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Peregrinations Mexico and Central America on Motorcycle: Open road, open heart, open mind.

Weeks 27 & 28: Panama, aka The End

PANAMA | Wednesday, 28 September 2011 | Views [2020] | Comments [8]

View of the Panama City skyline.

View of the Panama City skyline.

Have I really not written since I arrived in Panama? I suppose with the end of the trip looming ever closer, it didn't seem so important. Of course, now that I have some downtime, I realize I've got a lot to catch up on, like usual. 

I last wrote from southern Costa Rica, at the edge of the border with Panama. The crossing was time consuming but easy, not notable in any way other than for this single fact: it was to be my very last border crossing of this remarkable adventure of mine. On one hand, feelings of success and pride. On the other, sadness that this small six-month period of my life was coming to a close. 

The guys and I parted ways at the border, just for a couple of days, and I cruised up to the mountain town of Boquete. It was cool and rainy there, and the hostel had all the amenities I look for after five rough days of mud and rock: hot water, a washer and dryer, a bed, and secure parking for the bike. I spent two nights there. I cleaned out all of my gear (you wouldn't believe how much dirt had accumulated at the bottoms of my panniers...and, oddly, how much cinnamon) and cleaned and lubed the chain on the bike. 

There were some very nice, very fun people at the hostel. Sadly, I was still on antibiotics for the hole in my shin, so I wasn't able to join them for beers, but it was still good hanging out. One guy in particular, Josh, was about to embark on his own motorcycle journey north. He asked if Burrito was for sale, and I quickly responded with a "hell no." But I was able to give him information and tips for the journey, at least. It was during one of those conversations when I had a very strong moment of "how did I get here?" (This is not my beautiful house...). To think that I, of all people, have become a knowledgeable resource on transcontinental motorcycle travel...I can hardly believe it. And it's during moments like that, or when I flip back through my journals or look at the line I've drawn on the map, that I realize just how far I've come. And I'm not talking just miles, either.   

At any rate, I left Boquete two days later, well-rested and ready for Panama City. Good thing, too, because about 250 of the 320 miles to the city were completed in utter wet-season downpour. But my raingear was up to the challenge, and I made the turnoff for the Puente de las Americas still warm and dry. 

I was not at all prepared for the bridge. 

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that it was going to be an important moment, crossing over the Panama Canal and entering the city. But I didn't know the bridge was going to be so majestic, spanning the waters with such style and grace. I didn't realize the canal was going to be so wide there, and so scenic, with the silvery water melting into a silvery horizon to the south. And, most of all, I didn't expect such a welling up of joyful emotion, such a feeling of achievement and victory. This was it: I did it. I stood up on the pegs and whooped at the gray sky, heedless of the looks I was receiving through open car windows. I did it, I did it, I did it. 

I was greeted with a veritable hero's welcome at Panama Passage, the overlander hostel where all my new friends were staying before they boarded the Stahlratte and sailed to Colombia. Tyler and Arthur had apparently said nothing but good things about me since their arrival. Or maybe they just kept showing that funny video of me driving straight into the deepest part of the river.   

The next day we caught a cab to the Panama Canal and spent the morning watching the massive Miraflores locks in action. As the cab pulled up to the visitor's center, a cruise ship was passing through. Watching that enormous, pristine white ship pass silently through what appeared to be solid forest was an amazing sight. From the viewing deck, we saw a large cargo ship and numerous smaller boats enter the locks, get raised up a few meters using nothing but gravity-fed water, and sail on into Lake Gatun. 

In the visitor's center, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to take this picture with a sign commemorating my hero, Richard Halliburton, who swam the canal in 1914:

The next day was a sad one for me. Tyler, Greg and Arthur, whom I'd come to adore in the past ten days, left for the Stahlratte and Colombia along with ten other motorcyclists. I managed to say goodbye without crying (just barely), and waved them into the distance. With everyone gone, I was the only motorcyclist at the hostel, and Burrito was in the driveway by herself. It was time to start thinking about going home.

At first I pursued the option of shipping the bike home. The cost for the bike was going to be $1200 (gulp!) but I was willing to take the hit in the bank account in order to have my beloved motorcycle back home with me.

Or so I thought.

Two days before I was scheduled to leave Panama, Josh from Boquete showed up at the hostel. A group of us started got into a discussion about the advantages of selling the bike here...and within half an hour I had changed my mind about shipping home. Throughout the entire trip I'd been adamant that I wouldn't sell the bike at the end, but here I was, doing exactly that. What changed my mind? Well, largely the money. I sold the bike for a very fair price, and saved an additional $1200 in shipping costs. With that money I could buy a new bike in the states. Also, it helped Josh out a lot. The pickings are slim here in Panama, and he was going to have to pay a lot of money for a lower quality bike. Burrito is already set up for adventure travel, and I have no secrets about the condition of the bike--she's great. 

