In hindsight, it just might have been easier to illegally push bikes with a machete and mandatory guide to get through the mountainous and dangerous Darien Gap, try and illegally border cross with no border crossing into Columbia dodging military and police and continue until we somehow connected with a road on the Columbian side, instead of boxing bikes and flying north east to Cartagena, Columbia.
Ville and my handful of rest days in Santiago, Panama spent with old friend from Bend, Devin, and new friends, Kacie, Maria, and Yoxara, were awesome. Devin works in Panama for an NGO, Bridges to Prosperity (check out the article I wrote about his work HERE) and we were able to head out on the job with him to check out the great work he and his crew are doing building footbridges for communities cut off from the outside world when rivers flood. One of the nights we were there, Maria and Yoxara, both from Venezuela, cooked us all some Venezuelan food, arepas, and even got us cupcakes to celebrate our One Year on the Bike Ride! Thanks so much all of you for a great time.
When it was time to keep on, we rode an easy 35 mile day to stay in Aguadulce with a Peace Corp. girl, Vanessa. We were able to meet a fellow teaching friend of Vanessa's as well as a couple students and appreciated very much a shower and to crash inside and away from mosquitoes. Thanks again Vanessa for hosting us, come see us in Oregon. The following day we had no plan as to how far we would make it, but had a decently flat ride to San Carlos, where the skies opened up and it began pouring like it had never poured before and we made it into town and found a Bomberos (Fire Station) that allowed us to pitch our tent under cover for the night. Completely drenched, we rung out our clothes and quietly celebrated our 4 year wedding anniversary together reflecting on what a wild ride this last four years of marriage has been like!! Thanks for keeping things interesting Ville. :)
The next morning, the rains had subsided, and when we asked for a good place to get breakfast we were directed to a hamburger and hot dog stand at the corner. Not quite what we were looking for for breakfast, so we decided to push on and found a bakery complete with tons of fried food and white bread. Needing to get on the road, we downed a handful of croissants and fried meat pockets and headed down the road. As we started into our big climb for the day, the fried food was wreaking havoc with our stomachs and we rolled into La Chorrera packed with afternoon traffic and made our way out to David, another Peace Corp. volunteer's house. David got a bit held up in traffic himself and so we sat on, what we thought was David's porch, for 5 hours waiting for him and watched a giant lightning storm pass overhead. Luckily when David made it home, we were on the right porch and appreciated very much another shower and bed to crash in. Thanks David for the hospitality.
Having only 25ish miles into Panama City, we started early and hit an unbelievable amount of bumper-to-bumper traffic almost the entire way into the city. And it was even Saturday! As we crossed the infamous Bridge of the Americas, the bridge over the Panama Canal, Ville and I were yelling and cheering the entire way across we were so thrilled to be at this milestone, heading into Panama City and the end of North and Central America! We did it! And timing was perfect with it being Saturday we ran into the Saturday Cycling Group who close off a lane of a major road on the way into the city. Now we felt like royalty cruising on into the city skyline like bad asses on heavy steeds. We were pumped to be able to ride the Cinta Costera, walking/biking trail along the water front. Until it ended, and we were forced into the worst city riding we have been in yet trying to get to a bike shop, Latin Bikes. After confirming they had set aside 2 bike boxes, we had to backtrack almost 4 miles back to our super classy Hotel Latino.
We had stayed at Hotel Latino seven years prior after crewing on sailboats and remembered it being decent with a pool. Apparently the years had been unkind to Hotel Latino, and although it still had the pool, the neighborhood was a bit rough around the edges and the patrons were young partiers in the city for the weekend or ladies of the night with their "friends". We did get the chance to meet up with a Couchsurfing dude, Leonardo, who treated us to tasty pints at Buenas Pintas and took us to a place with traditional Panamanian food for dinner. In the morning, we met up again for breakfast for some more fried street food where we realized that fried everything (not exaggerating, EVERYTHING) is how the Panamanians do food. After, we checked out some of the city, rode the single line metro, and met up with an old friend, Juan Diego, whom we had met seven years prior in the San Blas Islands and had spent time with him and has family in Panama City. Juan Diego was now grown up, married and with his wife, Claudia, and little girl, Alejandra.
They picked us up and drove us around the islands outside the city and into the Old Town part of the city with cobble stone streets and beautiful architecture. A stark contrast to the giant skyscrapers, banks, and malls of the rest of the city. After, we ate at Crepes and Waffles (YUM) and Juan Diego helped us out big time working through our issue of how to get a cab big enough the next day to get our giant bike boxes and ourselves out to the airport. He was kind enough to offer to pick us up the next day from the bike shop after we would box the bikes there. So most of the entire next day was spent in the front of Latin Bikes (they had no room inside there shop with air conditioning), breaking down bikes and packing them into 2 bike boxes. Having had to do this for our flight to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska at the start of the ride, we had a better idea what we had to do, but these boxes were much smaller and we had to take apart a lot more of the bikes than before and had far less packing material this time. Juan Diego, as promised, picked us up even at rush hour and we drove out to the airport around 6 pm to wait out our flight for 5 am the next day. Thanks a million Juan Diego for saving our butts with the ride and taking the time to see us with your family!
We met a super nice American couple we chatted with for a while in the airport before making a fort out of our boxes and gear under a stairwell and tried to catch some zzzz's. When we went to check our bikes in for the flight, we were informed that even though Ville had done a bunch of research into an airline that allowed our bike boxes for free up to the certain weight we so carefully packed them to, they discontinued that sweet idea in April and now charged $107 USDollars EACH to get our bikes on the plane. DAMN YOU AVIANCA AIRLINES! We reminded ourselves of all the great things that always come our way, and sometimes you just can't win it all.
First flight got us to Bogota, Columbia where we had an 8 hour layover and plenty of time to sleep on chairs, the floor, people watch and stuff ourselves with tasty Columbian coffee and cheap desserts. Bogota Airport was far classier than Panama, and we both reflected on how ecstatic we were to be finally done with hot and rainy Central America and our least favorite country, Panama. Aside from our awesome American, Brazilian, Colombian, Venezuelan and Leonardo the one great Panamanian friend, Panama was deforested, roads were shit, traffic was horrible, most people were unfriendly, food was our least favorite (fried) and Panama City was the most dangerous, deadly city we had to ride through. Colombian people were smiling, talkative, kind, the food was tasty, shops had t-shirts with BICYCLES on them, and this was all just in the airport! Man were we glad to be in Columbia.
Our last flight was delayed, but we made it before dark and after some eyelash batting and compliment throwing, the security guard lady let us assemble the bikes in the corner of the air-conditioned baggage claim. The assembly went fairly quickly, but we discovered a fair amount of bangs and bruises from the stellar crew at Avianca Airlines and were really stressing when we had my rear tire deflate twice as we were frantically trying to get to our hotel by dark. We rolled into a totally sketchy neighborhood, where a really kind man informed us we should NOT be here at dark and helped us find our hotel. The hotel turned out to be very mediocre, but was a roof over our head with a handful of locked gates and doors, and a bed to sleep. Anxious to get out and see the sights tomorrow (still hoping to find a new water bladder hose, guess they aren't as easy to find as we thought and being that I use it all day every day, I need one) and then head out south and back on the road the day after. Thanks all for reading, Happy 4th of July and until next time, keep on keepin' on ya'll...
K.G. & Ville
In Huanaco, Peru. Battered, but still going south.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - Hunter S. Thompson
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