Panama: Closing Thoughts
Returning north has been a sad process of saying goodbye to each country, and Panama was the first. The Lonely Planet describes Panama as a cheaper Costa Rica, and I would largely agree. I was really surprised by the sheer number of things to do and adventures to be had. The list of things I left undone seems longer than the list of things I *did* do. Among other things, I must return to:
* Spend time on the islands of Bocas del Toro
* Spend time on the San Blas islands
* Get the full Darién experience (sans kidnapping, please)
* Sailboat trip through the canal as a line handler
The country as a whole has a vibrant buzz to it. There's a lot of development going on both in and outside of Panama City, and compared to places like Guatemala or Nicaragua the average person in the street seems pretty upbeat and optimistic. The downside of this is what appears to be a high degree of deforestation... it was hard to find something that looked like true jungle anywhere near the highways. I hope that the more remote places aren't turned into pastures or plantations, or Costa Rica may get a lock on the entire eco-tourism market.
Much of what is cool about Panama seems to be related to the ocean, so suspect the best way to visit is with a sailboat. The motorcycle, to be honest, is not a great way to see the country. There is only one road that runs east-west along the length of the country and it is long, straight, boring, and densely populated with unscrupulous cops with radar guns. I was pulled over six times along this route, even though I was (ugh) closely monitoring my speed. Only the 2nd managed to extract a $20 mordida from me, and knowing what I know now I regret having paid it. To all present and future motorcycle travelers: The most effective way of dealing with these parasites is laughing and saying "ok, deme la infracción!" They won't. And so what if they do? They might keep your $15 International Driving Permit, of which you have multiples?
Panama is the first place I've ever been that fully delivered the kind of high-octane adventure I've always said I wanted. It will surprise nobody but my parents, but it turns out that yes, I actually do love that kind of adventure. Jumping out of a cab at gunpoint and being evacuated from the Darién by the army were both *fun* in a weird way. "The Adventure Begins When Things Stop Going As Planned" indeed.
I can't wait to come back with a big cruising catamaran someday when I'm filthy rich... but in the mean time I'll be happy to fly back and explore the hard way. As a tourist destination Panama gets 1.5 dirty, grease-smeared thumbs up (out of 2, for you non-primates out there).
stickfigure screwed with this post 09-21-2008 at 10:06 PM