Entertainment or insanity?
When I was riding through the USA on the I-15, I saw big rig after big rig passing me by. Then all of a sudden the “Convoy” them song began to hit repeat in my head and sure enough, I laughed for about ten minutes, then after the fourth hour of this, I thought I was going insane. Now here in Panama, I’ve relaxed a bit after the illegal border crossing I’d accidentally made earlier when I thought I might end up in prison. Then what creeps into my head but some classic Van Halen’s, “Panama” ! Hahahaha I laugh and sing the one-word chorus and over until I think I’m going to have a mental breakdown. Just the word “Panama” over and over and over, bet you're now doing the same now, you’re welcome, oh and welcome to Panama!
Van Halen song behind me and I’m happily cruising in Northern Panama, wow what a country of contrast. From tropical coast line to wooded wilderness settings, right down to the bustling metropolises and international businesses in the capital.
The first night I’m happy to have landed in the wooded wilderness where I see some people jumping from a cliff side into the narrow flooded river flowing a deep shade of chocolate brown below. I would never have risked fast flowing water I can’t see the bottom of had it not been for the locals doing so first.
I pitch my tent high on the river bank and almost minutes after camp is established the torrential rains start to pour, I can barely see across the river and I’m constantly moving the tarp trying to keep the water out. The river rises six feet in mere minutes and I resolve to eat a cold cereal dinner inside my damp tent. Morning breaks with warm sunshine and while cooking my staple oatmeal breakfast I’m treated to a river otter also out on the hunt for breakfast. Too bad the slippery little otter was too fast for a photo.
Who knew a gas station would seem so exciting.
I spend the following days meandering from the cooler hillsides back down to the hot coast line while trying to avoid the rains, I’m not so lucky on a number if not all occasions as the bike got a regular rain bath. One of those wet occasions I take about thirty minutes of soaking before eventually stopping at the most modern gas station I’d seen since the I-15 in the USA. After months of random gas pumps in random places where it wasn’t on common to get water in my tank with a fuel up, I’m now met eye to eye with bright lights, modern pumps, restaurant, bakery, patio, showers, and laundry all under one roof.
What does the lonely biker do when met with such modern conveniences all in one place? Naturally, he asks to pitch his tent on the back patio & use the wifi after a lukewarm shower while he waits for his laundry. Ohh man, HEAVEN!
The photo reminds me of a Tim Hortons commercial, that warm fuzzy feeling where you’re always welcome and even welcome to camp. The looks on the bewildered faces of the truckers who walk by for breakfast and a shower, past my patio campsite in the morning is enough entertainment to keep my chuckling well into the day. Ask to pitch your tent at the local fuel station next time
you’re there and let me know how it goes.
The guy cleared his entire schedule to help me with the bike.
It was becoming evident that Panamanians are the curious friendly type, a little closer to what I’m used to back in Canada. Every time I would stop someplace if someone could catch my eye contact they would practice their English on me. I ended up having coffees with the president of Panamas largest motorcycle club and was invited to come on a weekly ride with his crew. Another night we spotted an open door and a cell phone glow inside of a high-end motorcycle shop so we curiously checked it out. The owner had popped in to drop off some papers and after realizing we meant no harm he ended up inviting us in for a look and a photo shoot on the bikes.
I even met a guy on a KLR face book group who offered to inspect my valves and shims as I suspected the clearance was getting a bit close and had no idea how to do this on my own. Naturally, I got lost six times trying to find his house in a city with no street names though eventually found the place with an orange KLR twin parked out front. Good to his word he spent his day dismantling the bike with me and explaining how the shims worked. All was well in the end and they even invited me to spend the night,
wow the hospitality of people has been phenomenal.
I think the most random hospitality was by that of the Mc Donalds workers. We stopped for ice cream at a Mc Donalds in Panama city on a hot day. I was outside watching the bikes while my bud Phillippe was inside getting ice cream. I discover the Mc Donalds here employs a large number of motorbike delivery guys and they all seem to be from Venezuela at the moment,
looking to escape that countries current political and economic issues.
To them, on these big bikes riding from Canada and Switzerland, we seemed like Van Halen rock gods to eighties bangers. The ones who knew English would ask questions on behalf of everyone and they showed me all kinds of catwalk and stunting videos they made with the little delivery bikes. Funnily enough, in a city with close to a million people, I would run into the same driver two more times at random traffic lights. He would block a lane of traffic to show me more stunting videos he made and asked us to come to one of their race nights. Damn if my bike wasn’t already in a sea can headed to Colombia that night. Who knows maybe it was a blessing and I avoided what could have been another brush with the police in this country.
Next stop, Panama Canal!