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Old 08-20-2008, 12:40 PM   #256
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Location: Please don't call it 'Frisco
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Bocas del Toro

I didn't have time to go out to the islands around Bocas del Toro but the ride through the area was beautiful.



I crossed another rickety railroad bridge:



I rode through Almirante. It's a grungy port town but there are a few pretty angles if you hold the camera right:





Google maps shows no big road between Almirante to the north and Chiriquí Grande to the south of the bay. This is incorrect. There is a brand-new road there in *perfect* condition. It twists, it turns, it rises and falls, all in the kind of way that makes me suspect the principal engineer is a rider. This is the best road I've found south of El Salvador.

Chiriquí Grande is nothing special, but it's where I ended up with the daylight ran out. Believe it or not, it was the first night I've spent on the Caribbean! The Caribbean coast has a very different feel than the Pacific coast... it's even more laid back. The music and food are different, and most people have African ancestry rather than mestizo. I found a hotel (there were two in town), did some laundry, at some fried seafood, and drank some beer.



Bike's "home":



The next morning I woke up to gale-force wind driving heavy rain nearly horizontal past my window. The nice thing about the weather down here is that if you don't like it, all you need to do is wait. By 9am the rain stopped and I headed south to the Panamerican highway.

I passed this dam on the way:





A random waterfall on the side of the road:



I made it to Panama City in one day, staying dry until it started pouring down as I approached the city.
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Old 08-20-2008, 12:48 PM   #257
ChurnDog
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Another great update in an Epic journey! I always look forward to them. Good to see you are still doing well and in good spirits Thank you for sharing this trip with us .
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Old 08-20-2008, 04:30 PM   #258
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Panama City



Panama City is hot and tropical. The bulk of the city is not especially pretty, being either fresh new skyscraper or slum, but the old town is gorgeous. The colonial architecture of Panamá is markedly different from every other city I've seen; three-story buildings, tin roofs, and every window has a balcony. Many of the buildings are empty shells with trees growing out of the center; apparently Casco Viejo was abandoned to decay in favor of the "modern" city after WW2 and only now is it being rehabilitated as a tourist destination.







Casco Viejo was and still is where the president of Panama lives. This building was Noriega's favorite club but was bombed during the US invasion:





The hostel I'm staying at, Luna's Castle, was once a big mansion. It's beautiful and full of fun interesting travelers from around the world. Pardon the reconstruction next door though:



The view out the windows:



Inside one empty shell shell:



Inside a building that is about to be an empty shell. It rains here a lot. If the roof fails, the floors rot and collapse:



Inside another random building:



"Docks":



There is a wall around most of Casco Viejo. At one end is a memorial to the French canal-builders:



I made a lot of friends here at Luna's Castle. Several are motorcycle travelers that ended their trip here. A couple are future motorcycle travelers that are beginning their trip here, having bought the KLRs that the others sold. We cook and drink in the evenings:



I confess that we've been drinking a fair amount of $2.50 box wine from Chile:



Booze is *really* cheap here. The same Chilean wines that cost $10-15 in Mexico are $4 in Panama. I don't know why.
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Old 08-20-2008, 04:58 PM   #259
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Odd-o-meter

Total distance driven: 11,000 miles
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Old 08-20-2008, 05:01 PM   #260
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The Canal

I spent a day at the excellent canal museum just a couple blocks away from the hostel, but it's not quite the same as seeing it in person. A few of us drove over to the Miraflores locks and drank a few beers while watching the ships go by.















This train once serviced the locks:

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Old 08-20-2008, 07:36 PM   #261
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Darién Adventure #1

Johnny, Vito, and I decided to visit Yaviza. Aside from seeing "the end of the road", Johnny and I wanted to explore the feasibility of hiking across the Darién Gap into Columbia.



The cast of this adventure:

* Me, your humble narrator.



* Vito, a Chilean living and working as a financial analyst in DC. He's driving a gigantor RV from DC to Chile and is taking a couple weeks to contemplate the $4k+ price to ship "The Mastadon" to Columbia. Vito speaks fluent Spanish and is a master chef.



* Johnny Fortune, a manic 23yo driving a 1978 Toyota Landcruiser (bought in Costa Rica) to Ushuaia. He also bought dirtgirl7's KLR and will be riding back to the US with me, after which he will return to continue on with the Landcruiser. Johnny is the only one of us that can star in porn movies without changing his name.



