I’ve been riding back and forth in Panama, from the city to the beaches, from hostels to friends, to other friends, then back to the beaches. Panama held me hostage for more than I wanted, but now, two weeks later, I am writing from Colombia, looking back at what Panama was like. Panama city is a little New York, with plenty of skyscrapers, surrounded with hills and less nicer neighborhoods. I was looking forward to live the city life for a bit and meet new travelers, and that’s exactly what happened. Hostel life is nice, especially if the hostel is a oasis of green with a pool, in the middle of the city. I met a few lovely people at the Vila Vento Surf hostel, but the first day I spent walking the busy streets, headed to Panama Viejo. A bunch of ruins from the times the pirates ruled the place. Or took over the city for the gold that was passing through it from the indies. Oh, yes, this was a trading route even before the Panama Canal was built. A path through the jungle connected the two oceans, making the trip (of spices and gold) to Europe a lot shorter, and the ports very attractive to pirates.
Well, the pirates are still there, charging the tourists a considerable fee just to walk among the ruins. I skipped that with the lame excuse that the light at 4pm was not good enough for pictures. Not regretting it. However, the next day I spent with Petrina walking around the Castro Viejo, the new city that was built after pirates’ destruction. Well, now it’s old and many buildings are barely held in place by metal structures, while others were gracefully restored and polished to the former glory (by people with a lot of money, I must add). Walking these narrow streets among freshly painted buildings with flowers in their windows made me feel a bit like in Europe. It has something of the old Austrian villages mixed with some suburb in Paris. The evening I spent with Zeke, hunting for girls at the cinema – not a very successful hunt, but we watched the Independence Day 2 (instead of Finding Dory).
Next day – new friends (Miriam, Julia, Niklas) and good hike to Cerro Ancon where we saw Panama city from above and a lot of animals including a sloth. We continued our hike through Castro Viejo chitchatting in the hot sun, till we realized it’s Julia’s birthday, which had to be celebrated before she got on the plane. Well, try to find shots and the party spirit in the middle of the day after a sweaty hike – ended up eating in a cheap “fonda” as we were all on a tight budget. And then the evening comes with a good card game – lots of fun especially if you play Jungle Speed with beginners. And as the hostel was close to the Hard Rock hotel, I couldn’t resist trying to get to the terrace at the top (62nd floor). No way I was going to pay 22USD for the entrance, but at least I got a glimpse of the city from up high, at night. Stunning!
And as I couldn’t find a buyer for my Tinkerbell in Panama, I went to the beach in Nueva Gorgona, to a bikers’ meeting (few clubs, grilling, nice chrome, loud pipes, and ROCK). Ended up there wet to the bones, sliding through mud along with other big heavy bikes, and almost spent the night in a hammock in a cabin under construction (which I was fine with, since it was for free). But then I met this sweet couple, owners of The Mango Tree hostel – a guy from Georgia and the girl from Holland. We had a very good time together and nice conversations over the next few days, but I am happy I got more than a free bed – I got a concrete offer for the motorcycle, for which I had to wait a bit. I was not entirely fine with that, as Colombia was calling me louder and louder.
In my search for buyers and wanting to explore a bit more of Panama, I went back to the friends in Las Tablas and the clubhouse of Los Vikingos. Dimas was a very good host for the few nights I spent there, exploring the beaches, riding around, showing the bike to people (and again, looking for girls). I tried to arrange the first meeting with Radu, the first Romanian to bike the Americas from Alaska to Ushuaia, but he was a bit slow and couldn’t reach Chitre in time. After these relaxing days of isolated beaches out of season, I headed back to Sanne and Michael, in Nueva Gorgona where I would spend almost a week helping here and there, but mostly socializing with the guests, playing with the lovely young puppies or the young kitten, or simply getting bored. This is where Radu managed to catch up with me so I can cut down his 11months old Santa beard (check out his facebook page). It’s been a fun time spent at this hostel, and if you’re looking for a place to chill in Panama, not far from the city, then this is it. Ingeborg, Asmund, Brooklynne – they knew about it and I hope they left with the same positive impression of the time spent together as I did.
Even if I had a better offer for the bike, I decided to sell it to my friend now, Michael. The process was not easy and we spent a couple of days running around for paperwork (process described in the next post). But here I am again, in Panama city, all set up with the paperwork, and waiting to meet Michael for the last time to give me some money. I’m in the largest bus terminal I’ve seen so far in the Central America, waiting exactly in the center of it. In the five minutes I spent there waiting, this backpacker passes right by me, as I call her name… but she keeps going… Less than 10s later, Mike shows up, we complete the deal, and I run for her. It’s one of those moments you believe that the universe gave you a sign. I keep walking the same direction she did and I realize the path goes to the subway station. Thinking to myself it’s too late already, I slow down and hear the subway leaving the station. I didn’t have a pass to get in, and as people cleared the hallway, I see her recharging the transport card. It was indeed a sign – this is how I met Miriam for the second time in two weeks, Miriam who I mentioned above. Found out we both fly out the next day in different directions, so we went to another hostel few houses down from where we met the first time. And just to show you how small the world is, we met this couple in the hostel taking the same flight to Europe as she does. He is the former boss of Lucy, my ex-girlfriend, working one floor under my office when I was in Brno! And here we are, meeting half way around the world in a hostel.
Like in a last stretch from Panama to keep me there, or leave me a good impression, this happened the last night I spent in the country. Panama is definitely a lot nicer than it’s credited for, but the nice parts are not those where the tourist buses reach. I have mixed feelings about living here, but I’m sure it’s better and cheaper than Costa Rica. I’d like to say I met a lot of very nice people and made good friends, whom I expect to meet again some time.
Whole journey map