31 May 2012

CYCLING PANAMA


18 April - Puerto Obaldia 

As soon as the immigration office opened we were there and, after a long wait, we eventually got stamped into Panama. Puerto Obaldia is a small military post and there is very little to do. We soon met Simon, from Italy, who is travelling by 50cc motorbike from Ushuaia to Alaska (he has already set a new record for distance on a 50cc). He had been stuck there for a couple of days looking for a boat. There was a small wooden cargo boat (the Rey Emmanuel) anchored in the bay, and eventually we found the captain drinking in the local cantina. It was time for us to negotiate as we didn’t have enough money left for the trip. Captain Martsialle offered us a fair price ($80 each), which we could pay at the end (we understood there was an ATM about 50 km from where the boat would take us). We were not allowed to cook on the boat which was going to be a bit of a problem, so we decided to buy tinned food, as well as stuff that we hoped to be able to cook whenever the boat docked along the way.

Off we went to the shop in search of food for the trip. There was a rather limited supply of tinned stuff in the tiny shop, but we bought a few things and hoped that we would moor somewhere where we could find more food. The trip was going to take between 3 and 6 days and would only take us to Miramar, a small village up the coast where the road starts.

As the boat was anchored in the bay, we had to find a lancha to row us out to the boat the following morning. According to the captain, the boat would sail at 9 a.m, so we arranged for the lancha to ferry us there at 6.30.

19 April  
The following morning early we were at the jetty, but were told that the captain was NOT leaving that day. We continued sitting around, laughing at the madness of it all. Nine o´clock came and went, and still we were sitting, hoping that something would crop up. Then, in a sudden rush of urgency, the captain appeared and told us he was leaving. We quickly got the two bikes, motorbike, bags and ourselves onto a lancha and paddled out to the boat. Besides the crew, also on the boat were Ernest and myself, Simon, Matthias form Uruguay, a Colombian guy and a lady from Colombia on her way to visit family in Miramar. There wasn’t much space on the boat for passengers, and the crew weren’t particularly friendly towards us.

Finally we set off. The boat was small and unstable, and she rocked and she rolled over the big swells – we had to hang on, tooth and nail, in order not to be flung overboard. There was little else to do but find a spot to wedge yourself into, and lie down. There was no chance of walking around, and due to the noise from the diesel engine, it was not even possible to have a conversation.

After about three hours of sailing, we spotted the first of the San Blas islands. 366 islands in total, and once we were amongst the islands, the sailing was much smoother. It was still not possible to walk about or chat. We stopped at two island villages to pick up empty gas cylinders and to empty crates of cool drink bottles. The captain must have relented on meals as we were given lunch (rice with chicken wings and feet). By 4 p.m. we reached yet another little island village, where we moored for the night. Soon we were given supper, consisting of cooked bananas, cassava and salted pork, or rather, just pork fat.

There were three other boats moored along the small jetty, and it seemed that everyone knew one another. Soon it was dark and we all settled in, crew in hammocks and passengers on the hard wooden slats of the boat deck.

20 April  
Our first morning arrived and we pulled out of the little harbour at around 6 a.m. Again we stopped at a small island village, picked up the necessary goods and were given a breakfast of boiled banana and chicken. We were pretty happy about them giving us food, as there appeared to be no shops on these tiny islands. The tins of “Pork & Beans” that we had purchased also turned out to be more beans than pork, in a very watery, tomato juice – it was quite gross! Gross or not, we had quite a few of these tins to work through. Soon after we left, the crew caught a nice big fish and I was sure that it was going to be our lunch.

The inhabited islands were packed “wall to wall” with reed and palm-thatch shacks, where people wore traditional clothes and were extremely short. We slowly putt-putted between the tiny islands of the San Blas. We stopped numerous times to load up empty crates and gas cylinders, as well as to collect outstanding money. We could not have covered very much distance before we reached our overnight stop. Sure thing – supper consisted of rice and fried fish, which was much more edible than the salted pork fat. Life in the San Blas is slow, and with no electricity, you go to bed as soon as it gets dark, and you wake at sunrise. It all made for a rather long night on the uncomfortable deck.

