Goodbye Costa Rica – Hello Panama

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Before leaving Golfito and Costa Rica behind for new experiences in Panama I took a ride downtown to check email and post a few stories. By the time I pulled up in front of the Hotel Golfito which on its ground floor is a nice air-conditioned internet cafe complete with wireless and a station to plug a laptop directly into the internet, Ricardo was asking me if I had a friend with the same bike and who had problems with his wheels a week or so back. Sure enough, Ricardo helped J.J. get on the road again after the Costa Rican roads did a number on his front and read rims.

The more miles I put on my bike and the bigger I find the world to be, a coincidence like this puts it all in perspective.

The border crossing into Panama was fairly easy. At 20 years old, married, with a clean haircut and nice cloths, Ruben was one of the more older and more professional tramitadores I have met. I told him I could handle the document processing myself, but he followed me around, pointed me in appropriate directions and overall just hung in the background. Another Panamanian boy was marveling over my motorcycle and told me another motorcyclist on a long journey like mine had stayed at his home in Panama. Small world again. But for Ruben’s unobtrusive efforts I pulled out a handful of Costa Rican coins and poured them into his hand and thanked him. And oddly enough he didn’t want his picture taken.

With the sweat of the day beading on my forehead I decided to head to the mountains when I hit David, Panama taking the road to Boquette. Boquette sits nestled in the forest below Panama’s tallest peak, the still active Baru volcano. Also known for perhaps the best quality coffee grown in Panama and perhaps Central America, it sits amidst lush foliage with the Rio xxxxxx running through it. At a coffee shop I meet a fellow Gringo, Peter, who just finished building a house here. He tells me that the Panamanian government is offering lucrative benefits, such as property tax amnesty for life, for those who build and develop here. And the evidence of a pending boom is seen along the rather boring road from David to Boquette.

As the wind starts rather violently blowing the foliage and kicking up the dust on the side streets I settle into a simple and no frills $9 motel room. Then it starts pouring rain. Just in time.

After dark Boquette at this time is rather quiet. It’s Tuesday, perhaps the slowest evening anywhere I’ve been in Central America and Mexico. So I walk in the rain along the streets looking for a bite and a beer.

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The next morning it’s still raining. Figuring it’ll stop soon, I spend some time at the local internet cafe. It keeps raining. A couple hours go by and I’m getting antsy. There’s no way I want to spend another evening in Boquette, though I would like to climb the volcano. That’ll have to wait. So I fit my rain gear on and head south. All night I’d tossed and turned thinking about my schedule and what I wanted to do in Panama. High on my list was a visit to Boca del Toro. But this involved taking a fairly long ride over the mountains and to Caribbean coast and taking a ferry to the islands. Alternatively, the Pacific side of Panama offered interesting culture and a good collection of beaches, though less developed and more remote.

Then there was the tiny village of El Valle, a couple hours north of Panama City. Set in the crater of a dormant volcano I figured that I could make it there before nightfall. So that was the plan.

At the turn off to Bocas del Torro, I headed to the Caribbean. With a journey like this there are plans and then there are plans that change. And of course, there are no plans. I had no idea I’d take that turn today. But within a few hours I was heading back toward Panama City. The lush tropical forested mountains of Panama are scenic not only in the foliage, but in their ragged cut jagged peaks with volcanoes adding color. I climbed and climbed till I hit the cloud forests. And then came the rain. And then came the wind. I pushed on until I couldn’t see anything in front of me. Nor in back of me. I hate turning back. But I reasoned that it might be just the elevation, or it just might be a storm that’s battering or going to hammer Bocas. I didn’t want to ride there for a day only to visit a tropical paradise to sit through a storm.

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Never made it to El Valle, either. The tiny sign to Las Lajas at dumpy turnoff caught my eye. I’d read of a quite beach with great body surfing waves. The sun was starting to do its daily descent so I took the road and 20km later found myself in a small concrete cabin sitting on the beach. And the place was empty. Quite deserted actually. After unpacking and getting out of my “uniform” I meet a couple girls from Canada. They’d been here for three days. Wild horses roam the secluded and deserted beach. The man running the cabañas I’m staying in cooks meals, sells soft drinks and beer. Five miles down the road toward the highway is the town of Las Lajas. After riding through there earlier I knew nothing is going on there. It’s just peace and quiet.

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As the only three people at the beach, other than a taxi driver and two or three locals, we told stories, practiced Spanish and contributed to increasing beer sales for our solo business man on the beach.

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Photos: (1) Golfito, Costa Rica in the morning before departure (2) Notorious rain grounds me roadside while I wait for the calm; (3) Brooding clouds mean doom of more rain causing a change of plans and abandoning Bocas del Torro; (4,5 &6) Hammock swinging in the night at Las Lajas, Panama; a great hotel room a better price; wild horses couldn’t drag me away from staying here.

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