot to be wearing all of that gear. If I die, I die. So be it.

The guy at the gas station yesterday that was pumping my gas showed me his motorcycle scars. Looked like a crocodile took a bite out of his leg. He had scars in his hairline, also. Said he was drinking and driving. No helmet. Nearly died. He still rides, but not when he drinks, and he wears a helmet now.

I go out in the parking lot and I don't see my bike and I'm like...if those bastards took my motorcycle, there will be hell to pay. But now I see it, hiding behind some palm fronds.

Yesterday, they made me move it. In the U.S., it's not a big deal to check into a hotel while you're parked under the awning at the front of the hotel. But they were in such a freaking hurry for me to move it. And not just them. They're always having fits down here when I park the moto under the awning. So I move it. On one wheel across the parking lot. No helmet. The helmet is on the rear-view mirror where I leave it when I'm not wearing it. It's not a nice helmet. It's one someone gave me when I bought one of my countless motorcycles.

In any event, when the front tire comes down, the helmet goes bouncing across the parking lot like a pingpong ball. I just scoop it up and kept going.

I'm rolling to the Tocumen airport, and I can't see through my visor very good due to the countless scratch marks across the visor. But this time, when I get to the airport, I see something I didn't see yesterday. Instead of turning right at the roundabout, I see a sign that says "Terminal De Carga". And I'm like...."Aha....that's what I'm looking for. Duh!"

So now, I'm rolling south, going around the razor-wire perimeter of the Tocumen airport. Eventually, it deteriorates into the familiar Central American squalor/slums, so I pull over to ask a quasi-official looking man if this is the road to Tocumen's Terminal de Carga. He says I'm on the right track, but something completely unexpected happens. An anglo-European rolls up beside me on a BMW with panniers and asks him the same question, but in perfect spanish.

I look at him and start laughing..."I'm like...where the hell have you been?" Like, I've been looking for a BMW with saddle bags for a month, and this is the first one I've seen. WTF?

"Mi nombre is Roberto. Como se llama usted?"


We figure that we're going to the same place, so we roll on. Now, I have a riding buddy. Not for long, mind you, but I mean. This is the guy I've been looking for for the last month. No question about that.

It's kinda funny because, at a glance, I can tell he's got an old-school 20 year old BMW.

We eventually roll up to the Aduana office, and park. The aduana officer excuses himself for a minute, leaving me and Stefan to catch up.

I jump right in about how badass I am for driving alone across central America for the last 3 weeks. Like you would think I'd learn. Every time I go on a little adventure, I have to learn to shut my mouth. When I from SF to Alaska, I learned to tell people that I was just "running up to Alaska and back", like it was a day trip. Because I was seeing Florida plates in B.C., and you learn in a hurry to shut your bragging mouth. You learn that quickly.

But it's been different down here. Different for so many reasons I shouldn't begin to go into it, but I'll try. There aren't many other people doing what I'm doing. Or, let's say they're very few and far between. I think I might have seen one other BMW on this trip with panniers (saddlebags) in Mexico. But, there really are not many people traveling alone through central america on motorcycles. There just aren't.

Because there are no other fellow motorcycle adventurers on the road, you lose that sense of camaraderie that you have on the road. In the U.S., motorcycles wave at each other when they pass. Now, this doesn't include scooters. And it doesn't include those stupid three-wheeled motorcycles. Those are just retarded and I'm not waving at them. But, as a general rule, in the U.S., motorcyclists wave when they pass each other. It's a bond. It's a poorly documented, insular brotherhood.

So, the problem is, that I've been isolated from this communication that I was expecting to find on the road. I've missed it. My salvation on the road has been one person that I communicate with every night. She's been my guiding star. Of course it's not Carrie. She's off with gorilla arms. And it's not Wendy. Lord knows who she's with But I have had someone to talk to every night, which has kept me sane on the mad journey across Central American.

So, when I see this guy on the bike...Stefan...I start right in about how badass I am, forgetting for an instant, that someone on a 20 year old BMW is probably not the right person to be bragging to.

"Yeah, I just drove this KTM from Chicago to Panama....5,000 miles over the last 3 weeks," how about you? Where you been, brother?"

"Well, I've just been down in South America. Kicking around down there a big. Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador...."

"How long you been on the road?"

"Seven months."

