The Panamanian Blues/ Yaniv Singer

This blog entry will be very different from the ones I wrote before. Though maybe not. The truth is that I completely forgot not only the kind of stuff I’ve been writing, but also the kind of frame of mind I’ve been in in other parts of the trip. Things have been very different ever since we left the warmth of Tom’s Bakery and the coolness of hills surrounding it the lake Arenal region. Things have been getting difficult. Tough moments are normal in a trip or in anything else really, but after a tough week we both find ourselves simply wanting to go home. This is our state now, and for the sake of honesty I decided to write about it, rather than just writing blog entries about the good stuff (but here are some pics of the Arenal lake and volcano before I get everybody down).

From Nuevo Arenal

breakfast

From Nuevo Arenal

kitty blissing out while sucking on tail. bizarre, i know.

From Arenal Vlocano

eating these every morning definitely has it’s toll-on our waistlines

From Arenal Vlocano

cute

From Arenal Vlocano

scary

From Arenal Vlocano
From Arenal Vlocano

Hey, why don’t we break apart our army and build some windmills and national parks? Crazy costa ricans…They deserve this

From Manuel Antonio

our incomparable host, Tom

The first thing that started to turn was the weather. Not only once we return to the pacific coast it became hot and humid again, but it also started to rain for a few hours every day. So while it’s true that we had a nice morning in Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio (Our last planned Fun Stop, more than a week ago), I am more in the mood to write about how the weather affects your frame of mind when you ride a bike. When you’re hot, you become sleepy on the bike while riding, and easily agitated while stopping. The combination of hot and humid weather with traffic can especially be hazardous, as you find yourself weaving in between cars to avoid standing in the sun. Rain is different. It has a tremendous potential to wreck your plans, not to mention getting you soaked, miserable, and home sick.

From Manuel Antonio

On the way to Manuel Antonio. That’s not a cigarette butt. It’s a log. This guy is like two meters long

From Manuel Antonio

A typical beach at the Manuel Antonio Park

From Manuel Antonio
From Manuel Antonio Cont to Panama

everyone’s favorite activity

From Manuel Antonio Cont to Panama

Yea they look cute but they stole our lunch and laughed at our face

From Manuel Antonio Cont to Panama

He’s laughing too, but on the inside

On the day we rode south from the park we intended to reach a beach on the Osa Peninsula where we knew we can camp. It was less than 100 miles away. Instead, it started pouring. After a while our under garments were wet, our gloves were drenched, and our feet were sitting in a pool of rain water held in by the soles of our boots. Still, we pushed on, figuring we won’t melt. This area has seen a lot of rain in the past few months, so entire sections of the road were missing. And we had to bypass them in slippery muddy sections. At this point our breathing became hard, and our visors became foggy on the inside. In dry conditions this is fine, as you can simply open your visor and let it clear up, but when it’s pouring you need to ride with the visor or else you feel the drops hitting your eyes like sharp pins. Eventually we just had to stop. Since that day our clothes never got the chance to dry, and getting dressed every morning became a real drag. Since that day we try to stop under bus stops when it’s pouring, and wait usually a half an hour till it stops. Still, after a few days of this our entire wardrobe developed a stink that we are unfortunately still carrying with us.

From Manuel Antonio Cont to Panama

Two BMWs at the border crossing to Panama. Suddenly people were not so interested taing photos with OUR bikes

These were the circumstances under which we entered Panama. The border crossing used up all of our cash. Not that we could have used it. Once we crossed David there was nothing for miles and miles. As darkness fell we pulled into some ranch and asked if we could spend the night. As usual with locals we ask this of, the answer was affirmative. As usual, all of the kids watched us in silence as we set up our tent. As usual, the grownups were very hospitable. They brought us a basin of water that we could use to wash off, and shooed the kids away when they realized we probably wanted some privacy.

