Moto Adventures

Monday, December 25, 2006

A continuing saga: Christmas in Panama

Entrance to the Miraflores locks

Japanese car hauler on the canal

A Great ride to Colon with friends Juan Carlos on a 1200 GS BMW and Manuel on a 950 SM KTM
and Ken on our 650 Vstrom Suzuki

Beautiful farming countryside on the Azuero peninsula

Too bad the street drainage goes into the bay

A beautiful view over the beach at the tip of the peninsula

Christmas in Panama City what an experience. Can you believe we spent the total day of December 24th in the mall. Walking around watching all the people buying those last minute gifts, happy we didn´t have to worry about it. We couldn´t get away too easy, we found an awesome deal on a camera. I´m sure it is the answer to all my problems downloading pictures onto the Blogsite, a little late but better than never. After an exhausting day of shopping we took in the new 007 movie ¨Casino Royale¨. Great movie, action packed. After dinner, a trip to the store to pick up a bottle of Xmas cheer, and to the phone to make a call or two to friends and family. With the day drawing to a close Ken and I, along with our travel buddies Kelly and Della, headed to the rooftop to watch the crazy Panamanian fireworks show. Every Juan, Pedro, and George was setting off fireworks in every which direction, including under a car directly beneath us. Crazy but fun.

Hah, Christmas day. We can sleep in, have quiet leisurely breakfast and go for a ride on Christmas snow! After a short distance we decided to stop for a walk and enjoy a little needed exercise before our big Christmas dinner. When what off in the distance do we hear??? That all too known sound of thunder! Within seconds, and I mean literally seconds, it is raining so hard cars are pulling because they can´t see where they are going. A quick look around and the only place to hide is under a huge tree, not a very safe place to be in a lightning storm but it will have to do. After 20 minutes or so we decided the rain was not going to let up and we had better salvage our new camera from the weather and ran back to the bike to stow it safely away. Us on the other hand was going to be bit harder as there are no building in site, only a bus parked on the side of the road behind us. Ken checked the door, yes it was open (actually half of it was missing) so we jumped in and wondered when the owner would return. Not too soon, if he was caught in the same storm as us. After about 30 minutes in the bus the owner did return and much to his surprise founddrowneddround rats inside. Nice man, let us stay for a while longer, until the rain letup a little. We were off the the hotel to find a hot shower and dry clothes. This trip would have been much faster had all the streets been open and not flooded, but Ken made his way around as best he could. Thank goodness it is Christmas day and the streets are much quieter than normal, it makes uturns much easier.

Christmas dinner, at last the moment we have been waiting for all day. We found an excellent buffet aMarriottarriot Hotel and we sat down for a feast. Turkey, ham, seafood and the fixins, even a glass of chilled white wine. All this for $70.00 for the two of us ( to us a deal, to a Panamanian...a weeks wages at least). We enjoyed and Della and Kellys company was great.

What a day. It was fun and to us Christmas is about friends and family, it was a great day!

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Panama City

Kuna Indians selling their colorful clothes, all hand stitched

Casco Viejo

Ken likes big boats

Panama city taken from Casco Viejo

Christmas time in the old city

We arrived in Panama City looking forward to a bit of an extended stay at Hotel Montreal, a little time to see the sights of the city while we arrange transport to Bogota Columbia, of ourselves and the bike. What we thought would take us about 5 days has ended up being just a tad longer, 17 days to be exact, because we can´t get a flight out until after Christmas. All fights are full. Seems a lot of people live in Panama and go home to Columbia for Christmas. Well there are worse places to get stuck.

As you might know Ken and I are not big city people, we enjoy more the quiet and friendly atmosphere of the countryside. Panama City with its 700,000 plus inhabitantsdefinitelyy falls into the rather large city category but we do seem to be enjoying all that this amazing city has to offer. The skyline of the city can be seen from afar as you come east into town, more skyscrapers than Vancouver, and as you get closer and cross the Bridge of the Americas over the Panama Canal you can make out the distinctly different parts of the city. Casco Viejo or the old city in the forgound and the dazzling new ultra modern city in the rear. Casco Viejo is a blast from the past with many of the buildings dating back into the late 1600´s. Many are dilapidateded and should be condemned but instead they are still occupied, meanwhile the city has put forward a full scale attempt to restore others and promote tourism in the area. There is a wide range of museums, restaurants, open air cafes and the largest market in Central America, with nearly 1 km of pedestrian only streets full of vendors and liquidators. Prices are said to be the cheapest here. Our walk through this seccion of town wore a bit of tread off the sneakers. I love to look but no room to buy.

