Goodbye Costa Rica…we’re finally escaping, having become regulars at Tranquilo Backpackers – and boy does it feel good to be biking properly again! The two week break was most welcome…but I think part of the fun is riding through places that you’re probably never going to see again – and leaving them behind..!
Out of San Jose after a complicated morning fixing punctures and we’re on a twisty, climbing section of the CA1 heading south from the capital. Increasing altitude (and misplaced alarm boxes) not only played havoc with the air intakes on the bikes, leaving them wheezing and struggling up the grinding hills – but meant zipping our inners back into the bike jackets in an attempt to keep warm as we chugged up the mist-wreathed pass over the mountains at about 2000m. Waterproofs were broken out as the tropical rain started falling…and kept falling…and falling…although after the initial drenching, it’s not possible to get any wetter! Ploughing into Golfito in the dark, totally soaked, we found a hotel, did our usual job of turning the room into a gas chamber and prepared for a border bid the next day.
Delightful weather saw us to the Panamanian border, where $10 guides towed us from booth to window and back again in a blizzard of paperwork and official stamps. The border offices had just moved to a purpose-built facility – which sounds great but in reality meant that everything was written on old-school typewriters. Great. The border was pretty straightforward – although we were stopped by the customs guys three miles down the road because the cretin in the vehicle import office had managed to mis-spell Will’s numberplate – as soon as we started with Spanish I knew having a V that sounded like a B would cause problems!
Documents straightened out (suprisingly quickly – must have been Matt’s fluent Spanish) we carried on through Panama, greeted by a couple of brief showers along the way, and stopped at a beachside hotel in Santa Clara, about 100km short of Panama City, for the night…$40 for a cabana 10 metres from the surf…lovely 🙂 Plans for the following day were cobbled together over dinner and beer – local beer is Atlas and Balboa (both pretty good) – we decided to head straight to the airport to arrange bike shipping to Bogota when we arrived in Panama City. This meant re-packing the gear the next morning, as the panniers ship with the bikes, to make sure we had the essentials with us until we saw the bikes in Bogota.
Waking to some truly, truly abominable Spanish pop wailing from the nearby restaurant the next day, we re-packed our gear and rode off towards Panama City, busy with rule-of-thumb petrol calculations to make sure we had just enough to get us to the shipping company – we knew we’d have to drain the tanks before the bikes could be flown out. The GPS got us a little lost on the way in, but we soon sorted that out and arrived at the shipping terminal after an educational ride through dodgy slum areas around the airport.
Shipping the bikes proved remarkably easy – "We have two bikes to ship to Bogota please" – "Ok – disconnect the battery, drain the fuel tank, pay us $400 and you’ll see the bikes in Quito" – "QUITO!?" – "Sorry, Bogota" – "Err…cool…gracias..!" – hard to imagine it being that simple in the UK!
Blagging a lift back to a taxi terminal with ‘the boss’ proved entertaining – we hadn’t imagined that being chased down by Panamanian Customs was part of the deal – as we ended up in the worst taxi ever. It’s hard to describe how bad this taxi actually was…the main issue (here comes the science bit) was the fact that the rear left shock absorber and spring were conspicuous by their absence – rather they were present but doing slightly less than a Spaniard at midday in terms of controlling the car. The upside of this slight deficiency was the fact that the front right tyre was relieved of duty about 50% of the time as the car crunched and rocked diagonally across every lump and pothole (and there were many) on the way to Panama City centre. Neither of us had been in a car where the predominant sense of motion was more akin to a corkscrewing dinghy than a road-going vehicle.
Covered in cold sweat we eventually clambered out of the taxi, having discovered religion several times along the way, found a net cafe, booked passenger flights out to Bogota, found a hostel and then got towed around Panama City until 4am by the owner of the hostel – excellent!