On the road to Panama City

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May 2nd, Sunday morning

We are happy to be out of our dirty hotel room by 6.30am, and happy to be standing outside a street corner panaderia, eating pastries and drinking coffee, only 35km from Panama City, three months cycling 4,000km through 7 countries has brought us almost to the end of the first part of our ride, we have cycled through Central America, in a few hours we will be in the city and we will celebrate, it is hard to believe, hard to know what to feel, it has been a long week on the road, that is for sure.

Monday 27th April

Still in Boquete, we had planned to leave today but love this place. It is because Mamallena hostel is so homely, and this is something we miss. We have met so many great people, and heard lots of new tunes and so I find myself still up at one in the morning, exchanging music and drinking tequilla, the alarm is due to go off in a few hours.

Tuesday

A late start, but at least we are going, saying goodbyes and looking forward to the long descent to the coast, 20km without pedalling, apart from the hill out of town. It is just as well, I am tired and maybe a little hungover, and Nessa is sad to be leaving. Panama city is the destination, almost 500km away. We rejoin the Pan- Americana at David, and head east. The road is dotted with tiny hamlets, there seems to be no accommodation options until San Felix, 120km away. The rainy season has arrived too. It is an El Nino year so the weather is extreme, hot or wet, today is cool with clouds gathering. Once underway we really enjoy the ride, some hills but nothing too taxing. And then the rain starts, a torrential downpour. Raincoats can’t really stand up to this kind of weather, acting more to keep you warm rather than dry. We make it to San Felix as dark closes in, everything is soaking, and we find a ten dollar room. It is cramped and we still have to cook. Not long after, we both collapse into bed.

Wednesday

We are away by 7am. Another cyclist who passed this way the week before described this as a tough ride. There are a lot of hills, nothing too high or steep or long, but a lot of them, and it is hot. That is the main problem. Close to lunchtime I omit to tell Nessa that we have hit a record temperature, 46C. The road is terrible, rutted concrete, and the hard shoulder is just gravel, and the rain begins to fall, and fall…all afternoon. We have to use all the biking skills we have developed over the last few months as big trucks and buses rumble by.

We are riders in a storm, the thunder seems to rip the fabric of the sky apart, the lightening directly overhead. But Santiago is getting closer, it is a big town and yet again it is getting dark as we arrive and find a chinese hotel, too tired to cook, we go and have pizza and a beer and crash out. Another 120km down, we are halfway to Panama city and we decide to take the next morning off.

Thursday

There is not much to Santiago but we enjoy the morning, out for coffee and a stroll around. The weather is kind, overcast but not raining and not hot. We wait until 1pm and then head off. The road is ok, and it is only 57km to Aguadulce. This is a one horse town and we find an $8 room with a few hours of daylight remaining. This is luxury.

Friday

It is a beautiful morning and we feel rested. However the road is a bit of a worry as the hard shoulder is is no great state and there are road works, a lot of the pavement has been torn up. We have only had two punctures in the trip so far and both from the same source. When truck tires disintegrate or blow out they leave tiny bits of staple-like wire on the streets. This wire is the only thing that can penetrate our tires and cause a puncture. The shoulder is full of this sort of debris.

Close to lunch time Nessa gets a puncture. The routine is to replace the inner tube and fix the puncture on the old tube. Luckily we come across a bus stop that gives some shade. Such small luxuries are greatly appreciated. Life has become very simple.

We are close to the coast again and decide to push onto San Carlos. Another 100+ day but we are hoping for a swim in the Pacific, maybe the last in this ocean until Ecuador. We find a spot on the beach but find it hard to sleep, it is a public holiday the following day and there is a lot of noise. We also discover that we have mislaid two keys for our bike locks, and so we are onto the spares, this is not good!

 

Saturday

We wake up to discover more punctures. Six in all. Tiny bits of wire causing the slow deflation of  tires overnight. This is a bit of a disaster. So, the morning is spent packing up and on repairs. But we have only a hundred kilometers to go so it is not so bad. We want to leave ourselves with a short ride to the city in the morning so today should be a short day. Time for a morning cafe stop, coffee and pastries. Well, it is Saturday.

We head for La Chorrera, it is dark when we arrive but a taxi driver tells us to follow him and he brings us to a cheap hotel. It is cheap by all accounts.

Sunday May 2nd

We are almost there, 35km to go. Puente De Las Americas is the bridge that crosses the Panama Canal and is symbolically the end of the road for cyclists on the Pan-Americana in  Central America. We are excited!

We had been warned that maybe we wouldn’t be allowed to cycle over the bridge but held our breathe as we passed a police checkpoint. It was Sunday and they didn’t seem to care. We kept going, cycling over the world famous canal on the bridge that brings the skyline of Panama into view.

Almost there. We got a police escort down the other side of the bridge. We had also heard that this was a possibility. Now we had only to negotiate the slums and get to the old part of town. So near and yet so far. Slums are not to be taken lightly. Before long we had another police van tailing us. And then I heard the wwwshhhhhh of air escaping, another puncture in no mans land. I stopped, the police stopped, Nessa stopped. I pointed to the tire. " Un pinchazo" I said. The street looked extremely poor and unfriendly. We looked extremely well off in comparison.The police looked at each other and nodded to us to get in the back of the pickup, as it was too dangerous for us to hang around. We loaded on the bikes. We had arrived.

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