Traffic, Locks and Doors: Panama City
The day we rode across the Panama Canal for the first time was Phil’s 30th birthday (1 August 2013). We rode across the Bridge of the Americas and discovered the terrible traffic that was to mark our whole time in Panama City.
We stopped in the old town to take some pictures of the start of the Panama Canal.
We had arranged to stay with a couchsurfing host called Raul, who also happens to be an Ultimate Frisbee player. He gave us instructions to get to his apartment downtown, and after several wrong turns and a lot of sweltering stuck in traffic, we found it.
Raul owns a beautiful modern apartment. It also benefits from the double holy grail of a good internet connection and hot water on demand. We were very pleased to be welcomed so warmly into his home.
As it was Phil’s birthday, we decided to make a steak dinner, which was delicious, and Phil finished off his special day with a mug of rum.
Early the next morning Raul went to work, leaving us a key to the apartment, and a sweet message on the wall.
“Good Morning! Use key to unlock/lock front door. Have a nice day!”
Steve was coming to pick us up to take us shopping for motorcycle bits, so at the allotted time we grabbed all our gear and tried to leave the apartment. I say tried, because Phil put the key into the door to unlock it, and the key got stuck. We both tried everything, but we could not get the key to turn, to unlock the door or remove it from the lock.
The only way out of the 14th floor apartment is through that door.
Eventually, after phoning Steve to explain why we weren’t there to meet him, I took the only other key on the keychain off the ring, and tried it in the top lock on the door. It turned, and unlocked the door!
Door of doom 1 – Davidsons 0
Feeling more than a little foolish, with the other key still stuck in the bottom lock, we escaped the apartment, locked the top lock again, and I slipped the key into my hip pocket.
Steve took us to a couple motorcycle shops. I am in need of a new rear tire, and have decided to go for one that has a more aggressive tread to deal with the dirt roads we are sure to face in South America.
The first place only had one tire the right size, which was less aggressive than my current Avon Gripster, so we went to the BMW dealership. That was where Phil found his Continental TKC in Guatemala city.
Going into a BMW dealership is a very pleasant experience. Everything is clean, and modern and shiny. They offered us cappuccinos and bent over backwards to help, despite us being Kawasaki riders.
They didn’t have a tire for me in stock, but called around to find one. While they did that, I got online to the many KLR facebook groups I have recently found. By doing that I found out that tires are much less expensive in Colombia, and readily available, so decided to just keep going on my balding one for a little longer.
We returned to Raul’s apartment, parked the bikes, and headed up to face the door of doom. I reached into my pocket for the key and came out empty handed.
I had lost the key.
Door of doom 2 – Davidsons 0
After desperately searching every pocket and possible place it could be, we resignedly called Raul and told him of our further folly.
Luckily it was near the end of the work day and he came home to find us sitting outside his apartment, bathed in shame.
Despite us breaking his lock and losing his key, he still let us in.
Raul couldn’t get the key out of the lock either.
We felt slightly better when the locksmith also couldn’t get the stuck key out of the lock.
Phil had been reading Raul’s coffee table book about the history of the Panama Canal. Phil and I have loved locks since we used to play in them with an inflatable dingy when we were children.
The Panama Canal is an exceptional feat of human engineering. To traverse it boats must go through a series of locks taking them to a new water level six times (three up and three down). 20,000 people died building it (mostly of yellow fever and malaria), and it was completed in 1914 (before the world wars)!
So we decided to go visit the Miraflores locks. There is an excellent visitor centre, a 3D movie, and stadium seating for visitors to watch boats go through the locks. All for just $8US.
Steve had told us a lot about his cabin outside the city in Cerro Azul, and we were thrilled when he invited to go stay there for a couple nights for a little R & R and to do some work on the bikes.
When we showed up at Steve’s apartment building we all jumped on the bikes, but Steve’s bike wouldn’t start. Phil tried to help by using a combination of wires to jump start Steve’s bike with a bang.
We got Steve’s bike bump started despite the failed jump start, and were soon in Cerro Azul.
We had a delicious BBQ dinner, complete with nature’s fireworks – beautiful lightning over the horizon.
After our delightful mountain retreat, it was difficult to leave and return to the big city.
We returned to Raul’s apartment, which now had brand new locks in the door!
Phil decided to go to the end of the PanAmerican highway, where it stops because the infamous Darien Gap is in the way. While he went on that adventure, I stayed in Panama City and caught up on blogging, laundry and a little shopping for our upcoming trip to the San Blas Islands.
Raul took me to a yoga class, and we had quite a few long conversations about life, careers, travel and priorities.
One morning I woke up to find Raul sitting at the table quite upset. His brother-in-law had unexpectedly passed away that past night in his late 40s.
I never know the best thing to say or do when faced with someone who has recently lost someone important to them. I feel that in these situations, it is the need to support your living loved ones that comes to the forefront.
No matter how well Raul knew his brother-in-law, it is the impact on his sister and her two children that is bound to hit the hardest. Their lives will never be the same again, and that is devastating.
Raul coped with it brilliantly, and it brought some of the themes of our previous conversations into very clear focus.
Live your life now. Follow your dreams. Cherish your loved ones.
Do it now.
It was time for Phil and I to continue living our dreams. The San Blas Islands were calling us.