Sunday, October 09, 2005

Along the roadside, Churupaquete, Darien, Panama

Heading off into Darien Province. A nice sunny day!

9:00 pm

In my tent, ten feet from the road. Was trying to make the 70- or 80-mile run to Yaviza today, but soon after crossing into Darien, the road got worse, now like Costa Rica. Several more police checkpoints, each time logging my passport and radioing on to the next to advise of my presence.

Mud getting a bit thicker. I've already been down once. Clouds moving in.

The road up ahead is bad, they tell me, and soon I find out. Muddy ruts. I fall down, and my right ankle is pinned between the pannier and frame. I have no leverage whatsoever. All I can do is wait for help. After five or ten minutes, I decide I don't want to wait. I honk the horn a couple times and a farmer emerges from his yard to investigate. He comes over and lifts the bike enough so I can extract my leg. We then get it righted. I insist he accept $20 for getting me out of a tough situation. He resists, but I prevail. His wife calls down to me afterwards and offers water to rinse the mud off. I gratefully enter through their gate and hose off my muddy helmet, gloves and riding jacket.

Luis ("Luigi") helped me get the bike up after a second fall. We shared some warm Cokes I had in my pack.

Gringo loco

It’s exhausting riding in the mud, and I’m not ready for it. Combined with the heat and humidity, I’m quickly winded, stopping often. I come to a bulldozer running over big ruts, trying to smooth them. When he stops, I attempt to make it through, but quickly fall. The bike is just too heavy and the tires (and my boots) are caked in mud. A young highway worker, who I earlier offered a warm Coke while the Caterpillar worked, came over and helped. A little further, and I’m down again. Banged up my shin this time. He helps again. I decide I have to take all the gear off to get through the next fifty yards. But I’m wasted, pausing after the smallest exertion. ("Whose idea was this?") Passersby look at the sky and warn that the rain is coming, then the road will be impassable.

As the rain moves in, road conditions deteriorate rapidly. In this environment, my BMW is virtually worthless (though everyone asks how much it's worth.)

The "reo" is one of the few types of vehicle that travels this road. Often, they rely on each other for extraction from the worst areas.

I stop near a little farm, exhausted. I’ve had it. As far as I can see, 500 yards or so, it's just more of the same. Kids come out to watch: Chucho (with his homemade slingshot), Chino and Mauricio. I have new buddies.

For two days, Cholo, Chino and Mauricio, when not in school, were my constant companions. (A short time after the photo was taken, the bike fell over; it's third time today!)

Cholo wanted me to take this photo. I think it's his relatives' house.

As we’re talking, the bike just falls over. At this point, I just laugh. Slowly, I unpack and move the stuff off to the side and take some photos (it’s raining now, and I don’t think I’m going further today.) We lift it up. I’m camping here, in the mud. Everything’s muddy. I decide to put up the tent, though Chucho wants me to stay in his house. (At first, I was just going to use the tarp, but the mosquitoes changed my mind, and Chucho took a pee at one end of my lean-to. He thought it was funny.)

Mauricio and Chino try their hand at righting the BMW

After three falls, I realized it was hopeless. The clay was packing in between the front tire and fender, a very effective brake. We had cleaned much of it out when this photo was taken, but you can still see the build-up. The clay would stop the bike within fifty feet, then require about thirty minutes of clean-up. One possible solution would be to remove the fender, but that requires taking off the front wheel. And then, there was no guarantee the clay wouldn't build up elsewhere. (The rear tire was almost impacted.) I realized my best hope was getting aboard one of those reos.

My friends bring me bananas and coffee from the nearby house. I'm definitely not carrying enough water, going through almost two liters today.

With nightfall, the mosquitoes come out. I use some DEET and it helps. 2-1/2 ton police trucks lumber by in the night, loaded with troops. An eerie image. They notice the bike and tent nearby, and some make comments. The road is a quagmire, made worse by each passing vehicle.

Chino and Cholo with two more cousins. The camera was a big attraction. Word traveled fast. Children would approach and ask me to take a photo, which they would then delight in seeing it on the camera's display. I regret I had no way to leave them with the image.

The kids at my campsite.

I feel pretty foolish and ignorant, but maybe I’ll hire a truck back, or maybe a boat ahead? I think about my father (who passed away long ago.) I don't think he would have ever done anything like this. (My daughter on the other hand...)

Gear all mildewed and stinking. We need a major cleaning out here. In the night, lots of sounds: horseback riders, walkers, cattle being herded down the road, trucks passing. And then there's the incredible pulsating electric sound of insects - almost deafening. Fireflies, lightning and a moon weakly showing through the mists.

It’s so stuffy in the tent. Almost intolerable. A hammock with mosquito net would be perfect. A tent, less than ideal. But it places a barrier between me and the mud and mosquitoes.

1 comment:

Footprint said...

very cool pics. thansk for sharing the journey.