21 April  
Day 3 and we were on our way even earlier than the previous day. At the first island stop we were given breakfast: boiled banana and salty pork fat!  I’m not ungrateful, but truly, I could not eat that. The crew, however, seemed delighted with their breakfast. Fortunately, we still had a few stale rolls and half a jar of peanut butter, and of course the famous “Pork & Beans” (without pork).

After loading we left and passed numerous small islands with coconut palms and white sandy beaches. It looked idyllic, coupled with the fact that the water is so clear that you can see fish swimming even in the deeper water - it is close to paradise. The local Kuna people are quite shy and don’t like to be photographed. I did, however, manage to steal a shot or two. Small kids run around naked and row about in their wooden dug-out canoes, seemingly before they can even walk.

It was getting increasingly hot during the day; it wasn’t too bad while we were sailing, but as soon as we moored, the heat sent everyone running for a shady spot. We loaded on and loaded off, sailed to the next island and did the same again. We always seemed to have lunch when moored; a good thing too, as the boat rocked far too much to be able to cook or eat. Lunch was rice, beans and liver – I happily gave my liver to Ernest and ate the rice and beans. By evening we reached a fairly big island (about 500m x 800m), anchored for the night and sat watching the local teams playing basketball. With the Kuna people being so tiny, is a good thing they play each other. Supper consisted of boiled banana and fried fish. We sat around the square until there was nothing more to do but crawl in and try and get as comfortable as possible, while lying listening to the snoring and farting of the crew in their hammocks above.

22 April
We stayed moored for the day as the captain apparently had some business to attend to, but I never saw him doing anything but lie in his hammock, or sit in a chair on the dock, drinking beer. At least breakfast was slightly different being boiled banana and tinned meat (spam). There was a small branch of the Bank of Panama (closed on Sunday), but someone said that there is an ATM inside. We decided to give it a try in the morning.

We walked around the island a few times, but it was so small that it took no time at all to crisscross it. It rained on and off for most of the day, and the local kids loved it, playing endlessly in the puddles, and never seeming to tire. Each and every island seems to have a central basketball court where everyone gathers. The courts apppear to be well-used, and most of the time, various games of basketball and football are played at the same time.

23 April  
We were up early to catch the bank as soon as it opened. We rushed over in the pouring rain, just to find that there was no ATM inside. We were getting used to getting the wrong information. So tail between the legs and empty-handed, we returned to the boat to eat our breakfast of fish and boiled banana.

Instead of setting off again that morning as planned, we sat around endlessly waiting for something to happen. It never stopped raining all day. The cook boiled up some crabs for lunch, which we ate with rice (I found the rice far more appealing than the crab). Everyone seemed to be delighted with their lunch, except me.

It was 3 p.m when we finally left. We sailed for about 2.5 hours before stopping at another tiny island for the night. Again, supper was rice with tinned sardines this time! We were, by this time, sitting around fantasizing about pizzas, wine, coffee and whatever people could think of. The weather turned absolutely foul, with a strong wind and bucketing rain. The boat rocked and rolled, and the crew were swinging wildly in their hammocks (some eventually opted for the floor). Simon slept out on the dock, but the rain drove him back onto the boat.

24 April  
With the canvas rolled down to keep the rain out, we slept late and it must have been around 7 a.m before our unfriendly crew started moving about. The boat seemed to be out of coffee for days now, but they must have found a wee bit stashed away somewhere as there was a sip of coffee before breakfast. Then, in a sudden spurt of urgency, the engines got started and in no time we were untied from the quay, nearly leaving Matthias and the Colombian guy behind (they had camped ashore).

Again we sailed off to the next island, where the captain collected outstanding money and we ate our breakfast. This was also to be our last stop before a straight 6 hour sail to Miramar. We had all had just about enough of that boat by then and could not wait for the trip to be over. As soon as we left the San Blas islands and hit the open ocean, the weather deteriorated and at times I feared that our tiny boat was not going to make the final stretch. She rolled and she pitched, and whatever was not lashed down, came flying across the deck!  Again, we were hanging on for dear life. There was little to do but wedge yourself in between the cargo and hope for the best. It rained so hard that the engine noise was almost drowned out, and visibility was down to only a few metres.

