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Old 09-11-2008, 02:57 PM   #286
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The Canal and San Lorenzo

I had originally hoped to volunteer as a line handler on a sailboat traversing the Panama Canal. Unfortunately this turns out to be the low season and private boat traffic is rare, maybe one every couple weeks. So I took the train.

The cast for this adventure: Me, Vito, Nero (Vito's brother), and Nir (who will receive a more thorough introduction later).









The train passed by several huge floating cranes:





The train dumped us off in the middle of Colon, a foul (and reportedly quite dangerous) port town with little to interest the tourist. After visiting a few shippers on the docks (Vito is trying to find a cheap way to get his RV across the Darién), we hopped in a cab and headed for the old fort of San Lorenzo.

The road took us *across* the Gatún locks of the Panama Canal!



The weight of water (and ship) being held back by these gates must be enormous. Gulp.



The San Lorenzo fort and surrounding park is beautiful. The fort was destroyed several times (including once by the pirate Henry Morgan) and partially rebuilt, most recently by the US Army during WW2.







Just below the fort was a perfect little beach with crystal-clear water. We jumped in. This was the first time I've immersed myself in the Caribbean on this trip.



On the way back we stopped at the San Lorenzo yacht club for lunch. There is little out there except several ex-US-army buildings and a nice marina filled with HUGE cruising catamarans.





The bus ride back was entirely uneventful.
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Old 09-15-2008, 10:20 PM   #287
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Introducing Nir

This is Nir:



Nir just finished eight years in the Israeli air force. He backpacked north from Ushuaia to Panama, bought Jared's KLR, and will be riding with me as far as Mexico. He's never ridden a motorcycle before (!)

Johnny Fortune (who bought Meredeth aka dirtgrl7's KLR) had planned to ride north with us, but eventually decided to head south instead. He has a crazy plan to have someone weld up a trailer and take both the Landcruiser and the KLR to Ushuaia. This seems like a poor idea to me.

I tried to find a picture of Nir that didn't look like an Abercrombie and Fitch advertisement, but he seems to doff his shirt immediately after his motorcycle jacket at every opportunity. I fear this means I'm relegated to the slightly-less-attractive-best-friends of all the hot chicks we meet for the rest of the trip.
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Old 09-16-2008, 10:21 PM   #288
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Venao

After two weeks it was finally time to leave Panama City and (sadly) most of my new friends. Nir and I decided to start the northward journey by exploring the southern peninsula in the middle of Panama:



The great thing about riding with buddies is that they carry CAMERAS!


Nir's photo


Nir's photo


Nir's photo


Nir's photo

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Old 09-16-2008, 11:37 PM   #289
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What Is It?

Shortly after leaving the tiny beach resort of Venao, we stumbled across this abandoned mine. This is exactly the kind of thing that your parents don't let you play near as a kid... I had to explore!




Nir's photo





















A lot of machinery for mining and grinding some sort of white powder. What is it?
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Old 09-17-2008, 09:35 AM   #290
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Panama had asbestos mines, which would make sense for one to be abandoned.. No idea if that's what it is though.
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Old 09-17-2008, 09:54 AM   #291
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As always, enjoyed the update! Maybe someday I'll have the time to do a similar trip. Thanks again for taking us along on your journey.
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Old 09-17-2008, 10:09 AM   #292
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Fun report and very motivating. Keep the updates coming.
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Old 09-17-2008, 10:48 AM   #293
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hetman
Panama had asbestos mines, which would make sense for one to be abandoned.. No idea if that's what it is though.
This might explain why so much heavy machinery was left sitting. Usually hardware in Central America gets recycled pretty quickly.

I'm kicking myself for not bookmarking the coordinates on my GPS. I'd love to look at it in Google Earth. There might have been more apparatus on the other side of the hill.

Jeff
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Old 09-19-2008, 10:28 PM   #294
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Great RR!

Stick -

Seriously enjoyed reading the entire report.

Great stuff!
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Old 09-21-2008, 05:48 PM   #295
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Boquete



Nir and I spent two nights in Boquete, a mountain village in western Panama. It's an attractive town with cute hotels, good restaurants, and a small population of tourists and expats.



