Monday, October 03, 2005

San Jose, Costa Rica to David, Panama

Hotel Alcala, David, Panama

This hotel in downtown David, Panama is $19.50 per night. Clean and decent.

Looking over expenses to date, I've spent about $10,000 since leaving home. At that rate, I'll need another $15-20,000 to complete the trip (which, worst case, would be about $82 per day average!) Hopefully, that average will drop as I spend more time in South America

Strange: Panama really does use U.S. currency (and an interchangeable mix of both U.S. and Panamanian coins.)


Sunrise was about 5:30 this morning, with quite a bit of activity in the streets below. In a courtyard tree outside my rear window, a very vocal bird. Someone down on the patio was talking to it, imitating its call.

I got up a short time later. (Very unusual!) Clouds start early and build throughout the day. I know riding time will be limited by the weather. The key is getting an early start, which I almost never do.

Participated in the morning commute. Terrible drivers! A wild mix of unskilled, timid drivers and crazy demons. The motorcyclists are an unstable bunch, doing whatever is necessary to keep moving through the congestion: riding shoulders, down the centerline, in the opposing traffic lane. I try to follow along.

I wanted to find the "Denny’s" restaurant I had passed along the highway yesterday, but missed it. There was no going back in this mess. It took one hour to find the U.S. Embassy, a very large, fenced-in complex. Perhaps a hundred people stood in lines for visas. For extra visa pages in my passport, I was sent to a relatively short line. Still, it took about an hour. 24 pages were sewn into the middle of my passport booklet.

It took a long time to get out of San Jose, inhaling great amounts of black diesel exhaust along the way.

In Cartago, I took a wrong turn and mistakenly went to the opposite side of the city. I was really "pissed off" at the lack of signage. Getting back to the Pan American Highway, a young driver almost ran me off the road intentionally. Tried to kick his car but it was just a little too far. Climbed into mountains a short time later, and into rain. The bike easily passes trucks lumbering up the grade and the cars lined up behind.

At elevation, it turned quite chilly in the fog and occasional rain. It was like crossing the Sierra Nevada in Spring or Autumn. I’m in the coffee-growing region, but didn’t persevere to find a finca. (I wanted to take a tour.) Dense tropical jungle on the northneast slopes, plants with enormous leaves. Then over the summit, on the southwest-facing slope, relatively arid conditions. As I started to descend, there was a little break in the clouds. I could look into a lush green valley far below. Later, on the map, I saw the elevation must have been about 10,000 feet at the summit. Welcomed the warmth in lower elevations. A stop in San Isidro: found a bakery and had a snack. The clouds were piling in from the west and being squeezed like a sponge. I thought I would break out of it in the lowlands, but it just grew worse as the afternoon progressed.

Followed the muddy brown Rio Grande river, a torrent, out toward the sea. Potholes are a major obstacle. You don’t want to hit one of these at 60 mph. Four to six inches deep, some worse. Usually, you can easily avoid them, but you have to be paying attention. A few times my mind wandered, and the pothole alarm woke me up too late.

I see little wildlife from the motorcycle, so it was shocking to find a large iguana lying in the roadway, a deep crimson blood oozing from its body. It looks too exotic and prehistoric to be real. What a tragedy that other creatures stand so little chance against man and his machines.

As the highway cuts through low-lying hills, there are many mud slides, some minor, but some threatening to take out the highway. Road crews must work constantly. In one spot, the road is falling into the river. In others, mountainsides have collapsed and heavy equipment is clearing a path. Still others, rivers and streams are simply washing over the pavement. This and the potholes keeps you on constant alert.

Just south of Palmar Norte, I hit a series of large potholes filled with muddy water. I was doing 50 or so, and just had time to stand up, when I plunged into them and covered the bike and half my body with muddy water.

Under these conditions, I kept driving past the Oso Peninsula and Golfitos, where I had planned to spend some time. Too much rain. I’ll try it on the return. (The list of things to do on the return trip is rapidly growing.)

A 250-mile ride to the border today. It was about 4:30 when I reached Paso Canoas. I wasn’t even sure there would be enough time for them to process me through (I didn’t know the closing time.) I was impatient and short with the tramitadores. When it was clear I wasn’t going to use his service, one said he would watch my bike. “I’LL watch my bike!”

Checked out of Costa Rica and moved down the road to Panama. Here, an older, more mild-mannered tramitadore persisted and I followed his directions. The bureaucrats seemed dull and disinterested (the several women I dealt with, were very heavy.) It took about 30 to 45 minutes to get through this side. This is where all the old manual typewriters came to die! It's incredible.

While I waited, watched the small army detail perform the “colors" ceremony, taking down the flag at sunset. The shouted orders, the mindless mechanical behaviors. All to assure that when the time comes, these young automatons will kill when ordered to do so. I see the military simply as evil. The question of necessary or unnecessary doesn’t even matter. It is still an evil human creation.

Finally my friend said "welcome to Panama.”

At least three people told me there was a French woman who passed through only a quarter or half hour earlier.

In fading light, I set off down the highway; actually a freshly-paved freeway. Beautiful! Except on this freeway, pedestrians, bicyclists (and dogs) are free to travel. Taxis make frequent (and often un-signaled) stops. In the dark, all the activity is difficult to see.

Five or ten miles into the country, there is a customs stop.

My plan was to reach David. There, I had to ask where the hotels are, because it’s not real obvious. This one surprised me, so clean! One of those with shining white tile floors everywhere. Almost like a hospital. The bike is parked in large garage off the street. Washed laundry, luggage (in the shower) and finally, myself.

Dinner in the mostly-deserted dining room. Pan-fried chicken and a couple local lagers, “Panama” (decent) and “Atlas” (insipid). A bit shocking to see they had hard-core porno among the TV channels!

Went to the internet room and tried to hook my computer up to their Ethernet cable, but it must be a subscription line. It wouldn’t recognize my computer. So I sent e-mails using their antiquated system (which looks like something I was using 12 to 15 years ago.)

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