Friday, October 07, 2005

2:00 A.M. in Panama City

Looking south from the roof of Costa Inn

Up way too late last night: 3:30 or so. Out of bed again at 7:30, but my heart and mind weren't in it. I didn't think I'd be accomplishing much today.

Went to the "Multi Plaza" mall this afternoon to pick up some U.S. dollars from the ATM and buy a new t-shirt at the "Timberland" store ($21.00). At $60.00, I passed on a new pair of jeans. Even though they're manufactured right next door in Costa Rica, the same jeans sell for twice as much here as in the U.S.! What's the story "Levi's"? (Or is it high duties on imported goods here?)

Next to the handicapped slot, the "Futura Mama" slot! (The security guard did not like my taking photos in the parking structure. I had to explain such a sign is unusual to Americans.)

Coming out of the mall, I saw a Suzuki "V-Strom" motorcycle parked near mine. A young fellow, who passed me as I was exiting the mall, came out to introduce himself. David George is from Sacramento and left there five months ago to head down to Tierra del Fuego. He's been taking his time, as he puts it, and enjoying the women he has met along the way! We exchanged stories of the road.

He has been in the city about five days. He heard about a ride every Thursday night. A group of motorcyclists get together and drive around the city. He suggested I join them. I was fading out and feeling a bit weak after so little sleep, and wanted to head back to the hotel for a nap. David said he'd give me a call later.

When he called to say he was heading out to the gathering spot, I told him I'd join them in an hour, at 8:00 p.m. "It is 8:00 p.m.," he said.

"I've got three clocks here that say 7:00 p.m."

"Is there a hotel clock?"


Then he said there was a time change between Costa Rica and Panama.

"I didn't know that!"

All this while I've been operating on the wrong time. I guess it didn't really matter when I was "doing my own thing."

I caught up with David and his local friend, Katy out at a motorcycle rental shop at Amador. We visited with the shop owner (who has a KTM dirt bike,) until other bikes started to arrive. Then we hopped on our machines and rode out the causeway to the marina, parking at a little open-air bar and restaurant.

More bikes arrived: a Harley, Ducati, several Honda CBRs, Suzuki and Yamaha racing bikes, and others I didn't recognize. Everyone greeting one another, shaking hands all around. Sat with "Caesar" a ship's pilot for twenty years, who trained at the California Maritime Academy in Vallejo.

A little beer, and some tasty beef brochettes, then many of the guys (and except for Katy, it was all guys) were itching to ride. I was just along as a spectator, so I brought up the rear.

By this time, the streets of Panama City were quieting down, and these guys seemed to know where you could get away with winding the bikes out. Short sprints, zero to 60 or 70 mph, were common. Some of them were doing wheelies. It was pretty wild. Heading downtown, the highway forked and I got caught on the wrong side, helplessly watching as the others sailed on down the road. The ramp I was on dropped me into the old city barrio, but I quickly found a way back to the highway, catching up to "Caesar", who had traded his Harley for someone else's Suzuki, which he was awkwardly riding.

Along the waterfront, he spotted the others coming back towards us and knew where they were headed. We turned into a "TGI Friday's" just as the other fifteen or so bikes arrived with a huge commotion. Apparently, this was just a brief stop to say "hi" to friends, and then we were on the streets again.

I was getting into the swing of things and showing these guys the R1200GS can do anything they were doing; well, except for the wheelies. I still am not ready to try that.

About eight of us rode out to a parking lot where a makeshift "pocket bike" racetrack was set up. On the poorly lighted blacktop, guys were cramped up on these tiny whiney motorcycles, screaming along and taking the curves with their (padded) knees scraping the ground. Only one of the racers wore a helmet. Most were in t-shirts and jeans. They were running ten-lap heats. Pretty funny.

Time to move again, the leaders laid out a route that would take us out across the canal on "Puente del Centenario" (the Centenary Bridge), then return us to the city on "Puente de Las Americas", the Americas Bridge.

Puente Centenario is brand new. It and the highway leading to it have only been open four months, they said. The road was practically empty, and in perfect condition. Everyone let loose and wound out their bikes. The GS sailed past the others with ease, reaching about 120 before I let off the throttle. When we paused on the far side of the bridge, the other riders were amazed at the Beemer. For both David and I, this was the first time we wound out our bikes since leaving the U.S. (and he had Katy riding on the back!) We shook hands all around again, saying "good night" before resuming the ride.

The cruise back into Panama City was a bit more mellow, with everyone splitting off to go home.

Another late night, working on notes and listening to music.


"Adidas" billboards around the city carry the quotation: "Impossible is nothing."

Looking east from the roof of my hotel in Panama City

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