Panama – Quick Crazy Travel Ur Dreams
Quick Crazy moments in time in Panama
Panama City skyline from our rooftop hotel pool. It was a necessary sacrifice to make while coordinating the overseas shipping of Eldo. We wound up spending two weeks in Panama City; mainly due to bad timing on our part arriving the holiday week of Carnival. Plus, we tasked our shipping agents with quoting destinations such as Iceland, Belgium, Germany, New Zealand and Colombia. That’s how we do it…..
Just another day on the road. Fortunately we had some affordable hotel options as we prepared Eldo for a month at sea, shipping from Panama to Europe. It was a great opportunity to clean her all out and organize her kitchen and bathroom containers. These two boxes contain most of our daily life possessions and make it possible to live comfortably and affordably for months at a time in a Jeep Cherokee.
We had a room in this busy Panama City hotel. However, the parking garage was fairly deserted and quiet. We got to spend some quality time relaxing in Eldo’s comfortable bed before losing access to her for over a month while shipping to Europe. Eldo’s bed is easily in the top 5 comfortable beds of all time.
The first step if you want to get your vehicle shipped out of Panama, either to cross the Darien Gap or all points elsewhere. This is the “DIJ” police inspection where your temporary import paperwork is checked against your VIN number and your data is fed into the Interpol database to ensure you and/or your vehicle aren’t on the most wanted list. Eldo has been a good girl, so she had nothing to worry about. Only 25 cars a day are inspected so you better arrive early… we arrived at 7am were already number 26. They kindly took pity and let us stay. This is a bottleneck meeting place for all overlanders. All must pass through this small, dusty, dirt parking lot in a seedy Panama City neighborhood. We could feel the energy of the countless adventurers before us and hope to have left some good mojo for those that follow. We met up yet again with fellow overlanders from Switzerland in the red VW Van. We crossed paths many times throughout Central America and were shocked to see them again here. It is here that we also met the inspiring Brett Randel Anderson and his motorcycle “Annie” on their journey from North to South America as Everywhereman. Check out his incredible story at https:everywhereman.me.
Safe in her basement garage parking space, Eldo gets her last bit of preparation for a month at sea; shipping from Panama to Europe. After 8 months of driving, dirty and muddy back roads from Florida to Panama, she got her first car wash in order to make it easier to pass customs inspections. Our usual road strategy is to leave her exterior as dirty as possible to blend in and be less attractive to those who might want to do her harm.
City driving reality check after days of backroads. It takes a few minutes to adjust and then it’s all normal again. Just another day on the road.
Watch out if you are driving the Panama-Colon Expressway. Most of the motorcycle cops with radar guns are very realistic phony look-a-likes. It’s hard to tell they aren’t real until you pass them and see the flat wooden silhouette. We named these guys “Cardboard Cops”. Every now and then, they would sneak a real cop out there, so you could never really let your guard down.
More… waiting at the busy shipping port in Colon Panama. Eldo is washed, clean, and organized for her month at sea from Panama to Europe. We are very nervous to turn her over to the port workers for her “stuffing” into a 20 foot container.
Driving to the busy Manzanillo Shipping Port in Colon Panama. Eldo is on her way to a shipping container and eventually a month at sea from Panama to Europe.
The busy shipping Manzanillo Shipping Port in Colon Panama. Last minute preparations before Eldo spends a month at sea on her way to Europe.
Manzanillo Shipping Port in Colon Panama. The final step after weeks of planning, coordinating, and paying to ship Eldo to Antwerp Belgium for an adventure to Iceland. The endless paperwork and hoop jumping is intense. Elizabeth finally gets to drive Eldo into the secure port to await a thorough inspection, complete with drug sniffing dogs. I get busted for a third time taking pictures by the humorless and very serious port security. Notice how quickly the white security truck zeros in on me. I promised one “last” time to quit taking pictures.
We decided to walk to the waterfront on a slow Saturday and enjoy the beautiful Panama City weather. We were blown away by the beautiful skyline. Well done Panama!!
Spent over a week in our inland section of the city coordinating vehicle shipping before we had the time and energy to walk to the waterfront. Wow, were we blown away by the impressive skyline and the amazing parks and paths.