Finally, and to everyone’s relief, we arrived in Miramar in the late afternoon. We could not have been happier to be off that boat. We went in search of a cheap room, and found one in the village. Ernest and myself in one room and Simon, Matthias and the Colombian guy in the other room. It was fairly basic but I think all were happy to be on a mattress of sorts, and to at least have a shower!

By this time, no one had any money left, and I mean zero money, so Ernest cooked up some pasta that we mixed with the infamous “Pork & Beans without the pork”. Matthias also threw in his last few tins, and it was, in the end, quite a big pot of food.

25 April - Miramar – Portobelo - 44km
Early morning Simon gave Ernest a lift on his 50cc motorbike to the ATM at Portobelo, which was about 45 km away. We still had to pay for the boat trip, and the captain had kept one bike on the boat as ransom!  We also had to pay Matthias back for the room, which he had kindly paid for the previous night.

This was all easier said than done. The front tyre of the motorbike had a large hole in it, so Simon had glued a piece of old inner tube over the hole. I had my doubts as to whether it was going to last the 45 km. Soon after they had left, unexpectedly the Colombian guy hurriedly caught a bus to Panama City, and Matthias and I waited for Simon and Ernest to arrive back.

They got back all smiles, and although Simon hadn’t been able to get any money in Portobelo, at least Ernest and I now had money to pay for the trip, and I could get my bike out of the pound. To his dismay, Simon discovered that his very expensive Canon camera and lens had disappeared from his bag in their room while he had been away!  He straightaway reported it to the local police, but there was little they could do. Eventually we saddled up and headed down the very lush and forested road in the direction of Portobelo. The road was fairly good, but there were lots of very steep little uphills. However, we still reached Portobelo in good time. I was quite surprised to find a tiny but interesting village, with remains of an old castle and fort. There were also many foreign sailing yachts anchored in the bay. We first enquired at the famous Captain Jacks for a room, but at $11 per dorm bed, it was a bit pricey. So we looked elsewhere and found a room at Hospedaje La Aduana on the square for $13. Although not the cleanest of rooms, with mice nibbling at our food bags during the night, it was not that bad and had a big balcony where we could sit and people-watch.

26-27 April - Portobelo - Colon - 44 km 
I awoke with a seriously upset stomach - it felt as though I had dined from a garbage truck the previous night! Despite this, we packed up and left Portobelo, cycling along the very scenic coastal road.
Unfortunately my camera was playing up and, as I had heard that Colon is a free trade zone, we decided to turn off to Colon to see if there were any bargains to be found. We had been warned that Colon was a nasty place and very dangerous. We found some quite friendly people in the city (all warning us about the dangers), ready to help us find a safe place for the night. We found a very nice hotel and straight away went to the free trade zone. It seemed to be more of a money-making area, and not really a place to pick up a good deal. I looked around but could not see cameras I liked at a reasonable price. So all I could do was try and have mine fixed.

The following day we did our laundry and sorted out some internet stuff that was, by then, long overdue. Although Colon is situated close to the Panama Canal, I never saw it.

28-30 April - Colon – Panama City - 90 km 
Panama is a small country and we cycled across the country to Panama City on the Pacific side. It was not a bad ride, a bit hilly, but no rain. We cycled into Panama City and found a sprawling, cosmopolitan city. It is the centre for international banking and trade in Panama; it therefore sports a modern skyline of glass and steel towers.

We cycled around looking for a cheap room, but we were clearly in the wrong area, with international hotels of the likes of Le Meridian, The Radisson and the Continental. In the end, we found a more reasonably-priced room for the night.

The following day we packed up and went looking for a cheaper room. In the process, we cycled through the old city and on to the famous Panama Canal. Panama City is located at the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal, but the canal is not half as interesting as the Suez Canal. They even make you pay to see it!

