Into the Darien

January 25, 2010

Last night Igor Skyped me to see where I was at (we’d met in Honduras New Year’s Day and rode together with Mario). Turned out he was already in Panama City, and was wondering if I was close by. He wanted to ride into the Darien and thought it might be better if two of us went toegther.

I had a very long and boring day in the saddle crossing Panama in one day, but I finally arrived in Panama City after crossing the Bridge of the Americas (over  … the … PANAMA CANAL!!!)


I am going to quote from Wikipedia:

”  The Darién Gap is a large swath of undeveloped swampland and forest separating Panama (Central America) and Colombia (South America). It measures just over 160 km (99 mi) long and about 50 km (31 mi) wide. It is not possible to cross between South America and Central America by land without passing through the Darién Gap. Roadbuilding through this area is expensive, and the environmental toll is steep. Political consensus in favor of road construction has not emerged. There is no road connection through the Darién Gap connecting North/Central America with South America. It is therefore the missing link of the Pan-American Highway. ”


Well the next day we rode out pretty early (it’s dang hot in Panama!)

I’m not too good with cities, so I followed Igor.

Once we got on the right road (the last tidbit hig of the Pan American highway), I was in the lead.

Pretty cool to have another bike in my mirrors after all this time alone.

We finally broke out of Panama City and it’s suburbs and it got quite rural.  Flat. Hot. Agricultural. Exciting.

We were riding to the very end of the highway in North America…

Our first of SIX, count ’em, SIX military stops on the way  to Yavisa (the end) . Igor was getting a little irritated, and I’d run out of copies of my documents so they had to painstakingly notate all my credentials (Passport #, Plate #, Vin #, etc.)

I asked why they needed the information several times, and I was continually told that it was for our security…that they logged everyone going into the Darien so that if we did not make it to the next checkpoint, they would know. One militaria even went so far as to tell me that they called ahead to the next checkpoint. Sounded good to me! [This information served to assuage my irritability in the 928 degree heat, having to stop in the hot sun and produce paperwork that I had just produced 15-300 minutes ago.] [Note: Not one single militaria checked us OUT of the Darien. Not one single militaria cross referenced our paperwork  or our numbers or bothered to make sure that we had not been lost in the Darien, or checked us back “in”.   I presume they are still looking for us.]

Well enough of that we needed to eat. Chicken for breakfast! (Poor Igor, he does not have my same tolerance for every-meal-is-chicken).

Happy Bikes.

Road conditions varied. You had to pay attention–sometimes the road would just give out, sometimes there would be a huge pothole in the middle of nowhere, sometimes so many potholes you could not avoid them, just stand up on the pegs and hope you did not get a flat if you were going too fast…

It was fun to be riding with someone else for a change.

We got a little silly every once in a while, passing each other, taking pics, etc. Igor is also traveling alone, and so he understood what a treat it was to have someone to take photos of you–I hardly have any of myself!

Like my $2.50 haircut? I’ve been sporting that since Nicaragua. (Hey, if you are gonna get a bad haircut, you might as well pay $2.50 for it! One time I paid $50 for a crappy cut! ) At least my hair was out of my eyes.

The indigenous tribes traditionally build their houses above the ground. We were told it keeps the snakes out. 🙂

I blew past this crazy critter tryingto make his way across the road…OMG! A Three toed sloth! And man, was he slow!
At first I though he was hit–he was leaving a wet trail behind him. Igor and I stood in the road and waved people around him…and a little car stopped as well.

The fellow got a stick and helped the sloth along…and explained to me that the sloth went for a dunk in the stream–he wasn’t hit at all he just could not move quickly across the pavement. Se he sort of shoved him along while we motioned traffic around (and took pics).

Once Mr. Sloth made it to the tree, alll of a sudden he was really fast 9in a sloth kind of way)

I was so relieved that the sloth was not hurt–the trail behind him was just water from the stream.

The family then asked about us, and wanted a picture taken with me, so we had an impromtu roadside  photo shoot.

Back on the road (thank goodness–it was 951 degrees in the sun!)

A sign for the end of the road.  Yavisa is the town at the end of the Pan American Highway.

Igor and I keep riding around town and asking people–surely there must be an “end of the road” sign?!?

Finally Igor said he’s seen pictures of bikes at the bridge on ADVrider, and we should take some pics there.

But I still wanted to photograph the ‘end of the road” sign, so we did another lap…

Ultimately we settled for the “Bienvenidos a Yavisa” sign.

Rolling out of town. It was a little sketchy, and I was happy to be with a travel partner.

Well Igorr thought I was nuts when I wante to do a U turn to see something hanging from a tree…turned out they are birds’ nests…I have to figure out what kind of birds, but they fly full tilt boogie into the nest, susp

ended and swinging into the breeze…

Well it was waaaaaaaaaaaaay past lunchtime and we needed to eat. Igor spotted this roadside place…

the food was tasty, although burned and the meat a bit fatty.

