It was a 50km ride to the border of Costa Rica and Panama. It was another time-consuming effort getting the paperwork done. This time I had a Panamanian helper. He pointed me in the right direction and got me the forms I needed to fill in. He cost US$10 but it made it so much easier.
Once done, I headed off on the main highway 1. This takes you right through to Panama City. It’s a dual carriageway and it has to be the world longest roadworks. I travelled over 200km on it and there was work being carried out on every section.
The speed limit is from 80km/h to 100km/h, but in places 60km/h or less depending on the type of roadworks.
Normally the police in most of the non-western countries are not really bothered about speed; they have bigger and better things to do than police that. To my surprise Panama’s different. I got pulled over by two police motorcyclists on the side of the road with radar speed detectors. I got clocked at 98 km/h in a 50km/h zone.
The officer spoke good English and pointed to the readout on the radar display. All I could say was “oh!” it was a fair cop. I did start chatting to him about his Suzuki Vstrom and he was obviously a bike fiend as he knew all about the Triumph Tiger. We had a good chat about bikes. I then dropped in that I don’t like to ride at night and it would be dark soon, did he know of somewhere I could camp. He said opposite the police station
I asked if I could take his picture for my blog, he was happy to oblige. He then smiled and waved me on.
I much prefer the attitudes over here.
I couldn’t find the police station on my GPS but it found another one in San Francisco De La Montana. When I got to the police station the officer pointed me to a church up the road where I could stay. I arrived at 8pm in the dark. I found the pastor and he said I could pitch my tent outside the church.
It was then back to my tent for a well needed rest.
Day 475 Tuesday 22nd December 2015
The bells, the bells. Sounds like a scene from the hunch back of Notre Dame. It wasn’t it was the church bells going off at 4am in the morning to let the congregation know it was time to get to church to prey. At 4:30 am there was holy singing filling the air. I managed to dose off again only to woken at 6 am by a friendly local offering me breakfast, which was a kind gesture. I arouse from my humble abode and stepped out into the daylight looking like I’d been dragged through a hedge backwards.
Scrambled eggs and coffee was breakfast and it was pretty good.
After I had packed up the tent the Parson came over and took me inside his house for coffee and eggs. They were very hospitable folks.
I used the Moose Racing bead breakers to break the bead on the tyre. They’re fantastic. They break the bead so easily, if only I’d had these in Yellowstone.
I replaced the tube, got the tyre back on the rim and inflated it. I then spent nearly two hours trying to get the axle back in.
It looked like when the new tyre had been put on previously, the axle and the two Allen head bolts that secure the axle had been over tightened, which in turn deformed the aluminium spacers. I spent over one and a half hours trying to hammer the spacer up and down the axle until it was finally loose enough for me to fit the front wheel.
It was hot work in mid day sun of 35c.
The rush was on!
I spent until 6pm negotiating prices with different companies and sorting out the best options. The problem being that I need to arrive the same day or first thing the next day to pick the bike up. Colombian customs require the bike to be processed pretty much immediately. There is no leeway for error. It’s all so close to Christmas.
I decided to go with Tabosa Cargo. They said for me to drop the bike off at 8am tomorrow for a 12pm flight. I had to find a flight that would get me to Bogota on time. I left Tabosa at 7:30pm and then had to find somewhere to stay. The only cheap places were full when I arrived. I ended up riding in the dark back and forward in heavy traffic trying to find somewhere. I don’t have internet, Maps .me app on the phone only had a couple of places and my GPS is rubbish for things like that.
By 9:30 I was spent so I ended up staying in the most expensive hotel of the trip.
I phoned home (sounds like a scene from E.T) to let my family know my situation. I asked them if they could find me a flight and book it. It was early morning in New Zealand so they had a full day to find something. Alana and Emma came to the rescue and found me a flight, booked it and sent me the details through so I had them first thing in the morning.
Day 476 Wednesday 23rd December 2015
It was a 5:15am start to the day. It was all on now that I had a flight to Bogota. Out of bed, breakfast and down to Tabosa cargo to get the bike and gear loaded on to an airfreight pallet. Before we could do that there were a couple of formalities. Firstly, go to customs and get the bikes temporary import license discharged. While this was being done a woman came into the office and said “moto down” Some lorry driver had reversed into Winston, knocked him to the ground and taken off. I had some of the customs people help me get Winston up. No real damage just another dent in the pannier that I will have to bash out later.
With the licence discharged it was back to the warehouse. I had to drain the fuel from the tank and my Rotopax fuel container. The freight guys gave me a tube and container to drain the petrol from the tank into. I placed the hose in the tank, put my lips around the tube and sucked. The petrol came up much faster than I had anticipated and I got a mouth full, which I spat out and started to gag on. I could taste petrol for the rest of the day, yuk !!
Finally, Winston was palletised. It was now time to pay. When I spoke to the women the previous day I had asked if I could pay with a credit card. Most of the other companies wanted cash. She said yes. When I gave her the credit card today, she said cash. It seems that there must have been a bit of a breakdown in communication. I emphasised categorically she had said yes and I said the bike must go today. I can transfer the funds into your bank account via the internet. They said I could pay half now and the rest in Bogota. There is a limit of US$500 a day you can withdraw from an ATM each day.
The Panama Canal is an interesting Engineering feat. It uses locks to hold the water while pumps drain and fill the compartments to get the ships up and down the hill. The ships I watched going through the canal today were only centimetres from the edge of the canal walls. There were no signs of scraped paint on any of the concrete walls. Special trains are lassoed to each corner of the ship and it is these units that pull the ships along through to the next lock.
There are over 14,000 vessels pass through the Panama Canal each year, ranging from small yachts to large oil tankers. The cheapest one-way passage through the canal cost US$3200 while the most expensive being US$450,000 for cruise ships and oil tankers.