Thursday, 13 January 2011


Last sloth picture - honest. Twins Sebastian and Viola

The last two blogs have been very sloth orientated. Time for some more manly things.... I got a new battery for the bike and now it seems to be working fine. Milady (pronounced Me Lady = great name!) who works in the gift shop got her mechanic to come to the sanctuary. He diagnosed a flat battery and got a new one ordered overnight from somewhere. So now I'm mobile again.

Milady - is she small or is my bike big?

Two days before we left the sanctuary Milady took us out for a ride. Us on the 1200 and her on her 125. We were heading for her brother's house and her niece's first birthday party. She said it wasn't far which I took to mean less than half an hour. It took over an hour to get there. We rode through a massive banana plantation, over a very rickety bridge and finally made it to her brother's farm in the middle of the plantation. Her whole family was there and there were a lot of them. Milady has five sisters and two brother's and each sister has a handful of children. There must have been over 50 people partying in the cow shed and all of them were related. Except for us. We had a great evening watching a typical Costa Rican birthday party. It was a real honour to have been invited and I only wish I had taken my camera with me.

Two days later we were finally back on the road. It was great to be moving again. We left the sanctuary at 8 a.m. knowing that within an hour we would be at the border and hoping that at 9 a.m. on a sunday it might not be too busy. Our Kiwi friends who had visited us at the sloth sanctuary had crossed the border on Christmas day and had sent me an email telling me that it had taken them over 3 hours to cross, was a very frustrating experience and that the bridge that spanned the river was, well, interesting.

They were right on all three counts. Leaving Costa Rica was quite easy and took less than half an hour. I then had to ride across the bridge. From the photos you can see that I am not really riding as both my feet are on the ground. It was quite narrow and I just knew that if I slipped and fell to my right there was no way the fencing was going to take the weight of me and the bike. I'd read someone's blog a few weeks ago and they had slipped, in the rain, on the bridge, dropped the bike and then whilst trying to pick it up their foot had fallen through one of the the gaps. A little scary really.

I must have been doing at least 50 miles an hour on this bit

I'm sure Tracy was on the back - she's not down there is she?

mind the gap

Luckily there was no traffic coming the other way

The Panamanian side was chaotic. There were no signs telling you where to go and when I joined the back of the queue to get our passports stamped it didn't move an inch for 30 minutes. It was getting warm in the morning sun and although I was trying to keep my sense of humour about the whole thing as 30 minutes turned into an hour I was struggling. Finally I got the passports stamped and then went to the window labelled “Aduana” to start the process for importing the bike. They told me I first had to go and get insurance and when I asked where that was they lazily pointed down the road and said it was around the corner and up the hill. We got on the bike and rode off. In fact there was nothing stopping us from riding off all together. But sensibly I didn't do that. Instead I stopped at a police road check and found someone to ask. He didn't have a clue where the insurance place was and looked like he'd never been asked before. Finally he found a colleague who said it was back at the “Aduana” office. I suggested that this couldn't be the case as I'd just come from there. He then found another police officer who thought the insurance office might be behind the aduana office so off we went. I rode back the way we had come and up a side road behind the aduana office. As I stopped the bike a man came over and without me even asking told me that the insurance office was upstairs in the building I had stopped next too. I went up the stairs and found myself in the huge shop. Just as I was about to turn around to leave, obviously having got the instructions wrong the lady behind the counter gestured to me that I should walk through shop and out onto the balcony!
When I did this I saw a tiny office tucked into the corner of the balcony with the word “Seguro “ (Insurance) hand written on the door. Unbelievable. Here was the insurance office where EVERYONE who brings a vehicle into Panama must come to buy insurance. It consisted of a woman with a computer and a printer. Why oh why couldn't she be in the aduana office or at least right next to it.

I bought the compulsory $15 insurance a returned to the aduana office. I then waited for OVER AN HOUR as they laboured to fill in the correct forms in order to process my details. This involved, amongst other things, a long debate about where I was from. Even though they had my passport in front of them they kept asking me where I was from. And then we had the whole, where is the bike registered routine. Initially they thought Alaska was in Russia and it took some convincing to get them to put USA on the form. All of this, by with way, was conducted with the three of then sitting in an air conditioned office whilst I, in black motorbike gear, was standing out in the sun talking through a small hole on the window which was positioned 4 feet off the ground.

Panamanian side of the bridge

Oh yeah, and for a good half and hour they just sat there doing nothing. They said the internet was down but it suspiciously happened at midday and I'm convinced they just stopped for a half hour break at lunchtime. (I had heard rumours that the Panamanian side of the border shuts for an hour at lunchtime).

