There’s a lot on my mind as I head towards Panama City. Two things go through my head when I’m riding: the environment and the project, the rtw thing. More on this later when I unload what I’ve learned and not learned.
But out of Boca Chica
The roads are really dirty. Very very slippery on the Heidenaus when wet. Two things are needed to stay upright – good throttle control and balanced braking. The days of 1st World front wheel braking are a distant memory. Now it’s all about using both together well, all the time. This doesn’t take long – about 3 or 4 months, 1000’s of miles and a dozen or so near-death experiences…
Along the road I bump into my very first solo round-the-world rider, Henning from Denmark. He’s going the other way round and has come up from South America.
He’s on a radically modified 1150GS and like all the Euros has tons of gear
His journey so far on his pannier
And then a few minutes later an English couple roll up in a Landrover, Neill and Judy. They’ve been travelling with Henning for a while. They look English!
They’ve all been in the road for more than a year and a half and complain like crazy about South America and how hard it is. They loved Africa. Oh well. We’ll see.
I read Henning’s blog a bit and it seems while in Kenya he married a black girl called Fridah. He didn’t mention this.
We chatted for about an hour. I was eager to get going so cut short all the questions I had about what bothered them so much. I’ll find out for myself shortly anyway.
It was big ride into the City to no pics. Eddie met me on the outskirts of town, where I took a snap of a boat in the canal
I’ve dragged my goggles and snorkel around since September 30 and it’s time to use them. I guess they get mailed home in Panama City, maybe it wasn’t worth it. But today we’ll use them.
There’s a small group of islands, the Islas Secas, 15 miles offshore and offer the best snorkelling, and the biggest sharks on the coast of Panama. Below they appear under the words ‘Golfo de Chiriqui’
There’s no-one at the lodge and I get a ride out there for the cost of a two-tank dive. There’s the driver and a young guy along for the ride.
The islands are surrounded by reefs and shoals
The first snorkel is a jump off over a sea mount a mile or so from the islands. Unfortunately my Lumix doesn’t like under-sea shots but it looked a bit like this
Being alone on the mount, a mile from anything was very interesting and slightly freaky. A week ago I was swimming in the surf at Osa and asked a guy about sharks. He said some, but mostly a ways offshore. Oh great.
Towards the islands, more reefs
Bigger, a pelican on this one
And then the small islands. Uninhabited, windswept, green and black
On the lee side there were several small protected coves. This one had a beach a few hundred feet long
And another had the world’s best picnic beach. Except this is Panama and the heat staggering and the water warm, even out here
I was in the water for about 3 hours at different locations. You know, fish
And that was probably my best shot. Oh well. A ray
Up at the surface my camera did better. Hi puffer fish
More spectacular shoreline on these tiny islands
The boat guys scouting for fishing spots between dives
Beside the islets
But they weren’t catching much today, just mackerel
A last view, then home
Just made it back to the mainland before the storm
If you Google Boca Chica you get a picturesque town in Dominica. But there’s another town with that name, just 200 people, in Panama on the end of a peninsula in an archipelego. It’s the only town here, and remote.
The track. Another short day between cool things, just 88 miles.
