Ciudad Neily — Panama Border — Vulcan — Las Lajas —Cerro Redondo — Aguadulce — Farallon — La Chorrera — Panama City — Portobelo
We left you – on the edge of your seat… – here waxing lyrical about the beautiful Costa Rica and we’d love to continue the theme but well, we couldn’t possibly without first mentioning the CR > Panama Border Crossing 🙄. Now, I know it’s probably the designer in me who could write an essay on the essential nature of good wayfinding, but hey, that’s not necessary here – it’s JUST signage! HOWEVER, Central American borders seem to love the personal touch, there’s no signs – you just have to ask… in your ‘finest’ Spanish. And it’s not just once. You constantly have to ask where you need to go next – *hint* usually over the road to pay some other tax.
Ok, rant over. So anyway, YAY we’re in Panama! And on the famous Pan-American Highway, love it or hate it, it gets you to where you want to go (ie. through the Americas…) efficiently. Actually, for this section we weren’t on it too long as we headed north (and up) to Vulcan to meet and stay with Simon. I’d met Simon in the Indian Himalayas in 2014 doing the 100 mile stage race & Everest marathon – how I ever ran more than 30 minutes is beyond me at the moment… he’s been living and dog-sitting in Panama for the last year and was fully prepared for two hungry, sweaty and tired cyclists to descend – luckily for us!
We rocked up in our usual red-faced and sweaty state and were greeted with dogs (five, yay!), beers and a dip in the river at the end of the ‘garden’. The house and grounds were incredible, we spent days just lounging by the river, cooked up many a storm and we even had a ‘movie night’ – such a treat, we’ve not had that for MONTHS! Five days of great chat, amazing food and many bottles of wine later and the time came when we had to say our goodbyes to Si and the dogs to get back on the bikes, and back on the Pan-American.
There’s really not much to say about the Highway through Panama, it takes you through various towns and cities with a huge shoulder to ride on and occasionally the odd cycle path – although these often end with NO warning. The scenery through Panama was still pretty special — we were expecting it to be flat and to not see too much from the road but actually it was perfect. Yes it’s still a busy road, with lots of (friendly) trucks and I’m sure we missed a LOT of what Panama has to offer but we were on our way to the big City, Panama City for a date with a boat.
It took us a few days to get to PC, we stayed with some lovely bomberoes, camped on a Swiss couple’s land and temporarily adopted their dogs (who followed us along the road for miles, meaning we had to turn back, twice, much to Edwards’ joy…), stayed in a lovely hostel in the random coastal town of Farallon (an all-inclusive ‘luxury’ Gringo-town), and then finally in the absolute arse-end-of-the-world-type town, Chorrera. Seriously, just don’t go there. We bought lunch and Snickers and hid in the hotel for the rest of the afternoon.
We were apprehensive about approaching Panama City — the largest city in Panama and the richest in Central America — however we’d done our research and AGAIN managed to hit it on a Sunday, when all the major roads are closed to cars to the delight of cyclists and runners everywhere (Bristol – why aren’t you doing this?!)! Anyway, we still had to tackle The Bridge of the Americas to get there and so slightly nervous, hot and sweaty we made our approach. And were promptly joined by our own police escort ensuring that cars gave us LOADS of room when overtaking… whoop!
In Panama City we stayed in THE BEST HOSTEL (so far) of our trip – it was like something from a Wes Anderson film! Actually, that could be said of much of Casco Viejo – the historic district of PC – so many pastels, so little time…! We stayed a couple of nights (Simon joined us for one!) and did lots of touristy things including visiting the Panama Canal – on the bikes, getting lost/stressed/stuck in rush hour on the way there.
We hadn’t realised/thought about it but the ride to Panama City was our last big chunk of riding for a while. We left the city on a lovely 100km day ride to Portobelo where we made the (now not uncommon) mistake of booking into the first hospedaje we saw (we booked into a hostel the following night). Racing a storm we were in Portobelo to meet the boat and our new friends that we’d be crossing into Colombia, South America with… more on that here!