Our first night in Panama. Rural darkness and hundreds of fireflies

From Manuel Antonio Cont to Panama

The last thing we saw at night and the first thing we saw in the morning

From Manuel Antonio Cont to Panama

The next morning I fell off the bike while trying to get on. My pannier fell apart, and we spent a good hour trying to put it back together. It took a lot of patience and strength. By the time we put the bike back together we were soaked in sweat and starving, as we didn’t have ingredients to make breakfast, or cash to buy some. After 2 hours of riding we reached some city. It’s fascinating how southeast Costa Rica is so packed whereas Northwest Panama is so barren of towns, gas stations, hotels, or anything else. In the entrance to the city we saw a billboard sign for McDonald’s. It was a huge poster for a whole lot of food for $10.99. We hurried over to the golden arches in excitement. After an hour we wanted to throw up.

Happy, Pappy?

From Manuel Antonio Cont to Panama

find the differences

From Manuel Antonio Cont to Panama
From Manuel Antonio Cont to Panama

Our bad luck continued throughout the day. What finally got us off our butts and made us leave McDonald’s (isn’t that a strange name for a fast food joint, when you stop and think about it) was the view of black sky from the Eastern window (Panama goes east-west. Not north-south. Get used to it. We are still trying to). We decided to out run it, and it was absolutely fabulous. We were hauling down the highway in the cold front that was being pushed by the storm. For a while we felt some drops, and behind us we saw it was pouring. Later we sling shot out of the storm into the warm, humid air. We were thrilled at what the speed of our bikes allowed us to do. So thrilled that we forgot to slow down. We saw a cop try to pull us over, but we were so passed him that we decided to move on. I figured if he started to chase us we’ll just take a right to a dirt road. After 5 minutes I felt like a king for out running a motorcycle cop. After 10 minutes I swallowed my heart as his buddy pulled us over and told us to wait for the first cop. He said he was coming. He said he was pissed.
He was pissed. He said he had to give us two tickets each. One for speeding, the other for escaping. The speeding was $60, the escaping was $200. Oh yea, plus impounding the bike. He showed us his radar gun showing he caught us at 95 kph in a 60 kph zone. I knew it was a lie. First of all, as I passed him I saw he didn’t have his gun out. Second, we were going at least 130 kph at that point. I am wise enough to know, however, that it’s not about the facts, but about what you can make it look like, and how you can use them, whether they are true or false. I tried to reason with him, but he said we have to wait for his chief. The two cops and us were all waiting in a bus stop with our bikes, as it had started to rain again. As we were waiting, Erika and I slowly became worried. Our hopes of solving this by a simple bribe was diminished due to the invitation of the chief to the crime scene. Nobody like to share a bribe, especially not with their boss. The no bribe solution, $520 and a week to wait to get the bikes back, seemed bleak as well.

The rain stopped. I tried to reason with him some more, showing him my wallet with a lonely $20 bill inside of it, explaining that I simply don’t have that kind of cash. We stood there awkwardly. After a while he said that he was going to let us go, but that we had to buy them lunch because they missed it. Something like that. I don’t really speak Spanish you know. I took out my wallet with a smile and he pushed my hand back into my pocket. He said he will stop us again, and then we should give it to him. He took off in our directions. We go dressed, and took off too. After 5 miles he pulled us over, and asked to see our license. I handed him an expired American Express with a 20 behind it. He inspected the plastic, pocketed the paper, and muttered something about the weather and how the highways of Panama were dangerous.

As we rode away I smiled the smile of a gangster who just pulled one over the police. Man, I showed him! Only $20! What suckers. But when you ride you can’t stop thinking. And the more I thought the more I realized that we were the ones who’d been suckered. I realized that those two cops were working together. That he waved us on too late on purpose. That it didn’t matter how fast we were going. That there was no chief. That his presence in the story was meant to make us feel scared, and lucky to get off only with $20. So it’s true we got scammed, but still, $20 is still low. The reason we got away with that is my paranoia. Whenever I take out cash I put one bill in my wallet, and hide the rest (in this case, I had taken out $200 only hours before, opposite the McDonald’s). It could have been way worse. The next day things just kept going downhill. It took us somehow 5 hours to leave the hotel, and 2.3 miles after we left we had to pull over because it had started to pour. In this way, pulling over, waiting, riding, we slowly made our way into Panama City.

