Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Day 73 to 75 – to Santiago, Panama

2 to 4 June    Kms travelled – 17,071

I landed in Panama city with a smile, and was met by the balmy weather reminiscent of times in Barbados – and the hostel´s driver who whisked me direct to the chosen place of stay.  At first glance the city seemed modern and dynamic, and the hostel was a cool place to chill (if that is possible in the heat!).  When I left Bogotá I was wearing my fleece, as it was a bit chilly in the morning.  Here shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops are very much the order of the day.   Oh, and anti-mozzie spray (I left mine on the bike and picked up over 20 bites in the first 24 hours).

By the time the afternoon was well settled in I decided to go for a walk round the old town – the Casco Antiguo – and it was then that my spirits started to wane.  There are some really nice buildings which have been renovated, but as all the guide books say, it is still a work in progress – and there is a lot of work in progress.  So much so that it felt like wandering around a building site – but one with some seedy looking builders hanging around not doing any work in some of the more run down streets.  I´m sure it will be great when completed, but right now it didn´t do anything for me. 

In short, I don´t know if it was the humid heat, the feel of the place, or the time of the year, but I am not sure I liked Panama City.  While I never felt threatened during the two days there, I never quite felt safe either.  In between the buildings that make up the impressive skyline, there is much work needed on the ground.  Not least as there also is quite a noticeable gap between the have and have not’s – they seem to rub along side by side – but I sensed an uneasiness.  Or perhaps that was me – I wanted to get on.  I didn´t want to be sat around chatting to folks in the hostel, good company as they were, I wanted to be on the road.  I had landed in Central America with a higher degree of seriousness about the trip and riding the bike.  I´m not altogether sure why, perhaps it was a reflection of my darkening mood.  But in the south I was more interested in seeing places and meeting people – and the bike was the ideal means to facilitate that.  Here I just wanted to ride. 

But that would have to wait until the Monday morning, when the nice chap at the hostel ran me out to the cargo terminal at the airport to collect Idris.  It took a couple of hours to sort out the necessary – but all pretty easy really – and the Girag staff in Panama looked after me well.  By lunchtime Idris and I were reunited and heading back towards the city, with the aim of running straight through in the direction of Costa Rica.  Given my mood I decided not to bother stopping at the Canal locks to take photos, nor did I stop at the bridge of the Americas (which was just a bridge really – nothing to write home about – so I won´t).  In fact, while I know the Canal is one of man´s largest engineering achievements – which killed a whole load of people in its construction – it just looked like a muddy river with artificial looking banks (well, they are man-made) and big boats in it.  I seem to have lost my ability to wonder at such marvels – clearly I was a bit grumpy this day.  

But that improved as I landed in Santiago on the Inter-Americana, my chosen overnight stop.  I checked into a cheap hotel and had just got down a great plate of Chinese food, when Romero (fellow ABR, GS800) popped round and took me out for a few beers.  We had been in touch on the ABR forum and hoped to meet up as I passed through his patch.  Swapping stories with a like minded biker rider was just the tonic I needed to snap me out of my mood.  He paid for the beers too!  Cheers mate, it was great to catch up with you, and best of luck with the business and your travel plans.

Thought for the day
The fourth of June is not much of a noted celebration day – but there is a reason to celebrate.  This day is the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression.  But why should we celebrate that, you might ask.  Well, it is important to recognise the incredible progress made by organisations such as Unicef in fighting for children´s rights around the world.  Huge progress has been made – and that should be celebrated.  That progress should also be held up as an example of what can be achieved in those areas where more work is urgently needed.  Unicef has noted that children continue to fear and experience violence in every country of the world – that includes all those I am passing through in my journey – and ours! 

Having an international day for this and that can easily pass us by if we are not directly involved in the work being done.  But don´t pass by this opportunity to help Unicef change more young lives for the better.  Believe me, it is hard work keeping up this website while on the road, but I´m doing it not only to keep a record of my journey, but also because I believe in this cause.  If you enjoy my ramblings, have a look here to see more about what Unicef are doing to help kids in over 190 countries – and then click here to help make a difference to those lives.  Thanks.

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