Then we got to the good part! They wanted to know how I was leaving the country and expected me to produce paperwork to prove I was leaving the country with my bike. I explained that the bike was being transported by ship to South Africa and I was flying (I didn't tell them where I was flying to as I didn't want to complicate things). For a while I was actually worried that they wouldn't let me in as they insisted that I show proof of this. Eventually they relented and handed me the one page typed form that had taken nearly two hours. I meticulously checked the details. Everything was right except they had put down that I would be flying the plane out of Panama. I told them this and they just said it wasn't important and I shouldn't worry. Fantastic, after having take all this time to fill in an official form I shouldn't worry that one of the details isn't right.

I wasn't finished yet however and I had to go next door into the final office to have everything checked. Another official checked the paperwork, stamped it and then charged my $3 per person to put a stamp in my passport. I have no idea why but at least that was it and I was free to go. I walked back to Tracy and the bike a broken man. It had taken over three frustrating, hot and pointless hours. By far the most annoying border I had crossed.

Norman and his Valkyrie

Next stop – Norman. A few weeks ago I got am email from someone who had visited my blog. Norman introduced himself as a a brit. who used to live in Kenilworth (where we live in the UK) and he used to farm Jersey cows. He now lives near David, Panama and invited us to stay. How could we refuse? We turned up at dusk on a Sunday to find the local motorbike gang all there drinking and singing. Norman introduced us to everyone (and his six monkeys) and plied us with alcohol. It was great talking with Norman if a little weird to be sat in the middle of Central America with a complete stranger but talking about pubs in Kenilworth. Norman has an open invitation to all bikers passing through Panama and I have read several other people's blogs and knew that lots of people had been there. Patrick, the Irish guy on the Africa Twin who I had ridden through British Columbia with had stopped with Norman – he was now all the way down in Chile.

Local Motorbike crew at Normans

We had a great evening but having just spent nearly three weeks getting up at 5 a.m. and going to bed at 9 p.m. this was a bit of a shock to the system. I buckled first and crawled to bed around 11 p.m. Tracy faired better (perhaps because she had dunk much more rum than me) and managed to stay up until the party ended at midnight.

Tracy with one of Normans monkeys

Next day we went with Norman into town to pick up a package. As some of you will know I had my AirHawk seat cushion stolen in Mexico, just before Tracy arrived. Norman had kindly offered to let me use his American postal address to order a new one so over a month ago I had bought a new one on Amazon USA and had it sent to Normans address in Miami. It was then forwarded to Panama and we were going to pick it up. Easy – well not quite. That Monday just happened to be a bank holiday and FedEx was shut. Arghhh this was so frustrating. We didn't really have time to wait around until Tuesday (I had to be in Panama City by Tuesday night so I could start processing he bike for freighting on Wednesday morning) so Norman promised to have it sent on to Panama City and we would pick it up sometime. With that we left Norman (thanks mate – mi casa tu casa) and headed down the final stretch for Panama City.

Last stop before Panama City

With 99% of my Alaska – Panama route complete I got stopped by my first traffic Cop. I'd heard that Panama is notorious for having cops with speed guns but having not seen one since the USA I guess I'd forgotten what to look out for. But as I crested a hill I spotted a sign telling me the speed limit was 60 km per hour and then saw a policeman standing in the road waving me over. The cop asked for my passport and license and then started entering some details into his phone. He told me I was doing 103 and showed me the speed gun. Now, I may well have been doing 103 (60 something miles per hour) but Norman had told me that sometimes they try to trick you by having the speed gun set on a high number. I asked to see the date and time stamp to prove that it had recorded me speeding. He continued typing away and then came over and said “No ticket this time” and gave me back my passport and license. I have no idea how genuine this all was but I kept the speed down for the last 200 miles into Panama City.

Panama City at last

Bridge of the Americas in the distance

Panama City. It has been in the back of my mind ever since I started out from Anchorage on July 25th, 2010. I remember stopping just north of the Arctic circle, turning the bike around to face south and thinking, well this is it, it's all south to Panama now. In Fairbanks, Alaska I stood at the signpost in the centre of the city which showed Panama as being 5000 miles away.

Me in Fairbanks last August

Actually it's taken me 21,000 miles (34, 000 KM) to get here. (The circumference of the earth at the equator is 24,900 miles). I must admit to feeling a little emotional as I rode over the bridge of the Americas and the Panama canal and into Panama City. It's not as if the trip is over or anything. In fact it's only just begun in many ways, southern Africa is going to be much tougher and more challenging than America but for now, as my sat nav would say if I had one, “you have reached your final destination.”

Last Hotel

1 comment:

  1. Well, the first leg of your trip is nearly over. We are in Oaxaca. Heading for the coast for some sun, sea and sand in a couple of days. Then Guatemala for some Spanish immersion for 2 weeks!! What an amazing journey so far Dom. Good luck with the next stage and stay in touch xx