"Oh. Right. Got it." Like, that will teach me to shut my mouth. Why do I have to screw this up every single time?

He's heading the other direction. Rolling north. Just got his bike here off of a boat, somehow. I'm not 100% sure how legal the transportation was. He's trying to clear customs.

I lay out the dangers of Central America to him, as best I can, in a few bullet point.

"Look, I don't know what it's like down in South America....I've been through Peru...that's all...but here's what you should know about Central America...In Panama, there are tons of Nacional Policia. They right white crotch rockets and hide under the overpasses and under shade-trees like dogs. They will stop you for speeding. So watch out for them. Once you get out of Panama, you can drive as fast as you want. No one else will stop you in Central America. Only you need to watch out for animals in the road....dogs, goats, chicken, cows, horses....also people, bicyclists, those three-wheeled things also. Watch for them. Also, slow down when you're in town. In Mexico, the speed bumps are unbelievable. They'll throw you into the air at 60 mph."

He thanks me.

Of course, I'm trying to figure out what to do with this boat anchor that I have.

This morning, in my research, it finally dawned on me that I'm not going to be able to leave the country without my motorcycle. Like...they know that I bought a bike into the country, which means I pretty much have to leave with it also. You can't just roll it into the ocean, apparently. It isn't that simple.

We have to go up to another checkpoint, for some reason. I left all the paperwork for my bike at the hotel, as I didn't figure I'd need it. Now, I'm thinking I might need it.

We roll up to the next customs checkpoint. I'll never understand why they don't have signs. And I'm not talking about a little hand painted sign on a side door. I"m talking about clear signs that you couldn't miss that tell you where to go. You'll never see these in latin america. That's not how it works down here. So, we roll up to the next, nondescript checkpoint.

I stop, and use Stefan as my interpreter. Tell them that I need to fly my motorcycle back to the United States, my paperwork is at the hotel.

Slowly, I understand that all of the air cargo companies are in a large roundabout up ahead. I'm not clear if I need the paperwork or not, but it certainly won't be the first time I've blown through customs down here. So, I bid Stefan farewell, and blow through customs like I own the place. No one says "boo".

I stop at the first cargo company I see, and the lady tells me that they're closed, to come back at one o'clock. I check my iPhone. It's 12:57. See, this is why people don't come down here. I want to go inside and murder everyone in the building with a butter knife.

Instead, I walk outside, and start interrogating some guy in front of the building. Trying to figure out if they'll fly a motorcycle to Miami, in broken Spanish. We walk around and talk to some men resting in the shade of some large trees. Eventually, they decide that they won't ship my motorcycle to Miami, for whatever reason. It's not going to happen. So I move on. Now, I'm on my bike...heading around this large roundabout, and I spy a vendor selling coconut juice out of a hand cart. Shut down the bike, and get an ice cold cup of coconut juice. It's just the best I've ever tasted. Insanely cold and delicious.

Now, a man at the coconut milk hand cart says his company will ship my motorcycle to Miami, not problem.

His shirt says he works for ServiCarga. I'm like...I'm all in bro...let's roll. We walk a short distance, and end up at a large building that houses many different cargo companies, apparently. Follow him up to the ServiCarga offices.

Walk in, sit down, and start talking to the boss (jefe) about what I want to do. He doesn't speak English, but he's patient, and when we get to a stumbling block, he uses Google Translate to lay it out for me. So, we're making progress. I tell him I want to fly the bike to Miami, because this is pretty much our only option, as I understand it, based on my admittedly limited research.

He explains that I need to drain the gas, and I need to have it crated. I'm like...."yeah...so I'm not really a carpenter. Jesus was, but I'm not really. Feel how soft my hands are. I'm not really a manual labor kinda guy. Now...gorilla arms is....he's your man. You know, if you need some carpentry work done...I could fly him down here in a cage....y'all could actually keep him...we really have no use for him in our country..."

But it turns out that my amigo is a carpenter. He can build me a crater. For $100. Done. So, drain the gas.....I have a crate. I think we're all good.

Now, he wants to know the dimensions of the bike....I have no idea....I google it, but it doesn't really say. So now, we're going to drive the moto to another building apparently. I'm following my amigo. Around this big circle...I offer him a ride, but he's not falling for that. So, I figure out where we're going and I beat him there, handily.

