Category Panama

Lucinda’s big adventure

I’ve been out of town for a week and returned to Panama City Monday evening.

In anticipation of 6 months of infrastructural deprivation I’ve been getting lots done. Like seeing the dentist! I lost a filling. Now this isn’t something you see on every ride report so let’s do the detail. I should have run a video of the drilling for you but didn’t think of it.

Chat first. Where are you from? I’ve been to Toronto! Frio! 

Xrays in seconds

Drill and fill. wiiingwiiiing,veeeez,veeeez,wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing

Professional. The bill? $40. If you took an errant hockey puck in Vancouver, just fly down to Panama City and save time, money and spin.

So, was that interesting? A good thing I don’t post to the big ride sites.

Yesterday morning I went to pick up Lucinda from Panama City BMW. New tires (Heidenaus again, only because I need durability for the next while), oil and filters, potentiometer replacement. The new potentiometer sent down from the LA dealer didn’t fit. So that’s another job for down the road, Medellin I guess. I drove off mildly happily anyway, just to be on the move, and as soon as I was in traffic the oil temperature started climbing big time. Within 10 minutes I had the overheating warning light. Shit. Back I went to the dealer. Lucinda and I were plenty pissed off. They put her on the lift and the whole bike crew came over to check her out.

It only took ten minutes to determine that the service guy had miscounted the quarts of oil and she had one (or more) too many in her. Now how do you do that? It’s nearly impossible: you line up 4 new bottles beside the bike, pour them in and check the oil window in 10 minutes. I couldn’t believe it. Maybe you do have to do everything yourself.

So this morning was Lucinda’s big day. She’s going to Bogota! Off we went to Girag. For riders, here’s the track east out of Panama City. It’s at N9 05.14 W79 22.39 if you have GPS
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Eddie, who’s always up for this kind of fun, came along in his armed and dangerous truck.

We arrived and Lucinda waited outside, patient but pretty excited. She flying with her new double Rotopax and to compensate about 5 pounds less gear is being mailed back to Vancouver. I always find something I think we can do without. One day, maybe soon, I’ll regret this, but I’m exploring the boundaries of ultra-light, just to see what happens. But we do have the camping stuff being sent back to us in less than a month. Still, that’s light too.

This, in a way, is just like the first half of a regular border crossing, but being a shipper rather than a border official, it’s not a Central American nightmare. So here’s how it went.


First, the usual documents. Passport, import permit, bike title, drivers licence

Amazingly, he didn’t send me miles away to make his photocopies for him. They had a copier. This is the first time this has ever happened. Life is good. But then he disappears. Lunch

There’s a food wagon 100 feet away. For about $3 we get the most delicious lunch I’ve had on the street in this country

We ate in the air-conditioned truck because it’s about 100 degrees out, as usual

Then along comes the coconut milk bike. You get about a pint, scooped out of a plastic barrel for 75 cents. Both the lunch and the drink are expensive on CA terms, but that’s Panama.
P1080467Then we wait for people to return.

I’m told to ride Lucinda around the back of the building before any paperwork is done

Then go through an inspection. At many airports you’re supposed to drain the bike of ALL fluids. This as you can imagine creates problems at the other end. Not here. He asks if the gas tank is empty and I say yes, pretty much. He then goes around the bike, noting damage


I tie on my riding gear. Boots, helmet, pants

Then I leave Lucinda there to get the paperwork complete. But not before seeing two other bikes, wrapped about 30 feet away.

BC plates!  A F800GS and a 650GS. A husband/wife by the looks of things.

Yo soy de Canada!

I’ve just done some research and it appears it’s these guys


Their bikes are here in storage for 5 months while they party their brains out in NYC, I gathered from their blog. I sent them a note saying their bikes look in fine shape.

I get the customs clearance, ask for shipping details and the Girag address in Bogota.

And it’s time to pay up. Cash only, of course

I had a last long look at Lucinda and wished her the best of luck on her first flight ever. She looked a little sad but I think that’s just pre-flight jitters. I told her I loved her and would see her in a few daysP1080496

We both fly Saturday. I’ll see her at Girag Monday morning, deal with customs and ride her away Tuesday.


tour of the City

I took Lucinda from Eddie’s to the BMW shop downtown this morning after rush hour died down. It’s a fun drive.

The route goes from the dock area, through some slums (in abandoned mid-rises), down to the waterfront, past the towers, and into town. This gives you a nice video tour of Panama City in 3 minutes, but is about 20 actually. (As you can see videos are now embedded in the left margin. One click to start, one click to go full screen, one click to close, no leaving the page anymore. Lower res unless you click HD when in full screen. In fact truth-be-known this whole post is just an excuse for me to see how the new video feature works)

So, to get on with the red herring, the wealth in Panama City is staggering. It’s like Dubai west. 