The interesting part about Panama is that sunrise is approx. 6:20 a.m and sunset is approx. 6:20 p.m, every day, year round. It is no wonder that it has been among the top five places for retirement in the world.

Sadly, my camera then packed up completely, and I went in search of a new camera, or at least a place to fix mine, but unfortunately it was Sunday so most places were closed. The following day turned out to be a public holiday, so once again I got little done.

1-2 May - Panama City 
Off to the shops I went again, back and forth between the large shopping centres, firstly looking for a place to fix the camera, and secondly to check on prices for a new one. I found both, handed in my camera to be repaired, but then went totally wild and bought myself a new Canon Rebel as well!  Deed done!

I also spotted a rather nice bike shop and took my bike in for a service. Then it was back to the room to play with my new toy.

2 May - Panama City 
The old city of Panama, known as Casco Viejo, has an interesting history. The city was a major trading post for oriental silks and spices. Being a rich city, it was the envy of many pirates. In 1671, the city was ransacked and destroyed by the Welsh pirate, Sir Henry Morgan, leaving only the stone ruins of Panama Viejo. Today the area consists of crumbling buildings with narrow lanes, forming part of a high-density slum. Although it´s said to be an unsafe area, the only danger I encountered was the missing drain covers.

3-4 May - Panama City 
Panama is also a confusing country, direction wise. Due to its ‘S’ shape North, South, East and West are never where I expect them to be. In Panama City, the sun rises over the Pacific Ocean and sets over the Atlantic Ocean – this surely must be the only place in the world where that happens. Take a good look at a map of Panama. The canal runs roughly north to south (not east to west, as I thought). Thus Panama is one of those places where you can see the sun rise over the Pacific and set over the Atlantic. Weird!

5 May - Panama City – Chepo - 73km
It was time to pack up and leave Panama City. Seeing that we had 20 days before I could pick up the camera,we decided to first head down to the Darien and see what it was all about. Not only remote, the unsurpassablejungle of the Panamanian Darien Region has a reputation for danger (drug traffickers and Columbian rebels). We decided to head in that direction anyway, mostly because it is one of the most remote places on earth where one can go.

It was 11 a.m. before we finally left and got on the road. Nearly the entire way was built up and it was only after about 50km that we finally got into the country side. As we cycled into Chepo we met a Mr. Singh who lived in South Africa for 5 years. He now runs the Pizza King and no sooner had we off-loaded out panniers, and Mr. Singh arrived with a pizza. I must admit that it was absolutely delicious. Afterwards we went to visit him in his shop and had some coffee and cake while chatting about his life in South Africa.

6 May - Chepo – settlement 60km
We were woken by Mr. Singh who invited us for breakfast. We scurried across the road and had a good old chat and some breakfast. Then it was time to say goodbye and we got back on the road. No sooner had we left or it started bucketing down. We took shelter waiting for the worst to pass and then headed down the road again. To our surprise the paved road came to an end and we found ourselves on a muddy and potholed road, again.

We battled along the muddy and sometimes gravelly road until finally we were back on a paved road. At around5 p.m. we reached a tiny settlement and decided to camp at the local Kantina. Now the local Kantina does not make for the most peaceful place to sleep. Music was blearing and people were rather noisy; I just hoped that no one would fall on my tent. We were covered in mud but there was little privacy to wash so I just crawled in, muddy feet and all.

7 May - settlement -Torti - 38km
One seems to go through stages of things breaking. This seems to be the tent-pole-breaking-stage, as in one night both Ernest and I suffered broken tent poles. Luckily duct tape, cable ties, and the odd hacksaw blade comes in very handy. Again it was rather late before we got on the road. We cycled past tiny unmapped settlements with thatched huts and indigenous people going about their business. However, the amount of deforestation in the area is rather sad.

We soon reached Torti. Ernest spotted a hotel and we went in to enquire. The price was very reasonable and I was in desperate need of a shower. As the room came with hot water I made use of the opportunity to do my laundry as well. This is also an area where most people seem to travel by horseback and in Torti we found the saddle makers, making the most beautiful saddles.

