Bienvenidos a Panama. The customs agent didn’t say that, I only read it on the sign as I arrived at my last border in Central America. I reached the immigration office at 10AM and it was already blazing hot. I passed through immigration and customs within an hour after going through the necesarry steps of getting insurance and the required paperwork. This was the first country that didn’t come look at my bike to verify the VIN. Somehow I managed to get in without being asked for proof that I had $500. Everyone else I’ve met traveling to Panama had to go to an ATM or print a bank statement. I guess I lucked out.
I had 1000 Costa Rican colones left over (sounds like a lot but it’s only $2). I walked over to a small market and saw a man selling fresh coconuts. I was expecting that they’d be too expensive for me but when the man said they were 300 colones I didn’t wait a second to buy one. He grabbed his machete and cut the top off and handed me the coconut and a straw. I can’t describe how refreshing that coconut was.
The road in Panama is a nice 4 lane highway. After being stuck behind slow trucks on Costa Rica’s two lane roads it was an exciting sight. I was making good time and only a few miles to the city of David when the rain came earlier than I expected. I pulled over at a store and waited for the storm to pass. A policeman and a few guys came over and were asking questions about my trip and motorcycle. The Panamanian guys were giving the cop a hard time because his police motorcycle was a little 125cc Chinese bike. After the usual questions about the motorcycle, they asked the next set of usual questions. What country has the most beautiful women? Did I like women in Panama? Did I like tipico and regatone music? They were the most talkative group I’ve encountered yet. Really nice people but the storm had cleared and I was ready to keep riding.
I stopped for the night near David and hung out with Norman, a fellow motorcycle rider. He’s a British expat living here in Panama enjoying the good life away from cold dreary UK. Thanks, Norman! He gave me some route advice to get to the mountain town of Boquete. I could take the main road and be there in 40 minutes or I could take the scenic backroads and be there in over an hour. Not having a deadline I opted for the scenic route. Somewhere along the way I made a wrong turn and the nice pavement turned into an unpaved road for a few kilometers. On the map it looked like it would connect back up so I kept going. Passing small farm houses and orchards, the road did eventually lead back to the paved route. It was a nice off road detour.
I stopped by a gas station to fuel up and check my location and map. My Panama map for my GPS wasn’t loading properly so I had to use my iPhone and Google Maps. Once I found my way I jumped on my bike and took off down the road. A few minutes later I felt something hit my thigh. That was weird. What dropped from the sky and hit the top of my leg? I looked down at my tank bag where I keep my maps and phone in the clear pocket. No phone. So that’s what hit my leg. I quickly threw the bike around and rode back. I ran across the street and saw the front part of my case in the road. A couple feet from that was the back piece. No phone in sight though. A mom and son came out and asked what was going on. I explained I lost my phone and they joined in the hunt. This is becoming too common the past few days. After twenty minutes of searching the area I found my phone laying in the weeds 10 feet from where the case was laying. Somehow there wasn’t even a scratch on it. So thankful my friends gave me this Lifeproof phone case the day before I left. I said thanks to the mom and son (his name was Daniel too) and kept riding to Boquete.
When I rode into the small town of Boquete I found a hostel and parked. A guy came up to me and was asking about the bike. He said he had just traveled by motorcycle from Peru to Panama but he couldn’t get a US visa so he sold the bike and was going home. We chatted for a bit and he recommended a different hostel as this one didn’t have a secure place to park my motorcycle. And he said this other hostel had a hot tub. I was at Hostal Refugio del Rio two minutes later checking in. I got a dorm room for $12 a night. This place is gorgeous. Nicest hostel I’ve been in. Plus with the hot tub by a quiet river, it’s like a resort.
A quick walk to the center of town and I saw the city was busy getting ready for the Independence Day celebrations. Panamanian flags were hanging on the street poles and homes. Boquete means hole or gap and from looking around the city it’s clear where the name came from. The town is surrounded by the mountains and the foothills of Volcano Baru.
While I was in Boquete I went for a couple rides to explore the area. Every road I turned on would wind around and up the mountains and then head back towards the town. It was great. You couldn’t really get lost and the roads were perfect. I wasn’t expecting such good roads out here in the mountains. Well done Panama.
I made a few trips further out of town to check out two local sights. About 30 minutes out of town is a small hot spring and then past that is a river that runs through a canyon where you can swim and climb. Tours from town charged $35 to get to these places. It only cost me maybe a dollar in fuel. To get to the Caldera Hot Springs you have to go down a dirt road a few kilometers and over two bridges. It’s a 10 minute hike from there. It’s not what you’d normally expect from a hot spring. But I was the only one there and had the spring to myself.
Near the town of Gualaca is a narrow canyon that the river has carved out. The canyon is perfect for climbing but I only went to cool off in the river that still flows through it. It’s deep enough to dive in just about anywhere. On a hot afternoon in Panama this was just what I needed. I spent an hour or so jumping, diving, and swimming around. I found a great Boquete travel blog that gives amazing detailed directions on how to find these off the path places. Check out Boquete Travel Guide.
Today is Thanksgiving in the US and it’s the first time I haven’t been with friends or family to celebrate and give thanks. Everything has been so different and new since I started this trip that I find myself appreciating everything more. So while I’m definitely feeling thankful today, I’m even more aware that I have so much to be thankful for everyday. From the small things like clean laundry, a rain free day of riding, to the bigger, like health and safety on this trip. But beyond that I’m so thankful for my family and friends who encourage, inspire, and love me, and for all the people I’ve met along this journey. Marie, Chantal, Cloe, Oskar and Priscila, the Oaxaca children’s home, the Warm Heart crew, the Ferraras, Mario and his family, Demise and Alena, Ana, Kyle, Trevor, Damian, Jose, Javier, Israel the mechanic, Mario, Alfredo, Reyna and Salvador, Jorge, Israel, Fawna, Kelly, and Norman.
At Hostal Refugio an American girl organized a Thanksgiving feast. People baked pies, made stuffing, and I brought the most important thing, canned cranberry sauce. Don’t judge, it’s what they asked me to get. It wasn’t just Americans around the table. Dutch, Russian, Swiss, Norwegian, Israeli, and many others joined together. There wasn’t an official ‘what are you thankful’ for session but it was a great meal with a group of strangers who came together to enjoy a special meal. I’m sure everyone was thankful for the food at least, and probably the hot tub.
Thank you for following along. I’d love to hear from you in the comments section. Have any questions or suggestions? Send me a message!