(March 27 – written by Dave)
I realize that the following comment with either date me as very old, label me as a 1980s hippy rock punk or put me in the “what’s he talking about” bucket. But what the heck, it’s our blog and it got Nancy smiling. She doesn’t normally smile when I sing, so it’s worth the internet humiliation…
All day today I’ve been singing the almost famous 1980s rock anthem titled Panama, from the rock group Van Halen. I don’t know the words other than the chorus which is not too hard. It goes like this, “Panama, Panama, Panama, ha, ha,ha…”, or something to that affect. At least I didn’t sing it very loudly while we were waiting in the various immigration lines.
Poor singing aside, we’ve made it to our 9th country. We can almost smell the end of Central America. No wait, the rest of Central America doesn’t think that Panama is in Central America. But where is it. Oh, not that post again, never mind, it’s country 9 and it comes right after country 8.
We were not sure if the border opened at 7AM, 8AM or 9AM. At the risk of getting there long before it opened, we were up at 5AM and on the road at 6:15. We polished off the last of Costa Rica by 7:15 and arrived to find the border open – woohoo. To leave Costa Rica, you have to pay $8 per person at a booth on the opposite side of the road to the immigration area. There is little signage telling you this and had Nancy not read about this on other people’s blogs we would have waited through the immigration line to learn this, and likely had to go back the end of the queue. Not that it would have mattered today as there were very few people trying to leave Costa Rica. Costa Rica was done.
We rode the 50 metres no man’s land to Panama and started the inbound immigration process. Once again there is little to no signage. We ended up in the wrong line just as two tour buses pulled up. By the time we were redirected to the correct line, they were chockers. It took us about 30 minutes to get to the front of the queue and 1 minute each to get stamped into Panama.
We wandered asking for a money changer. They are nowhere near as obvious here as in the rest of Central America. We eventually found one, with some help from a local. There was no rate negotiation. He had a rate, and it was take it or leave it. It was somewhat reasonable and we ticked that task off the list. So far, from the money changer and everyone else in Panama, we’ve seen nothing but US dollars and coins being used. If there is a local currency, we haven’t seen it. Good for us, I hope it stays this way.
So… Costa Rica exited. Panama entered. Money changed. Nothing left to do but clue the music:
PANAMA, PANAMA, PANAMA, PANAMAHAHAHA….
We had about 50k to ride still. Panama looks pretty much the same as Costa Rica. The road was a 4 lane highway with a shoulder. Much wider than the Costa Rica single track. And very much safer until we got within 9k of our destination and the shoulder turned to gravel. The last 9k were gritty and slow, and a wee bit stressful with traffic. But we made it.
Our home for the night is in David, Panama. How can you not like a country that names a city after you. I’m honoured, naturally. I really wanted a photo of me and the city limits sign but either there wasn’t one, or we missed it. I’m kind of thinking that there may not be one because guys like me, who have less in the way of moral compass, would probably steal it.
We lost an hour today as Panama is on central time zone, or maybe they observe daylight savings time. It doesn’t really matter, we just have to change our clocks/watches. The border delays, time change and slow roads at the end delayed us just the right amount. We arrived at our hostel right at 1PM, when they allowed check-in. We are staying at the Bambu Hostal in David. It’s kind of funky, not super clean, but the staff are nice. And as Nancy says, “it’s only one night”.
On arrival I noticed a Panama license plate sitting out front of the main entrance. I asked them if they wanted to sell it so that I could have a Panama souvenir. They said no as they were kind of attached to it. So we settled into our room. About 20 minutes later, the manager knocked on our door offering me the choice of 3 different Panama plates. I was surprised and grateful. That means I don’t have to look down along the road while riding tomorrow. And I get to carry a plate for the next 8,000 miles from here to the bottom of South America (no wait, this is a bad deal I think!)
We used the hostel kitchen and made some tasty Heuvos Rancheros for dinner. And then we retired to our air conditioned room. Nancy tried to get the TV working but it was very stubborn. We called the guy from the front desk and he had no luck either. It was something to do with parental control and the now departed manager was the only guy who knew the password. The desk guys offered us a beer to cover our troubles – and he didn’t have to ask twice. The local beer in Panama is called Balboa. It’s about the same as all the other local beers in Central America – not great but drinkable. And now I can say I’ve tried one when someone else asks me.
We have a week or so to ride now in Panama. We are working out the route options but looking to be in Panama City by Sunday or maybe Monday. We’ve not heard great things about the Pan-Am from here onwards – it is supposed to be boring – but we are keeping an open mind. We don’t expect everyday to be full of majestic mountains and waterfalls.
Anyway… Back to the theme of the day… Queue the David Lee Roth…
PANAMA, PANAMA, PANAMA, PANAMAHAHAHA….