We hardly made a mile into Panama, when the road was blocked by a fallen tree.
We had to wait about 15 min until they cut some branches, just enough room for our bikes to get across. But then we entered a fairy tail land.
Costa Rica and Panama look like a totally different world in Central America. A lot more developed, very clean, more people speaking English. And Panama even more so. And as a bonus, in Panama they use the US dollar. No more conversion headaches.
As we left the border quite late (around 1:30 pm) we did not have time to get too far. Plus, the weather was not really on our side: it was either too hot, or raining. So we had to stop on the side of the road and put the raining gear on.
We rode about 180 km, and then we stopped at a gas station to gas up. There was a restaurant nearby, with a big lawn behind, so I went and asked them if we could camp there. "Sure, but is it safe for you to camp here?" (whatever that means). "Why? Is it not safe around here?" "Well, no, it's just that there are lots of venomous snakes and raccoons here. This is not Canada, this is a wild place". Well, we decided that we were not going to sleep-walk and we wouldn't step on any snakes, so we camped there. We set up our camp, we put the bikes under a palapa there, and then we had some burgers and local beer at the restaurant.
As the place looked like a perfect scenario for theft and robbery at night, as it was behind the restaurant and right by the forest, we decided we could not leave our bikes unattended there, so Chris mounted his hammock right there under the palapa, between our bikes. And apparently there were quite a few people passing by in the middle of the night, for whatever reason.
In the morning we had some porridge and eggs and on the road again. We went all the way to Panama City. Here we are crossing over the Panama Canal.
We stopped at Mamallena hostel, a very nice place close to downtown Panama City. As they had no rooms until the next day, Chris convinced them, in the spirit of Christmas, to let us put our tents in the backyard for one night.
Same evening, one lady that was staying in the same hostel got robbed, right in front of the hostel. They stole her thick gold chain*she had around her neck. Now I don't want to insinuate anything, but so far, all the stories about theft and robbery that I heard here are something like this:
On Caye Caulker Island, two girls left the disco bar completely wasted and that night they got robbed in their hotel room. They didn't hear anything, but when they woke up the next day, their stuff were missing.
In Panama City, a guy leaves the bar late in the evening, drunk, and he wants to walk to his hotel; takes the wrong turn and he *finds himself in a bad neighbourhood and he gets mugged.
I don't know why it looks to me like common sense. Don't walk out there drunk or wasted, especially at night. And don't show signs of affluence, any travel website tells you that. I am not saying that it couldn't happen to anyone, just for being the wrong person in the wrong place, but most of the time it can be avoided.
And now leaving that aside, we went to see the famous Panama Canal from close, and see the big ships crossing through. There is so much engineering behind it, it's unbelievable. We all took a cab to get there. Vasile and I on the front seat, and the rest of the guys in the back
And here is the canal. There are different compartiments where they adjust the water level for a smooth crossing between the Atlantic/ Caribean and the Pacific.
Then we went to see the Casco Viejo of Panama City (the old town). It is gorgeous!
And also, this is the first proper downtown we've seen in Central America so far. It's beautiful.
While walking around the old town, our friend Cory points out a sign to us and goes "I don't know what language that is". And guess what the sign was.
That's right, that was a sign for Merry Christmas in Romanian!!! Who would have ever imagined that we would see a sign in our mother tongue in Panama! That was so funny.
Then on the 26th we had our Christmas dinner at the hostel, withThai food and sangria*.