We left the bikes at the hostel and took the Landcruiser. I love Toyota Landcruisers; many years ago I owned a '72 FJ55 and spent endless afternoons working on it. Johnny's BJ40 diesel is in pretty good shape... except a few rather important things: One front brake doesn't work, it leaks exhaust into the cab, and there are no seatbelts. I have to admit that I feel safer on the motorcycle.

Driving to Yaviza, the transfer case started making a rattling sound. Johnny has seen this before; apparently it leaks oil and must be running low. We stop at one of the omnipresent roadside mechanics who not only refills the oil but replaces the relevant exhaust gasket (the store up the street had one) and checks the brake slave cylinder (toast).



While we're waiting, a parade came by celebrating fifteen years of the local health services department. Photo op.



Eventually we're back on the road. Johnny thinks the sound is slightly better but it's still present. Hmmm.



We pass through several military checkpoints who record our passport information. Presumably if we don't "check out" on the way back they will come looking for us.

The last stretch of road is unpaved, but there is much construction equipment at work changing that.



Yaviza is nothing special and certainly not worth a trip by itself. There are a few stores, two small hotels, and some crude restaurants. A small concrete road runs around town.



A river prevents further ingress into the jungle by vehicle:



Ok, maybe not by every vehicle... although a sign on the bridge said "NO MOTOS". The bridge flexed a *lot* even just walking across it.



Yaviza was pretty empty. We were told that this was because everyone was at a big fiesta at a different town about an hour downriver... so we left the 'cruiser in a secure place and got on a boat bringing ice to the party. Not without a few essential supplies, of course.







An hour (and a lot of rain) later, we arrived at the town, which I believe is called El Real:







It seems absurdly civilized for a place you can't drive to. There is electricity. There are concrete roads. There are three cars in town, all brought in at some point on a barge. There are four bars and a two hotels. There were lots of people hanging out and drinking and eating food from hastily setup street vendors.

And there were cockfights:



And then... we fell asleep at 9pm. This was an unfortunate side effect of getting up at 5am to make the trip.

Oh, but the adventure is not over! The next morning Vito arranged a boat back to Yaviza, which involved buying gasoline from one boat going south and giving it to another boat to take us north.



The owner of the boat from which we bought gasoline turned out to be the judge of a mixed Emberá/Wounan village another hour downriver. He invited us to visit anytime, gave us his phone number, and offered to make all the travel arrangements. This will be Darién Adventure #2, which starts the day after tomorrow.

This narrow little boat was quite a ride - barely stable when sitting, hopelessly precarious when standing. However, it only required 3 gallons to reach Yaviza rather than 5 gallons for the big boat... and our supplier only had 3 gallons to spare. The economics of life in the Darién must have changed considerably when gas went from $1.50/gal to $5/gal.



Back in Yaviza we piled into the 'cruiser and made our way north... until the transfer case started making a Very Bad Sound. We pulled into the omnipresent roadside shop:



The new (and considerably more trustworthy) mechanic found that 1) the check/fill plug was completely stripped and 2) the transfer case was BONE DRY. Our best guess is that despite telling the previous day's mechanic to check the transfer case, he found the bolt stripped and decided to check the transmission instead. The day's lessons:

* Always check the work.

* Holy shit 'cruiser parts are tough, it went a looong way without oil.

Our new mechanic refilled the oil but it was to no avail. Only a hundred meters down the road the transfer case announced the end of its life with a horrendous clunking sound.

Our heroic mechanic was very helpful, though. He's storing the 'cruiser until we can find another part, and even drove us out to inspect a potential donor vehicle he knew about (we're still trying to contact the owner):



We spent the night in Metiti and returned to Panama City the next day by bus... including this chicken bus:





Q: Why did the sloth cross the road?

A: I don't know, but they're incredibly cute when they do:



The results of our research into hiking across the Darién Gap:

It can be done and we even found guides willing to take us. However, it would be incredibly stupid... well, even more stupid than my normal antics. The FARC is desperate right now and raided a Panamanian village a couple weeks ago to steal food. The Panamanian government will not let you make the attempt so we would have to hide from guerrillas, narcotraffickers, *and* the police. I'm willing to allow for a lot of risk, but this is too much for me.

