Saturday, October 08, 2005

Hospedaje Torti, Torti, Panama

8:00 p.m.

At 10:00 this morning, I woke to the sound of nearby thunder and rain falling on Panama City. I wanted to move on today, but this complicated things.

I was clearly ready to leave. I just didn't have a plan. Being the weekend, I figured it was unlikely I would accomplish anything related to shipping the bike to Colombia. "It might be exciting to drive down to the fabled Darien province."

Several times an hour, somewhere in the vicinity, a car alarm sounded. I’ll wager none of the cars were being threatened. I would personally like to strangle their creator.

***

Today, I decided, begins a different kind of attitude in this journey. I am going to “let myself be helped”. Whether from pride, fear of disturbing others, whatever reason, I've always been reluctant to ask for help. But I'm realizing more that there is very little I can do without help. So, why not just assume I will require help all along the way, and be ready and willing to ask?

***

David called. He found the restaurant last night, right where Anne said it was. She was outside waving when he pulled up. They had a good time sharing stories; I’m glad they connected. Now David’s considering air-freighting his bike to Colombia, as Anne did.

***

The rain never stopped, so leaving the hotel I had to face putting on rain gear. It was too warm, and I quickly became claustrophobic. South of Panama City, out through Tocumen, traffic was a mess. I had left around 1:00 p.m., which didn’t leave a lot of daylight hours; so slow traffic only heightened my anxiety.

Kind of on the edge of my seat, driving this stretch of the Pan American Highway, having no idea what’s ahead. I constantly reminded myself that if bus service can make it out here, so can I.

The land along the highway is being extensively cleared for ranching and farming. It’s obvious that the arguments are correct: if the Pan American Highway is connected through the Darien Gap, joining Columbia and Panama, without a VERY strong government intervention, it will result in the destruction of that region. It would be disastrous, yet I can understand the forces trying to make it happen.

The highway remained excellent most of the afternoon; certainly better than most in Costa Rica. In the vicinity of Lago Bayano, I came to a police checkpoint. This time, I was asked to pull over. The policia wanted to see my passport. I rolled to the side of the road in front of some stands and a crowd of people waiting for a bus.

They recorded my information on a ledger, then let me proceed. I asked if they would mind my taking a picture. No problem. But when they realized it was them that I wanted to photograph, the two policemen waved me off. It was a sensitive situation, so I packed up the camera and moved on.

I was riding the edge of a storm that was hanging over the San Blas Mountains to the northeast. Constantly scanned the roadside to see if camping might be a possibility out here, should I be forced, by weather or nightfall, to stop. The foliage was dense, and for the most part impenetrable. Where it was cleared, there were stucco homes or thatched roof shelters. Some muddy trails led into the jungle, but they all seemed gated or occupied.

In the spirit of my new-found attitude, tonight I would let local people help me find a place to stay, rather than stumble around on my own, as usual. In Torti, I started asking about a room, first at the gas station, then the bakery. A cabbie leaving the bakery led me to this little hotel.

Sat outside on the porch with the owner, “José”, a man in his 40s, and a baseball pitcher, and his teenage son, also “José”, who will play for the Panama City baseball team this coming season (January through March, the dry season). (José says they have nine months of rain.) Drank a Coke with him, then, on his suggestion, went for dinner at “El Parrillada Parrandero” a few doors away. Dinner was carne asada, rice, vegetables, a cup of lentil soup and a "Panama" beer. I have to be careful not to express shock when I hear the price; the total was $2.25, plus a $0.50 tip!

Returned to the hospedaje and again joined José on the porch. Lots of people outside walking, or just sitting as we were, watching the world go by. Very soothing, simple. (“Not too productive!” says my First-World programming.) After a while, I walked down to a local outdoor “disco”, basically a little open air arena, to watch the festivities.

In my room later, looked over the maps, focusing on the Darien Gap and Columbia. I think I’ll drive down to the end of the highway in Yaviza tomorrow and see about alternative routes to Colombia, rather than back-tracking to Colón.

A day under my budget! A room here cost $6 (very much like the “cell” I had at Rio Dulce, though there are two windows and it’s cleaner.) At the bakery in town, I bought a selection of four small pastries: $0.50. And then the $2.75 dinner.

The price of gas rose nearly a dollar in a single day (the day we went riding around the city). Today, I paid $3.55 and $3.70 per gallon.

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