Wednesday, November 4, 2009

We have covered a lot of ground since I arrived in Panama less than a week ago. One night in Panama City, with dinner on The Causeway, which is an area near a long bridge which goes from the city to some small islands. Great place to see, lots of restaurants and fun bars. On previous trips to Panama we have ‘done’ the Panama Canal so the next day we packed up and headed north of the Canal Zone, destination Gamboa Rainforest + Jungle Lodge. The reason that we wanted to go to Gamboa was simple; on our last trip to Panama (which was for business) just over a year ago, we went to Gamboa for a few days. When checking into the hotel we spotted some BMW GS motorcycles packed to the hilt, dirty, banged up, parked regally in front. We just HAD to know who these people were. We left a note on one of the bikes, and then just skulked around the reception area until we saw them. 2 couples, resplendent in their cool motorcycle touring clothes, sauntering up to the front desk. In true stalker fashion, we descended upon them, full of questions. Turns out they were Germans who had started in Alaska and were headed down to Patagonia. There were actually 3 couples, but one had crashed and had to send their bike home so they were following in a car. We grilled these people as to their trip, their planning, what motivated them…….everything. When they finally got away from us, that was it----we were inspired. The wheels started turning, and between that moment and the time we finished Ewan McGregor’s book “Long Way Round” the die was cast. A year later, 6 months into our trip, with Patagonia being our destination, we just had to return to the scene.

From Gamboa we headed west, towards Chiriqui Province and the town of Boquete. It was a 7-hour ride, through mountains full of mist and fog, and some bouts of heavy rain.

The beauty of Panama really shines through in this part of the country. Lush, green farmlands and banana plantations, waterfalls, beautiful vistas...they have it all.

We arrived in Boquete at about 6pm, tired, wet, and in search of a hotel. We pulled into a small restaurant called Roxane and what a lucky stop it was. The owner of the restaurant is a friendly Swiss-Argentine retiree, Helmut, who had a cattle ranch in Southern Argentina. He decided to retire to Panama, so bought a ‘finca’ or small ranch in Boquete. He brought with him some embryos of Argentinian cattle and thus began raising genuine Argentine beef here in Panama. What a guy. Loves motorcycles so when we pulled in on a German bike, he went crazy. The red wine ( a GREAT Malbec) started to flow, and his enthusiastic and interested attitude was infectious. We chatted with Helmut all night, and this guy knows how to live. In his mid-60’s, he calls the ranch and restaurant ‘his hobby’, serves only home-grown beef and vegetables, imports his own wine from Argentina, has 10 kids and loves women…what a guy!

The next day we did a Zip-lining excursion over the rainforest of Boquete. It was an experience flavored by a little bit of fear, but beautiful and so much fun.

The rain just didn’t stop, so we decided the next day to head further west to the province of Bocas del Toro. Our final destination was an archipielago of 6 islands off of the mainland, with the first stop being Isla Colon.

There are intermittent ferries which take cars and motorcycles and we hoped to catch the ferry that day. After a long day of riding in the rain, we arrived at the port just 20 minutes after the last ferry for 2 DAYS…during the holiday season (it was independence day and flag day) ferry service is suspended. Water taxis run frequently but don’t take vehicles, and we didn’t want to leave the bike behind in the shady-looking port area. Soaking wet and at a loss of what to do, we pulled up in front of the only hotel at the port which looked like it charged by the hour. Then it happened---an angel appeared in the form of a British lady named Marilyn, who advised us not to stay at the hotel—she had some friends, an American couple who had a lodge about 20 miles away. She told us how to find it and off we went.

The lodge is called La Encantada Eco Lodge, and consists of 4 small cabins and a restaurant/bar which is on the water. Ky and Ron are a couple from Florida in their 50’s who just checked out, bought a big piece of land and developed this place. When we arrived, all we could see of the place was the sign and a gate with a padlock. I checked the lock and it wasn’t secured, so in we went. The road down to the lodge was extremely steep, dirt, gravel, mud, with a big sign that said “4 by 4 only”. It was almost ½ mile long, with at least 25 degrees of pitch. We gave it a shot. Almost 2/3 down the road the back wheel went out and we almost went over in the mud. Ky and Ron stood at the bottom, mouths agape, wondering who these maniacs were who broke into their property and then attempted this road by motorcycle in the pouring rain. It was an
instant bond. We checked in, had a great meal, a bottle of wine and we were set.
The next day we took the water taxi to the islands, and realized that one day was enough.

After 2 nights with the wonderful Ky and Ron we headed east again and are now in David, Panama.
Today’s events included getting stuck for almost 2 hours behind a parade in the blazing sun on a one-lane road, then being pummeled by rain, then pulling into a hardware store to get undercover so that Chris could clean his face-shield which was fogging up so much that he couldn’t see---as we pulled over off of the gravel onto the slippery concrete, the bike slipped and over we went. Luckily no major damage to either of us, and the bike only suffered some bent crash bars……just another day in the life!