We started off this morning from near Volcan. At the main intersection we waited behind this cow and took a pic. No idea why at the time, but it was to be a theme today
Then tore off through the countryside. Small farms in the hills. The super-green that started in Costa Rica hasn’t let up
Down to the dreaded Pan America highway. Arggh. No choice at this point…
By the way, the crap that’s building up around my steering head is getting worse. Lucinda’s bearings are shot. This is the second time so far. They were replaced in LA. Something is very wrong here. No way should they need replacing this often…
It will have to wait for ten days
Then we take a right south towards the sea, unaware of the beautiful sights ahead
But first, we stop for a minute to enjoy the view
And a strange thing happens. I guess the funny looking big-eared cows haven’t seen a Canadian before because they all start gathering, staring at me intently. It’s creepy
A close up of their stares
They’re transfixed so, never one to pass up an audience, I give them a ride report. This bull wanders over, obviously interested. These cattle are enormous and almost pretty
Then it was back to the ride which climbed up onto a ridge through red clay
When we topped out the view was fairytale. A river winding its way to the sea
Then down to the sea. Boca Chica, as remote as it is, with no infrastructural support, according to a friend the ‘Jurassic Park’ of ocean fishing. So there are a half dozen fishing lodges here. In the bays there are maybe 50 sport fishing boats. I rode around looking for a place to stay and found one at a reasonable price. Off topic, the cheapest place so far? $10 in Alegria, where I stayed for two nights. Here
And this is what you get for that and a shared bathroom. But it had a picture.
I don’t post my hotels often, and when I do usually a day late or so, for security reasons. So anyway, here’s what greats you
Eddie, the Panamanian KTM adventurer, told me a few weeks ago about an orchid nursery on the outskirts of Cerro Punta, the highest village in Panama, at 6500 feet.
It’s called Finca Dracula, after a species of orchid. But that may be a cover story for something more sinister, we hope. Lucinda says to me ‘why don’t we go through Romania next year and do some blogs on Vampire hunting?’
Finca Dracula is one of the top ten orchid collections in the world and the largest in Central America.
I’m partial to species collections, so off we went first thing this morning, further up into the mountains.
Here’s a field trip sort-of post, for fun. Up we go
Over a river, the water gin-clear, making that vital mountain sound we’re so familiar with back home
Expertly laid out plots on the hillsides
To the village of Cerro Punta
And then rode around looking for a hint and saw this painted in blood red
It was pointing up this road, loose rock as it got steep for a few hundred yards into the trees. Stand on the pegs and give it huge gas! The local kids like this behaviour, so do some of the moms, but the dads don’t, so no stopping or falling allowed
A purr of gas over a mini jump because it’s a good day and it’s through this gate
Park in the courtyard. No-one around, as usual. Except Dracula, probably right behind that tree to the left I thought. ‘Except it’s daylight’ Lucinda said
About 75 feet through a garden to the nursery
Set against the hillside
Into this covered area
There’s absolutely no-one here. ‘That’s because it’s daylight, as I said before’ Lucinda says. We wander around, maybe 15 minutes later we bump into a young girl (very pale) and we ask ‘cerrado?‘. She smiles and says no. So off we go behind this door
To a general orchid display. My orchid knowledge isn’t that hot. I’ve only kept them on-and-off over the years as it’s not fair on them without the proper environment
But right away we come across a table of Masdavallia, which I have kept, because their beauty is more subtle than the stereotypical hospital-visit Odontoglossom types
Many species, some very small
Here, I’m guessing, is the Dracula orchid
A good yellow spray
And, I guess for the tourists, this unimpressive type
This little fellow was cheerful
Running the length of a wall they’d hung small pots
I’m generally familiar in a casual way with much of what I’d seen, but then I saw something which took my breathe away. A display of incredibly tiny orchids. The flowers on this specimen are only about 3mm tall across and the whole plant structure was fascinating
Even smaller, this whole plant is a couple of inches across
Many members of the same family on the wall. Look at this heartbreaker below. Notice how the flower and leaf have a single common stem, designed for the leaf to present the flower as it does.
So I’ve got tons of pics to research later as I don’t have any idea what I’m looking at.
Other than a labour of love and a collection, this is also a research centre and commercial operation. If you care to Google Finca Dracula you’ll see there are orchids here which sell for $5000 each. So it’s deadly serious, as any operation at the state-of-the-art is. I decide to wander behind the scenes.