The BMW building. Cars and bikes. And power lines

Here’s the service bay. Immaculate

And, while they do the paperwork, you sit here

And have the best cup of coffee in weeks

Decide whether you want to spend US $4113.52 on an Akrapovic exhaust

And check out some bikes


Portobelo, on the Caribbean, is a beautiful, poor and threatening little town. Vultures

But anyway, earlier Eddie and I meet up at Joe Hummer’s place where my forks have been serviced and Lucinda’s cleared to go. It’s not the day to work on the suspension as we’re going for a ride instead.

We head off from the Pacific to the Caribbean. This doesn’t lose its novelty and this time we’re headed north when we get there. First we go through the town of Sabanitas. Eddie says don’t stop, don’t get off the bike. Well after this long in CA I’m ok at deciding what’s safe and what’s not and agree with him.

Then it’s a great ride through the country and we arrive here, Panama Divers

A boat load of divers are headed off. Eddie and I talk about going for a dive but we’re told the visibility’s no good due to runoff

So we have lunch. Fish and chips, some strange fried thing with an octopus sauce and pineapple juice. Yum

Uh oh. Someone’s getting CPR on the dock. But it’s just a dive exam

Arggh! Not that there’s anything wrong with that

After lunch we head north to the ruins of Bateria Santiago, built by the Spanish in 1739 after an attack by the British

Not much left

The fort was built of coral


We bumped into yet another Canadian rider, Tyler, who was from Edmonton and was headed to SA. He was complaining about being burned out and was planning to recuperate for 3 months in Colombia. A young guy, he was getting a boat from this port to Cartegena. He’d recently broken 2 ribs surfing.

Then it was off to our destination, Portobelo. This is about as favourable a shot as is possible

The town was built to the edge of the fort

After the Spanish left, the slaves became the new occupants. They’re Afro Antillean and worship a black Jesus

The town

Small streams ran through it

It looks picturesque from the fort

But not a place to hang out.

On our way back a storm rolled in very quickly. Lightning was hitting all around us. The rain was so intense visibility was reduced to a few hundred feet. Eddie hadn’t brought a rain suit so we rode through without stopping. In fact if you wanted to stop you couldn’t because all the possible places under bridges were taken by cars taking shelter, which should give you an idea of how ferocious these tropical storms can be.

Today’s track
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Guerra Mundial Z

This is a zombie site, without the zombies, yet, as you may have gathered from the blog tag line and from the Zombie World News (ZWN) link in the blog roll, where there’s an excellent new piece from Kitty Pandemic btw. Enough of that though.

So the Panama opening of World War Z was yesterday and I dragged Eddie, who doesn’t know the first thing about zombies, which seems almost negligent considering he’s got guns, camping gear and two fast bikes, to the very first showing – the matinee. It was in English with Spanish subtitles.

Inside, I wait patiently, seriously worried about the lame PG rating

Here’s Brad with his weapon of choice, a crowbar

The heroine, an interesting Israeli girl

One of Brad’s daughters. Tengo miedo! The problem is I didn’t

what’s up

  • Lucinda’s getting her suspension serviced at Joe Hummer’s shop in Panama City. He’s the local go-to guy and perhaps can help me make progress with the contradictions my messed up forks are presenting.


  • Scouted out where Lucinda catches her flight to Bogota from. Turns out to be easy-peasy. Here


Here’s the cargo terminal. Used to be the main terminal

  • Getting stuff ready for Colombia (after researching the various GPS maps it turns out that OSM_13 from Dan T is a great starting point). The tools


  • Writing the missing blogs from October/November. They’ll be posted in one big batch in a few days – sorry email subscribers. This is kind of a forced decision: I’m cleaning up my laptop as I’ve only got 52GB left of 500GB and need to dump iPhoto and iMovie to a drive to be sent home. Also partially backed up to Carbonite, but that’s a one month process at CA internet speeds, not kidding.
  • Stuff. Of which there’s always plenty

Post 2000 2

Albatross Island was another top secret US military spying operation, abandoned. The police escorted us there. Nothing for miles around. Just this sign

Way down a small road the building and the setting strongly reminded me of a short story by JG Ballard The Terminal Beach. 

This is what it looked like when in operation, a gigantic top secret antenna that could listen in on anything in the western hemisphere. That’s the same building in the middle.

Now it’s surrounded by low pampas

A hundred yards back from the sea

And destroyed inside

It was all apocalyptic.

The cool ride in, and inside the building:


Further on that day more abandoned complexes

We said goodbye to the police and headed off to another, crazier destination: Battery Baird, deep in the jungle

The ride in


This is about half of it from above

The other half from below

These are cells

This is a cannon battery, designed to protect Fort Sherman and the coastline. Here’s a photo of a cannon here from WW1


The calculations for targeting were made from here

Going into a passageway was interesting. We explored with Eddie’s iPhone light. It was pitch dark. The shots are nice and bright from the camera flash. Bats flew around our heads

Some tunnels went deep into the hillside

Some tunnels were incredibly narrow

There were wasp or bee nests everywhere

Looking into the mouth of one of the nests

And in one doorway was this beautiful spider. Huge, maybe 3 to 4 inches across. It’s quite famous. Nephila clavipes has perhaps the strongest and finest of silks. It’s being experimented with for numerous applications. A thread is 6 times stronger than steel of the same diameter. Needless to say it’s venomous. It’s web was huge, filling the doorway. I didn’t disturb it.