On Avenida A in the old town section of Panama City. We walked past the fishing port and all the working fishermen to find a quiet corner for a couple affordable beers and a shady table. Expected to find some good happy hour deals in this area, but these deli beers were the only good deal around. Not sure the occasion to have the live music entertainment, but sure was cool.
You have to hand it to the creative bus operators all through Central America. Just when you think you have seen it all, you haven’t! Walking around Panama City on a fun Saturday night, this neon bus cruises past the Iglesia del Carmen toward city parts unknown. It was tempting to chase after and ride awhile, but as soon as it appeared, it sped out of sight.
For overlanders traversing the PanAmerican Highway, Panama is end of the drivable road. If going on to Colombia and all points south, the Darien Gap poses an impassable gap of swamp and forest between Panama and Colombia. The only real option is to ship your vehicle via ocean freight. This is a complicated and lengthy process that takes days of paperwork, precision scheduling, and considerable money. If it all falls into place, Manzanillo International Terminal on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal is where you bring your vehicle. Typical of most bonded shipping areas, security is high, and everyone is very serious. It’s nearly impossible to sneak pictures and video, and every time we brought out a phone to try, we got busted. Here goes Eldo through the main security gate and into the port to be loaded into a 20′ container and craned onto a ship on her way to………
Took the exhibit tour at the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center. No, I’m not really piloting a cargo ship through the Panama Canal. Although I did get a bit sea sick and had to deal with some sea legs on the way out of the simulator.
How often in life do you get to watch the Panama Canal locks and dams in action? We bought the affordable tour tickets and didn’t have to wait long before the boats and ships were rising and falling by. There was some exciting play by play of the rise and fall over the PA system by a very enthusiastic announcer. Almost like being at the World Cup of Shipping.
The calm before the storm. We thought moving to the far end of the campground would get us a little more relax time away from the small group of all night Friday partiers. Little did we know that by nightfall we would be surrounded by a thousand partiers that arrived to celebrate the holiday weekend.
Holed up in Panama City while deciding where to ship Eldo. Quotes from the shipping brokers are a little slow in coming during the holiday week. A few nights of luxury in a nice hotel, enjoying some rare air conditioning and reliable wifi. The corner TelePizza joint and Supermercado El Rey keep us well fed.
Without warning we cross the Panama Canal via Puente Centenario, The Centennial Bridge. Reminders of 7 months earlier when we crossed US Highway 49 from Dundee to Helena Arkansas over the black, and muddy…Mighty Mississippi River. Bridges and rivers, literary inspiration to many of my favorite writers, are memorable as travel milestones too. Rather than head directly into Panama City, we make the first exit and leave the busy highway and wind down a shady waterside road past some shabby little neighborhoods and park near a fence overlooking the beginning of the lock and dam system and a waiting freighter. There are a couple Japanese tourists taking pictures too as the Panama Canal Railway screams by. Bridge, river, ship, and train…. the gods of literary metaphor can take me now.
Oh Panama, we have entered the twightlight zone. Imagine driving for hours down quiet country roads surrounded by tropical jungle and beach. There is a deserted campground on a wide and empty beach that stretches from horizon to horizon. First night is quiet and peaceful with just a handful of Friday night locals partying within in hearing distance. So peaceful, you decide to stay a second night. The campground owner accepts your $10 payment for a second night with slight hesitation. “I’ll let you stay tonight, but we will be all full. It may be noisy.” As if on cue, once the money changes hands, you see a cloud of dust way up the road. It’s cars, trucks, trailers, and dune buggies. They stream in like locusts, and within what seems just like minutes fill every single nook and cranny of the campground with tents, grills, grandmothers, and children. Population explodes from 10 people to 1000. Each with MEGAWATT amplifier soundsytems hell bent on out blasting each other until dawns early light. We manage a few shaky hours of sleep. Despite ears plugged thick with layers of silicone globs, the low hertz bass rumbles through the earth up into the Jeep tires and finally to our ears. It might as well be a Ricter 6 earthquake. Things quiet down from 4-8am while everyone regroups in their tents and rented beach cabanas. The music and partying begin right on schedule at 8am as we drive away. The one solitary car heading away from the beach as lines of party reinforcements emerge from the dust ahead to claim the one spot of open ground that we just vacated.