The bridge connecting the Americas over the southern tip of the Panama Canal. And us obscuring the view of it

From Panama City, The Canal, and Colon

We crossed over the Panama Canal as we crossed over hundreds of bridges before, too wet to be feeling apart of any history that so many people think of when they hear the words canal and Panama. We made our way into the hotel section. It was pouring again. I’ve never seen so many hotels before. They were everywhere, and yet, they were the most expensive we’ve seen on our trip. The cheapest ones were all $25. They were gross. The receptionist sits behind a bullet proof glass with a bowl of condoms next to the bowl of soap. Most rent their room for 3 hours max. The city was filled with couples walking the streets, entering and exiting these love shacks. We just couldn’t do it. One price up were all exactly $38.50 which made me think of Microsoft for some reason. We pressed on through the dark streets.

We got lost. No signs and windy streets and avenue will do it every time. At some point we were surrounded by private homes. We stopped to get directions. We asked to camp on their lawn. Our Bad luck persisted. We searched for a few hours more for an elusive backpacker’s hotel only to find out it went out of business. After searching for hotels for 3 hours we finally gave up and checked into one.

We have long discovered that we don’t enjoy traveling in cities. We came to Panama City because I needed a new chain and sprocket. After 16,000 miles, my chain had slowly stretched out. Consequently, it was pulling on the sprocket with the wrong spot on the links, deforming it. This is a positive feedback process: As the chain stretches out, the sprocket’s teeth deform and sharpen, which stretches out the chain even more. I’m now at a point where my sprockets are very sharp and narrow. Eventually they will start snapping off, and the chain will slide on the sprocket, braking teeth instead of pulling on them.

Air filters. Before and After. How hard it is to make these things washable?

From Panama City, The Canal, and Colon

BMW was closed for the weekend and we of course arrived on Saturday. We used the time to change our air filters. It was about time anyway. On Monday morning we found the agency. They wanted $300 for the chain and sprocket set. In the States this is $150. We should have brought a spare with us. Furthermore, Erika’s bearings in the steering were digging into the ring that supported them, making grooves, and causing the steering to be hard. This could become dangerous. We had to fix that too. We looked for a different shop that would sell us a simple o-ring chain that is not imported from Germany. We couldn’t find any. What we did find was a mechanic’s son who told us to come in the morning and talk to his dad. Yet another day has passed with zero results. As we were informed that there was no other place to get a chain from, we wen t the next day to BMW again to buy the chain. Of course, they didn’t have it. They could order it for us, but it will only arrive in 12 days. Maybe more. The BMW dealerships sits on a city block, but they don’t hold a chain for a motorcycle. As Antonio worked on Erika’s steering, we made phone calls to the states to have the cheaper and better chain and sprocket set shipped to us. Of course, as we were ready to buy it I realized I’ve lost my credit card. Later I found it in the hotel room. It just went on and on like this. We are still trying to figure out where to ship the chain to, and hope my bike survives till there.

Antonio fixing Erika’s bike by demonstrating to the front whee how it must behave

