20 February 2017
I woke up with the news that if I didn’t make it to Portobello by 7pm that night, I wouldn’t have a spot on the sailboat and would lose my chance to sail the Darien Gap. Portobello was a mere 120 miles away but between me and there was Panama City which is no easy feat. So I said my goodbyes to Brandon and his family, thanked them for the great but sadly short visit, and started out nice and early at about 10:43am.
Since I knew that Panama has a fantastic 4 lane highway all the way to Panama City and that I was well past the construction, I would make some great time. What I didn’t know was it seems that on Sunday everyone and their grandma drives this fantastic highway back to PC. So it is safe to say I was not making good time. Of course like most of the world besides the United States, you can land split (drive between cars), but since I pack pretty light (not), the ride became the game of “try to weave between cars without knocking off too many mirrors”. Yep I lost (or won, depends on how you look at it) and ended up pissing some nice people off.
Finally 4 hours later where it should have taken like 90 minutes I ended up reaching Panama City. As I raced through the city as fast as I could, it looked like a pretty cool city. I even got to see the Panama Canal. Luckily I didn’t blink as I crossed it or would have missed. A quick “short cut” through a jungle section brought to you by MAPS.me and I was through the city and racing towards my destination.
Riders beware; driving north out of PC the cops have something very clever setup that I admit fooled me pretty well. See below…
After yet another missed turn brought to you by Google Maps, I finally started to get close to Portobello. I ended up breaking my golden rule of no driving at night and wound my way along what I was assuming was the coast and finally made it with a whopping 15 minutes left on my 7pm deadline. After some confusion, meeting the Captain who obviously didn’t speak a lick of English, convincing the fixer (ship organizer) who then convinced the Captain that my bike wasn’t too big or heavy for the ship, and surrendering my 100 dollar deposit to complete strangers, I found myself in a little quaint hostel swapping stories with a 80 something one legged hippy sailor. Boy was I exhausted.
The next day I woke up to a surprising beautiful yet uneasy view. Portobello is an old port city with plenty of historic buildings and a very eerie port. Apparently the hurricane season wasn’t very gentle to this area and there were numerous ships sunken or beached. I think I hazily remembered the one legged hippy talking about that last night. I’m sure there’s some omen about it but oh well, it was time to get ready for my passage.
I met up with the fixer and finally saw what I assumed would be the sailboat to take me to Colombia. He explained what customs work was required, who my shipmates would be (one Brit and one Aussie couple who were both on a RTW trip), and explained to me that we had to returnyet again back to PC to get it all done ASAP because the Captain was in a hurry for weather.
So back I went (wasn’t fooled by the cardboard cop this time) and made it to the Customs Inspection yard where I met my fellow shipmates. Adventure Logs top tip; if you plan on taking the toll roads back into Panama City, be aware that they switch from tolls where you can pay with cash to only electronic tolls without warning or at least warnings in English. Also do not think you can run the gate and beat it. They are faster than you are. Also related, NEXX helmets will protect you if you end up getting hit by say a toll gate.
The process in checking yourself and your motorcycle out of Panama is well documented on the internet so there’s not much I can add to it. What I didn’t get from the iOverlander app, I was able to ask and together as a group we were able to muddle through it. I would advise against trying to get it all done in one day though to reduce stress.
Of course with all government employees, a long lunch is in order so we ended with a little time on our hands and decided to go check out the Panama Canal. It truly was epic watching the enormous ships pass by and the museum was actually pretty informational. Before 2000, when the USA owned the Panama Canal, we operated it as a no-profit operation. Apparently when Panama took control they thought better and started to charge just a little less than what it would cost to sail around South America. You can thank Panama for the price hike on imported goods.
After a quick stop to a gorgeous shopping mall (thank you again canal money) to buy a replacement GoPro for the one I lost in Ometepe, we were back in line to finish our final bit of paperwork. One of the Aussies ended up staying with our bikes because we caught a couple guys trying to take things off of our bikes. We just needed one last signature and it seemed that nature was even against us as the building started to shake. We weren’t sure what happened, it lasted less than 10 seconds but then absolutely everyone just started pouring out of the building. Of course with government work you take any advantage to get out of work but come on people we needed that last signature. Well that little quake gave us a 90 minute delay but we were done.
The drive out of Panama City was very slow with me once again winning the game of how many mirrors can you knock off. I really packed too much stuff. It was easy at least 2 hours of traffic for something that should have taken 20 minutes and we found the source of the traffic; a soccer game, go figure. Once as a group we found the open road I discovered that the Aussies and their postal bikes top out at only 30mph. That wasn’t going to cut it with me at all; I just wanted to get off the bike and into a cold beer or two. Admittedly I came up with a lame excuse of having to poop and I rushed off past the ever vigilant cardboard cop to find myself back at the same hostel as the night before.
Tomorrow will be a little bit more relaxed. I’ll finally get to see the ship for sure, we will load the bikes which will be VERY interesting, and I guess we got two more shipmates so I’m sure I’ll be meeting them. Also looks like we will get a little time to explore Portobello which I’m looking forward to. There are a lot of colonial ruins around which I wanted to check out and I’m hoping to get a little swimming in. I ended the night once again sharing stories with the one legged senior citizen hippy and some outstanding rum.