While getting closer to Panama I also got closer to the date where the Steelrat picks up their service between Panama and Colombia again. After cancelling my Steelrat ride in last November while I was still very motivated in Mexico I now saw the chance to skip the whole container shipping and make use of the deposit I already had paid. Anyway I always loved to be on boats so one more reason to hang on for that sailing turn. I chose to do this in “expensive” Costa Rica because it has mountains which means colder climates. As an overlander I didn’t find Costa Rica to be any more expensive than other central american countries. Of course I didn’t do touristy things that you have to pay for (except paying for a guide in Manual Antonio National Park because those guys know where the wildlife is). Also free camping (colder climate yay) and staying with other riders helped to keep the cost down.
The border crossing into Panama was the quickest I had so far. If the girl from the insurance would not have made an error in the VIN number I would have been through in just about 40 minutes. So it was about an hour which is still a lot faster than everything I had before (except crossing from Canada into the USA was very fast too). Coming into Panama brought back the heat and the demotivated feeling. Also I didn’t have much time until boarding the Steelrat so I decided not to explore Panama except go to Panama City and see the Panama Canal. The long two day ride from the border to Panama City was probably the most boring ride I had in Central America. Of course you remember I wasn’t motivated and it’s just too freaking hot.
Riding over a big bridge to cross the canal I was suprised to see Panama City, well, not to see the city but the looks of it. I thought it was like any other latin american capital and I had no idea it was full of high risers and I felt like being back in the USA. I stayed around the financial district where most of the highrisers are and walking around in those parts of the city felt like being in a small version of New York City. It’s also quite expensive around there. Also I met Kix again and the few days we spent in the City we rode around together to explore.I learned that the city has flourished because it’s a tax heaven and also because the Panama Canal was built by americans which brought a lot of investor down.
One evening I stepped into what I thought was a puddle of mud. But it was fresh cement so I simply turned it into a walk of fame (or shame if you like) for adv riders. I put my name next to my footprint and the coordinates in the iOverlanding app to see if other overlanders pass by and take a picture. Who knows… As in any other capital there is a huge contrast between rich and poor here it just seems even stronger. One moment I was just in a very modern city feeling like the first world, the next moment I ride through an area where people live on the streets and wear torn apart clothing.
I thought about taking the Panarail train ride which goes from Panama to Colon, basically crossing the whole country from south to north. It features a very nice old school wooden interior. The train is used by locals to commute but you can take the ride too. But they will charge you 25$ each way just because you’re a tourist and the train only leaves early in the morning (way to early for me) and late afternoon to come back. I also read there is not that much to see other than a river and some trees around. The panoramic wagon with it’s glass roof is also said to be a joke unless you like staring nothing but the blue sky or are lucky a dragon is flying by. Then leaving at 7.30am is just too early for me. I didn’t really want to go to Colon either (some people say it can be dangerous there though I think you’re fine at daylight times). And being from Switzerland riding in a train is about as exciting as brushing your teeth. Sony many reasons not to spend that money and loose a day by staring at nothing that would seem exciting.
Instead I decided to go and see the Miraflores Locks. When we go there in the morning they told us the nex ship would pass through in the late afternoon so we had to come back later. The museum was interesting, learning about the history of the canal and technology used to build it. The locks itselves didn’t blow my mind, again I grew up in Basel on the Rhine and we have locks too. They might be a tad smaller but it’s the same principle. Anyway you can only visit the old and “small” locks. The new and much bigger ones that have been finished recently are closed to the public. An interesting fact: The cheapest passing through was a man who swam the canal and he had to pay 0,36$ for it.