Woke up in Costa Rica, going to sleep in Panama. Today was another border crossing. We had great expectations for this crossing as all we had read lead us to believe that it would be shorter and more efficient. Unfortunately that did not prove to be the case. In fact it was exactly as we have been experiencing throughout Central America. Long and laborious…. part of the problem is that we do not speak the language. We get ‘helpers’ at every crossing, and yet it still takes hours and there is always a cost associated.
We left Manuel Antonio and arrived at the border crossing in the pouring rain. In our effort to get under cover we managed to drive right past the Costa Rica exit building, arriving in a flurry at the Panama side. A ‘fixer’ found us immediately and turned us around. So back out into the pouring rain to get our Exit stamps. That process took about 1/2 an hour. Then back to the Panama side to get our entry stamps.
We made the decision to cross the border in the afternoon because we believed that it was a relatively fast crossing. Now as we were standing in the diesel exhaust saturated air looking out at the pouring rain with dark setting in, we were becoming a bit concerned about what our ride to David, our destination for the day, would look like. Finally around 4:30 we had all the paperwork we needed and just had to go through the spraying of the bikes and the last check stop. The rain had lightened and then stopped and the road into David turned out to be a well lit four lane highway. Things were feeling better.
We found our way to the Alcara Hotel. Very basic rooms, clean with hot water, secure parking and a nice little restaurant attached which provided us with our inclusive breakfast. Whole package for $41.00 American. We were happy.
In the morning we packed up the bikes and rode to Playa Blanca just outside of Santa Clara. The Pan American Highway was being upgraded throughout the ride, being widened from a two to a four lane highway. For the most part the two lanes that were open were in good condition, but about midway to Santa Clara it deteriorated into an asphalt patched concrete road. Lots of cracked and broken areas, took us about two hours to cover 60 km. About an hour into that section we were getting low on fuel with nothing promising appearing on the horizon. Just as we were getting a little concerned we reached a small outpost that had premium gas. We fueled up and had a refreshment break in the little café that was in the complex.
Next stop Playa Blanca, recommended by the waiter at the Alcara. It turned out that all the hotels on the beach were major resorts and all inclusive places. After looking around a bit we ended up being able to get a night’s accommodation at the JW Marriott Resort. It was a bit over the budget, but it had been a long day and there weren’t really any other options at this point. It was a beautiful resort with incredible food.
Our main objective in Panama was to get a new back tire for the bike and to arrange transport for ourselves and the bikes to Colombia. When we entered the country we were under the belief that we would be taking a ferry from Colon to Cartagena. We had contacted the ferry corporation in Panama City while we were in Costa Rica and were told that we could not reserve on the ferry until we had exit permits out of Panama for the bikes. And of course we couldn’t get those until we were in Panama City. So that was the plan, get into Panama City, get the exit permits and book the ferry.
While we were enjoying our time at the Marriott resort we learned via email that the ferry was not taking cars or motorcycles for a couple of weeks. Bad news. That meant we had to revert back to the flying option. Way more costly and way more organization required. I was still really optimistic that things would change and we would get on the ferry, but alternate plans needed to be made.
We arrived in Panama city late afternoon on Saturday the 8th of November. We booked into the Bristol hotel in the banking district, arranged by our concierge at the Marriott. He had worked there and recommended it highly. He was right. It was a great hotel, what made it special was the incredibly friendly and helpful staff. One slight negative, our first night we were shocked awake by a fire alarm going off not once but twice at 4:30 am. After the second alarm we decided to call the desk to confirm that we did not have to evacuate. No, it was just a test!
Once we were settled in the guys headed off to locate their respective bike dealers. The news was not good. The ktm dealer was not available as they were in the midst of moving. So now, no ferry, no back tire and it was a holiday weekend, so delays in organizing our flights and shipment of the bikes across the Darien Gap to Colombia. Not too many happy faces at the dinner table.
Next morning we woke up to a grey rainy day so we visited one of the malls for a few items we required and organized laundry…. Check the hotel laundry costs…one shirt $7.00 American, and we have 10 kilos of laundry to do!. So off we go lugging our bag of clothing in seach of a laundry, found one, but closed on Sunday, but might be open tomorrow, though that will be a holiday Monday. Back at our room we receive a phone call from the staff that they had noticed we were looking for off site laundry, they could arrange this for us, same day, door to door delivery for a cost of $12.00….laundry done.
Breakfast, holiday Monday. Tom and Tracy have connected with their shipping contacts and have a number in Bogota we can call to get the process of having the bikes shipped started. Begin that process then organize our visit to the Miraflores Locks and the old city. Our timing at the canal turned out perfectly as we witnessed two large freighters navigate the locks. Then we visited Panama’s old city enjoying the historic architecture and lunch in the square. The old city seems to be emerging from the shambles and looks like it is going to become a beautiful area to live in and visit. On the whole Panama seems to be emerging aesthetically, lots of construction and renewal.
Dinner time and not many restaurants open in our area due to it being a holiday, it was very quiet generally with few people out on the streets and not much traffic. The concierge at the hotel recommended a café within walking distance, so we searched that out, which turned out to be in a lively Casino district. Classic little place, the Manola Café, filled with people, behind the bar the entire wall was shelved with assortments of alcohol, music was pounding and no one spoke English. The waitress came by our table and managed to get our order and then promptly disappeared for about half an hour…..not a sip of wine or cerveza to be had…..and there was no catching her eye! Finally when she could not longer pretend we did not exist she brought us our drinks, followed by a meal of fried chicken….food was good!
Early Tuesday morning Tom and Lindsay headed off to the BMW dealer to find a rear axle seal for Tom’s bike. Also the radiator on our bike had developed a leak, and no KTM Dealer, Lindsay figured he could get some radiator sealer at the BMW dealer, which he dd. The radiator was sorted out but no seal for Tom. It looked like Bogota was to be where the bike issues were going to get sorted out.
Noon. Tom informs us that he has received notification that the ferry can now take bikes. A moment of hope, only to be dashed by the reality that we could not get the bike exit permits in time for the sailing….back to the flying option….by the end of the day all the flights and shipping were organized and we were getting ready to go to Colombia. Very exciting.
Wednesday morning 8:00 Lindsay and Tom ride out to the Airport cargo area for a 9:00 appointment with the shipper. Finding the main airport was easy, finding the cargo section far more difficult as there were no sign posts and it was located on the opposite side of the airport. Once there, they faced the usual shuffling around from shipper to customs. At one point the process was going so slowly they were concerned they wouldn’t get everything organized before the flight to Bogota. Finally all the paperwork and loading were completed, but then finding a taxi back to the hotel became a challenge, taking another 30 minutes, and then the driver taking a circuitous route back to the hotel leaving them barely enough time to regroup and return to the airport to catch the afternoon flight.
We had been concerned about the transfer of all our possessions from the bike, imagining all the luggage we were going to be carrying onto the plane, but were surprised to learn we were able to leave possessions in our locked panniers and did not have to attach any keys to the bike. This allowed us to leave most of our belongs on the bike making the transfer relatively seamless. It was difficult leaving the bikes in the cargo area as we worried about the condition they would arrive in.