Now, we're at a warehouse of sorts...there's a forklift on a sloped concrete ramp up into a shipping area....they move the forklift, and I drive up the ramp into the building. I'm not really sure this is what I'm supposed to do. I seldom drive my motorcycle into buildings, but it seems like the right move, at this point.

There's a scale on the floor inside this small warehouse. Apparently, we're going to weigh this bike. So, the forklift brings over a pallet, and they weigh the pallet. Then I drive the bike up onto the wooden pallet and they weigh the bike, but I'm protesting because I have 40 liters of gasoline in the bike, which I have to drain. So, it doesn't seem like a fair weight calculation to me. They measure the length, height, and width also with a tape measure, indicating that I'll need to remove the windshield/fairing and the rearview mirrors. I'm like....did I mention that I'm not a mechanic either? Now, look....let's just make a list for Gorilla Arms and when he gets here, he can fix all of these things and then y'all can drown him in the Canal as soon as the sun sets. He won't be missed. I promise. I'll be in Miami drinking Mojitos.

Now, we go back to the office we were in before. Again, he refuses to ride with me. I go ahead, and search for the coco water vendor, but to no avail. We go back into the office, and the guy is quoting me a price to ship it DHL or FedEx. So, I'm not really clear why I didn't just go to DHL or FedEx.

And, he's laying out these numbers for me. It seems reasonable at first, but the fees keep adding up, until eventually I decide it would be better to just push the bike into the Canal, swear that it was stolen, and fly home. Plus, the drive from Miami to MS is going to be a nightmare. Hot. Rainy. Police. Just death on a hairy biscuit.

Then, I come up with a brilliant question...."could you fly my bike to a city other than Miami?"


"Let me see the list, please..."

"And now, we're scrolling through the list of cities he can ship it to and I see Jackson, Mississippi. And I'm like....you can fly my motorcycle there?"

"Si. Pero FedEx. Not con DHL.. DHL is airplane a Miami...truck to Mississippi..."

I'm like...."forget DHL....you can fly my bike from here to Jackson, Mississippi?"

"But of course."

"How much will that cost?"

He gives me a number. I'm like..."how many days it will take?"

"Dos dias."

"Done. Now...I'm not ready to leave the bike here with you just yet. I have some time to kill here in Panama still. I can come back tomorrow or the next day...no hay problema?"

'Si. Pero es abierto Lunes a Vierness...no es abierto en Sabado o Domingo."

"Comprendo. Perfecto. Muchas gracias."

I feel like I just won the world series. This is the smartest thing I ever did. FedEx the bike back to Jackson, Mississippi. Why did it take me so long to figure it out? Thanks ServiCarga!

Return to the hotel, and sit by the pool under an enormous umbrella in a light rain. Swim up to the bar when the rain gets so hard I can't ignore it any more. Drink Panama beer in the pool, beside the waterfall, but underneath the little footbridge so I don't get rain in my Panama beer.

Above; Aduana at the Tocumen Airport Carga Terminal with my buddy Stefan on an old-school BMW. He said he'd been kicking around in South America for 7 months.

Above; Aduana at the Tocumen Airport Carga Terminal with my buddy Stefan on an old-school BMW. He said he'd been kicking around in South America for 7 months.

Above: The idiots at Girag told me to come back at 1:00 p.m. ... at 12:57 p.m.

Above: Weighing the KTM 990 Adventure at ServiCarga for shipping back to the United States.

Posted by Rob Kiser on June 17, 2013 at 7:53 PM


I know you feel your legal problems are bogus, and therefore shouldn't get in the way of your trip, but just in case the court does not agree, I think you are wise to get back and make the court date. After all, no doubt your bond agreement had some conditions to which you agreed-like showing up (not to mention travel restrictions). Example (I know you are out of the loop); last week a football player was about to get off with a scolding, but made the mistake of slapping his attorney on the butt and got 30 days. Judges must be some up-tight people, but they are in charge.

I've enjoyed reading about your adventure, but don't care to read about life behind bars.

Posted by: KG on June 17, 2013 at 9:01 PM

Thanks, Kevin. I've asked my attorney to ask for a continuance, but if we can't get it, then I'll show up in court. I plan to return to the United States later this week. :)

Posted by: Rob Kiser Author Profile Page on June 18, 2013 at 2:29 AM

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