The growing beds are totally professional. I would guess there are about ten buildings of ship-ready orchids of maybe 2000 square feet each. Noticed the sign a bit late
This room was very securely locked up. I’d guess this is where big-money buyers come and that display in the middle is maybe where you’d find a $5000 orchid
Behind the scenes, a whimsical propagation lab
A painted wall near a potting area
A pig in a pen. ‘Hey, he looks exactly like a 1200GS‘ Lucinda says. I say ‘Lucinda you know I have the GS. Stop with that’
I wander around for an hour or so looking at the commercial aspects of the operation with respect.
Then there’s a nature walk type thing going into the forest that’s quite pretty
I’m thinking that it’s been a great day and I’d better head back before the clouds explode, and it’s back to Volcan, which is a dive. This is the main intersection
There’s been chat among riders about the Rio Sereno crossing into Panama and how great it is. It’s in the mountains, is tiny, approached on a rocky road and not travelled much. Great for the ride and great for being quiet.
It’s not a very long ride from Jiminez through the border to Volcan but I decide be conservative and set-up for the crossing at Cuidad Neily. If the border takes a couple of hours or more I don’t want to be riding to Volcan in the afternoon downpour. And I want time to enjoy the ride back off the peninsula, which turns out to be a wise choice. Good.
But first, the two day track. The border is the dark grey line that passes through Paso De Canoa
Reversing the route, great views of the gulf
The road turns paved
And sometimes not
And we’re back in civilization. Through a typical town
Crash in Cuidad Neily
On with the PacSafe for the border
Then up into the mountains! The view back down to Neily
Up through perfect twisties onto a ridge
Lucinda and I love it when you can see the twisties you’ve been riding beside you on a parallel ridge. This is pavement riding at its best
Oh no, here comes the rain
Into the clouds
A reprieve and it gets no worse. When it clears a bit we see high altitude farmland
And beside the road at one point we see this. Take a guess. Yup, you got it the first time: Calystegia sepium, only not sepium, something very close, and blue. If in doubt look at the leaf shape and tendril about dead center. I could only laugh. A horticultural disaster equivalent to smallpox and they have it here, in paradise. Oh well
Then, after a nearly perfect ride, the road turns to a kind of sharp fused rock for a few miles which takes a bit of riding-thought to get just right. Speed as usual seems to work best.
Then the border.
This is a very remote place and the border town is tiny. This is the street you get your photocopies at. It’s steep, wet, the rock loose and generally pretty interesting riding.
The Costa Rica Immigration and Aduana (customs) are in the same building, and super cute, like a postcard. Holy smokes, this is different. Usually Central American borders are laid out specifically to fuck with your head
And just as the picture suggests, we whistle through in about 20 minutes. Incredible. But exiting is easy compared to entry. Next off to Panama Immigration, then Aduana, then Fumigation, then Seguro (insurance), then Aduana again and finally Policia.
So, immigration. He’s gone to lunch. I wait
Then customs. You can see it’s customs, if you’re brilliantly observant by the ‘aduana’ painted on the bottom door sill. I love it that they do this to us gringos
The customs girl was a sweetheart but threw me for a loop by insisting I got insurance first. Shit. I asked where, she said around the corner and sure enough, Seguro. But it was locked up. I waited about a half hour. Small border, no rules, except THE rules.
Then I got into my get-the-job-done mood and put the camera away and was done, all-up, in about 2 1/2 hours. Which is not great, but fine elsewhere. Part of the problem was three sets of photocopies. When Policia asked for another full set at the end, much to my surprise, that was another 30 minutes off into town and back. So Rio Sereno is a cute and interesting crossing but today, not a particularly fast one. At least not for me today
And here’s my first pic of Panama
There’s been some press among long-distance riders recently about the quality of the ride from Rio Sereno to Volcan in the mountains and it’s true. Perfect twisties for miles and miles, through to-die-for country
Then my luck ran out. The skies opened, it turned torrential, visibility dropped to less than 100 feet, I had few nice slides, but eventually arrived at Volcan.
Here’s a section of the track into Volcan. Excuse the GPS error at about the 75% mark