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Getting through the Pan American

February 13, 2012

San Felix 12 hours before

Anna left on a plane from Costa Rica about a week ago.  We were stopped in David, Panama due to the protesters and she decided that she didn’t want to do the 5 day boat ride to Colombia.  The seas are supposed to be especially rough this time of year and the trip is considered to be transportation rather than a lovely trip through the islands.  That’s probably a good choice.  Additionally, she saved a bunch of money by not having to get a flight from Colombia to a place where she could use my US Airways voucher.  I had a spare US Airways voucher for $425 and that covered all but $10 of a ticket back to Dulles.

The violent protests broke out the day after she left.  Had she not left on the plane that day, I probably would have been asking her to leave a day later or we would still be sitting in David.  The areas surrounding David were getting to be dangerous for tourists and the Pan American highway was especially dangerous.  I didn’t mind riding on my own, but not with a passenger.

After a 6 hour drive, I cleared the majority of the protests in Panama.  The fires from the protest were still smoldering and the town of San Felix was filled with Police.  San Felix had been the focal point of the protests the day before, because the protesters had burned down the Police headquarters and had engaged in fighting with the Police.  The fighting there was supposed to be over, but driving through I could taste the tear gas in the air.

Other travelers had told me that between Santiago (south) and David (north) there were protesters throwing rocks at cars but that it wasn’t too bad.  In my head I pictured some random people on the side of the road throwing stones.  I arrived at the point where protesters were throwing stones at cars to find that instead of a few random people on the side of the road, there was about 40 people in a group about 15 meters above the road on a hill.  When a car would pass, they would throw their heavy stones and typically, at least break the windshield.
I stopped the bike out of range from the protesters throwing stones.  I sat with another car and tried to figure out what to do.  Many of the protesters pointed at me and motioned me to drive through.  Like they were saying “We’re just trying to mess up people’s days, not kill anyone.  I moved forward because it was logical that the protesters wouldn’t want to seriously injure anyone.  I now have a rule that I shouldn’t be using logic on when angry people have stones.
I watch the protesters carefully as I pull forward and down comes a small shower of rocks.  The nearest one lands about 2 feet in front of me.  A car, apparently wait for them to chuck the rocks in their hands, speeds past me while I move my bike back a few feet.  Now, the protesters are all waving me through, almost in unison.  Some are holding up their hands to show they don’t have any rocks.  “Fool me once” I’m thinking.
A minute or so later, a few of the protesters are running behind the hill they are on.  All but a few are scrambing around now and distracted by something in the road.  I speed through the rock covered road and see an armored police vehicle with men holding tear gas guns.  Rocks are still falling behind me, but I’m pretty sure that stopped once I heard the police shooting the tear gas guns.  Traffic on the other side of the protesters was backed up for about half of a mile.  In the river, there were protesters being held off by police.  This was a scene that was playing on the news the day before.  The bridge I was crossing was actually being held by protesters only about 12 hours ago.
I made it to Panama City after circumventing another protest in Santiago.  Here, the protesters had blocked the Pan American highway, but cars and motorcycles could get around by going through side streets.  Trucks and buses could not go through because they couldn’t go through the smaller streets.
I knew Panama City was pretty light on things to see or do.  There’s the Panama Canal, the old buildings in Casco Viejo, and the cafes of Via Argentina, but it’s pretty much like Miami in the way that it looks and the prices.  This didn’t matter to me much because I was here to fix up my bike.  The hostel I was staying at had a beautiful view of Panama city because it was across the bay.  Everyone that had traveled into the city commented on how it’s like a facade.  Tall beautiful buildings, with nothing below them.
My first day in the city, I met a guy named Fletch that’s also doing a trip down to Argentina.  Except he’s putting his bike on a boat and heading for South Africa so that he can ride up through Europe. He’s from Colorado and he’s riding on a KLR 650 (adventure bike). We figured out we’re on the same boat to Cartagena and decided to ride out to the port together.
I spent the first couple days working on getting tires and an oil change for my bike.  It took a full day just to find a place that had the parts then another full day for me to recover from the shock of being told how much it would cost and to have the installation done.
Anna and I had been getting these insect bites that don’t really heal.  They swell up and look really gross but it takes forever for them to go away.  While in Panama City, one of the insect bites on my knee had gotten infected.  The first day I noticed that it was infected, I went to the pharmacy and got antibiotics.  Two days later it had gotten very bad and I was taken to the hospital.  The pain had gotten to the point where I couldn’t sleep and I had to limit walking to within the hostel.  The doctor gave me 2 strong antibiotics and pain medication via IV.  The 3am emergency room visit cost about $40 and another $60 for the medication.
A few days later my knee is better and I’ve been spending most of the time grossing out Fletch with my gross knee (sorry, no picture).  We’re loading the bikes onto the boat today so hopefully I get some good shots of that.
2 Comments leave one →
  1. Anna's grams Len permalink
    February 13, 2012 4:14 pm

    OMG Matt I am so glad your finally on your way and pray that it will now be a safe trip. Keep in touch. We are glad Anna is home and know she enjoyed her trip with you. Stay well and safe, Grams Len

  2. February 14, 2012 8:26 pm

    Thanks so much for helping Anna get home! So glad you have been able to continue your trip, sounds pretty dangerous. Anna was telling me how bad the bug bites were and that you matter how much repellent you used, they would still seem to bite. Glad that your knee is getting better. Take more pictures!

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