Panama – Part 1


Sunday 1st Feb

Panama, hats off to you and lots of horses.

We were both awake very early again, so after breakfast of a pack of red refried beans and scrambled eggs we was on the road (I am becoming a fan of these refried beans).

Our cycle ride through the last bit of Costa Rica to the border of Panama at Paso Canoa had a few hills but other than having to cycle back on the Pan American highway with the added traffic was pretty uneventful. We stopped at a shop for a cold drink, the owner had a half open banana hanging on a string and a medium size iguana was hanging on it and swinging around. Speaking of Iguanas a large one was lazily ambling over the road but as we approached a car also came from the opposite way. The iguana hot footed it away narrowly missing the car, these animals look hilarious when they run, it is like they have extended there legs, lifted there skirt up and ran like it’s the first time they have tried it

We did see quite a few road kill Iguana a today so they are not all so lucky

The border crossing was straightforward as border crossings go, we needed to prove our exit details but showing them a hotel we had booked in Columbia seemed to suffice.

 Ginette – I was amused by the fact that we had to pay a departure tax through a window that was opposite the main visa office, as we approached we could see the counter assistant was about 5 years old, she smiled sweetly, but thought it wise to wait until her dad materialised to hand over our $16 dollars.

Once in Panama the American highway became a dual carriageway, which at first was ok as it had a hard shoulder, but the hard shoulder occasionally disappeared so made some of the ride a bit more hair raising

We have seen ladies in long pretty Sunday dresses, perhaps this is just for today. The people seem friendlier as we are now getting more hellos, toots and cheers, mind you I have a hole in my shorts so maybe this is why.

After the border crossing we decided to push on knowing there was not a lot of accommodation until another 16 miles, but it was still only 1pm so we figured we had time.

We reached the town of Conception, there was clearly an event going on as we had seen fireworks in broad daylight for a while and lots of police controlling traffic.

One of the hotels we had aimed for turned out to be $55 dollars a night and the lady was not the friendliest, we decided to try to find a place in town.

Cycling into the main town the plaza area was packed, asking a policeman if he knew of any habitation nearby was thwarted by our poor Spanish but luckily a passer by had great English. Unfortunately no knowledge of any other hotels in the area but did explain that today was the end of a 4 day annual festival and it involved a horse parade.
Ginette – I am of the believe that if someone doesn’t know the answer to the question or thinks it will be too difficult to answer they simply pretend they can’t understand us. Asking for a hotel in spanish is basic but the policemen just looked bemused and shook their heads.

We parked our bikes next to the policemen and spent a short while taking in the atmosphere as hoards of horsemen and women paraded around the plaza from way back down the street. There didn’t seem to be any organisation behind this just a load of horse riders having a lark in front of a huge crowd of onlooker. Fire crackers where being set off and other riders were whipping their mates horse, this startled the horse and left the rider struggling to keep control. There was a fence protected the hundreds of spectators but it was clear by the way the spectators leapt back from the fence that sometimes the rider failed to control the horse.
All in all it was a fun spectacle to behold but Ginette has an allergy to horses so we didn’t hang around too long.
Ginette – I think horses are magnificent creatures and I didn’t like the fact that they were being used in this way to entertain the town.  We didn’t stay long but, long enough for the itchy skin and sneezes to kick in.

We found a huge modern love motel, looking brand new. This place was so modern we couldn’t work out how we could stay there. It had about 25 rooms all with brand new electric roller shutter doors and a price stating €15 per hour. But there was no one there to see to us and no office. We cycled around, banged on shut doors and Ginette inadvertently pressed the shut button on a roller shutter door, fortunately she escaped out of the garage before getting locked in. I am guessing that the room payment and access is via a phone, but I need to research this.  We can only presume this was a posh modern love motel.

Ginette – I am also pleased I escaped in time, I can only imagine what they would have thought if they’d found a very sweaty woman, dressed in cycling clothes, on her own in a place like that.

We had no choice but to cycle on another 3 miles to another place shown on the map, it was dark when we arrived but “Little Italy” B and B was a godsend. We had our own little apartment with a kitchen diner and separate bedroom with he added bonus of breakfast all for €45 so a bit more than we would prefer but better than the two previous options we had turned down.

Ginette jumped in the shower to relieve her itchy body and spent 20 minutes sneezing her horse allergy away.


2nd Feb 

Bus to the mountains.

A good nights sleep and breakfast included.

The cycle to David along the Pan American was again just along this busy road but at least it was mainly all downhill. I really don’t see the appeal of having to ride down this road, which is what the end to end cyclists tend to have to do.

Ginette objected to my carol signing Once in David City, I don’t know what her problem is as Christmas is only 11 months away.

David is just a big town with from what we could see very little appeal to tourists. The people are friendly and often first to try to start a conversation. Some of the ladies and young girls are wearing the long frilly dresses we saw yesterday and the locals look a lot more indigenous. We visited the main plaza, where I had yet another puncture to repair but this time on the front wheel. Cycling on the hard shoulder is a safe route but it tends to have patches of broken glass and burst tyres. The burst tyres are the worse as the tiny wires are often the cause of the puncture as was the case this time.

We also visited Torre Campanario de la cathedral. This place is in a quiet and colourful area of the city and has been rebuilt but a old bell tower left as original.

We decided to take a bus up the mountain to Boquete, the bus trip was easy and cost us $10 for both us and the bikes. The town had a nice feel with pretty buildings and is home to a lot of retirees from the states. We settled in a hostel and have had a mooch around town.

Most of the trips from the town go further up the mountain and involve walking, waterfalls and coffee plantations.

Ginette  – The national traditional dress for women is a long, full cotton dress decorated with colourful embroidery called a pollera. They come in lots of different colours but the design is very similar.  One of the tourists we met in Boquete claimed she only saw women wearing the pollera in Boquette but we have seen women all over the country wearing this dress.  Maybe we are more aware of these women because we’re on the bikes and we cycle in more of the rural areas.

3rd Feb 

We decided not to explore Boquete any further, the walks looked appealing but the entrance fees off putting.

We headed to Gualaca, which meant we had a very pleasant 23 miles of pretty much all down hill. The views of the surrounding mountains and the wind on our backs made this part of the ride easy. Not much wildlife other than a few Iguanas daft enough to cross the road.

Reaching Gualaca we headed to a local waterhole. This water hole is on a river with a deep canyon cut into the rocks , we were able to join in the fun jumping from the rocks into the water. The local boys were much more showy with flashy dives and backflips.
It’s a well used area but stinks from the black bags full of smelly rubbish and unfortunately this is the first thing you are greeted with.

Ginette – we met some english tourists in this off the beaten track watering hole, they were there with two Canadians although they were adventurous jumping from the highest height they were no competition for the locals, who were real daredevils.

We cycled on not really knowing where we would be staying the night. Unfortunately we had to get back on the Pan Am highway, after all the mornings nice quite roads this highway is a pain but can’t be avoided.
Very hot and tired we made it to a small town called Hornconcitas,  ioverlander (our go to app for places to stay) we had a small guest house marked here. We found the house but the owner was away and the property was locked up. A local man suggested it would be OK for us to camp near the towns football pitch but on inspection there were a load of teenagers playing football and we would have no privacy. We opted to cycle back a mile or so to a spot I had noticed on the way in.

It was getting dark by now so our options were few, Ginette was not happy with this pitch but other than cycling anther 11 miles there was no other places to stay. In the end after a little huffing and puffing the tent was erected and we settled down for the evening. After dinner as we cleared away we were eaten by little flies, luxury.

Ginette – I didn’t enjoy today, in hindsight we should have stayed at the watering hole and booked somewhere in town.  Our camping spot for the night was right next to a road, there was absolutely no where to go for a wee in privacy, I had to wait until it was dark. The drivers and walkers that passed by were friendly but it was rather unsettling being so out in the open. Wild camping is so much better when we are hidden away out of sight. I was not a happy bunny.  As you know, I have never been a great fan of camping but now our kit is failing us I am really dreading each time we have to put the tent up. We are currently down to one chair, this means I either sit on the floor or on a pannier (Gary has a bad back), the fly zip is broken and one of our air mattresses leaks and the other has two very large bulges, which makes sleeping on it impossible. 


4th Feb

A hot sticky night and a rest on an Island beach.

Man it was a hot night in the tent, I have been eaten alive by bugs even with the fly screen up, I had to sleep starkers so sweating away in my birthday suit I became food for the bugs, that had managed to sneak in while we were setting up camp. Today I look like a teenager with full blown acne all over.

We cycled the 11 slightly bumpy miles to Boca Chica not really being sure what was here. On arrival in the small fishing port we managed to find WiFi and discovered that there are a lot of islands to boat to, some very exclusive and one island close by which we could get to be ferry for $2 each.
We booked into a hotel/ hostel called something like Residencia dela ma in Boca Chico port. We then jumped on a small boat to cross to the island of Boca Brava (monkey island). A short walk to a beach on the other side of the island with a young Hungarian couple and we spent a few hours sunbathing and swimming. The beach had only 6 of us on it so it was an isolated spot. The snorkelling was poor with bad visibility and hardly any sea life. The water was warm, sometimes like a bath. The sun was too hot and we left the beach by 2 pm.