From Panama City, The Canal, and Colon

As soon as our bike issues were resolved, at least theoretically, we decided to leave our hotel and go camp someplace. 4 nights in Panama City have really taken their toll on us. I hate to bore the reader with financial information, but I feel that this is key to understanding our trip and my frame of mind now. We are funding our daily existence on this trip through rent that I am getting for an apartment that I own. Consequently, our budget is fixed at around $40 a day for the two of us. So far this has not been a problem. On a normal day we pay $15 for gas, and $10 for a hotel, which leaves plenty for food. For the same reason, the $30 a day here was really strangling us. We were only eating food that we were cooking, and watching every dollar. Now we were at the Amador area of the city, where we hoped to find a boat that would take us to Colombia, and a place to camp for the night.
This Area was built by the American’s during their days of running the canal. It is small yet posh. Hotels, yachts, restaurants, the works. It doesn’t feel at all like the rest of Panama. Cooking your own food and not buying anything is fine when you’re outdoor in the woods, but I realized that once you do it in the midst of western society for too long you start feeling disconnected from it. You start feeling like a rat in a fancy restaurant, like a homeless person on 5th avenue. You look at people enviously, waiting to see if they will invite you to their homes, give you a hot meal and a bed. You start feeling sorry for yourself, when of course, there is absolutely no need to, since it is you who decided to embark on this trip. Still, it gets to you. We therefore decided to bring our bottle of wine (always good to have. Anytime. Anywhere. It doesn’t need to be chilled, and it can take a bad night and turn it into a fantastic one), and go into a restaurant. As I was uncorking it Erika confessed why she was pushing for the restaurant. It was the night before thanksgiving, which means it was exactly one year (in last-Thursday-of-the-month type of time) since I proposed to her. That’s right. I was so obsessed in keeping our costs low that I forgot our own engagement anniversary.

One and Counting. Man I’m sick of that shirt.

From Panama City, The Canal, and Colon

That night was beautiful respite between the bike headache that plagued us till that point and the getting-out-of-Panama headache that would plague us later. Erika looked beautiful, the wine was superb, the food was delicious, and the view of the Panama City’s sky scrapers was enchanting. For desert we got invited to camp on the front lawn of the building of an American couple we met at the restaurant. Everything was perfect. That was yesterday.

Million dollar yachts

From Panama City, The Canal, and Colon

Erika in front of Panama City

From Panama City, The Canal, and Colon

After asking around in vain in yacht clubs for a boat leaving for Colombia this morning in Panama city, we headed towards Colon, a city on the Caribbean side, where we were sure we would a cargo ship leaving to Cartagena. For those of you who don’t know, there is a gap in the asphalt between Panama and Colombia. It is called the Darien Gap. It is filled drug traffickers, guerilla fighters, and malaria. Considering we want kids eventually, we decided to pass. Or to be more precise, we decided not to pass through the Darien Gap (I believe that only three riders successfully rode through the gap to this day. One had a 2WD motorcycle). We spent almost all day today going from pier to pier in the port city of Colon. There must be some kind of new policy concerning to regulation of drug control. Not a single boat agreed to take us as passengers, through many agreed to take the bikes (who hear thinks that’s a good idea?). I find this fact fascinating. There are dozens of boats leaving every day to Colombia. We have money. What seems to be the problem? It appears that in terms of the simplicity of travel, our society has gone past its peak. Once it was very hard to find a boat to take you where you wanted to go due to the fact that there were no boats. Slowly it became easier and easier. More boats. More people. More money. In the past few years it has again been getting harder and harder. There are plenty of boats, but now the barriers are social ones. Terrorism threats, drug trafficking, and good old bureaucracy.

The Gods mocking us

From Panama City, The Canal, and Colon

As our searches produced nothing, it was getting dark, and that familiar black cloud approached from the West. Since everybody told us that Colon is a dangerous place (riding through the alleys today we can confirm this. It’s one big shanty town) to be in, we rode to the port where cruise ships dock, stepped into the lobby of the Raddison, and have been sitting on the couches here since 6 pm. It is now 2 am and nobody kicked us out yet. Erika is sleeping on the couch beside me while I try not to make eye contact with personnel. I can’t wait to get out of this country and hit the open road again.

Now. 2 AM.

From Panama City, The Canal, and Colon

I know I was rambling and venting during this blog post. Forgive me. I guess I needed to. What can be taken away is that sometimes travelling, especially by motorcycle, and especially under a budget, can be very hard and extremely tiring. We both just want to go home now. It’s thanksgiving night and we’re stuck in the lobby of a hotel, in a city that we don’t know when we’ll have the fortune to leave. In these moments I try to remember something my dad taught me: an adventure is just the past tense for the present form of misery. Wish us luck send your love. I promise the next blog post won’t be as depressing and that it will contain some present adventures, not just experiences that in 20 years will become adventures.

Moon rising over the port of Colon

From Panama City, The Canal, and Colon

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