My five minute visit to the Panama Canal

January 27, 2010

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated with the Panama Canal. It is one of the modern world’s true feats of engineering, and I just could not bear to leave Panama without seeing it. So I pushed back my appointment at the Suzuki dealer and decided to squeeze in an hour and a half visit of the Panama Canal.

Better than nothing I figured.

So I packed up the bike, said my good-byes at the hostal, and left. Well, almost left. Cough, sputter, no spark, nothing. Bike would not start. Not even with the “choke” trick from yesterday (even though it was 912 degrees). Must be the bad gas we got in the Darien. GRRR!

Ok, I got off the bike, took my motorcycle clothes off, gave the bike (and myself) a rest, and tried again. Still it would not start. ARGH! I was supposed to be meeting JP (we met at the Costa Rica border) at the Miraflores Locks (the best place to view the Canal AND where the tours happen to be). DRAT!

So in a huff I whip out the laptop, clump inside the hostal in my motorcycle clothes, and sit down. I knew Edward was online, and since he’s my mechanic when he’s my travel partner, I asked his advice. Dump the bad gas he says.

Great. But I do not have time for this. Time is ticking away, eating away the only hour and a half I had to see the Panama Canal. I do not know how to clean carburetors, much less have time to schlep to the gas station to get a container into which to pour the bad gas, nor a lace to get rid of the bad gas, so I can go BACk to the gas station to get fresh gas. ARGH! Frustration s HIGH.

Added to all this is the fact that I MUST get the bike fixed. I’d been looking in every city, calling every shop, between Oaxaca and Panama trying to find a chain and sprockets for my bike. I’d also had lots of local motorcyclists helping m look as well…Eduardo in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, had one of his shop guys look all day around Honduras for parts for my bike…they even went so far as to take the sprockets off and compare them to sprockets of other bikes all over town…

Now to you non-motorcyclists, understand that these are vital pieces, because they are part of the drive chain. If the sprockets fail, no more GO. I HAD to get this repair.

And my escort to the Suzuki dealership, Adolfo, was meeting me at the Miraflores Locks at 10:30. Adolfo is a fellow motorcyclist and a friend of a friend in the BMW motorcycle network in Central America, and in general a nice guy. We’d been corresponding a couple of weeks, and as it turned out he was going to make my life unimaginably easy by helping me with the flight from Panama to Colombia. He was also salvation in the form of a friendly face in frantic panama city, AND he’s been the one to figure out that the Suzuki shop has the arts I’d been looking for for over 3000 miles. So I NEEDED to meet him at 10:30. The pressure was immense.

oh yeah, and did I mention that our flight to Colombia was the next day? I HAD to meet Adolfo and 10:30 and I HAD to get to the Suzuki dealer. I also HAD to pick up my tires at UPS that Twisted Throttle had sent me. I did not need the new rubber yet thanks to the incredibly durable MEFO tires I’d been sporting all through Central America, but I needed to collect them nonetheless because shipping from the states is SO expensive.

OK, back to the bike…

I hung up on Edward, frustrated, and went back outside. Tried again to start, SHOOT! nothing. About this time another motorcyclist (German) came out of the hostal hearing my false attempts to start, and nicely offered advice as I did what Edward said would be the simplest thing to start with: drain the carburetor. OK, that I could do quickly and easily, so I got out the tools, performed the operation, and VROOM! Sputter.

Mr. Nice German told me to try again and this time Wank on the throttle. Ok, no more Ms Nice motorcyclist, the engine caught again and I revved the dickens out of the engine. Oofa, not a happy engine, but at least it was running.

Ok, a sweaty drippy mess by now, frantic beyond belief, I only had 40 minutes before meeting Adolfo

Vroom, off I coughed and sputtered to Miraflores


SA_Trip_PANAMA 362

Stop at the guard gate at Miraflores and the guard wants to know what I want.

I circle around the parking lot, trying to figure out where to go. Wait, another parking lot closer to the giant steps,

maybe there…

Cool! A slew of bikes–six, count ’em, SIX KLRs. I’m the odd girl out.

Lock everything onto the bike, RACE up the stairs

to stand in line to buy a ticket.

Security asks if I am carrying any weapons. No. Knives, tools, any armas?

Sheisa. I have my multitool in one pocket and my pocket knife in the other

Race back down the stairs,

run to bike, open Trax box, insert “weapons”,

race BACK to the building, climb stairs,

wait in line at security, tell them I have no armas (different people this time)

Did I mention it was 957 degrees out and I am wearing a full motorcycle suit and leather / gore-tex boots?

wait at elevator

elevator door opens, JP pops out going to the “presentation” that I’d really like to go but cannot, dammit, because by golly I am going to get a photo of the freaking Panama Canal or end this trip right here, so I hop into overcrowded elevator

and arrive at the observation deck.

The overcrowded observation deck.

I look for a spot along the railing so I can see the excitement, and

See Igor crammed in between a bunch of other tourists.

I reach an arm in, $500 camera exposed over the railing, trying to get my gosh darned pictures.

Nice guy that he is, Igor relinquishes his spot at the railing to me, and I snap some pics. pretty incredible.




I have to go.


I say goodbye to Igor, and thanks, and reluctantly go out to the bikes, back down the stairs

and as I am doing so I see Adolfo pulling in.

Better than nothing I figured. Enjoy my pics.

In the parking lot i (very briefly!) met two of the KLR riders. i said hello and left with Adolfo.

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