Ginette – I know you are going to have very little sympathy but it was that hot, I could almost feel my blood boiling.  We spent a good 4 hours enjoying the sea and chilling before returning to the mainland. The Hungarians were much more hardcore and spent a further 4 hours on the beach.  
Chilling out on Boca Chica for the afternoon, writing job applications and watching the sun go down.

We ate out in a locals cafe as it had been recommended and both ordered the Langustine, we at first thought we had ordered a prawn dish but we had ordered lobster.

The bill was $24 dollars, good for lobster but more than we had hoped to pay.
Lobster is one of the fussy expensive foods which I don’t really see the point in, it tastes OK but not worth all the fuss.

5th Feb 
I slept well apart from the itch bites but Ginette was a bit hot and had to take a couple of cold showers whilst I slept on obliviously.
When we arrived at our accommodation the lady told us her kitchen was under repair but this morning she was cooking for the other guests on a fully working gas hob. She offered to let me share but it was a bit awkward so I asked if she minded if I used my own stove. It felt a little odd cooking and eating our own food while the other guests sat on another table being waited on.

Ginette – the joys of living on a budget, the other guests had fresh fruit, juice, eggs, toast and coffee, while we made the most of bread eggs and fried beans. 

Our initial cycle ride was back over the steep bumpy section to the pan american highway but once on the highway the going was easy. It was not very interesting but it was safe on the hard shoulder. It felt like we were just rolling the miles under the wheels with no real experiences.
It was a hot day my Garmin recorded 42.5 degrees whilst we were cycling.

We turned off the highway and headed to the beach resort of Las Lajas.
We pitched our tent under a straw roof on the sea edge outside Johnny’s hostel. We paid $10 for the use of the kitted out kitchen, toilets and showers.

We spent the day swimming in the bath warm sea and sun bathing.

Ginette – we met a couple of tourists in the bar from Yorkshire, unfortunately Joanna broken her ankle on the second day of their holiday in Panama and needed surgery. Their insurance company had paid for a car so that they could get around and they’d spent most of their time in the beach resort.  It was good to talk to them, but it made me miss home. We also met another hungarian lady cycle tourer who had cycled from Alaska to Panama on her own.  I can’t imagine cycle touring on my own, I would be constantly on edge and would find the evenings very long.  It was worth paying the $10, we could leave our stuff safely on the site while we played in the warm sea finishing the day with good company, and access to the facilities.

7th Feb 

Lonnnnnnng day.

Ginette got up in the night for a wee and came back with dozens of little sand fly bites on her feet. The zip on the tent decided that this was also a good time to break again and once finally fixed we spent some time chasing little critters around the tent in the dark.
In the morning I had a soak in the sea after my short gym session and a cold shower all before breakfast.

Ginette – when I got up for a wee, I walked out onto the beach bare footed (which is not unusual) but within seconds I had a strange sensation, no sooner had I started to wee than the burning turned to a stinging nettle feel and I realised my feet were being eaten alive. I quickly moved but to no avail. I ran back to the tent shaking my feet but the damage had been done, my feet were covered in tiny bites – the buggers.
The cycle from the coast to the bus station was an easy 12 miles, on route we met a Panamanian who had taught at Oxford and who’s two sons are currently in London, he is a keen cyclist and was able to advise us that Route 5 was a sealed road and a good alternative to the Pan Am.

Ginette – he also pointed out that this route would be very hilly and he wasn’t wrong

We had disappointment at the bus depot, it was not a main terminal and there was no information desk, another couple of backpackers helped with some translation and it appeared a bus arrives every 2 hours but there was no guarantee we would get our bikes on board.

Ginette wasn’t happy, she was a bit tired and didn’t want to wild camp, which we thought was going to be our option.

Ginette – I could have cried, I was tired, saddle sore and my feet were really itchy. I hadn’t slept very well (several bad nights) and I’d really hoped we could get a bus. Instead I braced myself for 2 days on the bike with climbing in excess of 7,000 feet.

I had another puncture on route and we agreed to stop at another bus stop, we waited for half hour, when a bus going our way did turn up it had plenty of room on its roof rack but the conductor decided it was far too much trouble and set off without us.

Net resigned herself to having to ride and wild camp but I could tell she was not having fun, it’s a shame as the route 5 is a nice quiet road with some good views across a large inlet shrouded by mangoes and woodland. I enjoyed the cycling, I was hoping to spot more wildlife but other than cows horses and a few budgies it was sparse on wildlife.