8 May - Torti – Meteti - 77km
The road seemed to deteriorate even more after we entered the Darien province. It was however a stunning cycle as the road ran through the forest. We were stopped by police a few times and they even searched our bags at one police post. I´m not sure what exactly they were looking for.

I could not believe that I got bitten again by ants and it appears that I have now developed a slight reaction to ant bites. I immediately started itching under my arm pits and it burnt like hell. It seems to get worse every time it happens………..very strange.

We reached Meteti early and fortunately just before the rain came down. It rained so hard that we could not even hear each other.

9 May - Meteti – Javisa - 54km
It was not only terribly hot but also very humid. As is the case with any good jungle road, it was not without a hill or two. We reached the small village of Yaviza, where the road came to a grinding halt.  The town marks the end of the Pan American Highway, and the start of the Darien Gap. We were under the impression that we could take a boat from Yavisa to La Palma, but it appears not!  We will now have to backtrack 80km to get a boat from there.

10 May - Javisa –Meteti - 55km
It was not so bad backtracking as we escaped the rain and it was a stunning day on the road. We stopped atvarious times for a cooldrink, and at one small stall were given a pineapple, avocados, mangoes and some strange unknown fruit. They wanted no money for it and with our bags loaded we continued down the road.
We soon reached Meteti and instead of going on we found ourselves a room for the night.

11 May - Meteti – La Palma via Puerto  Quimba - 20km
We left Meteti at leisure and cycled the short distance on a rather hilly and gravelly road to Puerto Quimba. The area was as beautiful as it was remote; at times it was so quiet that the forest noises sounded ear deafening. Once in Puerto Quimba it was easy to find a boat to La Palma. It was a short distance and it only took about 30minutes to get to La Palma.

La Palma is the capital of the Darien Province. Strange, as it is not reachable by road and only consists of a fewcolourful houses on stilts. La Palma only has one street along a muddy river front, and besides the few shops, bars and restaurants lining the only street, there is truly nothing else. Our stilted accommodation was rather rickety and one could not only hear the water sloshing underneath but also see it through the floorboards.

12 May - La Palma – Sambu - By boat
Initial info was that the first boat to Sambu was only on Monday (2 days), but at the slipway we got the impression that there may be a boat some time that day. I read somewhere that the service here is as slow as molasses and I can’t think of a better description. We hung around the area, watching boats come and go, and eventually we loaded up on an open speedboat, bikes and all. We flew across the Gulf de San Miguel at breakneck speed while brown pelicans and shearwaters drifted effortlessly above us. The Gulf was quite scenic and peppered with islands.

We turned up the River Sambu and after about 2 hours arrived at the little settlement of Sambu, home to the Embera and Cimarrones (people of African descent whose ancestors escaped the slave trade by living in the jungle). Sambu is situated deep in the jungle and I would not even have spotted it from the water if we didn´t get off the boat there.

Although it was a rather tiny settlement it is considered substantial for the Darien as it had a pay phone, landing strip, clinic, and school. The center of town is a large shady mango tree where everyone gathers. In the event of wanting to reach anyone in the village by phone, the pay phone is the number to dial and someone will answer. The landing strip, being the only paved road in the village, is the place where kids ride their bikes and lovers take a stroll in the evening. We sat on our little veranda overlooking all the action and I was quite happy just to sit there. Watching the activities, I once again realised that although the Embera people live in reeded houses on high stilts, cook on open fires and wear traditional clothes, they are no different from the people where I come from.

13 May - Sambu
Early morning I took a walk through the village and down to the river where people bathed. It was rather interesting to watch the village folk go about their business. We started enquiring about our boat and the answer was that yes, it may arrive, maybe today, maybe tomorrow. It did however arrive and at first I was quite shocked at the state of the old rust bucket. I wondered whether it would make it on the open seas all the way to Panama City. I was also rather concerned about how I was going to get myself, bags and bike up ontothat narrow plank and onto the deck. We were however told that the Doña-Dora was only leaving the following day. The reason for the delayed departure soon became apparentas the tide went out, the ship was soon sitting firmly on the muddy river bed. At least we knew it was not leaving without us.