The contrast in the old and new parts of the city is so great I often ask myself how a city can be a hub of international trade and banking, I have never seen so many bank in my life, and at the same time so carefree. How do so many businesses here survive on panama time.

The biggest and oldest business here ( beside the drug trade) is the Panama Canal and a visit to the Miraflores locks opened our eyes to what a construction marvel the canal really is. Built in a time when none of the modern machinery and technology that we have today was available. The 80 km long canal took over 10 years to build using more than 75,000 workers, many of which died from diseases like malaria. The canal has 2 sets of locks on the pacific side which use water to elevate the boats 26 meters to Gatun Lake where they can motor the 38 km across the continental divide to a last set of locks on the east coast which lover the boats back down to sea level and the Atlantic Ocean.

A few canal facts:

  • it takes 8-10 hours on average to traverse the panama canal
  • boats pay by weight and volume, the smalles toll was paid by Richard Hallibum who paid 36 cents to swim the canal, it took him 9 days
  • first crossing was on Aug. 15,1914
  • fasted transit was 2 hours 41 minutes by a USA Navy hydrofoil boat in 1979

Eating and drinking, a couple of our favorite past times. Like in most big cities there are many restaurants here offering any type of food you could think of, but we have distinctive Panama City fills that bill nicely. We have found a great little vegetarian place where we can both eat for about $3.50, they don´t serve a lot of vegies with meals down here so this is one of our favorites. (Sorry dad no bbq steaks or ribs only tofu). We also found a pizzeria that makes great freshly made pizza with real crust not cardboard, a little place owned by people from California. It´s not as inexpensive as other places but it is good, a compromise we are willing to make, and happy hour is always from 4:30 to 7:30. For our breakfast experience we are off to Rays Grocery for yogurt and fruit, and maybe a treat from their bakery. Brenda coffee in Panama is excellent, not a cup of nescafe to be found, expresso machines abound. Yeh!!!

At last I can get a regular workout, we are on the 7th floor and the stairs are the only way to go. From our room it is only one floor up to the rooftop pool. This is also a great place to view the comical driving habits of the Panamanians. What would they do without horns? We can´t quite figure them out, they honk when they want to turn, when they want to stop, when they want you to go or want you to turn, just to say hi or goodbye, what the heck gives!! But it sure makes driving interesting for Ken.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Costa Rica

We are always making new friends

View from our room at Arenal

Because Ken and I had been to Costa Rica before and enjoyed it very much we knew what we wanted to see, what we didn't and what we wanted to see again. The border crossing was easier than most and the bike was running without a glitch(hope I didn't just jinx that). We went back to Potrero (and stayed at the same hotel as last time, Brenda and Walter, it is now finished and great, 2 pools and a great breakfast of dry bread and jam with coffee and juice to wash it down with). Dengue fever was going around the area so we stayed only for three nights and moved on to the interior with hopes of seeing Volcano Arenal and we were in luck. We arrived with the skies clear and Arenal out in all it's glory, smoke and lava popping out the top. We got a cute little cabina just below the volcano and we layed in bed all night listening to the sound of rocks rolling down the side of the volcano and to the sight of the red lava flowing. Yes, that close and no, I didn't get much sleep. The next day called for a river tour on the Rio Negro in the north, lots of birds, caiman, and monkeys. The rain set in however the next day and that was it for Costa Rica, it didn't stop raining until we left and crossed the Panama border. We had big plans to go the east coast but the rain and a malaria outbreak changed our minds. We wanted to do a little hiking in the rain forests (unfortunately our rubber boots didn't fit on the bike)oh well next time. We did happen to see a flock of scarlet macaws and several tucans which was a real treat, they just don´t look real.
Looking forward to Panama and drier weather.