The road did climb and drop a lot, the climbs with gradients over 10%, at one stage the hills kept coming and we had slowed down to a crawl. With the hills at midday came the extra heat, my Garmin read 43 degrees C, at this point Ginette’s body was struggling with the heat.
We came to a small settlement and bought a large bottle of cold water, Ginette was not in a good way and I sent her forward to rest in the Plaza, she cycled straight past the prettiest stop with shade and full views over the estuary and plodded on past the town. She eventually stopped at the bottom of a hill by a road bridge, we had lunch sitting on the roadside with no views at all. (It was a nice opportunity missed).

Ginette – My head was all over the place, my heart and head were pounding, Gary had told me to ride to a plaza. I had imagined a square with shade, shops and possibly somewhere to rest for the afternoon.  Unfortunately there was no plaza and I wasn’t going to cycle back up the hill. I did invite Gary to do so, but he chose not to – I agree it was a missed photo opportunity as the view was very pretty.

The locals are really friendly and seem surprised to see us cycling through their villages, we have seen huge well built homes, wood houses with thatched roof and tin shacks. We have also seen a lot of farmers on horseback, this isn’t the first time we have seen this but here it is the norm, you pass through houses with the horse parked outside like a cowboy film.

By 4pm I was knackered, Ginette was coping much better and was cycling strong but I needed to stop for fluids and food.  We thought about wild camping where we stopped but it was the driveway to a farmer’s field and not really practical.  For the next hour we attempted to find a wild camping spot but we really struggled to find any clear and suitable sites which were not already lived on. It’s not that there a loads of houses it just that when ever the land gave a nice place to stop some one else had beat us to it.

At sunset we were 15 miles from the town, we could have found a spot if we had to but it would have been
1, a tight squeeze by the roadside
2, climbing over someone’s barb wire fence into a cattle field.
3, setting up tent in a village with the locals permission.

In the end after eating a wrap to boost our energy we opted to cycle in the dark to the town of Sona.  I quite enjoyed cycling in the dark but their were lots of bugs so our eyes were playing catch the fly, we stopped with 7 miles to go to apply repellent. As we arrived in town we found a motel just as the heavens opened.
We ended the day tired, but were able to clean ourselves and treat ourselves to a Chinese. Well it was supposed to be a Chinese restaurant but we ended up with rice beans and coleslaw and chicken for me. Not really a Chinese but it was cheap quick and filling.

In the town there were a large proportion of drinking bars, each one with a panel across the front of the doors to try to stop passers by seeing inside. In the bars were mainly men and it felt very Cowboys film again.

Ginette – It was a really long, hot, tiring day. I find cycling hills in the heat almost impossible. By the afternoon, I was fine the cloud coverage made all the difference even though it was still 30c + 

I would have happily stopped mid afternoon as Gary was clearly wiped out but fortunately after a bit of food and drink he dug deep and found enough energy for us to end the day in a Motel.  I really appreciated this because I was dreading spending another hot, sticky night in the tent.

8th Jan 

Ginette – I slept really well for the first time in days, I woke feeling really rested. We had a leisurely start to the day doing various IT tasks before setting off to Santiago. It should have been an easy 30 miles but route 5 continued to deliver hill after hill. The route was pretty but there was little wildlife and the road was busy so I mainly found myself watching the road and listening to my podcast. 

We arrived at our hostel at about 1.30pm and booked a ‘tent’ for the night. Yes, you read that right we have paid to stay in a tent provided by the hostel.  The alternative was paying twice the price for a bunk bed in the dormitory or much more for a hotel.  

I spent the afternoon writing the blog and booking flights to Colombia (very time consuming because of booking the bikes on line). Gary went shopping for much needed supplies. 

Gary – I went for a walk around the busy little town, I think it’s a city but to me it’s more of a town. It is a lived in town with no real tourist attractions but lots of shops and locals making the most of the weekend.
I also did some food shopping and spent ages in a large supermarket looking for the stuff we need whilst passing all the stuff we can’t carry or keep with envy.

Ginette – We are going to take a bus to Santa Fe and spend a couple of days hiking. Yayyyyy





2 thoughts on “Panama – Part 1

  1. David Dutson

    Hello again good to hear you tow are safe and well (apart from been eaten alive lol) that watering hole looked lush and the water so clear some of the vews you are seeing are amazing you say it hot out thare at this moment i would happly swop you for the storm we are having at the moment we have had a leaky roof and nearly got flooded but enough about us you two stay safe and i look forward to your next blog

    from Dave Dutson


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