We took another stroll through the village and were invited into one of the homes. I was surprised as it was quite spacious and airy. It is however interesting that they cook on an open wood fire even inside. A concrete slab was placed in the one corner and that was where all the cooking was done. I also bought a local wrap-around skirt from the lady and felt that I blended in much better (ha-ha, not that I will ever blend in at all!). There are not many shops around the village and every now and again someone pushing a wheelbarrow would come past selling whatever they had. Fish, cucumbers, even a cow´s head, and later the shrimp man arrived. We bought a bag full of shrimp tails and Ernest cooked it, but he probably ate too much of it as he was terribly sick that night. I sat on our balcony watching a display of lightning in the distance and listening to the sounds of the forest.

14 May - Sambu
I was getting used to the slow jungle pace and when we were told that the boat was only going to leave at 10p.m. we took it in our stride!  It rained for most of the day so there was little else to do but sit on our balcony watching the Embara people paddle their dugout canoes.

Each household also seemed to have a few chickens and they are by far the ugliest chickens I have ever seen. Fish seemed to be the staple diet in the jungle. Riverside living makes for easy fishing, even if it is only catfish. Rice, beans, bananas, mangoes and avocados seems to accompany any meal.

Soon it was time to head back to the Doña-Dora. It was a bit of a balancing act to get our stuff and ourselvesonto the boat. Once on the boat we found tiny little wooden cabins – 6 bunks to a cabin, leaving little headroom or space. Most of the bunks were broken so not all bunks could be used. Our fellow passengers were rather interesting, travelling with live lizards in hessian bags, parrots in boxes and buckets of fresh seafood for family and friends in the big city.

15 May - Sambu –Panama City - By boat
The following morning we anchored in the gulf off the village of Geruchine, where the local launches came out to meet our boat. They loaded us up with lots of huge fish, empty drink crates, gas cylinders and more passengers. Getting on board was a tricky affair as the small panga boats came alongside and passengers had to be pushed and shoved onto the Doña-Dora. Once we cleared the Gulf de San Miguel we were in the open Pacific Ocean, sailing smoothly along while watching dolphins and flying fish. It was the first time in my life I saw flying fish and I was ecstatic as this was not even the South China Sea!  Brown pelicans followed in our wake, diving for food, while shearwaters soared about.

We were served food, based on the local staples of boiled bananas, and rice and beans. The cook was much better than on the previous boat (at least there was no chicken feet or salted pork fat).

At around midnight we slowly cruised into Panama Bay. We anchored in the Bay, and after coming from the jungle the night view of the towering city lights was quite spectacular. We slept on the rocking boat, as we had to wait until high tide the following day before we could dock.

16 - 19 May Panama City
We woke on our rocking boat and I could hardly believe that the Doña-Dora made it all the way to Panama City. We sat watching the city skyline from a completely different anglewaiting for midday and high tide to go ontothe pier. We were served breakfast and lunch on the boat again, and as the other passengers had gradually left for shore by small launches, the food on the boat got better. At high tide there was a bit of a swell, and it was tricky getting our bikes and things off the boat while it was bashing back and forth against the dock. I was more than ready to finally get off the boat and be on my way again. We had some business to do in the city, so once we were off the boat we headed for a reasonable room for a much needed shower.  There was a big supermarket close by, so we had something very different from boat food for supper.

20 May - Panama City – Capira - 55km
We finally left Panama City via the Bridge of the Americas, a road bridge, which spans the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. I could not cycle over this bridge without snapping one of the container ships coming into the canal.

We cycled a good but hilly road. It was, as usual, hot and humid so we stopped often to fill up with water.
We soon reached Capira, a rural town in the Cermeno Mountains. Capira is a typical Spanish Colonial type town originally centered around a central church plaza. We found a room with a balcony and sat watching the rolling hills around the town.

21 May - Capira – Anton - 79km
We pushed on along the Pan-American Highway. It’s very much the only road heading to Costa Rica from here; it was therefore not strange that we met other cyclists along the way. The last time we cycled along this highway was in Chili many moons ago. It’s never very interesting along a highway so it was a fairly uneventful day.

