The two days with my new friends Randy and Paula felt great and was just what the doctor ordered. They treated me like royalty, carrying me around on a pillow. Well, they would have if they could have picked me up. Seriously though it was great and a well needed mental break. Paula and Randy, love you guys and thanks so much!
The rear tire seemed to be holding the air pressure and I headed out of the Volcán area for Santiago, in case there were more tire issues and ultimately Panama City. It began raining shortly after I got on the road, but after an hour faded away into eventual sunshine as I got closer to Santiago.
The highway was under construction and required driving in the oncoming lane for many miles, which felt a bit weird but overall the road was very nice. I reached Santiago with no issues and grabbed a quick lunch at a KFC on the highway, then headed on for Panama City. The tire was fine and I had to keep it throttled down anyway due to the number of police on the road. It's a 3 hour speed trap from Santiago to Panama City.
I hit the city about 3:45 and came to a stop about 6 miles from my hotel. I noticed there are almost no motorcycles on the road which suggested a rough city to drive in. I had to ride on the shoulder several miles to get past the dead stopped traffic, only to find that the main roads were reversed for traffic flowing out of the city and incoming had to squeeze into a single lane.
It was an awesome feeling to finally ride over the Bridge of the Americas and cross a significant boundary for me. The last border crossing's night ride in the rain had felt a bit like the 10th round of a boxing match where you're not sure whether you won or lost but you were still standing.
Across the bridge my hotel was directly on the canal entry and I rewarded myself with a decent room and good meal at the TGI Friday's attached. I was too tired to go looking elsewhere and sat watching the ships lined up to enter the canal, the behemoth container ships passing quietly past as the darkness came.
As an aside, Paula had grown up in the canal zone and they had shared how the previous president of Panama had gotten the country in serious debt for certain projects, and now the country was trying to ease the financial burden by raising canal transit rates. Apparently now the fees for a container ship to cross are about $1 million USD. Small sailboats got jacked as well from a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand. The higher rates sent more traffic towards the Suez Canal. Don't ask for details or particulars, cuz I don't know but it was interesting to hear.
The Canadians Three had arrived in Panama City the day before me, as well as some of the other riders we'd met. I planned to move to their hotel the next day.
Maryna and Paul, the Australian couple I'd met in San Juan del Sur, had scouted for tires for me and found a place called PanaBike who could get me some adventure tires. Heidenau's weren't available anywhere in Panama, but PanBike said he could get me "MotoZ Tractionator GPS" tires. After hearing the name I wasn't impressed but I did find a couple of reviews which said they were comparable to Heidi's. It didn't really matter, because they had bigger meatier knobs than the other available tires and if they were crap I could find something else in Colombia. Only problem was that the distributor only sold them in front and rear sets so I had to buy both. I'd considered buying a tube and running the Heidi or just living with a patch until Medellin, but the mental niggle wasn't something I wanted to carry.
I got going the next morning a bit later to allow traffic to die down a bit, which was pointless. It was stop and go, mainly stop, and it took an hour to get to the tiny shop. I asked about pulling the rear wheel out in front of the shop, but they insisted I take the bike to the garage. That entailed removing the side cases to squeeze the bike down a long hallway alongside the building into a basement.
After pulling the wheel, the owner took both it and the new rear tire, put them on his scooter and took off to a tire shop.
The MotoZ tire looked seriously beefy and could be mounted either direction, one way being recommended for 50/50 use and the other for more off-road conditions. I indicated to mount them for off-road, but when he returned it was the other way. Oh well. I tossed the spare front tire over the rear case and planned to rent it to Charlie for photo ops.
Approximately $400 USD for the pair... at least Jules and I look like more serious adventurers with spare tires on the bike.
Angel and his dad at PanaBike, were a small shop but Angel was very helpful and if you need something, he speaks English and can probably get what you need. He's also very responsive on WhatsApp and keeps you informed. He rides a 2008 1200 Adventure so they're familiar with the needs.
BTW if you don't have WhatsApp go ahead and download it for your phone. EVERYONE from Mexico southward uses it.
The hotel I was moving to was about a mile away but the trip over was hot and frustrating with the traffic. When I got within site I could see Charlie, Christine, Jules and Paul in front with the bikes. I had to wait about 10 minutes in the heat to get the last 100 feet, but it was good to see the gang again. Paul was returning from having his spare fuel cans filled. We had to wait another hour or two to get in the room.
That evening around the rooftop pool we had some pizza and drinks. The air was cool and the city view was great. Paul's wife Maryna was battling a chest cold after having had bacterial stomach issues for weeks. She made an appearance for a while despite feeling bad. We talked about how fatigued we were as a group. The heat and trek through Central America had taken its toll on us all. A bit of a frustration was that the Stahlratte's delay had put us in the most expensive city for an additional 5 days. Truth is none of cared because the idea of just chilling for a week was appealing.
The captain of the Stahlratte emailed a picture of it in dry dock in Cartagena.
We've all been discussing about what lies ahead in South America. The German couple Adrian and Andrea are under a bit of deadline to get to Santiago, Chile for a shipping date, Bas is trying to get home for Christmas and is trying to make a run for Ushuaia as fast as he can - a task that seems impossible but he's going to try, and this morning Maryna and Paul were discussing how reaching Panama was a milestone in that we had all made the North American continental passage. I wanted to put it in a visual perspective for myself, having ridden up to Alaska and south to here. At least it gives an idea of the relative distances and South America doesn't seem quite so far now :D
We've all been laying around the hotel rooms anxiously awaiting Friday for the Stahlratte. Panama City reminds me of New York City with a lazy Caribbean attitude. It's a big, hard city that doesn't care, but in a laid back way. Seems like a place one could easily drop off the radar if one chose. We've done some exploration but tomorrow we're planning on doing a canal tour.
In the meantime here's a nugget of truth...
Oh, and if you have always wanted to the see the famous Panama Canal locks...
Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk!