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I think he said “Indians have set fire to the road”

February 5, 2012


After our awesome trip to Drake Bay in Costa Rica we headed south to Panama.  I was hoping to make it through the border that day but we got a late start and had to stay in Ciudad Nelly for the night (about 10 miles from the border).

The next morning we crossed the border to Panama.  Anna and I are pros at this now.  I did tip someone for a little help getting around to the different offices but I definitely didn’t need to.  Now that we’ve done this really stressful process so many times, it seems easy and we don’t need any help.  This used to be the worst part of my day but now that I understand the flow, it’s logical and much less stressful.  Having Anna on the trip also makes it much easier.  Anna did the migration for Costa Rica and she takes care of watching the bike while I’m working with the Aduana office (kind of like DMV).
After our pleasant border crossing into Panama, we headed south with a plan to make it to Panama City as fast as possible.  Everything was going smooth.  The roads here in Panama are really nice and the speed limit is pretty high so I feel comfortable driving as fast as I like to.  It’s hot down here so a little extra speed provides a ton of relief from that.  
We slowed down as we a approached a bus and a couple of taxis that were stopped.  A few police were in the area and there was some smoke coming from up the road about 30 meters.  It looked to me like there had been a car wreck and we would need to stop to wait for it to be cleared.  An officer wave to us in a motion that said turn around.  This was the only road to Panama City so I got off the bike to speak with one of the officers.
When someone is speaking Spanish to me, unless it’s a phrase I know and have heard a few times, I can only pick out a few of the words per sentence and try to make something out of it.  The first sentence the officer said, I could only pick out “Indians” and “fire”.  He saw that I didn’t understand so he tried to relate it to a movie and said some names of big movies from the US that involved Indians.  Next, he went through slowly and I put together “The Indians from the mountains have set the road on fire.  It’s closed for 3 days”.  My first thought, “wow, my Spanish sucks”.  That couldn’t possibly be right.
I assumed the campesinos (transit workers) were on strike.  This happens sometimes in this part of the world and the roads are shut down for a day or two.  One of the officers had given Anna a phone and called someone who speaks English.  The woman on the phone had said the road would be closed at least for today but didn’t know more than that.  This was the only possible way to Panama city by land.  
We drove back to the city of David and found a hostel to hold up in.  David is a nice city but is really just a city people stay in for the night.  Our hostel is filled with people that have been here since the protest started.  We’re now 5 days into the closure and it doesn’t look any better than the first day.  The protesters are not negotiating with the Panama government so the government setup an air bridge (lot’s of planes) to move people and supplies.  Tourist get free flights to Panama City from here in David.  That of course doesn’t help me get the bike down there.
I have already paid the deposit for the boat to Colombia and we’re supposed to be there on the 8th of February.  If the roadblock is still up by then, I lose the deposit and this South American journey turns into a Central American journey.  Right now, there is no news on if the road will open up.  We hear rumors of tomorrow, the next day, but most local people say that it could go on for awhile.  Though I enjoy the break, I’m not keen on sticking around in David for long.  If the road doesn’t open up by the time my deposit is lost, I’ll be looking at heading back up and just traveling Central America for awhile.
4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 5, 2012 3:57 pm

    awe, thats too bad. Glad you found out what it was that closed the road. Sounds like there should be some alternate way through Panama! Hope everything gets straightened out soon. It still has been quite an adventure!

  2. Grams permalink
    February 5, 2012 4:32 pm

    I hope things turn out for you to go ahead with your trip as planned.
    Keep in touch and lots of luck, lots of love, grams

  3. February 6, 2012 7:08 am

    Now that I know 26 people have been killed since this morning and tourists buses are being hijacked on the highway and used as roadblocks, I am glad I decided to come home when I did.

    Whatever you do- stay safe!.. Look at me, I sound just like my family ha 🙂

    The trip was amazing!!!
    Keep on truckin, Matt.

  4. sharon permalink
    February 13, 2012 2:39 am

    Matt, best of luck and be safe for the remainder of your trip! Keep posting on the blog.! Sharon

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