22 May - Anton – Aquadulce - 73km
Early morning a truck driver stopped and offered me a cycling helmet. He told us that it is a busy and dangerous road with many trucks and therefore safer to wear a helmet. What a kind man. Again we met other cyclistsheading to Panama City and the end of their cycling journey. The road flattened out and it was easy cycling for most of the day. We encountered some rain but fortunately it soon cleared up and we had a good ride to Aquadulce, a small village along the way, where we found a good room for the night.

23 May - Aquadulce – Santiago - 58km
Central Panama is located between the continental divide and the Pacific; the area is sparsely populated and dotted with farms and ranches. Ranchers herd their cattle by horseback, something which is always a pleasure to watch.

24 May– Santiago -
I managed to find a public phone that worked and after confirming that my camera would be ready the next day, we decided to stay put and first pick up the camera before moving on.

25 May– Santiago -
Early morning I took a bus to Panama City, picked up the camera and jumped on a bus back to Santiago. The whole process took the entire day and I only arrived back after dark. At least I had my old trusted Panasonic back again.

26 May - Santiago – Los Ruices - 64km
It was a much harder day than expected. It was an incredibly hot, humid and hilly day on the road. The going was slow and we crept up the hills at snails’ pace. The sweat ran down my face and I watched it dropping on the tarmac. Around mid-day I started feeling faint and nauseous but continued on as there is little else one can do. Around 4 p.m. we reached a tiny settlement and found an abandoned restaurant with a nice little veranda where we could camp. At the back we found a laundry trough with running water, which was a bonus.

Ernest cooked some food and I was in bed early.

27 May - Los Ruices - San Feliz - 58km
We tried to get away early but after packing up Ernest found a broken spoke on his bike and after fixing that it was fairly late again. There was no escaping the heat and I keenly looked at the sky wishing that we would get some rain. It was, however, another rainless day but the road seemed to have reached a high point as it felt that we were going downhill more than up.

I must admit that it was a beautiful ride through the hills and highlands. High up in the mountains we found the Guaymi tribe. The Guaymi women make traditional crafts, both for their own use and their families', and also to sell as an extra income. These include handmade bags from plant fibers called "kra" in their language, colourfuldresses called "nagua" and beaded bracelets and necklaces. The men of the Guaymi have a tradition of weaving hats from plant fibers.

When the Spanish arrived in Panama they found three distinct Guaymi tribes in what is todays’ western Panama; each was named after its chief and each spoke a different language. The chiefs were Nata, Parita and the greatest chief Urraca. Urraca became famous by defeating the Spaniards, and forced the Spanish to sign a peace treaty in 1522. Urraca was nonetheless betrayed and captured but he escaped and made his way back to the mountains, vowing to fight the Spaniards unto death, a vow which he fulfilled. Urraca was so feared by the Spaniards that they avoided combat with his men. When Urraca died in 1531 he was still a free man.

Today some Guaymi still choose to live secluded lives away from modern society and with little facilities.   

28/29 May - San Felix – David - 84km
Again it was a blistering hot, cloudless day. Fortunately we did not encounter as many hills as expected. Unfortunately the road deteriorated and the shoulder just about disappeared altogether. I was fairly tired by the time we reach David.

We headed for the centre of town looking for a room. In the centre we found the Parque Cervantes surrounded by local vendors selling anything from clothing to local fruit juices (but mainly lottery tickets). We also found a rather pricy room but I could not care less as all I wanted to do was have a shower and a lie-down.

We also stayed the following day as it was time to do the dreaded laundry again.

30 May - David, Panama – Paso Canoas, Costa Rica - 55km
We left at leisure and found that the road had levelled out making for an easy ride, past plenty fruit stalls to the Panama/Costa Rica border. The border crossing went as smooth as silk and they did not even give us a second look; just stamped us in and that was that. There were plenty of duty free shops so we went looking for bargains, but found that (as usual) there were no bargains to be had. In fact it was a typical border town packed with trucks and busses, doggy looking money changers and food stalls. We decided to stay the night and continue on in the morning.