Then we were off, to yet another destination, through the coastal forest, which looks like this

We got a short mud ride in as the road had washed out

To the mouth of the Chargres River where Fort San Lorenzo was built by the Spanish around 1587. Now the really good news is our pirate hero Henry Morgan, who has looted and burned to the ground every coastal Spanish fort we’ve visited so far, looted and burned to the ground San Lorenzo in 1670 despite being vastly outnumbered. This is really excellent news and if I get another bike I’m going to name it Henry. The river

The fort, the part that didn’t burn to the ground

It had a moat around it. Henry must have have looked at it and laughed.

Then we rode back to Fort Sherman and to the beach

It had been a very long day. In fact we didn’t make it back to Panama City until way after dark, exhausted.


Post 2000 1

Eddie and I rode across Panama to the Atlantic side today and saw some of the strangest things as well as having a day of fantastic riding, which included this – us riding the bikes over the water. More in a sec.
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The day’s track
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It was a fast ride across. About half was major highway, about half a jungle road. When we arrived most of the way up north we got a ferry. As you know by now I love ferries


Pretty modern. I’d better enjoy it while I can


Posing the bikes to look really good is part of it of course. Pretending to have some mysterious prowess, such as the effortlessly and perfectly positioned bike on a boat is an essential part of the overall thing we consciously or unconsciously do to impress women and intimidate our peers. Some might deny it, but they’re BS’ing


Boats in the north locks. Notice how cool the helmets look on the mirrors


Past the locks there was a long row of abandoned US personnel buildings now turned into a big ghetto


With the classic Panamanian building proportions and roofline


Then it was a jungle ride on a small road to Isla Galeta


Past an old military check point with new gates


Complete with pillbox


So time to super-briefly explain. When the Canal was handed over to the Panamanians in 2000, so was everything else as part of a near-total American withdrawal. They abandoned all the military installations, including this, one of the most important spying stations in the world at that time. It listened in on everything.

But first, as I tried to get into the pillbox, a small problem


For miles it was mangrove swamp on either side of the road


Then we arrived at the old spying station. This is one of many buildings


Situated spectacularly on the ocean


Remnants of old structures lined the coast


And boats waited their turn for the Canal


Another view of the abandoned complex


The Smithsonian is doing fisheries research here. There were a couple of police guarding the main buildings and one of them talked to us for a while


In the middle of the wilderness


Then Eddie asked the cop about visiting another part of the abandoned military installation he knew. They said OK, but only with an escort. So the guy armed up, grabbed his partner and off we went


So why does the track at the top show us over the water at this point in the day? Because sometime in the last 130 years this area was sea, and this was filled in with excavations from the Canal construction. Which I guess means, as usual, that Garmin’s maps are sometimes decades out of date.

So more on our adventure in the next post.

Panama City

Eddie picks me up for a tour of Panama City.

But first, his jungle rig

And this being Central America, his gun under the dash

It’s a 40 magnum Glock 23. He says when shooting someone in a car, a 9mm will maybe only break the glass whereas a .44 will not only hit the target but the person behind him/her too, which won’t do, so .40 is perfect. He also said it’s OK to post this as this is normal stuff.

The day’s track, this time in a car. I’m not sure I like cars much anymore.
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So off we went up Ancon Hill, up past the Panama Canal administration building. As you may know the Americans handed the canal back to the Panamanians in 2000.

The proportions, colour and roofline are very representative of Panamanian architecture, as you’ll see.

A view of the downtown core from the hill. Surprised? Yeh, me too. Very impressive. The city population is about the same as Vancouver but total metro is much smaller. Corrupt, dangerous, but impressive

A view the other way to a container dock before the canal. Impressive again

Lots of money. Here they’re building a ring road over the water around a slum

Then off, of course, to the locks. We’re here to see the Miraflores Lock. Eddie’s been here for 32 years and has a thousand great anecdotes

There’s no point in a long story here but basically the French started work on the Canal in 1882, failed primarily because the environment unexpectedly fought back, and the American Army Corp of Engineers took over and succeeded. No surprise in any part of that.

Click on this for bigger, then click again for huger, for Canal details
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Each lock is run as an independent operation. Miraflores is one.

Looking east to towards the Lake. Hey, here comes a boat!

In it comes. This happens pretty quickly. No doddling. Here it’s being pulled along by ‘mules’ which are little locomotives. 4 at the front and 4 at the back


Now the boat’s dropping as the lock is drained as another boat comes in

Then off it goes, to the Pacific (yay Pacific, boo Atlantic)

And the other boat is lowered

This isn’t rocket science but fun to watch.

Then we had chores to do. Check out the bike dealer and get them ready for Lucinda, go meet the guy who’s going to service the shocks and get the lay of the land for all the lessor jobs to be done.