Johnny Fortunado is undeterred.
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Old 08-21-2008, 09:03 PM   #262
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Thanks Stick. This is an awesome trip. I wish to do it someday. Sorry about Guille. Keep it going. Joe
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Old 08-21-2008, 09:33 PM   #263
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I wonder... if you leave all your gear in Panama, do you think you can ride you KTM from El Llano to Carti? Make sure you have fresh knobbies, and go for it!
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Old 08-21-2008, 10:22 PM   #264
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bananaman
I wonder... if you leave all your gear in Panama, do you think you can ride you KTM from El Llano to Carti? Make sure you have fresh knobbies, and go for it!
Give it a try?
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Old 08-25-2008, 01:09 PM   #265
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bananaman
I wonder... if you leave all your gear in Panama, do you think you can ride you KTM from El Llano to Carti? Make sure you have fresh knobbies, and go for it!
Is that the ugly muddy road to San Blas in your report?

Johnny Fortune (we've taken to calling him "Fortunado") took his Landcruiser out there and said that it was a huge mess. I would be tempted if it were just mud, but he says the water crossing is impossible on a bike. Two weeks ago a jeep was lost, literally floated downriver with its occupants screaming (they're ok, the jeep is not). Gulp.

Any recommendation for a place to get a new tire in Panama City? My front is bald.

I'm uploading pics of Darién Adventure #2... this one involved being evacuated by the Panamanian army

Jeff
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Old 08-26-2008, 07:09 AM   #266
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stickfigure

I'm uploading pics of Darién Adventure #2... this one involved being evacuated by the Panamanian army
Holy Crap! Now that I got to hear!

ChurnDog screwed with this post 08-26-2008 at 12:38 PM
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Old 08-26-2008, 09:05 AM   #267
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Now I've only discovered this site a few months back but I've got to say this is one of the best ride reports I've ever read.

Makes me want to sell it all and take off.
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Old 08-26-2008, 09:56 AM   #268
bananaman
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stickfigure
Is that the ugly muddy road to San Blas in your report?

Johnny Fortune (we've taken to calling him "Fortunado") took his Landcruiser out there and said that it was a huge mess. I would be tempted if it were just mud, but he says the water crossing is impossible on a bike. Two weeks ago a jeep was lost, literally floated downriver with its occupants screaming (they're ok, the jeep is not). Gulp.

Any recommendation for a place to get a new tire in Panama City? My front is bald.

I'm uploading pics of Darién Adventure #2... this one involved being evacuated by the Panamanian army

Jeff
Yes, that's the ugly muddy road to San Blas. I didn't do it on a bike. I did it, twice, with a landrover defender.

The river's depth varies. Walk it first. If it's less than three feet deep you can fashion a snorkel for the bike. Do you have a foam air filter?

Talk to TC at Panama Bikers. He can hook you up with tires. Panama Bikers is on Brasil near Cally 50, not far from the BMW dealer.
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Old 08-27-2008, 03:16 PM   #269
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Gunpoint Shmunpoint

Two hours ago I took a cab down to Panama Bikers to pick up my freshly-shod bike. There were two guys in the front seat, a driver and a passenger. The traffic was super heavy so the drive took about 45 minutes, barely moving, dodging around cross-streets whenever possible. I was wearing m/c pants and boots, my jacket lying on the seat next to me.

All of a sudden the passenger turned around, a gun in his hand, and screamed "Mon-"...

...I heard "-ey" as I hit the ground, having grabbed my jacket, opened the door, and dove from the moving car in what felt like one of the slow-motion scenes from The Matrix. The car was going less than 10mph, I stood up barely scratched.

They sped off. In retrospect, I should have given chase. I'm quite certain that they were blocked by traffic at the next intersection and I could have at least gotten a license plate number.

This is the first time something like this has ever happened to me. The odd thing is, it didn't feel scary. The intellectual side of my brain instantly knew that the guy was very unlikely to shoot me, especially inside his car in heavy traffic. I didn't even pause to contemplate, it all just happened, and afterwards I just stood there thinking "that was interesting, what now?"

At least I got a free cab ride out of it.
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Old 08-27-2008, 03:29 PM   #270
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bananaman
Yes, that's the ugly muddy road to San Blas. I didn't do it on a bike. I did it, twice, with a landrover defender.

The river's depth varies. Walk it first. If it's less than three feet deep you can fashion a snorkel for the bike. Do you have a foam air filter?

Talk to TC at Panama Bikers. He can hook you up with tires. Panama Bikers is on Brasil near Cally 50, not far from the BMW dealer.
Heh... I think I'll pass on the crazy road. Not only do I lack a snorkel, but I have the KTM hardparts high-flow airbox with openings in the side. The filter is foam but I've already had enough trouble with water in the bike

I signed the advrider log book at Panama Bikers! TC says hi, btw.

Jeff
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