The balcony of our hotel overlooked a rushing river:



We unloaded our bikes and set off to ride up a nearby volcano. This was a morning-only activity; every day a torrential downpour begins at 3pm and we didn't want to be outside for it.






Nir's photo



Nir's first drop!



We encountered a steep stretch of road with grapefruit-sized rocks covering wet, slippery mud.



After 20 minutes of sliding around on my nearly-bald rear tire and making zero progress up the hill, we finally gave up. Dropping the air pressure to 16psi didn't help. The height of the 640A works against me; it's hard to take my weight off the tires and push the bike on a slippery surface. I spent a lot of time throttling the bike from a standing position next to it, making six inches of progress at a time. My kingdom for a knobby tire!



We made it back just before the rain started.

I've been reminded that my story has been deficient of food porn as of late. This food from a Peruvian restaurant was the best meal I had in Panama:



Some Mexican food:

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Old 09-21-2008, 06:56 PM   #296
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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).
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Old 09-21-2008, 07:03 PM   #297
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quick question

nice pics and report! had a quick question. i had someone tell me that you need to get different insurance to go south of the border, is this true? i'm planning a trip to panama and back and hadn't given it any thought. i just assumed that my insurance covered my bike anywhere i went. i wasn't sure if you had any issues with this or not. thanks.
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Old 09-21-2008, 07:35 PM   #298
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevreif
nice pics and report! had a quick question. i had someone tell me that you need to get different insurance to go south of the border, is this true? i'm planning a trip to panama and back and hadn't given it any thought. i just assumed that my insurance covered my bike anywhere i went. i wasn't sure if you had any issues with this or not. thanks.
Imagine that every country is a different planet as far as insurance companies go

US insurance (liability or comprehensive) is not valid outside of the US. Mexico requires you purchase liability insurance from a Mexican company (I paid something like $150 for a year from bajabound.com). Most countries in Central America have no insurance requirement and I don't bother. Nicaragua requires insurance and I bought it going north ($12usd) but not south (mostly by accident). Costa Rica requires you buy insurance as part of your border paperwork (around $15usd).

If you're worried about comprehensive insurance, you might be able to work that out with a US company that specializes in international insurance, but I wouldn't know how and I would expect it to be very expensive. Just be careful
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Old 09-22-2008, 11:37 AM   #299
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How happy are you with all the gear that you brought along so far? Anything you'd absolutely recommend, and anything that you'd change if you were to do the ride again?
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Old 09-23-2008, 10:13 AM   #300
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hetman
How happy are you with all the gear that you brought along so far? Anything you'd absolutely recommend, and anything that you'd change if you were to do the ride again?
I will make a post about this when the trip is over. Most of the gear has performed brilliantly. I'm disappointed with the reliability of the Zumo (especially the cradle) but there doesn't seem to be an alternative that comes close to fulfilling that need. I would choose a larger tankbag. The happytrails luggage rack has been a major disaster, shearing (at latest count) seven bolts in the subframe. The pelican cases are awesome. I love the pac-safe net on my tailbag (peace of mind) and the BMW Rallye suit is absolutely worth every penny. I do wish I had spent the (rather outrageous) price for thin silk baselayers instead of the inexpensive synthetic stuff I have. The plastic isn't really that comfortable and it gets stinky fast, especially in hot weather.

The most important thing I would take, were I to take the trip again, is a second cylinder. I was waffling between a 640A and a 990A and decided that I'd rather have more fun on dirt and merely tolerate highway travel. It turns out that actually getting places in Central America nearly always involves asphalt - most countries have one or two paved arterials and lots of dirt spurs. I managed to spend a fair amount of time on dirt in Mexico, but south it becomes a lot harder.

In retrospect, a 990A (or possibly S) is probably the perfect bike for me. But I say that now that my dirt skills are 100 times better than they were at the beginning of the trip, and I can now enjoy a big bike offroad. Also the longer maintenance interval (7500km instead of 5000km) is a big deal. The 690E is awfully tempting though...
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