I'm going to miss that little bike like crazy. My first ever motorcycle, the one that tolerated all my mistakes, the one that kept me upright far more than I deserved to be, the one that guided me along my horrendously steep learning curve. I'm surprised, and grateful, that she didn't just buck me off back in Baja and say, "No way am I going to drag your ass to Panama!" I can't imagine having done this trip on any other bike. Yesterday we took a farewell ride to the top of Cerro Ancon, squeezing in a few final hairpin turns before I handed over the keys to Josh. 

And that's it. This journey is over. I can't believe that this lifestyle is coming to an end. I've gotten so darn used to it! What do you mean I'm not going to pack up the boxes tomorrow, hop on Burrito, and ride to a new corner of the world? What do you mean I won't be speaking Spanish? What do you mean I won't end every day with dirt and grease on my hands, and with my head filled with reminders to lube the chain, check that one bolt that keeps coming loose, find a gas station in the next fifty miles, and, crap, hit the brakes! 

On the other hand, I can't believe I'll be shopping at grocery stores that sell real cheese, fresh berries, and food that isn't deep-fried or full of sugar and corn syrup. I can't wait to get my hands on a bra that isn't held together with safety pins, a shirt that hasn't been worn every three days for the past six months, and shoes that don't stink. I can't wait to walk down the street and not have strange men whispering, "Psst, gringa!" as I pass them. I'm excited to ski, hike, ride my bicycle (gasp!), and rock-climb. But, above all, I can't wait to see my family and friends, to sit down over a nice, cold microbrew, and swap stories of  the past six and a half months of life gone by. 

In summary, I guess I'm experiencing the same range of emotions I always feel at the end of a trip like this: excitement to see my family and friends again, trepidation about what I'm going to do when I get home, pride that I've completed such an epic journey and come out of it alive, and gut-wrenching sadness that it's all over. And of course, I'm already making plans for the next trip ;-)   

Thanks for reading, everyone. I look forward to having more tales to spin in the coming year!

Until the next adventure begins,

Sarah 

Comments

1

That actually made me tear up :) I'm so proud of you and excited!! Hope I'm in that group that gets to enjoy that microbrew and hear all about your adventures. You've been missed! Congrat-u-f$*#ing-lations!

  Bobbie Sep 29, 2011 5:27 AM

2

Really beautiful, Sarah. Thank you so much for sharing all of your adventures!

(Same as it ever was....same as it ever was...)

  Eric D Sep 29, 2011 10:06 AM

3

Wonderful, beautiful, and very inspirational. I loved following along, thank you!

  Louise Smith Sep 30, 2011 12:21 AM

4

I'm so glad you're home, Sarah. I love just looking at you sitting in the kitchen- safe and healthy.

  mom Oct 7, 2011 8:03 AM

5

Hello, I've been searching around for information about selling a foreign registered bike in Panama and came across your blog. Sounds like you managed it, did you have to pay an import tax / get the bike registered etc? Any information would help loads, struggling to get definite answers. Thanks!

  Colin Feb 7, 2012 2:29 AM

6

Hi Colin:

I'm not the best person to ask about this bc we did it illegally. I only ever had the original registration with me, not the title (safe at home), so selling it legally was going to be a pain in the butt. Instead we made a forged copy of the registration and called it good until the buyer gets to the US (next week if all goes well) and we'll legally transfer the title there. That plan went fine except for getting into Costa Rica: the border guard asked "is this the original?" and the buyer said, "no". Fiasco ensued. North of there, however, he's said, "yes, of course it's the original" (in fact, I don't think anyone has even asked since Costa Rica) and it's all been fine.

I tried briefly to sell it legally in Panama, but the official I needed to talk wouldn't talk to me bc I was a woman/foreigner, so I stopped trying. He said I'd need the title and reg, both people, and money, but wouldn't tell me how much money. I also think you need an address in Panama.

Sorry I don't have more information. Best of luck! And, of course, stay at Panama Passage while you're in Panama City.

Sarah

  alpiner84 Feb 8, 2012 11:09 AM

7

Hey Sarah,
Just found your blog last night and read it all. Great reading. Thanks.
I am doing a trip at the moment. I just rode a honda Ct 110 from B.C Canada to San Diego. Then cycled Baja. Just hitched back to the U.S and will start the long slow ride back to B.C.
After reading your tales I will be buy a Xt to try my hand at riding down to Chile.
Thanks again.
So stoked I found this blog.
Yeeeeewwwww.
Matt.

  Matt. Apr 15, 2013 11:51 AM

8

Hi Matt,
Glad you liked the blog and found it useful. Enjoy the rest of your trip, and have fun on your future XT225!
Sarah

  alpiner84 Apr 27, 2013 11:43 AM

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