I wanted to ride as far as I could before the road ends. According to my map that is at the town of Yaviza which is a bit over 300km from Panama City.
I'm not sure what I was expecting but the road is surprisingly boring. When I saw the sign for Carti, I decided to ride as far as I could before I came to the flooded/closed section. I got turned around sooner than I expected when a guy in a truck waved me down to say I needed a permit to travel beyond the point I was at. Based on the amount of heavy equipment and mud on the road I wouldn't have made it much further anyway.
Just off the main road there were dozens of trails leading into the jungle. They were so inviting but it was my first day truly riding alone and my nerves got to me and I stuck to the main road.
The road remained pretty uneventful all day. I called it quits about 5pm in Meteti (about 50km from Yaviza). Earlier in the day I was told by a local in a village of 5 houses that "Anything you want, you will find in Meteti" so I had big expectations as I rolled in. I was disappointed. There were a few restaurants, a gas station, a few "Mini-Supers" and one hotel. I guess when getting info from a guy that lives in a town of 7 people, you need to lower your expectations.
The hotel was clean and newish. It was $17, had AC and running water....well supposed to have water. As I soon found out, the water portion of the program was a bit lacking. With the tap on full, it would have taken 10mins to fill the sink. There wasn't even enough pressure to get the water high enough to dribble out of the shower head which was very unfortunate as I REALLY needed a shower. I went to the office to ask about the water but the reply amounted to, "There is some water so what's the problem?!"
I ended up filling the sink then standing in the shower with a coffee mug scooping water from the sink on to me, soaping then attempting to rinse with the coffee mug of cold water. The sink was 5ft from the shower so in order for this operation to work I needed step out of the shower for every mug of water. Needless to say, I ended up with more water of the floor than in the shower. Half swearing, half laughing my "shower" took almost 30mins to complete.
I sat down and starting downloading pics and video from the days ride. Watching the video back, every time I saw one of the trails leading off the road, I got annoyed the I hadn't explore it. I promised myself that on the way back I would grow a pair and check these roads out.
Dinner consisted of carne asada, rice and Coke...$3.00. After I had eaten, I realized that I had basically done all there was to do and seen all there was to see in Meteti.
I was in bed by 8pm. It was still 32C and very humid, I was sweating buckets. I cranked the AC to the Ice Age setting. I woke up at 5:50am nearly frozen solid. The AC had finally caught up and it was now 12C. I had to bust out my sleeping bag and hoodie. By 7am I had warmed up enough to get out of bed.
The road for Meteti to Yaviza is a bit more interesting. Kuna villages line the highway. It's pretty cool to see standard brick and mortar building next to grass hut with thatch roofs. Several of the huts were sporting satellite internet receivers. It reminded me of Mongolia and it's GER tents in the middle of nowhere with solar panels to run the and satellite TV dishes.
As I got close Yaviza I started to see dozens of large white tents along the highway. They all had red crosses on them. It looked like a refugee camp in a war zone. I stopped to ask a local what the tents were for. What I got from the conversation was that these tents were for the people displaced due the flooding. Honestly, with my level of Spanish, the guy could have said aliens had crash landed and they were doing autopsies on them. I really need to get back into Spanish classes.
The town of Yaviza is in the elbow of the river and is literally the end of the road. There is a small suspension bridge that crosses the river. I turned down the narrow path toward the bridge to take some pics when a soldier started yelling. I stopped. He ran up and said
"The bridge is for peoples, NOT motos!" I hadn't considered crossing the bridge on my big fat bike but now that he had brought it up it intrigued me.
This is where I was stopped. The bridge begins at the white arch directly behind my bike.
After a 15min conversation about where I came from, what I was doing in Darien, how long I was planning on staying and where I was going after, he decided I was no threat and not a drug smuggler. I was free to go.
As I was putting on my helmet, the soldier asked if I was alone. I said I was. With a quizzical expression, he pointed at the spare helmet on my bike. Hmm, how do I explain that one with limited Spanish...
I said, "Chicas love my bike, I love the chicas...
It took a second to sink in then the light went on in his head. With a big smile he said "I love chicas too!" Then we were best friends
Yaviza is small place with not much to see. I wasn't there long before hitting the highway again.
With in 40 mins I was back in Meteti. There is road that heads South towards La Palma. I decided to check it out. The road runs about 25km before ending at a dock where boats ferry people to La Palma and other areas down the river.
With signs like this all along the way, how could this not be an adventure!
View from the ferry dock to La Palma:
Most wanted poster at the military hut on the dock. $300,000 reward for any them.
After another short interrogation about my reasons for being the area, I was free to go. I suppose it is a bit odd for a tourist to be in these areas since they dead-end roads and there's really not much to see but I was stopped and questioned 8 times from PC to Darien and back.
Having explored the main roads, I decided to head back to PC. This time when the trails started appearing on the road side, I began exploring. Some were too over grown, some too muddy. Others were perfect and I followed them for miles until the dead ended or I decided I was a bit deeper than I was comfortable with.
A few had tied log bridges. I found them to be a bit un-nerving.
The last one I rode took me to a huge lake, it was perfect. If I had had more water and some food with me I would have camped there. Amazing place. Dozens of islands, Kuna canoes floating by, birds everywhere, Howler Monkeys, er, howling?! I think I have a new favourite place.