The Road Less Traveled in Panama City

Published: July 9th 2012
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We have officially been on the road for one year! Since we had Mike down for the previous week and saw a flurry of sights, we decided to take the road less travelled. Tuesday morning we took a drive back to Colon on the Caribbean and then northwest to Fort Lorenzo. We originally intended to do this part of the trip when we went to Portobelo, but something happened to our car and we couldn’t go. The map took us over a one-lane bridge near the Gatun Locks at the entrance to the Panama Canal. We were stopped at a red light with a lot of other vehicles. The light changed and it was our turn. I have never seen a lock gate from this angle before. It was quite massive. I looked up and I saw a container ship about 10 feet away inside the locks! Absolutely incredible! Unfortunately, we did not get any pictures.

We knew we weren’t on the congested streets of Panama City anymore when we were on the road to Fort Sherman. We were the only car on the road and it had a very “jungley” feel. We drove through the very deserted old army base of Fort Sherman and on to Fort Lorenzo. We had the place to ourselves! We could hear the almost surreal sound of the howler monkeys and the screech of macaws above our heads in the treetops, but couldn’t see either. The only animal we saw was a stray cat wanting some food. The fort, first built in 1595 and attacked and destroyed by Sir Frances Drake, pirate Captain Henry Morgan, and British Admiral Vernon, was built with blocks of cut coral. There were rows of cannons, some of them British-made. You could almost feel the three separate attacks before the for was abandoned.

On our way out of Ft. Sherman we stopped at Shelter Cove Restaurant and Bar for lunch. The restaurant was situated in a yacht club. While we were waiting for our food, an American couple came in and sat at the table next to ours. I asked them where they were from and she said that they live on a boat. I had already felt kind of cocky being on the road for a year, so I asked them how long they had been “on the road”. He said six years! So much for being cocky! I was amazed and now have a new goal.

Once we drove back and crossed the one-lane bridge, we went to check out the Gatun Locks. The Gatun Locks are what the ships go through on their way from the Caribbean to Lake Gatun. While there were hundreds of tourists at the Miraflores Locks, we had the place to ourselves. The observation deck at Miraflores Lock was about 500 feet from the actual ships; here you could almost reach out and touch them. A tour guide lady told me that a fully-loaded cargo ship could pay as much as $315,000 to go through the Panama Canal – incredible!

With our Panama days numbered, yesterday found us attempting to drive to the end of the Pan American Highway at Yaviza. The Pan American Highway does not go into Colombia; you would have to ship your car and fly to Colombia. We planned on stopping to check out the Indigenous Embera people and their village in Ipeti. The Pan American started off nice, but then there was about a ten-mile stretch that was all construction. We didn’t get to Ipeti until around noon. We drove down the dirt road to the village and sat down under a thatch roofed building while drinking our bottle of water. Within minutes, little kids were gathering around us. It was kind of funny – you’d have the little kids, who just want to be friends and had the “look at me” mentality; the 10 – 12 year old girls with a bit of the attitude who’d come over, but not pay any attention to us; and then the 10-year-old boys who hang out across the street, keeping their eyes on us, but not wanting anything to do with us. The further you go, the more everything is just the same! We hung out for a little while, and then headed back to the Pan Americana. We still had about a three-hour drive ahead of us to Yaviza.

Before leaving Ipeti we stopped at a local bar, had a beer, and weighed the options of continuing to Yaviza. While at the bar, a guy bought us a round of beer. And another round. The waitress came up to the table and we gave her money to buy the bar a round and to tell her no mas! We also decided that, with our car having to make the long trip in a couple of days, Ipeti was as close as we were going to get to the end of the Pan American highway. We decided to go back to Panama City, not getting there until after 5.

So now we have to decide “what next?” Our trusty Saturn steed has been wounded, but, like the Eveready bunny, he keeps going and going. Our windshield is cracked. Our front bushings are shot. The key does not come out of the ignition, so we technically have to “hotwire” the car. We have apartment reservations right now to spend a month in Costa Rica. It was a beautiful country when we drove through it on the way to Panama, and we hope to find a lot of stuff to do there. Our long-term plan, although quite fluid, is to make our way to the U.S., buy a car that has repair parts available in South America, ship it to South America, and then fly. That is, of course, unless somebody can tell us how to buy a car and register it in a foreign country!

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A Long Way From HomeA Long Way From Home
A Long Way From Home

4443 miles from Northern California to Ipeti, Panama and many more miles in store!

17th January 2013

Panama Immigration
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