Too late to ride all the way back to Panama City, we shared a hotel room in Meteti.   Igor climbed into his bug net and we talked for a couple of hours. He fell asleep practically mid sentence. It had been a long and hot day.


The next day we continued riding back towards Panama City…

Igor’s Breakfast (that’s yucca on the side–a root vegetable)

My Breakfast (a stew of sorts, also served with Yucca).

Mine was yummier 🙂

After breakfast we continued our search for a place where we were told indigenous indians had a village we could visit.  We kept getting similar directions, and so headed down the road to Puerto Lara where all directions coincided. It was unpaved, and a little “rough”. Two times I got off the bike to look at what lie over the crest of a hill. I have too much weight on the bike and it’s darned awkward.

we are very happy to have finally found the village

A curious crowd surrounds us (still a little unsettling for me, I was glad I was with Igor). We are hot and thirsty, and, get this, we are able to buy a Coke iin this remote village. Go figure.

I’m talking to a couple of native women at the bikes, and Igor gets invited to the main “hut” on stilts. Turns out they have a “hotel” there for tourists. We both regret we did not know this the previous night–it was have been a great experience to stay overnight in the village.

The Wooran tribe are an indigenous people who are known for their handicrafts (carved seeds and incredibly fine basketry) and for the fact that the people paint themselves ceremonially (and many women happen to go around painted and topless). They also happen to paint tourists (for a $2 fee)

“Why not?” we say.

So here are some seeds in the pricess of being carved…Note the “tool”.

The tribe takes a lot of interest in us (while we are there we do not know that they acttually encourage tourism–we think we are “special” finding this long-lost tribe, but it turns out the hostel we stay in back in Panama city has a BROCHURE on them…ha!)

Over the course of the next hour more and more people come by and bring their carvings and baskets…I cannot decide, as I want to buy something but I do not want to carry anything. I finally end up buying the hummingbird pictured here–it was the first one we saw and the most “precise”. Unbelievable detail. These are seeds that they soak in water to facilitate carving. Very cool.

here is one of the baskets…She has been working on this for 8 months…

Well, I finally buy my carving, and and both of us simultaneously feel it is time to leave. We take a couple more pics and scurry back up the one-way road. We talk about this around the bend, and both of us agree it was like all of a sudden we were no longer welcome, and it was definitely time to leave. Strange.

Well, fancy tthat. Here we were asking every local we saw where to go, and wow! these indigenous people even have a BILLBOARD (which we missed!) Telling folks where to find them…guess we weren’t really Indiana Jones-ing after all!!!

Back out and on to the pavement…and I was leading because I was on EMPTY! We were hoping to make it to the gas station we filled up at on the way down to Yavisa…I finally came across a gas station, but it was not the same one as before. I did not think too much of it at the time…

But now I was following Igor and every once in a while I would see puffs of black some coming out of his KLR…hm…


But hey, after lunch my bike did not want to start… very poopy. Crank. Crank. Crank.

Finally I gave it some choke and voila’! It started. Ok, so I assume my bike was puffing black smoke now too…

Igor asks if we are to watch out for turtles or whether we are to go slow like turtles…

Back into the mayhem that is Panama City. Can you see the American influence?

We were there for roughly 85 years; built the canal then “managed” it until December 31, 1999, when we abruptly pulled out and left it to the Panamanians (Panama Canal Authority)

We decided to take the tollwayback into Panama City–we were crunched for time and wanted to see several things. besides, it was 957 degrees out and why muck around in traffic with all your gear on on that temp?

igor wanted to go to the Mirador and see the city from this bump of land…we wound our way around and around…through the roughest of neighborhoods in Panama City. Here he stops to get directions from the only two people we thought we could trust…

After a frustrating half hour, we arrive at the park and were told it just closed. But we can walk up if we like…(yeah, right, in full motorcycle gear in 982 degree heat…right!)  Grrr.

So off we go to see the Panama Canal…”Lonely Planet” says 9-11 and 3-5 are the best times to go. Great! It’s 4:30–perfect timing! We finally figure out the right road, past the containers waiting in the port.

we can see big ships to out left, a miitary-looking compound to our right…we must be close…


But we are told at the gate that they have closed. We ask, and the guard tells us they close at 5:00. “But it’s 4:55 I whine…”


Shoot, this was my ONLY chance to see the Panama Canal…tomorrow I have to get a big service done on my bike. Then the next day I fly the bike to Colombia. I think I am going to cry…but I am so mad and upset and HOT it is difficult to cry.

Igor leads us to the Hostal de Clayton, blessedly located in a residential neighborhood outside Panama City. He invites me to go back into town and see the sunset from the causeway, but I am demoralized and HOT, a bad combination, so I decided to stay put and sulk. Poor me.

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