Report to Panama

The border control did not want to let me in as I did not have a ticket to show that I intended  to leave the country again. After some minutes of perplexity an officer advised me to buy a bus ticket which I would never use but allowed to enter. With this I could finally pass the border.

The East of Panama is marked by a boring highway which crosses wide areas of grass land for cows. It is settled with plenty of fincas and you hardly find anything else than bush.
I remember one evening when I did not find a place to sleep. So I went on as there were everywhere fences. Finally I was told that there was a catholic mission in Tolé a bit retired from the highway. The friendly padre with a wide heart opened his doors and offered me a whole room with shower for free, for me alone. I was very happy.

Riding alone through Panama became mentally more intensive. I realised that I was riding longer as there was nobody to talk in the evenings and hardly anything else to do. So I pushed sometimes almost 150km a day and suddenly noticed that I lacked sensibility in four toes because of the hard pressure on my feet.
Twice I had the opportunity to sleep in a police station. The nice guys readily opened the doors and offered even a bed. I appreciate experiences like these. It gives me a deeper impression of the countries since the people are the face of the country.

Panama City - what a picture: While the colonial town is about to break in parts there are being built plenty of skyscrapers in the new area. There is a deep contrast between the old and the new city.

It was very interesting to visit the channel as you can observe a construction of world wide importance: At Miraflores the big cargo ships are passing direct in front of your nose while they are going through the one hundred year old locks. Panama is lucky to be situated in a privileged climatic condition with a lot of rain because the functioning of the channel requires a huge amount of fresh water to bring the ships through the locks to a level of 26m over sea. However as a cyclist you are not too happy with that rainy situation.

Looking back it makes me laugh remembering the situation when I crossed from the Pacific side to the Caribbean. As there was so much heavy traffic and rain I decided to ride on the freeway. There was no sign that cyclists were not allowed but since I sensed that toll stations could make trouble I just did not look at the guys, but looked to the ground while entering. After about 20 calm kilometres suddenly a car stopped me out and through me off the highway. It was a car of the running enterprise. I tried to be friendly as I had already crossed the worst miles.

The change from the Pacific side to the Caribbean side was impressive: The countryside and the villages turned wilder and the black population dominated. Almost all Panamerican-cyclists arrive at Portobello to catch a sailboat to Colombia as there is no road or at least no safe road through the jungle of Darien to Colombia. Portobello must once have been an important colonial harbour. Today the harbour is more of a ruin but still a witness of old Spanish times when you observe the huge buildings with its canons. It is interesting to see that the construction was built with coral riff stones.

To conclude my travel time in Panama I caught a sailboat too. The crew snaked through the San Blas Islands, a nice archipel of 400 islands of Caribbean beauty. This was an exclusive time since Alaska but the following two days were the worst: Crossing the open sea I was sea- sick for 44 hours and was lying on my back in the boat until we arrived at the harbour of Cartagena.